Month: April 2016

Business Plans Every Entrepreneuer Must Have

Business Plans Every Entrepreneuer Must HaveI am mentoring small businesses and I am amazed at the ideas I read from the entrepreneurs I have the pleasure of meeting.

Unfortunately, not many have well laid out business plans and most use the Internet for planning.

A big percentage of the documents they use from the Internet are impressive, but what they do not understand is that one cannot use a business plan tailored for another region of the world to fully execute his specific business.

Business concepts are similar universally, but execution and sustainability differ depending on one’s environment and market.

The business plans I have read display glorified projections and their market analysis clearly depicts great profit.

In short, one look at a business plan will tell you that some issues have yet to be thought out clearly. For example, competition, risk, challenges and so forth.

Before embarking on your venture, draft at least three business plans.

Individual

This plan is the truest of them all. I refer to it as the naked business plan. It covers almost everything including risk and possibility of failure. No business life lesson can be complete without a discussion on risks and risk management and no business can be started without embracing risk.

Risks are inherent in everything we do – business risk management is the key to ensuring risks are identified and a plan-B or C thought out. Some risks we can control while others we cannot.

This plan should cover who you are as an individual, what your honest strengths and weaknesses are and how you will handle stumbling blocks or closure.

It should address questions like; Can you persevere through tough times? Do you have a strong desire to be your own boss? Do the judgments you make in life regularly turn out well? Do you have an ability to conceptualise the whole of a business? Do you possess the high level of energy, sustainable over long hours, to make a business successful? Do you have specialised business experience?

Financial projections in the plan should cover, at the very least, five different modules. You should work on the plan yourself and get prepared for any outcome.

Investors

I like to call this the headlines business plan. You only have one shot at getting investors – make the best out of it.

This is a plan that shows what team you will be working with and how you plan to invest to make money for investors. Show a well laid out plan that includes short and long term financial gains.

The confidence, coupled with experience, shown in this document will determine whether you get the initial investment you seek.

Financial projections in this case can be three to five years. They are there to show sustained profit. You should not glorify the plan nor try to get a lot of money for the start-up.

You must mention what your competition is and how you plan to create your own niche market – having a business plan that does not have a thorough SWOT analysis could raise the red flag. You might end up not getting financial support.

Pick the right team, get professional advice, try to separate your product from the rest in order to achieve your own niche.

Do not spend too much money. Most people think that having a lot of money is fundamental in starting a business. That is a fallacy – you can make a lot out of very little.

Universal

This is the plan that you started out with – the ”sitting research” through which you came out with pros and cons of the venture. The plan that has been developed from different Internet searches to better understand what you will be dealing with.

This is the longest business plan. This plan has a lot of data, but you should sieve out information that is irrelevant for your business. Without this plan, it is difficulty to cover everything that needs to be covered in your proposed venture.

What Defines a Serious Business Buyer

Individuals who desire to purchase an established small business must be well prepared before the search process begins. Well managed, profitable and successful businesses are in short supply and very high demand. Business owners and business brokers alike have little patience and interest in wasting their valuable time with buyers who have not taken the appropriate steps to demonstrate that they are fully prepared to acquire a business.

How does a buyer define themselves as being a “serious” candidate and not a casual, curious, tire kicker? The goal of this article is to outline the steps that a business buyer should take in advance so that they can stand out and be recognized as a serious and credible buyer?

Let’s start with a few examples demonstrating who is NOT a serious candidate.

    • I want to buy a small business in the area but am not sure what type yet. Can you send me information on three of the businesses you have listed for sale – the industrial manufacturing business, the durable medical equipment company, and the online retailer?
    • I am still working at my current job but am contemplating leaving the firm and purchase a business within the next couple of years.
    • My background is entirely in the printing industry but I want to make a change and thought about buying a wholesale chemical products company.
    • I have a little money saved up but need to get a loan to purchase a business. I am not sure how much I would qualify for or how large a business I could afford.
  • I want to buy a business but will need the seller to finance the purchase. I will pay them back entirely out of the future cash flow of the company.

Preparing a business for sale takes considerable work on behalf of the business broker and seller. Just a few of the steps include valuing the business, preparing the Confidential Business Review (executive summary), and organizing all of the corporate, financial, and tax documents. For a buyer to be recognized as a serious candidate, they too have work that needs to be accomplished prior to being in a position to venture in the marketplace and begin assessing business opportunities.

So, what makes a buyer a serious candidate?

  1. Personal profile and resume

Construct a detailed personal profile and biography. Not only will the seller need to see this document but any bank requires this as well. A resume is just a starting place. The document should cover the following questions:

  • What is your education and work experience?
  • Who will be buying the business? Just you, you and your spouse, a partner, an investor?
  • Why you are interested in buying a business?
  • What is your investment criteria?
  • What transferrable skills do you possess that qualify you for managing the business?
  • How will you be financing the acquisition? If bank funding will be utilized, a prequalification letter should be included. How much money do you have for a down payment?
  • What is your timetable to complete the acquisition?
  • Who is your advisory team? Which attorney will be drafting the Asset Purchase Agreement and facilitating the closing? Do they have experience with business acquisitions?
  • What are the contingencies for the business acquisition? Do you have to leave a current job? Do you have to secure funding from a partner or a bank? Do you have to relocate and sell a house?

How will the buyer be funding the purchase?

Buyers should be knowledgeable about the size of business they are qualified to purchase. Will the buyer be utilizing personal funds for the transaction or will third party financing be used? Most acquisitions (without real estate) require 25% of the purchase price as a down payment. (Funds needed for closing costs and working capital are often provided as part of the loan package and can be financed.)

Buying and selling a small business requires a two way exchange of information. The buyer should be ready to disclose the amount they can invest and have a detailed plan on how they will finance the entire transaction. The idea that the seller is going to finance the sale is not a plan and this type of buyer will be quickly dismissed. Business brokers can be a great source for recommendations on which lenders are appropriate and likely to finance the business they represent.

The buyer should have a current personal financial statement prepared. If bank financing will be utilized, the buyer should be clear on their borrowing capacity and have a lender prequalification letter in hand (a banker can prepare this in a matter of hours). Don’t expect the broker or business seller to provide complete access to sensitive and confidential business documents without receiving assurances that the buyer has the appropriate resources to either purchase the business outright or obtain a business acquisition loan.

What industry experience or transferrable skills does the buyer have?

The optimal situation is when the prospective buyer has direct industry experience. This is especially pertinent when bank financing will be involved. Obviously, every business is different and each will have unique requirements for successful ownership. For some businesses, the buyer may be able to satisfy this requirement by having related practical work experience or transferrable skills. Certain businesses may require licenses, certifications, or a particular expertise to operate. If the buyer does not possess these it will be critical to confirm that there is a manager or key employee in place that has these qualifications. In other situations, the business may be very specialized and a buyer lacking a critical credential will be disqualified from obtaining bank funding. These issues should be discussed early in the process as the business broker will need to determine if you are managerially qualified to operate the business.

What is the type of business the buyer is seeking and why?

A serious buyer has developed a detailed and concise “investment criteria” for the business they seek to acquire. Several of investment criteria attributes will include the type of business, the industry, the geographic location, the size of business, and the price/value of the enterprise.

Serious buyers will focus on enterprises which are suited to their background and qualifications. A buyer who inquires about an industrial packaging distributer, a restaurant, and a custom millwork company will not be treated as a serious candidate. Having an investment criteria that relates only to “profitable businesses” or “those businesses which generate a minimum of $150,000 in cash flow” without regard to the business type, industry served, geographic location, and size is a clear red flag that the candidate has not put the proper time into honing their acquisition objective.

  1. Realistic expectations.

Successful entrepreneurs recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect company. Business ownership involves taking on some level of risk and acquiring a business is no different. Buyers who seek to purchase a business 100% free of any flaws will be searching for a very long time. There will be areas of improvement for every business and the buyer will have to make a decision as to which negative elements are acceptable and which ones are not. Buyers who are too risk adverse may just not be cut out for small business ownership and being an employee is a more suitable career objective.

Additionally, buyers often fail to realize that there is a limited supply of great businesses for sale… those that have year over year revenue growth, excellent profits, and bright prospects for continued advancement. Many of these businesses sell for the full listing price and for these types of successful businesses, buyers should be careful when submitting an offer less than 90% of what it is listed at. Most of the time there are a multiple buyers who are evaluating the business and those candidates who submit, either a low-ball offer or an offer with unrealistic terms attached, will be wasting the valuable time of all parties involved not to mention possibly burning a bridge with the business seller and eliminating themselves from consideration.

  1. Ability to react quickly

A serious buyer is well organized, has done their research, and knows what they want and what they can afford. They are decisive and capable of moving through the process in a timely and methodical fashion. If a partner, spouse, or investor will be involved in the acquisition, these individuals are consulted with in advance and are in agreement with the defined objectives. If advisors will be assisting in the evaluation, the advisors are aware of the acquisition search and are on standby for their assignment.

A serious buyer should have an understanding of how businesses are valued in addition to a comprehension of the typical steps in the acquisition process. They are prepared with a list of well thought and detailed questions designed with the objective of determining if the opportunity meets their investment criteria. A serious buyer recognizes that a quick no is far better than a slow no and they tackle those gating issues from the outset that would disqualify the business from being acquired. Once the opportunity is qualified a serious buyer is in a position to make a ‘realistic offer’ and provide a letter of intent or terms sheet. A professional support team has been identified for the drafting the Asset Purchase Agreement and facilitating the transaction closing. Lastly, a serious buyer will understand the due diligence process and already have their checklist in place. Funding for the acquisition has been planned and money for an earnest money deposit is liquid and available.

  1. Professional Communication

A serious buyer is honest, direct, and forthcoming. Now is not the time to be cagey, cute, or evasive. You want to convey at the earliest opportunity your investment criteria, time table, financial wherewithal and reasons for pursuing the acquisition. This type of communication will build a foundation of trust and honest dialog in the weeks ahead. One viable solution for a serious buyer is to retain a business broker to assist with the search and business qualification. This approach provides far better results than a haphazard approach of firing off requests for information on any business posted on-line that catches their fancy. The business-for-sale industry is not the real estate industry. There are no open houses. This is a highly confidential process where professionals are involved and retained to protect the sensitivity of the business for sale data. A buy-side broker is paid by the prospective buyer for the time, energy, and work that is generated on their behalf. They are compensated to produce results.

Prepare Your Plan on the Back of an Envelope

In the recent economic slowdown it can sometimes feel like a crowbar is required to pry money from investors to help you grow your aspiring business. But during times when capital is tight, it’s time to get creative. Companies that focus on systematically meeting their short-term goals typically discover that they also achieve long-term business success, with or without the benefit of outside investment.

So how do you quickly mobilize your current resources, capital and team to realize your goals and targets? Prepare a plan of attack – more commonly referred to as a business plan. But cast aside any worries you have about preparing a thick tome with fancy verbiage and financial projections. The business plan to achieve your short-term objectives is not graded by weight or page length, but instead by the quality and clarity of the strategies you commit to paper.

In this case, we recommend you prepare a business plan that fits onto the back of a regular sized envelope.

You may have returned to the previous sentence for a moment and asked, “An envelope? How can I prepare a business plan on the back of an envelope?” It’s a great question and there’s a very simple answer: If your objective is to achieve an important internal goal, rather than impress an audience of bankers, investors or strategic partners, then an informal “envelope plan” can be a perfect solution. It enables you to quickly organize, document and communicate your business strategies to management and staff. And in some cases, a brief document is more effective than thirty-plus pages of brilliantly bound business plan literature – particularly when the priority is to rally your team around a common cause for an upcoming month or quarter.

A quick warning before we look at the steps to prepare an “envelope plan” for your business. If in fact, your goal is to secure financial backing from investors or lenders, then you will naturally need to develop a more robust business plan with well-supported financial statements. A more comprehensive plan, track record and qualified team are expected if you intend to gain the attention of serious financing sources for your business.

But assuming your plan is for short-term internal purposes, you can prepare an “envelope plan” in five easy steps:

Step 1: Clarify the Goal

Begin by preparing a very precise, quantifiable statement of no more than one or two sentences to clarify the goal your company will achieve. For example: “ABC Cleaning Company will increase revenue from repeat customers from 8% of total yearly sales to 20% of total yearly sales by the end of calendar year 2009.” Your goal should be clear, measurable and tied to a specific time period or deadline.

Step 2: Outline Your Strategies

The next step is to develop a bulleted list of the primary strategies you will implement to meet your stated business goal. In this case, “What can ABC do to increase repeat business?” Examples might include:

  • Offer a 5% discount to repeat customers
  • Improve the quality of product/service offerings
  • Introduce additional training and quality standard programs for entire staff
  • Implement customer service follow-up process to increase satisfaction and referrals
  • Commit to be on time-every time
  • Develop and maintain database of customers and send weekly and monthly correspondence
  • Use social media strategies to more fully engage customers

Step 3: Identify Your Tactics

The third step is to write one or two bullets with the specific actions to be taken to make each strategy outlined above a reality. For example:

  • 5% Discount – Advise Sales Manager of new pricing initiative
  • Better Training – Investigate web-based training courses
  • Customer Database – Locate appropriate contact management program

Step 4: Perform a Cost/Benefit Analysis

The fourth step is absolutely critical. Prepare a two-sentence assessment of the financial costs and rewards of executing your envelope plan. For example… “The cost of executing this plan, including the pricing discount and the cost of the other initiatives, is $37,000. The financial reward for executing this plan, assuming that the level of new customers remains unchanged and the business from repeat customers increases to 20%, an increase in annual sales of $875,000 is expected”. Not a bad return on your money actually!

Step 5: Get Buy-In

Your final step is to share your “envelope plan” with other members of your team to gain input and buy-in into the advantages of implementing your strategies. The envelope plan appears simple, but it’s concise, geared toward action and infuses financial costs and returns into your overall businesses goals.

How To Develop A Successful Business Plan

Make Sure You Have A Business Plan

The first point to keep in mind about business plans is… have a business plan! This may seem obvious but is overlooked. Many people start businesses without a plan; sometimes it can come from sheer bravado, thinking “I don’t need a plan”, or alternatively you might hear “It’s all inside my head, that’s my business plan”. The reality is no matter how much you work with things in your head, no matter how confident you may be and how much you think you already have a great vision for your business, there are so many great reasons why you should get it down on paper.

Most of all if you are seeking funding for your business, it will be absolutely crucial to go along and show someone an actual plan, because there will be very few people who will loan you money on the basis of what’s just in your head. So it’s pivotal to have a plan and be committed to preparing that document. If you are someone who shies away from planning, or you don’t like writing or preparing documents, nevertheless you are going to have to force yourself on this occasion. I say that because it is such a key document for the future success of your business, such a tool throughout its development to return and refer to.

Have An Overall Vision

When writing your business plan it is really important to have an overriding vision of what your business is going to do, what it is going to be, and what you want to achieve. Very often it is tempting to get straight into the technical details, the monetary concerns, financial matters, where you will be sourcing supplies, etc. Now all these things will be vital in your business plan, but it has to be held together by a coherent, broader vision.

Remember the proverbial expression ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’? You need to see the ‘wood’ first, then delve in and start examining the individual ‘trees’, meaning the individual items which you will be breaking down later. So a great point is to make sure that you have that overarching vision – and if you cannot find one, then maybe it is an indication that you are obsessing on a few technical aspects that do not necessarily make up a whole business as you had imagined it. A business that makes sense and is going to be sustainable in the future is one that has that clear vision within which all the smaller parts contribute to make it successful.

Contextualise Your Budget

Of course your budget will be extremely important. But sometimes people sort of pluck figures out of thin air, not giving it the context it needs in the business plan to make real concrete sense of how that budget is going to work.

So it is crucial that every time you mention financials in your business plan, to really give them the correct context. When I have worked with clients in developing business plans, there has been a budget or amount set aside for example to be spent on marketing, which has been decided a bit arbitrarily. I mean with no real research, no understanding of what that amount needs to be spent on, and what that budget will truly achieve. It seems to have been put there to fill the need to attribute a certain sum to marketing.

Make sure you are researching each point of your budget, make sure that you are giving it context and it makes proper sense within your overall plan.

Don’t Make Assumptions About Customers

To be an entrepreneur does require plenty of self-confidence, sometimes almost a bloody-minded determination to make your business work. But this confidence spilling over into thinking that you know what ‘the market’ wants can be dangerous, without checking that it’s true. You need to do your research that the market does ultimately want what you will be offering, whatever products or services you will be selling.

That is a great thing to make sure you have in your business plan, that your business will be built around those real customer wants. Do not make callous assumptions, or statements like “I know what people want”, “People are going to love this”, and so on. Have you done your research? Do you really know that the people you will be targeting want your product / service, and crucially do they want it AT THE PRICE that you will be offering it at? Whilst confidence in your plan is fantastic, you must make sure that it does not lead you down a blind alley along a path that is not desired by your target market.

Don’t assume what customers want, do your research and make sure that is clear from the start in your business plan.

Research Your Competitors (But Don’t Copy!)

Every business plan should focus a lot on the business’s potential competitors, because research and analysis of the competition effectively gives you plenty of useful information. It may guide you as to where you should be advertising and marketing, or certain strategies to use or ones to avoid because you see they have been used unsuccessfully by others.

I often see people split into two camps. On one hand those who almost ignore competitors in their business plan, because they do not want to think about the issue yet and feel so confident they have a great idea for the market regardless. But I recommend not being overconfident when it comes to competitors. They are still there for a reason, they are still around and in business for a reason, so view them with that in mind.

I teach that you should seek to learn from competitors; obviously never copy another business’s idea or what they are doing, but you can absolutely learn from their mistakes or see what they are doing and discover ways to improve it. All of that analysis belongs in your business plan: make sure you have your competitors under the microscope and make sure that is a solid chunk of your plan. That is some of the best research and information you will gather about what will make your business successful in future.

Be Prepared For Risks

It is a fact of life that any new business or enterprise has a degree of risk attached to it. Therefore it is important for your business plan to analyse and calculate that risk, showing how you will engage with it. There is no business plan out there that is risk-free, but very often where the risk is higher then the rewards will be as well.

What should come into your business plan is how you assess it, how you foresee anything occurring that could have an adverse impact and how you would deal with it in the right ways. If you are looking to obtain funding from a bank or people you know, it is essential to show what the risk factors are in the proposed business and how you plan to defend against them.

It could be, for example, the risk of a change in the economic environment – what are your contingency plans for that in terms of dealing with such a situation? There may be many other risks as well specific to your particular sphere of operation, but that ability to plan ahead for all scenarios makes for a robust business plan. When I have received business plans, the very best responses come from people who have looked at the risks and have an answer for every question. What you never want is to throw a scenario at your plan and have to answer “I don’t know what I would do in that situation”. You want to plan for every possible contingency, and certainly all the major risks to the ongoing success of your business.

Obtain Feedback On Your Plan

When writing a business plan you sometimes end up locking yourself away. You might have unique ideas which lead you to seek some isolation and secrecy, or if you are going to be a sole trader you may only have one person to consult namely yourself. But it is fantastic to try and get broader input on your business plan – whether from a professional, or simply from friends and family whom you trust. I say that because of course you need to be careful with commercially sensitive ideas, as you do not want to pass your plan on to someone in the pub who then starts your idea before you across the road.

But do not be too paranoid, make sure you are showing it to people you trust, whose feedback you welcome and can be genuinely useful in guiding how the plan takes shape. Very often when working as individuals we get very close to certain details and miss out a big thing that has slipped your mind. You can concentrate so much on essential financials and supply logistics, but overlook other issues like marketing or opening times. By showing the plan to someone you trust, they can have a look and see what might be missing or worth developing more. Getting that valuable second opinion on how robust your idea is will put you in a much better position to start and keep going successfully.

The Business Ladder is a boutique training company with a refreshingly skills-based approach to business and enterprise. We provide a range of professional training courses and consultancy services, suitable for both individuals and teams, designed to develop ‘real skills for real results’.