business planning 101

Business plans have a bad rep these days.  I’m not sure what happened.  Maybe they let themselves go, piled on a few pounds and stopped returning calls…

I suspect that the issue lies with the idea of what a business plan should be (dense and serious) and what it should contain (lots of dry facts and figures, a liberal sprinkling of pie charts).

Whatever the reason, whenever I talk to someone about their fledgling business, nothing gets me stonewalled quicker than asking them how they put their business plan together.  Particularly in the tech or creative sectors.  Business plans are seen as old-school, flabby and a waste of time that could be spent creating an amazing viral campaign.

Well, call me old-fashioned and pour me a sherry, but I’m pretty certain that they still have their place.  I’ve yet to be in an investor meeting where the money guys have said “we’re not interested in your business plan, just show us that cool remote-controlled egg timer app again”.  (If you do know money guys like that, please send them my way.  Especially if they want to invest in egg timer apps.  I sense a real opportunity in emerging markets).

I actually think that if you were to ask most people running a business what’s the one thing they wished they’d done better at the beginning – the response would be: planning how to manage their business and make money from it.

So in the immortal words of Tag Team – Whoomp There It Is… I’m takin’ it back to the old school…’Cause I’m an old fool who’s so cool (they said it, not me)… and below are some suggested questions to help you generate your very first business plan.

BUSINESS PLAN QUESTIONNAIRE *

1.  PRODUCTS / SERVICES:

  • What products / services are you planning to offer to customers?  Describe in detail.
  • What differentiates your products / services from similar products / services in the market?
  • Who are your competitors? List categories and specific businesses.
  • What does your business stand for (e.g. value-for-money, quality, craftsmanship, innovation, philanthropy)?
  • What testing have you done to ensure that there is a market for your product / services?

2.  CUSTOMERS:

  • Who are your target customers? Describe demographic and customer characteristics.
  • What are your customers’ needs and expectations and how will you service these?
  • How will you attract new customers? (e.g. word of mouth, advertising, discount marketing – groupon, wowcher etc.)
  • How will you encourage customer retention / repeat custom? (e.g. loyalty programmes, refer-a-friend discounts, package deals)

3.  MARKETING:

  • What existing marketing tools/materials do you have? (e.g. current customers who can give testimonials)
  • What are the best marketing tools to reach your target customer audience? (e.g. website, flyers, word of mouth, social media)
  • What experience do you have in marketing and / or what budget have you allocated for marketing?

4.  CAPACITY/LOGISTICS:

  • How many hours per week can you devote to your business? If part-time, draw up a realistic schedule of available hours.
  • How / where will you provide the services/products (e.g. online, via a shop, at home, mail-order) and what type of costs are associated with your delivery method (e.g. travel, heating, lighting, electricity etc)?
  • Do you foresee any problems with your delivery method:
    • for you?
    • for your customers?
  • Do you have everything in place to begin providing the services or products?  If not, what preparation, money and time is required on your part to get you to this point?
  • What is your capacity (the maximum number of customers you can service)?  What would enable you to increase that capacity?
  • Do you need anyone else to help you deliver your product / service to your customers?  If so, how do you intend to work with that person / service provider (e.g. employee, contractor etc.)?
  • Do you have all the necessary licenses and business permits you need to operate your business?

5.  FINANCIAL:

  • What is your current monthly income?
  • How many hours do you currently work to generate that income?
  • How much of that income are you looking to replace with the income from your new business?
  • Is there any deadline for replacing some / all of that income (e.g. because your job is being made redundant, your company has cut back on your hours etc.)?
  • What is your proposed pricing schedule for your product / service? Make sure you list out any one-off fees, discounts, bulk-pricing etc.  How does this compare against your competitors’ prices?
  • What are your monthly costs of providing the services? For each cost on your list above, try to get as accurate an estimate of amounts as possible.
  • What capital expenditure (if any) will you need to spend in order to provide the services (e.g. on equipment, premises etc.) and when will you need to spend this?
  • How long will it be before you start to break even?  How long before you generate enough money to pay yourself a salary?
  • Who will manage your accounts for you?

6.  GENERAL:

  • Why do you want to start this business?  What are your drivers and goals?
  • What obstacles do you see to making this business a success?  How might you overcome these obstacles?
  • What help is available to your type of business (e.g. government grants, local enterprise schemes, mentor assistance, crowd funding)?
  • What are your current plans / timetable for expanding the business?  What capital would you need in order to achieve this?  Where will you obtain this investment?
  • If you had unlimited capital investment, what would you do with it to expand the business?

 

*DISCLAIMER: the above is not intended for you if you are pitching for capital investment.  You’re gonna need some pie charts for that…

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