Getting it right with a business plan

The essential business plan ingredients

Using sample business plans and their structure, along with studying as many business plan examples as you can, will provide you with the necessary framework to consider your business from every possible angle.

Starting or running your business without a business plan is just like being a human being without a skeleton!

Not only will using a sample structure highlight any areas you haven’t fully thought through, but it will also provide you with a good idea of what makes a good business plan, and what doesn’t.

The importance of your business plan as a motivational factor in running or starting your business cannot be underestimated. You will find that your commitment continues to build as you collect information, research and write each section.

Your business plan should always accompany requests for small business loans, and lenders or any kind of angel investor will simply refuse to consider your business proposal without one.

Lenders and investors want to see your plan with the aim of satisfying key questions before they make their decision to grant funding or not.
Once you’ve commenced trading your small business plan will act as a steak in the ground, and help you measure where you expected to be against where you actually are. It will help you take corrective action as necessary.

Sample Business Plan Structure

All plans should include at least the elements listed below, and perhaps additional sections depending on the type of industry.
Executive Summary
Company Background
Products or Service Overview
Unique Selling Proposition and competitive advantages
The Marketplace
Operations
Leadership and management profiles including professional competencies
Professional Support
Risks and Threats assessment
Financial forecasts including key assumptions
Relevant appendices
Collecting the information for all the sections is time consuming and sometimes difficult. The business section of your local library is always a good place to start research. Ask your friendly librarian about how to look up market research reports, and how to investigate competitors.
If you are not familiar with spreadsheet software, constructing the necessary financial forecasts represents a significant hurdle. You have 2 choices:

Pay someone to put part or all of the plan together for you, or a small investment in some business planning software.

The advantage of using a professional is you will receive the benefits of their experience, combined with a professional looking plan.

The disadvantage is that it won’t be easy to make changes, and more importantly, because you will not have been as involved in its preparation, you won’t be as familiar with its contents as you maybe should be. Make sure to learn the contents well.

The advantages of investing in business planning software, are that you will save time and money over having a professional put the plan together for you.

You will be able to take advantage of the thousands spent consulting professionals, and users alike, by the software company in developing the product. You can disregard your worries about having any spreadsheet skills, or your lack of confidence in building a complete financial model, as this software will take care of that for you.

For less than the cost of having a professional put the plan together for you, you can produce a professional document, but more importantly continuously update your plan for new information. This means you’ll always have a first class plan ready to present to banks or investors at any time.

Palo Alto Software produce Business Plan Pro which I notice is also promoted by the UK clearing bank Barclays PLC through their Clearlybusiness subsidiary. They wouldn’t get behind promoting a product like this without giving it a thorough trial.