Business plans are the difference between a business that succeeds and one that does not. While the entrepreneur must develop her own plan, it is essential to have the plan reviewed by professionals, and modified accordingly. It may also be advisable to employ a professional proposal writer, accountants, lawyers, and other key individuals in its preparation. If the entrepreneur is going to need financing, partners, or government approval of some kind, then the need for a professional business plan writer becomes vital. Often the difference between the well accepted and funded business, and the ones which fail, is in the presentation of the ideas and the packaging of the proposal.
While all business plans contain key elements, the content and organization varies from industry to industry, and also may differ based on the goal of the plan. Information will be repeated in different sections and explained to different degrees within sections. The right amount of detail should be included in each section. All business plans should however address the following major areas and contain the following sections:
I.) Introductory Contents
II.) Business Description
III.) The Market Description
IV.) Development & Production Description
V.) Sales & Marketing Plan
VI.) Management and Organizational Structure
VII.) Financial Documents
The CoverThe cover of the document is often the "First Impression" of a business for any interested parties or investors. The purpose of a cover is to tell the reader what the document is about. Your cover should say the words "Business Plan," and should include:
1) Name and business name
2) Company logo
4) Telephone number
5) Fax number
6) E-mail address
7) Other contact information
The cover should be attractive and professional looking. Fonts used should be easily read, and color contrasts should be pleasant to the eye.
Executive SummaryThe executive summary is what most readers will read first. Lenders in particular read executive summaries before looking at the rest of a plan to determine whether or not they want to learn more about a business. An executive summary may also be used singularly to attract potential curiosity in your company and can be "followed up" with a complete plan if investors are interested. The executive summary is the first part of your plan, but it should be written last. It is an abstract of the pertinent essentials of your business plan. The wording should be chosen very carefully. The executive summary should be short, attention getting, and understandable.
Table of ContentsAll pages of your business plan should be correctly numbered and the table of contents should include page numbers. Be sure to list headings for the major sections as well as for important subsections. Thumb tabs for the documents headings are a nice feature and indicate a professional document.
1) An overview of the industry the business will be in.
2) A description of the company.
4) The company's positioning.
3) Descriptions of the company's products or services.
5) The company's pricing strategy.
The Industry OverviewBegin the business description with a brief overview of the field the company will be competing in. This is not a discussion of your competition. One is providing an overview of the industry where it and other companies like it will vie. Describe trends in the industry, some history and projections. Do not rely on "best guesses," but use actual industry data from trade associations, government reports and trade journals to support the descriptions. Do not just report the positive side of the industry, include the negative too! For example a discussion of an Internet Services business may include problems anticipated with the number of telephone lines available, or other infrastructure problems with the phone companies involved. Show that all conceivable aspects have been considered.
The Company DescriptionBegin with your mission statement - a one or two sentence description of the purpose of the business and to whom the product or service is targeted. It is vital that an entrepreneur know what business they are in. Not being clear in the mission statement indicates that one is not clear about the purpose of one's company. It can also indicate that a business is not prepared for the market. When the railroads failed to recognize that they where in the transportation industry, and not the "train" business, they lost out to trucking and airlines for market share. A business person should pay very close attention to this statement, as all else hinges on it. If during the building of the rest of the plan one discovers that the plan is not correlating to the mission statement, then the mission statement or the plan must be modified.
Describe the business. Give a brief history and include information like whether it is a corporation, a retail, or service business. Be complete as to ownership status, location of operations and other pertinent information.
When discussing the company's principals, one doesn't need to provide a complete resume. The resumes are included in another section. You can however point out interesting qualities of the principals. For example, if one of the owners of a research firm has been recognized for discoveries in his field and it relates to the business, then one may include a statement like "Biochemist John Blow, who discovered the X factor in 1994, will head up the research team."
The company's Products or ServicesDescribe each of the products or services. Go into as much detail as necessary for the reader to get an understanding for what the enterprise will be. Make it interesting. It is important to point out how your particular enterprise is different from other similar businesses. Just saying "It is better" is not enough. You must tell how it is better. Every business claims to be "high quality, better service." While a business must have quality and good service, it is no real selling point, since the consumer is bombarded with that claim at every turn. One can not bore a reader into buying their proposal! One must convince them about their product or service. If it can not be done here, it wont be done in the market place when the business starts.
PositioningPosition is your place in the marketplace. How the customers and your competitors perceive your company's product or service refers to its position. This is based on your customers and competition, not your product or enterprise alone. It is the relationship to customers and competition that is emphasized. A business does not have to be the leader or potential leader to be profitable, it does however need to know where it stands or will stand in the industry. This understanding of positioning will aid in the promoting of the company. Avis car rental did quit well with "We're number two, We try harder."
PricingDescribe what the charge for the product or service is, and how one calculated the price. Once the pricing and rationale are explained, discuss where this pricing strategy places the company in the spectrum of the other providers of this product or service. Also, explain how the price will affect getting the product or service accepted. Tell also how price will affect the companies market share. It is not necessary to assume that lower pricing increases market share. Sometimes higher prices, as with prestige items, may have the effect of increasing the product's market share. Remember that lower prices require higher volume to achieve the same sales totals. A slightly higher price may not effect the total number of sales but may greatly influence gross profits.
2) Market Size and Trends
4) Estimated Sales
CustomersIt is important to be specific when describing the customers who will call for the product or service. This description defines the characteristics of the people the endeavor wants to sell to. An existing business should list their current key customers and any sales trends or patterns. A new business should look at the demographics of the potential customers.
Market Size/TrendsThis section defines the total market size as well as the slice of the market the business will target. Use numbers as well as trend information to describe the current market and its potential. Growth, declines, and new markets opening up are key types information. Recognizing the significance of the statistics and explaining them may require a professional's assistance.
CompetitionPresent a short discussion of each of the businesses' primary competitors. If available, include annual sales and market share statistics. Each assessment should include the degree to which these companies meet their customers' needs. Explain how one can capture a share of their business.
Estimated SalesThis should include sales in units and dollars for the next three years, with the first year broken down by quarters or even months if appropriate to the endeavor. These numbers will also be used in other financial documents presented later in the plan. Justify the projections. Use "best case," "worst case," and "most likely" scenarios. Explain what would influence the different scenarios and how those influences effect sales.
1) Development Status
2) Production Process
3) Cost of Development
4) Labor Requirements
5) Expenses and Capital Requirements
Development StatusDescribe the current status of the company's product or service and what remains to be done to make it ready to be marketed. Include a schedule detailing when this work will be completed. Also, detail the contingencies which must be met before the next phase is commenced.
Production ProcessAn investor will only provide money for a business he or she understands, so explain the stages of production from the inception of the idea to when it can be sold. With a service company, describe the process of delivering the service. Manufacturing processes and delivery methods also need to be detailed for those enterprises involved in making products.
Also discuss physical location for the production of your product or service. Justify this decision as well, by talking about savings in rent or lease, convenience to suppliers, labor, materials, or other factors important to your business. An investor wants to know that a business does not intend to sell "Ice to Eskimos," simply because the ice is cheaper to make in the Arctic regions!
Cost of Production and DevelopmentPresent and explain a design and development budget. This budget should include the cost of the design of a prototype as well as the expense to take it into production. Testing and evaluation expenses should also be included. Be sure to include labor, materials, consulting fees, and the cost of professionals such as patent attorneys. While the cost of production section may be more readily apparent to product companies, this section is important for all businesses. Service businesses have expenses such as consulting services, training for principals, and preparation of documentation materials, among many other things.
Labor RequirementsThe management team is outlined in the management section. This section provide details of other labor one will need to start up and run the business. Address how many people are required and what skills they need to possess. Be sure to cover the important issues such as labor pool, recruitment, training, cost of labor, and future labor pool. Training and evaluation of employees, and having enough support personnel to accomplish the mission of the business must be planned for. While having all the other elements of a business are necessary, not having the employees to perform duties of the company can be the death of a company. Any cooperative agreements with colleges, training schools, and state departments of labor should be included in the plan. For example, a treatment center for emotionally disturbed children, located some distance from centers of education, would have a difficult time recruiting professional employees. This may drive salary requirements for recruitment out of range.
Expenses and Capital RequirementsOne must also create at least three financial forms that will build a foundation for the Financial section of your plan: operating expenses, capital requirements, and cost of goods. Generate spreadsheets for the year in which one establishes the business as well as projections for two years or more after.
Operating ExpensesBy creating a financial form called Operating Expenses, you pull together the expenses incurred in running your business. The attention of a business consultant and an accountant is most needed in these preparations. All expenses, the obvious as well as the hidden, must be considered. An experienced consultant can ask the questions that a new entrepreneur would not think of.
Capital RequirementsThis form details the amount of money you will need to procure the equipment and resources used to start up and continue operations of the enterprise. Capital Requirements also includes the depreciation details of all purchased equipment. To determine your capital requirements, think about anything in your business that will require money to procure.
Cost of GoodsFor a manufacturing company, the cost of goods is the cost incurred in the manufacturing of the product. For a retail or wholesale business, the cost of goods (sometimes called the cost of sales) is the purchase of inventory. To generate a Cost of Goods table, you need to know the total number of units you will sell for a period as well as what other inventory may be on hand, and at what stage of production these units exist. For a manufacturing company, the cost of goods table will include materials, labor, and overhead related specifically to product manufacturing. Cost of waste and byproduct disposal must also be included. For example a company which makes picture frames would be mistaken to calculate the costs of the product based on it containing only 9/10ths of a board foot, if it requires 1 and ½ board feet trimmed down to obtain it.
1) Sales and Marketing Strategy
2) Method of Sales
3) Advertising and Promotion
Sales and Marketing StrategyThink of this statement as an action plan for how a business will get customers to buy their products. It will support the tactics described later on in this section. How will the customers be targeted for the company's products and services?
Method of SalesDescribe available distribution channels and how one will use them. In this section the writer demonstrate her ability and knowledge to get the company's products into the hands of the targeted customers. It also details transaction methods, such as terms for financing the sale, credit card acceptance, check handling, cash transactions, and method of product or service delivery.
Advertising and PromotionThis section should include a description of all advertising vehicles the enterprise plans to use. This includes flyers, newspapers, magazines, radio & TV, Yellow Pages, Internet, etc. It should also include the public relations program, sales/promotional materials (such as brochures and product sheets), package design, trade show efforts, videos, and any other methods.
3) Board of Directors/Board of Advisors
4) Support Services
Management DescriptionUse this section to describe company management including the responsibilities and expertise of each person. Many lenders and venture capitalists base their investment decisions on the strength of the company's principals. Include special skills and abilities, as well as complementary aspects of the team's relationship.
For positions that have yet to be filled, detailed job descriptions, and who needs to be hired to achieve success must be described. Describe the talents these persons need to possess and how the addition of that person will help the company meet its objectives. Methods of recruitment and hiring should also be detailed.
OwnershipA short section on who owns and controls the company will help readers derive a better understanding of who will be making decisions. Potential lenders, many of whom will require a significant stake in the company in exchange for funds, will also be interested in what portion of the company's equity is available.
Board of Directors/Board of AdvisorsA strong board of directors or board of advisors is an asset to a business. If the board members have industry connections, good reputations, or potential to raise capital for your business, be sure to include these facts. A good board of advisors can also open doors for "networking" that would otherwise not be available. Attention to these details may be the difference between obtaining financial and other resources needed.
Support ServicesStrong support services, including consultants, attorneys, accountants, advertising agencies, as well as industry-specific services also help to indicate other's faith in the business. This also shows the ability to attract needed talent to the company.
2) Cash Flow Statement
3) Balance Sheet
4) Income Statement
5) Funding Request and Return
RisksNo business is without risks. The ability to identify and discuss them demonstrates skills as a manager and increases a planners credibility with potential investors. Be realistic, not admitting risks is the surest way to failure. Knowing your risks helps one have ready-made solutions.
Cash Flow StatementA cash flow statement shows readers of the business plan how much money will be needed, when it will be needed, and where the money will come from. In general terms, the cash flow statement looks at cash and sources of revenue minus expenses and capital requirements to derive a net cash flow figure. This is done with respect to a given time frame. Initial cash flow statements should reflect the time frames of operation, whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly. The time frame selected most often correspond to a natural period of the businesses cycle.
Balance SheetUnlike other financial statements a balance sheet is created only once a year to calculate the net worth of a business. If your business plan is for a start-up business, you will need to include a personal balance sheet summarizing your personal assets and liabilities. A new business almost always requires the strength of personal financial commitments. Proving that the entrepreneur can keep commitments is important. If the business exists already, include several of the past years balance sheets. Analyze the results of the balance sheet briefly and include this analysis in the business plan. As with all financial documents, have the balance sheet prepared or at least reviewed by a reputable accountant. Decisions about assets and whether they should be classified as owner debt equity or capital investment will greatly influence the perceived strength of the balance sheet.
Income StatementThe income statement is where a planner makes a case for the business potential to generate cash. This document is where the writer records revenue, expenses, capital, and cost of goods. The outcome of the combination of these elements demonstrates how much money a business made or will make, or lost or will lose, during the year. An income statement and a cash flow statement differ in that an income statement does not include details of when revenue was collected or expenses paid. Accrual accounting and cash basis accounting methods will influence the "bottom line" shown. While the legal implications for these methods are most pertinent to the IRS, an astute investor will detect any "slight of hand" that may be used to show the figures in the best light. For this reason a business planner should employ the skills of a CPA who is also a business oriented consultant.
An income statement projected for a business plan should be broken out by month the first year. The second year can be broken down quarterly, and annually for each year after. Analyze the results of the income statement briefly and include this analysis in the business plan. If the business already exists, include income statements for up to five previous years. As with all financial documents, having the income statement prepared or at least reviewed by a reputable accountant is money well spent. Any exceptional data should be explained.
Funding Request and ReturnState the amount of funding and the type (debt or partner equity) of investment sought. It is important to provide a breakdown of how the money will be applied. Discuss what effect the capital will have on the business potential to grow and profit, when the money is needed, and what investment has already been made in the company.
A common mistake in a business plan is to be unclear in this section, which turns potential investors away. If the company founders have invested in the company, include this in your plan. Most investors are encouraged by founders putting their own money on the line. Many will ask why a company's principals are not also investors.
Finally, create an exit plan that describes how investors will get their money out of your company. One common investor worry is that even if a business is profitable, it may be difficult for them to get a good price for their equity. A cash-out option in five years or assurance that the company will become a strong candidate for a purchase or an Initial Public Offering are what many venture capitalists and lenders will insist upon. A business owner also may want to be sure that she can "buy back" any equity put up to insure that an investment will be made.