If you are starting a business or getting ready to expand, you certainly need a business plan. That's not negotiable. If you are to make your venture successful, you need to plan all of your actions beforehand in a systemised way. You do that so you can keep yourself in check every step of the journey towards your end goal. But do you really need to pay someone to write a full professional business plan for you? Not necessarily. In most cases, you will require the services of a professional business plan writer if you are applying for funding or looking for partners. However, if you are only going to use your business plan internally to track progress, I highly recommend you try doing it yourself. And in this article, I'm going to teach you how.
Mission and Vision
The first thing you need to do when starting a business is to decide where you are going with it, who do you want to reach and what problem is your idea solving for them. This is how you build your mission and vision statements, which become the core of your business.
Your mission statement doesn't need to be more than 100 words long. But it needs to effectively summarise everything your business is about, the reason it exists and the specific market it serves.
What does your company do?
What is your product/service?
Who do you provide it for?
Why do you provide it (what problem on the market are you solving)?
Where or how do you provide your product or service?
Your vision statement reflects on your expectations and wishes for the direction your business is going to take in the future and how your brand will be established and perceived in the long run.
Goals and Objectives
The second and very important component of your business plan should be your goals and objectives. What do you want to achieve and in what time frame? Remember to always set SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound). This section of your business plan will be the most frequently reviewed one, to see if you are moving in line with your original idea and if you are making the expected progress.
Spend considerable amount of time describing your product or service and its benefits. How does it differ from everything else that's already available on the market (what is your unique selling point - USP)? Where is the product manufactured or what processes are involved to provide the service? How much will it cost you? How much do you plan to sell it for? How will you sell it?
Your Target Audience
Here we come to the crucial part of your business plan - the market research. You must know who are you selling your product or service to, why would they buy it and how would they like to be approached. For you to be able to analyse all this, you have to engage in both primary and secondary research. Create a survey and distribute it online or offline. If your product or service is designed for parents, try posting your survey in Facebook groups, Reddit communities or politely approach moms and dads during school events (if your child also goes to that school). Of course, you can pay for responses, but if you are low on capital, try the free options first.
Design your surveys in a way that they give you all the essential answers your business idea needs - audience demographics, how much interest there is in the idea, what price would the customer pay for your product or service, what could stop them from buying it, what is their preferred method of access/delivery, what other features or benefits they would like to receive?
For you to have a realistic picture of the market you need at least 100 responses from people who you would consider your potential customers.
Your market research doesn't stop here. You will need to find out how is your industry currently doing, what are the future trends and what evidence is available that your product or service is really needed. You can do this in numerous ways - search journals, newspapers, industry reports, attend trade shows, speak to suppliers and potential partners. Don't forget to check on the competition. But we'll talk in more details about your competitors a bit further down in this piece.
It's also helpful to create a Pen portrait of your ideal customer, which will often help you with your marketing efforts.
Those who don't know their competitors and fail to monitor their activity will soon lose the competition. From the onset you need to identify at least 2 direct competitors and 1 or 2 indirect such. Analyse their strengths, weaknesses, the opportunities they may take advantage of and the threats they may be facing (SWOT Analysis). Do these also apply to you and your business? How can you compete with your competitor's strengths? How can you beat their weaknesses? Will you be able to take advantage of the same opportunities or do you see more chances for successful development of your idea? What are the treats that may break your business if you are not careful? In this analysis, you need to consider not only product/service specific features, but also the political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal (PESTEL) environment.
Investigate how your competitors market their products and services, what they do well and what they fail at. Use the information to upgrade your offer in order to appeal to more people from your target audience.
Your Business Operations
How will the whole thing work? Even if you are the main man/woman of your business and you make the products or provide the services, you need to consider processes. How will you structure your business activities from answering emails to filling out tax returns? You can't do everything yourself! Even if you try, at some point you will fail. You will need suppliers, contractors or partners. These can include product manufacturers, raw material wholesalers, professional service providers (IT support companies, accountants, marketing agencies), delivery companies and others. What arrangements will you have with all of them? What does your business relationship with these people and organisations translate to in numbers?
It's good to have a timetable with your current staff members and your recruitment plans for the future. Whether you will be outsourcing different areas of your business or you will create departments and employ people in-house, you should outline it in this section of your business plan.
In the business operations bit you also need to clearly describe the purchase process - from the moment of a sale realisation to the moment of customer feedback. How would you accept orders? What happens next? How long will it take for the customer to receive their product/service? Are they informed about this? Do you need to arrange a delivery? Do you accept returns and exchanges? Under what circumstances? How will you get the customer's feedback and what will you do with it?
Your Marketing Efforts
You need to create a marketing plan. This is usually an extensive document with many components. But since you are only creating your business plan for internal use, you don't necessarily need to go overboard at the very beginning. Most importantly, find out how does your target audience like to be reached. Will you be marketing your products and services on traditional channels (TV, radio, print) or online (social media, email marketing, search engine marketing, pay per click ads and more)? Will you use mobile marketing? Flyers?
Create a calendar for each activity - when will you start a particular campaign, how long will it run for, how much will you spend, what do you expect to achieve and how will you measure the achievement? If you are not sure how to answer any of these questions, find a marketing specialist who will be able to help you with figuring out this bit of your business plan and building a marketing strategy that works.
Your Financial Projections and Balance Sheet
No creditor, grant provide