Running a successful business is often not attributed to a good business plan but in reality, it is. Unfortunately business planning is an often overlooked part of running, starting and acquiring a business, or growing and expanding a company, or obtaining business finance. Having a well developed business plan will contribute greatly to successful business goals, amking acheivement of those goals much more predictable and easier, leaving much less room for error and mistakes. You can’t predict everything that can possibly happen to a business but a solid business plan process helps you to head off certain pitfalls and obstacles, while as importantly, help to anticipate and create opportunties for the business.
There are various business plan formats for different purposes. I recommend starting with a Comprehensive business plan to successfully run your business or project. With the comprehensive plan in place, it is a snap to form other more specific purpose plans off of that main business plan. An example would be a funding business plan to secure finance for a company.
Formats are important for Business Planning but most important is the Process. The Process is a building block system that is continuous, systematic and comprehensive. It involves the entire Company, produces effective decision making and manages those decisions in a Strategic Plan. A good Business Plan also measures the relationship between Expectations and procedure- it evaluates your Companys progress or lack thereof. A Business Plans goal is to create the future for your company- being proactive versus reactive in relationship to your market niche.
It is said, writing a good Business Plan is more art than science. It is good to have a proven process and format, but you cant just fill in the blanks on a master planning plan or document. It is a matter of asking yourself the right questions within that proven process and format that brings about a successfully written Business Plan.
A Comprehensive Business Plan has Eight Sections: Executive Summary, Company Overview, Management and Operations, Products and Services, Marketing Plan Strategic and Sales Plan, Financials and Appendix.
Table of Contents
Before discussing each section of the Business Plan, let’s cover one of the most important parts of the Business Plan, the Table of Contents. The Table of Contents should be very elaborated, so that the person reading and using the Business Plan can find and access the info needed very easily and quickly. You can write a great Business Plan with all the necessary information in it, but if you can’t easily find or access that information, then the Business Plan ceases to be a useful tool.
The Table of Contents should be organised by each section of the Business Plan and the particular page numbers of each section and sub-section. For instance, in Section One, The Executive Summary, you should be able to find the Management sub-section very easily. It is strongly recommended that a Business Plan be organized as an online document, with the sections and sub-sections hyperlinked to the page where that information resides. This way you can access information very quickly on a computer online versus having to flip through the paper document to find the information.
The Organization of the Business Plan is quite important. The 8 Section Business Plan is in a specific order from which each section builds on the previous section. There is fluid thought and reasoning employed to achieve a Business Plan which reaches its specified purpose (i.e. to run a business, to buy a business, to expand a business, to enter a joint venture, to finance a business, to complete a particular project). Although we discuss the Executive Summary as the first section of a Business Plan, the Executive Summary should be written last. With the exception of the Executive Summary, all the other sections should be written in the order they are listed. Remember that a Business Plan is a Business Document; you are NOT writing prose. It should contain a very precise and concise format and be organized into numbered sections and sub-sections, which contain specific information in short, paragraph form. Business Plans should be written in paper form, computer format and online format. Computer Format means the Table of Contents are hyperlinked so you can easily access certain information quickly and precisely in one click on your computer.
You should have your Business Plan published securely, online (via password access) so that certain key managers or employees can access and manage remotely. Also, you can use an online Business Plan to invoke funding for your venture. You can have different versions accessible online for particular purposes. For example, you could have your Marketing Plan accessible remotely so your Sales Manager can update it or refer to it while in the field or on an important sales call. You could have a funding version of your Business Plan accessible online for angel investors or venture capitalists to view your opportunity.
A Business Plan is a dynamic document, as it changes on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. By being able to access it on your company computer net and / or online, the CEO, Executives, Management and Key Employees can update it easily and effectively. For a Business Plan to be successful, it must be intertwined into the fabric of your business. Having the Business Plan organized with Hyperlinks with super organized sections and uploaded on your companys computer network and accessible online, allows the Business Plan to become a “living” document which can effectively:
1) Run a business
2) Be readily changed, adapted and updated
3) Be a sales tool
4) Obtain funding
5) React quickly to market changes
6) Give you the ability to make realistic estimates and projections
7) snap up opportunities
8) Keep your Competitive Advantage.
Organization of your Business Plan is KEY to its effectiveness and utility. It is important to remember that too many Business Plans are written from the perspective of the Business Owner. When writing your plan, remember your audience extends beyond you, the Owner. Dont neglect your Managers, employees, customers, the marketing aspects and the potential investor elements. This is also why we suggest writing one Comprehensive Plan to run your business and develop other Specific Purpose Plans for different audiences, i.e. a Customer Plan, an Investor Plan, a Lender Plan, a Strategic Management Plan, a Marketing Plan, Supplier Plan and so forth.
Section One: Executive Summary
As stated previously, the Executive Summary should be written last. Why? Because it organizes and summarizes the entire Business Plan. You cannot achieve this effectively until all other sections of the Business Plan are completed. You should develop two types / renditions of the Executive Summary for your Business Plan. A short version which is 2-3 pages and a longer version that is 5-7 pages long. The Executive Summary contains the Company Statement, Visions and Mission, the Purpose of the Business Plan and a short summary of each section of your Business Plan, along with a Financial / Profitability Section.
The Executive Summary (short version) is part of your Business Plan, giving the reader a quick overview of the important facts contained in your Business Plan. The Executive Summary (short and long versions) can also operate as a stand-alone document to be used to generate interest in your business opportunity or venture, i.e. to be sent to a funding source to generate and gauge their initial interest. An Executive Summary can accompany a Deal Overview or Investment Summary to provide more details to a venture capitalist about your particular business opportunity.
Brevity, yet completeness and inclusiveness, is key when writing your Executive Summary. It should be concise yet have adequate detail about your Business Plan. This can be difficult to achieve if you attempt to write it prior to completing all the sections of your Business Plan.
Section Two: Company Overview
The Company section of a Business Plan speaks to all the pertinent details of your particular company. For instance, how it is formed; what your company does; how it is organized; your Vision, Mission and Goal Statements: history of the company; where it is located; how you can be contacted and so forth. This section comes first in the Business Plan as it serves as an introduction to the necessary details and background of your company.
Section 3: Management and Operations
This section builds on the Company Section explaining in detail who will run the company; who founded the company; who the key employees are within the company; how the company will be run; what are the specific qualifications of those who will run the company, work in the company and be responsible for(p) for sales, marketing and strategic direction; the specific gaps in Management and talent, providing a plan to fill or overcome those present gaps; and so forth. You can have the top business idea or concept but lack the people to execute the plan. Therefore, the Management Section of the Business Plan is the most important element of the plan and often scrutinized as such by finance sources, customers and your Business Plan audience.
Section Four: Products and Services
Now that you have developed the Company and Management sections, it is time to describe in detail your companys Product or Service (P/S). This section also contains information on your competitors P/S. One of the most important aspects of the P/S section of the Business Plan explains why your P/S is unique: i.e. its competitive advantage or put another way, the utility of your P/S. On the converse, the P/S section states where you have weaknesses in your P/S line-up.
A Resource Audit is an honest self-evaluation of your company. In this analysis you identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, which will be considered in your Marketing Plan and addressed in your Strategic Plan. You develop your P/S price points, features and value to be fully exploited in the Marketing Plan and implemented in the Strategic Plan. Customer identification, analysis and segmentation starts in the P/S Section to be later developed in the Marketing Plan (and yes, implemented in the Strategic Plan).
Section Five: Marketing Plan
The Marketing Plan fully develops how your P/S will be marketed; summarizes your Marketing Research (actual research contained in the Appendix); fully details your specific Target Market Segments; and explains your P/S Competitive Advantage. In essence, The Marketing Plan explains in great detail how your P/S will be positioned in the market and should be supported by detailed, believable market research. The Marketing Plan carves out your niche(s) and develops effective Marketing Programs, along with a Strategic Marketing Plan.
Section Six: Strategic Plan
The Strategic Plan puts the Marketing Plan into action. The Strategic Plan will show how to implement the Marketing Plan. The Strategic Plan equals action and implementation. It also details your Sales Forecast for each particular product or service. The Strategic Plan translates what will be the result of the Marketing Plan, and how it will be implemented and achieved. The Strategic Plan takes the vast amount of marketing information and research and puts it into a clearly defined Sales Plan. It is very important a Strategic Plan is believable and achievable. It works out the kinks and road blocks in your Marketing Plan and illustrates how you will overcome your Competitive Gaps.
The Strategic Plan also provides a process for Strategic Management, Strategic Auditing and Strategic Reassessment. The end product not only implements The Companys Strategy, but also it provides measurable performance, control functions, corrective actions and reassessment when necessary. It is a top down and bottom up approach, entirely inbuilt with your Companys Operations, from the Vision and Leadership of the CEO, to Managements implementation supervision of the Strategy, to the Sales and Operations units of the company. It provides a Company-Wide Strategic Vision, focussing, Structure and Discipline, while providing an air of learnedness and cognisance, with a process for identifying deficiencies, and in turn, altering those problems.
Section Seven: Financials
If you develop your Strategic Plan effectively, completing the Financials will not be difficult. The principal reason why business owners have such a hard time with the Financials Section of a Business Plan is often due to a cursory job on their Strategic Planning (as well as other important sections). Financial Projections are not believable chiefly because a suitable, well developed Strategic Plan wasnt accomplished. Guess what makes a successful Strategic Plan? The proceeding section, the Marketing Plan. As stated previously, the sections and the order of the sections in a business plan are very important because each section builds on the previous section, the culmination of which makes for certain data from which solid Financial Projections can be made.
You should have two sets of Financials, simple and detailed, as well as, cautious and best case. The following types of financials are typical for a Business Plan:
Cash Flow: Monthly basis for 12 months. Yearly and Quarterly basis for 3-5 years.
Income Statement: Monthly basis for 12 months. Yearly and Quarterly basis for 3-5 years.
Balance Sheet: Yearly and Quarterly basis for 3-5 years.
Another very important Financial in addition to the three prescribed Financials, is the Budget. Budgets are used principally for two purposes: Planning and Control. A Budget matches short term targets with long term Strategic Planning, while providing an indication of problems in front. A good Budget system will point when Expenses are heading over Budget and there is sufficient time to correct the problem. Budgets are often developed during the Strategic Planning Process.
We like Rolling Budgets which look ahead 12 months on a monthly basis, and it budgets an additional Quarter at the end of each Quarter. This way, you always have a 12 month continuous Budget Outlook. A Budget should also be flexible so that you can sort the effects of variations between Actual and Estimated results. Lastly, a Budget is a tool to Evaluate your Business Units and Managements Performance. Needless to say, assembling and actively managing a good Budget requires the input of your entire organization.
It is important to realize that your Financials refer to each other when building them (a reason why Financial Software Programs are so beneficial). Theres a lot of back and forth between the Income Statement, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement. The Cash Flow Statement is the most important Financial for many reasons but principally because it shows in detail how much cash is necessary to finance and grow your company.
Computer Programs are excellent resources for developing your companys Financials, such as Quicken for Business, Quick Books or other Business Planning Financial Software Programs. It is important that these programs allow you to 1) customize the Formats for your needs and 2) are downloadable into Excel Spreadsheets for maximal utility and flexibility.
The projection period differs and depends for a particular company, venture or project. For instance, a large scale Real Estate development projects Cash Flow could be 5+ years and 60+ months depending on the length of the project build out. Also, Real Estate development projects require more Financials than detailed above. Typically, a Construction Cost Analysis and Cash Flow, Schedule of Real Estate, Construction Cost Schedule and so forth are requirements. Real Estate Development Financials are developed through a Loan Package and transferred to the Business Plan Financial section, so consult how to properly package a loan in order to learn more about these project specific Financials.
A very important element of the Financial Section is the Assumptions area. This details the assumptions you have utilized in constructing the financials. You should also list the various calculations and formulas used in your financials since those formulas can be company, deal or project specific. Financials should also include Return of Investment / Return on Equity calculations and the assumptions used in those calculations.
Your Financials need to be believable and realistic. If anything, they need to be conservative. Too often we see extremes of too few numbers or too many numbers. If you build out your Financials as a direct result of your Strategic Plan (as we have prescribed), this process results in numbers that are realistic and achievable. An option is to build two sets of Financials, conservative and a little more enterprising. We find if you have truly conservative numbers, you will often exceed your Plan, which is a great Psychological boost for any company in any stage of development. (This assumes these numbers are based on sound planning and thinking and most significantly, that your company can make a nice profit at the conservative level).
Section 8: Appendix
The Appendix Section of a Business Plan contains all the bulky items: marketing research, construction plans, appraisals, valuations, company art work and graphics, company charters and share details and so forth. Since an Appendix is often large in volume, it is important to have a table of contents in the beginning of the section, detailing what is contained and where it appears in the Appendix section.