Say the term "business plan" and many small business owners and freelancers quiver. The stereotypical image is one of a complex document that requires enormous research and is time consuming to create. However, there is a simple way to develop an effective business plan without the struggle most people envision.
With FAST Business Plans, you have an easy-to-understand template that guides the process every step of the way. As you go through this document, you'll discover precisely what to include in each section of your plan to ensure it gets the results you need.
Please keep in mind whom you're writing to while creating your business plan. Whether you're:
- applying for a loan
- securing venture capital funds
- approaching new partners
- considering significant purchases
- selling your business
- growing your business
- communicating with management and staff
- or have other reasons
... a business plan can keep you focused and on track.
It is suggested that you read through the entire template first to get an idea of what information you will need to have access to before creating your plan. Then, go back through with data in hand and develop your business plan from start to finish with your FAST Business Plans template.
1.0 Executive Summary
Although the executive summary comes first in the business plan, it should be the last section you write. Because it is the first to be read, it holds a significant amount of weight and should be geared to capture your reader's attention. If the executive summary fails to pique interest, then the rest of the plan most likely won't be read. This section should provide the reader with a thirty thousand-foot view of what you plan for your organization. In addition, you must also clearly convey what is unique about your business: one element that could potentially make or break its success.
Essentially, the executive summary shows a synopsis of the following aspects of the plan:
- Business Idea / Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
- Workability, Goals and Opportunities for the Business
- Financial Data (should show projections for the first two years of operations, equity and some detail of required finance)
- Keys to Success
These come in four sections: Business Objectives, Mission Statement, Guiding Principles and Keys to Success that we'll cover individually below.
Start this section with an overview of your business idea, introducing the company by name and providing any relevant historical information. You should talk about the needs/wants of your customers and how your business will meet those needs, including an overview of your unique skills and experience as they apply to the business. Discuss your overall approach to your organization, giving the reader an idea of how your business will operate. You'll also want to help readers create a clear picture in their minds of the company as a whole and its daily operations. Lastly, make mention of the purpose of this business plan: to get financing, provide a detailed roadmap or serve as a general framework to start your business (redefining the plan as the business develops and grows).
1.1 Business Objectives
While it is true that the Executive Summary is typically written after the rest of the business plan is created, you may find it helpful to make a first pass at this one section. Outlining your business objectives will allow you to get your thoughts together and form a basis for developing the rest of your business plan. You can then come back to this section of the Executive Summary when the rest of the plan is complete and update your business objectives.
Your business objectives should be related to the marketplace, gross margins, revenue and expansion. They also must be specific and measurable; otherwise, you can't determine how to reach your objectives or know if/when you've met them.
- Specific - Should be specific enough that you know clearly what the objective is.
- Measurable - Put a number on it so you will know when you've achieved it.
- Perishable - Don't make time frames open-ended: put a time limit on your objectives. Typically, a year is a good goal.
- Realistic - Your objectives must be achievable with the resources and time you have.
Write the objectives in this format: objective, measurement and time. For example, increasing sales by 30% should be written as:
- Increase sales (objective) to $800,000 (measureable) by the end of the third quarter of fiscal year 2012 (time specific).
The following are some typical examples of different types of objectives used often in business plans.
- Gross Margins/Revenue/Sales
- Market Share/Penetration
- Expansion into New Markets
- Product/Service Development/Expansion
- Business Value (net worth for resale of business)
- Brand Recognition
- Brand Loyalty
- Long-Term Survival
- Profit Maximization
- Social Change/Responsibility - Develop a new drug to cure a disease, develop a new product that purifies water in developing countries, etc.
- Customer Service
- Employee Workspace
- Target Market - How to connect with your customers.
1.2 Mission Statement
The Mission Statement outlines your organization's purpose or fundamental reason for existence. The mission statement could be defined in terms of:
- Your Target Audience (who are they?)
- Products, Services or Offerings
- Location of Business, Geographic Region
- Concern for Survival
- Philosophy (beliefs, values, aspirations and philosophical priorities)
- Self-Concept (what are our strengths?)
- Concern for Public Image
- Concern for Employees.
1.3 Guiding Principles
Guiding Principles are the Ten Commandments for your business. This is where you define the principles for how business will be conducted. It can include statements related to your product or service, your customers, your employees, shareholders, suppliers and anyone else who will - in one way or another - interact with your business.
Number six of Google's philosophy (Ten Things We Know to be True) states, "You can make money without doing evil." Starbucks third principle conveys, "When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers." Be creative as you think about the principles that will define your business. They may be similar to, or overlap, with your Keys to Success, and this is okay. There are many ways to present your Guiding Principles. We highly recommend that you go online and look at Google's philosophy and Starbucks principles to get some ideas before writing your own. (You can find them by doing a search.) Below are some examples.
- Our Customers: Treat each customer as a friend, engaging them in a cheerful and happy manner, and they will be a longtime customer.
- Our Suppliers: Treat our suppliers as partners with an interest in ensuring that both our businesses grow and succeed, and both will.
- Our Products: Deliver a quality product at a reasonable price along with exceptional customer service and the business will succeed and grow.
- Our Service: Exceeding the level of service we expect to receive from others ensures our customers will be happy and will help our business grow.
1.4 Keys to Success
What differentiates your business from others? Why would your company succeed when others that seem to be like it fail? This section is where you'll define your uniqueness. Think of it this way: if a prospect found your company on Google, but also saw 10 more pages of businesses that did what you do, why would they choose you over the rest? What makes you deserve their business? In order to succeed, you have to make it crystal clear to your customers why you are the best choice.
Below are a few examples of Keys to Success:
- Customer Service - Providing a high level of customer service through clear and frequent communications, flexibility in the way we conduct business and empowering our customer-service representatives.
- Establish Loyal Customers - Making people feel as though they are our only customer through personalized communications and going beyond the call of duty.
- High-Quality Products/Services - Selling only products/services that are of better-than-good quality. When sourcing products/services, seek out the best quality.
- Reputation - Establishing a reputation as an honest business with quality products/services and excellent customer service.
- Gross Margins - Maintaining gross margins in excess of 50%.
- Next >>