10 Guidelines for Writing Business Plans
by Catherine J. Rein, MBA
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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
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,
etc) there are numerous
GIS tools that are all free.
5. Develop A Marketing Strategy
The marketing strategy should include the following (at a minimum):
- 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.
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
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.