In This Chapter
* Understanding the contents, use, and value of a business plan
* Identifying the people who will read your plan
* Setting your business time frame and milestones
* Launching the business-planning process
Because you're holding this book, the task of writing a business plan has probably made its way to the top of your to-do list. Now you want to know what's involved in the process and which actions to take first when writing your business plan.
Well, that's exactly what this first chapter of Business Plans Kit For Dummies, 2nd Edition, is all about. It confirms your hunch that business planning is not only important, but also essential - when you start your business and at every growth stage along the way. Plus, it helps you think clearly about why you need a business plan, who your business plan is for, what key components you need to include, and what kind of time frame is reasonable.
Writing a business plan is a big task, but this book makes it manageable, and this chapter provides a quick and easy overview to get you oriented and on your way to business-planning success.
Committing to the Business-Planning Process
With a thousand issues clamoring for the precious hours in your day, committing time to plan your company's future isn't easy. But operating without a plan is even harder - and even more time-consuming in the long run. You took the most important step when you made the decision to write a business plan. Now you need to convert that decision into action - starting by dedicating your time and effort to the process.
As you carve time out of your calendar, these two steps will keep you motivated:
The next two sections lead the way.
Defining your business-planning situation
To get your business where you want it to go, you need a map to follow, which is what your business plan is all about. It starts with a description of your current situation; describes your future plans; defines your opportunities; and details the financial, operational, marketing, and organizational strategies you'll follow to achieve success.
Take a minute to think of your company as a ship about to set sail on an ocean voyage. Your business plan defines your destination and the route that you'll follow. It details the supplies and crew you have on board as well as what you still need to acquire. It forecasts the cost of the voyage. It describes the weather and sea conditions you're likely to encounter along the way and anticipates the potential dangers that may lurk over the horizon. Finally, your business plan identifies other ships that may be attempting to beat you to your destination.
The same kind of planning is necessary back on dry land. To navigate a new course for your company, you need to start with an assessment of where your business is right now - in other words, what current business situation you want to address or overcome. You need to define where you want to arrive and what strategies you'll follow to get there.
To define your current business situation, use Form 1-1 on the CD-ROM. It lists some of the many situations that companies face as they embark on the planning process. Take a few minutes to check off the situations that apply to your circumstances.
Buying into the value of business planning
The time you invest in your business plan will pay off many times over. Following are some of the most obvious benefits you'll gain from business planning:
Identifying Target Audiences and Key Messages
Your business plan is the blueprint for how you plan to build a successful enterprise. It's a comprehensive document that covers a lot of territory and addresses all sorts of issues. To help focus your efforts, consider which groups of people will have the greatest impact on your success. Those groups will be the primary audiences for your business plan.
For example, if you need capital investment, investors will be your primary audience. If you need to build strategic alliances, you want to address potential business partners. After you know who you want to reach with your business plan, you can focus on what those readers will want to know and what message you want them to receive. This section helps you to define your audience and your message before you begin to assemble your plan.
All the people who have an interest in your business venture - from investors and lenders to your employees, customers, and suppliers - represent different audiences for your business plan. Depending on the situation you face and what you want your company to achieve through its plan, certain audiences will be more important than others:
Form 1-2 presents a list of the most common audiences for a business plan. Check off the groups that you think will be most important to your business success, given your current situation.
After you target the audiences for your plan, the next step is to focus on the key messages you want each group to receive. People with different stakes in your business will read your business plan with different interests and values. For example:
For advice on targeting and talking to your key audiences, including information on which parts of the business plan various audiences turn to first and how to address multiple audiences with a single plan, turn to Chapter 14.
But for now, do some preliminary planning, using Form 1-3 on the CD-ROM:
1. Identify the three most important audiences you intend to address with your business plan.
For help, refer to the list of common audiences in Form 1-2.
2. Jot down key points you need to make to each target audience.
Writing down your key points doesn't require fancy prose; just get your ideas down on paper so you can refer to them when you begin writing your business plan.
The Anatomy of a Business Plan
Written business plans are as varied as the companies that compile them. Some plans run almost 100 pages, whereas others barely fill a few sheets. Some plans start with executive summaries, and others plunge right into detailed descriptions of products and services. Some companies print their business plans on paper, and some publish their plans exclusively on the Web. Some plans include page after page of financial projections, and others list only anticipated costs, expected revenues, and projected profits.
Every business plan is written for a different reason and to obtain a different outcome. Still, some plans are better than others. The following information helps you write a plan that will win high marks.
Business-plan contents from beginning to end
Business plans come in all shapes, sizes, formats - even colors - but they all share a similar framework. The following components, presented in the order they generally appear, are common elements in most business plans:
The preceding list of the major components of a typical business plan is featured in Form 1-4 on the CD-ROM. As you get down to the business of writing your plan, use the items on Form 1-4 as a checklist, ticking off the major components as you complete them.
Not all business plans include all the components we list. In fact, you won't find a textbook example of a written business plan. For that reason, we don't provide any rigid business-plan model in this book. Instead, you find information on how to develop each of the major components, advice for how business plans tend to work for different kinds of businesses, and ways you can organize and present materials in your written plan.
Frequently asked business-plan questions
If you're like most people who get this far into the business-planning process, you have some questions right about now. You may even be at the hand-wringing stage. Well, you can put your mind to rest because, in this section, we answer the most frequently asked questions about writing business plans.
Do I really need to include all these sections?
Nope. Your business plan should include only what's important to you and your company. If your plan is short - or written mostly for your own purposes - you can dispose of the executive summary, for example. And if you're a company of one, you probably don't need a section describing the organization of your business (unless you want to give yourself a plan for how to get organized yourself!).
For most businesses, however, the more complete your business plan is, the better off you are. If yours is a one-person operation, for example, you may figure you can do without the company overview section because you already know what your business is all about, right? Well, you may find that by compiling that section - by putting your mission, vision, values, product offering, and unique attributes into words - you uncover new ideas about what you really plan to do with your business. And that can be an extremely valuable exercise for any company, no matter how big it is.
Excerpted from Business Plans Kit for Dummies by Steven D. Peterson Copyright © 2005 by Steven D. Peterson. Excerpted by permission.
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