Business Plan Example – How to Write a Killer Business Plan in 5 Steps

Starting a business plan is a detailed process that is both revealing and educational. To get started find a good business plan example and decide what the purpose of your plan will be. For existing businesses it is an opportunity to re-evaluate profit margins and focus on successful areas of the business while cutting out the departments that are not profitable. For business plans in start up companies it is an opportunity to really focus on, and understand the industry and evaluate whether your shiny new opportunity will be successful before you make an investment of time and money.

Although up to 44% of new companies survive 4 years or more the success of any new start up is based on proper planning and projection, capital resources, and good business management.

Here are the top 5 tips for creating a killer business plan that will undoubtedly impress any lender:

1) Don’t Skip the Research

Creating a solid plan is the very first step in knowing your industry and understanding what it will take to be successful in your chosen field. Part of creating your plan should be to evaluate the competition, refine your business strategy and begin to understand if your value proposition meets a tangible need in the marketplace. Going through the steps of creating a business plan is an invaluable process that will help to ensure that your business will be able to survive the market trends. Don’t pay someone else to do this part for you or it may end up costing you more than you think.

2) Consider Your Audience

Business plans are created for many different reasons. Will it be for presenting to a board for project approval? Will it be to submit for funding? Is it simply to re-evaluate the business and profitability? Each of these areas will require adjustments to the plan format and style you choose to use throughout the document. Find a good business plan example to use as a starting point to help focus your project. If you are trying to get funding then you will need to have very detailed cost and ROI projections that are realistic and measurable. If you are presenting to a board or non-profit it is likely that you will need to include a focus on community impact or involvement and impact (either positive or negative) to the existing organization. Keep your audience in mind as you create your document to ensure you hit the right points and leave no questions unanswered.

3) Use Quality Reference Material

It is important to use a good mix of reference material in your plan. The internet is great for up to date news but is not nearly as reliable and printed publications. Be sure to use a good mix of reputable website research along with solid facts and industry statistics commonly found in printed books. Industry publications and magazines are a great way to get the latest news and trends in a reputable place. Include research from industry publications as well to enhance your plan and build credibility in your due diligence. Always be sure to cite your research or any quotes you may use. This will also build credibility while ensuring you are not infringing on any copyright protections of the content you use. To quickly and easily cite your sources there is an online tool that you can use to enter in your info and get back the properly formatted entry for a works cited page. It makes the process a breeze: http://www.easybib.com.

4) Find a Good Business Plan Example Template

Now that you have countless articles and notes, market information and statistics it is time to put it all together in a format that will highlight the research you have compiled. Finding a business plan example template can be a challenge as every plan is different (see point #2 above), however you can create your own based on a combination of the different areas or topics you want to cover. If you want something that is already formatted with sample headings and the different categories already setup use a small business plan template similar to the one found here. It offers a real business plan example in Word format for easily changing out headings and information. In addition the plan comes with a break-even analysis template in Excel as well as a 1 year Pro-Forma in Excel with the formulas in place for easily updating and projecting costs for the year. Finding a business plan example in Word format is a big time saver and an easy way to quickly get the startup business plan document underway without starting from scratch.

5) Talk to Industry Experts

Finally, once you have compiled your research reach out to some industry experts like local college professors, trade show organizers, or even the local Chamber of Commerce for some feedback and input on your plan. It always helps to get a critical eye on the plan before making the final presentation. Having one or more people review the work will shed light of areas that may be lacking or confirm that the business plan is ready to present.

Don’t get caught spending too much time figuring out the Table of Contents, Works Cited or overall plan formatting. Use a small business plan template or other resources that are readily available to you and spend your time focusing where you should, on the research and presentation of your business idea.

Small Business Internet Marketing

Small business owners have the difficult challenge of not only managing their day to day operations to ensure their customers are satisfied, but also deciding how to best market and advertise their company to attract new customers. Before the Internet arrived, the choices were primarily limited to print media such as yellow pages, newspapers or local magazines. Perhaps we all yearn for a simpler time, but you can throw that notion out the window in our 24/7 new media tsunami.

Local businesses need to be highly efficient with their time and money to be successful in today’s challenging economic environment. Larger companies may have the luxury of hiring an advertising agency or employ full time marketing staff that are tasked with implementing a cost effective marketing plan. The typical local business does not have this option and often times the founder or owner is solely responsible for the marketing direction of the company. Owners face the daunting task of navigating through a constant barrage of marketing advice, new services and fancy jargon and trying to determine what makes sense for their company and budget.

All too often, local business owners end up trying out a variety of marketing services that are sold to them by companies using aggressive sales tactics. The local business owner may try out a service for a few months and if they do not see immediate results, they can become frustrated and stop using the service. When the next marketing company comes along touting their service is different and special, the small business owner may decide to try them for a while and the cycle continues.

This “hit or miss” mindset is not a winning formula for the small business owner, as effective Internet marketing plans encompass a few basic areas and can take time to yield results. Many marketing companies that sell services to local business owners typically focus on a specific marketing expertise or service (such as Pay Per Click, SEO, Email software, Directory, Leads, etc,) and either do not offer a full service option or such an option is too far out of reach of their budget.

As a result, it can be extremely difficult for a small business owner to make informed decisions and attempting to research all of this on their own would be too time consuming. A balanced marketing plan that includes a website that converts browsers to potential customers, a steady stream of targeted traffic to your website and web listings around the web and a methodology to consistently communicate and cultivate your existing customers and prospects. It should be easy, but the problem is the tools you need to pull this off are scattered around the web.

The one thing that every business owner should do, even if you do not have a website, is take control of your local business listings on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other directories and review websites. Local Business listings on the Internet can generate traffic and attract new customers. Business owners can claim and manage their listings on most major sites at no cost. Recent estimates suggest that only around 10% of local business owners have claimed their business listings on Google, so there is a significant opportunity for local business owners that are willing to invest a hour or so of their time.

There are four categories of websites that local businesses can get free traffic from:

Search Engines: Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
Local Internet Directories: Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, Citysearch.com
Review Sites: Directories that have developed a reputation among users to be a good source of consumer reviews. Yelp, Citysearch, InsiderPages, etc.
Niche Directories: Websites that are authoritative resources for your particular industry

What exactly is a Local Business Listing or “LBL”?

The LBL is a listing that contains the basic information about a business. Information can include the business name, address, telephone number, business category and other information. All of the above mentioned sites are really just big online directories, databases full of business information. The LBL, simply defined, is your business page or listing within these big directories. Local business owners may not realize that their business is probably already listed in some of these directories,especially if the business was formed more than a year ago. These sites collect information from a variety of sources and information can find its way into these sites.

How do Local Business Search Results work?

All of these sites operate in a similar manner. A user types in a few keyword for a particular location or city and clicks search. The site will display a page listing the results of the businesses that “best” match the search request. Then a user will review the results and may decide to click on one to view additional information. This will take the user to a page dedicated to the specific business.

Business owners can increase the number of times their business is discovered by web searchers by claiming their business listings. There are also many simple things that can be added and edited in the LBL that can dramatically help increase the ranking of the listing for various search terms. The bottom line is these listings can help create a steady stream of potential customers for your business and is quickly becoming a primary source for potential customers to check to see if your business is reputable.

Know Who the Brokerage is Representing in a Business For Sale Transaction

If you are either the buyer or seller of a business and there is a business broker involved as an intermediary, it is important you know what the relationship is to either party. It is important to know who the business brokers are working for, and the duty of care they are responsible to provide also. In other words, determine if they have a fiduciary responsibility.

When a business is sold, a business broker (typically) represents the seller. The business owner is usually the client and the business brokerage is the fiduciary. There is typically a contract drafted that stipulates the duty the broker has to the seller and vice versa. The contract, or listing agreement, amongst other things, usually lays out terms of compensation (commission rate, retainer, flat fee, etc.), term of the listing, business assets to be sold and who the seller is exactly. The key is that the business broker is more often than not working for the seller from the very beginning.

Another key take-away is that business for sale listings are often “exclusive” and business brokerages do not co-operate with other business brokers. Under these terms, a business broker’s job is to find the buyer for the seller but he or she will most likely not split the commission if the buyer came from another broker. Listings are most likely not MLS – they are exclusive to a particular brokerage in most cases. This is most often the case in Ontario, Canada.

The role of the business intermediary is to find buyers for the company and essentially put the deal together. A scenario may arise, however, where another brokerage does have the perfect buyer. In the case of an exclusive, non-co-operating listing, the buyer would most likely be responsible for paying a fee of some sort to the buyer’s agent.

Another more common scenario is a business buyer who approaches a business broker on one of their business for sale listings on their own, without another business broker on the buyer’s side. If you are the purchaser it is critical that you know where you stand with respect to your relationship with the business broker from the very beginning. There are a couple possible outcomes here. A brokerage can take you on as a client where they would also treat you with a fiduciary duty. In this case, they would be faced with a multiple representation scenario and an inherent conflict of interest does present itself. In order to act ethically and fairly to both parties in a dual-agency role, a brokerage must disclose from the very beginning that it is representing both parties and also get written consent from the buyer and seller of the business that they agree with this. In Ontario, a brokerage is governed under the Real Estate & Business Brokers Act which is a well-respected statute in the industry to provide protection to both sides.

Another possibility is that a brokerage may represent a seller but not a buyer. A brokerage still has an obligation to act with fairness, honestly and ethics to a buyer, even if they are not represented. Here, a buyer can get their own broker or decide to work on their own and rely on the advice of advisors such as their lawyers or accountants.

Overall, if you are either a seller of a business or a buyer and you must understand the role that a brokerage plays in the deal. Do not hesitate to talk to an attorney if you need further clarity.