Managing a Small Business
Building a Business Plan: Your Resource Guide
How to Start Laying Out Your Pitch to Investors and Customers
You've brainstormed business ideas for countless hours, days, months – even years. Now it's time to take advantage of tips and tools to bring your entrepreneurial endeavor to life. Get started with a roadmap toward business success with help from these experts and online resources.
Business expert and attorney John M. White, an entrepreneur with eight successful businesses and one nonprofit, urges business owners to avoid that "seat-of-the-pants notion about what you want to pursue and how to achieve it." Instead, run your idea past anyone who will listen, he says, including your family, friends, co-workers, etc. Gauge their reactions and adjust your ideas with advice or feedback that makes sense.
Connecting with someone who either has experience in the area you wish to pursue or is among those you hope to service can help you articulate your business' core values. "The best folks to speak to for a reality check on what can and cannot be achieved are potential customers," says White. "Their buying decisions are what make a business go."
Planning Out the Plan
Brian Gould, a marketer with more than 15 years experience who most recently served as chief operating officer for an emerging media company, suggests the following as the most important components in crafting a successful plan:
- Executive Summary: Highlight your business objectives and how your company will achieve its goals.
- Company Overview: Think of this as an extended elevator pitch, says Gould. It should clearly explain the goals of the business and how it satisfies market demand. "This should include competitive advantages and any preliminary milestones you've reached."
- Marketplace Analysis: This summary should include an industry analysis, a customer analysis and a competitive analysis, says Gould.
- Company Organization: This section will present your business' structure and an organizational chart detailing the qualifications, experience and responsibilities of all team members.
- Product Information: This will provide a description of your product, service and/or any copyright or patent information.
- Marketing and Sales: What is your marketing strategy and budget projections? What are your promotional plans?
- Financial Projections: If you have funding requests, a three- to five-year projection will help the lender assess how realistic your plan is, says Gould. Include a cost and revenue model.
Log On and Learn
Need more direction with elements of your business plan? "Go online to conduct a marketplace analysis and become familiar with the size of the market you are delving into, who your target audience is and how your business will satisfy a market need," says Gould. Online tools offer business plan templates, tools for collaboration, and in some cases will advise you on what to write.
Here are some places to start:
- U.S. Small Business Administration – The SBA delivers assistance to small businesses in the form of loans, contracts, counseling, and more. This U.S. government agency offers a 10-step guide to starting a business that includes business plan writing, training, and even insight on legal matters to get your new business underway. There are also specific tips for startups and under-serviced groups, as well as strategies for saving money.
- Forbes.com – Consider this business magazine's advice on "How to Write a Business Plan" for entrepreneurs and new business owners.
- LivePlan.com – This site helps budding business owners and entrepreneurs create business plans. From strategizing and pitching to tracking, LivePlan can walk you through each step and features a scoreboard that allows you to assess your progress and goals.
- Enloop.com – This business-planning website helps entrepreneurs prove an idea and forecast its success. Enloop offers writing tools, invitations for colleagues to view and edit, PDF creation and analysis and more.
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Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images | Melissa A. Kay is a freelance journalist based in New York.