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Business Plans Made Easy

As the New Year rolls in, business owners begin planning or have planned what they want to achieve in 2010. Most new and existing business owners are writing these plans down in a new or revised business plan format. For new business owners writing a business plan can be an overwhelming task, but having a plan is important for clear direction, to obtain financing, and to help manage your business throughout the year. For existing business owners it can be easy to remain in a routine but it is more beneficial to recognize and prepare for the changes in your industry while planning how you want to expand or simply work differently in the New Year. Below are a few strategies to ease the daunting task of writing a business plan for new entrepreneurs and to reignite your existing passion for your work.

Wikipedia defines a business plan as a formal statement of a set of business goals, the reasons why they are believed attainable, and the plan for reaching those goals. It may also contain background information about the organization or team attempting to reach those goals.

Financial
The financial portion of my business plan became easier for me to structure when I viewed a template by a veteran Virtual Assistant (VA). If you need some help with the financial portion of your business plan I strongly recommend going online to locate an existing template from one of your industry leaders. Or, if you are a member of one of your industries professional organizations, research their online forms/tools or call their main office for guidance. Another suggestion is to utilize your local Small Business Administration office as they can connect you to useful resources.

Marketing
One of the major benefits of my coaching experience at VA Biz Coach with Jeannine Clontz was to simplify my marketing actions that needed to be carried out each week. It is imperative to know how to market your business effectively and efficiently. Referrals are a great way to grow your business. After talking with a client or networking partner, close the call by asking for a referral. In your request explain your ideal client profile.

Also marketing has changed so much with the expansion of social media and mobile marketing that I suggest building an online reputation as part of your marketing plan. Think radio and print is the only way to market? Media reports are showing that Internet marketing is very effective and time efficient if planned and implemented properly. Internet marketing can also offer you the radio experience through Internet radio broadcasting stations like Blog Talk Radio.

Growth Plan
If you are an existing entrepreneur and your business is doing well, or needs some help, this is an optimum time to revise your current business plan. Review what you wrote last year or the last time you wrote it out to see what worked, what did not and how well you remained in alignment with your last business intentions. If you have accomplished what you wanted, how do you plan to expand? Do you plan to work less and expand in other areas of your life? If so, are you prepared to hire staff or outsource? How do you plan to expand your business if you want to increase your profit? What new products or services have you developed? What are your industry changes? When was the last time you attended an event to listen to a leader in your industry? If your business has grown, what is your new exit strategy? Now is a good time to map out your direction.

Other Portions and Suggestions
For the other portions of your business plan you should consider your intentions. What do you intend to create with this business? Whether it is a specific income, beautiful assets, or gain time for other experiences, write your outline from an inspired place. When you start working from this outline only input inspired and driven energy into your business. Inspired and driven energy connects with the unseen and helps bring your dreams to reality. If you are feeling tired or fearful about your intentions, wait to work on your business plan until you feel good about your ideas.

I am revising my plan this week and I will keep you updated on my direction, progress, or changes throughout 2010. Join me by writing or revising your plans and work on them with inspired energy. Each day that we have worked toward our year-end desires/goals, end the day by letting them go and allow faith to do the rest.

Why is a Business Plan So Important to Your Success?

A good business plan is the most important but often overlooked part of running, starting and expanding a successful business, and obtaining finance for a business. If a plan is written properly, running a business and obtaining finance is much easier, leaving less room for error and failure. While you cannot predict everything that can happen in a company’s future, a good plan helps you avoid certain pitfalls and overcome obstacles, while anticipating and creating opportunities.

There are different plan formats for various circumstances. A comprehensive plan will help you run your business venture or project more successfully. There are also specialized plans for various purposes, such as a funding plan for a bank, investor or venture capital firm.

The business planning process is very important. It is a building block system that is continuous, systematic and comprehensive. It involves the entire company, produces effective decision making, and executes those decisions effectively in a strategic plan. A good plan also measures the relationship between expectations and performance. It evaluates your company’s progress or lack thereof.

It is said, writing an effective business plan is more art than science. It is good to have a proven process and format, but you can’t just fill in the blanks on a master planning program or document. It is a matter of asking yourself the right questions within the proven process and format that brings about a successfully written business plan.

The comprehensive plan that I develop has eight sections: the executive summary, company overview, management and operations, marketing strategy and plan, strategic and sales plan, financials and appendix. I amend the eight section plan for specialized plans, like the funding plan.

The organization of the business plan is quite important. The eight section business plan is in a specific order from which each section builds on the previous section. There is fluid thought and reasoning employed to achieve a business plan which reaches its specified purpose. Although I wrote that the executive summary is the first section, it should be written last. All the other sections should be written in the order they are listed. A plan contains a very precise and concise format and is organized into numbered sections and sub-sections, which contain specific information in short, paragraph form.

A business plan is a dynamic document, as it changes on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. By being able to access it on your company computer network and online, various key people within the company can use and update it easily and effectively. For a Business Plan to be successful, it must be intertwined into the fabric of your business, have a detailed implementation schedule and be carefully tracked.

A well written and implemented business plan can do a lot of things, including: running, expanding or starting a successful business; be readily changed, adapted and updated to suit market conditions; be a fantastic sales tool; obtain funding; react quickly to market changes; give you the ability to make realistic forecasts and projections; seize market opportunities; establish and sustain your competitive advantage; and more.

Always consider hiring an experienced business consultant and planner to help develop, write and most importantly, implement your business plan.

Write Your Own Business Plan? Or Get it Professionally Written?

There are definitely some cases where writing a business plan yourself is preferable and others where an expert third party may add value to the process.

Writing your business plan yourself

For micro businesses raising small amounts of investment (say under £50,000) this is likely to be the best approach. Apart from anything else it doesn’t make sense spending 10% or 15% of the funds you are trying to raise on getting someone to help you write a plan! Most high street banks offer on-line applications or software templates to help you. Just beware that you may have to repeat the application process several times in different format if you don’t have a stand-alone business plan.

For larger businesses too there may be value in writing your own plan. If you write your own plan then you will know every detail of it which will help you when questioned by a bank or potential investor. Everyone wants to avoid those embarrassing moments played over and over on Dragon’s Den where the entrepreneur looks vacant when asked for details of their gross margin or net profits in the first year of trading!

Writing your own plan might also show your all round commercial ability to appreciate all aspects of the business and with that there is a good chance that you will understand how to drive it towards success. Software & templates abound on the internet to support this approach and there are plenty of “Do’s and Don’ts” published free to guide this process.

The draw backs of this approach are that many people do not have all the financial, sales, marketing, operational skills and experience necessary to construct a good business plan. They may also lack the ability (or time) to integrate them into a solid business case. Some people may not have the writing skills to bring the plan together. Finally, some people may find themselves “too close” to the business to clearly and simply convey the business opportunity. Weakness in any of these areas may reduce your chances of securing funds.

Business Plan Writing Services

The alternative is to get some help from an experienced hand. Historically accountants and sometimes solicitors as well as independent copywriting services have offered these services.

However, there are now an increasing number of companies specializing in providing business plan writing services. These companies bring specific independent expertise to the table. As well as writing skills they can have a broad base of commercial experience including financial forecasting and by nature of their independence can provide an objective perspective on your business.

As well as offering writing itself (both financial forecasting and the written plan) they may also offer help with research and feasibility and introductions to potential sources of funds.

When selecting business plan writing services there are a few good guidelines worth following:

1) Commercial Experience – The ability to write well is not enough to make your plan investable – this is not simply a copy writing exercise. If you are going to secure funds you need to construct a business case that integrates all commercial aspects of your business. So, be sure that the people writing your plan have several years of senior commercial experience – the broader the better. This commercial experience should include budgeting or forecasting – your financials are a critical part of your plan.

2) Track Record – Many business plans are confidential so do not expect to see many examples. However, companies should be able to provide written and attributable testimonials from clients.

3) Pricing – Services range from around £2,000 for small start-ups upwards to £15,000 for larger corporate plans. As with most things, you get what you pay for and the price generally reflects the complexity of the business model. Make sure you ask for a specific proposal that outlines exactly what you are going to get for your money, the timescale and price. Consider “virtual services” rather than “face-to-face” consultants to reduce your costs but not the quality of work.

4) Ownership – one potential disadvantages of having a plan written for you are that you will not “own” the business plan and be totally familiar with it. So, ensure that you are fully involved in the process and that there is time scheduled for you to review and discuss the financial forecast and written plan with whoever is writing the plan for you.

5) Funding – Have plans that they have created secured funding? Whilst funding depends on a wide variety of factors and not just the quality of the business plan (state of the market, availability of capital, product, service, proposition, management team etc.) any specialist service should be able to quote a few examples where their plans have helped to secure funds.

For most people who do not possess experience of writing business plans you may improve your chances of securing funding by engaging a specialist writing service to help you create a plan. However, make sure you are fully involved in the process – you need to own the plan at the end of the day and know it inside out and backwards – your future is in your hands not theirs!