The business plan is a key component for a successful business. A plan is vital because it:
• Provides an organized system for researching your business
• Drastically increases your chances of success
• Provides a game plan for your business to follow
• Provides insight into your business to facilitate funding and investment
Aside from these general business plan objectives, remember that every plan is unique. Don’t struggle with trying to make your plan “fit” into the generic mold. Always customize your plan to your specific business objectives. Be clear, concise, and detailed. Focus on the quality of the content, rather than the quantity of pages.
Once complete, the business plan should identify the expectations you have for your new or existing business. If you plan to utilize the plan to obtain financing, the completed plan should “tell the story” of your business to a potential lender. The plan should serve as a stand-alone document in that all business issues are addressed without requiring additional verbal explanation. Review your plan regularly and make appropriate changes when your plans and strategies change.
Do’s and don’ts of writing a business plan
Writing a business plan is a crucial step in starting and/or operating a small business. However, the thought of writing a business plan can seem overwhelming. To help you avoid some common errors, consider these suggested do’s and don’ts of writing a business plan.
1. Do understand that the planning process is critical to running a successful business. You gain significant expertise by writing your own business plan. It is typically not a good idea for someone else to write your plan, since you are the expert in your business and you may need to verify assumptions about your business idea.
2. Do utilize the business plan outline to determine what to include in your plan. The business plan outline serves as a guide to how to format your business plan. Once complete, the business plan should identify the expectations you have for your new or existing business.
3. Do answer key questions such as who, what, where, when, how, why, and how much? A quality business plan contains considerable detail and answers pointed questions concerning who, what, where, when, how, why, and how much. Make sure this information is clear.
4. Do take time to research all components and write a comprehensive, detailed plan. If you are going to use your business plan to obtain financing, the completed plan should “tell the story” of your business to a potential lender. The plan should serve as a stand-alone document, meaning that all business issues are addressed without requiring additional verbal explanation.
5. Do include market research. Market research includes important information about your current and potential customers including demographics (income, age, etc.) and industry information. Your business plan should discuss the size and market for your business. Market research helps to determine the feasibility of your idea, an appropriate marketing strategy for your customers, and the product or service’s likelihood of selling. In addition, market research lends credibility to your plan. Always include such details in your business plan and cite the data sources.
6. Do include a financial plan and projections. This is one of the most critical parts of your business plan. The financial plan provides the numbers that correspond to your written plan. It is important to research the expected future revenues and expenses for your business. Monthly income statements and cash flow projections should be included. Existing businesses should also include historical financial statements.
7. Do explain how the plan relates to the financial projections. You should always include a narrative explaining the assumptions you used to develop income statement and cash flow projections. You must demonstrate that your numbers are reasonable.
8. Do research costs thoroughly in order to provide more accurate numbers. Taking time to gather cost estimates improves your chances for success. Determine all possible costs for starting and/or operating your business.
9. Don’t just “guess” what your costs may be. Use historical averages if yours is an existing business. Make a list of one-time and recurring costs so you do not overlook costs that may not be obvious (e.g. signage, janitorial service or waste disposal, licenses and permits, deposits, etc.). Try to obtain price quotes from knowledgeable sources such as the suppliers of your inventory, fixed assets, etc. If leasing a space, ask the lessor or other tenants for cost information concerning utilities, etc. Additionally, you may ask advisors about price quotes on insurance, professional fees (CPA, attorney), etc.
10. Do state the amount of funds requested if you are using your plan to obtain financing. If you are going to use your plan to apply for a start-up loan or growth funding, specifically state the amount of funds requested, planned use of those funds, and demonstrate how those funds will be repaid. In addition, it is important to state the amount of your planned owner’s cash contribution to the project as well as identify the collateral available to secure the loan.
11. Do revise and modify your plan as circumstances change. The business plan is a dynamic document. Circumstances are likely to change within the course of planning, starting and operating your business. Always update your plan to reflect such changes.
12. Do discuss your experience and skills in detail. Your business idea or current business strategy may be a viable one, but without good management skills to execute it, your chances for success are poor. Past experience within the industry is valuable and gives you credibility. Thoroughly describe your past experience with the business. If you are new to the business with limited experience, discuss your plans for training, hiring key personnel, etc.
13. Do address strengths and weaknesses of your business idea.
14. Do consider all your competition. Your business will not operate without external forces such as competition. Address strengths and weaknesses of existing and potential competitors.
15. Do submit your plan to the Clatsop Community College SBDC (Small Business Development Center) for feedback and guidance. The CCC SBDC can provide valuable assistance and recommendations for improving your plan.
16. Do use your plan to monitor actual performance and compare to your expectations. Your completed plan is a valuable tool in the management of your business. Review the progress and performance of your business against expectations and assumptions. Modify your plan when appropriate. Use your plan to guide the decision-making process so that your business stays focused on achieving its long-term goals.
Make an appointment with one of our business advisors to go through this in more detail, and to share tools, techniques and information on the best steps to take in this critical process. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, kleahy @clatsopcc.edu, or call CEDR/CCC SBDC Executive Director Kevin Leahy, at 503-338-2342.