How to Create a Useful Business Plan for Your Own Internal Use
"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
This is your Action Plan for developing your business and taking it to the next level. It should show:
There are 3 main types of business plans depending on their target audience. While they have a lot in common, they are significantly different and selecting the correct one is important. See Comparison between business plans types for more information.
This type of business plan is a strategic document that is meant to keep you focused on your goals and that of your business. It will also be more detailed than other forms of business plans since it will carry operational details in which others would not be interested. It describes your current operational plans and those plans you hope to achieve in the future, both near and long-term.
If you already have a Business Plan for Internal Use, you can compare it to the information in this Guideline and update your document as you feel necessary. If you do not have a Business Plan for Internal Use, you can create one on this site using this Guideline as a tutorial.
To help determine what's important to you and what you want to achieve both in your business and personal life, you might want to answer these questions about your short and long-term goals:
- What is important to you personally?
- How you define personal success?
- How you define business success?
- How do you expect your business to achieve these goals?
- Since starting your business, have your reasons for owning a business changed?
- Do you have an "exit strategy" for when you want to leave the business?
You may be asked for current information from one or more of the following business documents:
- Incorporation papers, if they exist
- Shareholder Agreements, if they exist, including:
- Names of the shareholders
- % share of the company each shareholder owns
- Financial statements, including audit reports, if they exist:
- balance sheet
- income statement
- cash flow
- Bank statements
- Investment statements
- Personal banking statements - for you and your spouse (if applicable)
- Personal investment statements - for you and your spouse (if applicable)
- Licenses and approvals from all appropriate governmental organizations (city, state/province, federal).
- Government revenue agency Notice of Assessment - for you and your spouse (if applicable)
- In Canada, that is the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)
- In U.S.A, that is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
All business plans should start with the following information:
- A cover sheet
- A Table of Contents
Your business plan's cover sheet should be attractive and contain the following information:
- Legal Name of Business
- Operating name of business (Different jurisdictions have different names for this):
- Operating As (OA) business name (if different from legal name)
- Fictitious Name Trade Name
- Address including street, unit#, city, postal/zip code, country
- Mailing Address (if different from above)
- Telephone number
- Fax number
- Email address of principal(s)
- Web site address
- Company logo
- Picture of product or service in action
The disclaimer protects you against accusations of misrepresentation if a reader believes that this document does not accurately reflects your business or your plans. A typical disclaimer would be:
This document does not make nor intend to make an offering. Any offering by [The Legal Company Name] will be made only in compliance with Federal and [State/Province] securities laws.
This document includes confidential and proprietary information of and regarding [The Legal Company Name]. The purpose of this document is for information only. You may not use this document except for informational purposes, and you may not reproduce this document in whole or in part, or reveal any of its contents without prior written consent of [The Legal Company Name]. By accepting this document, you agree to be bound by these restrictions and limitations.
For longer documents, it helps the reader to have a Table of Contents. Most word processors can produce these automatically from the section heading styles that you use in your document. For example, a document containing styles Heading1, Heading2, and Heading3 can produce a three level table of contents. This implies that you format your printed pages so that either your page heading or your page footer contain a page number.
Your business vision is what differentiates you from your competition. It should also define your company's purpose, core values and guiding principles. If your business vision is brief, compelling and easy to grasp, it can be a valuable tool for appealing to:
- Clients and Customers
It takes a lot of time and effort to define your business vision. It is not easy and you will go through many versions of your business vision before you arrive at one you like. When you do develop one, you should be able to complete a sentence like:
We provide our customers the following list of benefit(s) allowing us to reach our list of goal(s) as measured by our list of metric(s) all the while adhering to our list of business value(s).
You can't improve things if you can't measure them. As part of your business plan, you need to define what is important to your business and have targets for them and a way of tracking them so you can measure your business' success. For example, one target would be to get a positive cash flow by the end of the year. Use numbers and dates for each target. Define your quarterly short-term and annual long-term goals. Update them often.
In order to meet your targets, you should be SMART:
- Time Measured
Describe your unique selling proposition by defining what your business is selling and what makes it unique. Highlight those features that set them apart from what your competition offers. For instance:
- Location may be one of your greatest competitive advantages if you are the only one selling a line of popular products in your area.
- Running a business out of your home may lower your overhead giving you the competitive advantage when selling services or goods at a discount.
- If you manufacture a product, briefly describe it and its advantages over your competition. (If applicable, include photographs and add them to an Appendix.)
As a business plan for internal use, this section may seem unnecessary. However, it is worthwhile filling in this section because it will give you an overview of your business and help you focus on what is really important.
This section is essential for Angel and VC investors. In a nutshell, it tells them what you do and why they should be interested in your venture. The rest of your business plan is just support for the information you present here. If they aren't interested in your executive summary, they won't be interested in the rest of your business plan.
Your business plan is your action plan on how you will achieve your goals. The Executive Summary section is a high-level view of this plan and it should express your excitement and determination, backed by facts and figures. In terms of the writing, use active verbs and concise sentences that clearly express your intent to succeed. This section should be 1-3 pages long. Use the rest of the business plan to fill in the details.
Some recommend that this be the last section written in the business plan. I disagree. Creating a winning business plan is an iterative process and often outlining your idea in an executive summary is a good way to start.
An Executive Summary should include:
- A single sentence describing what your business does. Some examples are:
- EntreBahn delivers business consulting service on-line a unique way involving opinions, in-depth structured assessments, and revisions.
- We specialize in manufacturing custom machinery for oil pipelines.
- Your core business concept. Concepts can be expressed as statements or rhetorical questions. Here are some examples:
- Every successful business seeks expert advice on many aspect of their business.
- Our patented technique for producing pipes reduces the failure rate of pipelines by 375%. This can save oil companies millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
- You know how often entrepreneurs and small business owners seek advice and feedback. Well, we meet this need using the web.
- Do you know that pipelines fail once ever 3 days? Our patented technology can reduce this down to less than 1 failure per month saving millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
- Reasons that will contribute to your success:
- A competitive advantage (e.g. processes, patents, prototypes, contracts, and letters of intent).
- Business relationships
- Management team
- Current customer base
- Successes to date
- The stage of your business (e.g. concept, prototype, start-up, operational).
- A brief overview of your progress to date. (e.g. growth in customers, revenue, staff, expenses, locations, etc.)
- An overview of your marketing and sales plan (e.g. your target market, its size, sales plans, pricing).
- Any market research showing the size of your business and whether your business is or will be viable.
- A summary of your management team with their experience and credentials.
- How much money you need, if any, and how will you use it.
- How much money have founder(s) invested so far and how was it spent.
- How your business is legally structured (e.g. sole proprietorship, partnership or incorporated).
- Quick overview/table/graphs of your financials for the next 3-5 years.
- Your exit strategy in a sentence or two. (e.g. be bought out by bigger competitor, return 500% to investors, launch an IPO, etc.)
Details on all these topics will appear later in the business plan.
The Royal Bank of Canada® has an excellent set of examples. To see the Executive Summary section of a sample business plan, click on any of the example company logos below:
When angels and VCs receive a business plan, they often first look at your management team. They gain confidence in your business when your team has the experience needed to overcome any problems the business may encounter. This section can make the difference between the success and failure of your business. Thus, it should describe your team's skills and experience. and how these skills will help make your product or service successful.
Your management team will determine your level of success. Identify all the members of your management team, the roles they will play, their titles, and their education. Some members might have more than one title or area of responsibility. You should also describe how each person will add to the team's success. Resumes for everyone on your team should included in the appendices. These resumes should include their accomplishments, skills, and experience.
Include in this section:
- List your team members and their job descriptions. Possibly, include an organizational chart.
- List what positions are still unfilled.
- For each position, what skills and job experience are needed.
- List your personal skills, including any skills from your previous job or business, and how they relate to this business.
- Describe your compensation package and that of your management team
- Include salary, benefits, profit sharing schemes, etc.
- Include details of these packages in the appendices.
- List the contractual agreements that you have with your team:
- List work contracts, non-competition agreements, non-disclosure agreements, copyright assignments, and other legal arrangements.
- Include copies of these documents in the appendices.
- Describe the ownership structure of your business, including percentages controlled by members of the team, if applicable.
You should have a board of advisors for your company. This board will allow you to benefit from their skills and expertise which you currently can't afford to hire. Include an outline of your Advisors' credentials to enhance the credibility of your management team.
A Board of Advisors is different from a Board of Directors for three main reasons:
- Board of Directors are concerned with the general running of the business and its governance. They are not usually concerned with the day-to-day operations of the company.
- Board of Directors are legally liable for failing to exercise due diligence. Because of this, they are usually insured against any liability concerned with the company.
- Members of a Board of Directors are usually paid an honorarium.
Those on a Board of Advisors are more often technical advisors and are more closely involved in the details of how the business is run. They are not usually paid for their role.
This section should include:
- If you don't have a board of advisors, describe the types of people you want and what they can bring to the table to add to the skills of your management team. For example, if yours is a technology company, this list should include people with backgrounds in marketing and finance.
- If you have a board of advisors, list who is on your board of advisors, their titles, accomplishments, experience, and expertise. Show how they have and will complement your existing management team.
List all the professional support services you use including your lawyer, accountant, banker and consultants. This list shows that you have considered all angles of your business and that you have a strong network of talent available to help your company grow. If you haven't already investigated professional services, consider asking others in your industry for recommendations, read trade magazines, and use a service like EntreBahn.
How to recruit members of your Board of Advisors and your Board of Directors is a subject for a different guideline.
After describing your management team, you need to include details on the other members of your staff that may be needed and what their function(s) will be. In the beginning it may be just you and a selection of freelance, contract or part-time help. You will need to think ahead and consider all the options you may be faced with.
This section ensures that you have considered your labour situation including your locale, availability of qualified staff, compensation, and training.
Listing your HR needs should cover:
- How many people you need, and at what stage of your growth.
- What skills do these employees need.
- The compensation package for each employee.
- Indicate whether your employees are protected by workers' compensation coverage; and whether your business is registered with your state/provincial workers' compensation board/commission. By law, most businesses must do these things.
- Availability of local labour.
- How you will recruit people, if you need more staff.
- Current and future labour costs.
- A description of the training facility you have for your new and existing staff.
- Your policy for ongoing staff training, including safety training.
The Royal Bank of Canada® has an excellent set of examples. To see the Management Team section of a sample business plan, click on any of the example company logos below:
You need to show that you understand your industry, your position within it, your purpose as a company, and why your business is viable.
All products and services go through a product life cycle. Describe where you are in that cycle with your product(s)/service(s). That is, are you pre-launch, fighting for dominance, or fighting to maintain your position in the market?
This is where you put information about the company and key events in its past. Include dates and amounts where appropriate.
- Stage in corporate life cycle (pre-launch, post-launch, fighting for dominance, or fighting to maintain your position in the market)
- Legal structure (Unincorporated, Incorporated, Partnership, etc.)
- Rounds of financing and their type
- Sales to day, if any
- Products and services provided.
- Show growth of sales to date
- Prominent customers
- Contracts past and outstanding
- Growth of staff
- Locations established
- Growth milestones reached and schedules met
This section provides the background for your business. It should cover the following:
- The total size of your industry. (potential sales, number of customers, etc.)
- Any seasonal factors that affect the industry.
- Any trends, up or down, that may affect your industry (e.g. interest rates, government regulations, seasonality).
- The long-term outlook for your industry.
Most successful businesses own a corner of their market, often called a "niche". This section should describe your niche by:
- Briefly describing your product(s) or service(s).
- Do an honest Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat (SWOT) assessment.
- Describing how your product or service is unique.
- Describing your plans to protect what makes you unique.
- List any legal protection you have like patents, trademarks or copyrights.
- Listing your competitors.
- The percentage of the market do they control.
- Their strengths/weaknesses (SWOT).
- Listing the barriers to entry in your business:
- The difficulties your competitors would find to duplicate your product or service.
- Describing the role technology plays in your product or service.
- Whether it makes it easier or more difficult for competitors.
The Royal Bank of Canada® has an excellent set of examples. To see the Business Environment section of a sample business plan, click on any of the example company logos below:
The aim of marketing is to get your prospective customers and clients to buy your products or service. A Marketing Plan helps you accomplish this. Typical goals of a marketing plan include increasing sales and/or achieving market dominance. The tactics for achieving those goals might involve hiring more staff, building a web site, increasing advertising budget, or holding a sale. Your plan should also take into account things such as:
- Needs and Wants
- Your target market(s)
- What you are offering
- Re-branding, if needed
- Building and maintaining your reputation
- Engendering and keeping trust in your market place
- Your competitive advantages
- Your pricing strategy
- Distribution of goods/products, if appropriate
- Advertising to spread the word
Your customers/clients have wants and needs. Needs are "must haves" while wants are "like to have". You should concentrate on the needs and use the wants to put some "sizzle" into your marketing material. For example, they may need a car and want it to be a sports car. In that case, you could advertise "The sporty Renegator has all the zip you have come to expect in this class of car."
Typical needs are:
- Fast delivery
- Value for money
Your target markets are defined by the types of people or businesses likely to buy your products and/or services and the size of each market. Determining the market size should be backed up with facts, figures, and references. Then estimate how much your ideal customer is likely to spend. Multiplying the number of customers by their estimated spending will give you the maximum monetary potential for the market(s) you have targeted.
List the major trends in your target market. Do the necessary research to complete this section. Also, it is important that you give credit to your sources of information since this adds credibility to your research. Various governmental departments have resources you can use. In Canada, the site CanadaBusiness.ca (http://www.canadabusiness.ca/eng/page/2864/) has market research and statistics information. In the U.S., the government has a Data and Statistics resource (http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Reference-Shelf/Data.shtml). Other governments have similar facilities.
If your products/services are aimed at people, include relevant demographic statistics such as their:
- Place of work or residence, depending on type of product or service you are offering.
- Marital status
- Family size
- Spoken and written language(s)
- Highest level of academic achievement
- Politics, values and/or beliefs. (Note: these topics can be very contentious.)
- Interests and hobbies
- Corporate title/position such as CEO, executive assistant, etc.
- Company size
If your products/services are aimed at businesses, include relevant statistics such as their:
- Industry sector(s) (SIC Codes) that they serve
- Relevant financial data
- Number of employees
- Current size of customer base
- Their position in their market place
Explain the psycho-graphics of your target market.
- What they have in common.
- What motivates them.
Estimate the size of your target market in terms of gross sales and units sold. Back it up with facts and figures. Often, graphs and diagrams are useful here. See government statistics for basic information on industry, size, and location. (e.g. In Canada, see Statistics Canada. In the US, see Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census data. Also, there is a very interesting and understandable US site at ZIPskinny)
Describe the trends that are affecting your target market including:
- Industry trends
- Socioeconomic trends
- Government policy
- Changes in demographics
Summarize both your direct and indirect competitors. For each competitor:
- Estimate their market share and their financial health.
- Compare their product or service to yours in terms of quality, price, service, warranties, image, etc.
No matter what you are doing or selling, you always have one or more competitors. The most basic competitor is the one that your targeted clients used before you came on the scene — sometimes known as the "do nothing" option. You always have both direct competition and indirect competitors. (Direct competitors sell products/services that are like yours. Indirect competitors are businesses that sell a product that is not the same as yours but could be used as an alternative. For example, if you sell hamburgers, your indirect competition are other food concessions that can satisfy your customers hunger.)
Both direct and indirect competitors have attributes in common. For each major competitor, describe:
- The products and services that compete with your products and services.
- Their pricing structure for their competing products and services.
- If known, their estimated revenues that they receive for their competing products/services.
- Their location strategy, if any.
- Any other markets that your competitors are in, besides yours.
- A SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of your competitors products/services.
Clearly identify the competitive advantages that your products/services have over your competitors similar products/services. Some examples of advantages that you can discuss are:
- Your quality, both real and perceived
- Your pricing structure and how it better meets their needs
- Your experienced management team
- Any patents and copyrights you hold
- Your existing customer base, as related to your prospect/client
- Your track record in sales, R&D and depth of product line.
In marketing your product/service, you must make clear its benefits, features, and uniqueness. Benefits are about your customers/clients needs and wants. They describe what good things the customer will enjoy when using your product/service (e.g. Faster, less effort, save money, feel better, look better, etc.). They are one of the most important thing to get across. Features support your claimed benefits and are about your product/service. They describe such things as the colour, weight, expertise, etc.
Your Services/Products section should cover the following:
- What benefits will your customers enjoy by buying your product or service?
- What is the one thing above all else that makes your product or service unique?
- What other features does your product or services have? Consider packaging, quality, price, service, etc.
Pricing your product/service is very important. Some factors in determining your pricing are:
- A base price you can live with, long term, that ensures a profit.
- Your target market sensitivity to price.
- The price at which your competition is selling their products/services.
- Your overall business strategy.
- Are you a premium or discount brand?
- Are you trying to differentiate yourself from you competitors?
- Are you trying to break into a new market?
- Short term needs. (Overstocked, seasonal sale, new store/branch opening)
Using your competitors pricing as a base for yours is not always the best policy. If your product/service is similar to theirs, this may work. However, pricing along with the uniqueness of your products/services can also be used to differentiate your products/services from the competitors. Before setting a base price, look at your own objectives and considerations.
The Pricing Strategy section should cover the following:
- Your base price and how you arrived at this figure.
- Provide a summary of your fixed and variable costs.
- Prices for similar products and services.
- If your price is higher:
- Are you sure that your clients/customers are not price conscience?
- Can you justify the greater price than the competition in terms of unique benefits, marketing positioning, etc.? (Note that pricing may not be the most important factor in purchases. These other factors may outweigh them.)
- Why would a customer choose your product, apart from price?
- Unique feature?
- Do you offer better service?
- Higher quality product?
- If your price is lower, how are you able to charge less?
- Is the quality better than the competition?
- Are your production costs lower?
- Are you selling in large volumes?
- If your price is higher:
- Your costs and the factors affecting them.
- Discounts to students and seniors, or for cash sales rather than by credit.
- Trade-in policy
- Layaway policy
- Need to get a return on your investment and when you expect to recoup your investment?
Price can change based on external factors and sales strategies. Since sales are based on the factors we just discussed, we can use any or all of the following technique to offer lower unit prices to the client/customer while increasing your eventual income:
- Packaging your product(s) and service(s) to give the appearance of extra value:
- Where individual items bought separately would cost more.
- For particular markets such as limo firms needing extras in their cars.
- Additional features when package is purchased, such as extra studies when purchasing marketing packages.
- Up-sell occurs when someone needs a base product or service and you sell them capable product that does the same thing. Up-sell occurs before the client/customer commits to buying anything. For example:
- While a new car comes with basic hub caps, you might be able to up-sell the buyer to purchase a set of "cooler" chrome hub caps with wire spokes.
- Selling a large bottle of perfume for less than two of the smaller sizes because the unit price is lower, but the cost to you is even less.
- Cross-sell is used to bundle different product(s) or service(s) together to better satisfy a need. It also assumes that the client/customer is already committed to purchasing a base product or service. For example,
- When someone buys an aquarium for their home, they need the appropriate filter and heater for their size of aquarium that you can sell them.
- When someone engages a lawyer to incorporate a company, the lawyer can sell some of their other services such as keeping the company's minute book up to date.
- Continuity programs allow customers to purchase products and services automatically over time. You make only one sale, but the income from that sale continues monthly or yearly without interruption. Examples of these include:
- Subscription services like newspapers and magazines
- Telephone and Internet services
- Insurance premiums
- Club memberships
Your Sales/Distribution Plan should detail how the transaction between you and your customer will take place. It should include a discussion about how you plan on selling your product or service and it should outline all of the different people and companies involved in getting your product into the hands of your customer. You should explain in detail what type of distribution channels are available to you (account representatives, sales people, Internet, delivery services, other companies that will carry your product) what benefits you will have by choosing them and the length of time it will take to get your product to your customer. Don't forget to summarize your returns policy and describe any warranties or after-sales support you will offer customers.
Your Sales/Distribution Plan section should cover the following:
- How you distribute your product/service:
- By mail/email
- Through a wholesaler
- Through retail
- Through strategic partners and alliances
- Through a Website
- An independent sales representative, etc.?
- Outline all of the players or technology involved in getting your product/service to your target market.
- How your customers will pay for your product/service:
- If you plan to offer credit terms, describe the terms and conditions
- Discuss any discounts you will offer for early payment or penalties for late payment.
- Describe your return policy, service guarantees and/or any warranties you intend to offer.
- What after-sales support will you offer? Will you charge for this service?
Branding is a promise made to a target market. Examples include:
- Apple© products are "cool".
- Japanese cars are reliable.
- A new Dior© gown is the height of fashion.
- BIC© pens always write.
Based on all the information you have gathered in developing your marketing plan, you are in a good position to define the promise that your brand will make about you and all your products and services.
Things that you might want to take into account include:
- Wants and needs of your target markets. For example, people need shelter, so your branding will include wording related to protection. If your clients has children, they may want a house instead of a condo.
- If your target market is the well-off, then your pricing should reflect that. For example, some clothiers price their goods higher because their target market are the well-off.
- If the target market is peoples' need for reliability, use symbolism that reflects that. For example, the Rock of Gibraltar is the symbol for an insurance company; or a line of trucks represented by heavy gauge steel and bolts.
- If you believe that your products are unique, emphasis the unique features and benefits that your product/service offers.
- If you sell "comfort food" products, you may want to emphasis that your products are available everywhere, so the consumer never needs to worry about finding your food product.
Often this area is best addressed with the help of a marketing or advertising consultant or firm.
As you can start to see, all the marketing factors we discussed in this section reflect on how you may want to "position" yourself. Your brand should offer what everyone in your target market wants combined with your unique benefits while taking advantages in the gaps left by your competitors. Arriving at a brand is also affected by your company's vision; your letterhead, your ads, and your web site. All should reflect your brand image. Recognize that branding is an iterative process taking all these factors into account.
You connect with your target audiences using advertising and promotions. Your Advertising and Promotions Plan details the way you will do this by using different media including advertising, public relations, brochures, a Website, trade shows, etc. If you have them, include samples, mock-ups, or links in the appendices.
Your Advertising and Promotions Plan should include:
- A description of how or if you will advertise your product, including what medium you will use (i.e. direct mail, Internet, radio, television, etc.)
- An advertising/promotional budget.
- How you will measure the affect of your advertising.
- Describe the plans you have to generate press.
- Describe the type of media you will use.
- The marketing material you will produce: brochures, sell sheets, business cards, etc.
- If you have a Website, describe how you will use it to promote your business.
- Describe any other forms of marketing will you use. For example, trade shows, telemarketing, direct marketing, etc.
To be successful today, businesses need an Internet strategy. Since whole books have been written on the subject, we will only summarize the most important aspects of Internet Marketing here.
Different types of web sites have their own design criteria:
- Shopping sites focus on selling things. Amazon.com is a well-known example of this.
- Blog sites allow people to comment on things happening in their lives or on the Web. For example, web journalists report on events as they happen.
- Simple static sites with pages that seldom change over time. For example, personal web pages and memorial sites.
- Sites that aggregate information from other sources on the Web. For example, Google News does this.
- Sites whose content is important and/or relevant to other people. Examples of this are the video site http://YouTube.com and the news and commentary site Huffington Post.
- Wiki sites that allow the community-at-large to change the content of the site. Wikipedia is the best known example of this.
- Auction sites that allow people to bid on items. eBay.com is the best known example of this type of site.
- Community sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Also, many sites are a combination of these types. What you want to do and who you want to reach will often determine the type of site that you need.
All but the simplest sites need a database to store their content, information on their users, and sales information. A well-designed web site database will affect the value of your site in terms of sales of goods and services. Consider the following when designing and developing your database:
- Users and their attributes, like name, location, financial information, etc.
- Products and services offered, their price, and characteristics, such as name, size, grade, specialty, quantity on hand, availability, etc.
- Orders, when, how much, cost, price, quantity ordered, hourly rate, service address, etc.
- Reports on activities on the site.
- Administrator interface allowing you to control and configure your site.
The look and feel of your web site is your face to the world. It is the "sizzle" that should appeal to your target market(s). To get a grip on what your site should look like, look at your competitors' sites. It should give you a good idea of what is needed and what is required in a typical site of the kind you need. Your look and feel should be consistent with your branding colour, font, and layout.
Keep in mind that styles in web sites change, just like in clothes. So, be prepared to revamp your site every 2-3 years. For example, rounded corners on boxes appearing on the screen were popular 3-4 years ago. In 2012-2013, rectangular boxes are popular and rounded corners now look dated.
Most sites should have the following facilities, regardless of its purpose:
- A Home page that should engage your user in 5 seconds or less so that they will decide to stay on your site to find out more.
- A Contact Us page which makes it easy for users to find your company and be able to contact you.
- A FAQ/Help page to answer common questions about your site.
- An About Us page that describes your company, its vision, and its top management.
- An associated Blog informing your users of things that are relevant to you and them.
- Links to the social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, etc.
Your web site serves two purposes: one for you and one for your users. For example, if you have a shopping site, it should be easy for the user to find what they want and it should be easy for them to buy what they have selected. As far as you are concerned, it should be easy for folks to buy your goods. In other words, your site should be easy to navigate and there should be no guesswork as to what to do next. A well-known book on this subject is "Don't make me think" by Steve Krug, ISBN-13: 978-0321344755.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a way of making your site easier to find. Currently, Google is the preeminent search engine. They look for certain characteristics in each site and rate them according to a secret formula which is evolving. The higher your rating, the earlier your site will appear in their listing. Your goal is to be first in the list that Google presents. This is a complex subject and is best addressed by a specialist in SEO. However, there are some general rules that help increase your SEO score:
- Links to your site — This is the most important criteria in determining SEO ratings. It is the number of quality sites that link to your site. These links represent how many other sites believe that the content on your site is worthwhile. Generally, these links should be one way linking to your site without you necessarily linking to theirs. (Google cancels out mutual links between sites.)
- Content is king — If your site has interesting material that others value, as expressed by in-coming links or by traffic coming to your site, then your SEO rating will be higher.
- Meaningful page names — Each page in your site should have a meaningful name and contain meta data relevant to that page. (Your SEO expert will usually handle this.)
- Keywords — Each page should have one keyword or short phrase in the meta data that relates to the page content. For example, if a page relates to a service, then the keyword is the name of the type of service. There should be only have one page on your site related to a given keyword. (Again, your SEO expert should handle this.)
- Site name — The name of your site (its URL) should ideally reflect what you do or what your potential customers want. For example, www.ConsultingWorld.com is better than AbleAndCain.com, even if your firm's name is Able and Cain Consulting LLP.
Improving your SEO ratings can not happen overnight. It usually takes about 6 months to significantly increase your SEO ratings. Thus, you need a plan covering this period. Some things that you can do include:
- Hire an SEO expert full or part-time to continually maintain your SEO-related information.
- Analyze the competition to see what they are doing and what they think is important to reach the same target audience that you are trying to reach.
- Develop a calendar of events for your site to keep its content interesting. For example, schedule major topics for discussion, or webinars, or sales events, or discounts associated with dates like Christmas, or store openings, etc.
- Carry out a social media campaign. As an example, maintain a blog related to your site and/or relevant topics. It also needs to be updated regularly. As part of this strategy, tweet about interesting items, the webinars you will be holding, or other events happening on your site. If you or your staff do not know how to do this, you may also need to hire someone. (Often this service is provided by your SEO expert.)
- Incorporate ways of driving traffic to your site. For example, you can buy "Pay per click", belong to and/or participate in affiliate programs, and/or pay for banner ads.
- Budget for your web-based plan.
You need some form of measurement to know whether you are improving or not. Whatever your sales and marketing activity is, it should be measurable. It might be as simple as tracking the source of sales from the Web or a change in the sales bottom line. The Web is a great place to get measurements. Pay per click will tell you how effective your ad is and where the user comes from. Also, Google Analytics is free and gives you a lot of information about your users. Google AdWords is a free facility that allows you to determine which keywords and phrases will most likely work best for you in your ads. Other paid services offer ways of slicing and dicing the information that Google collects.
Part of measuring things is setting milestones. It might be a weekly report or when you will launch a new product. Milestones have dates and resources associated with them. For example, you might need 3 people to complete a task by November 13. If using an outside contractor, you may also have a budget associated with reaching a milestone. Setting up a schedule of milestones is often a negotiated process. For complex activities, project managers are often needed.
Joint ventures and partnerships are a way of distributing your products and services using someone else's facilities and customer base. This lowers your cost when you are trying to reach these same customers yourself. It also adds credibility and links to your web site. The financial arrangements that you make with these other folks varies a great deal. It can include shared costs, costs for leads, cost for sales, etc.
A joint venture is defined by a legal arrangement. A partnership with another company is usually a "looser" arrangement with little or no legal obligations on either side. The practical obligation is that the arrangement is mutually beneficial. If it is not, there is no reason to continue the partnership.
These other folks should complement your offering. If their sales are before or at the same time as customers who buy your services or products, then these folks can promote your business as part of a more "complete" package offering. If their sales come after you sold your product or service, then you can promote their products or services. For example, if you were offering a repair service for computers, you could partner with a company that makes or sells computers. If you had a cleaning product, then you could partner with makers of brooms, mops, and sponges. If the roles were reversed and you were the one selling computers, then you could recommend them as after-sales service providers.
Referrals build on your own customer base while Joint Ventures and Partnerships build on someone else's customer base.
Referrals are one of the most important, easiest, and least expensive ways of getting new clients and customers. Referrals build your reputation because they have come from a trusted colleague by "word of mouth". They also increase customer loyalty — once a customer recommends your products/services, they will hesitate to leave you.
Referrals are part of your overall efforts to keep your clients and customers happy. To get referrals from your satisfied customers:
- Ask them if they would be willing to refer you to their friends and acquaintances who might have similar interests to theirs and who also might be interested in your services/products. (It is to your benefit to assume that they will give you referrals. The worst that can happen is that they turn you down. The upside is that you have a good chance of getting useful referrals.). Don't ask just for contact information, ask for an introduction. That is, have them call/contact the referee before you do so the referee will be expecting your call/contact.
- You might want to give your customer a simple script that they can use either with email or by phone. For example:
"Hi [prospect's name], I [noticed/you told me] that you [use/need] the [products/services that your company provides]. Would you be interested in hearing from someone I use?"
If their answer is "Yes", then contact them. This avoids cold calling your referrals and looking like a telemarketer.
- Don't be discouraged if the customer refuses to refer anyone at the time you ask. Timing is everything. It is best to ask after you have delivered the product/service and they have had a chance to use it and realize its benefits.
- Be persistent without being pushy. That is, whenever you contact them on any other business, include the request for referrals.
- You can also prepare new customers by asking them that when they are satisfied with your product/service, would they be willing to give you referrals. This lays a future obligation on them that allows you to contact them about the issue of referrals.
- If you can, be specific as to who or where you are looking for referrals. For example, "Do you know the marketing manager at ABC Corp?" or "Can you recommend anyone at ABC Corp that we could speak to?".
- Explain to your customer that you’re in search of contacts with similar issues/needs to those you just resolved for his company. Ask if there are events you can attend to learn more about his industry; this should lead to greater insights and finding suitable prospects on your own.
If you have a close working relationship with an existing client or customer, you can informally recruit them as one of your sales reps. Provide them with support material, such as brochures, links, business cards, etc. plus a simple list of reasons why their contacts might be interested in your services or products.
Lastly, customers and clients are not the only ones who can refer people to you. You can also approach your vendors for referrals. After all, if you prosper, so do they, making for a good symbiotic relationship where your relationship benefits both of you.
Follow-up on Referrals
Followup means getting as much information as possible about these prospects. For example, their title, phone number, email address, business address, responsibilities, budgets, etc. Also, ask the person who gave the referral to first call these people up and give them a quick "heads up" that you would contacting them. This avoids the problem of "cold calling" them.
When you contact the prospect, don't assume that they know all about you and your products and services. You will need to sell them, just like anyone else. The difference is that because you were referred to them by someone they know, you will have a higher level of goodwill going into your pitch.
As mentioned earlier, timing is everything. Don't give up on the prospect just because they turned you down the first, second, or third time. If you know anything about the prospect, use that as a reason to call them again.
Some prospects will never buy and others may not have the budget to purchase from you. That happens, but you can reduce the risk of this occurring if your customer qualifies the prospect for you first, if they are willing to do this. You would like to know that the prospect has the authority and budget to buy from you. Even for those without budgets or budget authority, they are still potential customers for later. For this reason, treat the poor prospects with tact since if they are offended, they may report back to your customer and that will devastate your ability to get future referrals from the customer. In other words, don't burn your bridges.
Lastly, when you sell to a prospect, thank the customer or client who referred you. Depending on the company policies, you can also treat them to lunch or similar rewards.
Refine Your Referral Strategy
The biggest problem that salespeople have with prospects and referrals is keeping track of them over time. When following up, you want to be able to know when you are supposed to call them, what you discussed previously, what you promised to do, and when you were going to do it.
It is strongly suggested that you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software product. There are many CRMs on the market based on Windows, Mac, Linux, and the Web. These packages will also keep statistics on your referral program, which allows you to see the strengths and weaknesses of your referral strategy allowing you to improve it.
Gaining a client or customer is just the start of your relationship. You want to keep them as clients/customers for as long as possible for two main reasons:
- You will increase the frequency that they buy from you, else you will be out of sight and thus out of mind when they make new purchases.
- Selling to an existing client/customer is easier and much less expensive than going out and getting a new customer because it takes less time, effort, and money to convince them to buy from you again.
There are a number of ways to keep the relationship healthy so you will be able to sell them again:
- Keeping in touch with your clients/customers any way that you can. It can be done in a number of ways:
- Send out a monthly newsletter.
- Send out announcements of special blog posting that might be of interest to them.
- Send out white papers on topics that might be of interest to certain customers.
- Give away a calendar at the end of the year.
- Solicit their opinions on the service they are receiving or the quality of the product.
- Email them about special events, etc.
- Send out personal greetings on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs, etc.
- Send out reminders of special events or services.
- Send out links to any article written about your company
- Rewards programs, also called loyalty programs, will keep existing customer engaged with you.
- Buy N products and get the N+1 free. Restaurants like to use these programs with free appetizers, free meals, and free desserts.
- Earn extra points for buying certain products or quantities. Airlines like this. For example, when you use "air miles" to get a free flight.
- Membership or discounts cards that give customers preferential treatment or discount. Costco uses these programs; and airlines use their cards to give frequent flyers access to their airport lounges.
- Continuity programs encourage the client to keep buying from you on a regular basis.
- Book and record clubs depend on this method as their primary source of income. Time-Warner are a classic example.
- Service firms are another group that use this business model. For example, air conditioning companies have service contract to change filters quarterly. Folks who look after plants in office buildings also use this technique.
- Museums and art galleries derive a major source of their income from this business model.
The Royal Bank of Canada® has an excellent set of examples. To see the Marketing Plan section of a sample business plan, click on any of the example company logos below:
This section deals with describing the day-to-day running of your business. For start-ups, this details how you plan to begin developing your product/service. If your business is a going concern, it is a task list of what you need to do to become successful.
This section should:
- Describe whether you are a start-up or are an ongoing business.
- Describe your management structure with titles and responsibilities.
- Executive suite
- Customer service
- For marketing, describe how success is measured.
- For sales, briefly describe the sales compensation plan.
- Describe how your product is made or your service is delivered. You may want to place a workflow diagram here.
- Discuss the problems you anticipate in developing your product or service. Have a quality control checklist you can use to detect these problems early.
- Discuss the potential hazards your work site may have and ways to remove them.
- Plans for any health and safety training.
- List industry associations you have or plan to join.
- List the industry guidelines that you must follow.
- List government regulations that you must follow.
- List those industry associations and governmental agency that affect your business. Describe your status with regards to conforming to any of their requirements or regulations.
- Besides customers/clients, your business depends on your suppliers. List your primary and any secondary suppliers on your critical path. That is, the parts and services without which you can not bring in income:
- For each supplier, list their prices, terms and conditions.
This shows that you understand the process of manufacturing your product or delivering your service.
This section should include:
- The basic requirements for your business
- List needs in terms of land, equipment, office space etc.
- List what it's worth or costs, how it is to be financed (e.g. bought or leased).
- Describe why each requirement listed is vital to your success.
- A schedule of when you plan to start producing your product or delivering your service.
- Factors affecting your expected schedule. For example, rush orders, shortages, etc.
- For a manufactured product:
- The length of time to produce a unit of the product.
- Your decision and reasons for making or buying components for your product.
- Results of any feasibility testing you have done on your product. For example, the results of testing your manufacturing process, prototyping and pricing.
- Describe your inventory control system.
- For a service, how much time does it take to deliver the service.
- Your plans to handle fluctuations in the demand for your product/service.
Milestones serve two main purposes:
- Internally, they establish explicit targets for you and your staff to complete important tasks.
- For external observers, like Angels, VCs, and banks, they provide historical data on how well you have done as an indication of how well you will do in the future.
Milestones are usually time based. That is, a certain task will be accomplished by this time and date. Other milestones may depend on outside factors like the first million customers. This latter milestone can be used as a measure of your sales efforts and advertising. You should establish milestones for all your key tasks.
The Royal Bank of Canada® has an excellent set of examples. To see the Operations section of a sample business plan, click on any of the example company logos below:
The finance section is your chance to see whether your business will survive financially. It is also an important benchmark by which you can gauge your progress against your original projections.
To prepare your financial plan, you will need to determine the type and amount of expenses your business will incur. This information forms the basic financial statements for your business.
These financial statements should show the expected results for the first or current year of operations. They should also include three to five year projected estimates based on documented assumptions regarding future events or operations for your business. If you are creating a business plan for an ongoing business, include past financial statements.
Be realistic in your financial projections and be skeptical of overly optimistic projections. You may even want to include best, worst and most likely case scenarios.
There are two types of expenses: one-time expenses and operating expenses:
- One-time expenses are costs incurred only once when setting up your business. For example, registration fees, and incorporation fees).
- Operating expenses are ongoing costs that allow you to stay in business. This includes monthly payments such as salaries, rent, utilities. It also includes occasional expenses such as annual auditing fees, legal fees, and consulting fees.
These figures are important for two reasons: they are need as part of your business plan for your cash flow and balance sheet statements; and they help determine how much financing you will need to get your business to a break-even point (when income equals expenses) and an estimate of when this will happen.
The One-Time Expenses section can include, but is not limited to:
- Down payments on:
- Purchase of property
- Deposit on rent
- Deposit on fixtures
- Deposit on equipment
- Deposit on purchase or lease of vehicles such as cars/trucks
- Deposits on utilities such as phone, electricity, heating, etc
- Facility improvements:
- Decorating and remodeling
- Equipment/fixture installation
- Leasehold improvements
- Starting inventory, if applicable
- Promotion for opening, if new business
- Licenses and permits
- Incorporation costs, if new business
- Product development costs or franchise fees, if new business
- Other unexpected one-time expenses
Your Operating Expenses section can include, but is not limited to:
- Management salaries
- Other staff salaries
- Rent or mortgage payments
- Raw materials
- Write-offs, if any
- Depreciation, if any
- Amortization, if any
- Storage Distribution
- Office supplies (e.g. postage, pens, paper, etc.)
- Telecommunications (e.g. telephone, internet service, mobile, etc.)
- Office equipment (e.g. computer, printer, network devices)
- Insurance, including workers' compensation board/commission premiums
- Promotion (e.g. Advertising, sponsorship, public service activities)
- Selling expenses
- Travel and entertainment expenses
- Professional services (e.g. Consultants, accountants, lawyers, etc.)
- Maintenance (e.g. plant, office, equipment, etc.)
- Repayment of loan capital and interest
- Other financial expenses (e.g. sales discounts, bad debts)
- Other expenses
An income statement shows your profit or loss for a given period of time, (e.g. from the beginning to the end of the month. It details all revenues, expenses and other costs. The income statement and the cash flow statement it should both be prepared on a monthly or quarterly basis. This gives management an idea of the health of the business and allows them to be anticipate issues that need attention.
The income statement is mainly an accounting tool used to measure a business' performance. The cash flow statement is used to monitor a business' cash position and is important for the day-to-day running of the business.
Your cash flow statement shows how much money your business has at a given a moment in time. Your cash flow is positive if your cash inflows (collected revenue) exceed cash outflows (disbursements). Your cash flow is negative if your cash outflows exceed your cash inflows.
A cash flow statement should be prepared on a monthly basis, or at minimum, quarterly. This gives management an idea of the health of the business and allows them to be anticipate issues that need attention. The importance of anticipating and planning for these fluctuations can't be overstated.
There is a very important difference between your income statement and your cash flow statement:
- Your income statement reports the changes in your cash position from the start of a given period of time to its end.
- Your cash flow reports your cash at a given point in time. There is no period associated with a cash flow statement. You would use it to tell you your cash position now.
In preparing your Income Statement and Cash Flow Statement, watch out for:
- Using overly optimistic sales growth estimates - most businesses grow gradually.
- Ignoring seasonal fluctuations - does your business depend on warm weather?
- Underestimating the cost of increased sales in terms of expenses or cash outflows.
- Assuming that collections will always be made in 30-60 days - they may take longer.
Like a cash flow statement, a balance sheet is a report of the financial state of your business at a given moment in time. Unlike a cash flow statement, it reports on your assets, liabilities and equity, not just your revenue and disbursements. It shows the net worth of the business.
A balance sheet includes current assets such as accounts receivable, inventory on hand, and cash balance. It should also report such fixed assets such as property, equipment, furniture, fixtures, and vehicles.
Current liabilities might include accounts payable and debts that you must pay within a year such as to suppliers and creditors. Long-term liabilities include long-term loans, like mortgages, equipment loans or loans you make to the business. Shareholder's equity is permanent funds put into the business by yourself or by others who invested in your business for a share of ownership (capital stock) and retained earnings.
This section is mainly for internal use since this is where you discuss possibly competing funding sources. You list here all the sources of funding that you think would be willing to back you. Each source should be specific and well researched. For example, most government agencies offer either business grants or loans or both. You need to know what they will consider and what makes you ineligible for their program. In this section, list the ones that you thing apply to you and include details like:
- Name of program
- Link to application form
- Name of contact person
- Range of money available
- Eligibility and ineligibility for this source of funding
- Plans to overcome any ineligibility issues
- Estimated probability of getting this grant/loan
Note the probability measure. This will allow you to concentrate on your best chance of getting funding. When it comes to funding sources such as Angels and VCs, the following points should be considered:
- Name of Angel of VC
- Name of contact person
- Range of money available
- Eligibility for this source of funding
- Plans to overcome any issues
- Estimated probability of getting this financing
When it comes to funding sources such as banks and financial institutions, the following points should be considered:
- Name of bank or institution
- Name of contact person
- Range of money available
- Eligibility for this source of funding
- Plans to overcome any issues
- Estimated probability of getting this financing
The Royal Bank of Canada® has an excellent set of examples. To see the Finance section of a sample business plan, click on any of the example company logos below:
Every business is risky. Thus, you need to think through and outline possible risks to your business. This shows that you understand the risks and, as far as you can, have made allowances for them. Give details on how you plan to minimize the risks.
For credibility, clearly tell your reader all your known risks within the appropriate sections of your business plan. For example, discuss the human resource risks of not being able to find skilled labour.
Consider the following risks:
- Industry related risks.
- For example, changes in the law covering your industry.
- The business you bought carried liabilities.
- For example, what if the business you leased or bought has an outstanding balance in its account with your provincial workers' compensation board/commission.
- Demand for your goods or services decreases.
- The number of your competitors increases.
- Producing your product or service.
- Your marketing plan fails. Human resources risks.
- Changes to your management team, advisors and your employees.
- A key employee quits.
- A key employee gets hurt on the job.
- You run out of cash.
- The steps you would take to resolve problem.
- Your major supplier has financial difficulties.
- You have lined up other suppliers.
- Environmental risks from your product or service face?
A business plan is one of the most important tools you will have to start and grow your business. It should also be a ¨living¨ document that you keep updated.
Clearly restate the goals and objectives for your business.
If your plan has been designed to get financing - state the amount you need and how you will use it.
Your conclusion section should be concise, clear and leave a positive impression.
The Royal Bank of Canada® has an excellent set of examples. To see the Risks and Conclusions section of a sample business plan, click on any of the example company logos below:
The Royal Bank of Canada® has an excellent set of examples. To see full sample Business Plans, click on any of the links below:
- Business Plan: Michael's Business Centre
- Business Plan: Kamiko's Fine Food
- Business Plan: Christine & Denis Landscapes
There are many excellent resources on the Web for creating business plans. Some of the available resources are listed below.
- Starting a business, Royal Bank of Canada®. One of the best free Business Plan guides we have found. Also, they have some excellent examples.
- Writing a Business Plan, Scotia Bank® –. One of the best free interactive business plan builders. They also include a web-based Business Plan Guide.
- My Business Planner, TD Canada Trust®. A simple to follow free template for creating a business plan geared to banks and lending institutions.
- Your Guide to Business Planning, CIBC®. A free business plan template based on a PDF file which you can download. Geared for banks and lending institutes.
- Bplans. A comprehensive site on business and marketing plans, including free examples, proprietary templates and commercial software for generating plans.