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Top 5 Ingredients of Successful Business Plans

Everyone has prepared a business plan. Well, should that read, everyone should have prepared a business plan? My thinking is that these tend only to be prepared when they are needed, rather than as a useful business tool for all senior management. My top five ingredients are:

1. Understand what a business plan is;

2. Understand what you intend to use it for;

3. Identify and implement the critical steps to achieving a successful business plan;

4. Understand what needs to be included in the plan;

5. Be aware of gaps or weaknesses in your plan.

What is a business plan?

A business plan sets out the method for running a specific activity over a specific future period.

Why are business plans needed?

Business plans are needed essentially for the four following reasons:

1. A formal, explicit document of the planning process;

2. A request for finances;

3. A framework for approval;

4. A tool for operational business management.

What are the critical steps needed to achieve a successful business plan?

This may come as a surprise to my fellow business consultants, but producing a successful business plan is not as difficult as people often think, so long as they follow a logical sequence. Here is my considered view as to the critical steps.

1. Understand what you are planning and why;

2. Define the activities of your organisation;

3. Outline the current position of the business;

4. Review and discuss the external market conditions, undertake and understand a competitive analysis, and define your market positioning;

5. Define your core objectives;

6. Prepare and articulate the strategy to attain and meet the objectives;

7. Identify and review risks and opportunities;

8. Prepare a strategy to deal with risks and exploit opportunities;

9. Refine the strategies into operational plans;

10. Prepare financial forecasts including revenues, costs, cash-flow, capital expenditure and assumptions adopted;

11. Finalise the plan;

12. Get it approved;

13. Use it;

14. Review it regularly and update as appropriate.

What should be included in the business plan?

Without being too prescriptive, there are certain necessary elements which need to be included. Such elements are:

· Preliminaries – such as contents, contacts and definitions;

· An executive summary;

· A description of the business;

· A review of the market, the competition and market positioning;

· The vision, mission and objectives;

· The corporate strategy;

· The plan for developing the products and services;

· Financial projections;

· An outline of the risks and opportunities;

· A conclusion.

Understand gaps and weaknesses within the plan.

Any casual viewer of the BBC programme, Dragons Den will be aware of how easy it is for weaknesses or gaps to be identified. Depending upon the purpose of the plan, this may, or may not, prove to be critical. It is often easier to recognise such weaknesses and gaps, and be prepared to deal with them, either by noting them in the plan itself, or having appropriate answers available should the need arise.

Who should prepare the plan?

As a business consultant, this may sound like heresy, but I believe that any plan should be produced by the senior management of the organisation. That is not to say that the consultant does not have a role to play in its preparation. He does. Senior management should prepare the plan as they will then be able to present and discuss it, demonstrating to their audience that they fully understand their business and market. I believe that the consultant’s role is to help facilitate the preparation of the plan, the consultant can help undertake the necessary research, and can cast a critical and impartial eye over the plan.

What Makes A Good Business Plan And Why Do I Need One?

A strong business plan is essential for anyone looking to set up a business. A working business plan will prove your most used tool when it comes to building up your business, therefore it is essential to get it right from the word go. A business plan is a written document that clearly explains to the reader what the business is, what its objectives are, the strategy behind the business, the market it is involved in and its financial forecasts. A good plan can have many different functions from securing external funding to monitoring success or failure within the business. In general the most common function of the business plan is to act as a guide for a new business owner to follow when just starting out.

A business plan is essential for all businesses regardless of size, and once one has been written it is also important to maintain and update said plan. That being said, it is important to realize that whilst writing a detailed plan is useful and a good foundation for any successful business, it will not necessarily make the business a success or guard you from all disasters. If you keep up to date with business plan it will prove a really useful tool throughout the lifespan of your business. However, if you grossly over exaggerate profit margins or your budget then your business plan could also lead to failure. Stick to the figures and be realistic and your plan should hold you in good stead in the turbulent business market.

A lot of resources nowadays provide ready-made plans for specific businesses and whilst this is handy, most business owners will recommend that you write the plan yourself. This is because writing a plan for your business actually forces you to focus on what you want from your business and how to achieve your goals. When looking back on your initial plan for reference, you shouldn’t necessarily assume that your initial assumptions and predictions will be correct, they are just that: predictions. You should be able to go back to your plan on a regular basis and view it and change it to relate to the actual current situation.

It may seem like a daunting and laborious task to write an entire plan from scratch, but in actual fact once done it can be incredibly useful. In the beginning stages of your business, your plan will help to define and focus your objective by using accurate figures and details. Once established and looking to expand, you can then use your business plan as a selling tool to get more funding from external sources such as investors and the bank. As you are developing your business, your plan will help to highlight any gaps or weaknesses in the planning process. You can then address these issues and hopefully avoid any disasters. Finally, you can also use your plan to get advice from other experts within your field. By having a detailed business plan to hand you look professional and can present the information in an organized and clear manner.

In order to create a strong working business plan you need to place reasonable limits on long-term projections. For the time being, focus on short-term objectives and change and modify the plan as you go along. Too many long-term plans become pointless as they extend too far into the future. Don’t be too optimistic, instead stick to being realistic. Over optimism will be your downfall in the end and is only setting you up for a fall. When dealing with timelines, sales and profits err on the side of conservatism as this will protect your business in the long-run. Make sure your business plan is written in simple, clear language that can be understood by all in a bid to appeal to a wider audience and keep things clear.

The Process of Creating a Business Plan Teaches You Many Things

An investor, banker or lender will demand a plan before they make any financial commitment. Besides being a prerequisite to getting finance for your business, a plan also is a blueprint for efficient management of your new business.

It can be argued that in a fast-changing market, a business plan may quickly become obsolete. However, the insight gained from the planning process can prove to be an invaluable experience and come in handy to deal with the various challenges your business throws up from time to time.

A Plan Creates Tactics and Objectives

A plan describes the long term vision of your venture and the objectives you aim to achieve during a given time frame. It will also detail the tactics and strategies deployed to reach those objectives. A well structured plan will provide the basis for operational budgets, business procedures and management controls.

It must be remembered that no two plans are exactly the same, ever. Every plan is tailored to meet the specific needs of a business situation and the industry it operates in. For instance, a business plan for a coffee shop will be vastly different from one for an internet café. An internet café business document will have more technical details about the equipment and the type of hardware and software used whereas a coffee shop plan will focus more of the operational part.

While there is a lot of emphasis on the presentation, the substance of a business plan is most crucial. The tactics and operational strategies discussed in the plan should be practical and justify how they will help in achieving the end objective. There are various reasons for creating a business proposal. For large organizations, it is an ongoing process to steer the business in the right direction and plan for the crucial cash flow during various stages of growth and development.

Why the Process of Creating a Plan is More important than the Plan Itself

For large companies, business planning is needed to launch a new product. In such cases, the focus of the plan will largely be on investment appraisal. It is commonly believed that business documents are used for setting up a new business and for raising funds from investors. However, those are not the only reasons why companies and entrepreneurs develop a plan. In most cases, more than the value of a plan, the process of creating one is rather critical.

Plans are useless but planning is indispensable – the famous words of former U. S. General and President, Dwight Eisenhower aptly capture the reason why business planning is extremely critical for the success of any business venture. Whether it’s a business plan for a coffee shop or for a technologically driven engineering firm, the planning process helps entrepreneurs and others involved with the business understand how the business will evolve and adapt in the changing markets.