Thursday, September 8, 2011

Business Planning: An important step towards starting your business

As an entrepreneur, you juggle a lot of balls.

From managing employees, sales, financial and operations, it’s easy to get lost, trying to put out the daily fires. If you don’t take a step back and take a look around, you may have realized that your business is not what you had originally started.

This is the point when you realize you should have sat down and spent the time in creating a business plan. Not just something that you’ve jotted down in the back of an envelope, but a document that maps out your long term strategic plan for your business.

Creating a business plan is important as it not only provides you with a compass – guiding you in the right direction, but also reducing the stress and frustration in reacting to situations on a daily basis, because you know the path you are on. A business plan also allows you to:

• Be visionary –identify where you’re going and keep you on track towards your goals;

• Execute with confidence – you know what your tools and resources are going to be and can handle any potential surprises;

• Be fiscally strong – you’ve already laid the groundwork for your financial health, knowing your expenses and profit margins.

What’s a business plan?

A business plan is a document that outlines how you are going to achieve success in your business and a step by step process on how you’re going to get it done. However, you have to realize that the information that you put in your business plan depends on who your target audience is.

Here are the items you need to keep in mind when writing your business plan:

1. Know your audience

Tailor your plan to your readers’ requirements. If the plan is to raise funds, then you must indicate how your potential investor would make a return on their investment and how long it will take. However, if you are communicating your future plans for the company, then the goals of the plan are different. Always remember to tailor the material to your audience.

2. Identify your customers

Use the plan to delve deeply into outlining who your customers are. Why would they want to purchase from you. What are their pain points? How will you solve it for them? Understand the size of your potential market and how it will grow over the next 5 years. By answering these questions, you will uncover if your business is sustainable for the long-term.

3. Who are your competitors?

You also need to know the size of your competitive market - how will you differentiate yourself? What kind of challenges will you face when you go against them? It’s important to know your competitor’s strength and weaknesses so you can exploit them to your full advantage.

4. The design of your plan

If your plan is a document, make sure that your plan is easy to read, well organized and looks professional. If you are doing a PowerPoint presentation, make sure that your key points are clearly stated and easy to read.

5. What is the ROI?

Most business plans are written with the goal of raising financing. So, know your numbers! You should be aware of how much money you’ll need to raise, what your profit and operating margins are and how you’re going to make money. If you’re looking for funding from investors, then you need to communicate clearly the return of investment that they will get. How long will it take for them to make back their investment and more? What will make them confident that you will succeed in this business – so that they know they will not lose their money? They also would want to know if you are prepared for all contingencies and can protect their investment from failure.

Finally, a plan is not written in stone. Due to changing market conditions or new opportunities, you may have to react quickly and adapt. You should review your plan every quarter, just to see where you are against your milestones and address as necessary.