Category Archives: Business Plan Writer

Build vs. Buy: What is the Best Path to Grow Your Business?

As a business owner (or an aspiring one), an important consideration is the quest for future growth. From a strategic perspective, there are really only two choices: grow organically or by acquisition. By “organic,” I simply mean to grow by closing more deals, through efforts such as expanding your sales force or introducing a new product line.

When writing a business plan, it is important to consider each of these growth strategies – whether you are starting a new business, or expanding an existing one.

This decision is actually quite important, with big repercussions as to what your company will ultimately become. Given the significance of this choice, it is smart to carefully consider both options.

Grow Organically

If you are starting a business, then the biggest challenge is what I’ll call “finding your way.” Starting from scratch means you don’t have any processes in place. Everything is a variable, so picking it all right the first time is highly unlikely. Instead, you will pick an initial path to pursue. Then, you will spend a lot of time adjusting and evaluating that decision. This process will then continue until you start getting traction and find the right path for growth.

Having a long “runway” with sufficient funds to make a few changes is critical for long term success. Early mistakes can be costly – a big one could sink the company. So, it is necessary to plan for some setbacks. Other suggestions are to surround yourself with as many experts as you can, and to have a well thought through business plan.

Grow by Merger or Acquisition

This option, in many ways is the exact opposite of organic growth. First, existing processes, employees and a business plan are already in place. If you are seriously considering the purchase of an existing business, you must see something desirable – enough to buy it! So, your challenge is how to integrate the new business into your existing company – from a people and process perspective, as well as from an IT systems and go-to-market strategy.

Alternatively, if you are considering starting a business through acquisition, then the one integration challenge is that of acclimating yourself to being the new owner or manager. Process “integration” is not really an issue … it is more your evaluation of the existing processes. What makes sense and what doesn’t?

business plan writing helps M&A strategy

In many ways, an M&A strategy is similar to the decision to have a dog. This is a picture of my own dog, Rusty.

In many ways, I see the success of a business acquisition to be akin to getting a new dog as a pet. Here are three ways I see these two activities to be in close alignment:

  1. There are many different types of dogs, and there are many different types of companies – you need to research the strengths and weaknesses of each if you want a good fit with your existing lifestyle, and/or the culture of your business. For example, if you live in an apartment in NYC and don’t have many “jobs” for a dog to do, then getting an Australian Sheep dog might not be a good fit. Similarly, if your company has rigid processes and procedures, then purchasing a startup out of the Silicon Valley with a young management team might not be a good fit either. It is really important to match the culture and temperament of an acquisition to your existing company or family to achieve a good fit.
  2. If you don’t spend time with your new acquisition, then the relationship will sour – this holds especially true with a puppy. Young dogs have a lot of energy, so they will either play games with you, or chew up your clothing, furniture and anything else they can find if you are not around. In the same way, employees at a newly acquired company will be looking to see their new role. If you don’t quickly give them guidance and a compelling reason to be part of the newly combined entity, they might lose interest and leave. The amount of time you need to invest in this task is going to be more than you thought. And, this requirement doesn’t go away after the first 60 days. If you are not ready to invest the time, re-think this acquisition decision.
  3. New dogs and new companies need clear lines of demarcation to know what behaviors are acceptable – for those of you who are parents, you know this analogy applies with young children too. We all need clear direction on what is expected and how we are to perform to achieve success recognition. Without this communication, pets, employees and children will come to their own decisions, likely pushing boundaries to new levels in search of a definitive line.

 

A careful evaluation of “build vs. buy” will help avoid surprises before you have made an investment in either a new company, or a new member of your family. Once the decision has been made, it is usually quite difficult to undo … and will cost you a lot of time, effort and resources. Plan ahead to avoid the pain and achieve the gain, and go into these transactions with eyes wide open.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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While Content May Be King, Conversation is Queen of Market Awareness

king_and_queen_marketing_awareness2Numerous articles have been written on the importance of what we marketers refer to as “content” in order to drive market awareness, lead generation and other sales support activities. Simply stated, you need something to say to gain the attention of your prospects and customers. Google, Bing and the other search engines reinforce this concept – you simply can’t achieve good search engine placements without quality, relevant content that is frequently updated on a regular basis.

As has been mentioned in this blog and other publications, a blog is a great place to showcase your content. Blogs offer a great “home” for you to build a collection of articles and stories that share a common theme, which in aggregate support your brand and help future customers to find your business. Any business plan writer you meet with should have a strong understanding of this topic too – if not, it might be time to find another writer!

Is Good Content Enough?

Here is where you have to ask yourself “what’s next?” Now that you have invested the time and resources to write a collection of articles, how do you now build relationships with your readers, current customers and potential clients? The reward for getting engaged in these conversations is substantial, and includes:

  • Enhanced likelihood these people will read and follow future announcements
  • Improved response rates to future offers
  • Increased chance of that person will ultimately become a customer

Learning by Example

One area where marketers can learn how to drive increased conversations is from the world of e-commerce. Some of the online retailers are quite good at creating a series of interactions that create a group of engaged prospects that likely will become future customers. For example, we all know that if we order a product from a website, we will get an email soon thereafter confirming our order. This is a good thing – we like to have a record of what we just bought. Further, if we receive an email the next day indicating our product has shipped, this is also a nice message to receive – my order is on its way. Then, sometimes you even get an email indicating that the order has shipped, with complete tracking information. Follow up emails might even include customer satisfaction surveys, another great opportunity to suggest or induce conversation.

The conversation, however, doesn’t stop once the order has been shipped and received. Instead, it is highly likely we will get a follow up email from these retailers in a few weeks or months from now, suggesting a similar product for us to order. For some of us, this is an annoyance, and we will opt out. But, for others, this is seen as a nice thing, as a way to make future orders easier to manage and accommodate.

Here is where public relations and social media professionals might take note. What can we learn from the retail establishment as a way to increase our conversation “quotient”? One challenge is we don’t have the same access to contact information that e-tailers do, such as an email address. And, with privacy laws and concerns, it is unlikely this will change. One approach is to add a call to action or value proposition that can then facilitate better access to this data. A newsletter sign up, for example, might be an angle that promises notification of new stories of interest, or of when a new blog post goes live.

If you can accomplish the right mix of content and conversation, then you are worthy of “royal” lineage. You will then have addressed both the king and queen of marketing awareness, through a marketing-based approach to public relations and brand awareness!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Policy Change, or New Trend Opportunity?

trend_or_new_business_opportunityI recently had the opportunity to go to France on a business trip. Despite the increasingly “flat” world we live in, each country definitely has its particular nuances on how business is done and what social customs are acceptable. Fortunately, I was able to spend a bit of time in restaurants where I enjoyed the wonderful French cuisine.

One thing that caught my attention was when it came time to pay my bill. I was aware that when using a credit card, the tip had to be referenced early so as to be included with the authorization approval. What struck me as odd was that a tip amount could no longer be included with my credit card charge.

Shortsighted Policy Shift

This policy change surprised me, so I asked further what the thought was behind it. My server told me that it was causing too much taxes to be charged to the restaurant – apparently VAT or other taxes are applied to not only the food bought, but the services tipped. So, the solution was to simply stop including tips with credit card bills.

My next question was to my server – what did he think of this change? You might guess his response, “It is terrible.” I can only imagine. Personally, I carry little cash with me, relying heavily on plastic to cover my expenses, especially during a business trip. I didn’t have any Euros on me, so had to explain I would be back later to reconcile my shortcoming (which, by the way, I neglected to despite good intentions).

Industry Change, or Window of Opportunity?

My next thought was whether this change was government-mandated, or just the establishment’s decision. After doing a bit of research, it appears this was an isolated incidence (please let me know if I missed something). Given my server’s response, if the policy was country-wide, I suspect we would have all heard about it by now!

Given that this appeared to be an isolated change, what do you suppose will be the outcome? To start, I have a lower opinion of the restaurant – why do I want to support an organization that is clearly not thinking about their employees?

Further, I am inclined to believe the hired help will seek employment where tips can be added to the receipt. This might even create a cycle (and a reputation) that this business owner may, or may not truly understand. Those that can’t find “full payment” employment opportunities might ultimately become the staff at this establishment – effectively lower the bar on the quality of staffing. These folks might have to accept a lower payment in exchange for a lack of experience, poor work history, bad reputation, or some other challenge that precluded their working elsewhere.

As a competitor, this opportunity could be viewed as a window of opportunity to initially hire away the best employees, and in the future, to convince new recruits to not even consider their competitor for employment.

Alternatively, if this were a broader industry shift, such as a new government mandate, then the window of opportunity might be with a different perspective. For example, a new business plan that might now gain traction could be to provide mobile payment via a new app capable of digitally paying a bill while bypassing the restaurant’s own internal billing format. From a marketing communications perspective, the waiters could then become your own distributed sales force, offering this service to those without cash on hand.

Those with a keen sense of what was driving the change and what the perspective is of those impacted by the change will stand to benefit – if they can move quick enough to provide a new solution before everyone else.

So, next time you observe a shift in a routine, it might be worthwhile to pay particular attention to what is driving that change – a new business plan opportunity might be just around the corner!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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5 Ways to Tell a Great Story with a Business Plan

Top_5_ways_to_tell_story_with_a_business_planIn my last post, I presented the concept that a business plan really needs to tell a story – if it does, then you are much more likely to achieve your objectives for actually writing the plan, such as to get funded, to get a new loan, to attract new employees, or whatever else your objective is for writing the plan.

Having many years of experience within the field of Public Relations, I can offer a unique perspective on how to accomplish this goal. Below are five strategies or approaches you can pursue to help best tell your story within a business plan:

  1. Start with a Great Title – every reporter that wants their story to actually be read knows the importance of having a catchy title. Newspapers, magazines and websites all know this and how important the title is … that is why they don’t delegate this task to reporters, and instead keep that responsibility with the Editor. Think like you are an Editor working for the NY Times … what are you going to include in the article of your business plan to get it read in the first place?
  2. Include an Executive summary – everyone is too busy to read every document and story we see that passes in front of us or in our inbox. We are simply inundated with things to see, read or participate in. If you have a great title and got my attention to make it to page 1, you best get me excited REAL quick, or else you might lose me forever. The executive summary should be hard hitting. The first paragraph or two should point out something new to me – some amazing fact, or stunning growth estimate that gets me engaged. Now I am primed to learn more about this market need and how your new business will address it, and do so with all deliberate speed.
  3. Provide Third Party Proof Points – at this point, once I have read your executive summary and I am now interested to learn more, you need to sell me that your story is legitimate. In other words, are you just making this sh@* up, or, have you done the diligence necessary to really validate that this need exists? Here your story can go into a bit more detail, as you have earned that privilege based on a great intro. Now is the need to document the market size and the challenge that now exists.
  4. Comparable Products or Services Don’t Work – here is where the story needs to explain that not only does a market need exist, but, no one else has figured out what you now know – the solution. Or, that you possess the unique skills and knowledge to address this market shortfall better than anyone else. The story needs to be why you are a “no brainer” choice, if your reader agrees that the market need does exist and that others haven’t yet addressed this need.
  5. Financial Model Supports the Story – here is where the “rubber” hits the road. You have gotten my attention as a reader, you have pointed out a market need and why you are the person best suited to address this need. Now, can you actually make money delivering upon this need? What do the numbers say? Here is where the financial model must provide the proof that an investor is seeking to see if your story really holds together. Based on the assumptions and market position strategies highlighted in the plan, does the financial model reinforce this story? If it does, then you have put all the “stars” into alignment and have best optimized your chances for success.

 

There you have it. Of course, they are no guarantees. You could have the best business plan writer with the best business plan, but it still may not get funded. But, if you have a great story to tell, can find suitable investors or other target audience members that are open to hearing your idea, and you keep at it, then your chances for success will go up dramatically! And, once you have heard all the “no’s” you will get to a “yes” in the end. Here is where the perseverance comes through and the “doing what it takes” mentality is needed to actually get your plan funded.

At that point, all the work will be worth it. Good luck!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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What is Your Exit Strategy?

business_plan_exit_strategyThere are many reasons to start a business, ranging from launching a new product, defining a new market segment or fulfilling a passion to address a market gap. Regardless what your reason is for creating a business, if you need outside funding, then you need an exit strategy. Why? Because an investor needs to know how they will get their money back in the end. After all, they are investing in your business with an expectation of making money.

As I speak with clients, this is sometimes a difficult concept to understand. I hear questions such as “I don’t want to sell my business?” or “How do I know what its value is in the future?” These are reasonable questions that need to be addressed as part of writing a business plan.

Valuing Your Business

With regards to the “mechanics” of business valuations, there are a few different approaches. In the end, however, value is most closely tied to the revenue your business generates, either in the current year, or what “proforma” revenue is expected to be next year. Having said this definition, it is still part “voodoo” and part science. A recent article on Bloomberg pointed out that MLB teams are now theoretically 35 percent more valuable than just a few months ago – ten teams are now valued over $1 billion! See article here.

If you are a buyer, you will likely push for current year’s revenue, and vice versa if you are the owner. In some industries, gross revenue is a suitable measure; in others net revenue is an industry standard. Personally, I think that gross revenue is a better guide to evaluating income opportunity. Net income reflects both the market potential PLUS how well you can keep a lid on costs. Expense management is more closely tied to how you, the operator, manage your business. Either way, a number can typically be negotiated as a reasonable baseline for valuation.

Industry Potential

The next factor to consider relates to what industry you operate, to then incorporate an expectation of future growth. The rationale is simple: If your industry is expected to grow rapidly, then there is a higher expectation of value, which translates into a higher income “multiplier.” As a buyer, I will pay a higher price if I think my investment will grow more in the future.

Having worked in the software and high tech industries over the past two decades, I have seen some of the highest income multipliers in the business – as high as 10X! Other industries don’t have such lofty expectations, so may only have an income multiplier of 1X. What this means is that a buyer will only pay 1X income as a purchase price.

Exit Options

Now you have evaluated a valuation strategy, the last step is to identify how you will sell your business. Here are five options to consider, each of which can provide your investor with in an exit strategy:

  1. Another new investor can replace your current investor’s position
  2. An outright sale of the business can occur to a new entity, such as another owner or business
  3. The current management team or owner can do what is called a “Management Buy Out” or MBO or “Leveraged Buy Out” (LBO), which means that new debt is issued for the current team to buy the business themselves
  4. An Initial Public Offering (IPO) can be performed, leading to public ownership of your business through shares on a stock exchange. Note that this exit strategy typically requires a minimum level of income in the $100 million range or more, so this exit strategy may not be right for everyone
  5. A trade could be arranged whereby you now own a different asset in exchange for relinquishing control of your business

 

An exit strategy is a necessary component to a business plan’s financial model, as it demonstrates that an investor’s money will not simply “disappear” once you collect the check. An exit strategy is part of an investor’s lifecycle. Without this expectation, it is unlikely that any new businesses would be funded, creating enormous problems for those entrepreneurs seeking to challenge the status quo or those inventors that have the next greatest thing that we don’t yet know we can’t live without!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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5 Reasons to Write a Business Plan

new-years-resolutionThe tradition of stating a New Year’s resolution is interesting. As the clock nears 12 midnight on December 31st, a popular topic is “what will you accomplish in the new year?” It makes sense … when a significant milestone event occurs, it is natural to reflect on what we have already accomplished, and what the future might hold.

I suspect, however, few New Year’s resolutions actually come true. There are many reasons for my belief, ranging from the alcohol consumed at the time (I said what?) to the motivating factor behind the pronouncement (showing off on a first date?) to simply how much thought was put into the statement. Most importantly, however, is the fact that these resolutions are seldom documented in writing.

Research suggests that the simple act of writing down a goal has a profound impact on actually achieving it. According to a study presented in an article published by the Chronicle, the student-run newspaper of Duke University, it was concluded that:

  • 80 percent of Americans say they don’t have goals
  • 16 percent do have goals, but they don’t write them down
  • Less than 4 percent actually write down their goals
  • Less than 1 percent review them regularly – but – this small percentage of Americans that do end up earning 9X more over the course of their lifetime

These figures are breathtaking. This research suggests 99 percent of Americans are missing out on significant earnings potential, based on the simple fact that they are not writing down their goals and reviewing them. Why might this be the case?

The Importance of Documenting a Plan

My theory is that the act of writing down, and ideally sharing a goal with others, makes you accountable. And, it makes it harder to forget or “de-prioritize” those goals, which you initially set out to accomplish.

Pictures are another helpful technique to be more committed to accomplishing your goals. Do you want to purchase a home? Find a picture of your dream home as your wallpaper on your laptop or PC. Then every time you use your computer you will be reminded of that goal. The logic and psychological effect is the same if you write down your goals.

A Written Business Plan as a Documented Goal

Those interested in starting their own business face a huge challenge, one that can be quite difficult to accomplish. Any help you can do to make this goal become a reality is probably worth investing in, which brings me to this list of 5 reasons why you should write down a business plan if you are serious about starting a new business or expanding an existing one:

  1. Writing a business plan makes you more committed – writing down your plan, and following through with it all the way through funding will keep your momentum moving forward; the act of writing it down forces you to take your plan more serious and puts the odds of success more in your favor
  2. Documenting your plan and sharing it with others holds you more accountable – you simply can’t hide when you go public with these types of statements, which will be a great motivating factor to completing your vision and sticking it out
  3. Better articulation of your vision for a new business creating a detailed plan that is in writing forces you to think in a more comprehensive manner, to better evaluate if your idea could actually work; there is a big difference between talking about an idea and documenting it in writing
  4. Developing a cash flow statement tied to your business idea helps you to better understand how to monetize your idea, adding further testing and review to evaluate if your plan could really work, and you can indeed launch your business
  5. Devoting the time to either hiring a business plan writer or writing it yourself demonstrates commitment to your audience – as you present your idea to potential business partners, investors or potential employees; the presentation of a written plan shows your audience that you have invested time, effort and resources into your plan, so it will be viewed more seriously

Hiring a business plan writer as a third party to challenge your thoughts and evaluate if your plan could really work is a great way to test your vision and lay out all your cards on the table. Getting a third party involved lets investors know how serious and committed you are, just as writing down goals improves the likelihood that you will accomplish your goals.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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When is the Right Time for a Business Plan?

Choosing a time to write a business plan is challengingOne of the questions I hear frequently is that of timing … when is the right time to devote the time and effort to prepare a more formal business plan? It is an important question, and one that must be considered carefully. If you write too soon, your idea may be completely different than what you ultimately go to market with. If you wait too late, much of the benefits will be foregone. How far along in lifecycle in your future business does it make most sense to more formally document your vision?

To start, there is no one “right” answer. Some will argue that there is no point in writing a plan at all, at least in the beginning, as so many factors are subject change. I am reading an interesting book right now by Clayton Christensen titled “How Will You Measure Your Life?” In it, the author talks about the need for two business strategies – a deliberate and an emergent one. I found this analogy quite good. In order to begin a new venture (or adventure), it is necessary to have an initial direction to follow. The author coins this initial decision as being a “deliberate” strategy. He gives the example of Honda entering the U.S. market with a large bike that will directly compete against Harley Davidson’s products. Soon, however, it became apparent that this strategy wasn’t working, as evidenced by a lack of sales. Meanwhile, a group of employees began using Honda’s smaller bikes off-road, and were having a great time doing so. This “unplanned” activity and market segment became an “emergent” strategy, which ultimately gave Honda a foothold into the lucrative US market for motorcycles.

Using this author’s methodology, a formerly written business plan can be a great tool to validate an initial or deliberate strategy. This effort can give you a way to rationally defend your initial decision to pursue a new product or market expansion. As part of this process, you will either gain a greater comfort level with what you are doing, or not. Regardless, valuable conclusions will result (do I “stay” or do I “go”?)

An emergent strategy, however, might be best viewed as opportunistic, and one that might need further validation prior to making the investment in preparing a full, formal business plan. This approach then lets you be open to new “emergent” opportunities while at the same time realizing that you did pick your deliberate strategy for a reason – you need to give it a fair review and effort to validate that it either works, or that it doesn’t. Writing a business plan on the initial deliberate strategy is a great approach to help validate if this initial idea is indeed worthy of the effort.

Christensen states that about 93% of all startups change their strategic direction at least once before getting it right. So, flexibility and preservation of initial capital are clearly critical for survival. But, an initial direction is still needed before you can begin engagement in your idea.

Two Reasons to Write a Business Plan

The role of writing a business plan is really two-fold. The first is to better clarify the strategic direction you want to purse with your business endeavor. If, for nothing else, the act of writing down your objectives, strategic direction and competitive differentiation forces you to really think about these critical thoughts. You can’t go to market unless you are really comfortable in telling your story. Writing it down in a business plan forces you to review all the points, including those you might be inclined to gloss over for lack of interest.

The second role of writing a business plan is to get funding. An outside bank, business partner or venture capitalist will want to have some sort of documentation explaining in detail what it is you plan to accomplish. After all, it is their money that you will be investing. At this point, a more formal business plan starts to make sense. Note that while an angel investor might prefer to hear your “elevator pitch” and in a few minutes, and then decide whether or not they will fund you, it still is very helpful if you have gone through the exercise of more formally reviewing your target market, competition, product positioning and pricing strategy to better understand how to turn a profit.

Alternatively, if by flushing through your new business idea in greater detail, you discover that there is an inherent flaw in your plan, it is better to have found out earlier versus investing considerable effort, resources and money into an idea that really couldn’t work.

The Right Time

Getting back to the question of timing, as you come up with an initial idea for a new business or product line extension, it probably doesn’t make sense to prepare a business plan. First, you need to do some “gut” checks to see what sort of viability your idea might have. That review process might include talking to industry experts, potential business partners, friends and family. If your business involves the manufacturing of a new product, then it might also make sense to get an idea of what costs are involved and what possible patents might be required in order to avoid potential infringement issues.

Once your initial review is accomplished and you feel comfortable your idea definitely has merit, now is probably a good time to consider writing a plan that captures the salient competitive and marketing requirements to get your idea off the ground. Through that process, you will soon realize whether or not your idea could work, at which time it is highly likely you will need to consider the use of outside funding. As your plan will be virtually complete by that time, having the plan already written will let you continue forward without delay.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Business Plan Writing vs. Advising

business_plan_advisor_or_writerOver the years I have had the opportunity to meet quite a few people eager to start a new business with ambitions to conquer a market, introduce a new product or to just start something new. Once the idea is born, the challenge is to pick the best path through to fruition. There are many decisions to make with regards to how to spend your time, where to focus your budget dollars as well as reviewing ideas with close friends and family. As part of this decision process, the source of capital for launching or expanding the business will inevitably come up. Can I fund this idea myself and retain 100% of control, or, do I need help via a capital investment?

Those that make it through these hurdles with the conclusion that outside funding is required must then face the task of best explaining their new idea in such a way that it can generate excitement without necessarily giving away all of the “secret sauce” of the venture. It is at this point that the topic of writing a business plan will emerge – do I need one now, or, can it wait?

Given the capital markets, it is likely you will need to make a bit of a time investment to achieve success … you will need to speak with many individuals before finally finding the right match of your opportunity with the investment profile of an angel or Series 1 investor. In the interest of efficiency, it is typical to arrive at the conclusion that another “venue” for telling your story is needed. In fact, you probably need a few different formats to best tell your story.

To start, a 30 second elevator pitch is critical. If you can’t tell your idea quickly with enthusiasm, then you venture will likely die. Add to this challenge the fact that everyone is totally overloaded today, being impacted by literally thousands of messages, images and other distractions all the time. Your communication must be crisp, unique and stand out from the crowd.

Those that you “hook” with this elevator pitch will then ask for more information. This is a good thing – you have their attention. So, the next step is what do you do? If you can arrange a future meeting in person, great. A presentation will be needed, at a minimum, to continue your conversation. I would propose that in addition, now would be an excellent time to have a business plan already prepared to send prior to your meeting. Access to a written plan can be well worth the time and investment to prepare, provided it demonstrates your commitment to the project and achieving success with your venture.

The challenge is that you can’t really wait for the next “chance” encounter to then sit down and write the plan. These documents need time and effort to be invested so they sound good, are well thought out and exciting to read. This type of writing doesn’t happen overnight, nor can you really put something together in just a few hours. You want to show that you have thought through this business opportunity quite carefully, and are ready to go once finding the right partner, employees, or other resources necessary to get started.

It is at this decision point when you must ask yourself: “Do I just need a writer to capture my thoughts, which I am completely confident are all correct?” Or, is it more accurate to consider that you have “pretty much” the idea for the plan in your head, but, there are definitely some of the details, competitive pressures and product / service differentiation that could do with some refinement? If the latter is the case, realize you need more than just a business plan writer. You need an advisor, a person who can help you with not only the writing to ensure it is understandable, but that it can withstand the scrutiny of an investor that is putting some of their own money into the venture. This type of reader will have very specific questions that must be answered before they consider proceeding further.

If you come to this point in your new business process, challenge yourself to really assess if you need a person who is skilled with what business models can actually be executed, or, do you want to hire a writer that will simply replicate what you tell him or her. If it is an advisor or modeler you seek, then look to see what marketing experience in planning and execution that they have. After all, the entire discipline of marketing is focused on planning, strategizing and executing the best way to achieve business plan objectives. Once the plan has been carefully thought out, it then becomes the responsibility of sales to actually execute upon it. Of course, this may be one and the same person for a smaller organization, but, the concept still holds true.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business model adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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How Much Skin do You Have in the Game?

I recently completed an engagement with a client interested in starting a new web-based portal to serve the music industry. As part of writing his business plan, the discussion came up on what level of funding was sought, and at what point in the process would it be reasonable to pursue. I thought this was a good question, so am writing this post to talk about the timing component of when to fund a business, as part of your writing the business plan.

Clearly, one of the reasons to write a business plan is that you seek funding. This means you need a document that can clearly and quickly articulate how your plan and business vision can become a actual company generating revenues. (Before you decide to actually start writing your plan, here are 5 questions to ask.)

Here is where we have a bit of a paradox … if you are writing the plan to secure funding, then how much can be expected of you to get the business started to demonstrate viability? My client had a real challenge on his hands, in that he really didn’t have any money to invest in the venture now – his expectation was to find an Angel investor to pay for everything. I challenged this assumption, suggestion that he was going to need to put some of his own “skin” into the game, be it either from pre-negotiating some of the necessary partnership agreements, to finding a web developer that could start programming the portal. I suggested he find someone willing to do the work for experience and future equity, so cash outflow was not necessary required. One way or another, my advice to him was that he was going to need to make some sort of investment to show his commitment and devotion to the business.

As you are writing your business plan, either on your own or with a business plan writer, you too will need to think about how to bridge this important gap. My experience has taught me that few investors are simply going to give you a check to pay for everything, and then wish you well … unless you have had a terrific history and have earned that privilege. For the rest of us, we will need to prove our way forward to demonstrate that we have the wherewithal, perseverance and ingenuity to make something out of nothing, so to speak. This concept is critical as part of your selling that your business plan is worthy of being funded.

The best written plan in the world won’t get you funding if you can’t answer the question of “What skin do you have in the game?” Do time and effort count? Absolutely. But, most likely you will also need to have made some sort of financial investment too if you really want to “close” your investor.  After all, if you are trying to pitch your business plan to an investor and haven’t invested any of your own hard-earned money, how can you reasonably expect an investor to?

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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What is the Right Length for a Business Plan?

Anyone who has contemplated writing a business plan must decide upon an appropriate length. If you are a frequent reader of business plans, then you probably complain that they are too long. Alternatively, if you are passionate about your new innovation, technology or process, then you might feel that more detail is needed, to help explain why the investment opportunity is so special. This divergence of opinion often results in ambiguity when determining what the right length should be.

Before I proceed to articulate my opinion on this topic, let’s first consider the following: Most readers of your business plan will never read it in its entirety, regardless the number pages, how well it is written or what neat images are included. If you can embrace and accept this concept, then it will force you to think differently about what length is best … worse case, your choice will only impact a small percentage of total readers!

Following in this theme, I am sure you can now realize that it is absolutely critical your business plan includes an Executive summary.

Regardless of how busy your reader is, most will spend the time to read a single page for a glimpse of the business opportunity. It is for this reason that your Executive summary is the most important page of your entire plan.

Here is where Pareto’s law comes into effect – only 10 to 20% of your plan (the Executive summary) will likely be read by 80-90% of your readers. How well you write that section will determine, to some extent, how much (or if) the rest of the plan will ever be read.

Next, if you follow my logic, the rest of your business plan may only be read by 10-20% of your readers. These folks are now engaged and interested. Your topic has appealed to them in some way, so now you have them “hooked.” They are now willing to make a time investment to learn more. It is this group, therefore, that we must seek greater understanding, to then best determine an appropriate length to satisfy their needs.

My logic follows this path:

  • 2-3 pages on the industry and market challenges
  • 1 page to describe the company and its mission
  • 1-2 pages to describe your product or service
  • 2-3 pages to describe your competition and how you will compete
  • 1-2 pages for a marketing plan
  • 1-2 pages to describe the management team
  • 1-2 pages for the financial projections, in summary; detailed monthly proformas can be included as an appendix

If you add an Executive summary to the above pages, you will have a plan that is anywhere from 10 to 16 pages, plus appendix.

Practice has taught me that the extra effort to add more pages is seldom worth it, nor will it really help you to better sell your idea to an investor. Of course, if your product is highly technical and requires a more thorough product description to really get it, then your plan might need to be longer. That is fine, and may well be the right answer. But, if that is the case, you might simply want to take a different path, and offer a technical guide as a supplement instead. After all, not all of your readers will be highly technical – they will likely get lost with greater technical descriptions. This extra content won’t really help you with your objective to secure funding, or better describe your idea to start building your company or new product.

What do you think? Have you experienced different results? I would be interested to hear from you.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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