A business plan is a description of the business you want to start. It is also a plan for how you intend to run and develop it.
Business plans are an important part of creating new businesses, whether as a startup or an offshoot of an existing business. Business plans for startups are often shared with funding agencies, potential investors and venture capitalists to obtain the necessary funding.
Although the specifics may vary, here are the typical components of a business plan for a new business:
- The executive summary is a nutshell version of the entire plan, briefly covering the essentials.
- The business description describes the proposed new endeavour, explains its purpose and its target market.
- The plan’s market analysis section describes the industry and the market environment of the proposed business, including a profile of the competition.
- The organizational and managerial section explains how you envision the structure of your business, what types of positions and departments it will encompass.
- The products (or services) section details what you’re offering. This section should include a full description of the products you’ll sell and your plan for product lifecycle management (PLM).
- The marketing and sales section explains your strategies for branding, marketing and selling your product or service.
- The funding request will differ according to what type of information is required by the funding party.
- The financial projection covers the expected performance and milestones over the first years of operation, usually five years. For an existing business, historical financial data should be included.
- An appendix can include useful information that doesn’t belong in any of the other sections.
A business plan is similar to a business model. However, the latter is a representation of how an existing business works, rather than how a prospective business can work.
After making a business plan you will have great knowledge of the business world – the world in which your future lies.
A thorough market analysis will help you define your prospects as well as help you establish pricing, distribution, and promotional strategies that will allow your company to be successful vis-à-vis your competition, both in the short and long term.
Begin your market analysis by defining the market in terms of size, demographics, structure, growth prospects, trends, and sales potential. Next, determine how often your product or service will be purchased by your target market. Then figure out the potential annual purchase. Then figure out what percentage of this annual sum you either have or can attain. Keep in mind that no one gets 100 per cent market share and that a something as small as 25 per cent is considered a dominant share. Your market share will be a benchmark that tells you how well you’re doing in light of your market-planning projections.
You’ll also have to describe your positioning strategy. How you differentiate your product or service from that of your competitors and then determine which market niche to fill is called “positioning.” Positioning helps establish your product or service’s identity within the eyes of the purchaser. A positioning statement for a business plan doesn’t have to be long or elaborate, but it does need to point out who your target market is, how you’ll reach them, what they’re really buying from you, who your competitors are, and what your USP (unique selling proposition) is.
How you price your product or service is perhaps your most important marketing decision. It’s also one of the most difficult to make for most small business owners, because there are no instant formulas. Many methods of establishing prices are available to you, but these are among the most common.
- Cost-plus pricing is used mainly by manufacturers to assure that all costs, both fixed and variable, are covered and the desired profit percentage is attained.
- Demand pricing is used by companies that sell their products through a variety of sources at differing prices based on demand.
- Competitive pricing is used by companies that are entering a market where there’s already an established price and it’s difficult to differentiate one product from another.
- Markup pricing is used mainly by retailers and is calculated by adding your desired profit to the cost of the product.
You’ll also have to determine distribution, which includes the entire process of moving the product from the factory to the end user. Make sure to analyze your competitors’ distribution channels before deciding whether to use the same type of channel or an alternative that may provide you with a strategic advantage.
Finally, your promotion strategy should include all the ways you communicate with your markets to make them aware of your products or services. To be successful, your promotion strategy should address advertising, packaging, public relations, sales promotions and personal sales.
The purpose of the competitive analysis is to determine:
- the strengths and weaknesses of the competitors within your market.
- strategies that will provide you with a distinct advantage.
- barriers that can be developed to prevent competition from entering your market.
- any weaknesses that can be exploited in the product development cycle.
The first step in a competitor analysis is to identify both direct and indirect competition for your business, both now and in the future. Once you’ve grouped your competitors, start analyzing their marketing strategies and identifying their vulnerable areas by examining their strengths and weaknesses. This will help you determine your distinct competitive advantage.
Whoever reads your business plan should be very clear on who your target market is, what your market niche is, exactly how you’ll stand apart from your competitors, and why you’ll be successful doing so.
Operations and Management
The operations and management component of your plan is designed to describe how the business functions on a continuing basis. The operations plan highlights the logistics of the organization, such as the responsibilities of the management team, the tasks assigned to each division within the company, and capital and expense requirements related to the operations of the business.
Financial Components of Your Business Plan
After defining the product, market and operations, the next area to turn your attention to are the three financial statements that form the backbone of your business plan: the income statement, cash flow statement, and balance sheet.
The income statement is a simple and straightforward report on the business’ cash-generating ability. It is a scorecard on the financial performance of your business that reflects when sales are made and when expenses are incurred. It draws information from the various financial models developed earlier such as revenue, expenses, capital (in the form of depreciation), and cost of goods. By combining these elements, the income statement illustrates just how much your company makes or loses during the year by subtracting cost of goods and expenses from revenue to arrive at a net result, which is either a profit or loss. In addition to the income statements, include a note analyzing the results. The analysis should be very short, emphasizing the key points of the income statement. Your CPA can help you craft this.
The cash flow statement is one of the most critical information tools for your business, since it shows how much cash you’ll need to meet obligations, when you’ll require it and where it will come from. The result is the profit or loss at the end of each month and year. The cash flow statement carries both profits and losses over to the next month to also show the cumulative amount. Running a loss on your cash flow statement is a major red flag that indicates not having enough cash to meet expenses-something that demands immediate attention and action.
The cash flow statement should be prepared on a monthly basis during the first year, on a quarterly basis for the second year, and annually for the third year. The following 17 items are listed in the order they need to appear on your cash flow statement. As with the income statement, you’ll need to analyze the cash flow statement in a short summary in the business plan. Once again, the analysis doesn’t have to be long and should cover highlights only. Ask your CPA for help.
The last financial statement you’ll need is a balance sheet. Unlike the previous financial statements, the balance sheet is generated annually for the business plan and is, more or less, a summary of all the preceding financial information broken down into three areas: assets, liabilities and equity.
Balance sheets are used to calculate the net worth of a business or individual by measuring assets against liabilities. If your business plan is for an existing business, the balance sheet from your last reporting period should be included. If the business plan is for a new business, try to project what your assets and liabilities will be over the course of the business plan to determine what equity you may accumulate in the business. To obtain financing for a new business, you’ll need to include a personal financial statement or balance sheet.
In the business plan, you’ll need to create an analysis for the balance sheet just as you need to do for the income and cash flow statements. The analysis of the balance sheet should be kept short and cover key points.
In this section, include any other documents that are of interest to your reader, such as your resume; contracts with suppliers, customers, or clients, letters of reference, letters of intent, copy of your lease and any other legal documents, tax returns for the previous three years, and anything else relevant to your business plan.
Some people think you don’t need a business plan unless you’re trying to borrow money. Of course, it’s true that you do need a good plan if you intend to approach a lender–whether a banker, a venture capitalist or any number of other sources–for startup capital. But a business plan is more than a pitch for financing; it’s a guide to help you define and meet your business goals.
Just as you wouldn’t start off on a cross-country drive without a road map, you should not embark on your new business without a business plan to guide you. A business plan won’t automatically make you a success, but it will help you avoid some common causes of business failure, such as under-capitalization or lack of an adequate market.
As you research and prepare your business plan, you’ll find weak spots in your business idea that you’ll be able to repair. You’ll also discover areas with potential you may not have thought about before–and ways to profit from them. Only by putting together a business plan can you decide whether your great idea is really worth your time and investment.
The business plan gathers all the bits and pieces from the business preparations and your general life experience of relevance to your business. lt contributes to a more well-arranged start-up- beneficial to the entrepreneur, his/her family, personal network, consultants, and sources of finance.
You should not see the business plan as the final statement for your business. Instead, you should see it more as a platform from where you gain access to the business world. It is a dynamic world so your plans for your business must be dynamic as well.
Working out a business plan serves many purposes:
- Help structure and realise your visions
- Gather knowledge and compelling information
- Facilitate a framework for better business decisions
- Convince family, banks and other investors that you are worth an investment
- Proof of dedication
- Base for better counselling from co-operators and sparring partners
Who needs a business plan?
If you’re just planning on picking up some freelance work to supplement your income, you can skip the business plan. But, if you’re embarking on a more significant endeavor that’s likely to consume a significant amount of time, money, and resources, then you need a business plan.
If you’re serious about business, taking planning seriously is critical to your success.
Business Plan Dos and Don’ts
Because so many new businesses fail, it makes sense to temper optimism and be conservative with income and growth projections. Many owners test the product or concept before a full launch. In addition, because organizations grow and markets change, business owners should re-visit their business plan regularly and make any necessary adjustments, taking note of lessons learned. While a business plan is a guide, it is a fluid one that can change as experiences give the company’s leadership new knowledge and direction.
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