Entrepreneurs and small business owners often ask what the keys to successful business plan writing are. Obvious mistakes and omissions are pretty common – especially for first-time business plan writers who don’t know how to write a business plan. Fortunately, these mistakes are also easy to avoid. Here are eight tips that will help you write a business plan like a pro!
1. Start with the end in mind – In Alice in Wonderland the Cheshire Cat told Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” The same applies to your business and your business plan – If you don’t have a goal, you don’t need a plan.
You already know the importance of a business plan, so sit down and outline your goals before starting to write it. Where do you want the business to be in five years? What is the mission of the business? Do you want a large corporation, or do you just want to live comfortably and pay the bills? Do you want your business to be acquired eventually? By answering questions like this and starting with the end in mind, you will be able to focus your business plan in the right direction.
2. Learn about your customers through market research – You might think you know your customers, but have you actually sat down and talked to them? You can create the coolest widget in the world, but if no one wants your cool widgets, your business will be a bust. Talk to your customers. Do surveys. Lead focus groups. Find out where customers are not getting their needs fulfilled and build a product that fulfills these needs. A little market research can go a long way.
3. Be realistic with your financial projections and expectations – Sure, we’d all love to make a billion dollars in our second year of business, but (unless you’re really lucky) it probably isn’t going to happen. Spend a significant amount of time developing your financial forecasts to make them realistic. Don’t just rely on your gut feeling to make the estimates. Use the information that you’ve gathered from your market research and other sections of your business plan. Creating your pro forma financial statements can be a pain, but it’s very important. You may want to consult with an accountant and lawyer.
4. Don’t ignore the competition – Do you really know who your competitors are? A lot of business owners make the mistake of believing that their business exists in a vacuum. Ignoring your competitors is asking for failure. Analyze where they are at currently and where they are heading. Try and predict how they will react to the introduction of your new products and services. A comprehensive competitive analysis is an important step in successful business plan development.
5. Emphasize what makes you different from your competitors – Differentiation is a key to building a successful business and generating interest in your business plan. As you write your plan, try to bring out what makes your products different from the products already offered on the market. This will make your plan much more interesting and attractive to potential investors.
6. Have your business plan reviewed by a third-party – Remember in high school when your teachers told you to have a friend or parent proofread your papers? Well, it’s still good practice to have someone else review your work. A second set of eyes can really help you uncover out the portions of your plan that are confusing or poorly developed. There are business plan review services all over on the internet that you can use. You can also have a trusted, experienced associate read through your plan.
7. Be willing to take risk – Starting a business takes time and money. It’s possible that you’ll never profit from the time and money you invest. Investors will take a risk by giving your business money. Demonstrate that you are also willing to take some level of risk and include this in your business plan.
8. Don’t give up! – Writing a business plan isn’t an easy task. You can use different tools, such as business plan software or templates, to help make the task easier, but persistence is your greatest tool. Expect the worst-case scenario. You will run into roadblocks during the process of creating your business plan and starting your business, but you shouldn’t let them stop you. Real success and satisfaction usually comes after lots of effort and hard work.