Writing Your Business Plan (Traditional or Online Business)
In my previous article, I talked about how you can plan your business startup. I defined a business plan as a written description of the future of your business. This is a document that indicates what you intend to do and how you intend to do it. I further explained that if all you have is a paragraph on the back of an envelope describing your business strategy, you have written a plan, or at least the beginning of a plan. I also said that a business plan consists of a narrative and several financial worksheets.
I mentioned that the ‘writing of a business plan’ as one of the pivotal steps involved in setting up a successful business. By now you should understand the need for writing a business plan. Writing a business plan, for a traditional brick and mortar business, will probably take a lot of time. It may take up to 100 hours or even more. For obvious reasons, a new business needs to carry out a lot of research before a business plan can even be developed.
For an online business, a detailed and in depth business plan is usually not necessary unless you are trying to combine your online business with a traditional business. For most online business startups, the detail involved with planning a traditional business is not required. However, it would still be beneficial to you if most of the topics were still covered, even if only briefly. Having a written plan in front of you will help you to focus on important aspects of the business.
You may not have thought much about your competition or outsourcing some of your work, but things like that will impact your ability to make a profit. And you will find this especially so in the beginning phases of your business. Even you are just opening a lemonade stand in the front yard, you will still need to know what Susie is selling her lemonade for on the next street over!
So, although a detailed business plan may not be required for an online business, I am going to include it here so you can at least look at and consider each section and determine yourself if it applies to your business.
Here I shall be discussing the basic steps involved in writing a business plan:
1. Executive Summary: The first step involved in writing a business plan is the executive summary. Here, include everything that you would cover in a five minute interview.
Explain the fundamentals of the proposed business: What will your product be? Who will your customers be? Who are the owners? What do you think the future holds for your business and your industry?
Make it enthusiastic, professional, complete, and concise.
If you are applying for a loan, state clearly how much you need and be precise in how you are going to use it. Also include detail about how the money will make your business more profitable, thereby ensuring repayment of the loan.
2. Business Description: After the executive summary, you need to write a short description of the business you are going into. You need to give a general description of the industry your business belongs to. You will write about your company’s mission statement, goals and objectives, business philosophy, as well as its legal form of ownership (sole proprietor, corporation, LLC, etc.).
Describe your most important company strengths and core competencies. What factors will make the company succeed? What do you think your major competitive strengths will be? What background, experience, skills, and strengths do you personally bring to this new venture?
3. Marketing Analysis/Strategy: The next thing to write (after the general description) should be your marketing strategy. For new or existing businesses, market analysis is an important basis for the marketing plan and will help justify the sales forecast. Existing businesses will rely heavily on past performance as an indicator of the future. New businesses have a greater challenge – they will rely more on market research using libraries, trade associations, government statistics, surveys, competitor observations, etc. In all cases, make sure your market analysis is relevant to establishing the viability of your new business and the reasonableness of the sales forecast.
4. Location: Writing down the location of your business is very important. Locations with greater customer traffic usually cost more to buy or rent, but they require less spending for advertising to attract customers. This is especially true of retail businesses where traffic count and accessibility are critical.
If an online business, you need to go into detail how you will attract customers to your website. General statements like “I will use Face Book ads and email marketing” will contribute almost nothing to helping your cause unless you have detailed statistical analysis of tests you have conducted or of another similar business you have been associated with. If you do not have any data upon which you reference your estimates, it could show lack of proper thought to the remainder of your business plan.
5. Competitive Analysis: Business by nature is competitive, and few businesses are completely new. If there are no competitors, be careful; there may be no market for your products. Expand your concept of competition. If you plan to open the first roller skating rink in town, your competition will include movie theaters, malls, bowling alleys, etc.
6. Management and Operations: Because management problems are the leading cause of business failures, it is important to discuss management qualifications and structure. Resumes of the Principals should be included in supporting data. If your business will have few employees and rely heavily on outside professionals, list these key people and their qualifications. If you are seeking financing, include personal financial statements for all of the principals in the supporting data section.
7. Personnel: The success of any company depends on their ability to recruit, train and retain quality employees. The amount of emphasis in your plan for this section will depend on the number and type of employees required.
8. Projected Financial Statements: These statements are usually helpful, but not necessary. You will develop and describe your strategies for the business throughout your Business Plan. In the financial section, you will need to estimate the financial impact of those strategies by developing projected Income Statements, Balance Sheets, and Cash Flow Statements.
It is usually recommended that these projected statements be on a monthly basis for at least the first twelve months or until the business is projected to be profitable and stable. Activity displayed beyond the monthly detail may be in summary form (such as quarterly or annually). The forecast period for most business plans is two to four years.
9. Summary Section: This section is where you will be able to attach or explain any detail not applicable to the previous sections. This section should be used to provide the financial statements of the Principle’s involved in the business and any other data you think an investor would be interested in seeing.
The main thing to remember in this section is not to provide new data, but to explain in detail data that has already been provided and to provide the support for that data.
When you sit down to compile all of the elements of your business plan, make sure you have each section able to stand on its own merits. This means you should not reference other sections sending the reader (your potential investor) back and forth between sections.
Do not try to write your business plan in one sitting. As I mentioned in the beginning, for a traditional brick and mortar business, it could take in excess of 100 hours to compile all of the information needed into a comprehensive but yet understandable document. For online businesses, probably not that long. But your final product should be well thought out, well documented and easily understandable.