Guiding Light: Your Business Plan

Business plans and email marketing have something in common. The two stalwarts have often been declared dead by so-called experts, yet both continue to demonstrate value to current and aspiring business owners. Despite the naysayers, business plans are the foundation of business success, for the unavoidable reason that many new businesses fail.

Of the 400,000 companies started in 2014, 44% had failed by year four and just 18% of first-time Entrepreneurs were able to launch and sustain a successful entity. As the saying goes, “No one plans to fail. They just fail to plan.” Don’t let that be you, Dear.

The primary reason for aspiring Freelance consultants and Entrepreneurs to write a business plan is to test assumptions about the viability of the business idea against credible information that reveals the likely demand for the product or service and customer groups that have the money and possible motive to buy those products and services. The potential viability of a business is revealed in factors such as the size of the market (i.e., those with money and motive to buy), the founder’s access to potential customers (a big factor in B2B and B2G sales), competitors who sell an identical or similar product or service (are they thriving or just hanging on?) and the amount of money required to set up shop and start doing business.

A second compelling reason to write a business plan is to develop strategies that provide a roadmap, or blueprint, that will guide the founder as s/he builds and launches the venture. Confirming target customers, identifying possible niche markets, choosing the pricing strategy and the sales strategy; creating the financial plan, the operations plan, a realistic business model and selecting the most advantageous legal structure will also be thought through in advance of the company launch.

During the process, the founder will make discoveries that may persuade him/her to refine certain aspects of the products and services intended to be sold, or adjust perceptions of who the ideal customers will be. This information may have the power to substantively improve the venture’s chances of success and sustainability.

A third reason that motivates aspiring Freelance consultants and Entrepreneurs to write a business plan is the need to seek financing for their venture, whether the funds will be used to launch or scale the company. The financing source may be a bank or credit union, a micro financing organization, private investment (friends and family), or even self-financing. Those holding money will use the business plan to make funding decisions, so founders would be wise to develop a realistic financial blueprint that projects three years into the future, as well as a credible marketing plan that accurately defines target customer groups and identifies key competitors.

In sum, a powerful business plan needs to be three-dimensional, so it distills lessons from the real world and allows the founder(s) to test and when necessary revise assumptions. This ongoing process will give the business the highest chance of success while also increasing your credibility with investors, your team and most of all, yourself.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: © Ubisoft Entertainment SA, artist’s rendering of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The lighthouse stood on the island of Pharos, guiding ships as they entered the harbors of Alexandria, Egypt on the Mediterranean coast. The structure was built during the reigns of Ptolemy I and II, c. 300 – 280 BC. With a height of over 330 feet, the lighthouse was so impressive that it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now lost, the lighthouse was a welcomed navigational aid for over 1600 years.

10 Steps to Fortify Your Business

Here come the lazy, hazy days of summer. The sun is warm and days are long, but billable hours can be short, the result of vacation schedules at client workplaces. For that reason, Freelancers may often find it convenient to vacation in July or August. But those who prefer a winter vacation, whether on ski slopes or in warm surf, might long for a worthy assignment to get their arms around. I’ll suggest that Freelancers, as well as small business owners, look no further than our own organization for a project that can generate billable hours.

During the summer slowdown, ambitious Freelancers and business owners will use the available time to build a more efficiently run and profitable business. We’ll reconfirm our customer knowledge, examine our product and service lines, analyze our financial statements, review operations processes, evaluate customer service protocols, update competitive intelligence and refine marketing tactics.

Smart Freelancers will look inward to shore up our businesses internally. We’ll also look outward, ready to pounce on intriguing opportunities that become available. If you’re not doing so already, here are 10 smart business planning steps you should take this season.

  1. Analyze your financials

Examine your Profit & Loss and Cash-flow Statements and make note of the top line, that is, Gross Sales on the Cash-flow statement and Gross Revenue on the P & L Statement. That number (they are the same) reflects the amount of all billable hours and other income you generated in a particular month (or quarter, or year). In a potential business slow-down, it’s essential to confirm that you’ll have the funds to cover all accounts payable, including payroll, if you have employees or outsourced help.

Next, take a look at your Balance Sheet and make note of the total Accounts Payable figure. that number represents monthly business debts (e.g. office space rent and insurance premiums). If a shortfall looks like a possibility, you’ll need to find a way to either negotiate with creditors to ask for an extension, or find a way to generate money quickly. Maybe you can find a part-time under-the-radar job?

  1. Conduct SWOT Analysis

The acronym known as SWOT you may know stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal (personal) attributes and can be impacted by you. Your strengths may include an exceptional client list, fortunate business and personal relationships that you can leverage, relevant educational or professional qualifications, and/or a product or service line that clients value and support. Brainstorm new ways to capitalize your company strengths. Acknowledge also company Weaknesses and find ways to eliminate, minimize and/or camouflage.

Research happenings that may potentially impact your organization to manage the external factors of Opportunities and Threats. Approach all potential Opportunities with forethought, so that you will remember to apply the most appropriate of your Strengths to effectively laying claim to the good. Take steps to sidestep or soften the blow of potential Threats.

  1. Rank clients

Determine who’s profitable, and who’s not. If some clients are a drain on resources, perhaps because they give few billable hours and the rate is low, either raise the price or “fire” them. You can’t afford to carry unprofitable clients.  Aim to work lean and mean. right now.

  1. Network

There will be a handful of conferences held in July and August and some may be worthwhile. If you become aware of a conference where the topics will be relevant to you, the speakers interesting and the attendees people who you may want to meet, try to find the money to attend. You may find your next client or referral partner (and remember to reciprocate).

  1. Streamline work processes

Time is the resource that those who work in the Knowledge Economy, i.e., the intangible services business, value most.  How can you provide your services faster and still maintain the high quality of deliverables for your clients? The objective is to create time to pursue more clients, analyze your business and clients, network, or simply rest and recharge your batteries.

  1. Create strategic alliances

Forming simple partnerships can make or save you money.  One of your clients could be an excellent referral source for your business and you may be able to return the favor for your client’s organization.

  1. Reduce expenses

Do you rent office space? If so and especially if your lease will expire in less than a year, why not call your landlord and suggest that the two of you negotiate a longer-term lease in return for cost concessions?  Or, if you’ve been able to pay all insurance policies on time for the past 12 – 18 months, inquire about a lower annual premium? Do the same for your credit cards regarding interest rates.

  1. Refine marketing strategies

Assess the impact and ROI of your marketing efforts and then ensure that your marketing goals make sense for your business.  What exactly do you want your content marketing, marketing and advertising and social media postings to accomplish?

  1. Target competitors’ clients

If learn that a competitor is struggling, reach out to any of his/her clients whom you know or feel comfortable approaching to discuss the advantages of doing business with your organization. If your competitor’s clients sense a possible decline in quality or fear a service disruption, they may be receptive to your pitch.

  1. Eyes and ears open

Be on the lookout for fresh ideas and opportunities. Stay abreast of news and trends in your industry and also in your clients’ industries. Interact with other Freelancers and business owners to see what they’re doing. Learn from them what’s going on around you and be prepared to explore promising opportunities that come your way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Second Crop (Le Regain), 1880  Julien Dupre (France, 1851 – 1910)

Factors to Include When Planning to Launch a Business

In a recent 7 day span, I was invited to judge two pitch contests for entrepreneurs who had successfully completed a 13-week business plan writing workshop presented by a woman-centric business incubator and business development center that has operated in New England for 25 years (and is also an SBA affiliate). The entrepreneurs were either in start-up or scaling (i.e., expansion) mode.

I was excited to be a judge and privileged to meet nearly two dozen forward-thinking, focused, resourceful and determined women who expect nothing less than success and are taking decisive steps to bring it about. Based on the business concept pitches I heard, I encourage those who are evaluating whether to launch a business venture to include the following information:

  • Name and describe your product or service and the problem(s) it will solve
  • Identify your best customer groups and explain why those customers will pay for your product or service
  • Identify your primary competitors, list the competitive advantages that your product/ service possesses and explain why customers will prefer your offerings
  • Create a business model that outlines how you’ll acquire customers, where and how the product/service will be delivered and how the business will make money
  • Explain why you are qualified to make the proposed business successful
  • Develop a business strategy and marketing plan that includes:
    • sales and distribution strategy
    • pricing strategy
    • product positioning strategy
    • branding strategy
    • content marketing strategy strategies
    • social media strategy
    • PR and advertising strategy
  • Detail the business pre-launch and launch (start-up) costs
  • If investors or borrowing will sought, present a (realistic) break-even analysis and 24 month revenue projections (P & L and cash-flow)
  • Detail the potential investor return and the loan payback schedule

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope April 24, 1990

Goal Setting Guidelines

Happy December! Here we are in the last month of the year and like the two-headed Janus, we’re simultaneously looking backward to count our successes and forward to finish the year strong and decide which goals appear to hold the most promise for seeding a successful 1Q2019 and beyond.

There is traditionally much talk about goal-setting at this time of year and many of us climb aboard the train out of a sense of obligation, or even guilt. But maybe we should first spend some time vetting the goals we choose to pursue? For starters, our goals should be tied to benefits that substantively improve our personal or professional lives.

SMART Goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely—are the accomplishments we’d be wise to pursue.  SMART Goals are worthy of the planning, money and other resources that we expend to achieve them. We owe it to ourselves to confirm that the goals we choose are within our capacity to reach them and that they will further our agenda to build a fulfilling professional and personal life.  Ensure that the goals you choose are right for you.

SPECIFIC   Increasing your client list is a worthwhile goal and you’ll have a better chance of achieving it if you define the industry, type, or size of the organizations you’d like to add to your roster.  For example, rather than randomly looking to work with larger not-for-profit organizations, specify your mission. You may elect to pursue not-for-profit organizations that have 100 or more employees and/or an annual operating budget of $1,000,000 – $5,000,000.

MEASURABLE   Identify metrics and milestones that will monitor your progress and inspire you to continue on your path.  The measurements need not be complicated. If you are able to meet with a coveted prospective client, that’s a milestone.  The size of your client list, the number of billable hours and the amount of sales revenue from quarter to quarter are also easy-to-follow and relevant metrics, if they document your progress.  Just be sure to measure that which demonstrates achievement. The last day of each quarter is a good time to examine and evaluate your milestones and metrics.

ATTAINABLE   If earning more money is your goal, give yourself a realistic figure to reach for.  If your average monthly sales revenue is $5000, think about how you can add $500 – $1000 /month.  Expecting to earn $10,000 /month is probably too steep, unless you have one heck of a competitive advantage or you’re about to sign a very big client who will give you game-changing billable hours.

You may be able to eventually earn an additional $500 – $1000/ month with a savvy new marketing plan that’s combined with other strategies, such as a new client acquisition plan, an exciting new product or service that seems to have good sales potential, or an initiative to win back certain lapsed clients.

RELEVANT   Your goals should make sense for your life and business. Keeping up with or surpassing your perceived rivals is not a valid reason to set a particular goal.  Acknowledge the objectives behind the goals and be honest about why you want to pursue them.

TIMELY   The desire to retire at age 50 is still in fashion, but it will be more realistic to start planning no later than age 40, to give yourself a decade to get in touch with what might make you feel fulfilled in your post-working life and understand how you’ll earn enough to make it possible.

What might retirement mean to you? Maybe it means you’ll leave your traditional job and start a home-based craft making business that will see you selling your wares on Etsy and at local Christmas Village markets. Or perhaps it means you’ll not work and instead devote yourself to volunteering and taking long winter vacations spent on the ski slopes? whatever your choice, you’ll need to plan your retirement money carefully. Should you buy investment property that will give you a steady stream of rental income, or invest more aggressively in the surging stock market?

The process of setting goals for yourself and/or your business enables you to define and recognize what success looks like and means to you.  You’ll learn to think strategically about how to grow your business and the resources needed to achieve that growth.  You’ll calculate the money needed for an expansion plan or new equipment, make notes for a first draft of the marketing plan you’ll need to devise, consider the relationships you may want to renew or develop and/or estimate the new staff you may need to hire.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.”                   –Peter “Yogi” Berra, former NY Yankees catcher and Baseball Hall of Fame member

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Academy Award winning actor (Best Actor El Cid, 1961) Charlton Heston (center) as Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur (1959)

Is Your Idea a Business or a Dead End?

Ha! So you think you have an idea that you can parlay into a good business, whether it’s a cutting edge technology or a tried and true formula, like a car wash.

Regardless of the industry that you’d like to enter, there is a more or less standard checklist of factors you should consider before investing your money, time and hopes. Before fantasies of entrepreneurship carry you away, do yourself a favor and answer these questions first. You’ll know how to proceed from here, whether it means that you meet with the Branch Manager at your bank to learn about business financing options, or you take a trip back to the drawing board.

1. Who are the target customers and what is the size of the market?

Define your market demographic. Who will pay to buy what you plan to sell? Is this a product or service that is growing in popularity, or maintaining its broad appeal, or is there a shift in customer preference on the horizon as those who would be your customers learn about a new choice that may persuade them to switch to The Next Big Thing?

In addition to demand for your intended product or service, are there enough customers in your location to support the business? By the way, how are your competitors doing? Do they appear to be thriving?

2. What is the problem that target customers want to solve or avoid when they do business with companies like your proposed venture?

Understand the back story of why customers would buy the solutions that you plan to sell. What is it that they’d like to achieve or avoid? One calls a window washer when the windows are dirty because clean windows demonstrate the owner’s desire to protect and enhance the value of his/her home.

3. How are target customers meeting their need today?

What businesses would be your primary three or four competitors? What factors persuade their customers to do business with them—a convenient location, exceptional product variety, discount pricing, the right relationships?

What advantage can you offer that customers might be drawn to—more convenient hours of operation, for example? Can you provide a product or service that meets a need that is valued but not currently addressed?

4. What is your solution (product or service)?

Describe your proposed product or service. You should be able to easily and clearly describe (and sell) your product. Develop an off-the-cuff sales pitch, record your delivery of it, then listen and evaluate. Would you buy this product or service?

5. How will you reach your customers?

If your business is B2C and requires a physical location, can you afford to set up shop in an area that potential customers will visit? If your business idea is B2B, do you have a plan to access customers and referrals? If your plan is for e-commerce, how will potential customers learn about your website?

6. Do you have the credibility and credentials to do business in this industry?

Especially if you plan to enter the B2B sector, be certain that your education and experience will command respect and trust. If obtaining certain licensing, certifications, or an educational degree is vital (even if not required), investigate the process, plus the time and money involved.

7. Do you have the funding to launch the business?

Research the expected business start-up costs and think objectively about how long it might take you to start making sales you can live on.

Pay your bills and get your credit score. Build up your savings. Whether you expect to self-finance, ask to borrow from friends, family, or your retirement account or apply for outside funding, you will need a lump sum of cash on hand when you launch a business.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Financial District, Boston, MA. Kim Clark, September 23, 2018

Recipe For Success

Solopreneurs and owners of small businesses can benefit from what can be called a basic recipe consisting of time-tested business practices that will put you on the path to building a profitable enterprise that will make you proud.

Business strategy

Every business needs a strategy and a business plan is a very helpful tool that supports you as you implement your strategy to develop and launch your venture.  A complex strategy or business plan aren’t necessary to achieve success.  A one-page business strategy and a five-page business plan may do the job, as long as both are well thought out and executed.

A good business strategy (and plan) defines and drives the activities and behaviors of the entire organization. Without it, the business becomes a rudderless ship, lost at sea.  A well-conceived business strategy and properly written business plan reflect and support the business model and always address marketing, operations, finance, staffing and customer service, at a minimum.

Business model

The business model is the plan for how your company will generate revenues and make a profit.  The business model answers the question “Who is the customer and what does that customer value?” As a result, your business model must also spell out the company’s value proposition and what differentiates your products and services from those of competitors.

The business model will keep company leaders focused on the core markets and measuring success as defined by the business strategy.  Here you’ll detail a step-by-step action plan to operate profitably within your marketplace.

Marketing

In order to develop a realistic and potentially effective marketing strategy, it is essential to thoroughly research the most likely target customers for the venture.  What problem or goal will be solved with your products or services—what is the customer’s motive for doing business with you? How much will potential customers pay to obtain the solutions that your venture will offer?

Finding out which competitive products target customers now use to get their needs met is another essential marketing research function.  As well, you must learn the type of marketing and information gathering outreach that potential customers will find and trust.  An effective marketing strategy addresses how you will:

  • Identify target customers
  • Identify the products or services now used  (competitive products)
  • Describe how you will promote your products and services to those customers
  • Explain the positioning strategy for products and services
  • Discuss the branding strategy
  • Describe the sales strategy—how will you sell to customers
  • Address the pricing strategy
  • Identify advertising and social media marketing activities

Sales

The sales strategy that you adopt will depend on your target customers, your access to those customers and the competitive landscape.  You may be able to build referral arrangements and strategic alliances that allow you to generate enough sales to be profitable.  On the other hand, cold calling may be the most effective way to generate sales for your organization.  Will you sell in a physical location, or online? Will customers pay immediately, or will they be billed? The preferred selling approach a company uses is defined in the marketing plan.

Operations

Predictable, practical and streamlined business operations processes are a must.  The customer experience is closely linked to what happens in the behind-the-scenes delivery systems of products and services.  Think of it this way—when you go to your favorite breakfast place to get a muffin and coffee, you expect to receive what you’ve ordered with a minimum of fuss. That is how you start your day because it’s convenient and it makes you feel good.  You, business owner and leader, must create a similar experience for your customers if you intend to retain them.  Smooth business operations also play a role in building good word-of-mouth for your business.  Fail to develop a good operations plan and things could blow up in your face as disappointed customers spread the word about your shortcomings.

Unfortunately, many businesses give short shrift to the operations section of their business plan.  The purpose of thinking through operations processes is to increase business productivity and reduce costs as you offer the same (or better) outcomes to each customer, time and again.  There may be some trial and error along the way, but most of all it takes thought and planning.

Successful business leaders understand the need to continually improve business processes, to become more efficient and productive and able to respond to market changes faster, all the while providing excellent service to customers.

Technology

While technology is important, it needn’t be complex or costly to be effective.  Up-to-date technology products enable upgrades within any number of company functions: product manufacture, delivery of services, inventory management, payment systems, sales and distribution, marketing campaigns, quality control and customer service.

Finance

A realistic financial plan is the cornerstone of building a profitable enterprise.  Every business requires a financial roadmap and budget, along with the discipline to follow it.  You must anticipate and plan for business start-up or expansion costs,  projected sales and assisted by a break-even analysis, project that point in the future when the business will be positioned to make a profit.

The financial plan ensures that the business owner recognizes the most likely sources of business launch or expansion capital (will a bank loan or a partner be necessary?). A financial plan reminds owners where and how to spend money and it provides ways to measure progress, promote healthy cash-flow and warn of impending shortfalls.

Customer service

Smart business leaders treat customers well, because they are aware that there can be no business without customers who make purchases that create revenue and lead to profits.  Integrate customer service into your business practices and review those practices frequently to ensure that they are having the intended effect of facilitating customer satisfaction, repeat business and referrals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: One scene in a mural displayed in the Templo Mayor Museum in Mexico City, where thousands of artifacts were excavated from the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the Aztec Empire (now called Mexico City).

 

Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money

Here is a typical story: A passionate would-be entrepreneur launches a venture, often with the romantic and exciting intention of bootstrapping the finances.  But realistically, bootstrapping is not the correct description of the financial plan.  The term that applies here is under-capitalized.  The idea may have been realistic,  but before our intrepid entrepreneur could get traction with the concept, the money ran out.  The only thing remaining was debt.

Our hero would like to start over, since valuable lessons were learned and baked into business plan and model 2.0.  However, start-up capital that was not requested in the first go-round must be sought now, because the realization that there will be no success without adequate funding is now apparent.  What can be done to give our story a happy ending in a world where it takes money to make money? Let’s take a look at some possible funding options, some common and others less so.

Friends and family financing

Besides your own bank account, the most obvious place to look for start-up capital is with friends and family, that is, if you have a very good idea of whom you can do business with and those relatives or frenemies who must be avoided.  Many business ventures are funded in this way.

If you choose to borrow from family and friends, put into writing the loan amount, terms and repayment schedule and agree only to what you are certain you can uphold.  According to CircleLending’s Business Private Loan Index, the average current interest rate on business loans made by family members and friends is 7.6%.  Do everything possible to preserve relationships and not let money divide you.  The last thing you want are tense holidays (there are more than enough ways for that to occur as it is).

Micro-lenders and web-based lenders

There are several non-bank lenders found only online that offer micro-loans to small entrepreneurs.  The loan amounts are usually between $5000 – $25,000 and these outfits can be excellent sources of start-up and expansion capital for entrepreneurs with debt and /or limited resources.  There is sometimes a potentially very useful credit repair feature available through certain of these lenders when loan repayments are reported to credit bureaus.  On-time payments will raise your credit score, improve your credit rating and lower your future interest rates.

Here are sites to visit, including the Small Business Association’s Micro-loan Program:  http://prosper.com   http://www.zopa.com   http://www.accion.com https://www.sba.gov/loans-grants/see-what-sba-offers/sba-loan-programs/microloan-program

There may as well be small not-for-profit organizations that are micro-lenders in your state, but they may not be found online.  To obtain contact information on these loan source possibilities, please visit  www.microenterpriseworks.org

CircleLending data demonstrated clearly that comparison shopping is a must-do.  The loan interest rate at Accion was 12%, while the rate at Prosper was more than 20%, for those with poor credit.

In 2016, the National Small Business Association found that 73% of small businesses used some type of funding to launch a venture, expand a business, purchase inventory or equipment, or strengthen the company’s financial foundation.  The 2012 U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners found that 57% of start-ups launched the venture with personal savings; 8 % used personal credit cards; 6% used other personal assets (retirement account?); and 3% used a home equity loan. Only 8% used a bank loan.

While it is possible for individuals who are in tight financial constraints to obtain bank loan financing and business credit cards as noted above, interest rates are high.  More than that, even those who might qualify for bank loans are not going there.  You want to put your money not into interest payments, but rather into building your venture into a successful enterprise and paying off debts, in that way positioning yourself to save and invest capital and build for yourself a strong financial future.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Triple Dollar Signs, Andy Warhol (1982)   Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Business Forecasting Helps You Make Money

Summer 2017 will officially arrive on June 21 and the warm temperatures promise to seduce us with sunshine and flowers. Summer is the primary vacation season and many businesses slow down with its arrival , with the exception of tourist industry service providers and wedding planners and their usual sub-contractors: caterers, florists, photographers, DJs and videographers, many of whom are Freelancers.  The rest of us, however, have to get creative and try to maintain our discipline and resolve as the heat and humidity conspire against ambition.  This lovely time of year can present a real financial challenge for Freelancers.  How can we remain productive and scare up some billable hours? Summer is the ideal time to devote attention to positioning  your venture to make money in the fourth quarter and beyond.

I suggest that you conduct business forecasting at your organization this summer. Business forecasting is the cornerstone of business planning and business planning is the foundation of enabling business profitability.  Forecasting helps business owners and Freelancers to objectively examine the monetary value of each revenue stream that the venture generates, so that it becomes very clear which lines of business are making money and the amount of profitability of each line.  Forecasting shows you where you should devote your resources and in that way generate increased billable hours, revenues and profits.

Forecasting in your Freelance venture is crucial: client work, teaching assignments, writing assignments, subcontracting work for other Freelancers and maybe even an under-the-radar odd job along the way to fatten the coffers are among the business activities in which we engage to maintain cash-flow.  It’s very useful to know which of these lines of business is worth more attention and those that you may want to drop, since the returns are meager.

Let’s face reality—we B2B Freelance service providers often don’t know when our next client will come along, or what s/he will want to spend on services when that happens.  It’s so easy to wind up scrambling from new client to new client without getting much repeat business, or adequate control over our earning capacity. That’s why it’s vital that we:

  1. Identify where the earning potential really is (and it might not be client work)
  2. Create strategies and action plans that promote successful participation in those of your business activities that are the most profitable

There are thousands of Freelancers who make their real money not from client work, which can be both scarce and erratic, but on other related business lines.  For hiilucky Freelancers who have national renown, that could be book sales, paid speaking engagements and paid writing assignments.  For others, it’s their coaching business that is the real profit engine.  In such cases, the client work is necessary to lend credibility and enable access to the other, much more profitable, activities.

So how does one conduct business forecasting? If you use Intuit QuickBooks software, you can build a model on that system.  If you have at least three or four years’ of client data in QuickBooks, you will receive much valuable, actionable information about your business, including:

  • Profitability and profit margins
  • Average revenue /client
  • Average billable hours /client

If you keep your financial data on Excel, review the past five years’ of invoices (or as far back as possible in a newer venture) and identify your top five or ten most lucrative revenue streams, whether that is client work or other related projects.  Invoice dates will reveal seasonal revenue generating patterns and the invoices will remind you of which of your services sells the most and which the least.  Billable hours and hourly or project fee rates should also be noted. It will take longer to generate the data, but as with QuickBooks, much valuable and actionable data can be extracted from your Excel based financials.

There are two basic methods of business forecasting, Qualitative and Quantitative. Qualitative forecasting models are based on market research and they’re most effective in predicting short-term cycles. Quantitative forecasting models are based on data and the approach is more effective than the qualitative model in predicting long-term cycles.

There are various types of quantitative forecasting approaches and for small and medium size business forecasting, the Time Series Method is most useful.  The Time Series Method uses historical financial data to predict future results.  When you go to your bank for a business loan and five years’ of your financials are requested, the loan officer is using the Time Series Method to predict whether you will be able to generate enough cash-flow and sales revenues to repay the loan on time.

Once you have your financials in hand, Step 2 of Business Forecasting is the development of a marketing plan that contains strategies and action plans that create the road map that your organization will follow as you seek to expand those business lines that generate the most revenues for you and consider dropping those that perform poorly.

When you see with irrefutable data that reveals which of your services brings home the most money, you will likely get a clearer picture of your ideal clients and the messages and marketing platforms that resonate with them.  An amended pricing strategy and/or sales distribution method may be instituted, as might tweaking of your business model.

Business forecasting reveals patterns in client activity that are often overlooked and the process allows you to anticipate demand for your services, reveals which services historically have produced the greatest sales revenues, reveals the types of clients that spend the most with you and in general, shows on what side the toast is buttered.

With objective confirmation of your best client categories and most popular services, you can concentrate on how to access those clients, including bigger budget clients within the categories and you’ll know how best to sell to them.  You will work not only hard, but also smart, to grow your client list and increase billable hours, revenues and profits and that will be the best use of your time during this glorious summer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Understanding Break-Even Financial Analysis

Most business owners are familiar with the big three financial control documents: the Income (Profit & Loss) Statement; Cash-Flow Statement (or projection, when used for budget planning); and Balance Sheet. Those three statements are compiled monthly, quarterly and annually. They give useful insight into the fiscal health of the company. The smart business owner consults these statements each month, teases out the story that is revealed and makes decisions accordingly.

A fourth financial document, the Break-Even Analysis, provides forecasting information. The Break-Even is used when a new product or service will be introduced, or when a capital improvement or other upgrade is scheduled to be made.  The Break-Even indicates the amount of sales revenue the product or service must generate to cover the roll-out costs associated with its introduction or acquisition and therefore, positioned to become a decision that pays off.  A Break-Even is also generated when a new business venture is launched. The Break-Even allows the business leader to predict how long losses must be sustained and how to anticipate cash-flow comditions and management in response.

Break-Even is achieved when revenues = expenses; the business is neither making nor losing money. Business expenses are of two types, Fixed and Variable. Fixed Costs are the standard monthly operating costs and they are not impacted by sales revenue generated.  Office space rent, insurance, utilities and payroll are Fixed Costs.

Variable Costs are largely tied to sales: product acquisition or manufacturing costs, inventory purchases, the cost of materials used to manufacture the products sold and all aspects of marketing and selling costs.  As sales increase, Variable Costs increase proportionately, because more product must be purchased or manufactured to be available for sale.  Total Expenses = Fixed + Variable Costs, as recorded on the Income Statement.

When calculating expenses, it is standard to determine the relationship of Variable Costs to sales revenues.  The Variable Cost amount is divided by the number of product units sold,  yielding the Variable Cost per Unit.  In other words,  Variable Costs = units sold  X  variable cost per unit.  For the purpose of calculating Break-Even,  Total Expenses = Fixed Costs + Variable Costs (expressed as units sold  X  variable cost per unit). As always, sales revenues = unit price  X  number of units sold.

The Break-Even Point is reached when

Price  X  Units Sold = (Units  Sold  X  Variable Cost/Unit) + Fixed Costs

The difference between selling price per unit and the variable cost per unit sold reveals the amount that can be applied to Fixed Costs each time a unit is sold.  Think of it this way: if monthly Fixed Costs are $2000 and the average price of your product units sold is $2, with an average Variable Cost of $1 each,  when you sell a unit, you earn $1 to apply to Fixed Costs. With monthly Fixed Costs of $2000, Break-Even is reached when the business sells 2000 units per month.

Knowing how many units must be sold each month to achieve Break-Even is essential for effective financial management of the venture.  One can also calculate Break-Even in terms of dollars that must be generated each month.  In this example, Break-Even Revenue is achieved at $4000 in monthly sales, since the sales price is $2/unit and 2000 units must be sold each month to cover expenses.

A basic knowledge of the process of business financial calculations and the ability to interpret the data generated are must-have skills for all business owners and Freelance consultants. While it is true that one’s bookkeeper or accountant will perform the Break-Even on Quickbooks by plugging in numbers derived from the Income Statement,  it is always in your best interest to understand how the calculations are made and how to make sense of what the financial documents reveal.

When it is proposed that a new product or service might be sold, which might be the development of a new workshop to propose and teach or some other intangible service, a Break-Even Analysis will indicate how many units must be sold, billable hours generated, or classes must be taught before the production costs will be re-couped and the new offering will be positioned to generate ROI.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Fatal Flaws in Your Business Plan

A business plan is the blueprint, or road map, that guides aspiring entrepreneurs as they build their business venture. Business plan writing is about getting the details right as you keep in mind the big picture.  I’ve taught business plan writing since 2008.  I was invited by the program manager of an SBA-affiliated women’s business development  organization to teach a 20 week course that met once a week for three hours and students wrote their plan week by week.

A couple of years later,  I developed a six hour workshop that does not ask students to write their plan but rather, I present material that shows them the information that will be included in a good business plan: a marketing plan (including customer identification, branding and pricing), financial projections, operations processes and other elements.  We talk about how to do research and how the information discovered will help them build a successful business and if desired, attract investors as well.

When envisioning a potential business concept or writing a business plan, it is possible that unrealistic expectations or flawed thinking could influence the process.  Sometimes, one is just so excited about the great business idea that has surfaced that the adrenaline “rush” distorts clear thinking, such as the ability to see potential stumbling blocks that would require precautions to avoid.  Below are a few scenarios that entrepreneurs-in-the-making should beware.

Unrealistic expectations about the need and value of your products or services

While it is sometimes true that starting a business with yourself as the profile that represents the target customer is a smart idea, since you understand the value and availability of that product or service,  you may misinterpret the size of the market and the traction that can be achieved beyond a select group of true believers.

Insufficient information about target customers

Whether or not the target customer is modeled on you, research must be done to verify the number of potential customers who have the money and motive to do business with you,  regardless if this is a B2B or B2C enterprise in the making. You must identify the need for your products or services—what problem will you solve, what solution will you provide?

Furthermore, you must understand the buying process—who is the usual decision maker (the COO or the head of maintence?),  how will purchases be made and what is the tolerable price range? Lastly, from whom are your potential customers obtaining these products and services now? You must also identify and investigate competitors.

Vague about how to access customers

Especially in the B2B sector, access to customers is everything.  Some fields really are a closed shop. You may know who the ideal customers are,  know and describe well how your products and services fit their needs and know how to price and deliver them.  But if potential customers do not have the confidence to do business with you because you have not received an endorsement from a source that they trust, you will starve.

Overestimating cash flow

Usually, a business does not achieve desirable gross sales, and hence will not show a net profit, in its first year of operations.  Businesses that require high start-up costs especially will require a longer ramping-up period. The business plan must acknowledge the potential for negative cash flow and demonstrate how fixed and variable expenses will be met during that period.  One must know how inventory will be financed,  how payroll will be met and how the store or office rent will be paid.

When writing a business plan,  conservative financial projections are strongly advised.  Acquisition of paying customers may take longer than you expect and the size of their purchases may initially be small and infrequent.  Moreover, it is entirely possible for a venture to be profitable on paper and still suffer from cash-flow problems, because customers do not pay their bills on time.

Underestimating start-up costs

Developing a reasonable estimate of how much it will cost to get the venture up and running is essential.  If certain permits must be in hand, if certain tools or equipment are must-haves, then you must know the costs of securing all of the above.  If you’ll need to hire employees,  it’s essential that you have a good idea of the staffing needs up front (you can always hire more as customers increase).

“Magical thinking” business model

The business model is the design for how your venture will become profitable.  Well thought-out interactions between marketing, financial and operational processes will promote and sustain profitability and you must map out how these will occur. The business model describes the core fundamental actions of the venture.

The value proposition of your products or services will be described.  The resources that your enterprise will have to promote and defend the value proposition— the intellectual property that you’ve developed,  or patent rights, key relationships, or capital—will be accounted for.  Sales distribution channels will be detailed.

Getting to Plan B, a 2009 book by Randy Komisar and John Mullins, describes key business model components and advises business plan writers to segment the business model chapter into sub-headings such as:

  • The revenue model,  which describes what you’ll sell, the marketing plan and how you expect to generate revenue.
  • The operating model, which will detail where you’ll do business and how the day-to-day will function.
  • The  working capital model, meaning your cash-flow requirements.  Cash-flow means that you’ll know when money will be in hand to meet expenses like rent and payroll. It is subtly distinct from revenue.  The business can generate adequate revenue and still suffer from intermittent cash-flow problems.

Your business model keeps you organized and your priorities realistic. Matters such as quality control,  collecting accounts receivable,  inventory management and identifying strategic partners mean much more than your number of Facebook followers, for example. Best of luck to you as you work to launch your new business!

Thanks for reading,

Kim