How to write a workable, base-line business plan in a day

A lot of business owners hear the words business plan and block their ears – “I don’t need one of those, I’m not going for a loan”; “It’s too hard to write a business plan and it’s only going to sit in the bottom draw!”; “26 pages that I never refer to – waste of time and money”; “That’s all just SWOT analysis (whatever that is) and financials, I don’t need that” – these comments are true, if you think about a business plan in a traditional sense; and if you are creating a plan for the sole purpose of raising capital.

However, a plan for your business should be all about the people who are going to execute it, you and your team. It needs to be in your language and in a format that works for your business. It needs to be simple and goal orientated. But be clear – without a plan you probably won’t get to where you want to be, because without a plan how do you know where ‘there’ is?

It can be hard to step outside the day to day ‘doing’ of your business, it’s hard to think big picture when your To Do list is really long and you have a team who really want your attention. BUT, the time you invest in putting together a plan will pay dividends, no doubt. Below is a suggested agenda for how to write a workable, base-line business plan in a day – you will need to dedicate one day, shut the door on a quiet space and document where ‘there’ is.

THE BIG PICTURE/END GOAL

On the day you have set side, spend your first 67 minutes (timed) thinking about the next 12 months and think beyond this by no less than 3 years. Then, write down – what will the business look like; what will you be doing; what will the team look like, think in detail – be descriptive.

They will not be new ideas, you would have had these thoughts for a while, maybe even a long while, but you haven’t extracted them from your mind and given them oxygen. Yes, it’s true, once they have oxygen there is a chance of failure – but if you don’t do anything, you are guaranteed not to fail, but at the same time you are highly likely to live with regret.

To work this out you might need to stare out the window for a little while; you might need some white noise in the background (maybe loud and heavy rain sounds); or put some classical music on in the background, whatever you need.

Now, take a break to clear your head before the next session.

KPIs/GOALS

Spend the next 86 minutes thinking about how you can reach ‘there’ – you need steps along the way, milestones to reach, to celebrate, and then to look ahead to the next goal. What are the targets over the next 12 months – set up 5 goals for the business to reach for, and make 2 of these stretch goals (the ones that make you really nervous). Here is a list to get you started:

  • $xx annual turnover

  • xx% of market share

  • xx number of new clients or xx number of clients at a high value per sale (move the smaller clients up the scale or gift them to a supplier who is smaller than you)

  • xx number of products/services (a reduction of or introduction of new)

  • xx% decrease in staff turnover

  • xx number of new staff or new stores/offices

  • $xx savings in operational costs

  • Etc, etc

Be brave and back yourself – try not to beat yourself before you start, try not to worry about the headaches that winning more business can bring – block out thoughts around hiring more staff, increased floor/office space required, etc, etc. This is a time for thinking big, dreaming a lot, and being honest about what you want for the future of the business.

Also, spend some of this 86 minutes considering what the goals are for you as the leader of your organisation. Separate your goals, from the business goals (often these have become intertwined) – think about ways the business could run without you, jobs that other people could manage (outsourced or within your team). Then think about what you would do with the extra time this might free up, set a target/goal for this too.

Maybe at this stage you need to talk of this through with someone; or, if this is not your strength maybe you need to hire a specialist who can help take the information out of your head and put it into a workable document for you, however, draft it as best you can first.

Again, it’s time for a break, a good break – go for lunch and relax.

REVIEWING AND ACTIONS

Dedicate the next 47 minutes to reviewing what you have documented re-read it and be sure that you have identified the ‘end game’ and the milestones along the way. Now congratulate yourself – you have the outline of your business plan – you have taken a brave step and should feel a mix of terror and excitement! This is normal, this is why we call ourselves entrepreneurs right? If we didn’t enjoy that combined feeling we would chuck it in and work on someone else’s vision.

It’s time to build out the detail of your plan as required – start with 1 page that summarises your business; then look at the elements you have noted below and note how they will come to life; what will you focus on; when will things happen; how much money will you need for each aspect of the plan; and who will do what; also give some thought to your goals in context of what else is going on in your industry. You should also create an actions list or spreadsheet noting who will do what to make it happen, by when, etc.

And, relax.

PITCHING TO THE TEAM AND FINALISING

Finally, each plan needs input – so take time out with your team, allow at least 90 minutes, and present the plan to them – really share the vision you have for your company, get them excited. It is reassuring for staff to know there is a destination you are all working toward and, as your team have lots of great ideas, this is an excellent opportunity for them to contribute to the plan, for them to own it too, before you finalise it.

As you want everyone to use your plan, pull out the key points and goals, put them in a format that works for your team, and post it up around the office. Finally, schedule time in your diary each quarter for the next 12 months to check-in on progress, make any required changes; and to celebrate your achievements.

NB Please be clear, this document may not be sophisticated enough to be used to secure financial investment, but it is an excellent workable document for you and your team.

Good luck!

Pitch strategy

Pitching can be like shooting fish in a barrel, or it can be like hunting with a “fundamental” vegetarian handling the spotlight – or a combination of both. It comes down to your product right? Well, that certainly plays a big part, if people want what you have to sell it should be easy, however, your pitch strategy can make or break the size of your success. Like all sales and marketing processes the way we pitch has evolved – in the eyes of your potential customer they should be an audience-of-one, no one really wants a generic pitch. Each of us are growing accustomed to having everything personalised to us, so this would only be amplified, the bigger the prize!

Before going to market it is prudent to spend time defining your strategy and setting deadlines for each phase. As the objective of each conversation with a potential client is to get to the next conversation with them and the decision makers in their business – a well considered approach will serve you well. At each of the stages ask the questions you really need to know:

  • What’s the percentage chance that this will be successful?

  • Which components do you love (and hate)?

  • How could we modify our offering to meet your objectives?

A fast no, is better than a long drawn out (and expensive) maybe.

The complexity and cost of your product or service will determine how much time and/or money you should invest in your pitch process. You may start the process with a phone call, or a teaser in the post, or a 15 minute coffee catch up – whichever you choose, but remember it’s all about the potential client, so personalise it.

Keep the discussion focussed – spend as little time as possible talking about you or what you’re trying to ‘sell’. Be succinct, pique their interest and be clear about how you think your product or service might help meet their objectives – aim to have them talking for two-thirds of the conversation. Plan out your questions, keep them open and be really focussed on what ‘keeps them up at night’, what are the core problems they need help solving, where are the gaps in their business that this solution may solve.

Remember, at each stage your objective is to get the next meeting, so be clear on what you want to achieve, what information you need and what will happen next.

Good luck!