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.