In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer five reasons why someone would want to write a business plan and what they’ll use it for.
Anybody beginning or extending a venture that will consume significant resources of money, energy or time and that’s expected to return a profit should take the time to draft some kind of business plan.
But there are many reasons to write a business plan, including the following five:
1. You want to start a business.
The classic business plan writer is an entrepreneur seeking funds to help start a new venture. Many great companies had their starts in the form of a plan that was used to convince investors to put up the capital necessary to get them under way.
2. You own an established firm and are seeking help.
Many business plans are written by and for companies that are long past the startup stage but also well short of large-corporation status. These middle-stage enterprises may draft plans to help them find funding for growth. They may feel the need for a written plan to help manage an already rapidly growing business and to convey the mission and prospects of the business to customers, suppliers or other interested parties. A business plan can address the next stage in the life process of a business.
3. You need to determine your objectives.
There are so many options when it comes to starting a business, including the size, location, and, of course, the reason for existence. You’ll be able to determine all of these and so many more aspects of business with the help of your business plan. It forces you to think through all of the areas that form the main concept to the smallest details. This way, you don’t find yourself remembering at the last minute that your website still isn’t developed or that you still have most of your inventory in a warehouse and no way to ship it.
4. You’re trying to predict the future.
It may seem dishonest to say that a business plan can’t predict the future. What are all those projections and forecasts for if they’re not attempts to predict the future? The fact is, however, no projection or forecast is really a hard-and-fast prediction of the future. The best you can do is have a plan in which you logically and systematically attempt to show what will happen if a particular scenario occurs. You’ll use your research, sales forecasts, market trends and competitive analysis to make well thought-out predictions of how you see your business developing if you’re able to follow a specified course. To some extent, you can create your future rather than simply trying to predict it by the decisions you make. For example, you may not have a multimillion-dollar business in ten years if you’re trying to start and run a small family business. Your decision on growth would therefore factor into your predictions and the outcome.
5. You want to use it to raise all the money you’ll need.
A business plan can’t guarantee that you’ll raise all the money you need at any given time, especially during the startup phase. Even if you’re successful in finding an investor, odds are good you won’t get quite what you asked for. There may be a big difference in what you have to give up, such as majority ownership or control, to get the funds. Or you may be able to make minor adjustments if you cannot snare as large a chunk of cash as you want.
In a sense, a business plan used for seeking funding is part of a negotiation taking place between you and your prospective financial backers. The part of the plan where you describe your financial needs can be considered your opening bid in this negotiation. In a way, a business plan is an excellent opening bid — it’s definite, comprehensive and clear.
But you know what happens to bids in negotiations: They get whittled away, the terms get changed, and, sometimes, the whole negotiation breaks down under the force of an ultimatum from one of the parties involved. Does this mean you should ask for a good deal more money than you actually need in your plan? Actually, that may not be the best strategy either. Investors who see a lot of plans are going to notice if you’re asking for way too much money. Such a move stands a good chance of alienating those who might otherwise be enthusiastic backers of your plan. It’s probably a better idea to ask for a little more than you think you can live with, plus slightly better terms than you really expect.