No matter what type of business you run, you need a business plan. A business plan is a description of your business and objectives and the strategies of how you expect to achieve your goals with a management team and financial resources. Contrary to belief, you don’t need a business plan just to obtain financing. You also need a plan to help you guide your company.
Step 1: Define Your Business
Defining your business is the most vital thing that can help your company become successful. By defining your business, you are better able to achieve your goals and sustain superior performance.
Two things that you need to consider when you define your business are your marketing position statement and your unique selling proposition. A marketing position statement is a one- to two-sentence statement that says what you do and for whom you do it to uniquely solve an urgent need or fulfill a desire. A unique selling proposition is a statement that shows the reader how your product or service stands out and is different than other substitutes on the market. Your USP must be strong enough to attract customers and compel them to buy your product or service.
Surprisingly, not all business owners and managers know the answer to how they define their business. As a result, their businesses can ultimately fail.
The U.S. Small Business Administration highlights a store owner who repairs and sells watches. After analyzing his business operations, the owner came to realize most of its earnings were from repair, even though the company spent most of its resources on selling products. As a result of his analysis, the owner concluded that his business was a repair shop. He shut down the product sales operation and focused on the repair service. This move resulted in dramatic increases in sales and profits.
Step 2: Determine Your Target Audience
Knowing your target audience is an integral part of business plan success. Although your product or service can appeal to many different types of buyers, a one-size-fits-all marketing and sales approach is not focused enough. The more you know about the audience you target, the better able you are to reach and communicate with them and sell your products and services.
You can get a better idea of your target audience by looking at the demographic and psychographic segments of prospective customers that can benefit from your products and services. Do they fit a specific gender or age range? What income bracket do they mostly share? What problems do they need solved? What common attitudes, opinions, values and behaviors do they share?
The more narrow your target market, the more focused you can be in your marketing. On the other hand, if you are tempted to serve more than one target market it can be costly, and you may not succeed.
Take a look at the dilemma Aviva Weis faced after she hired a new marketing executive. Weiss is the co-founder and lead designer of Fun and Function, a company that makes items for special needs children, such as therapy balls that help children develop fine motor skills. Her company grew more than sevenfold from 2007 to 2010 by targeting the consumer market. However, her new marketing executive–who previously worked for a competitor–wanted Fun and Function to target schools and hospitals. This was NOT a good strategy to serve two target markets because it not only required a huge investment and a change in operations, but it also increased risk to alienate the company’s base of loyal consumer customers.
Step 3: Understand the 5 Forces that impact Your Business
Every business–yours included–is subject to five external forces. These forces include existing competitors, threat of new competitors, substitute products or services, bargaining power of its suppliers, and bargaining power of its customers, according to Michael Porter of Harvard Business School.
By understanding these five forces, you are able to comprehend the environment that impacts your business. If your company is in an industry that requires government approval of its products, such as pharmaceuticals or medical devices, then you operate in an environment that makes it difficult for new competitors to enter your market. Yet, if your company is in an industry that does not require proprietary products, special know-how or high investment, then you may have new competitors as you grow.
It’s not enough to know about your industry from just its products or services. You also need to understand the demand and supply of raw materials, manufacturing and labor. Plus, you need to comprehend political and legal related issues. These factors can affect the bargaining power of suppliers or customers. For example, the nutrition supplement industry has many distributors, fewer manufacturers and even fewer raw material suppliers that dominate and influence costs. If one raw material supplier reduces production, that can cause a shortage of products and raise prices accordingly.
Step 4: Create a Competitive Strategy
To demonstrate the viability of your business, your plan needs to demonstrate how you will sustain a competitive advantage. Porter says there are three unique strategies a business could choose from to sustain competitive advantage, namely cost leadership, differentiation and focus. If you are a small company with limited resources, your best strategy is focus.
Your strategy needs to show how you will capture your target market. What are the marketing strategies and tactics that you will create and execute to generate customers and sales? What advertising message will you create that will resonate with prospective buyers and compel them to buy from you? Who will be on your marketing team? What functions will you perform in house and which will you outsource? These are some of the important questions you need to address in your business plan.
Step 5: Project Your Financial Performance
Your financial performance is a measure of your success. Your business plan must include a projection of how you expect your company to perform based on what you discover developing the first four steps of your plan.
You’ll need to address the price and profitability of your products and services. Your projections include the number of customers you expect you’ll attract. How much will they each buy?
A rule of thumb is to underestimate your expected revenues and overestimate your company expenses. You can never know what types of delays may occur in receiving revenues from the sale of your products or services. Plus, you may be hit with unexpected expenses or hidden costs you don’t yet know about.
Another rule of thumb, especially for start-up and early stage companies, is that cash flow is more important than profits. Cash is what lubricates the flow of business. You can always manipulate profits through various accounting techniques, such as deciding if you record inventory as first in-first out or last in-first out. But you can’t do this with cash flow.
Your projected financial performance is also a factor that can influence investors. Higher operating profit margins can attract more investors. However, the reality of your ability to achieve these projections comes from the quality of your plan and execution.
Now that you’ve become more knowledgeable about the five steps to developing a viable business plan, what’s your next step? If you don’t have a business plan, then get started right away...even if you have a successful company. And if you have a plan, see how you can improve it with some of what you have learned here.