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Among the very first decisions you, as a future business owner must make is whether to write your own business plan, or turn that over to someone else. By taking ownership of this first, most important step in building your business, you will gain far more than a crisp document to be read by others. You’ll develop a deep understanding of what it will take for your business to succeed. For this reason, it is essential that the business owner be the primary thought leader or sole author of the business plan. Outside help should be reserved for fine tuning, validation and in some cases to prepare financial projections.
Let it be YOUR plan.
As the founder and business owner you will be charting the course for the business. It will be important that the business plan be an extension of your personal vision for the company. For most entrepreneurs, the opportunity to call the shots and lead the way was an important part of why they wanted to get into business. Now is the time to start being a leader. Leaders develop their own plans and call the plays along the way. When it’s not your plan, you relegate yourself to performing as an operator. You will find yourself going back to the business plan someone else wrote to occasionally re-read the directions, or ignoring it altogether. Either way, the value of having a plan has been greatly diminished.
The Value is in the Process.
The act of writing a business plan is one of forced discipline, problem solving and reconciling the results. When approached and completed in this manner the end product and the process itself will increase your self-confidence and assuredness about where your business is headed.
Starting with a simple business plan template, and there are lots of them available, force yourself to think through all the critical aspects of the business. This will be an iterative process that you repeat, fine tune and re-write. As you develop each section of your business plan, your thoughts about the other sections will evolveâ€"even those that you’ve already written. You go back, edit and in the end, you make it all work together. That’s the idea. You are developing an understanding of the relationships between every aspect of your business.
To underscore the importance of writing your own business plan, take this little exercise. Read the paragraph below as fast as you possibly can. Then stop, take a breath and move on to the next one.
Who will my customers be? What problem will I solve for them? How much are they willing to pay to have this problem solved? What are my costs associated with each sale? Why will customers choose to buy from my business? How will I find customers? Who will sell, produce, and deliver? Which markets will I go after first? Why? How much will it cost to operate the business each month? What will my breakeven point be? How fast can I get there? How much startup capital will I need? How will I succeed?
Okay, slow down now and consider this: The most important question isn’t listed. The most important question is, “How are these factors interrelated?”
Imagine that today someone handed you the answers to all of the questions from our fast-read drill above. It would certainly save you a lot of time. Better still, these wouldn’t be just any answers, but they would be the right answers from a solid business plan for a business that had already been proven to be successful, a business just like the one you’re planning to start. You could read and re-read the answers many times over, practically memorizing them. You would know that they were the right answers. Yet, doing so will not help you develop an understanding of how the answers are interconnected.
If you change the way you plan to find customers, how will that impact your monthly operating costs? If customers are only willing to pay 80% of your planned price, what will that do to your breakeven point? How will the answers to these two questions impact how much capital you need to start the business? This example looks at just two questions. Realistically, the answer to each question is highly dependent on the answers to several of the other questions. In the end they must all work together and you must understand how they all work together.
If you develop your own business plan, section by section, thinking through all of the answers to the critical questions, you will also develop an intuitive sense of how they work together. It will require a lot of thinking and rethinking of your ideas and it will take time. It’s not a fast drill. In the end, it will be the difference between ‘memorizing the lines’ and actually ‘being the character.’ Small business ownership is not the place to be reciting someone else’s lines. You are the character. Write your own lines. Be the leader.
There are some times to reach outside for help. For example, perhaps you would say, “I’m not a numbers person; I don’t think I can do the financial projections.”
First, plan to become more of a numbers person because business ownership is about numbers. Sales, expenses and profits are the three that are most important. Even so, many business operators who have a good feel for the numbers need assistance with spreadsheets and financial statements. It is okay to get outside help preparing your financials, just be sure that you understand them when they are complete. If you are going to pay someone to prepare them, be sure that they also save time to go over them with you from top to bottom. Ultimately they are your numbers.
Others might say, “I have great ideas, but I’m not a great writer.” It’s understood that there can be a lot riding on someone else reading the final product of your business planâ€"such as a loan or an investment decision. For that reason, if you are not a strong writer you should start by going through the process of organizing, writing and rewriting your own business plan as best you can. Force yourself to go through all of the steps of writing, rethinking and rewriting as your ideas evolve. Then, have someone else take your finished draft and craft the final polished document. What is important is that the final document must accurately reflect your concepts, ideas and thought process, not the editors.
What if I Just Can’t Do It?
Finally, some would say, “I want to start my own business. I am a strong operator, but honestly, I don’t think I could write a business plan myself. What do you suggest?” Simple: Buy a franchise! They are perfect for people who are strong operators where someone else provides the strategic plan, the systems and some guidance. This might be the best ownership model for you. That’s a topic for another day.