Writing a Business Plan – SatNav for Small Businesses

A good business plan inspires confidence, focuses activity, creates purpose and instils commitment. It can be your business roadmap to success. So whether you operate alone, or whether you …

9th March 2007 at 1:44 pm

A good business plan inspires confidence, focuses activity, creates purpose and instils commitment. It can be your business roadmap to success. So whether you operate alone, or whether you have a team of people to direct and lead, you could find yourself lost without one.

Moreover, your business plan is arguably the single most important piece of marketing material you will ever produce. This is because a well-considered, well-written business plan creates the starting point for any marketing activity that follows.

So why is it that when faced with the prospect of authoring a business plan, many entrepreneurs and small business leaders shrink from the task?

In many cases, this is simply because the skill set involved in laying down a detailed, structured and well written strategy document, doesn’t play to the strengths of the entrepreneur. (Preferring big picture, believing actions speak louder than words, and living for the thrill of ‘doing’ business, rather than reflective head scratching – stereotypical I know, but also true in the main).

But returning to the roadmap analogy, the growth of any business is a complicated journey and one that is rarely travelled alone. It’s when you want to bring other people aboard,  whether they are financiers, additional staff, or customers for that matter, that your road map will make sure you are on course for success.

Remember, there is no right or wrong in authoring a business plan. Above all, this is a document that has to work for you. But there are a few ‘must haves’:

  • Exec Summary – write it last, to summarise key points from all the sections below;
  • Background and context – how long you’ve been going and how you’re going, including a clued up review of key competition;
  • Vision/Mission – if you haven’t got this already, try to write in a couple of sentences what your business stands for;
  • What are your strategic goals for say the next 5 years? How big do you want to be? (Turnover, profit, staff numbers). Who will your customers be? What will people say/know about your product and service? (If 5 years is too much, try 3 or 1);
  • What are the key challenges involved in growing to this size and how do you plan to handle them?
  • What is your Sales and Marketing Strategy – how are you going to get the customers to do the numbers?
  • How will the structure of your business support your growth – think people, processes, technology and finance required? Spell out the structure, and shareholding if applicable;
  • Do the financials. Bite the bullet and put the numbers down. If you’ve created a top line plan for 5 years, put the detail to year one, then revisit yearly, or biannually to review the period just gone and the period immediately ahead. If things change massively, author a new, relevant plan.

Sounds simple? There are a few more considerations, before you set off:

  • Carve out clear time to do the thinking. Dependent on how fast/disciplined you are a day or two with no interruptions should do it;
  • DIY is great – if you’re the leader and key decision maker. But if you already have a top team around you, either invite them to the party, or be prepared to debate your output with them. Two, three and four brains are better than one. You need buy in, but you don’t want a bun fight;
  • Ask yourself the tough questions – and don’t settle for easy answers. Writing your business plan should be a challenging, often breakthrough, experience. Shine a light into the grey and vague areas of your future plans and you’ll come out feeling enlightened and with renewed purpose;
  • Make it as long as it needs to be, and no longer. It should be a concise and compelling read. Somewhere between 10 and 20 pages feels about right. Any longer and the time invested/value gained equation is probably getting out of balance;
  • Write it for your audience. In the first instance, this may be just for you. But be ready to redraft, rework or edit, should you choose to share it with say your business financial advisor or staff in order to provide the most pertinent facts, or to protect any confidential or sensitive information;
  • Make sure your goals and your timeframes are explicit. Your business plan should become your benchmark to measure your own success. (Remember the SMART rule and build in targets that are Specific, Measurable, Ambitious/Achievable, Realistic, Timely);
  • Put any key financial projections, resourcing plans etc. in appendices at the back. This makes them quick to edit out or add to, if you are adapting the plan for a new audience;
  • This may sound obvious, but make sure it’s written in good business standard English. If writing isn’t your forte at all, get the ideas down and pass it to someone who can write, (or pay a professional writer), to knock it into shape.
  • Above all, make it a working document with actions and intentions clearly spelled out, so that next time you’re faced with an important strategic decision, major financial challenge or an opportunity that comes from left-field, you can refer back you your plan and see if the choices you are faced with will take you closer to, (or move you away from) your expressed purpose and goals. This is where the SatNav really kicks in!
Sara Scott

Sara is a marketing specialist with a wealth of on-line and traditional experience. With award winning credentials as an advertising writer, her career also spans the disciplines of planning and strategy for both B2B and consumer clients. Having worked for one of the the UK's biggest non-London agencies, Sara now works on a consultancy basis for clients large and small. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk/blog

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  1. Russell Barton says:

    C’mon Sara – You need to do better than that post to keep business people interested…

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