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.