Category Archives: Business Plan

The Strategic Plan

Small businesses are not scale models of big businesses; they are characterized by resource poverty and dependence on a fairly localized market. Their greater vulnerability to the consequences of a lack of focus stresses the importance of their strategic plan.

The strategic plan defines the company’s “competitive edge,” that collection of factors that sets the business apart from its competitors and promotes its chances for success. It requires a clear evaluation of the competitive business climate and an intimate knowledge of the market for the entrepreneur’s product.

The foundation for the strategic plan is a clear mission statement for the venture. Addressing the following questions can assist in developing this statement:

What business am I in? The answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. A good example of an industry group that failed to take a broader view is the railroads. If they had viewed their business as transportation rather than trains-and-tracks, then the airlines would be named Union Pacific and Illinois Central.

Who is our product intended to satisfy? What customer needs are being satisfied? How are these needs being satisfied, that is, by which of our methods or products?

An important strategic option is in how we price our product (as a price leader, value leader, or prestige product). Other options include the way in which we differentiate ourselves from the competition and the particular “niche,” or subset of the market, we seek to serve.

Once we have set internal objectives, we must examine the external and competitive environments in which we will be trying to achieve them.

The external environment consists of those factors that are largely outside our control, but affect the market for our product. Examples of these factors include general economic conditions, regulations, technological developments, and consumer demographics and attitudes. This environment is very dynamic, but some attempt must be made at projecting its changes.

Analysis of the competitive environment must begin with consideration of whether there are any barriers to the entry of a new competitor into the market. How strong is consumer loyalty to existing brands? How important are economies of scale; can a small independent firm compete? Are capital requirements prohibitive? Is there some proprietary technology that puts prospective entrants in a serious competitive disadvantage? Is access to raw materials or to distribution channels limited in some way? Are new entrants limited by permit restrictions or regulations?

The competitive structure of the industry is another important consideration. Are there a few dominant firms, or is the industry fairly fragmented? Will current competitors attempt to “punish” new entrants, such as through a price war, heavy advertising, or exercising their clout with key suppliers? Is there some geographic niche we can serve? What factors create cost advantages or disadvantages? How important is a firm’s position on the learning and experience curves? How are prices set? Is demand rising, even, or falling? Are there exit barriers that raise the risk of entry?

Relative strengths of our strategic partners must also be considered. What is the bargaining power of suppliers? How wide is our choice of suppliers? Is it costly for us to switch? Can our suppliers compete with us for the same customers? How important is our industry to our suppliers?

Do buyers have a wide choice of vendors? Can they make our product themselves? Are there less expensive or superior substitutes to our product in some segments of the market?

These are certainly not easy questions to answer, but performing the research to make better informed decisions, and addressing these questions “head-on” can improve our chances of success.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Evaluating Business Planning Software

Abstract: Once a business idea is selected, it is highly recommended that we sharpen the concept by a detailed planning process. While this may seem a daunting task to first-time entrepreneurs, many “veterans” have found that there are software packages that can help to organize and format the material required for a comprehensive plan.

Once a business idea is selected, it is highly recommended that we sharpen the concept by a detailed planning process. The result of this step is a comprehensive business plan, with its major components being the marketing “mix,” the strategic plan, operational and logistical structures, and the financial proposal. The purpose of the business plan is to recognize and define a business opportunity, describe how that opportunity will be seized by the management team, and to demonstrate that the business is feasible and worth the effort.

While this may seem a daunting task to first-time entrepreneurs, many “veterans” have found that there are software packages that can help to organize and format the material required for a comprehensive plan. These packages are particularly helpful to those who are intimidated by starting from a blank piece of paper.

So is there a downside to purchasing software that has most of the text “in place?” The text is not always well-written, “fill-in the blanks” tends not to produce very fluid copy, and the parts you write may be in a different style than the words surrounding it. Some experts suggest that the real usefulness of such packages lies in the examples, when they are in a business similar to yours.

The sales leader in “plan-ware” is Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro (BPP, paloalto.com). We have tried several packages that are comparable to BPP; you should evaluate a few to find which might fit your unique style best. Figure a price point of about $120 for standard versions of all. Others to consider would be:

 Planware’s PlanWrite (planware.org)

 PlanMagic’s Business (planmagic.com)

In addition to BP software, you may want to consider online services.

 Fundable Plans (fundableplans.com); $40 per use

Some of the factors that you would want to consider in your evaluation are:

User-friendliness – easy to get productive quickly; self-guiding, not having to go back-and-forth with instruction manual or help screens; “wizards available for some functions.

Interface – the package works with the other software that you will need in the process, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Support – free technical support by telephone or email; useful help screens; program updates; and, resources such as articles and links that assist in the business planning process.

Features – functions beyond the basic “fill-in-the-blanks” templates, such as PowerPoint templates; market research data; industry codes; lots of rich examples; and, assistance with the more technical aspects of the plan, such as finance and strategy.

One of the dangers of using such packages is that your focus may shift from producing a complete and convincing plan to simply filling out the templates. Their real value lies in their support of getting it in writing.

Many entrepreneurs insist that their business concept is so clear in their heads that the written plan can be produced after start-up; this attitude “short-circuits” one of the major benefits of producing the plan. The discipline of writing a plan forces us to think through the steps we must take to get the business started, and, to “flesh out ideas, to look for weak spots and vulnerabilities,” according to business consultant Eric Siegel.

A well-conceived business plan can serve as a management tool to settle major policy issues, identify “keys to success,” establish goals and check-points, and consider long-term prospects. The plan must realistically assess the skills required for success of the venture, initially and over the long run, and match the skills and interests of the team to these requirements. Test the plan, and an accompanying oral presentation, on friends whose business judgment you value. Let them assume the role of a prospective investor or lender.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Business Strategy Planning Advice

The following is excerpted from “Tips for Better Strategic Planning,” By Erica Olsen. It is part of the Strategic Planning Kit For Dummies Cheat Sheet, http://www.dummies.com/business/strategic-planning-kit-for-dummies-cheat-sheet/

Before you get too far into your strategic planning process, check out the following tips — your quick guide to getting the most out of your strategic planning process:

• Pull together a diverse, yet appropriate group of people to make up your planning team. Diversity leads to a better strategy. Bring together a small core team — between six and ten people — of leaders and managers who represent every area of the company.

• Allow time for big-picture, strategic thinking. People tend to try to squeeze strategic planning discussions in between putting out fires and going on much needed vacations. But to create a strategic plan, your team needs time to think big. Do whatever it takes to allow that time for big-picture thinking (including taking your team off-site).

• Get full commitment from key people in your organization. You can’t do it alone. If your team doesn’t buy in to the planning process and the resulting strategic plan, you’re dead in the water. Encourage the key people to interact with your customers about their perception of your future and bring those views to the table.

• Allow for open and free discussion regardless of each person’s position within the organization. (This tip includes you.) Don’t lead the planning sessions. Hire an outside facilitator, someone who doesn’t have any stake in your success, which can free up the conversation. Encourage active participation, but don’t let any one person dominate the session.

• Think about execution before you start. It doesn’t matter how good the plan is if it isn’t executed. Implementation is the phase that turns strategies and plans into actions in order to accomplish strategic objectives and goals. The critical actions move a strategic plan from a document that sits on the shelf to actions that drive business growth.

• Use a facilitator, if your budget allows. Hire a trained professional who has no emotional investment in the outcome of the plan. An impartial third party can concentrate on the process instead of the end result and can ask the tough questions that others may fear to ask.

• Make your plan actionable. To have any chance at implementation, the plan must clearly articulate goals, action steps, responsibilities, account abilities, and specific deadlines. And everyone must understand the plan and his individual role in it.

• Don’t write your plan in stone. Good strategic plans are fluid, not rigid and unbending. They allow you to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Don’t be afraid to change your plan as necessary.

• Clearly articulate next steps after every session. Before closing the strategic planning session, clearly explain what comes next and who’s responsible for what. When you walk out of the room, everyone must fully understand what he’s responsible for and when to meet deadlines.

• Make strategy a habit, not just a retreat. Review the strategic plan for performance achievement no less than quarterly and as often as monthly or weekly. Focus on accountability for results and have clear and compelling consequences for unapproved missed deadlines.

• Check out examples. Although you can’t borrow someone else’s strategy, you can find inspiration and ideas from the examples of others. Here is one website with a catalog of example strategic plans by industry: OnStrategy, http://onstrategyhq.com/samples/ . Check it out for quick access to ideas.

Market Research Plan Consultant

Market Research Plan Consultant

From an ad for Ground Floor Partners (https://groundfloorpartners.com/market-research/ )

Accurate market research is the foundation for every business or marketing plan (https://groundfloorpartners.com/marketing-plans/) Ground Floor Partners can help you gain a much deeper understanding of:

• market opportunities

• existing customers

• prospects

• competitors

• employees

• industry trends

• environmental or regulatory risks

We Help You Focus

Large market research firms research specific industries and generate standardized industry reports. The problem for most small businesses is that very few of them fit neatly into these industry categories. That’s where we come in. Instead of generating canned industry reports, everything we do is customized for each client.

• Effective marketing is all about targeting and focus. Better targeting means less waste, lower expenses, and higher profits. Some more examples of the kinds of market research we do for our clients:

• Conduct a comprehensive market opportunity assessment – Assess your markets and current market positions (market size and share of market, channels, growth trends, threats, and opportunities)

• Identify customer needs and determine which market segments hold the most, and least, attractive profit potential.

• Find out what customers and prospects think about your new customer service procedures, your sign-up process, your newest product, your new tag-line, your invoicing process, etc.

• Identify regulatory, political, and demographic trends that could create problems – and opportunities – for your business.

• Develop a thorough understanding of competitors – Who leads and who follows in this space? How much market share does each player have? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they differentiate themselves? How does their pricing strategy compare with yours? How do they market their products and services? How does their brand equity compare to yours?

• Identify opportunities to use your strengths and exploit competitor weaknesses.

Business Planning Overview

The purpose of the business plan is to recognize and define a business opportunity, describe how that opportunity will be seized by the management team, and to demonstrate that the business is feasible and worth the effort.

The successful entrepreneur is generally more inclined, once a business idea is selected, to sharpen the concept by a detailed planning process. The result of this step is a comprehensive business plan, with its major components being the marketing “mix”, the strategic plan, operational and logistical structures, and the financial proposal. The purpose of the business plan is to recognize and define a business opportunity, describe how that opportunity will be seized by the management team, and to demonstrate that the business is feasible and worth the effort.

The business plan is the “blueprint” for the implementation process. It focuses on the four major sub-plans: marketing, strategy, operational/logistic, and financial. While the business plan often goes through some revision, it generally represents a rather advanced stage in the planning process. The primary product or service to be offered, based on the results of the market research, should be determined.

Whether the business will be a start-up, purchase of an existing business or a franchise should certainly be firm at this point. Often, a specific business location is indicated, or at least a rather specific area.

Time estimates in a business plan should allow for meeting all the necessary regulatory requirements and acquisition of permits to get to a “customer-ready” condition. The amount of funding required and a general approach to raising these funds should be determined. Marketing mix issues focus on how the product or service is differentiated from the competition.

A business can differentiate itself on any of what are often referred to as the “four P’s” of marketing: product characteristics, price structure, place or method of distribution, and/or promotional strategy.

Strategic issues relate broadly to the company’s mission and goals. Every venture must continually assess its strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities to be seized, and any threats to the success and plans of the business. Operational issues relate to company structure, and the scope of the business. The operational plan addresses tangible items such as location, equipment, and methods of distribution. Decisions on these issues largely determine startup costs.

The financial proposal includes an estimate of the amount of money needed to start the venture, to absorb losses during the start-up period, and to provide sufficient working capital to avoid cash shortages. It projects sales and profitability over some period into the future, generally 3 to 5 years. Where outside funding is sought, it also describes distribution of ownership of the venture and methods of debt repayment and/or buyback of partial ownership.

Where implementation of the plan requires participation of lenders and/or investors, the plan must clearly and convincingly communicate the financial proposal to the prospective stakeholders: how much you need from them, what kind of return they can expect, and how they can be paid back. Many entrepreneurs insist that their business concept is so clear in their heads that the written plan can be produced after start-up; this attitude “short-circuits” one of the major benefits of producing the plan. The discipline of writing a plan forces us to think through the steps we must take to get the business started, and, to “flesh out ideas, to look for weak spots and vulnerabilities”, according to business consultant Eric Siegel.

A well-conceived business plan can serve as a management tool to settle major policy issues, identify “keys to success”, establish goals and check-points, and consider long-term prospects. The plan must realistically assess the skills required for success of the venture, initially and over the long run, and match the skills and interests of the team to these requirements. Test the plan, and an accompanying oral presentation, on friends whose business judgment you value. Let them assume the role of a prospective investor or lender.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site www.jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business”, available on Amazon.