By Sadie Hopkins, Founder of York Coffee Emporium.
So, well done - you have made one of the biggest decisions in your life and decided to leave the safety net of employment to set up your own business. Give yourself a pat on the back! Now, where to start?
Before you do anything, you will need to make sure your business idea is financially viable and will succeed in the marketplace. This is especially important if you require business loans for outside funding to help with your new business
The best way to present this information is in the form of a business plan. Here are 10 things to consider when writing your business plan.
1. What are you writing the business plan for?
Before you start your plan, identify why you are writing the business plan, and who will read it. Work out what your objectives from the business itself are – what are your targets? Establish these points, and your writing and research has a purpose.
Research your industry – from other key businesses, to the customers you are trying to attract, and what your product will be. Consolidate this information in your business plan. Ideally, research a SWOT analysis of your business (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).
It also helps to have done some basic accounting research – read up on VAT, tax and seek an accountants advice regarding the business’s trading status (will you trade as a sole trader, partnership or company, for example?).
3. Define your USP
A USP (unique selling point) will truly make your business stand out. It could be anything – but it must be unique to YOU. This is what your customers will come back time and time again.
4. Consider your Time
A business plan must be treated as the most important document in the setting up of your business. Do you have time to write it, if, for example, you are still working full time? It may be worth considering employing a specialist business plan writing agency to do it for you, once your research is competed.
4. Present the Business Plan in a Professional Format.
Business plans, like any other formal document, must be presented in a certain manner. There are many templates available online, but don’t be tempted to simply use one of these.
Instead, research relevant headings and use the templates as guidance, whilst personalising your business plan.
Headings to use include:
• Abstract: A brief outline of your business plan including details of any finance required.
• Business Aims: An outline of what your proposed business will be, including its aims, USP and principle activities.
• Market Research: To include information about your potential customers and competitors. Include your SWOT analysis here.
• Sales Targets and Objectives: What you want to achieve and your predictions. Include a narrative to your Cash Flow forecasts and Profit and Loss models, and include the models as an appendix.
• Risk Assessment: What could go wrong? How will you handle it?
• Operational Requirements: To note the management structure of the business. Include details of your background here
5. Get your figures right
Financial projections are absolutely crucial to your business plan, so make sure they are right! Your business plan must include details of set up costs (how many one off costs you will have in the first year), a detailed cash flow forecast and profit and loss model (Years 1-3) and sales projections for years 1-3.
6. Take advice
When writing your business plan there is a world of information at your fingertips – use it! The internet is a great source of information for start up businesses and business plan writing. Use specialist sites and forums to get tips from others. Look around your local area – is there a branch of Business Link (businesslink.gov.uk) near you? They offer free, impartial advice on business plan writing and all areas of business.
7. Spell check, spell check, spell check
There is no excuse for bad grammar or misspellings in your business plan. It looks unprofessional, lazy and gives a bad first impression. Use computer spellcheckers, and print out a copy to proof read before you give it to anyone.
Ask a family member to read it through and check for mistakes, or find a professional to proofread before submitting to anyone. Some business plan writing services will offer a proof reading service for a small fee.
Present your completed business plan professionally, ideally printed and bound. Make sure you have enough copies for everyone including yourself in meetings. This makes you look efficient and saves any awkward sharing or swapping.
Your own presentation counts too - wear a suit to business meetings, shake hands, look people in the eye – all of these points will inspire confidence in you and make professionals see you on an equal level.
10. And Finally
The business plan is for you as much as for anyone else. It should be treated as a working tool which consolidates and summarises your knowledge in the set up of your business.
Continue to use it throughout the start of your business on onwards – a business plan is a tool to assist you and should be updated once a year to ensure you keep focussed.
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