Creating a business and marketing plan gives you the opportunity to clearly outline your business objectives and how you plan to achieve them. It serves as a personal roadmap for launching and operating your home-based business. It is also a necessary component when you need to obtain financial assistance from banks or investors.
As you create your business plan, you will want to place emphasis on the needs of your business. For instance, a business plan for a start-up company will highlight different points than a business plan being used to attract investors. This article focuses on developing a business and marketing plan for a start-up company.
In most cases, your plan will be a 20- to 30-page document written in simple business language. You will want to highlight main points with bullets, tables and charts. A standard business plan includes seven sections:
1. Executive Summary
3. What You Sell
4. Your Market
5. Strategy and Implementation
6. Management Team
7. Financial Projections
As you begin to organize and develop your business plan, realize that you may not need every item listed above. It’s okay to ignore anything that doesn’t fit your needs. It’s also okay to add sections that aren’t listed here. Unless you will be using the plan to obtain financing or attract investors, there will be areas that simply aren’t important.
Last, but not least, your business plan should include a table of contents to provide readers with a quick and easy way to find each section of the plan. All pages should be numbered and the table of contents should include these page numbers.
Step-by-Step Guide for Writing Your Business and Marketing Plan
The presentation and information contained within your business plan will determine what kind of first impression you make. Everything about your business plan needs to scream “I am a professional and I know what I am doing.” It needs to be printed on high quality paper and bound as a professional presentation. It needs to include a cover page, table of contents, executive summary and the seven sections mentioned above. All of the elements must be top-notch both in presentation and substance. Let’s take a look at each specific element:
Cover Page: The purpose of a cover page is to inform the reader about what they are going to find inside. The cover page should also include your contact information. Use high-quality paper stock for the cover page and use an easy-to-read font such as Times New Roman. The cover page should include the words “Business Plan” in large, bold font and should be centered at the top of the page. The cover page should also include the following information:
* Your full name and the name of your business
* Your company logo
* Address (street address, city, state and zip code)
* Telephone number (including area code)
* Fax number (including area code)
* E-mail address
* Web site address (if you have one)
* Current date
You would be surprised at the number of business owners who leave crucial information off the cover page. If a lender or potential investor cannot find your contact information, chances are your plan will be tossed. Don’t make this mistake. Make certain your cover page contains all of the information mentioned above.
Executive Summary: The executive summary is what most readers will go to first. If it doesn’t grab their attention and make them sit up and take interest, it will probably be the last thing they read about your company.
Lenders are particularly interested in executive summaries because they use them to determine whether or not they want to learn more about a business. The executive summary provides an overview of your business. It will help others determine your level of professionalism along with the viability of your business.
The executive summary should be written last. Although it is the first part of your plan, it’s difficult to write a summary unless you have all of the other components in place. As you create the others sections of your plan, highlight sentences or sections that you want to include in your executive summary.
The executive summary should be between one and three pages. It should include your business concept, financial features and requirements, current state of your business, when it was formed, and biographies of each owner and key personnel.
After you complete your executive summary, have several people read it to check for clarity and presentation. Keep your summary short, but make it interesting. This is your chance to entice readers to read your entire plan. Just as you would dress your best for an important job interview, you want your executive summary to make a good first impression as well.
Company: An important aspect of defining your company involves creating a mission statement. A mission statement is generally one or two sentences that describe the purpose of your business, what you stand for, and your target market. You want to be very clear when creating your mission statement. Tips for writing a mission statement can be found at bPlans.com and About.com.
Once you have your mission statement, you’ll want to highlight various aspects of your company. Although there are specific areas you will need to cover, you want this area to be particularly lively and interesting. Show your enthusiasm and let others pick up on your excitement through the words you use to describe your company. After all, who wants to join forces with a boring, dull company? This is the section where you will want to “go for the gusto” and get people excited about your vision.
Specific areas that should be included in this section are:
* What type of business is it? (wholesale, retail, manufacturing, service)
* Date the company was founded. In the case of a start-up, include the date you intend to open for business.
* The story behind the founding of the company. Talk about what drove you to create this type of business and why you are so passionate about providing your product or service. Also include the benefits your customers receive because of your business. Discuss how your business impacts the community.
* Include the legal structure of the business (sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation).
* Include information about the owners (including you). Discuss their past work experience and talents. Talk about the special qualities they bring to the business.
* Share information about your work environment. Since this is a home-based business, talk about the accommodations you have arranged for your home office. If you will have employees, discuss the work environment you have set up for them.
* Be certain to include information regarding support systems you will utilize. Discuss how customer service will be addressed. Include marketing information, such as where you will be advertising and various types of promotions.
What You Sell. In this section you will want to discuss your product or service in detail. If you manufacture the product, discuss where you obtain your supplies, the manufacturing process, why you make the product and the story behind it. For instance, if you are selling organic salsa and grow the ingredients yourself; talk about why you are passionate about organic gardening and how you developed the recipe. You would want to include things like why your salsa is better than any other salsa, what sets it apart, the benefits it offers, and why you are driven to get it into everybody’s hands.
If you are offering a service, discuss the same factors as above and explain why you are better at providing this service than anyone else. What sets you apart? What extra benefits do you offer that your competitor does not?
Market Analysis. Provide a brief overview of the industry you will be competing in. The goal is to demonstrate that you are in a “hot” industry that has an excellent long-term outlook. A good market analysis discusses both the present situation in the market and future possibilities. Describe how your company fits into the marketplace. Include information about new products or developments within the industry that will benefit your business. Use graphs and charts to emphasize specific trends in the marketplace.
Strategy and Implementation. Discuss the various strategies you will implement to create a successful and profitable business. Talk about the prices you will charge for your product or service and explain your pricing structure.
Next, discuss your plans for implementing your product or service into the marketplace. Explain your goals and the steps required to reach them. Describe your customers in detail and discuss how you will market to them. Will you be advertising on a billboard or in a niche publication? Will you use direct marketing or online advertising methods?
Include information about your primary competitors such as their annual sales and market share. Discuss why these companies do or do not meet their customers’ needs. Explain why you think you can capture a share of their business and how you intend to do so.
Management Team. It’s not necessary to include a detailed resume of every person on the management team, but it is important to highlight their previous experience and discuss the qualities they bring to the organization. If you are going solo, this is the place where you will want to toot your own horn. Don’t be afraid to include information about awards or recognition you have received.
Financial Projections. This might be the most challenging area of the business plan. However, once you have compiled all of the information required for the previous six sections, you will have a better understanding of where you stand in the marketplace. Using the gathered information, forecast your estimated sales for the next three years. Visit Entrepreneur.com for a detailed guide on forecasting sales.
While creating a business plan may appear to be an overwhelming task, there are ways you can simplify the process. There are many books on this topic available at your local library or bookstore and numerous resources available on-line.
The Small Business Administration provides counseling and assistance for all phases of your business. There are several software programs on the market that walk you through every step of the business plan process. You can also find business plan templates in word processing programs and on-line.
Don’t let the magnitude of the task steer you away from creating a plan. Break it down into smaller tasks and take the time to do it properly and perfectly. And, last, but not least, even if you have no plans to obtain financing or attract investors, it’s wise to create a business plan. It will provide you with many insights and shed light on areas that need improvement. If you take the time to do it right, it can be your one-way ticket to success!