Now that you understand why you need a business plan and you've spent some time doing your homework gathering the information you need to create one, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get everything down on paper. The following pages will describe in detail the seven essential sections of a business plan: what you should include, what you shouldn't include, how to work the numbers and additional resources you can turn to for help. With that in mind, jump right in.
Within the overall outline of the business plan, the executive summary will follow the title page. The summary should tell the reader what you want. This is very important. All too often, what the business owner desires is buried on page eight. Clearly state what you're asking for in the summary.
The statement should be kept short and businesslike, probably no more than half a page. It could be longer, depending on how complicated the use of funds may be, but the summary of a business plan, like the summary of a loan application, is generally no longer than one page. Within that space, you'll need to provide a synopsis of your entire business plan. Key elements that should be included are:
1. Business concept. Describes the business, its product and the market it will serve. It should point out just exactly what will be sold, to whom and why the business will hold a competitive advantage.
2. Financial features. Highlights the important financial points of the business including sales, profits, cash flows and return on investment.
3. Financial requirements. Clearly states the capital needed to start the business and to expand. It should detail how the capital will be used, and the equity, if any, that will be provided for funding. If the loan for initial capital will be based on security instead of equity, you should also specify the source of collateral.
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4. Current business position. Furnishes relevant information about the company, its legal form of operation, when it was formed, the principal owners and key personnel.
5. Major achievements. Details any developments within the company that are essential to the success of the business. Major achievements include items like patents, prototypes, location of a facility, any crucial contracts that need to be in place for product development, or results from any test marketing that has been conducted.
When writing your statement of purpose, don't waste words. If the statement of purpose is eight pages, nobody's going to read it because it'll be very clear that the business, no matter what its merits, won't be a good investment because the principals are indecisive and don't really know what they want. Make it easy for the reader to realize at first glance both your needs and capabilities.
Tell Them All About It
The business description usually begins with a short description of the industry. When describing the industry, discuss the present outlook as well as future possibilities. You should also provide information on all the various markets within the industry, including any new products or developments that will benefit or adversely affect your business. Base all of your observations on reliable data and be sure to footnote sources of information as appropriate. This is important if you're seeking funding; the investor will want to know just how dependable your information is, and won't risk money on assumptions or conjecture.
When describing your business, the first thing you need to concentrate on is its structure. By structure we mean the type of operation, i.e. wholesale, retail, food service, manufacturing or service-oriented. Also state whether the business is new or already established.
In addition to structure, legal form should be reiterated once again. Detail whether the business is a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation, who its principals are, and what they will bring to the business.
You should also mention who you will sell to, how the product will be distributed, and the business's support systems. Support may come in the form of advertising, promotions and customer service.
Once you've described the business, you need to describe the products or services you intend to market. The product description statement should be complete enough to give the reader a clear idea of your intentions. You may want to emphasize any unique features or variations from concepts that can typically be found in the industry.
Be specific in showing how you will give your business a competitive edge. For example, your business will be better because you will supply a full line of products; competitor A doesn't have a full line. You're going to provide service after the sale; competitor B doesn't support anything he sells. Your merchandise will be of higher quality. You'll give a money-back guarantee. Competitor C has the reputation for selling the best French fries in town; you're going to sell the best Thousand Island dressing.
How Will I Profit?
Now you must be a classic capitalist and ask yourself, "How can I turn a buck? And why do I think I can make a profit that way?" Answer that question for yourself, and then convey that answer to others in the business concept section. You don't have to write 25 pages on why your business will be profitable. Just explain the factors you think will make it successful, like the following: it's a well-organized business, it will have state-of-the-art equipment, its location is exceptional, the market is ready for it, and it's a dynamite product at a fair price.
If you're using your business plan as a document for financial purposes, explain why the added equity or debt money is going to make your business more profitable.
Show how you will expand your business or be able to create something by using that money.
Show why your business is going to be profitable. A potential lender is going to want to know how successful you're going to be in this particular business. Factors that support your claims for success can be mentioned briefly; they will be detailed later. Give the reader an idea of the experience of the other key people in the business. They'll want to know what suppliers or experts you've spoken to about your business and their response to your idea. They may even ask you to clarify your choice of location or reasons for selling this particular product.
The business description can be a few paragraphs in length to a few pages, depending on the complexity of your plan. If your plan isn't too complicated, keep your business description short, describing the industry in one paragraph, the product in another, and the business and its success factors in three or four paragraphs that will end the statement.
While you may need to have a lengthy business description in some cases, it's our opinion that a short statement conveys the required information in a much more effective manner. It doesn't attempt to hold the reader's attention for an extended period of time, and this is important if you're presenting to a potential investor who will have other plans he or she will need to read as well. If the business description is long and drawn-out, you'll lose the reader's attention, and possibly any chance of receiving the necessary funding for the project.
Define Your Market
Market strategies are the result of a meticulous market analysis. A market analysis forces the entrepreneur to become familiar with all aspects of the market so that the target market can be defined and the company can be positioned in order to garner its share of sales. A market analysis also enables the entrepreneur to establish pricing, distribution and promotional strategies that will allow the company to become profitable within a competitive environment. In addition, it provides an indication of the growth potential within the industry, and this will allow you to develop your own estimates for the future of your business.
Begin your market analysis by defining the market in terms of size, structure, growth prospects, trends and sales potential.
The total aggregate sales of your competitors will provide you with a fairly accurate estimate of the total potential market. Once the size of the market has been determined, the next step is to define the target market. The target market narrows down the total market by concentrating on segmentation factors that will determine the total addressable market--the total number of users within the sphere of the business's influence. The segmentation factors can be geographic, customer attributes or product-oriented.
For instance, if the distribution of your product is confined to a specific geographic area, then you want to further define the target market to reflect the number of users or sales of that product within that geographic segment.
Once the target market has been detailed, it needs to be further defined to determine the total feasible market. This can be done in several ways, but most professional planners will delineate the feasible market by concentrating on product segmentation factors that may produce gaps within the market. In the case of a microbrewery that plans to brew a premium lager beer, the total feasible market could be defined by determining how many drinkers of premium pilsner beers there are in the target market.
It's important to understand that the total feasible market is the portion of the market that can be captured provided every condition within the environment is perfect and there is very little competition. In most industries this is simply not the case. There are other factors that will affect the share of the feasible market a business can reasonably obtain. These factors are usually tied to the structure of the industry, the impact of competition, strategies for market penetration and continued growth, and the amount of capital the business is willing to spend in order to increase its market share.
Projecting Market Share
Arriving at a projection of the market share for a business plan is very much a subjective estimate. It's based on not only an analysis of the market but on highly targeted and competitive distribution, pricing and promotional strategies. For instance, even though there may be a sizable number of premium pilsner drinkers to form the total feasible market, you need to be able to reach them through your distribution network at a price point that's competitive, and then you have to let them know it's available and where they can buy it. How effectively you can achieve your distribution, pricing and promotional goals determines the extent to which you will be able to garner market share.
For a business plan, you must be able to estimate market share for the time period the plan will cover. In order to project market share over the time frame of the business plan, you'll need to consider two factors:
1. Industry growth which will increase the total number of users. Most projections utilize a minimum of two growth models by defining different industry sales scenarios. The industry sales scenarios should be based on leading indicators of industry sales, which will most likely include industry sales, industry segment sales, demographic data and historical precedence.
2. Conversion of users from the total feasible market. This is based on a sales cycle similar to a product life cycle where you have five distinct stages: early pioneer users, early users, early majority users, late majority users and late users. Using conversion rates, market growth will continue to increase your market share during the period from early pioneers to early majority users, level off through late majority users, and decline with late users.
Defining the market is but one step in your analysis. With the information you've gained through market research, you need to develop strategies that will allow you to fulfill your objectives.
Positioning Your Business
When discussing market strategy, it's inevitable that positioning will be brought up. A company's positioning strategy is affected by a number of variables that are closely tied to the motivations and requirements of target customers within as well as the actions of primary competitors.
Before a product can be positioned, you need to answer several strategic questions such as:
- How are your competitors positioning themselves?
- What specific attributes does your product have that your competitors' don't?
- What customer needs does your product fulfill?
Once you've answered your strategic questions based on research of the market, you can then begin to develop your positioning strategy and illustrate that in your business plan. A positioning statement for a business plan doesn't have to be long or elaborate. It should merely point out exactly how you want your product perceived by both customers and the competition.
How you price your product is important because it will have a direct effect on the success of your business. Though pricing strategy and computations can be complex, the basic rules of pricing are straightforward:
- All prices must cover costs.
- The best and most effective way of lowering your sales prices is to lower costs.
- Your prices must reflect the dynamics of cost, demand, changes in the market and response to your competition.
- Prices must be established to assure sales. Don't price against a competitive operation alone. Rather, price to sell.
- Product utility, longevity, maintenance and end use must be judged continually, and target prices adjusted accordingly.
- Prices must be set to preserve order in the marketplace.
There are many methods of establishing prices available to you:
- Cost-plus pricing. Used mainly by manufacturers, cost-plus pricing assures that all costs, both fixed and variable, are covered and the desired profit percentage is attained.
- Demand pricing. Used by companies that sell their product through a variety of sources at differing prices based on demand.
- Competitive pricing. Used by companies that are entering a market where there is already an established price and it is difficult to differentiate one product from another.
- Markup pricing. Used mainly by retailers, markup pricing is calculated by adding your desired profit to the cost of the product. Each method listed above has its strengths and weaknesses.
Distribution includes the entire process of moving the product from the factory to the end user. The type of distribution network you choose will depend upon the industry and the size of the market. A good way to make your decision is to analyze your competitors to determine the channels they are using, then decide whether to use the same type of channel or an alternative that may provide you with a strategic advantage.
Some of the more common distribution channels include:
- Direct sales. The most effective distribution channel is to sell directly to the end-user.
- OEM (original equipment manufacturer) sales. When your product is sold to the OEM, it is incorporated into their finished product and it is distributed to the end user.
- Manufacturer's representatives. One of the best ways to distribute a product, manufacturer's reps, as they are known, are salespeople who operate out of agencies that handle an assortment of complementary products and divide their selling time among them.
- Wholesale distributors. Using this channel, a manufacturer sells to a wholesaler, who in turn sells it to a retailer or other agent for further distribution through the channel until it reaches the end user.
- Brokers. Third-party distributors who often buy directly from the distributor or wholesaler and sell to retailers or end users.
- Retail distributors. Distributing a product through this channel is important if the end user of your product is the general consuming public.
- Direct Mail. Selling to the end user using a direct mail campaign.
As we've mentioned already, the distribution strategy you choose for your product will be based on several factors that include the channels being used by your competition, your pricing strategy and your own internal resources.
With a distribution strategy formed, you must develop a promotion plan. The promotion strategy in its most basic form is the controlled distribution of communication designed to sell your product or service. In order to accomplish this, the promotion strategy encompasses every marketing tool utilized in the communication effort. This includes:
- Advertising. Includes the advertising budget, creative message(s), and at least the first quarter's media schedule.
- Packaging. Provides a description of the packaging strategy. If available, mockups of any labels, trademarks or service marks should be included.
- Public relations. A complete account of the publicity strategy including a list of media that will be approached as well as a schedule of planned events.
- Sales promotions. Establishes the strategies used to support the sales message. This includes a description of collateral marketing material as well as a schedule of planned promotional activities such as special sales, coupons, contests and premium awards.
- Personal sales. An outline of the sales strategy including pricing procedures, returns and adjustment rules, sales presentation methods, lead generation, customer service policies, salesperson compensation, and salesperson market responsibilities.
Once the market has been researched and analyzed, conclusions need to be developed that will supply a quantitative outlook concerning the potential of the business. The first financial projection within the business plan must be formed utilizing the information drawn from defining the market, positioning the product, pricing, distribution, and strategies for sales. The sales or revenue model charts the potential for the product, as well as the business, over a set period of time. Most business plans will project revenue for up to three years, although five-year projections are becoming increasingly popular among lenders.
When developing the revenue model for the business plan, the equation used to project sales is fairly simple. It consists of the total number of customers and the average revenue from each customer. In the equation, "T" represents the total number of people, "A" represents the average revenue per customer, and "S" represents the sales projection. The equation for projecting sales is: (T)(A) = S
Using this equation, the annual sales for each year projected within the business plan can be developed. Of course, there are other factors that you'll need to evaluate from the revenue model. Since the revenue model is a table illustrating the source for all income, every segment of the target market that is treated differently must be accounted for. In order to determine any differences, the various strategies utilized in order to sell the product have to be considered. As we've already mentioned, those strategies include distribution, pricing and promotion.