Writing A Business Plan
8 Steps To A Winning Business Plan
Many times when we speak to business owners they have a great idea. They’re inspired, excited, and ready to plunge into their new venture…
Many business owners attempt to access capital without knowing what lenders truly care about.
For most, the next step is to think about writing a business plan.
Unfortunately, seeing hundreds of business owners a month come through the doors, most business owners either don’t know how to write a business plan, or don’t have the proper information in their current business plan.
When it comes to financing, this can be detrimental. Below I’ve outlined the 9 steps to writing a winning business plan.
Each step is important and has it’s reasons for being apart of the plan.
Be sure to include each of these in your business plan.
1. Executive Summary
An executive summary is a short document that summarizes each of the items below. It usually the first step to writing a business plan. It’s primary function is to entice the investor to read/learn more about the company. It usually contains the overall objective, use of funds, concise analysis, and main conclusions. It needs to be written in a language that is appropriate for it’s audience meaning it should be changed according to who this would be presented too.
It short, it’s a summary of what the business idea is, why it matters, and what you’re going to do to profit from going into business.
2. Company Analysis
The company analysis is designed to educate the potential investor about the company’s history.
There are really three key parts of the company analysis that are critical to get across.
A. The company profile
This section should start with a detailed profile of the company including the date of formation, legal structure, office location and number of locations, and the current business stage meaning which phase is the business in : startup, research and development, growth, customer acquisition, etc.
B. The company’s past accomplishments
This section of the company analysis is really about outlining for the reader that the company does have previous stages that need to be acknowledged. Things like prior funding rounds, the dates of products and services launching, perhaps the $1,000,000 in sales milestone reached, and any key partnerships, customers, or employees that were brought on. Doing this in a graph or some type of chart is beneficial as it can be visually enticing.
Obtaining milestones is an excellent indicator for potential investors that their money will be used to create value.
C. The company’s unique qualifications
The final part of the company analysis is sometimes referred to as the company’s unfair competitive advantage. In this section you’ll want to outline things like a stellar management team, unique or proprietary technology, any operational systems that are unique in nature and partnerships or contracts that have helped take your business to the next level.
3. Industry Analysis
The industry analysis describes the landscape in which a company is operating. It serves to prove to the reader that there is a genuine need in the market for the products and services provided by the company. In this section of the industry you’ll also want to point out the there is a substantial market size and many potential clients/customers for your business.
Pointing out what the industry’s trends should also align with the company’s strategy so investors are comfortable with the direction of the management team.
It’s best to start with the direct market place in which the clients are. So starting with the market size is the best place to start this part. Critical to this analysis however is determining the “relevant” market size. The relevant market size is described as a company’s sales if it were to capture 100% of its specific niche of the market.
Determining the actual market size can be one of the more challenging parts of the industry analysis but is key to investors when making an investment decision.
Once you complete the market size, you’ll want to move into the relevant markets trends. Starting with things like;
“How has the relevant market size changed over the past 1-5 years”
“What is the projected growth of the relevant market and what factors will affect that growth”
In addition to the following the industry analysis needs to point out what the general economi factors are, regulatory conditions of the market, and changing consumer needs.
It’s important to remember that the industry analysis is no just a research report. Each point made, fact given, and projection needs to support the company’s prospects for success.
The last point is the report given needs to be believable and verifiable. Too many potential business owners over estimate or project outlandish numbers without the supporting documentation.
This can be detrimental.
4. Customer Analysis
The customer analysis section of the business plan accesses the segment or segments of the customers the particular business will be servicing.
In this section the company must convey the needs of the target customer and what they desire as a unit.
This needs to be coupled with the proof that the company’s products and services satisfy the needs of the customer and why the customer will pay for this.
The first step in the customer analysis is to define exactly who your company is looking for.
This require specificity.
For instance, if you run a market agency, it would not be adequate to say that your target is small businesses.
Small businesses is too broad and there are over 30 million of them.
Instead the target should be something like: “small businesses with less than 20 employees, who serve in the food industry on the west coast of Florida.”
There’s a few questions you’ll want to answer when writing a business plan with a customer analysis section.
A) How many potential customers fit the given definition.
B) Is the customer base growing or declining. How do you know?
C) What’s the average income of these customers?
D) Where are these customer located across the nation?
The above describes the customers demographics and clearly tells the investor who their primary target is.
Once you’ve done this you’ll want to point out the customers needs.
Including statistics about previous years purchases for similar products and interviews with potential clients about if they would purchase and why are good elements you’ll want to add to the customer needs section.
When you interview potential clients about the possibility of a product or service you’ll want to identify what their decision making driver is.
For instance, knowing what is more important to the client: Price or quality? Reliability versus Ease of Implementation? User Experience versus Reliability? ETC…
It is essential to truly understand customers before presenting your business plan to an investor.
Your customer analysis section is one of the most important steps in the business plan and should not be overlooked.
5. Competitive Analysis
The competitive analysis section is the most misunderstood section or part of writing a business plan.
When potential investors look at competitive analysis they typically look at it a bit different then a business owner would.
The investor asks himself: What product or service could the customer use to fulfilll the same needs as the company fulfills.
Businesses think competition is a firm offering similar products or services.
These are two very different ideas.
Because of this, any business plan that states there is no competition greatly undermines the management team and you will instantly lose credibility.
In addition, if the business plan states there is no competition, to an investor this may come off as a very small market place and not enough of an upside potential to go into a joint venture.
The competitive analysis section should include both direct and indirect competitors
A direct competitor services the same target market with similar products and services.
Your competitive analysis section of the business plan should describe each direct competitor in detail. Be sure to point our each direct competitors strengths and weaknesses, key drivers of competitive differentiation. Always be sure to use objective information when describing the direct competitors using data as your backbone. There are typically fewer direct competitors than indirect.
An indirect competitor services the same target market with different products and services, or a different target market with similar products and services. You’ll want to sub-categorize the indirect competitors
Typically investors will do their own due diligence on the competitive landscape before infusing capital into a business.
This being said, if an investor finds addition competition that is not outlined in the business plan, this could negatively affect the outcome.
You want to ensure yourself you do not overlook potential competition or you may undermine your own ability to seal the deal.
It is critical not to omit or downplay a competitor.
One final note to consider is if there are any competitors that are a public company it’s often a good sign.
As an investor you’re always looking for an exit strategy. Knowing the market is there and knowing the public has accepted an offering as an exit is very beneficial to your cause.
Finally, it’s important to demonstrate your competitive advantage creates barriers to entry. Barriers to entry is why a customer will not leave once acquired.
If this is detailed out correctly it can be the most powerful part of the competitor analysis section.
6. Marketing Plan
The marketing plan demonstrates how the company will enter the market with it’s products and services to fulfill the needs of as many customers as possible.
The marketing plan needs to include the 4 P’s
The first P is product. But it includes all products and services offered by the company. This section should include all the details, features and functions of the products and services. It should outline how they work, why they’re uniquue, and proprietary attributes if any. It’s important to mention both current and future products in this section. You’ll want to be sure to focus on the short/medium term horizon but ensuring you detail this out is critical.
Promotions include any activities that induce the customer to buy the company’s products or services. Promotional activities can include advertising, public relations free samples, discounts, direct-mail, telemarketing, or partnerships. This section of the business plan discusses which promotions will be used and how they will be used.
For instance, if partnerships will be used to secure new customers the plan must explain which companies are partners, how they will be able to provide new customers, and how the partnerships will work from an operational and financial standpoint.
This section must be as specific as possible particularly as it relates to discussing future promotions. To say that “a companies going to generate PR in trade magazines is simply to vague.”
identifying the type of article or feature, the specific trade journal and the publication dates is more like it.
Within this part of the business plan, you’re going to want to include position of the company. This falls within the promotion section of the marketing plan.
The positioning statement details the attributes that customers will assign to the company, its products and services. Promotions must support this positioning
When breaking price in a business plan you’ll want to detail the price point of the company’s products and services will be sold. If the products or services will be bundled and splintered, you’ll want to include all of that information as well. Be sure to include both price points and if discounts occur with bundling.
Be sure to be able to provide rationale when discussing price.
The finale P is place or distribution. Where will the goods and services be provided and why?
This section explains how the products/services will be delivered. This section is crucial because if the customers cannot access products and services, they cannot purchase them.
Examples of distribution methods include retail, ecommerce, joint ventures/affiliate websites, a 3rd party application or service provider.
Many companies have many distribution models so ensuring you’ve identified all these routes is crucial when putting this in front of an investor.
The marketing plan discusses in detail what the company plans to do to acquire customers.
7. Operations Plan
The company’s operation plan section of the business plan presents the company’s action plan for executive its vision.
The operations plan need to detail out both the short term/everyday processes AND the business milestones and future long term processes that the company must do to be successful
The processes a company uses to deliver to the end customer is what turns an idea a reality.
While the marketing plan outlines what it will take to acquire customers, the operation section of the business plan outlines what it will take to service those customers. Not only service those customers, but service them in a way in which is scaleable and efficient.
8. Management Team
Providing principal information and backgrounds is an essential piece of writing a business plan.
Even the best idea in the world will fail miserably if the management team is inadequate to do the job.
This section of the business plan must prove why the management is qualified to execute on the business model.
The management section should include biographies of key people within the organization.
Proving to investors that the leaders of the ship have a proven track record of success will give the investors a sense that they know the company they are infusing capital into is being driven by someone who knows how to run a profitable division.
In addition investors like to see that the individual presenting the business plan has surrounded himself with other, high level and competent business people. The art of delegating and knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are is a good sign of leadership. Having a great team backing you often is the reason why companies are successful as a whole.
Without the management team section of the business plan, many investors would discard the entire plan altogether.
Outlined above is a proven business model that has helped hundreds of business owners successfully obtain capital.
If you’re looking into a business plan or your considering looking for venture or angel investment get started with the proven template.
If you have any questions or comments about writing a business plan that you would like to include, please be sure to write them in the comments below.
Thanks for taking the time to read the 8 steps to a winning business plan and we look forward to helping your business grow.