A business plan might seem like a daunting task—and why not have an expert business plan writer do it for you, especially if you can afford it. However, in the real world, business planning should never be just a one-time task.
Real business planning is a process, that goes on forever, as the plan is reviewed and revised often. Get everything you can out of it by updating it often, and using it to guide your company as it grows. In the U. These are publicly funded by a combination of state, federal, and community education agencies.
They offer solid expertise at accessible prices, in counseling, workshops, and events. SCORE counseling is free, offered by retired people with ample business experience. Try to find counselors whose experience matches your needs. Look for relevant experience in a counselor.
The U. They might offer mentoring or training opportunities, shared resources like workspaces , and sometimes an easy path to accessing capital. Accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces are not always distinctly defined entities. There is quite a bit of a grey area, and every program in the U. In general, accelerators take an existing company and helps it grow faster than it would on its own.
Whereas an incubator helps with the beginning stages. This can be a very broad spectrum. Ask why the program exists and interview that. How is it funded? The bottom line is: do your research. Look for what is available near you and analyze its pros and cons for your personal goals and ideas.
For a listing of incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurship centers, go here. It was updated in Average rating 3. Vote count: 8. No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post. Follow him on Twitter Timberry. Read Planning By: Tim Berry. First, get clear on what you want to accomplish Always start with an assessment of what you want to accomplish with your plan. Are you seeking a bank loan or investment?
Business plan template A business plan template is a basic business plan outline in a Word or PDF document that has a simple fill-in-the-blank system to help you create your own plan. Sample business plan A sample business plan is an example of a full, traditional plan that is based on a real company. Was this article helpful? Tim Berry. Starting or Growing a Business?
Learn how to create a winning elevator pitch deck and speech that will impress investors. If you're pitching to investors or building a pitch deck, here are the 7 things you need. An impressive pitch deck is key to get the attention of investors. Learn how to prepare your business plan and pitch to secure funding for your business. When it comes to funding, there isn't a one-size-fits-all method. Here are your options. Midyear is an excellent time to conduct a full plan review and adjust your strategy for the remainde….
Midyear is an excellent time to conduct a full plan review and ad…. Payroll mistakes can be costly and can even lead to legal action. Avoid these pitfalls by correcting…. Are you looking to grow and optimize the processes of your healthcare business? Here are three data …. Are you looking to grow and optimize the processes of your health….
Establishing business management standards up front can help better guide and grow your business. Establishing business management standards up front can help bett…. Learn from renowned business planning expert and founder of Bplans, Tim Berry. Learn to Build a Better Business Plan. Sample Business Plan Gallery Browse our library of over free business plan examples to kickstart your own plan. Browse our library of over free business plan examples.
How to Write a Business Plan Step-by-step guide to establish the foundation of your business quickly and efficiently. Step-by-step guide to establish the foundation of your business. Business Plan Template Build your business using the proven planning template designed by the experts at Bplans.
Use the planning template designed by the experts at Bplans. Subscribe to Bplans business insights Stay up to date with the latest business planning, management, growth, and funding trends from Bplans. Sign up. Popular Downloads See More. Refine your competitive strategy using a SWOT analysis. Estimate and improve the financial health of your business.
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Business Planning in Under an Hour Learn how to write your business plan in under an hour. Learn how to write your business plan in under an hour. A faster, more efficient way to develop your business strategy. Pitch Guide Learn how to create a winning elevator pitch deck and speech that will impress investors.
While data is good, and more data is great, sifting through and making sense of too much data can be daunting. For the purposes of your business plan, narrow your focus and focus on answering these main questions:. The Market Opportunities section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:.
While we expect sales to rise, for the purposes of performing a conservative analysis we have projected a zero growth rate for the next three years. In those states 2,, people visited a national forest last year. Our target market includes customers visiting the Shenandoah National Forest; last year , people visited the area during spring, summer, and fall months. Over time, however, we do expect equipment rentals and sales to increase as the popularity of cycling continues to rise. In particular we forecast a spike in demand in since the national road racing championships will be held in Richmond, VA.
According to the latest studies, recreation spending in our target market has grown by 14 percent per year for the past three years. In addition, we anticipate greater than industry-norm growth rates for cycling in the area due to the increase in popularity of cycling events like the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo. Out target market has one basic need: The availability to source bicycle rentals at a competitive price. Our only other competition are the bike shops in Harrisonburg, VA, and our location will give us a competitive advantage over those and other companies who try to serve our market.
For example, you might decide to provide information about Market Segments. In our case, the cycling rental business does not require much segmentation. Rentals are typically not broken down into segments like "inexpensive," "midrange," and "high-end. Although you'll notice in our Products and Services section, we decided to provide "high-end" rentals. But say you decide to open a clothing store. You could focus on high fashion, or children's clothes, or outdoor wear, or casual--you could segment the market in a number of ways.
If that's the case, provide detail on segmentation that supports your plan. Providing great products and services is wonderful, but customers must actually know those products and services exist. That's why marketing plans and strategies are critical to business success. Duh, right? But keep in mind marketing is not just advertising. Marketing--whether advertising, public relations, promotional literature, etc.
Like any other investment you would make, money spent on marketing must generate a return. Otherwise why make the investment? While that return could simply be greater cash flow, good marketing plans result in higher sales and profits.
So don't simply plan to spend money on a variety of advertising efforts. Do your homework and create a smart marketing program. The Sales and Marketing section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:. While customers in the counties surrounding the George Washington National Forest make up 35 percent of our potential customer base, much of our market travels from outside that geographic area. We will not be the low-cost provider for our target market. Our goal is to provide mid- to high-end equipment.
However, we will create web-based loyalty programs to incent customers to set up online profiles and reserve and renew equipment rentals online, and provide discounts for those who do. Over time we will be able to market specifically to those customers. Just as in the Market Opportunity section, you may want to include a few more categories.
For example, if your business involves a commission-compensated sales force, describe your Sales Programs and incentives. If you distribute products to other companies or suppliers and those distribution efforts will impact your overall marketing plans, lay out your Distribution Strategy. The key is to show you understand your market and you understand how you will reach your market.
Marketing and promotions must result in customers--your goal is to thoroughly describe how you will acquire and keep your customers. Also keep in mind you may want to include examples of marketing materials you have already prepared, like website descriptions, print ads, web-based advertising programs, etc.
While you don't need to include samples, taking the time to create actual marketing materials might help you better understand and communicate your marketing plans and objectives. Make sure your Sales and Marketing section answers the "How will I reach my customers? The Competitive Analysis section of your business plan is devoted to analyzing your competition--both your current competition and potential competitors who might enter your market. Every business has competition. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your competition--or potential competition--is critical to making sure your business survives and grows.
While you don't need to hire a private detective, you do need to thoroughly assess your competition on a regular basis even if you plan to run only a small business. In fact, small businesses can be especially vulnerable to competition, especially when new companies enter a marketplace. Competitive analysis can be incredibly complicated and time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be.
Here is a simple process you can follow to identify, analyze, and determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competition. First, develop a basic profile of each of your current competition. For example, if you plan to open an office supply store, you may have three competing stores in your market. Online retailers will also provide competition, but thoroughly analyzing those companies will be less valuable unless you also decide you want to sell office supplies online.
Although it's also possible that they--or, say, Amazon--are your real competition. Only you can determine that. To make the process easier, stick to analyzing companies you will directly compete with. If you plan to set up an accounting firm, you will compete with other accounting firms in your area.
If you plan to open a clothing store, you will compete with other clothing retailers in your area. Again, if you run a clothing store, you also compete with online retailers, but there is relatively little you can do about that type of competition other than to work hard to distinguish yourself in other ways: great service, friendly salespeople, convenient hours, truly understanding your customers, etc.
Once you identify your main competitors, answer these questions about each one. And be objective. It's easy to identify weaknesses in your competition, but less easy and a lot less fun to recognize how they may be able to outperform you:. While these questions may seem like a lot of work to answer, in reality the process should be fairly easy. You should already have a feel for the competition's strengths and weaknesses--if you know your market and your industry.
Keep in mind competitive analysis does more than help you understand your competition. Competitive analysis can also help you identify changes you should make to your business strategies. Learn from competitor strengths, take advantage of competitor's weaknesses, and apply the same analysis to your own business plan. It can be tough to predict when and where new competitors may pop up. For starters, regularly search for news on your industry, your products, your services, and your target market.
But there are other ways to predict when competition may follow you into a market. Other people may see the same opportunity you see. Think about your business and your industry, and if the following conditions exist, you may face competition does the road:. In general terms, if serving your market seems easy you can safely assume competitors will enter your market. A good business plan anticipates and accounts for new competitors. The Competitive Analysis section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:.
Our nearest and only competition is the bike shops in Harrisonburg, VA. Our next closest competitor is located over miles away. The in-town bike shops will be strong competitors. They are established businesses with excellent reputations. On the other hand, they offer inferior-quality equipment and their location is significantly less convenient.
We do not plan to sell bicycles for at least the first two years of operation. However, sellers of new equipment do indirectly compete with our business since a customer who buys equipment no longer needs to rent equipment. Later, when we add new equipment sales to our operation, we will face competition from online retailers. We will compete with new equipment retailers through personalized service and targeted marketing to our existing customer base, especially through online initiatives.
And so on While your business plan is primarily intended to convince you that your business makes sense, keep in mind most investors look closely at your competitive analysis. A common mistake made by entrepreneurs is assuming they will simply "do it better" than any competition. Experienced businesspeople know you will face stiff competition: showing you understand your competition, understand your strengths and weaknesses relative to that competition, and that you understand you will have to adapt and change based on that competition is critical.
And, even if you do not ever plan to seek financing or bring in investors, you absolutely must know your competition. The next step in creating your business plan is to develop an Operations Plan that will serve your customers, keep your operating costs in line, and ensure profitability. Your ops plan should detail strategies for managing, staffing, manufacturing, fulfillment, inventory--all the stuff involved in operating your business on a day-to-day basis.
Fortunately, most entrepreneurs have a better handle on their operations plan than on any other aspect of their business. After all, while it may not seem natural to analyze your market or your competition, most budding entrepreneurs tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how they will run their businesses. Operations plans should be highly specific to your industry, your market sector, and your customers.
Instead of providing an example like I've done with other sections, use the following to determine the key areas your plan should address:. You should think through and create a detailed plan for each category, but you won't need to share the results with the people who read your business plan. Think of Operations as the "implementation" section of your business plan.
What do you need to do? How will you get it done? Then create an overview of that plan to make sure your milestones and timeline make sense. Many investors and lenders feel the quality and experience of the management team is one of the most important factors used to evaluate the potential of a new business. But putting work into the Management Team section will not only benefit people who may read your plan.
It will also help you evaluate the skills, experiences, and resources your management team will need. Addressing your company's needs during implementation will make a major impact on your chances for success. The Management Team section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:. Joe has over 20 years experience in the cycling business. He served for 10 years as a product manager for Acme Bikes. After that he was the operations manager of Single Track Cycles, a full-service bike shop located in Bend, Oregon.
A complete resume for Mr. Rouleur can be found in the Appendix. Mary was the U. Mountain Biking National Champion. She worked in product development for High Tec frames, creating custom frames and frame modifications for professional cyclists. She also has extensive customer service and sales experience, having worked for four years as the online manager of Pro Parts Unlimited, an online retailer of high-end cycling equipment and accessories. For example, if you manufacture a product or provide a service and will hire a key skilled employee, describe that employee's credentials.
Otherwise, include staffing plans in the Operations section. One key note: Don't be tempted to add a "name" to your management team in hopes of attracting investors. Celebrity management team members may attract the attention of your readers, but experienced lenders and investors will immediately ask what role that person will actually play in the running of the business--and in most cases those individuals won't play any meaningful role.
If you don't have a lot of experience--but are willing to work hard to overcome that lack of experience--don't be tempted to include people in your plan who will not actually work in the business. If you can't survive without help, that's okay. In fact, that's expected; no one does anything worthwhile on their own. Just make plans to get help from the right people. Finally, when you create your Management section, focus on credentials but pay extra attention to what each person actually will do.
Experience and reputation are great, but action is everything. Financial projections and estimates help entrepreneurs, lenders, and investors or lenders objectively evaluate a company's potential for success. If a business seeks outside funding, providing comprehensive financial reports and analysis is critical.
But most important, financial projections tell you whether your business has a chance of being viable--and if not let you know you have more work to do. It's easy to find examples of all of the above. Even the most basic accounting software packages include templates and samples. You can also find templates in Excel and Google Docs. A quick search like "google docs profit and loss statement" yields plenty of examples.
Or you can work with an accountant to create the necessary financial projections and documents. Certainly feel free to do so, but first play around with the reports yourself. While you don't need to be an accountant to run a business, you do need to understand your numbers, and the best way to understand your numbers is usually to actually work with your numbers.
But ultimately the tools you use to develop your numbers are not as important as whether those numbers are as accurate as possible--and whether those numbers help you decide whether to take the next step and put your business plan into action. Then Financial Analysis can help you answer the most important business question: "Can we make a profit? Some business plans include less essential but potentially important information in an Appendix section.
You may decide to include, as backup or additional information:. Keep in mind creating an Appendix is usually only necessary if you're seeking financing or hoping to bring in partners or investors. Initially the people reading your business plan don't wish to plow through reams and reams of charts, numbers, and backup information.
If one does want to dig deeper, fine--he or she can check out the documents in the Appendix. While you may use your business plan to attract investors, partners, suppliers, etc. Because ultimately it's your time, your money, and your effort on the line. Top Stories. Top Videos. So first let's gain a little perspective on why you need a business plan.
Be as objective and logical as possible. What may have seemed like a good idea for a business can, after some thought and analysis, prove not viable because of heavy competition, insufficient funding, or a nonexistent market. Sometimes even the best ideas are simply ahead of their time.
Serve as a guide to the business's operations for the first months and sometimes years, creating a blueprint for company leaders to follow. Communicate the company's purpose and vision, describe management responsibilities, detail personnel requirements, provide an overview of marketing plans, and evaluate current and future competition in the marketplace.
Create the foundation of a financing proposal for investors and lenders to use to evaluate the company. Who must your business plan convince? And if you're not convinced, fine: Take a step back and refine your ideas and your plans. Who can your business plan convince? As you map out your plan, you may discover issues or challenges you had not anticipated.
Now let's look at the first section of your business plan: The Executive Summary. A brief description of products and services A summary of objectives A solid description of the market A high-level justification for viability including a quick look at your competition and your competitive advantage A snapshot of growth potential An overview of funding requirements. Your Summary can serve as a guide to writing the rest of your plan.
The following is how an Executive Summary for a bicycle rental store might read. The economic outlook indicates fewer VA, WV, NC, and MD cycling enthusiasts will travel outside the region The park has added a camping and lodging facilities that should attract an increased number of visitors The park has opened up additional areas for trail exploration and construction, ensuring a greater number of single-track options and therefore a greater number of visitors. Initial growth will be moderate as we establish awareness in the market Initial equipment purchases will stay in service for an average of three to four years; after two years we will begin investing in "new" equipment to replace damaged or obsolete equipment Marketing costs will not exceed 14 percent of sales Residual profits will be reinvested in expanding the product and service line.
What you will provide What you need to run your business Who will service your customers, and Who your customers are. Identify your industry. Retail, wholesale, service, manufacturing, etc. Clearly define your type of business. Identify your customer. You cannot market and sell to customers until you know who they are.
Explain the problem you solve. Successful businesses create customer value by solving problems. In our rental example, one problem is cycling enthusiasts who don't--or can't--travel with bikes. Another problem is casual cyclists who can't--or choose not to--spend significant sums on their own bikes. The rental shop will solve that problem by offering a lower-cost and convenient alternative. Show how you will solve that problem. Our rental shop will offer better prices and enhanced services like remote deliveries, off-hours equipment returns, and online reservations.
If you are still stuck, try answering these questions. Some may pertain to you; others may not. Who is my average customer? Who am I targeting? Unless you plan to open a grocery store, you should be unlikely to answer, "Everyone! How will I overcome that paint point? Where will I fail to solve a customer problem, and what can I do to overcome that issue? In our rental example, one problem is a potential lack of convenience; we will overcome that issue by offering online reservations, on-resort deliveries, and drive-up equipment returns.
Where will I locate my business? What products, services, and equipment do I need to run my business? What skills do my employees need, and how many do I need? How will I beat my competition? How can I differentiate myself from my competition in the eyes of my customers? You can have a great plan to beat your competition, but you also must win the perception battle among your customers. If customers don't feel you are different, then you aren't truly different.
Perception is critical. Provide high-quality equipment, sourcing that equipment as inexpensively as possible through existing relationships with equipment manufacturers and other cycling shops Use signage to attract visitors traveling to the national forest, highlighting our cost and service advantage Create additional customer convenience factors to overcome a perceived lack of convenience for customers planning to ride roads and trails some distance away from our shop Develop customer incentive and loyalty programs to leverage customer relationships and create positive word of mouth.
Are products or services in development or existing and on the market? What is the timeline for bringing new products and services to market? What makes your products or services different? Are there competitive advantages compared with offerings from other competitors? Are there competitive disadvantages you will need to overcome? And if so, how? Is price an issue? Will your operating costs be low enough to allow a reasonable profit margin?
How will you acquire your products? Are you the manufacturer? Do you assemble products using components provided by others? Do you purchase products from suppliers or wholesalers? If your business takes off, is a steady supply of products available? The following is a breakdown of anticipated rental price points, per day and per week:.
Customers can extend the rental term online without visiting the store. A grace period of two hours will be applied to all rentals; customers who return equipment within that two-hour period will not be charged an additional fee. Newer equipment inventory with higher perceived quality Price points 15 percent below the competition Online renewals offering greater convenience A liberal return grace period that will reinforce our reputation as a customer-friendly rental experience.
What is the size of the market? Is it growing, stable, or in decline? Is the overall industry growing, stable, or in decline? What segment of the market do I plan to target? What demographics and behaviors make up the market I plan to target? Is demand for my specific products and services rising or falling?
Can I differentiate myself from the competition in a way customers will find meaningful? If so, can I differentiate myself in a cost-effective manner? What do customers expect to pay for my products and services? Are they considered to be a commodity or to be custom and individualized? Your potential customers. In general terms, potential customers are the people in the market segment you plan to target.
Say you sell jet skis; anyone under the age of 16 and over the age of 60 or so is unlikely to be a customer. Plus, again in general terms, women make up a relatively small percentage of jet ski purchasers. Determining the total population for the market is not particularly helpful if your product or service does not serve a need for the entire population. Most products and services do not. Total households. In some cases determining the number of total households is important depending on your business.
For example, if you sell heating and air conditioning systems, knowing the number of households is more important than simply knowing the total population in your area. While people purchase HVAC systems, "households" consume those systems. Median income. Spending ability is important. Does your market area have sufficient spending power to purchase enough of your products and services to enable you to make a profit?
Some areas are more affluent than others. Don't assume every city or locality is the same in terms of spending power. A service that is viable in New York City may not be viable in your town. Income by demographics. You can also determine income levels by age group, by ethnic group, and by gender.
Again, potential spending power is an important number to quantify. Senior citizens could very well have a lower income level than males or females age 45 to 55 in the prime of their careers. Or say you plan to sell services to local businesses; in that case, try to determine the amount they currently spend on similar services.
Always remember it's much easier to serve a market you can define and quantify. What is your market? Include geographic descriptions, target demographics, and company profiles if you're B2B. In short: Who are your customers? What segment of your market will you focus on? What niche will you attempt to carve out?
What percentage of that market do you hope to penetrate and acquire? What is the size of your intended market? What is the population and spending habits and levels? Why do customers need and why will they be willing to purchase your products and services? How will you price your products and services? Will you be the low cost provider or provide value-added services at higher prices? Is your market likely to grow? How much?
How can you increase your market share over time? Recreational sports in general and both family-oriented and "extreme" sports continue to gain in exposure and popularity. Western VA and eastern WV have experienced population growth rates nearly double that of the country as a whole. Industry trends show cycling has risen at a more rapid rate than most other recreational activities.
You may want to add other categories to this section based on your particular industry. The key is to define your market--and then show how you will serve your market. Here are some of the basic steps involved in creating your marketing plan:. Focus on your target market. Who are your customers? Who will you target? Who makes the decisions?
Determine how you can best reach potential customers. Evaluate your competition. Your marketing plan must set you apart from your competition, and you can't stand out unless you know your competition. It's hard to stand out from a crowd if you don't know where the crowd stands.
Know your competitors by gathering information about their products, service, quality, pricing, and advertising campaigns. In marketing terms, what does your competition do that works well? What are their weaknesses? How can you create a marketing plan that highlights the advantages you offer to customers? Consider your brand. How customers perceive your business makes a dramatic impact on sales. Your marketing program should consistently reinforce and extend your brand.
Before you start to market your business, think about how you want your marketing to reflect on your business and your products and services. Marketing is the face of your to potential customers--make sure you put your best face forward.
Focus on benefits. What problems do you solve? What benefits do you deliver? Customers don't think in terms of products--they think in terms of benefits and solutions. Your marketing plan should clearly identify benefits customers will receive. Focus on what customers get instead of on what you provide. Take Dominos; theoretically they're in the pizza business, but really they're a delivery business.
Focus on differentiation. Your products and services have to stand out from the competition in some way. How will you compete in terms of price, product, or service? What is your budget for sales and marketing efforts? How will you determine if your initial marketing efforts are successful? In what ways will you adapt if your initial efforts do not succeed?
Will you need sales representatives inside or external to promote your products? Can you set up public relations activities to help market your business? Road signage. Access to the forest is restricted to a few primary entrances, and visitors reach those entrances after traveling on one of several main roadways.
Since customers currently rent bicycles in the local town of Harrisonburg, road signage will communicate our value proposition to all potential customers. In the U. These are publicly funded by a combination of state, federal, and community education agencies. They offer solid expertise at accessible prices, in counseling, workshops, and events. SCORE counseling is free, offered by retired people with ample business experience.
Try to find counselors whose experience matches your needs. Look for relevant experience in a counselor. The U. They might offer mentoring or training opportunities, shared resources like workspaces , and sometimes an easy path to accessing capital. Accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces are not always distinctly defined entities. There is quite a bit of a grey area, and every program in the U. In general, accelerators take an existing company and helps it grow faster than it would on its own.
Whereas an incubator helps with the beginning stages. This can be a very broad spectrum. Ask why the program exists and interview that. How is it funded? The bottom line is: do your research. Look for what is available near you and analyze its pros and cons for your personal goals and ideas. For a listing of incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurship centers, go here.
It was updated in Average rating 3. Vote count: 8. No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post. Follow him on Twitter Timberry. Read Planning By: Tim Berry. First, get clear on what you want to accomplish Always start with an assessment of what you want to accomplish with your plan.
Are you seeking a bank loan or investment? Business plan template A business plan template is a basic business plan outline in a Word or PDF document that has a simple fill-in-the-blank system to help you create your own plan. Sample business plan A sample business plan is an example of a full, traditional plan that is based on a real company. Was this article helpful? Tim Berry. Starting or Growing a Business? Check out these Offerings. Outpost Boost team productivity and collaboration with a shared email inbox Start For Free 14 days free.
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Establishing business management standards up front can help better guide and grow your business. Establishing business management standards up front can help bett…. Learn from renowned business planning expert and founder of Bplans, Tim Berry. Learn to Build a Better Business Plan. Sample Business Plan Gallery Browse our library of over free business plan examples to kickstart your own plan.
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The process of completing a business plan template can help ensure the viability of your business proposition from the off; Does it work? Does the market already exist? Is there an appetite for the product or service you are proposing? It also provides you with the information you would need to present to potential investors so they can determine if your vision is something they would invest in. To help you through each step of the plan, our business plan template is designed to guide you on the correct process at every stage, with plenty of advice on how best to complete each section.
Our working on a business plan page can also support you through completing each section of your business plan. Once you have completed the business plan template we've created below, please contact your local office for further guidance into launching a business. If you're considering starting up a new business, you should think about researching your business idea, business planning, funding and finding and keeping customers.
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