The Importance of a Business Plan for a Small Business

If you’re one of the many people thinking about starting a small business, having a business plan is one of the first things you should have on your list of things to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a small business from home or away, having a plan for your business is considered a blue print for a successful small business. What is a business plan and why do you need one?

A Business Plan
A business plan is simply a plan of what your goals are for the business, and how you plan to go about accomplishing them. Some people refer to it as a vision for your business. I like to refer to it as a blue print or a road map to accomplishing your goals.

Your plan should be spelled out in clear and defining terms and be kept simple. It should be a written document and used as a tool in managing the business.

A plan should include but is not limited to the following:

1. A statement of your business purpose
2. A description of your company
3. The goals of your company
4. The structure of the company (sole-proprietorship, partnership or corporation)
5. The product or service that you are selling
6. A market analysis of your product or service
7. Resources spent (time and money)
8. A financial plan to include financial statements
9. Information about the managing principals in the company
10. How you plan to manage and operate the company

The Importance of a Business Plan
The success of a business starts with a business plan. The plan defines your business as to what it is and how you plan to achieve the goals of the business. It presents a clear picture of your business in terms of goals and objectives.

The plan reflects how you plan to operate your business. How you plan to market your product or services. It provides a financial picture of the company.

If you are looking for money to fund your business, you’re going to need a plan for your business. When you go to borrow money, lenders and investors are going to want to see written documentation in a business plan of your financial situation. Why do they want to see this information? Lenders and investors want to see this information because they are the ones taking the risk in lending your business money.

Once you have a plan in place, it’s important that you follow it. If you’re achieving your goals you should stick with the plan. If you are not achieving your goals then you will have go back, analyze your plan to find out what is working, what is not working and why it is not working.

A plan is not etched in stone. It is subject to change. As time goes on, things change in this world and businesses like everyone else are subject to change. A good plan will reflect changes that a company has to make to keep it competitive and successful.

Where can you find samples of a business plan for a small business? If you go into any of the search engines such as Google or Bing and type in “samples of a business plans for a small business” you will find websites with this information.

This is why it is important that a small business should have a business plan. If you look at those small businesses that are successful, you will find that most of them all started with and have a plan for their business.

Top 5 Ingredients of Successful Business Plans

Everyone has prepared a business plan. Well, should that read, everyone should have prepared a business plan? My thinking is that these tend only to be prepared when they are needed, rather than as a useful business tool for all senior management. My top five ingredients are:

1. Understand what a business plan is;

2. Understand what you intend to use it for;

3. Identify and implement the critical steps to achieving a successful business plan;

4. Understand what needs to be included in the plan;

5. Be aware of gaps or weaknesses in your plan.

What is a business plan?

A business plan sets out the method for running a specific activity over a specific future period.

Why are business plans needed?

Business plans are needed essentially for the four following reasons:

1. A formal, explicit document of the planning process;

2. A request for finances;

3. A framework for approval;

4. A tool for operational business management.

What are the critical steps needed to achieve a successful business plan?

This may come as a surprise to my fellow business consultants, but producing a successful business plan is not as difficult as people often think, so long as they follow a logical sequence. Here is my considered view as to the critical steps.

1. Understand what you are planning and why;

2. Define the activities of your organisation;

3. Outline the current position of the business;

4. Review and discuss the external market conditions, undertake and understand a competitive analysis, and define your market positioning;

5. Define your core objectives;

6. Prepare and articulate the strategy to attain and meet the objectives;

7. Identify and review risks and opportunities;

8. Prepare a strategy to deal with risks and exploit opportunities;

9. Refine the strategies into operational plans;

10. Prepare financial forecasts including revenues, costs, cash-flow, capital expenditure and assumptions adopted;

11. Finalise the plan;

12. Get it approved;

13. Use it;

14. Review it regularly and update as appropriate.

What should be included in the business plan?

Without being too prescriptive, there are certain necessary elements which need to be included. Such elements are:

· Preliminaries – such as contents, contacts and definitions;

· An executive summary;

· A description of the business;

· A review of the market, the competition and market positioning;

· The vision, mission and objectives;

· The corporate strategy;

· The plan for developing the products and services;

· Financial projections;

· An outline of the risks and opportunities;

· A conclusion.

Understand gaps and weaknesses within the plan.

Any casual viewer of the BBC programme, Dragons Den will be aware of how easy it is for weaknesses or gaps to be identified. Depending upon the purpose of the plan, this may, or may not, prove to be critical. It is often easier to recognise such weaknesses and gaps, and be prepared to deal with them, either by noting them in the plan itself, or having appropriate answers available should the need arise.

Who should prepare the plan?

As a business consultant, this may sound like heresy, but I believe that any plan should be produced by the senior management of the organisation. That is not to say that the consultant does not have a role to play in its preparation. He does. Senior management should prepare the plan as they will then be able to present and discuss it, demonstrating to their audience that they fully understand their business and market. I believe that the consultant’s role is to help facilitate the preparation of the plan, the consultant can help undertake the necessary research, and can cast a critical and impartial eye over the plan.

Business Plans Are a Team Effort – Think Outside The Box

Business plans are mostly about organizing, formalizing, and committing to a specific plan-of-actions. Such a document generally presents the objectives, strategies, analysis, and a detailed roadmap for implementation. Underlying a plan-of-action is comprehensive analysis of historic, current and proposed results all supported with assumptions. If anyone doubts the interest in business plans, a Google search returns more than 62 million and Amazon list more than 77,700 titles concerning this subject.

They are like fingerprints; no two are alike, even within the same organization. One further point, opinions about what makes a good finished product are like noses-everybody has one. The ones that work and prove to be executable are the best. With this in mind, let me offer my views about business plans at a macro level having written a sizeable number of plans for internal and external applications. One other point, a business plan can build a team quicker than any formal team building activity.

I have written business plans for all manner of industries: a coin operated jukebox company, airlines, travel companies, new product launches, and anti-aging product companies. It is not necessary to have a passion for the product or the company to write or develop a business plan. What you must have is a passion for aggregating information, getting involved with and understanding the service or product, and understanding the financials of the product or service. By financials I am not referring to having a CPA before you undertake the task, but rather understanding the presentation of the information and analysis/ numbers to support the activity being planned. Financials are important because they are the score card in the world of commerce.

There are many reasons for utilizing such a document. Is the final document going to be about implementing a decision already having been reached or is it about analysis and recommendations for a newly proposed activity. As noted above, a finished document may be for internal or external purposes. Externally they are often used to solicit funding for a start-up or joint venture. Whatever the purpose, do not confuse effort with say, a marketing or a production plan.

I mentioned the financial aspect of a plan earlier, so let me add this. Another fact about financials to consider: not all business activities are about making money. Point being, in most enterprises financial considerations are centric to the document. But there are some other considerations. For example, a few years ago I wrote a plan for a new subsidiary that was focused on developing an inventory of patents. The potential financial returns were years into the future. Those patents may or may not ever have commercial value. Another example is a non-profit enterprise that has need for a complete roadmap for growing their profile in a market, of which a marketing plan would be the centerpiece.

If a document needs to be developed that requires input from other disciplines-Finance, HR, Property & Facilities, Marketing, Procurement/Supply Chain- then most likely you are looking at a team building effort to get the job done.

In any event, don’t look at the task as only as a roadmap that leads to a profitable product or enterprise. Business plans are a great way to build team buy-in, force a thorough review of options, define objectives, establish benchmarks to judge performance, and help arrive at a plan-of-action. Ultimately, it can lead to a Project Management approach to implementing a plan and that can be as involved and detailed as is necessary.

Another consideration. Should the business plan be a document that is focused on selling an idea for a product or service? For many years I worked in a company that did not want anything in a business plan that could be construed as showing a bias towards or against a project. The mantra was to only present facts in the business plan. The Operations Research Department was there to review the analysis as being unbiased. To handle the “what if” scenarios or sensitivity analysis we prepared a supplemental analysis documents which were mostly financial oriented. Personally, I like a factual approach and use the presentation of the final document to point out the conservative aspects of the content.

Here is a recap of where we are in this discussion:

  1. Business plans formalize an understanding of the task with appropriate analysis leading to a plan-of-action.
  2. Not all business plans are for profit motives.
  3. Business plans are for an enterprise effort and not focused on disciplines/departments, e.g. Marketing plan, sales plan, HR plan, supply chain plan, etc.
  4. Business plans are a great vehicle to build a team effort.
  5. Plans can be utilized for formalizing metrics relative to achieving goals and performance measurements.
  6. Some complex plans might include a Project Management professional.
  7. There are internal and external audiences for business plans. Most external focused plans are for outside funding of projects.
  8. Be mindful of the ‘tone’ the plan projects to the reader. Tone refers to the impression a person gets from reading the plan; a subliminal feeling about the plan.

Organization and content of the business plan will evolve as it is prepared. For example, if the driving force of the plan is marketing or sales then a preponderance of the analysis and plan-of-action section will be more up-front and sales oriented in tone. With business plan’s the world is your oyster; think from the center out to the edges and think outside of the box.

Grow Your Business With a Growth Business Plan

Are you at a point with your business where you just don’t know what to do next?
Do you have a business plan?
How about a growth business plan?

Have you looked at a lot of different ways to grow your business and nothing seems to work?

The right growth business plan could be your answer. If a growth business plan is done the right way it may open up some opportunities you have never thought about before. A growth business plan can be developed many different ways but I would like to discuss a growth business plan that you may have never thought about.

Here is the way I would encourage you to set up a growth business plan:

• Do some dreaming about what you would like your lifestyle to be
• By dreaming decide on an average income you would like to have over the next few years
• Decide how many years out you would like your plan to cover
• Decide how much profit you would like for your business to generate above the income you want for yourself.
• Set up a profit and loss statement of your existing business or your proposed business
• With the right business knowledge and a profit and loss statement you can actually use that data to see what your business would need to do for you to give you that income and profit
• Even better you can determine what size market you would need and even determine whether your market would support your business presently and in the future.

To me a small business is one of the best things you can have if you enjoy operating a business; however, it does require a lot more than just enjoying ownership and running a business. Especially if you are starting a small business and even if you have had a business for many years, you should know what you want for your future. Never guess about your business. You see, without a plan, you are just guessing. We business people work hard and we always continue to hope for the best but when we guess, we’re taking a lot of risks. You’ve probably heard the old saying from an unknown author that says, “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.”

As a matter of fact, did you know that the Small Business Administration says that 50% of small business owners will fail sometime during their first 5 years? There are lots of reasons but one big one is that owners don’t have a plan. Another is they have picked a product or service that doesn’t have a big enough market to sustain their business and sometime during their future they will run out of customers.

Now as I said, there are many other reasons too.

After graduating from college, I started out in manufacturing as an engineer in a pretty large company and now, 45 years later, retiring as a of Director of Manufacturing, I have discovered an awful lot about business. Not only did I learn and teach a lot about business, I worked with small business owners as well. I’ve learned that it comes down to this. Too many owners work hard in their business but less on their business.

Do you work on your business as much as you work in your business? Do you ever dream about having a good lifestyle but just haven’t quite figured out what to do about it. Have you ever thought about seeing what your business would need to do to give you those dreams? Developing a growth business plan could be the answer.

So, why should you make a growth business plan? Well in simple terms you need to know where you’re going and how and when you’re going to get there.

Some of the questions a growth business plan might ask you are:

– Are you comfortable that the market wants and is willing to buy your product or service?
– Is your product or service priced so it is competitive in your market?
– What’s different about your product or service? Why would a customer purchase it over someone else’s?
– Is your market big enough to support your business? What about 15 years into the future?
– If you wanted a better lifestyle, what would your business need to do to give you that lifestyle?
– How much sales would your business need to generate to give you that income?
– How much sales would your business need to generate to give you the income you want 15 years into the future?
– What will be the cost of your labor and material?
– What will your expenses run?
– How much will it cost to overcome the capacity constraints that will occur as your business grows to meet your income requirements?
– Will your profit give you the income you want in the future and at the same time maintain a healthy business for you as well?

If you develop a good Profit & Loss Statement for your existing business for the current year or for the first year of your proposed business, you can use this data to actually project how much sales you would need to yield the income you want and the profit margin you want. You can plan ahead as far as you want. Sound impossible? It’s actually pretty simple and can be pretty accurate plan.

A plan like this would show you how much sales your business would need to do, what your fixed and variable expenses would be, what your material cost, labor cost and profit would need to be to provide the income and profit margin you want. You can see pretty quickly if it’s possible for you to get your business to that level. I don’t know of any better way than to have your business give you the income and profit you want. What’s neat is you can determine what you want your income to be and your profit to be over the next few years and develop a plan that can show you exactly what your business would need to do to give you that income and profit.

And with just a little more data you can actually determine how many customers you would need for each year you plan for and how many leads you would need. From that you can actually determine what size market you would need and whether your market is big enough to supply those leads that could be converted into customers.