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10 Guidelines for Writing Business Plans

by Catherine J. Rein, MBA
<< previous page - How to Write a Business Plan

6. Research Your Market

You are the best expert on your product and potential market. Don’t leave all the research to your business planner. Dive into the details and learn as much as possible about your competition and your customers. My favourite (free) resources for market research include:

Search Engines: Using advanced search engine commands leverages the power of the search engines to deliver information that leaves normal search engine users light years behind.

Internal Search: Many large corporations, courts, universities, government departments and others have a search facility on their sites which gets you to destination pages some of which are accessible no other way.

Country Databases: ReferenceUSA (available only in the US) This great database is available with only a library reference card in the US. It includes millions of businesses and contact information covering the US, Canada and the UK and is searchable using industry classification codes (such as SIC or NAICS). Similarly with Gale Databases. Some country databases, such as at the US Census site provide a wealth of information - from population demographics to income data for given areas - accessible from anywhere in the world. For information on other countries local libraries may provide there may provide access to specialised databases. Using the links at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry for that country can also be illuminating.

Industry Sources: Industry magazines, trade bodies and professional groups may have extensive information that they allow public access to.

Mapping and GIS services: From ESRI to Google maps (US, UK, Germany etc) there are numerous GIS tools that are all free.

Other Internet Tools

5. Develop A Marketing Strategy

The marketing strategy should include the following (at a minimum):

- Goals
- Competitive Advantages of Your Product or Idea
- Target Customers
- Top Competitors
- Marketing Elements (Trade Shows, Website, Advertising, Word of Mouth, Etc.)

4. Consider The Risk Factors

Your investor or banker wants to know the major tripping points to your business. Be open and honest on these risk factors but be sure include how you will address them and mitigate any issues. An example would be:

The growth of the business is dependent upon attracting and retaining qualified staff. Low turnover and high enthusiasm (particularly in the sales force) will be vital to company success.

Mitigation Strategy
Management’s experience and enthusiasm for the Company instill great loyalty to the Company. The Company also prides itself on the value it places on each team member. Employee turnover is at very low levels.

3. Don’t Forget The Résumé(s)

Selling yourself is as important as selling the business idea. Don’t forget to include résumés for you and your team. Include details more than just past employment. The management team’s skills and leadership expertise needs to be just as persuasive as the rest of the business plan.

2. When Finished, Don’t Shelve The Plan And Forget About It

Treat the business plan as a living document. As time goes by and more information comes in, as actual sales figures replace forecasts and assumptions are tested, be sure to go back and update the business plan. Update the forecasts and fine-tune the return on investment calculations.

1. Get Help From A Professional

A few notes on selecting a professional business plan writer. A quick search of the Internet will result in hundreds of business plan providers and business plan templates. As always, buyer beware, many of these services are very expensive (>$2,000) and don’t guarantee that you’ll get financing results.

The less expensive business plan companies often farm out their clients to freelance writers, many of these writers do not specialize in specific industries and may not be qualified to give consulting advice on any given market or industry. Be your own expert on your target market and industry. The business plan professional is there to help you prepare a professional document and complete the plan in a timely manner. Be sure to do your own marketing and financial research before contracting with a business planner.

About the Author

Catherine J. Rein, MBA is president of Sandalwood Valuation & Consulting based in Louisville, Colorado. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, an MBA and over ten years of experience in financial analysis, strategic marketing and business planning.