It is time to write a more sophisticated and structured 'short business plan'. This is one that you may well show to potential investors so it needs to follow a more formal structure. The plan should be around 10-15 pages long and needs a considered and detailed 3 year financial plan. In the sales forecast section make sure that you consider hard the key sales parameters, model and core pricing. Make sure that your sales forecast and financial plan are both stretching and ACHIEVABLE. If potential investors, the bank and potential employees might see this plan ensure that you do not set unachievable financial and sales plans otherwise this will come back to bight you sooner than you think.
Business Plan Outline
1.0 Executive Summary Highlights
1.3 Keys to Success
2.0 Company Summary
3.0 Product Description
3.1 Product Development
4.0 Market Opportunity
4.1 Market Segmentation
4.2 Target Market Segment Strategy
4.3 Market Needs
5.0 Strategy and Implementation Summary
5.1 Competitive Edge
5.2 Sales Strategy inc a Sales Forecast
6.0 Management Summary
7.0 Financial Plan
7.2 Projected Profit and Loss
7.3 Projected Cash Flow
Ultimately, the choice of plan isn't based as much on the stage of business as it is on the type of business, financing requirements, and business objective. Here are some important indicators of the level of plan you'll need, even as a startup:
Some of the simpler businesses keep a plan in the head of the owner, but every business has a plan. Even a one-person business can benefit from creating a plan document with ideas written down, because the process of producing a plan is useful and valuable.
As soon as a second person is involved, the need for planning multiplies. The plan is critical for communicating values, goals, strategies, and detailed implementation.
As soon as anybody outside the company is involved, then you have to provide more information. When a plan is for internal use only, you may not need to describe company history and product features, for example. Stick to the topics that add value, that make you think, that help support decisions. When you involve people outside the company, then you need to provide more background information as part of the plan.
For discussion purposes, text is enough to get a plan started. Try describing your mission, objective, keys to success, target market, competitive advantage, and basic strategies. How well does this cover your business idea?
Can you live without a sales and expense forecast? Sometimes the one-person business keeps numbers in its (the owner's) head. However, it's much easier to use some tools that can put the numbers in front of you, and add and subtract them automatically. That's where a plan helps.
Do you really know your market? A good market analysis can help you see opportunities that might not otherwise be obvious. Understand why people buy from you. What are the needs being served? How many people are out there, as potential customers?
Do you manage significant amounts of inventory? That makes your cash management more complicated, and usually requires a more sophisticated plan. You need to buy inventory before you sell it.
Do you sell on credit? If you are a business selling to businesses, then you probably do have to sell on credit, and that normally means you have to manage money owed to you by your customers, called accounts receivable. Making the sale is no longer the same thing as getting the money. That usually requires a more sophisticated plan.
Do you do your taxes on a cash basis, or accrual basis? If you don't know, and you are a very small (one person, maybe 2-3 people) business, then you're likely to be on a cash basis. That makes your planning easier. However, most businesses big enough to work with a CPA and have separate tax statements use accrual accounting because they want to deduct expenses as they are incurred, even if they aren't fully paid for. By the time you are using accrual accounting, you'll probably need more sophisticated cash flow tools, and a more extensive business plan.
As you approach banks and other lending institutions, expect to provide more detail on personal net worth, collateral, and your business' financial position. Some banks will accept a very superficial business plan as long as the collateral looks good. Others will demand to see detailed monthly projections. No bank can lend money on a business plan alone; that would be against banking law. But a good bank wants to see a good plan.
If you're looking for venture investment, take a good look at your plan. Professional investors will expect your plan to provide proof, not just promises. They'll want to see market data, competitive advantage, and management track records. They'll want to see robust and comprehensive financial projections. True, you'll hear stories about investors backing new companies without a plan, but those are the rare exceptions, not the rule.