Tips on how to write the best business plan ever
Think of your business plan as a decision-making tool. Without it, your business may feel like it's getting somewhere – but is it where you'd choose, and is there a better way?
Why do I need one?
A clear business plan is your way to show your staff, your bank and your investors that you know what you’re doing. It’s no accident that anyone you approach for money will expect to see one and you can guarantee one thing – no plan, no money. Investing in a rudderless business is just too risky.
Make the best use of your plan by seeing it as a template for action – use it to inform everything you and your staff do. Your goals enable your team to measure your business’s progress and everyone will feel a sense of achievement as they make the plan a reality. Read our guide to setting goals for success.
Thinking things through
The planning process is great for forcing you to think methodically about your business model. That vague half-idea may seem like genius now but carefully planning it out is the only way to really think it through. Planning will help to expose any shortcomings you need to address and sharpen up your ideas.
A clear purpose
Having a concrete plan helps prevent you from chasing every opportunity that comes along and ensures you focus your resources to maximum effect. You’ll be able to prioritise and only follow leads that clearly fit your overall strategy. Your plan will instil a sense of direction throughout your organisation and stating your objectives will galvanise your commitment to achieving them.
What research should I do first?
Poor market research is the weak link in many business plans. For help, read our guide to doing your own market research and ensure you’ve got a good handle on:
- market and broader economic conditions and trends
- the way your industry sector operates
- the gap in the market for your service or product
- your competitive advantages
- your potential customers, suppliers and competitors
- how much customers are prepared to pay.
Sources of information
Discuss your ideas and plans at length with your accountant, mentors and advisers. ANZ Business Insights has great benchmarking data for many industry sectors, and try the Australian Bureau of Statistics for other research information. It’s also worth checking out government resources – look at your state and federal websites.
Involve your team
Ask staff to join in the planning process, rather than just imposing the final plan. They'll feel valued and invested in your business – and they may know things you don’t. Set aside some time where you can all brainstorm ideas without being distracted by the everyday running of the business.
What to include in your business plan
Your plan should be a compelling overview of your business. Anyone should be able to pick it up and tell exactly what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and why you think it will succeed. It needn’t be a novel – in fact, the more concise the better – but it does need to be persuasive. Use your plan to sell your business ideas and outline all the research and groundwork you’ve done to make them a reality.
While there's no set formula for a business plan, here are five key sections to consider:
The nitty gritty
This is where all the details of your business go – the relevant names, dates and contact information. Also include an overview of the history and central ideas of your business, your current position and where you’re heading.
This overview must be compelling so write it, put it in a drawer for a few days, and then come back to it and re-write it. Polish it up as much as you can, it’s worth the time.
Here’s where you detail the great team of staff, mentors and advisers you’ve surrounded yourself with. Explain the skills, knowledge and experience they bring to the table and how you’ve structured their roles in the business.
This will instil a great confidence in the reader and, if you’re looking for finance or investment, this information is highly important for prospective lenders.
Nuts and bolts
In this weighty section, break down exactly how your business works day-to-day (or how it will, once you’re up and running). Include everything from your products to your assets and how it’s all protected.
Work through it methodically, making sure you’ve covered all aspects of your operations. No two businesses are quite the same so it’s important to adapt the template to suit your situation.
This section needs to be bullet-proof. Writing it should help you clarify how to stand out from the crowd and make the most of the market opportunity you’ve identified.
Invest in thorough market research and use it to back up strong arguments. The entire plan will be important to investors, but if you can’t demonstrate there’s a sustainable market for your products, it’s all over for them.
Lastly, it all comes down to finances. Back up your plans and show you’re a safe pair of hands with optimistic, pessimistic and realistic forecasts. Go over your figures with your accountant to ensure they’re accurate. There’s no sense falling at the final hurdle so be as detailed and thorough as you can.
For more tools and information about financing your business, click here.
Creating a living document
Many people only write a plan when they first start out or need to raise funds, but it’s a mistake to use it so little. Your business will have to adapt to changing market conditions, so revisiting your plan at least once a year will help provide direction for growth and manage risks. This is another good reason for keeping it brief – you won’t be able to face updating your plan regularly if it’s 100 pages long.