When I am introduced to an early-stage company – either to explore helping them as an advisor or as an investor – if I like the initial discussion, I ask for a formal business plan as follow up. Far too often I am then sent a PowerPoint presentation. The PPT is colorful, packed with infographics and does help illustrate the industry and the opportunity. But it is NOT a business plan.
As discussed in last week’s column, the first step to creating a business plan is to develop an executive summary. If you hope to grow your business, raise capital and/or hire partners and employees in the future, you’ll also want to take Step 2: creating a formal business plan.
A business plan allows you to detail a strategic operating plan, define and execute your value to customers and verses others in the market, and develop a robust financial model that details what you need to accomplish in order to meet your projections. This is an extremely valuable process to go through and document to have. You will find that a business plan is an invaluable tool if you want to bring on a business partner or get in sync with existing partners or employees, and if you ever want to raise money it will likely be required by a potential investor or for bank loan.
I believe the sections introduced below are the most valuable topics to cover in a business plan. Some may be more relevant to you specifically, and others not as much, so use this as a guide rather than a golden rule.
Cover Page and Table of Contents: It may seem simple, but these are important. The cover page should make it clear what the plan will discuss. The table of contents will allow anyone reading the plan to skip ahead to the sections most important to them.
Executive Summary: Your previously developed executive summary should lead off the business plan.
General Company Description: Discuss how the business was born, the current state of operations and where you want to go.
Objectives & Exit: What are your “end game” goals? Do you want to save enough money to retire? How about sell the business to a larger competitor? Pass along the business to your children or a protégé? It is important to honestly define what you want the outcome to be so that you can tailor the rest of your plan towards these ends. It is also important to set expectations for those working with you.
Management: Provide a detailed biography for all the key leaders involved (even if it is just you) and discuss how prior experience and success will help achieve current goals. You should also discuss any leadership positions that will need to be hired for as your business (and the plan) matures.
Product & Service Description: Provide details on what you provide to your customers. You should prioritize the most important revenue streams first, but all should be mentioned. You should also talk about how and how much you get paid for each product you sell or service you provide.
Market Analysis: This section should provide a detailed description about your specific market. Include objective details like total market size, growth trends and customer behavior statistics. You should also provide subjective analysis on where you fit in and where customer behavior is headed. This section should also detail your competition. You may also want to do a SWOT analysis for the company here (Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats).
Marketing Strategy: Detail your strategy to acquire and retain customers, and to provide an exceptional customer experience. Include overall goals as well as specific and tangible strategies like online advertising, public relations and original content creation.
Investment Opportunity: This section is only relevant if you need to raise money to fund your business, but this includes both external money (i.e. bank, venture capital or angel investor) and internal money (i.e. your savings or family/friends money). Detail how much money you need, the premium that an “investor” will get for providing this money and how/when it will be paid pack. Even if it’s your personal money, you want to make sure you have a solid plan and a strong return on investment.
Financials: This is a vital component of every business plan, and as such it needs it’s own column. This will also be covered in the near future. Even if you only develop an executive summary and don’t do the full business plan – make sure you develop detailed financials. You need to build a sophisticated model that discusses all your revenue and costs. You should not work backwards from your financial goals to build this model – that is a common and big mistake. You need to start with realistic business assumptions that match up to your plan and then work towards determining accurate final projections.
As with your executive summary, the process of creating this document is as important as the document itself. Once complete your business plan is a detailed capsulation of everything about you and your business. You can use it to recruit employees, add strategic partners in peripheral industries and raise money. Do not ignore its value for you personally (and your management team) though. Make sure your efforts are in line with the strategy you have mapped out.
If market conditions change, then your plan likely has to change too. Finally, your financial model and projections should be used as an important management tool. If your assumptions prove to be off, correct them and project how this will affect your business. If done well, this plan and your financial model will help you optimize your business and avoid problems as you grow. It will be your roadmap to success.