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  Plan Your BusinessSunday, December 10th, 2023  

The importance of a comprehensive, well thought out business plan cannot be overemphasized. Much hinges on it: outside funding, credit from suppliers, management of both your operation and finances, promotion and marketing of your business, and achievement of your goals and objectives.

"The business plan is a necessity, if the person who wants to start a small business can't put a business plan together, he or she is in trouble," says Robert Krummer, Jr., chairman of First Business Bank in Los Angeles.

Despite the critical nature of a business plan, many owners and managers drag their feet when it comes to preparing a written document. They argue that their marketplace changes too fast for a business plan to be useful or that they just don't have enough time-they are too busy running the business. But just as a builder won't begin construction without a blueprint, eager business owners shouldn't rush into new ventures without a business plan. For without a business plan, you will end up going from crisis to crisis, putting out fires, never looking at your operation in the long term.

According to business plan experts, an effective document answers these questions: Who are you? What do you do? What resources do you have? Where are you going? What do you need to get there? How will you measure performance? Your plan should contain:
  • A resume of the background of all the business principals
  • A thorough description of your product or service
  • An analysis of the current marketplace situation
  • Problems and opportunities facing the company
  • A market analysis showing the segment of customers you have targeted; - Realistic objectives and goals relating to sales, market share and profits
  • An explicit statement of marketing strategy (implementation policies are impossible without explicit strategy plans)
  • A detailing of action programs or tactical plans for carrying out strategies and accomplishing goals
  • Preliminary budgets and projected profit and loss statements
  • Integration of manufacturing and financial plans with the marketing plans
  • Intended controls that measure actual versus planned performance
In other words, the key is not the cost or size of your plan but the content. It is an important management tool for planning your business, setting goals and a time frame, and measuring your business's performance.

All business plans are not the same. They vary depending on the type and size of your business. However, all plans should be organized into distinct sections: an executive summary, a description of product or service, a marketing analysis and plan, a description of the management team, a financial strategy and an appendix.

Your business plan should be thoroughly prepared, because a sloppy, poorly thought out plan minimizes your chances for outside funding. Moreover, the U.S. Small Business Administration and most private lenders require a business plan when making a funding decision. It demonstrates that you have carefully thought about the basics of your business and that you can realistically plan for the future.

In addition, it's a good exercise for you. Putting your thoughts down on paper helps you to clarify why you are in business, who your customers and competition are, your strengths and weaknesses and your plans for the future. Plus, it helps you to set realistic goals and guide your operation toward meeting those goals.

There are two suggested ways to prepare your business plan. You may obtain free and confidential assistance from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), an organization of skilled professionals who can counsel you in your preparation. Or you may decide to hire a consultant to help you prepare the plan. Even if you turn to outside help, you should be completely familiar with every detail of your plan, because at some point you will have to meet with prospective lenders. Your knowledge and understanding of the plan will influence their decision.

One final word of advice: Before submitting your plan, have at least two other individuals review it. They should understand lending and investments and be able to give you constructive suggestions. That way, if your plan needs work, you can revise it before you submit it to lenders.

Reprinted from the United States Small Business Administration

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