So you’re ready to start a business and like any big journey, you need a plan. A map. A tool or gizmo to help you get where you’re going. In the startup world, that’s the Business Plan. Business Plans have a reputation for being complex, lengthy, headache-inducing documents and while I’m not here to tell you they should be easy or even fun, there are ways to reduce the angst and get through the process.
The actual format of a Business Plan is simple and you can find endless templates online that will tell you what content you should include and in what order. Before you begin though, ask yourself, who is your audience? Who will be reading this and why? Will it be financial institutions you’re trying to convince to loan you money? Investors? Potential partners? Employees? Who you’re writing to and for what purpose, will shape how you put your plan together and which parts are most important.
Let’s begin with why you need a plan because I hear so many people say, “I’ve been thinking this through for years” and “I know exactly how it’ll work, right down to the last detail.” Well that’s fantastic! Then writing a Business Plan should be smooth sailing. The main purpose of your Plan is to help you visualize your business from start to finish and anticipate any issues that may come up along the way. By thinking through how you’ll fund it, where you’ll put it, who will work there, who will buy from you, and what mark you’ll leave on the world, you can help work through problems before they even think about existing.
The very first thing you should consider is your Why. Why are you starting this business? What’s the need that it will address, the problem it will solve? How will your business behave? What are your core values? What types of employees will you hire? How will you make decisions? Build on that vision and explain it in such detail that your reader can clearly see it too. After starting with a solid Why, and a clear purpose, you can move into the What, When, How and Who.
The What you’ll do and When will fall under your business model. Here you’ll describe exactly what your business does to solve the problem you’re in business to solve and when you hope to do this. This will be followed by the How and the Who.
How will you achieve this goal? Who is your target audience and how will you reach them? You’ll need to do your research here to find out the history and growth rate of your industry, your demographics and your competition. Who’s out there doing this now and how will you do it better? Why are you uniquely positioned to offer this product or service? Why should people buy from you instead of the other guy?
Then test your idea! Don’t be afraid to do some boots-on-the-ground market research and ask potential customers what’s important to them, how do they make decisions? Talk to industry experts and other entrepreneurs to find out all you can and make sure your idea has some grit before you invest countless hours and large sums of money.
Make sure as you finish your Executive Summary (the first section in the plan but the last you’ll write), that you’ve considered these key elements:
Who’s your reader and why are they reading this?
Do they know why you’re starting this business, what you’ll do, when and for whom?
Simply writing your plan does not ensure business success and prosperity but it certainly improves your odds. As a Business Owner this document should become your bible as you rely on it to measure progress, make important decisions and navigate your future. Still feeling like you might need more help? Reach out to your local offices like the Small Business Administration, SCORE or Center for Women and Enterprise. There are no shortage of people who will listen, guide and help you get there, yours truly included! For more tips, check out my website and other blogs at Genesis Consulting.