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Session 2: The business plan

OBJECTIVE: The business plan is the key ingredient for a successful business and is often ignored. This session shows you how to create an individualized business plan, and provides the tools to make it easy.

      What is a business plan?

What Is A Business Plan?

John Powers Attorney-at-Law John Powers
Attorney-at-Law
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From the standpoint of business organization, what mistakes do you see people making most often?
The primary value of your business plan will be to create a written outline that evaluates all aspects of the economic viability of your business venture including a description and analysis of your business prospects. We believe that preparing and maintaining a business plan is important for any business regardless of its size or nature. But it will not ensure your success. If you maintain a correct assessment of the changing economics of your business, your plan will provide a useful roadmap as well as a financing tool. But if you have miscalculated the potential, then your business plan could become a roadmap leading to failure.

Since the My Own Business, Inc. course is broken down into fifteen of the most important topics to consider in starting or operating a business, your business plan can easily be organized into this same format. Included in this session, and in each of the following sessions, there is a one-page business plan template, which you can fill in and print. (Session 2 contains templates for both Sessions 1 and 2.) When you put these all together, you will have completed your personalized, overall plan.

We suggest that you fill in each section of the business plan, found at the end of each session, as you proceed through the course. Click to view each of the 15 business plan sections

Search engines, libraries and bookstores provide sources that sell ready-made plans for specific businesses. But it is our recommendation that you be sole author of your plan. Write out the plan yourself, in your own words.

Each of the Business Plan Sections can be downloaded from our Web site and provide you with a single, attractively presented document.

Dr. Dan Nathanson Anderson Graduate School of Business UCLA Dr. Dan Nathanson
Anderson Graduate School of Business UCLA
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How much should I tell people about my idea when preparing my business plan?
 
Keep in mind that creating a business plan is an essential step for any prudent entrepreneur to take, regardless of the size of the business. This step is too often skipped, but we have made it easy for you by providing this ready format to build your plan as you progress through this course.

Be aware now that most start-up entrepreneurs are reluctant to write down their business plan. It is, therefore, strongly recommended that you complete each segment of the plan as you progress through this course. We make it easy for you by providing sample plans for both product and service businesses and also an attractive blank form that you can download onto MS Word and customize yourself.

Do not expect that all of your plan's initial assumptions will be correct. Instead, look at your business plan as an ongoing assessment that you will frequently review and change to conform to actual operating experiences. For example, your cash flow projection should be updated frequently to ensure ongoing liquidity (not running out of cash).

Your business plan will become your roadmap to chart the course of your business. But at the outset you cannot predict all of changing conditions that will surface. So after you have opened for business, it is important that you periodically review and update you plan.

Why Prepare A Business Plan?

Your business plan is going to be useful in a number of ways.

  • First and foremost, it will define and focus your objective using appropriate information and analysis.
  • You can use it as a selling tool in dealing with important relationships including your lenders, investors and banks.
  • Your business plan can uncover omissions and/or weaknesses in your planning process.
  • You can use the plan to solicit opinions and advice from people, including those in your intended field of business, who will freely give you invaluable advice. Too often, entrepreneurs forge ahead ("My Way!") without the benefit of input from experts who could save them from potentially disastrous mistakes. "My Way" is a great song, but in practice can result in unnecessary hardships. To help get started in lining up appointments, you can fill in and use the following template. We have also provided a larger blank template for you to use at the end of this session. People to see include your investors, family members, banker, lawyer, attorney, business mentors, trusted business friends, potential customers, competitors (distant ones), potential landlords, and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Business Plan Review List
Click To View

What to Avoid in Your Business Plan

Maureen Costello Wholesale Distributor Maureen Costello
Wholesale Distributor
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If you had to do it over again, what things would you do differently?
Place some reasonable limits on long-term, future projections. (Long-term means over one year.) Better to stick with short-term objectives and modify the plan as your business progresses. Too often, long-range planning becomes meaningless because the reality of your business can be different from your initial concept.

Avoid optimism. In fact, to offset optimism, be extremely conservative in predicting capital requirements, timelines, sales and profits. Few business plans correctly anticipate how much money and time will be required.

Avoid language or explanations that are difficult to understand. Do not ignore spelling out what your strategies will be in the event of business adversities.

Don't depend entirely on the uniqueness of your business or even a patented invention. Success comes to those who start businesses with great economics and not necessarily great inventions.

Business Plan Format

William H. Crookston, Ph.D. Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship University of Southern California William H. Crookston, Ph.D.
Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship University of Southern California
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We find that many entrepreneurs find it difficult to write out a business plan. Could you cite why this important step should not be overlooked?
The Business Plan format is a systematic assessment of all the factors critical to your business purpose and goals. Here are some suggested topics you can tailor into your plan:

A Vision Statement: This will be a concise outline of your business purpose and goals.

The People: By far, the most important ingredient for your success will be yourself. Focus on how your prior experiences will be applicable to your new business. Prepare a résumé of yourself and one for each person who will be involved with you in starting the business. Be factual and avoid hype. This part of your Business Plan will be read very carefully by those with whom you will be having relationships, including lenders, investors and vendors. Templates for preparing résumés are available in your library, Kinko's, bookstores and the Internet under " résumés."

Session 2 of our Building My Own Business course, Getting your team in place, provides detailed recommendations on delegating authority, employee motivation, training and other key management tools.

However, you cannot be someone who you are not. If you lack the ability to perform a key function, include this in your business plan. For example, if you lack the ability to train staff, include an explanation how you will compensate for this deficiency. You could add a partner to your plan (discussed in Section 4) or plan to hire key people who will provide skills you don't have. Include biographies of all your intended management.

Your Business Profile: Define and describe your intended business and exactly how you plan to go about it. Try to stay focused on the specialized market you intend to serve. As a rule, specialists do better than non-specialists.

Economic Assessment: Provide a complete assessment of the economic environment in which your business will become a part. Explain how your business will be appropriate for the regulatory agencies and demographics with which you will be dealing. If appropriate, provide demographic studies and traffic flow data normally available from local planning departments.

Dr. Dan Nathanson Anderson Graduate School of Business UCLA Dr. Dan Nathanson
Anderson Graduate School of Business UCLA
Play Video
What is the difference between a start-up business plan and one for an ongoing business?
Cash Flow Assessment: Include a one-year cash flow that will incorporate your capital requirements (covered in Session 11). Include your assessment of what could go wrong and how you would plan to handle problems.

Marketing Plan and Expansion Plans: Your expansion plan should describe how you plan to test markets and products before rolling out. Refer to helpful government Web sites such as the Small Business Administration. See "Resources" on the home page of this Web site.

Damage Control Plan: All businesses will experience episodes of distress. Survival will depend on how well you are prepared to cope with them. Your damage control plan should anticipate potential threats to your business and how you plan to overcome them. Here are three examples:

  • Plan for 35% loss of sales: During economic downturns, your survival will depend on your ability to maintain liquidity for a period of at least 12 months. Can your Damage Control cash flow plan show how to avoid running out of cash? Session 11 will explain cash flow control.
  • Plan for a catastrophic incident: Businesses can be overturned by unforeseen disasters which can be avoided by maintaining appropriate insurance. You will need the assistance of a qualified business insurance agent.
  • Plan for product obsolescence: If your business is in a rapidly changing technology area such as Netflix's home delivered DVDs, you will need to plan now to keep a step ahead of technical changes or advancements.

In addition, a very popular software is Palo Alto's Business Plan Pro (U.P. $99), a user-friendly business plan software with very wide range of sample plans already included. 10% off for MOBI users on Business Plan Pro here.

For a more advanced template, especially useful if you are looking for partners or investors, we recommend the Ultimate Business Plan Template (U.P. $97) from Growthink. We have negotiated a special 50% discount for MOBI users.

Eight Steps To A Great Business Plan

Start-up entrepreneurs often have difficulty writing out business plans. This discipline is going to help you in many ways so don't skip this planning tool! To make it easier, here are eight steps that will produce a worthwhile plan:

  1. Review the two sample plans furnished in this session.
  2. Focus and refine your concept based on the data you have compiled.
  3. Gather all the data you can on the feasibility and the specifics of your business concept.
  4. Outline the specifics of your business. Using a "what, where, why, how" approach might be useful.
  5. Include your experience, education and personal information.
  6. Fill in the templates at the end of each session with clear language and realistic projections.
  7. Print off the business plan templates from each session into an MS Word document.
  8. You may wish to enhance your presentation with bar charts, pie charts and graphics.

Does Your Plan Include the Following Necessary Factors

Dr. Dan Nathanson Dr. Dan Nathanson
Anderson Graduate School of Business UCLA
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What information should I include in my business plan?
A Sound Business Concept: The single most common mistake made by entrepreneurs is not selecting the right business initially. The best way to learn about your prospective business is to work for someone else in that business before beginning your own. There can be a huge gap between your concept of a fine business and reality.

Understanding of Your Market: A good way to test your understanding is to test market your product or service before your start. You think you have a great kite that will capture the imagination of kite fliers throughout the world? Then craft some of them and try selling them first.

A Healthy, Growing and Stable Industry: Remember that some of the great inventions of all time, like airplanes and cars, did not result in economic benefit for many of those who tried to exploit these great advances. For example, the cumulative earnings of all airlines since Wilber Wright flew that first plane are less than zero. Success comes to those who find businesses with great economics and not necessarily great inventions or advances to mankind.

Capable Management: Look for people you like and admire, who have good ethical values, have complementary skills and are smarter than you. Plan to hire people who have the skills that you lack. Define your unique ability and seek out others who turn your weaknesses into strengths.

Able Financial Control: You will learn later the importance of becoming qualified in accounting, computer software and cash flow management. Most entrepreneurs do not come from accounting backgrounds and must go back to school to learn these skills. Would you bet your savings in a game where you don't know how to keep score? People mistakenly do it in business all the time.

Financial Management Skills: Build a qualified team to evaluate the best options for utilizing retained earnings. This information is contained in Session 6 of our Building My Own Business course.

A Consistent Business Focus: As a rule, people who specialize in a product or service will do better than people who do not specialize. Focus your efforts on something that you can do so well that you will not be competing solely on the basis of price.

A Mind set to Anticipate Change: Don't commit yourself too early. Your first plan should be written in pencil, not in ink. Keep a fluid mind set and be aggressive in making revisions as warranted by changing circumstances and expanding knowledge.

Include Plans for Conducting Business Online: According to the January 2005 Trend/Forecasting Report of The Dilenschneider Group, in the U.S. alone, the 2004 holiday season online shopping jumped by more than 25% from 2003. (In 2005 it jumped another 25%!) Consumer and business-to-business online sales are set to expand exponentially in the coming decade, and small retailers can reach an ever-increasing pool of customers. Be sure to see the how-to details in the following Session 12, E-commerce.

Formulate (and Reformulate) Your Business Plan

Ezequiel Padilla Jugos Tropacales Mexican Food Ezequiel Padilla
Jugos Tropacales Mexican Food
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I thought I knew everything. But I didn't have the most important thing: a business plan.
Donald N. Sull, associate professor of management practice at the London Business School, in an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, offers some practical suggestions on managing inevitable risks while pursuing opportunities. Here is a capsulation of his suggestions on how to formulate (and reformulate) your business plan:

  • Be flexible early in the process and keep it fluid. Don't commit too early. Expect your first plan to be provisional and subject to revision.
  • Ask yourself if your experience or expertise gives you the right to an opinion on your specific opportunity.
  • Identify your potential deal killers: variables that are likely to prove fatal to the venture.
  • Clearly identify what you see as the key drivers of success. What are you betting on here?
  • Raise money only in sufficient amount to finance the experiment or evaluation you next envision, with a cushion for contingencies.
  • Delay hiring key managers until initial rounds of experimentation have produced a stable business model.
  • At some point, take the plunge and test your product or service on a small scare in the real world through customer research, test marketing, or prototypes.
  • Test and refine your business model before expanding your operations.

Top Ten Do's and Don'ts

THE TOP TEN DO'S
  1. Prepare a complete business plan for any business you are considering.
  2. Use the business plan templates furnished in each session.
  3. Complete sections of your business plan as you proceed through the course.
  4. Research (use search engines) to find business plans that are available on the Internet.
  5. Package your business plan in an attractive kit as a selling tool.
  6. Submit your business plan to experts in your intended business for their advice.
  7. Spell out your strategies on how you intend to handle adversities.
  8. Spell out the strengths and weaknesses of your management team.
  9. Include a monthly one-year cash flow projection.
  10. Freely and frequently modify your business plans to account for changing conditions.
THE TOP TEN DON'TS
  1. Be optimistic (on the high side) in estimating future sales.
  2. Be optimistic (on the low side) in estimating future costs.
  3. Disregard or discount weaknesses in your plan. Spell them out.
  4. Stress long-term projections. Better to focus on projections for your first year.
  5. Depend entirely on the uniqueness of your business or the success of an invention.
  6. Project yourself as someone you're not. Be brutally realistic.
  7. Be everything to everybody. Highly focused specialists usually do best.
  8. Proceed without adequate financial and accounting know-how.
  9. Base your business plan on a wonderful concept. Test it first.
  10. Pursue a business not substantiated by your business plan analysis.

Sample Business Plans: Product and Service.

Now is the time for you to review the sample plans we have provided. This will help you in formatting your own plan. For some tips on appropriate information to fill in, refer to the sample business plans:

Sample Business Plan (Product): Widget Corporation
doc MS Word
Sample Business Plan (Service): Smith E-Commerce Consulting
doc MS Word

Business Plan for Sessions 1 and 2: The Business Profile, the Vision and the People

You can now begin to assemble your business plan. If you have not yet selected a business, you can pick one to practice on. Remember, we have provided attractive, individual business templates for each session that you can download as Microsoft Word documents. So start now!

Section 1: The Business Profile
doc MS Word
Section 2: The vision and the People
doc MS Word

Instructions on filling in the business plan template:

  1. Each box has a permanent title in CAPITAL LETTERS.
  2. Below each title is a sentence starting with an "Insert here" sentence. This will suggest information to insert. The boxes will expand as you take up more room so use all the space you need.
  3. After completing each box, delete the "Insert here" sentence, which will leave only the permanent title of the box and the information you have inserted.
We suggest that you fill in each section of the business plan
as you proceed through the course.

The full template for all sessions 1-15 can also be downloaded into your computer as a single document:

Section 1-15: (Full Business Plan Template)
doc MS Word

Include sufficient research findings and background materials. Make it interesting by the use of background data, your biography, charts, demographics and research data. When your business plan is completed, print off and assemble the 15 sections.

Many other business plan formats are available in libraries, bookstores and online.

Session 2 Feedback:

Please help improve this course by taking 20 seconds to answer these feedback questions.

(Please fill in)
Examples: In what way has this course topic improved your chances of success or reduced risks of failure? What was the most valuable information in this session? Did we make mistakes?

Exclaimation Note: To receive credit toward a Certificate of Completion either log in to your account or create a new account then take the quiz. If you wish to contine without credit, Submit feedback and proceed to Session Quiz below.

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