Prompted by the feature Angie wrote Business Plan: your dream's best friend I thought I'd give you some of my perspectives on business plans. I have a background in banking and have worked extensively with companies' business plans and proposals, particularly in the last couple of years of my career. Granted, I worked mostly with big companies but the principles are definitely the same (and you may be interested to know that most of what crossed my desk was not mind-blowingly brilliant).
First, a different point of view
I write my ideas down in a ton of notebooks and pads stationed all over the place which I then transfer to the PC. It got me thinking that a business plan is like a portfolio of sketches or artwork - you might do individual pieces but then you put them together. As you do more work you'll replace pieces to show how you're skills have developed. Although the portfolio is made up of these individual pieces, it is one body of work - all pieces relating to one another to form an overall picture.
So think of you business plan as your portfolio - of your ideas about your business.
The Point of the Plan
If you've had a look at books and websites about writing business plans I'm sure you had a hard time choosing one. Most business plans are dull to write (and dull to read I might add). If you approach writing a business plan as an exercise in filling in blanks on a template, yours will be too. The goal here is not to check boxes, it is to write down your idea and how you intend to make your idea work - taking into consideration factors like the risks you'll face and the challenges you'll encounter.
The point of the plan then is to document your thinking. Good thoughts = good plan. That's it.
Getting past the jargon
Every industry has jargon and terminology that only those in the industry will understand and business is no different. I actually think business plans are so hard to write because you first have to learn the lingo. If someone asked me to do a SWOT analysis or to discuss how I intend to position my product, I could write 5, 10, 50 pages without having to reference a textbook or website because I've spoken this language for more than 10 years. If you haven't got a background in business you can't just dive in, you have to go learn business - when you really just want to learn fashion.
However, just because you don't know what something is called, doesn't mean you don't know what it is. The words we use just represent thoughts and you can use your own 'non-business' language to talk about what you want to do. If you're starting out the point is to get your plan organised NOT to write it in a sophisticated manner which a business person is going to understand (unless of course you're going to a bank for money).
Using a Template
I advocate using a template as a starting point because there are some fundamentals that you HAVE to cover. Creative people think outside the box - that's what makes creativity so special - but unfortunately sometimes there is a good reason for following rules. Templates force you to think about import ant areas of the business you may miss and also help you understand formats of things like cash flows and budgets if you've not come across them before.**
Where do you start?
Every template covers the main areas of the:
1. General Business
3. Product and/or Service
5. Marketing, and
They may slice and dice them differently, but everything you do could be slotted into one of those sub-headings. Looking at it like that it doesn't seem so intimidating (I think).
A good plan takes time
Let me stress that you don't need to spit out a 100 page document before you're allowed to sell your first product but it would be a good idea to have a plan before you hire a CMT to make 100 products.
The Sanlam Cobalt booklet that is referenced in Business Plan: your dream's best friend may be 246 pages long but it is also one of the most user-friendly templates I've seen. Don't be intimidated by the length - you don't have to do the whole thing in one go. A business plan evolves over months, sometimes years - not in a weekend!
As your understanding of what is required for your business develops, so will you plan and you will need to tap into more sophisticated business lingo so other business people can understand you. You'll learn about all the technical jargon as you go along - or maybe you'll hire someone to do it for you.
But to start, just have a plan and write it down.
** I have a couple of great resources but they're printed as PDF files so I can't reference the source or link you to their URLs. If you'd like copies, pop me an email.
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