The business plan is a formal exercise that makes you address all areas of business. It is true that a lot of folks use this just to get financing, but it is much more useful than that, even if funding is why they did the plan. If done right, a business plan will not only expose the areas of strengths and possible weaknesses, it will provide guiding direction to all areas of business, thus allowing you to make decisions that make sense for your goals and your purpose. Whenever I am questioning my direction, I always refer back to my business plan as it is easy to get off track in day to day operations.
That said, the business plan must work for you, not bog you down. I spent many months researching and analyzing everything, but when it came to writing down the plan, I was able to boil it down to just 1 page of bullet points. It has the following sections: Mission Statement, Short-term goals, Long-term goals, Yearly Revenue projection and % growth, and Keys to Success. This type of document is often referred to as the Executive Summary. All of the other areas not listed here were also addressed/researched, but not written down in the final plan simply because my plan needed to work for me. Those are the areas that I felt were the most important for me to continually focus on. I have 3 business degrees (marketing, accounting, and entrepreneurship) from a top business school and have written several full business plans both in and out of school, but I have found that most parts of the plan rarely get looked at again once the business is up and running as they are there to help shape the company, not run it.
My advice… Use a detailed formal plan outline as your things to think about/address/learn about yourself and ACTUALLY go through each step in earnest. This will help you avoid costly mistakes in both time and money. Use it as a worksheet for yourself. Write down as much or as little as you need. It is the exercise that matters, not how many pages you write. Don't skip areas because you feel they are unimportant as EVERY AREA is important to work through in earnest.
Keep in mind that banks look at the business plan to see if you have really thought things through so that they can predict the likelihood of protecting their investment. If you don't care about losing money then don't worry about it as without a plan, you likely will lose lots of money. But if you want to protect and grow your investment, then think like a banker when it comes to money. Protect your assets! After all, your money and other assets are what allow you to do what you want for a living. Use them wisely!!! I would venture to guess that the business that are still around after 5 years are the ones that started with and use a written business plan to protected/grow their investments. Where they got the money to start the business has nothing to do with it.
How can a startup have any realistic idea of what their projected revenue and growth will be when they don't have any customers yet?
Thanks for sharing your insight!
There is no magic formula to create a realistic idea of revenue. This is a big part of why 96% of small businesses are toast by their 5th year (the first 80% are closed within 18 months of opening their doors).
If you truly want to be successful in a business venture, I suggest the following:
1. Plan for a year. Research, dig, plan, research more, talk to peers, scope competitors, practice your craft, sample your wares to everybody BUT family and ask about what they don't like. (family lies to protect you. Strangers don't).
2. Prepare to not make a single dime of personal income for the first 12 months once your doors are opened. If you do make money, that's great. Most don't, and haven't prepared accordingly.
3. Prepare to have NO life for the first 12 months your business is open. You must be ready to walk, talk, eat, sleep, and breath your new venture, and do what it takes regardless of it meaning you sleep on the couch in your office once in a while.
....but that's only if you want the business to succeed. (even the term "succeed" is relative to a business owner's goals. My goal was to not have to run my business day to day).
This isn't a pretty picture. It's a real one.
Thanks for your insight! It's giving me a lot to think about.
I don't believe that I have anything new or profound to offer you but you may find a gem hidden among my words. A few thoughts come to mind as I think about where you are right now. The first is the book The E-myth. The second is Sun Tzu's Art of War and specifically, "know thyself"...a few others are: The 4 Ps; product, placement, promotion and price, Don't fall in love with your own ideas, avoid the sunk cost effect, "skate to where the puck is going to be", don't write your own copy, don't print your own brochures, work with a design professional on your logo and all materials, be careful who you trust, watch receivables like a hawk, cut the bottom 15% of your business each year, develop a website that exceeds the expectations of the visitor, if you have a great product, put it in a great package, be careful who you trust (bears repeating), hire slow/fire fast, hire a good accountant and finally----outsource as much as possible.
If you can manage all of that, you'll be fine :)
Also add... Don't outsmart your common sense; do everything you can do well and get help/hire for the things you can't do well; build relationships first, do business second; and my favorite… accept that mistakes will happen, just never make the same (or similar) mistake again. :-D
Great post, great advice. I just got done reading The E-Myth about two weeks ago -- good read for anyone thinking about starting a business of their own. One thing that you wrote in particular caught my eye since we're almost ready to start working on that part of our business -- copy, brochures, and our website. Is there anyone you've worked with, especially on the copy, that you would recommend?
Any recommendations from anyone else on the forum?
Hi David, Yes, The E-Myth is a real eye opener, huh?
It really is -- great reading for anyone just starting out in business. Highly recommended...
I just sent a friend request. I have an excellent website designer who is very economical. You can check out my site at butchersbunches.com. I can give you his referral info if you are interested.
Liz, I really dig your site. Would you mind passing along your designers info to me also? I just sent a friend request.