Before the Business Plan: For those of you that know me, you know that I’m a firm believer in making sure you have a marketable product or service long before you start your business plan. So for those of you who already know there is a demand for your product and/or service, please sharpen your pencil. Determine your purpose, and identify your target audience. Then, write, write, and re-write.
Unless you are trying to secure millions in venture capital, you can do it on your own with a considerable level of comfort if you remember a few things. It’s not necessary to trust your Business Plan to an online template, so keep the following in mind:
- On-line or textbook templates are cookie cutter devices and, therefore, descriptive at best, a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. There simply is no master plan.
- One plan does not suit every need or audience. For example, I am a big advocate of sharing your small business’ plans with your partners, officers, and staff. Such transparency is a proven link to success. But, I think you need a more private plan that self-accesses, forecasts, and self-corrects. The language of the former plan, for example, would be motivational, but the language of the latter would include more specific and current data.
- Not every plan tries to raise money. Some sell product or service, and others solicit business alliances. If you plan is meant to position your product, the stress is going to be on performance, markets, and competition. If your plan is to form alliances with like businesses or complementary services, you want to stress all the elements that you and the solicited partner bring to the table and its future.
- Seeking funds and investors requires its own form. When applying for loans or capital, you need to provide data, experience, and forecasting. It requires appended records, incenses, contracts, etc. Still, I find many such plans to be unoriginal, ineffectively standardized, and overwritten.
Accept templates for what they are: descriptions of what goes where. Avoid templates or lessons that encourage you to fill in the blanks. Try to position yourself as the lender. Typically, a committee makes the lender’s decision, and the committee pretty much thinks it has seen it all. In fact, it has seen every template that MS Word offers.
The Plan is a leave-behind. As such, it should be very neat and clean, and it would be worth the buck to get designer advice on laying out your plan: margins, type size and style, logo/color, and data displays.
It’s my policy to keep the language at a minimum. Clarity, logic, and specifics match lender needs and mind-set. Avoid contractions, first and second person pronouns, and passive voice. Pay for support and coaching in preparing the covering letter and introduction. You may need the help in creating the first impression.
Some lending opportunities require a verbal or visual presentation. Do not confuse these needs with the business plan itself. They serve different purposes. For example, the live presentation offers you the chance to present yourself, your energy, and business savvy. Do not burden the presentation with the data and research that the plan includes.
Of the many advisors out there, I would suggest a review of the following sites for additional perspectives and tips: the Small Business Administration roadmap, a simple approach by Entrepreneur, and a detailed presentation by VetBiz/gov.
By Steven Schlagel