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,