The Process of Creating a Business Plan Teaches You Many Things

An investor, banker or lender will demand a plan before they make any financial commitment. Besides being a prerequisite to getting finance for your business, a plan also is a blueprint for efficient management of your new business.

It can be argued that in a fast-changing market, a business plan may quickly become obsolete. However, the insight gained from the planning process can prove to be an invaluable experience and come in handy to deal with the various challenges your business throws up from time to time.

A Plan Creates Tactics and Objectives

A plan describes the long term vision of your venture and the objectives you aim to achieve during a given time frame. It will also detail the tactics and strategies deployed to reach those objectives. A well structured plan will provide the basis for operational budgets, business procedures and management controls.

It must be remembered that no two plans are exactly the same, ever. Every plan is tailored to meet the specific needs of a business situation and the industry it operates in. For instance, a business plan for a coffee shop will be vastly different from one for an internet café. An internet café business document will have more technical details about the equipment and the type of hardware and software used whereas a coffee shop plan will focus more of the operational part.

While there is a lot of emphasis on the presentation, the substance of a business plan is most crucial. The tactics and operational strategies discussed in the plan should be practical and justify how they will help in achieving the end objective. There are various reasons for creating a business proposal. For large organizations, it is an ongoing process to steer the business in the right direction and plan for the crucial cash flow during various stages of growth and development.

Why the Process of Creating a Plan is More important than the Plan Itself

For large companies, business planning is needed to launch a new product. In such cases, the focus of the plan will largely be on investment appraisal. It is commonly believed that business documents are used for setting up a new business and for raising funds from investors. However, those are not the only reasons why companies and entrepreneurs develop a plan. In most cases, more than the value of a plan, the process of creating one is rather critical.

Plans are useless but planning is indispensable – the famous words of former U. S. General and President, Dwight Eisenhower aptly capture the reason why business planning is extremely critical for the success of any business venture. Whether it’s a business plan for a coffee shop or for a technologically driven engineering firm, the planning process helps entrepreneurs and others involved with the business understand how the business will evolve and adapt in the changing markets.

Why Hire Business Plan Writing and Editing Services?

There can be many ways to approach the writing and editing of a business plan. We will discuss some of the basics about the structure and content of a good plan. One of the keys to creating a great plan that meets the needs of investors, banks, and even grant providers, is to make sure that you understand your business well, whether it’s a start-up company or one that has been in operation for many years. Professional business plan consultants help owners, directors and founders to develop a better understanding of their business in order to assist in providing answers to questions that will create a solid business and financial plan for any purpose.

Business Plan Templates and Outlines

Most experienced business owners strongly recommend hiring a professional plan writing company to create a business plan. They have learned a lot in all their years in business and know that it is important to hire experts in their fields. Companies that are reputable and have been creating plans for many years are the best options. Often, when someone attempts to create their own plan, it can take months to complete if it even gets completed at all! Professionals know how to move through a plan template or outline and fill it in with pertinent and well-written information.

So, what are the key sections of a great plan document? Well, there are many opinions to this as well as ways to approach it, but there are definitely some key ‘ingredients’ to a solid plan. A great plan features all the typical main sections, but also has many refinements not found in the average plan. The main sections recommended include a clean, well-designed cover page, table of contents, cover letter, executive summary, business overview, sales and marketing section, operations section, HR section, action plan and financial section with tables for – at the very minimum – expenses, revenue, and cash flow projections. Within these sections, a professional writer creates many headings and lots of writing that describes every aspect of the business in very good detail. On average, most business plans end up being about 25 to 35 pages in length.

Plan Creation Process

Typically, the process for creating a business plan goes like this: The client discusses their business with the writer and pays a deposit. The writer starts immediately on the business plan by creating an initial layout and inputting all the known information. This is followed by compiling a list of basic questions for the client to answer in point-form related to the details of the business. These questions are usually easy to answer within a day or two because clients already know the basics about their business. The writer then receives the answers and uses the information to create sentences and paragraphs and fill in the plan’s content. Once the written parts are done, the writer will work with the business owner and a financial expert on the financial tables that will go at the end of the plan.

Timelines

Timelines vary greatly for creating a plan depending on the writer’s experience, the business type, the detail required, and how much industry and market research is necessary. There may also be other factors. In most cases, however, a detailed plan can be created within 2-3 weeks.

Plan Costs

Business plan writers and companies charge very different amounts for their services, ranging from as little as $500 to as much as $5000 or more. A good pricing model is based on the factors mentioned earlier, such as length, complexity, research required, etc. Generally, $500 is not enough for a plan because of the many hours that go into creating one, and $5000 is way too much for clients to pay. That being said, a good, well-written and professional document of about 30 pages in length should be more in the range of $900 to $1500. This pricing structure is very reasonable considering that most of the work can take more than 50 hours to complete. In terms of an hourly rate, most professionals charge between $25 to $35 per hour.

Woo Hoo! Time For Business Planning!

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…..”

Ah yes…..the annual business planning cycle is upon us.

The time of the year to huddle all of your business colleagues in a room to hash out the key initiatives for the upcoming year. The time to throw everything up on the wall and try to get everything done in the first quarter. “This will be the year that all plans will be met” is the battle cry! Every vision, idea and strategy gets bantered about – shouts of “there are no bad ideas!” fill the air. The room is electric with visionaries exchanging ideas on how their idea solves all issues, yet year after year, it seems that plans never actually come to fruition.

Why is that? The intent was there; the energy was present; and ideas were flowing. That’s the easy part – coming up with the ideas. The success of your planning doesn’t rest on the ideas, but rather, implementing those ideas. It’s true, companies need to foster innovation in their business planning, but more importantly, they need to create a business environment that enables team members to execute these ideas with an “on-time, on-budget” mindset. That is where the work begins.

I have been putting together business plans for over 25 years and it is clear to me that the strength of its core rests solely on being able to execute the plan. Each year I approach business planning as an opportunity, rather than a burden. I would rather invest the time up front in mapping out the upcoming year, than leaving it to chance to dictate my strategy. While this may force me to think strategically as well as tactically, preparing a detailed business plan in advance enables me to identify the challenges in advance of actually facing them.

So, why is business planning so crucial? In a word, it provides “clarity”. Investing time to develop a plan provides precise clarification of the company vision to both employees and customers. In addition, it provides a mechanism to gauge the results of the business and provides the foundation for future growth plans. In the long haul, it enhances the company valuation through fiscal responsibility, which provides the story of opportunity to any future investor or employee. In short, the benefits of planning allow the company to articulate a common vision to align resources and make an efficient use of investment dollars. A company that is perceived to be a “well-oiled machine” is attractive on many fronts – both externally with investors and internally with employees through job satisfaction and increased tenure.

Strategic Planning & Goals: The first step is to identify the key company goals which will be the over-arching direction of the plan. These goals should be focused on three areas: financial, growth initiatives and alignment to the company’s vision/mission. This provides the overall direction of the company by establishing high-level goals that will be achieved by tactical initiatives. The overall plan should be 1 to 3 years with measurement mileposts monthly, quarterly and annually. While the plan is put in place at the onset of the year, it should be constantly re-forecast with actual results throughout the year.

Developing Planning Modules: Compartmentalizing your plan by developing planning modules or “chunks” allows you to attack the plan in parts, yet still maintain a cohesive plan. I have found that developing an annual plan made up of quarterly targets – thus becoming a rolling quarterly forecast financial model – allows for a cohesive structure along with the nimbleness to react to market conditions. At the end of each quarter, a true-up process to align results to annual targets needs to be re-forecast and adjustments made.

Develop Non-Capital Initiatives: Each project initiative should have a corresponding project plan that monitors whether it will be completed on-time and on-budget. The importance of the detailed project plan is to accomplish the following: a) identify all the steps to be completed; b) establish a realistic timeline for each step; c) identify and allocate the necessary resources for accomplishing the initiative; d) ensure that the initiative has been vetted for departmental inter-dependencies and potential conflicts; and e) ensure that the initiative is in alignment with the overall strategic plan.

Create A Capital Plan: Next, I would develop a capital plan identifying dollars to be spent on the business to increase its overall value. While all capital dollars may not entirely be discretionary – i.e., investing dollars for anticipated return from growth – it is necessary to determine how capital dollars will be allocated whether for discretionary purposes or general maintenance. Projects that require capital are critical for the company growth and must be managed to their desired return, avoiding shortfalls in ROI or issues involving “capital creep”. If you haven’t already, setting up a capital committee to review expenditures in advance of the start of the project provides some assurance that the projects have been vetted against return on investment. Lastly, developing a post-audit process enables the team to review and monitor the progress of ongoing investments.

Business Plan Analytics Through Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s): Identifying key performance indicators for your business to use as benchmarks throughout the year is perhaps the most critical step you can make with regard to business analytics. Not only will KPI’s help identify key shortfalls in the plan, but will help narrow your focus in addressing the shortfalls. For instance, recognizing that you have an issue in labor isn’t merely enough when you consider the following possibilities: a) labor rates may be too high; b) overtime has exceeded its budget; c) the issue is regionally-based, not across the board; d) man hours may have exceeded its allocated budget, etc. It could be a myriad of triggers that caused labor to exceed its budget and KPI’s enable you to drill down to the cause. KPI management requires a disciplined review process established monthly that fosters a blended analysis throughout the year that compares actual results against both budgets and forecasts.

Fundamentals, Cycles & Trends (FC & T’s): Your plan, if done in advance and thoroughly, should provide and excellent foundation from which to work. Even the best plan still has to react to outside forces that will influence your best intentions. Identifying certain fundamentals, cycles and trends that may impact your company is a prudent way to being able to develop a contingency “plan B” in the event an outside force rears its head. A series of key FC & T’s should be monitored throughout the year so that if required, your plan can react. Certain FC & T’s may include wholesale pricing, weather, commodity markets or labor market impacts that are out of your control. In my opinion, developing contingency plans in advance for these outside forces at least gives you a fighting chance to react favorably.

Strategic Review of Plans/Goals at Year-End: At the end of the year, a thorough review of the plan and its process should be discussed with the team in order to make the next planning cycle more effective and efficient. Take a look at all of the successful initiatives and the ones that fell short in order to identify where the “broken pipes” occurred in the process. Remember not to double-dip on the capital projects EBIDTA contribution for the upcoming year – your budgetary baselines should move in concert with these investments. All projects that straddle the budgetary year, should be rolled over into the new plan. Business planning is the road map that identifies where you are headed in advance. As importantly, it also identifies road blocks – in advance. Your business plan should provide a common vision supported by tactical initiatives that, ultimately, creates greater value for your company. It may seem daunting, but by knowing your vision and its corresponding financial targets, you will have a better chance at executing how to get there and avoiding traps in advance.