Business operation is your number one priority, but would you be ready tomorrow to meet with a benefactor and have confidence in your presentation if you need the funds? Having a business plan does not guarantee success, but will get your business on the right path. Not only can a plan benefit if you need finances, but it can also help you focus on your business as a whole. It will also get you thinking about succession planning (what occurs when you no longer lead the business).
The problem is old-school ideology which states it needs to be boring because it has to have certain sections, flow a certain way, and have a lot of pages. But you exited Corporate America and started your business because you don’t do things like everyone else. You are different and offer something that only YOU can. You wake up with an excitement you have never felt before because you get to do what you love, or something where you excel.
So, if your business excites you, why would the plan for it bore you? Why settle for the norm when your business plan can excite others – just like it does you? Your audience is looking for passion and a well thought out plan that is not only realistic, but can keep the excitement going within its pages. It doesn’t have to be longer than War and Peace to be good or a certain number of pages for that matter. All you have to do is answer the 5 W’s and H of your business: Who, What When, Where, Why, and How.
Who are the key players in the business? Who are your employees? Who is your target market? You have to know your target market (and no, “everyone” is not an answer). Narrow down your perfect clients by envisioning who you would like to interact with – what do they do, where do they hang out, what products do they use, how many kids they have? Seek out as much demographic information as possible about your ideal clients. When you actually SEE them, you are able to describe them in just a few words. Some examples are mid- to upper-management in Fortune 500 companies; Soccer Moms with middle-aged children, males between the ages of 18-21, etc.
What are you offering? This is a section where your passion really shines and that can be a good and a bad thing. If you ramble in this section, you are going to lose your audience’s attention. That is why it is crucial that you work on your “elevator pitch”. Learn how to describe your products or services just a few words. Practice it, learn it, and live it. Even if you are the most passionate person in the world with the best idea, no one will care if you cannot explain it in a clear and concise manner. If you find this difficult to do, try writing out whatever comes to mind about your business for a few minutes. Then, read it to someone and have them tell you what they did not want to know. Keep chopping it down until you have a short and interesting introduction to your company.
For example, I offer professional writing and job seeker services. Many times, when I tell people this, they ask me what kind of writing I do, and that opens a conversation. People are interested in finding out more about my services. The same thing can happen in a well-prepared business plan. You want to keep your audience interested without getting side-tracked.
When do you plan on starting your business, or if you are already established, when did it start? This is pretty self-explanatory. A quick tip for those who have yet not started their business: Do not list reasons why you have not started. Include the time frame when you would like to open or the actual date you started the business.
Where will your business be located? Is your business going to be online or will it be in a physical location? These are things you will need to figure out long before you start a business and must be included in the plan.
Why are you in business? Money is the obvious reason, but do not focus on that. Your readers understand that people need to make a living, so do not state it. Look deeper – why are you offering the particular service or product tot the market? What makes you mad and what is your solution to the problem? What is the thing that makes you so full of joy that it flows over to your customers? If you look at your business and ask those type of questions, you’ll find your “why”.
On the surface, my “why” is that I love writing. I am not good at fabricating stuff, but I am really good at convincing folks to do things on paper (if you’re reading this article, you’re my proof). My biggest problem with this industry, though, is people sell their certifications and experience and forget to focus on people. Any writer can throw a resume together with the right key words or make something SEO-friendly.
But I wanted to minister to people through my work. I get excited thinking about helping people write their business plan or reinventing their resume. I help business owners with something they probably dread and I am giving hope in what are sometimes hopeless situations. Maybe they are on the verge of losing their business or perhaps they applied to so many jobs that their computer shuts down when they visit a job board again. That is where I can come in and help turn a situation around. I am definitely not a magician by any means, but I am blessed with the ability to take technical things and make them interesting. Those are reasons which will keep you going even when you feel like you should give up. Find your “why” and your business plan will write itself.
How are you going to make your business work? Your purpose is the most important part of the plan, but a very close second is your “how”. This section is where details matter. Will you start it as a part-time gig while you work full-time somewhere else? Is someone else going to help get it launched? What money and resources are you putting into it? Donors want to know that you have invested personal funds into this and they are being approached because there is a gap in financing, but will most likely not support the whole business. After all, if you believe in yourself so much, why don’t you just fund yourself?
If you have some seed money but need extra funds, list out exactly what you need and how much it will cost. List out only what you need for your business. Do not ask for extra money for a cushion. Benefactors are not concerned about your comfort level, but rather a return on their investment.
Be realistic in your plan don’t be afraid to the break the mold. You will most likely face a lot of “no’s”. However, it only takes one qualified “yes” to help you get your dreams going. Above all, never lose hope!