A business plan is a written description of your business's future. That's all there is to it--a document that describes what you plan to do and how you plan to do it.
Business plans can help perform a number of tasks for those who write and read them. They're used by investment-seeking entrepreneurs to convey their vision to potential investors. They may also be used by firms that are trying to attract key employees, prospect for new business, deal with suppliers or simply to understand how to manage their companies better.
A good business plan follows generally accepted guidelines for both form and content.
There are three primary parts to a business plan:
The first is the business concept
The second is the marketplace section
Finally, the financial section
Much will depend on the nature of your business. If you have a simple concept, you may be able to express it in very few words. On the other hand, if you're proposing a new kind of business or even a new industry, it may require quite a bit of explanation to get the message across.
The purpose of your plan also determines its length. If you want to use your plan to seek millions of dollars in seed capital to start a risky venture, you may have to do a lot of explaining and convincing. If you're just going to use your plan for internal purposes to manage an ongoing business, a much more abbreviated version should be fine.
Who Needs a Business Plan?
About the only person who doesn't need a business planis one who's not going into business. You don't need a plan to start a hobby or to moonlight from your regular job. But anybody beginning or extending a venture that will consume significant resources of money, energy or time, and that is expected to return a profit, should take the time to draft some kind of plan.
Startups. The classic business plan writer is an entrepreneur seeking funds to help start a new venture. Many, many great companies had their starts on paper, in the form of a plan that was used to convince investors to put up the capital necessary to get them under way.
Most books on business planning seem to be aimed at these startup business owners. There's one good reason for that: As the least experienced of the potential plan writers, they're probably most appreciative of the guidance. However, it's a mistake to think that only cash-starved startups need business plans. Business owners find plans useful at all stages of their companies' existence, whether they're seeking financing or trying to figure out how to invest a surplus.
Established firms seeking help. Not all business plans are written by starry-eyed entrepreneurs. Many are written by and for companies that are long past the startup stage. These middle-stage enterprises may draft plans to help them find funding for growth just as the startups do, although the amounts they seek may be larger and the investors more willing. They may feel the need for a written plan to help manage an already rapidly growing business. Or a plan may be seen as a valuable tool to be used to convey the mission and prospects of the business to customers, suppliers or others.
Plan an Updating Checklist
Here are seven reasons to think about updating your business plan. If even just one applies to you, it's time for an update.
- A new financial period is about to begin. You may update your plan annually, quarterly or even monthly if your industry is a fast-changing one.
- You need financing, or additional financing. Lenders and other financiers need an updated plan to help them make financing decisions.
- There's been a significant market change. Shifting client tastes, consolidation trends among customers and altered regulatory climates can trigger a need for plan updates.
- Your firm develops or is about to develop a new product, technology, service or skill. If your business has changed a lot since you wrote your plan the first time around, it's time for an update.
- You have had a change in management, New managers should get fresh information about your business and your goals.
- Your company has crossed a threshold, such as moving out of your home office, crossing the R1 million sales mark or employing your 100ty employee.
- Your old plan doesn't seem to reflect reality any more. Maybe you did a poor job last time; maybe things have just changed faster than you expected. But if your plan seems irrelevant, redo it.
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