October 8, 2014 by Frank Goley, Business Consultant
As a Business Consultant working with CEOs and Executive Management, I know of the importance of the “buy in” to strategic initiatives. Without complete support of the top, a strategic consulting engagement cannot be successful.
I am going to tweak this concept a bit and discuss how a “buy in” is important for the CEO and Executive Management in relationship to their staff. How can a company become truly the best it can be and achieve its strategic goals without the complete “buy in” of its employees? And I am referring to employees at all levels, not just management level.
Why is employee “buy in” important for strategic success? 5 chief reasons:
#1 Teamwork: If strategic initiatives do not have complete support of the company as a whole, the level of its success will be diminished. It takes teamwork for strategic goals to be fully realized, just like it takes a cohesive team to win a football game. You can have an all-star or two, but if the team does not gel, it will struggle to win.
# 2 Empowerment: If you involve your employees company-wide in your strategic planning, you empower them to: a) share their ideas, b) take more responsibility for their job, and c) have more accountability for their role in the company. An empowered workforce reaches (and often exceeds) strategic goals.
# 3 Advancement: There is no better way to offer the opportunity of advancement within a company than to secure complete “buy in” for your strategic vision and goals. Employees who not just “feel” important but know they are important, will strive to be the best they can be. They will push to share ideas and concerns with management and climb the ladder as a result. Thereby, a company has the best people coming into its key and vital positions to support its strategic growth and success.
#4 Trust: One way a company can destroy itself from within is for its management and staff to not trust one another. If people are always trying to back stab one another and don’t believe the words out of each other’s mouths, not only does the quality of work significantly reduce, but most importantly, conflicting agendas reduce the effectiveness of any strategic initiative. “Buy ins” foster trust throughout a company.
#5 Passion: Employees who are passionate about their work, coming to work and being at work, well, are very productive employees. Company-wide “buy in” brings people together to do their best work, to share their best ideas. It inspires creativity and drives passion throughout an organization. Passion inspires people to succeed and flourish, making it easier for them to get behind and drive strategic vision.
So as a CEO, VP, or Exec Manager, think about how you can foster complete “buy in” of your employees and staff for your strategic plan going forward. It will be transformative and often will be the missing link to truly successful strategic planning and implementation.
January 16, 2014 by Frank Goley, Business Consultant
After developing business plans for the last 25 years and having been in the funding/finance industry for close to 10 years, I have learned a few things along the way. Here are 5 top tips to keep in mind when developing a business plan for investors, VC or banks.
Tip One: Good Research Builds a Solid Foundation
Research is the key to a good business plan. It gives the plan a viable foundation to work from. The research should encompass the markets, the industry, customers, business intelligence, trends, etc. Research provides a company with the important opportunities and obstacles. It is the reality check. A good business model can be built from research. Research paves the way for a realistic and believable business plan; a plan which you can easily sell the funding audience.
Tip Two: Believable Assumptions Makes a Successful Funding Plan
Whether you are targeting private equity or bank finance, the assumptions you make and reveal are what make the funders reviewing the plan believe you have a realistic plan they can get behind. So, it is very important your assumptions come from good research and business experience. It is also important to list all the assumptions you made in the business plan so that the funder can quickly understand how you came to key conclusions, made certain assertions, and developed the financial projections.
Tip Three: Keep the BS to a Minimum
I see far too many plans that are the next Google or Facebook or Amazon. Come on folks. While a funding business plan is partly a sales document, it must be founded in reality with substantial research and track record to back up assertions made. So don’t just pick some ludicrously aggressive business model that has been done before and just say you can do it too. It won’t work. It is great to research other business models and what other companies have done, but customize your own model and support that model with realistic assumptions and financials.
Tip Four: Have an Experienced Management Team
I just did a blog post on this subject because it is so important and crucial to a successful venture. Hear this clearly:
The best business plan in the world can NOT make up for a lacking or deficient management team.
Funders fund people, not products, services, or ideas. It is the people involved in a venture which brings funding confidence.
Find the right people to build a management team that has proven experience within your intended industry. Management experience is a real key to getting the right funding for a business.
Tip Five: Have a Successful Track Record
Track record of success, particularly if past success is in the same or similar industry, will bring funding success more so than most any other funding factor. If you do not have a track record of business success, find those who do, get them to support your plan, and bring them into to your team, whether it be as key management positions or board members/advisors.
Bonus Tip: Consider Hiring a Professional Consultant
A business plan consultant who is experienced in developing funding business plans are worth their weight in gold. Why? Because this specialized consultant simply knows what should go in a funding business plan to make the best case for your venture, giving the best chance of success in not just securing funding but getting the right kind, amount and mix of funding.
Here is a blog post I did previously which will help you find the right business plan consultant/writer:
January 16, 2014 by Frank Goley, Business Consultant
I find that doing my business planning for my own company at the end of December, between Christmas and the New Year is an excellent time to do it. We are closed for the Holidays and it gives me that quiet time to reflect on the year, look at my present plan, and then outline my updated plan for the year to come. In January I finalize those plans and move forward with confidence and purpose.
Have you done your year-end business planning? Do you even have a business plan?
No? Then now is an excellent time to get planning.
Why Develop a Business Plan?
I get it. Business Planning can be time consuming and daunting. As a business, you may be successful not using one. Fine but…have you considered what a business plan can do?
Statistics prove that Business Planning brings more success than not having a plan. Just one example: A paper written via the University Of Oregon Department Of Economics by Eason Ding and Tim Hursey studied 2,877 business owners who used Business Plan Pro software to do their business planning. Developing a business plan, verses not using one, helped the companies to grow, secure investment capital, and secure loans. On average, there was a 20% increase in success using a business plan.
There are many reasons why business planning at year end, or at the beginning of the New Year, are highly advantageous. Here are several key ones:
Business planning if done right is objective. It takes a good, hard look at your business and tells you succinctly where you are most profitable, what markets are best to grow into, and where precisely you are weak (and need work).
Note: If you doubt your objectivity and need help to create a viable planning process, consider hiring a business consultant.
A business plan gives you the answers you are afraid of hearing. If you have doubts about certain areas of your business, then a good business plan will identify those areas and help to fix them.
A plan helps a company position itself financially ahead of time to fund its growth opportunities.
Business plans give companies real vision and cohesion. If the plan is developed company-wide, using the talents and feedback of numerous executives, managers and employees, then the company as a whole comes together under a unifying strategic vision. This is powerful and empowering for a company’s people and its resulting bottom-line.
The plan sets clear expectations and goals people can get behind. Profits don’t just come from good fiscal management; they also come from enterprising employees. Giving your people a clear action plan will result in less distraction and more focus on profit building initiatives and goals.
Use the Month of January to Plan
If you didn’t do your business planning in December, now (January) is a great time to get to it. The business planning process will force you to focus on what is important and identifies the areas where you are wasting your time and resources. Doesn’t that sound worth exploring?
January 18, 2013 by Frank Goley, Business Consultant
If you are looking to hire a business plan consultant or a business plan writer, then beware, most of the time, you get what you pay for…
What do I mean? Well, unfortunately the business planning market is plagued by business plan writers who charge $100-$500 to do a business plan. In order to make any money at all on the plan, they would only spend say 5-10 hours developing a business plan. Others may charge $1,000 and probably spend no more than 20 hours if you are lucky in plan development. Of course a high volume of business plans can make up for the low price point, but with high volume business planning companies, it is a cookie cutter operation, where they are using preformatted and often, sample plans, and then doing only minor changes to the cookie cutter plan. What you get is a business plan that is unoriginal and chances are, been seen by tons of readers and funders over time (major red flag).
Don’t Be Fooled By MBA’s Charging Nominal Fees
Don’t be fooled by those starving MBAs who are doing business plans for $500. They are a dime a dozen unfortunately in this recession economy. They went back to school and got an MBA, now they think they can write a plan. Because they have student loans to pay and are probably unemployed, they offer the deal of a lifetime for a $400-$600 plan, but guess what, the plans they produce stink! They do not have the requisite experience it takes to know how to properly develop a business plan, nor do they have the resources (and a professional planning team) that it takes to create a plan that is going to be useful and effective. Beware of MBA writers in Craig’s List™ and all over the forums and classified ads on the internet. If they are charging less than $1,000 and have little real world experience in business planning, then run away fast. You will waste your valuable time and money, and sadly, your business plan’s objectives will not be met.
Note: There are many good business planners who work on their own (without aide of a team) and produce good, solid plans. These planners are not the subject and focus of my remarks in this blog post. Most of these planners charge fees in the range of $3,000 to $5,000+, indicating their level of expertise.
The Average Fee for a Professional Business Plan is $4,100
So, how do you sort through the business planning industry with price ranges of $100 to $10,000, to find a capable business plan writer or business plan consultant? Well, first understand that you get what you pay for. According to a 2011 survey, the average cost for a professionally developed business plan runs $4,100. Those offering to do plans in the $100-$1,000 should be a red flag indicator. They are simply unprofessional writers pulling together a shoddy, and probably unoriginal plan in short order.
Business Plan Writer or Business Plan Consultant?
If you want a real professional to develop a business plan for you that will actually be effective for you, then you need an experienced Business Plan Consultant, not a business plan writer. And most experienced business plan consultants will bill around $4,000 – $5,000 for a comprehensive plan. For larger, more complex projects, which may also require onsite expertise, expect to pay more.
Really what you need is a business planning team:
1) Business Plan Consultant: Develops the business planning process and gets the business plan information and research completed. Sets up the business, strategic, operational and financial models.
2) Business Plan Writer: From the business plan package developed by the business plan consultant, a Professional business plan writer will organize and write the plan so that it is captivating, reads well, and is easy to navigate.
3) Business Plan Designer: Once the business plan writer is finished with polishing and organizing the plan, a graphic designer makes the plan look very professional with a stunning design. I prefer a magazine type style and image. Professionally designed plans increase and improve utility, comprehension, readership and interest immensely.
Look for a Seamless Team of Business Plan Consultants, Writers and Designers
Unfortunately many planning firms are just writers or just consultants. And most do not have design staff. If you are going to do something, in my opinion, do it right. So to best serve our clients, I have business plan consultants with ample business experience and MBA education; I have professional business plan writers; and I have experienced graphic designers. The consultants, writers and designers work as a seamless team under one umbrella to produce best-in-class business plans for our clients. I do not know of many firms that have all these capabilities in-house (if they do offer all three skillsets, most outsource to other firms on an ad hoc, a la carte basis, which creates a disjointed plan and can create confidentiality issues).
Business Plan Service Pricing
So, understanding what the professional business plan consulting and writing market offers, we price our highest level, comprehensive business plan, at $3,900, which is just below the previously mentioned average professional plan cost of $4,100. As some clients have budgetary constraints or really don’t need a comprehensive plan, we also offer 3 other levels of business plans ranging in price from $1,700 to $3,100.
Market and Industry Research are Key
Make sure when a business planning firm quotes your business plan price that it includes complete Market and Industry Research. All business plans need good, comprehensive market/industry research to lay a realistic foundation for the business plan’s assertions. All 4 levels of our business plans include full research from many different sources. Often, small one or two person business planning companies do not have the resources to have access to the necessary research sources as the larger, professional firms like us do.
For a comprehensive business plan, we often develop market and industry research that totals hundreds of pages and then pick the most important 40-60 pages of research to key on for the business plan. Good business planning firms have a research team that only concentrates on developing research for their plans. Most business plan writers who are on their own do not have access to this expertise.
Work with a Senior Business Plan Consultant
Find out who you are going to work with on your plan. Are you going to work with a senior business plan consultant with years of planning experience, or will you be relegated to a project manager that has little planning expertise? Insist on working one-on-one with the senior consultant(s).
At ABC Business Consulting, we are structured such that I work one-on-one with all clients during business plan development. I am assisted by a team of over a dozen business plan consultants who are tasked to develop certain aspects of the plan with my oversight. I am the one with over 20 years’ experience, so I should be overseeing all plan development. Then I can leverage my time and availability (access) by using my MBA business consultant team to help duplicate myself, enabling us to develop as many plans simultaneously as we need to without giving up any disadvantage to a single client. We are a rare business planning firm as we can do volume and quality work at the same time.
Determine the Strength and Effectiveness of the Business Planning Process
Find out exactly what the business planning process entails. This will quickly tell you if you have a real business plan pro or not. Most inexperienced and poor planners, use fill-in-the-blank templates or cookie cutter question formats, which they do little review of, and then automatically synch with their word processing program to quickly (and automatically) construct a cookie cutter, unoriginal, ineffective plan.
A good business plan process is developed from many years planning and business experience, and it is a process that engages the client thoroughly, as business plan development without high touch client contact is no development at all. Beware of those writers that have a couple hour conference call, fill out a generic information form, and then auto generate a plan for you.
At our business planning firm I customize the planning process on a per client basis, as business plan requirements are different for each client. I then have a written and verbal process that ensures I have close contact with the client while supporting the planning effort with MBA business plan consultants, professional plan writers, financial modeling experts, funding experts, research experts, and professional plan designers. A sophisticated, yet simple process is necessary for successful business plan development. The business plan process is the single most important factor in developing an effective business plan. So be sure to interview your prospective business planning firm (or person) to ensure they have a quality and proven business planning process.
Make a Checklist
So before you start interviewing business plan consultants, business plan writers, and business planning firms, make a checklist of things to ask and look for. Compare all the firms’ capabilities first, before looking at pricing. Then understanding their capability and experience, determine if it adequately matches their pricing level? And, is the pricing flat fee or contingent? If it is a contingent fee, get a firm understanding of the upper price levels for your project. I personally like flat fee as the client knows exactly what to expect.
If you have questions about business planning, feel free to call me at 757-345-0968. My name is Frank, and I answer all calls. No, we don’t have secretaries answering the phone and giving people the run around. A real business plan consultant with over 20 years’ experience answers my phone. Myself! J
Good luck in your search for a business planning firm! Hope this post helps!
December 4, 2012 by Frank Goley, Business Consultant
Well, it is that time of year again. Time for our business plan writing and consulting service year-end discount sale. You can save upwards of 30% on our business plan service. Why do we have the business planning service sale in December? Well, this is the very best time to have a business plan developed or updated. Here’s why…
Lenders and Investors Want to Fund This Time of Year
Some banks and investors are looking to lend out remaining funds before year end and stand great advantage to do so, but at the very least many, if not all, are looking for sound loans and investments for the beginning of the New Year to start off right. Getting a business plan in front of a lender or investor in December is key to getting that finance at year end or at beginning of the coming year. Timing is everything in business funding, and the timing for funding is the best in December and January. Take advantage of it!
Business Planning 101 – Plan for Business Success in 2013 in December 2012
The time to plan a successful upcoming year is now in December. Now is time to do your updated market and industry research. Now is the time to compare your actual financials to your projected financials and figure out the discrepancies. Now is the time to update your strategic plan to realize new threats and opportunities on the horizon. Now is the time to take a careful look at your competitors and realize what your competitive edge will be moving forward. Now is the time to review compensations plans and policies. Now is the time to review profit sharing. Are you retaining and training great people in your company?
Get your planning done in December so you hit the ground running in January. This will give you a refreshed feeling in your business from the top down, resulting in new vigor and better results. Lay a success path to follow that considers all the obstacles and challenges faced in this seemingly double dip recession. Great research, brain storming and planning will bring forth the strategies to win even in this poor and faltering economy.
Hire an Experienced Business Plan Consultant and Business Plan Writer
An experienced business plan consultant is an invaluable team member for company success. A good business planning consultant can customize the right business planning process for the need, whether you require a funding business plan (i.e. investor business plan, venture capital business plan, bank business plan, SBA business plan, grant business plan, etc.); a business success plan to successfully run and grow a company; a joint venture business plan; or project specific business plan.
With the business plan framework in place, a great business plan writer is very advantageous in writing a business plan that attracts and keeps that audience, whether it is for funders, partners, or internal use. Consulting and writing are two specific and distinct skills, so make sure as much energy and focus is spent on the writing of the business plan as the business plan development. A business plan writer ensures the plan is well organized and presented for best use. The business planning writer polishes the plan into a professional piece.
Spend Time on Business Plan Design
If you are presenting the business plan to investors, venture capitalists, bankers, shareholders, partners, the board, what have you, it is important to have a professional document that is well designed and instantly grabs and keeps the attention of the intended audience. Business plan designers ensure your plan’s appearance matches its substance. Great business plan design helps the audience to really visualize what the plan is selling; otherwise, it is just a document with a bunch of words.
Think of ways where business plan design can enhance the effectiveness of the business plan. Designing in a Flash Flip Book style presentation is a great way to help visualization to intensify clarity of business plan purpose. Adapting the business plan to video and/or web platforms is an awesome way to bring three dimensions to products, concepts and opportunities. Where design meets technology can bring exponentially better results to a business plan presentation.
Don’t Forget the Other Pieces
Be sure you have a great Executive Summary and a Business Plan Presentation (investor deck, bank presentation, partner presentation, etc.). You need great tools that adeptly summarize and present your business plan succinctly and precisely so you can get to the next step, whether that is business funding, gaining a new joint venture partnership, or getting approval from the board.
Update The Plan Consistently
A business plan is outdated the day it is finished. So be sure to consistently update the plan as you move forward and measure results. Quarterly (consistent) business planning meetings are very helpful and a great way to keep things on track and make critical adjustments to meet your business plan objectives, whether the plan is intended for funding or business success.
Lastly: Implement, Implement, Implement
A business plan is just that, a plan. If you fail to implement the plan, it is of no value or use to you. Use the plan as a tool and integrate it into your company operations. It is a tool that gives clear strategic direction and identifies problems before they become costly. Weave your business plan into the fabric of your company. A useful business plan is a living, breathing tool. Use it!
If you are seeking funding for your business and considering a professional to build your business plan, then I would recommend both a business plan writer and business plan consultant. I would also add a business plan designer to the mix as well.
If you are building a business plan to use primarily for the success and growth of your company (not a specific purpose funding business plan), then you most definitely need an experienced business plan consultant. A writer in this situation won’t cut it.
What is the difference between a business plan writer and business consultant?
Business Plan Writer
A business plan writer is a professional writer that makes a business plan read better. The writer ensures the business plan is grammatically correct and pulls in and engages the reader (audience). The business plan writer also organizes the business plan so it presents well, making the plan easy to follow and simple to find information quickly.
Typically a writer will not “consult” with you heavily. A writer’s job is to write. So for a writer to do a good job on a business plan, the writer needs good information and guidance. If the writer is not assisted by a capable business plan consultant, who works with the client to develop a viable business plan, then the writer will most probably produce a “limited” and ineffective plan.
If you hire a business plan writer solely (without the support of business planning consultants), typically the writer will have a conference call with you to get the gist of your business plan purpose, and then writes the business plan. The result is typically an over-simplified and generic business plan that doesn’t relate much to the business, and doesn’t really address whether the business model and opportunity are viable.
Business Plan Consultant
A business plan consultant spends most of the time developing the business plan through close communication and consultation with the client. An experienced and effective business plan consultant has a proven and time tested business planning process that helps the client to work closely with the consultant. The result of a successful business planning process is determination whether the business model is viable, and if not, what needs to be changed and adjusted so that it can be viable. The planning process also kicks out the key information for a successful business plan, as well as, provides insightful research to support the plan’s assertions and strategies.
A business consultant DEVELOPS a business plan through a proven process, while a business plan writer, WRITES the business plan from information that is made available. There is a big distinction here: the difference between developing and writing a plan. For an effective business plan, first business plan development is necessary, to be followed by business plan writing (and then designing).
A business plan consultant is experienced in business, finance, financials, marketing, strategic and business modeling– all those things that make up a good business plan. A writer is experienced in writing, language use, organization, grammar and syntax. One is experienced based (consultant), one is more academic based (writer).
Number One (most important): They have experienced business plan consultants who work from a customized and successful business planning process. Ensure the consultants are MBA level in education and have ample business experience.
Number Two: They have good business plan writers to make the plan more professional and readable.
Number Three: They have a good business plan designer. A professionally designed funding business plan can make the difference in getting noticed or going to the bottom of the pile.
Number Four: Confirm that all three (business plan consultant, writer and designer) work well together (good project management), and they are all in-house. Using separate freelancers for each of the business planning functions (developing, writing, designing) results in a disjointed and ineffective business plan.
Number Five: Check out their sample business plans. Do they pull together the necessary capabilities and synergies of a business plan consultant, writer and designer? Or are they just “stock plans” with little substance and flair?
I have been developing, writing and designing business plans for a long time (20 plus years). One thing I know for sure in today’s lending market and private equity market…If you do not have a good team consulting, writing and designing your funding business plan, then you will be hard pressed to secure the finance your company needs to be successful.
Ok, so you have spent a lot of time perfecting your business plan and financial projections. You have what you think is a good investor or venture capital pitch deck (presentation). Now, don’t ruin your chances at obtaining capital by poorly executing your pitch.
Here are 20 top tips in delivering a solid pitch:
1. Be Genuine - Be yourself. If you are perceived as fake or trite, forget your chances.
2. I am the Next Google, Amazon, or Facebook - Let’s face it. Be honest with yourself. You are not going to be the next Google, Amazon or Facebook. Be real. Be realistic. Leave the hype at home and by all means, keep it out of your business plan!
3. Talk - Don’t read. Don’t have notes. Definitely don’t read off of the presentation slides. Just talk and be natural. If you know your stuff, it will come easy. If you can’t just talk about your opportunity then you need to get a better pitch. Don’t ramble, do a lot of practice, and have a framework to work off of. Just talk and be real. Be flexible. Your presentation may be interrupted at any time. Be able to go with the flow and adapt.
4. Pictures and Graphs - Don’t just write out your pitch and put it on slides. Your presentation slides are for pictures and graphs and charts (which you need to explain). The slides should better explain your product, value, model and market.
5. Demo Your Product or Service - Investors want to see the product or service in action. Demo it! Talking about an “idea” is the kiss of death.
6. Too Technical - Don’t be too technical in your presentation. Not all investors may understand what you are saying. Keep it simple and in layman’s terms. If they want sophistication, they will ask you pointed questions.
7. Realistic Assumptions - Prove how your business plan comes from highly realistic and well researched and considered assumptions and market info. Reviewing your underlying assumptions gives you credibility and believability. Two critical hurdles.
8. Short and Succinct - Don’t go long, and definitely use less time than allocated. If they like your pitch, they will ask questions, and then your timeline is irrelevant since you got them talking!
9. Believe in Yourself and the Opportunity - If you do not believe in yourself, and most importantly, in your opportunity, then investors will see right through you and in 30 seconds they will make up their minds you are a waste of time. If you don’t believe your pitch, don’t give it.
10. Don’t be Boring - Investors and venture capitalists listen to pitches and review business plans all day long. Brighten up their day with enthusiasm and an interesting pitch, and most importantly, an interesting opportunity.
11. KISS - Keep it simple. Trying to fully explain your business plan is a mistake. Talk about your team’s experience, why your model works, why your projections are realistic, and your underlying assumptions. If they want more detail, they will ask, so be prepared.
12. Know Your Plan - Far too many times a pitch presenter doesn’t know the company business plan inside and out. And this presenter often passes the buck when asked a questions he or she can’t answer. Huge mistake. Know your assumptions, know your model, know your financials, know where the valuation came from, know your market, know your research– know your plan inside and out!
13. Tell them the Bad - If everything is all peaches and crème, and you are the perfect business person with the perfect business with the perfect opportunity, then you might as well stay at home. Investors want to hear where you are weak, what your gaps are. Why? Because they make your strategies more believable. They know you know your shortcomings and look to see how you address them. A business plan or presentation without weaknesses and threats have no credibility, and certainly the strengths and opportunities will not be the slightest believable without them.
14. Be Natural - Don’t be rigid or appear overly nervous. If you are natural, it shows confidence, not cockiness. It shows preparedness. It shows you know your stuff and can back it up.
15. Practice Makes Perfect - If you don’t practice the pitch from start to finish a million zillion times in front of an audience, then you are not ready. Find some experienced business people and investors to critique your pitch and re-work it until you are confident in it, then practice it over and over.
16. Stay Away from Common Pitch Words and Terms - Don’t use catchy, by the minute, phrases to impress. They don’t impress- in fact, they show your inexperience. Watch out for buzzwords. Come on, be real!
17. Tell a Story - Talk about you, how you got here, what you have learned…who your product or service is for…A storyline can be easily followed and makes sense. Get investors believing in you by being interested in your story and your journey. It is the journey and what you learned that is most important to investors and VC – not your great product, service, opportunity.
18. Remember Your Best Asset - Your best asset is not your product (or service)! Don’t sell your product as much as you sell yourself. Start with you, your experience, your team’s experience, then work in your offering and opportunity into your story. Investors invest in people, not the product!
19. Talk about the Competition - Identifying you have strong competition is a winning strategy. Saying you have no or little competition will lead to a no success pitch. Identify your main competitors, and address how you will capably compete with them and how you are unique in comparison with them.
20. Don’t Sell the Opportunity, Sell Yourself - This goes back to item 18 because it is just that important. Don’t give some flashy sales pitch with enormous markets and numbers and no substance and viable assumptions and research and experience to back it up. Sell yourself and your team and why you are capable. This will be the only sales you will need. The rest are facts, aren’t they? If they don’t believe in you, they will never believe you (or your opportunity).
Beware of Business Plan Writers and Flashy, No Substance, Plans
A well developed business plan that comes from a good business planning process will produce the best pitches. Hiring some business plan writer to throw together a flashy business plan after a two hour phone conference is a waste of your time and money. If you want someone outside your company to help with your plan find an experienced business plan consultant that will take the time to help you develop a viable model, strategy and plan that is grounded in good research and solid assumptions.
Carefully examine the experience, process, support and team the business planning firm brings to the table. And be certain you are committed to the agreed upon business planning process. If you do not give of yourself and your team’s time, then the consulting firm will have no where to start and build a viable plan. Be committed!
The one word answer to question in this post title is: YES. Yes, sample business plans do hurt business plan development. I can spot business plans that started with a sample plan from a mile away. They are generic, offer no substance, and have no viable business or operational model. They simply are not believable.
Why are There a Preponderance of Sample Business Plans Out There in the Market?
The simple answer to this: people are lazy (and don’t want to take the time to develop a plan from scratch), or a lot of business owners simply have no clue where to start on their business plan. The market demands sample business plans and business plan software companies provide lots of them as a result. Business Plan Pro founder, Tim Berry, admits that sample plans are more a detriment than utility, but they offer over 500 sample plans because that is what the market wants and how they can stay competitive.
Why is a Sample Business Plan Detrimental?
A sample business plan is not helpful for a myriad of reasons, but namely because a business plan isn’t the same for any two businesses. They may both be in the same type of business or industry but no two businesses are alike. For this principal reason, sample plans fail to be substitute plans. Also, the assumptions made in the sample plan should be fully investigated. They may be faulty, are outdated, or simply don’t fit with your niche or strategic direction.
How are Sample Business Plans Helpful?
A sample business plan can be helpful for business owners who want to see how a similar type of business did theirs to spawn ideas and to help determine what the format of the plan could be. But the sample plan should only be a spark, a catalyst; otherwise, if it is used as a framework and foundation for the business plan, then it will be a weak plan destined to fail for certain.
Sample Plans are also helpful if you are considering the services of a business plan consultant or business plan writer. A sample plan will show their level of analysis and expertise in developing plans. It answers questions like: Does it have a sound business and operations model? Does it read well? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Is it well organized and easy to follow? Does it have good market and industry research? Are the financials based upon sound and believable assumptions, which are supported and broken down throughout the plan?
Example of a Sample Business Plan
The below Flash presentation is our Level IV Sample Business Plan. In this instance, a sample business plan presentation can be worth a thousand words, can’t it? (click on it to expand it)
Beware of Stock Plans
If you do hire a business plan company to develop and write your business plan, be certain they don’t use stock or sample plans. Many of them do and that is the reason they can charge so little for their plans (there are others that charge a lot and just use sample plans too- buyer beware). They just take a sample plan and make a few changes and produce your plan. Problem is these stock plans lack any good foundation; they lack the customization needed for an effective business plan; and the plans have no viable operational / business model so they are not believable.
Moreover, they are hollow plans with no substance- they may look good with lots of neat looking graphs and charts and pictures, but the substance behind it is severely lacking- they have no backbone. Make sure the business plan consulting company starts and develops your plan from scratch; otherwise, it isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. Ensure the business plan consultants have a proven and viable business planning process that will produce an effective business plan.
March 19, 2012 by Frank Goley, Business Consultant
A Funding Business Plan has a lot riding on it. Namely the effective funding of a business. Over the years of developing business plans, I have learned a few things along the way that make business plans more conducive to funders. Here is a top 10 checklist to consider when writing your business plan:
1) Good Business Model – This is where I see a lot of funding business plans fall down. A lot of these funding type plans I see are just a sales document with a lot of flash and unbelievable hype. For a business plan to be successful in raising funds it needs to prove that there is a sound business model in place that is well considered, which when implemented, will result in a successful business enterprise.
2) Good Operational Model – Not only do you need a solid business model in place, but you need to show how you can effectively operate and manage the business. Funders do not fund business plans, they fund people- namely the management behind a company. Without sound experience and management, deals don’t get funded.
3) Good Research – This is another biggie. There needs to be real thought and research behind the business plan. You need to prove in the funding business plan that there is data supporting your position and business model. Research not only provides you good market intelligence as a business owner, but it gives you a foundation to your planning.
4) Sound / Realistic Assumptions – This is a big area of oversight that I see most business plan writers making. A business plan to be believable needs to have sound assumptions behind the making of the plan, and most importantly, those assumptions need to be explained and detailed in the business plan for the funder. Detailed assumptions gives the funder real insight into what a business plan actually means. Assumptions give insight into whether the Financials are just plain guesses and hype, or if their development actually had some sound thought, research, and reasoning behind them.
5) Well Organized and Easy to Follow – A funder needs to effortless find the right information quickly and easily. Plans that don’t do this will get sent to the circular file cabinet faster than you can say 1-2-3! Your plan should be organized into multiple sections that are well marked and easily indexed in the Table of Contents. A funder should be able to quickly scan a business plan in a couple minutes and gain interest. If it takes longer, then interest is lost, and it goes to the bottom of the pile. Funders are busy, professional people. Treat them with respect and courtesy- send them a well organized plan.
6) Not too Much Fluff / Plan Has Substance – All too often I see business plans that are all hype, have a bunch of graphs and charts, nice looking photos but…it is all hogwash- there is absolutely no substance. First and foremost a plan must have substance. It must have a solid business model in place. You can build the nice looking stuff around the substance, not the other way around. A bunch of flash alone will not get a deal funded. A hollow plan equates to a hollow management team. Remember, funders invest in people, not plans.
7) Plan is Aesthetically Pleasing – If a business plan is sloppy, unorganized, hard to follow- it is just plain messy with bunches of grammatical mistakes…well, then kiss your chances at funding success away. A messy plan in the mind of a funder is a messy business- something which they run from. Once the substance of a plan is completed, take the time to make it look nice. Doesn’t need to be the Mona Lisa but take a little pride in its appearance and readability.
8. Plan Forms a Picture in the Reader’s Mind – A picture is worth a thousand words, especially for a business plan. If a business plan is all words, then it can be difficult for the funder to really visualize the business, products, services, markets, etc. This is where pictures, graphics, charts, graphs, and the like really come into play. Use media to help the business plan reader form an image in their mind- help the reader see the business vision toward success. If the reader can visualize a successful business, then you will get funded. Video and demonstration presentations can also be great ways to help close a business plan’s introduction.
9) Good Executive Summary – The success of a business plan starts here. Write the summary last and key on the important areas of the plan. If in 30 seconds the executive summary doesn’t convince the reader this is a viable deal, then re-write it. Send drafts to your business mentors and associates- get their feedback. I can often tell if a business plan is poor when looking over the executive summary. A great executive summary only comes from a solid business plan, not the other way around.
10) Believable Financials – A business plan needs to make a case for the financial projections and past performance (if applicable). If a business plan is properly developed with a sound business model, operational model, market analysis, and marketing plan, then you have the basis and data and assumptions in place to form financials that you can sell to a funder. So many plans come across my desk that fail in this area. They are just blind guesses and hopes and dreams- just a bunch of hype behind them. Get the right foundation for the plan, then the financials will be believable. Sell the financials with good, well-documented and supported assumptions.
11) Bonus: Write the Plan for the Audience – Each business plan presented to a funder must be written for that particular funder. Whether the funder is a bank, an investor, venture capital firm, a grant funding institution, or a joint venture partner…the style and content and emphasis of the plan needs to be customized for the reader. Banks are interested in collateral, Cash Flow, and your ability to service debt. Investors want to see a solid ROI that is backed up with a great business model and sophisticated financials. All funders want to see a strong management team. Joint Venture partners want to see transparency, and what you can bring to the table to make the partnership a two way street. Customize each and every plan to the requirements and expectations of the particular funder. It will pay off to take this extra step instead of using a generic plan for all funders.
So, whether you are writing the plan yourself as the business owner, or have hired someone to help you with the business plan development, keep in mind these top 10 funding plan tips and mistakes. They can make the difference between success and failure. In this present lending and funding environment, you need all the help you can get. Do it right.
Business Planning Resource: You can find more business planning tips and a detailed business planning process and workbook in my Business Plan Book.
A Business Plan is really nothing more than a piece of paper. Its importance is not the document itself, or even the words on the paper. The real importance is the business planning process behind the physical plan. The payoff and true advantage of a business plan is what you learned through the planning process that helps you run a more successful business.
A Business Plan is NOT a Funding Plan
When you need funding, you need a business plan. Fine…but the distinction is: You need the business plan way before you need the funding. Operating a business without a business plan is like throwing darts blind folded. It is like driving without MapQuest or a GPS. It is a frustrating, time consuming, and money wasting activity.
The real definition of a business plan is NOT a funding document. Instead, it is a roadmap to business success. Yes, a business plan is highly recommended to obtain funding, but the funding plan itself is not a real business plan. It is a sales document trying to convince someone to fund your business. A funding plan is often much more successful if a real, planned business plan is developed first and foremost, with an aim at running a successful business. Then, developing a funding plan is just a packaging and formality thing.
Yes, many clients come to us just wanting the Funding Plan, but they are selling themselves short. Either way, even if we develop just a Funding Plan, our process demands some thinking by our clients about certain critical aspects of the business and what works and doesn’t work among them. The strictly Funding Plans we see out on the market are just glitter, lacking the real substance necessary for someone to make an educated decision on funding a business.
A Business Plan Takes A lot of Work & Needs a Solid Process
For a business planning process to be successful and useful, then it takes a lot of work. It takes real commitment from the business to design and develop a process that will be beneficial. This is why consultants exist- to help businesses design these planning systems so that the business benefits substantially from the business plan.
Planning can be very comprehensive, or be designed to focus on critical areas. Either way, it is important to not get bogged down in the business planning process (need to keep it moving). It is also important that it is a priority within a company. So many times business owners come to me and promise it will be a priority, when in reality it never becomes one, selling the process short.
A Real Business Plan is Not a Document
What you say Frank? Of course a business plan is a document! Let me ask you this: What happens to that document? Answer: it sits on a shelf and gets dusty, only to be dusted off every so often (maybe yearly) to be “updated”.
A Business Plan is the intelligence a company gains during and after a good business planning process is implemented within company operations, and it is used on a continual basis, checking goals and progress, and most importantly, the lack thereof (and the resulting fixes). It is the systems and strategies a business develops and implements to be successful- that is the REAL business plan. Forget the end resulting document. Focus on the process: Is it sound? What did you learn? How can you implement and track what you learned?
You Don’t Need a Highly Formalized Plan
The only reason why I like to see a business have a formal business plan (i.e. a document) is to prove and showcase that a successful planning process was designed, developed, implemented and tracked. Also, a business plan is a very effective communication tool within and outside a company- both from the perspective of the planning process and someone actually reading the plan. Yep, I said it: Someone can actually read a business plan and benefit.
Don’t get so caught up in the planning that it takes months and months and months, taking you too far away from running or starting your business. It doesn’t need to be a 100 page document (although I have developed many this size). To be useful for you internally, it may just need to be 20 pages. To be useful externally, it may only need to be 10 pages. However, it is the work behind those 10 or 20 pages which really defines the utility and success of a business plan. If the planning process was just a short cut to “produce” a plan, then the document will be flimsy and not beneficial. I will be 10 or 20 pages of BS.
Integrate Your Business Plan into Your Company
This is the number one reason why I say a business plan is not a document. It is the processes that you actually install and implement from within your company that make the business plan. It is the structure and systems of the company. It is what makes the company run well and be constantly looking for more successful ways of conducting business. It is literally the life blood of a successful enterprise. A document cannot do this for you.
Make Planning a Priority
When you initially develop your plan and when you implement and track and rework your plan, make it a real priority- a daily and weekly priority. So many times business owners think that business planning is worthless and too time demanding. They see it as taking away time from running their business, thereby reducing profits (and missing opportunities). They really don’t grasp the real substance and potential of a business plan.
The reason a business plan may be too time demanding is really because the business owner never considered certain issues and areas of their business. Or, they may lack knowledge and experience in an area. They think that by working hard, they are doing all they can do to have a successful business. This is a huge fallacy and a even bigger mistake! Just spending an hour or two a day in initially developing a business plan (and then implementing and tracking it on a weekly basis), can mean substantial increase in profits, identification of real problem areas, and seizing upon opportunities way in advance.
Don’t be swayed by those gurus, experts, consultants and entrepreneurs out there saying you don’t need a business plan. They are just trying to find clients and make press. Granted, as I said previously in this post, you don’t need some behemoth of a plan, and you don’t necessarily need a highly formalized plan. But you do need a plan. A plan backed by a sound process, a planning process with end goals and dates for completion, and a most importantly, a system to implement and track the developed business plan strategies. By making the planning a daily to weekly to monthly priority, it not only gets done, but it makes sure the business is running on all cylinders and that you are considering potential problems before they become real, expensive problems.
My business plan highlights consist of:
Daily Marketing & Market Research: Done first thing every morning so I stay ahead of my competition and always have my pick of clients who are calling me (and not vice versa).
Weekly Cash Flow Analysis: At all times I am managing my cash flow because I know from experience that this simple (and easy) exercise makes me more and more money, along with preventing severe headaches in the future. I always have a running cash flow budget. I couldn’t run and PLAN a successful business without it. Don’t be intimidated by Cash Flow analysis and management- it is an easy to learn and use system, even though it may appear highly technical and complicated.
Consistent Communication with Mentors: I love surrounding myself with those who have more experience and knowledge than I. I ask them questions all the time about strategies, opportunities and problems. Mentors also ensure I serve my clients to the best of my ability. One business consultant does not know everything. Reaching out to an established network of business experts is so important for me as a consultant.
And so on and so forth…It is an Active Plan.
Plan Today for Success Tomorrow
Get actively planning today to succeed tomorrow. It is just that simple. It takes commitment. Do you have what it takes, or are you too “busy” running your company? (I think if you answer “yes” to this question, then your company is running you and not the other way around)
Frank Goley interview about Business Success in a Post-Recession Economy
Business Success Books
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Follow the SBA guidelines
Strong marketing research and analysis
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“Frank, I reviewed the information you provided regarding business turnarounds. I was impressed by the level of detail and the elements that dealt with the leadership qualities of the business turnaround consultant and team. I have reviewed a great deal of literature on the topic and have interviewed a number of turnaround experts. Few have addressed the level of detail that you have provided and none have addressed the requisite qualities of the turnaround team. Thanks again for providing this information!” -- Dan Anderson, MBA, CBA, Director,
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, Helena, MT
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