I’ve been mulling over a post about business plans. I’m the one who always extols the virtues of a business plan but…don’t actually have my own. So this post has the caveat that you must do as I say and not as I do.
That confession put out into the universe, I happened to open up a new book about women and careers called Escape From Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams by Pamela Skillings (2008, Ballantine Books) that was sitting on my kitchen counter and lo and behold, she has a whole section about business plans. I thought I’d excerpt some of her book and add my own personal commentary, and hopefully it will give you some food for thought about that ever elusive business plan that you - and I - have been meaning to write for our businesses.
I think the best way to think of business plans is in bite-sized pieces. Here is a great breakdown of the elements of a plan. Tackle them one at a time. People have told me to write the plan first and the Executive Summary last, but that doesn’t work for me (yes, I have written business plans before for previous companies so have tried both methods). I like writing the Exec Summary first and then grow and expand upon it for the rest of the plan.
Key Elements of a Business Plan
Excerpted parts from Pamela Skillings’ book in italics. Pamela calls the plan a “Solopreneur Business Plan,” FYI
Executive Summary - This is the 2-3 page summary of all the other parts of the plan. If someone read this, they should only need to read the plan for the finer details, statistics and financials, not to understand what you do.
Mission Statementt - What is the driving purpose of your solopreneur business? I like to think of two parts of this - a Vision Statement which explains the bigger vision and how you’ll achieve it. And then to me, the Mission Statement is that soundbite that encapsulates the vision in a single sentence. Compact, concise.
When I was running my Internet company Cybergrrl, Inc., our Vision Statement was to be the premier destination and producer of content for women on the Web through Web sites, online communities, offline networking groups, books, a television show, and other media. But our mission statement was to “Empower Women Through Technology.”
Business Description - What products or services are you offering? This should outline not just what you do but how you will do it.
Market Analysis - Who are your customers? What demand will you meet? What will you charge? When you explain your customer, how are you getting your data? Do grassroots research online if you need to using an online survey site like Survey Monkey or Zoomerang to better define your customer and have some fresh data for your report.
Competitive Analysis - Who are your competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How will your business compete? There is no such thing as not having any competitors. If a bank or venture capitalist sees the statement “We feel we are so unique that we don’t have any direct competitors,” kiss that money goodbye.
Marketing Strategy - How will you connect with and sell to your target market? Often a marketing strategy can be a standalone plan and then be tucked into the overall business plan. Don’t give this portion of the plan short shrift. It can help guide you day-to-day to grow your business.
Financial Plan - What are your start-up costs? What is your projected cash flow? I can’t emphasize these two words more strongly: CASH FLOW. Businesses that die in the first year - even in their 5th year - most likely have kicked the bucket because of poor cash flow. You can rescue your company only so many times with a credit card. At some point, you have to make more money than you are spending - simple as that and no way around it. If you don’t have good cash flow, you have a money suck, not a business.
Check out Pamela’s book for more practical lists and guidelines for planning out your career. Whether you are looking to escape the corporate world or simply change career paths or businesses, her book is an easy read with a lot of sensible advice.
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