So you have decided what type of business to start and created a functional working environment, now it is time to get cracking on your business plan. A daunting task? Perhaps. But don’t let that phase you; this is one of the most crucial steps in creating a new business and you cannot afford to let apprehension or uncertainty stand in your way.
When it comes to business plans, one of the most contested issues is that of structure. Some will tell you that they must follow strict structural guidelines, whilst others will tell you to let them flow where they may. Neither of these standpoints is particularly helpful, because they assume that your intended audience has an unflinching structural preference, and this is quite often not the case. Like everything, business plans are objective, their merit is in the eye of their beholder, and therefore it’s rather difficult to create one that will be all things to all people. Having said this, a business plan structural template can help to give you a little guidance, especially if you are unsure of your own judgement on the issue.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any absolute ‘do’s and don’ts’ of writing a business plan, and there are of course certain things that you need to include; it is these aspects that we are going to have a look at here.
Leaving aside the issue of a definitive structure for a moment, a business plan should include as many of these things as you can muster.
A summary, which is sometimes called an ‘Executive Summary’
This is a summary, not of your business, but of the business plan itself.
If your business plan were a novel, this would be the ‘abridged and condensed’ version; the plot is basically the same, but the detail has been highly reduced. Creating an executive summary warrants a discussion all of its own, but a helpful thing to remember when writing it is that, someone with no prior knowledge of your business idea, should be able to pick it up and fully understand how your business will operate, grow, make money, etc.
An overview of your business
This is a fairly essential part of your business plan and is distinct from your executive summary in that that it should offer overall key insights into the business you are proposing with certain details included.
There are quite a few different schools of thought regarding what this should include, but suffice to say that although you might feel the urge to give a full and comprehensive account of every tiny detail of the business at this point, this should be avoided. The overview should be straightforward but inscrutable.
Common sense would seem to dictate that this be the first part of the business plan that you tackle, however we would argue that you leave this until the end, by which point you should have a much clearer and more comprehensive plan from which to work.
Some things that are appropriate to include here are; a brief history of the business, key practical considerations such as legal structure, business type, business model, products / services, location / locations, and USP.
Depending on the type of business that you are starting and the industry that it belongs to, there may be more / fewer things that you need to include in the overview. If in doubt, either get a second opinion from someone in the know, or err on the side of caution. So long as the overview achieves its purpose in summarising the key aspects of your business then there is no need for anxiety!
Now things get a little bit trickier
The meat of your business plan is quite open to a bit of creative licensing when it comes to structure, but before we proceed, it’s probably wise to list some of the things that you want your business plan to achieve.
Whatever the immediate motivations for creating your business plan, it will pay to bear one thing in mind; it should ultimately form a convincing argument of the significant and reasonable potential for your business to be a relative success.
Within the business plan you might like to consider some of these as potential subsections.
The business’ Products / Services
This should be a comprehensive and convincing overview of the products and services that your business will deliver. It is usually wise to frame them in the context of the marketplace, comparing and contrasting them to other existing products / services and presenting them as superior in one, or many regards.
This all sounds very ‘salesy’, but really all you are trying to do here is present your business as the provider of something which is needed, or wanted to such an extent that it represents good prospects of financial success.
The industry / market
It’s vital that you instil confidence in the person who is reading your business plan by emphatically demonstrating your understanding of the industry in which you hope to operate. This means details of;
Threats to the business
The history of the industry
Market shares etc
The team / background of the business
This is especially important when it comes to seeking investment from venture capitalists how often have you heard the Dragons on Dragons Den, turn down a deal because they didn’t have faith in the team behind it?
The simple truth is that no matter how revolutionary your product is, you also need to sell the idea that the team you have constructed to bring it to fruition are ready and capable to deliver. Without this, you will be flogging the proverbial dead horse. If you haven't yet constructed the team you will need, you should identify how you are planning to do this, paying particular attention to the types of skills / experience required.
You should also give a solid account of any trading that has already taken place, or any potential deals which are in the pipeline.
Your Strategies and forecasts
In a nutshell, you need to be answering these questions thoroughly;
What strategies will you implement to ensure the success of your business?
How will you implement these strategies and what is the cost?
What are your projected outcomes of these strategies?
Are there contingencies in place?
What is the expected timeframe for delivery of these strategies?
Here you need to include a thorough account of the business finances including;
Any losses or profits already made
Any debts that the business has
All cash flow projections for the short and long-term future
Any and all operating costs
The level of finance that you hope to secure (if that is your intention)
Now you see what we mean about the structure of the business plan being fairly open for discussion. The order that you ultimately decide upon should (we reckon) be dictated by common sense, such that the business plan has a logical flow that leaves no room for ambiguity and removes as much opportunity for ridicule as possible.