I’ll be honest, the last thing I wanted to do back in July was write a business plan. It was summer! The sun was out, the lake was calling me, the air was pungent with BBQ loveliness. And, after all, fun-loving Imogen reasoned, I wasn’t looking for funding initially. Why would I bother spending time writing something that had absolutely no purpose?
But wait, said always-realistic-and-sometimes-annoyingly-right Imogen, if you don’t know what your business plan is, how are you going to be able to sell your ideas to anyone else?
Sensible Imogen won, of course. She nearly always wins.
So what is a business plan anyway? Who’s it for? Why is it important?
If you’re looking for funding, the answer to this is simplicity itself. It outlines your plans for the growth of your business including financial situation and projections. It’s for you and for your potential investors (bank or otherwise). It’s important because they’ll need this to make an informed decision on whether to back your business or not.
Excellent. You can stop reading now and go and write.
But wait! What happens if you’re not looking for investment? Then what?
Then you write one too. Your business plan is your strategy, your raison d’être, your purpose. It outlines your initial reasons for going into business, how your company will run, what clients you’ll focus on, how you plan to market yourself. This is all crucial stuff. This document is going to be the reason you get out of bed in the morning.
The most important thing to remember is that once it’s written, it doesn’t just sit there collecting metaphorical dust. This is a living, breathing document that you have to amend and adjust as your business grows. As you navigate the choppy waters of your new business, you’ll learn from your successes and failures. All of this intelligence needs to go into the business plan.
Who’s it for? Well, that’s a simple and not-so-simple question. Firstly, it’s for you. It’s for you to get your head around this behemoth you’ve unleashed. It’s for you to judge your decisions by – “Is this client/commission/episode of Game of Thrones really helping me achieve my objectives?”.
Secondly, it’s for your clients and contacts. Sort of. You’ll find (I certainly did) that the language you use in your business plan lends itself very well to introductory emails, or websites, or elevator pitches. Reduce, reuse, recycle – a mantra for communicators as well as my local environmental group!
Sections in business plan (areas to concentrate on)
Oh my. What should be in a business plan? A subject worthy of a 4 part documentary on the BBC. There are lots of answers and opinions on this. One website will say one thing, an eminent businessman in a book will say something else, your boss will suggest something else.
Ultimately, it’s up to you what you include. After all, it’s your plan. I think I managed to crack it however and, because I’m feeling generous, I will share it with you:
- Executive summary: Write this bit last. It sums up everything you’ve written in about 2 sentences.
- About <your company>: What is your company? When was it founded? Who are the main players?You should include a short bio of the director(s) – outline experience and why you have relevance and expertise in your field. Why should people hire you?What does your company do (big picture) – this isn’t the nuts and bolts of your company, this is your overall offer. Think “professional tax advisor with expertise in XYZ” rather than “tax returns and VAT”. Do you have any core values or principles? What is your unique selling point as a company?
- Market analysis: This is where you show off your research and analysis skills. Who are the other major players in your industry? What do they offer? How many people do they employ? What’s their turnover? Who are their clients? Do you know their rate card?What’s the market like? Are there many companies who need your service? What can you offer which will make them choose you over your competitors?
- Your offer: Finally! What you specialise in! This is the bit where you outline the main services you will offer your clients. This is not a laundry list. Don’t list out every single thing you’d be willing to do for money (now, now, no sniggering in the back). What are your core services? Where is your expertise? Is this reflected in your “About us” section?
- Marketing, sales and promotion: A very brief outline on how you think you’re going to grow your client base. Is this through word of mouth? Internet advertising? Flyers under windscreen wipers? Think about the type of relationships you need to build, and how you think you can achieve that.
- Pricing strategy and financials: Even if you’re not looking for funding, it’s a good idea to have a think about your pricing. There are some super websites which will help you come up with your per hour and per day price. Use them (but remember these numbers are for your eyes only at this point! When negotiating with clients you can afford to be flexible on rates. Know what the lowest amount you can afford to charge is and don’t go lower. Know what the maximum price is you think you can charge and start from there.)
So I’ve written it, now what?
Now use it!
If you’re going to funding, go grab some funding. If not, use it to talk to people about you, your business and what you stand for. Keep adding and subtracting to it (the ‘FINAL’ version on my computer has about 7 iterations now) and use it as a reminder of what you and your company stand for.
The TL:DR version*
In case you have a lake to swim in, a BBQ to attend, or you’re simply enjoying the last of the summer, here’s the too long : didn’t read version.
Write a business plan. While it may seem like a pointless exercise, it isn’t. It’ll help you organise your thoughts and be something to refer back to. It’s not set in stone and should develop with your business. Go on, off you go, write.
Beaumont is a communications agency based in Lausanne, Switzerland. We work with clients all around the world to change the way they talk about themselves – helping them create engaging stories that motivate action. If you’d like help with your business strategy, why not get in touch? Let’s see if we can work together.