A business plan is a written document that describes the organization, sets out its aims and objectives, and makes a statement of intent for its future development.
A business plan is exactly what the phrase suggests: a plan for the business. It sets the strategy and direction, set targets for the owners and managers. It promotes the confidence and support of employees, shareholders, and customers.
Business planning is not just for large organizations. Small ones can benefit from producing a more specific business plan to assist them operationally.
A business plan is not just for the people inside the business who will implement it; it is for people outside the business, including shareholders and potential investors, and this is particularly important for a new, start-up venture.
There is no single format for producing a business plan. The following checklist, aimed primarily at a start-up or a smaller business looking for funding, outlines the key areas that should be covered in the plan and the steps taken to produce it.
- assessing the present internal and external position, and future prospects
- analyzing the market
- producing projections for 3–5 years (depending on the sector)
- setting short-term and long-term objectives
- establishing a framework and processes for achieving objectives
- detailed research, careful thought, and application
- being clear, to avoid misunderstandings or confusion
- an honest and realistic appraisal that includes organizational shortcomings, problems, and obstacles, as well as positive factors.
It needs to cover the following elements:
Operations – including the supply of raw materials, technological requirements, key processes, resourcing needs, production and delivery targets, business processes, intellectual property, location, and risk management issues.
Marketing – how market intelligence will be gathered to ensure that the organization’s strategies will meet market needs and marketing objectives.
Finance – an assessment of fixed and variable costs and minimum financial requirements. This should also include a detailed cash flow and profit forecast.
Human Resources – including recruitment, retention, skills development, compensation, the leadership of the business, and stakeholder relationship management.
BUSINESS PLAN ACTION CHECKLIST
Before We Start
Gather the relevant information
Carry out a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
Carry out a market analysis, covering:
- the overall market and the specific market segment(s) targeted
- detailed information on current and potential customers
- names of leading competitors, market share, alternative products or services
- routes to market
- market influences – economic and cultural trends, seasonal fluctuations, legislation, social factors, pricing movements, and history
- information about suppliers of goods you wish to market – quality, resources, availability, and competitive advantage.
We Have to Describe:
the vision/mission/purpose of the organization and its core values
the ownership of the organization, its legal structure, how much investment has already been made, and by whom
what differentiates the organization from its competitors?
the history of the organization and its products or services
who the customers are, and the market served
past and current performance
key factors that might affect the success or failure of the products or service
the skills and experience of key individuals or the management team.
We Define the Objectives
We make a list of specific targets and identify objectives that can be measured. We also consider a contingency plan which would describe what to do if the objectives are not achieved.
Describe Market Opportunities
This section demonstrates awareness of what the target market is and any changes affecting it. Outline the results of your market analysis and explain the opportunities and routes to market which have been identified.
We Describe Your Plans for Development and Production (The Operations Plan)
This covers the research, development, and production processes, and the expected costs of raw materials, labour, premises, and equipment, if relevant. Be clear about the steps to take to maintain quality.
Propose your marketing approach (the marketing plan)
This describes the marketing strategy which will be used to take your services or products to market.
Clarify the current financial situation (the financial plan)
Clarify the figures for past, present, and projected performance, including any start-up costs, profit-loss statements, cash flow analyses, and balance sheet data.
Repayment, or return-on-investment (ROI), will be of key interest to investors, so include accurate break-even projections. Analyze profitability, solvency, and debt status. Demonstrate how sound financial control will be exercised.
Explain human resources issues (the HR plan)
We work together to describe the strengths, skills, and experience of all those involved, including the leadership team.
If there are weaknesses, we devise means on how these will be managed. Outline the compensation structure, along with recruitment and retention, and possibly the training and development strategies. Include details of how individual and group performance measurement is linked to strategy.
Cover risks, problems, and critical success factors
Do not omit negative factors, either actual or potential. We have to demonstrate awareness of changes that are likely to affect the organization. Provide a brief account of critical success factors.
Conclude with the key message
Consider the final impression you want to leave with the reader and ensure that this comes across in the conclusion and key points’ summary. We include a proposed timetable of events to demonstrate sound planning. Finally, we check through for correct grammar and spelling, and clarity of language.
Consider what you should include in appendices
We design a plan to be as concise as possible, usually not more than 25–30 pages. Additional details can be added in the appendices at the end of the plan.
Providing an Executive Summary
The executive summary appears at the front of the document and will be read before anything else. It may be the only part that is read. For this reason, the summary is written last.
For a Professional Professional plan, we generally charge between $5,000 and $20,000 for a complete business plan. There are a few cases where $50,000 is justified because of the “simple” businesses such as a coffee shop, a small retail business, a hairdressing salon, etc.