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Business Plan Basics

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Chapter 3: Business Plan Basics
Winning business plans map out the major W’s of your proposed business – the who, what, when, why and where – to help you figure out that all important H – how. Who are the major players? Who are the owners, personnel, advisors, customers, competition, even the target audience for the plan itself? What do you want to achieve? What is your sustainable advantage? What do you offer? What do you produce? When did (will) the business start? When do you want to meet particular goals? Why are you in business? Why would customers want your product or service? Where is the business located? Where is the target audience? Where do new opportunities lie? And finally, how do you get from where you are now to where you want to be?

Ideally, a business plan is the intersection of everything inside the business (costs, products, services, personnel, etc.) and everything outside the business (competition, market trends, political forces, etc.) Forces inside the company meet those outside the company and a business plan is born. 

Many entrepreneurs put too much emphasis on the inside forces and ignore the outside. No business is an island; no company operates in a vacuum. Even as you are tackling all the tiny details that need to be included in your plan, be sure to keep a grip on the big picture. 

A winning business plan outlines goals, clearly communicates strategies and establishes plans for both the best and worst case scenarios (as well as any and all scenarios in between) that might befall your company. Seasoned entrepreneurs and investors know to expect the unexpected and at the same time anticipate the challenges inherent in each particular business. 

In great business plans, you not only sell your business concept, you sell yourself. Your entrepreneurial spirit and passion are critical factors to a potential investor. Communicating your team’s experience, abilities and track record will take you even farther. The key is showing how your experience and abilities will support your business and help it to excel. 

A good business plan can help you determine what you need to make your business a success – from personnel to financing, location to advertising. But to truly make your company succeed, you must pay attention to what you find during plan preparation. Don’t do the plan, figure out you need $300,000 and then try to wing it on $150,000. Be realistic in your planning, then be just as realistic in following the plan. 

The hardest part of crafting a good business plan (or even a bad one, for that matter) is overcoming inertia. Most people have a great idea and fail to take action because of a fear of failure. A body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Inertia is what keeps a body at rest (along with a comfy couch, a good TV night, a high-speed modem, whatever). Kick inertia in its thermodynamic behind, get off your couch and get started. Now. Don’t wait until you finish this book. Don’t even wait until you finish this chapter. Go now and grab a pen and a notebook and start taking notes. Sometimes the simple motion of moving a pen across a page is enough to get the rest of your body in motion. 

Just as you must overcome inertia to construct a business plan, you might also have to overcome fear. A business plan sounds complicated. But it shouldn’t be. A complicated business plan is often worse than no business plan at all. Your plan should be understandable in its language (leave your thesaurus on the shelf); it should summarize where appropriate (leave the details for appendices); and it should truly describe your business (leave the boilerplates for metal shop). It needs to be short and to the point. Keep it simple, but make it complete. Treat your plan as if it is the only information a potential investor, lender or manager will have before making a decision enabling the success of your business. 

Writing a business plan is a labor of love, but also an exercise in logic and forethought. 

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