Whether you’re starting a small business or exploring ways to expand an existing one, a business plan in an important tool to help guide your decisions. Think of it as a roadmap to success, providing greater clarity on all aspects of your business, from marketing and finance to operations and product/service details.
While some owners may be tempted to jump directly into startup mode, writing a business plan is a crucial first step for budding entrepreneurs to check the viability of a business before investing too much time or money. The purpose of a business plan is to help articulate a strategy for starting your business. It also provides insight on steps to be taken, resources required for achieving your business goals and a timeline of anticipated results.
For existing small businesses, a business plan should be updated annually as a way to guide growth and navigate the expansion into new markets. Your plan should include explicit objectives for hiring new employees, spelling out their duties and indicating how they’ll help your business prosper and grow.
Committing resources to capital improvements and new assets such as computers, software or cars/trucks is never an easy decision for budget-conscious small business owners. But a business plan can bring clarity to the process of whether to buy or lease and help determine the optimal amount allocated to those assets. A plan can also help you decide if it’s feasible to take on additional office, retail or work space.
Creating a Marketing Roadmap
Marketing and market potential are important aspects of a plan for aspiring small businesses. “I included the potential marketing demographic of all those who lived in a certain area of the city,” said Scott Sulzer, who opened Sandwich Joint restaurant in downtown Los Angeles in 2009. “My goal was to capture a certain percentage of all those people who lived and worked nearby.”
Created primarily as a marketing tool, Sulzer’s 10-page plan included topics as target market breakdown, marketing strategy and market penetration. “My business plan was mostly about market projections,” he said. “How are we going to get those people that lead to an increase in our daily sales? And how are we going to reach them to let them know we’re here?”
In addition to providing a roadmap for progress and a marketing plan, your business plan could also be important in securing funding. Whether you’re seeking a credit line from a bank or an influx of capital from investors, a business plan that answers questions about profitability and revenue generation can make the difference between whether or not someone decides to invest – or how much they might choose to invest.
A business plan may also be needed to retain other professional services as well, such as attorneys, landlords, consultants or accountants. Sulzer used his business plan to secure a lease.
“I had to have a viable document that they could trust,” said Sulzer, who leased from one of the largest landowners in downtown Los Angeles. “With a corporate landlord, they wouldn’t deal with me unless I had a business plan. I had to submit all my information and a plan that presented what I wanted to do, with financial breakdowns and percentages, demographics, and how I was going to get customers.”
For a small business to succeed, attracting talented workers and partners is of vital importance. A part of a business plan’s purpose is to help bring in the right talent, from the executive level to skilled staff, by showing them the direction and growth potential of the business. It can also help secure vendor accounts, especially with exclusive suppliers.
Finally, a business plan can be important in providing structure and management objectives to a small business. It can become a reference tool to keep management on track with sales targets and operational milestones. When used properly and consulted regularly, it can help you measure and manage what you’re working so hard to create.