For everything in life, you need a plan, right?
The same can be said for business. Every business, whether a startup or a full-fledged, profitable organization, needs a business plan. To know where you are going, you have to know where you came from and what came before you.
Here are the key elements of a winning business plan.
1. Executive summary. An executive summary is a one- or two-page summary of your entire business plan. It's often easiest to write your executive summary after you've finalized all the details within the plan itself.
2. Business description. In your business description, you'll need to include and define various aspects of your service offerings, the history of your field and any current happenings and your personal goals and objectives, elements that add to your success and the ownership of your company. This section is the backbone of your business plan and will set the stage for the information included in the rest of the plan.
3. Products and services. Everyone has a product or service that they are offering to a prospective client. You should be able to describe what it is that you are selling as well as identify what makes your product or service unique.
4. Sales and marketing. This section is very important. It gives you a window into your industry, the state of the market, general costs, how business is acquired and also affords you an opportunity to distinguish yourself from competitors.
While you are making the most of this section, also realize that just as people who walk by physical stores on the street can see what's going on at a place of business, visitors to your website also have the ability to browse your merchandise and become familiar with your personal branding.
Make your website your online storefront both in thought and deed. Consider the following:
- You can provide samples or demonstrations of your product.
- Graphics and or photographs are your visual marketing materials.
- The URL (website address) is your "location."
- Equipment that you use and product delivery methods are manufacturing and shipping tools.
- Website navigation is like the layout of a physical store.
- If you have a site map, it helps to direct people to what they are looking for like a map in a department store.
- Showcasing testimonials, affiliations and experience in easily accessible areas of your website builds credibility and instills trust with a customer.
Presenting your contact information enables people to do business with you. Detailing information about yourself, even though you aren't actually in the presence of a prospective customer, gives a good first impression of your personality, qualifications and services.
Rather than just thinking of your website as a dormant place to tack your name on, kick it up a notch and view your website as an online storefront -- the place where business gets done.
5. Operations. This purpose of this section is to help you outline the more administrative side of your business, including how you operate, where your office is located, your staff or assistant if applicable, equipment, overhead and other expenses, legal relationships, your network of suppliers and credit policies.
6. Management team. If you have a few advisers or people who help you to manage your business, this is where you acknowledge their involvement and the capacity by which they contribute to your overall success. Also, if there is a hierarchy of positions within your company, you would detail that hierarchy and the relevancy of each relationship.
7. Development. This is where you can dream a bit. Not everything in this section is based upon pure fact like the information you would have provided in the other sections. Project into the future and think big. Development is a necessary part of business to remain competitive, so be sure to spend a significant amount of time when writing this part of your plan.
8. Financial summary. Now, back to reality! You'll need to provide a record of your financial dealings, investments, if any, and how you came to the position you are in today. With some flexibility, you can project how your company will be operating and assess your financial status, including how things balance out at the end of each month, the overall financial health of your business and your cash flow.