Business plans are mostly about organizing, formalizing, and committing to a specific plan-of-actions. Such a document generally presents the objectives, strategies, analysis, and a detailed roadmap for implementation. Underlying a plan-of-action is comprehensive analysis of historic, current and proposed results all supported with assumptions. If anyone doubts the interest in business plans, a Google search returns more than 62 million and Amazon list more than 77,700 titles concerning this subject.
They are like fingerprints; no two are alike, even within the same organization. One further point, opinions about what makes a good finished product are like noses-everybody has one. The ones that work and prove to be executable are the best. With this in mind, let me offer my views about business plans at a macro level having written a sizeable number of plans for internal and external applications. One other point, a business plan can build a team quicker than any formal team building activity.
I have written business plans for all manner of industries: a coin operated jukebox company, airlines, travel companies, new product launches, and anti-aging product companies. It is not necessary to have a passion for the product or the company to write or develop a business plan. What you must have is a passion for aggregating information, getting involved with and understanding the service or product, and understanding the financials of the product or service. By financials I am not referring to having a CPA before you undertake the task, but rather understanding the presentation of the information and analysis/ numbers to support the activity being planned. Financials are important because they are the score card in the world of commerce.
There are many reasons for utilizing such a document. Is the final document going to be about implementing a decision already having been reached or is it about analysis and recommendations for a newly proposed activity. As noted above, a finished document may be for internal or external purposes. Externally they are often used to solicit funding for a start-up or joint venture. Whatever the purpose, do not confuse effort with say, a marketing or a production plan.
I mentioned the financial aspect of a plan earlier, so let me add this. Another fact about financials to consider: not all business activities are about making money. Point being, in most enterprises financial considerations are centric to the document. But there are some other considerations. For example, a few years ago I wrote a plan for a new subsidiary that was focused on developing an inventory of patents. The potential financial returns were years into the future. Those patents may or may not ever have commercial value. Another example is a non-profit enterprise that has need for a complete roadmap for growing their profile in a market, of which a marketing plan would be the centerpiece.
If a document needs to be developed that requires input from other disciplines-Finance, HR, Property & Facilities, Marketing, Procurement/Supply Chain- then most likely you are looking at a team building effort to get the job done.
In any event, don’t look at the task as only as a roadmap that leads to a profitable product or enterprise. Business plans are a great way to build team buy-in, force a thorough review of options, define objectives, establish benchmarks to judge performance, and help arrive at a plan-of-action. Ultimately, it can lead to a Project Management approach to implementing a plan and that can be as involved and detailed as is necessary.
Another consideration. Should the business plan be a document that is focused on selling an idea for a product or service? For many years I worked in a company that did not want anything in a business plan that could be construed as showing a bias towards or against a project. The mantra was to only present facts in the business plan. The Operations Research Department was there to review the analysis as being unbiased. To handle the “what if” scenarios or sensitivity analysis we prepared a supplemental analysis documents which were mostly financial oriented. Personally, I like a factual approach and use the presentation of the final document to point out the conservative aspects of the content.
Here is a recap of where we are in this discussion:
- Business plans formalize an understanding of the task with appropriate analysis leading to a plan-of-action.
- Not all business plans are for profit motives.
- Business plans are for an enterprise effort and not focused on disciplines/departments, e.g. Marketing plan, sales plan, HR plan, supply chain plan, etc.
- Business plans are a great vehicle to build a team effort.
- Plans can be utilized for formalizing metrics relative to achieving goals and performance measurements.
- Some complex plans might include a Project Management professional.
- There are internal and external audiences for business plans. Most external focused plans are for outside funding of projects.
- Be mindful of the ‘tone’ the plan projects to the reader. Tone refers to the impression a person gets from reading the plan; a subliminal feeling about the plan.
Organization and content of the business plan will evolve as it is prepared. For example, if the driving force of the plan is marketing or sales then a preponderance of the analysis and plan-of-action section will be more up-front and sales oriented in tone. With business plan’s the world is your oyster; think from the center out to the edges and think outside of the box.