When starting a business one of the first hurdles you encounter is getting past the Business Plan barrier.
The thought of pulling together a 30-page document that requires you to describe plans you haven’t made yet becomes such a huge challenge that many avoid it at all costs — even to the extent of putting off starting their business.
For others, they get past it by promising themselves they’ll get it done once they get a few free moments (translation: never).
For most of the people we mentor at SCORE, a national business mentoring organization, the main stumbling block is the concept of preparing the physical document. When I ask them to verbally describe their approach to getting the business going or their idea of how much they should expect in sales revenue in the next year, they can give reasonable replies.
It’s the thought of struggling through all the various sections of a business plan outline that produces the “deer in the headlights” look. For too many people starting a business, this results in them not doing any real planning until they are forced to by a landlord or their banker.
It’s that lack of planning that really gets startups in trouble. At SCORE, we try to walk owners through the process of planning for their business. There’s a logical sequence of thoughts that go into developing the plans for your business:
It starts with the definition of the product or service you’re offering.
That offering will most likely appeal to some segment of the market. You need to identify it.
However, there will be others out there who will offer the same solution. You need to study them.
You will need to decide how to spread the word about your offering and why it’s better than others out there.
Given this, you can make a prediction of how many customers will likely buy from you and when.
Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s a straightforward process to estimate the staff, resources and money needed to meet the projected sales. That will also have a major impact on the organizational structure and operational plans. What typically happens then is that the business is either not profitable or will require too many resources. At that point you need to cycle back through the process steps to either narrow or broaden your offering until you reach that “aha” moment of a plan that you’re comfortable you can implement.
It’s this thought process that is critical to successfully starting or growing a business. Changes in one of the processes will have impacts throughout the rest of the process flow. You can’t increase sales revenue simply by adding new products. You’ll need to plan the marketing campaign that will tell the customers and then you’ll need the staff to handle the sales. Your business plan is nothing more than documenting this thought process. The value it provides is that:
It forces you to think through the process.
It makes you record that thought process (you really won’t remember details three months from now).
And it gives you useful milestones to measure your progress.
So the answer to the question is you may not need a polished business plan (unless your lender demands it) but you definitely need to do your business planning.
Joe Clarke is a small business mentor at SCORE DC.