You are here: Business Management Business Planning - A Roadmap for Success
A business plan is a document outlining the key functional areas of a business including operations, management, finance, and marketing. Simply put, a business plan is a roadmap for a business. The traditional business plan is a paper document, although the emergence of electronic media has made paper an option. The depth of detail that a business plan contains will vary depending on the scope of the business and the purpose for which the plan is being prepared. A nontraditional business trying to obtain venture capital will have a much more detailed plan than a more conventional business trying to obtain a small bank loan.
Business plans may be prepared for many different reasons including new business start-ups, major changes in existing businesses, or simply to maintain the strategic direction of an ongoing business. Business plans can be used both internally for management purposes, as well as externally to attract investors, obtain financing from creditors, or recruit quality partners or employees. Business plans provide the entrepreneur with a means of evaluating the feasibility of a proposed venture and may uncover previously unconsidered opportunities or limitations. Business plans should evaluate, not promote. Business planning helps take the emotion out of decisions and focuses attention on reality. Business plans may be customized depending on the target audience.
There is often a question about who should prepare the business plan. Should it be done internally or should someone be hired to do it? Although there are professional consultants who specialize in developing business plans, it is the business owner who will be the one to implement the plan. People are not investing in the consultant, they are investing in the business. At the very least, there should be input from every level of the organization. If it is a family business, both spouses should have input as well as any other family members who have a stake in the business. If it is a large, corporate business, senior management should not have sole responsibility for creating the plan. Everyone from the CEO to the entry-level employee should have a voice. With the proliferation of computers has come a multitude of software programs for creating business plans. These programs are useful for providing a basic framework for the plan. However, their flexibility may be limited. Combining these programs along with individual creativity will make for a better plan.
It is likely that only a small percentage of traditional farming operations have a business plan. For relatively small operations or those with a stable existence, a plan is probably not necessary. However, for larger producers or those in an expansion or transition mode, a business plan can be invaluable. It is important to point out that a financial plan is not a business plan, rather it is just a component of it. Many agricultural producers are turning to alternative crops, employing nontraditional practices, or implementing unproven technology. In these situations, a sound business plan is recommended.
Sources such as the Cooperative Extension Service, Small Business Administration, and small business centers can provide general information on business planning as well as guidance on legal requirements such as permits, taxes, licenses, and other issues related to business operations. These organizations may also offer help in obtaining financing or finding investors. For information specific to a particular industry or market, there are numerous primary and secondary sources of data. Primary data would include market surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, or other data collected in-house. Primary data is the most specific to the business's needs, but is also the most difficult and costly to obtain. Secondary data is that obtained from an external source such as census data, magazines, journals, marketing research firms, or other publications. Financial data is available from sources such as Robert Morris Associates Annual Statement Studies. Perhaps the largest single source of secondary data available today is the Internet. A person would be hard pressed not to find some relevant information pertaining to his/her business interest after a small time searching the World Wide Web. One should use caution and evaluate the quality of any secondary data, regardless of where it was obtained.
A business plan should be written from a third-person point-of-view. The length of the plan will vary, but most plans will fall between 10 and 50 pages, excluding appendices. The following components for the business plan are suggested only as a guide and are by no means set in concrete. The order and emphasis placed on each area will vary depending on the venture and purpose of the plan.
The business plan should explain how the business is organized, for example, sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or limited liability company. The duties and responsibilities of key management personnel should be outlined along with an organizational chart indicating where the decision-making power rests. Details on management compensation and allocation of profits and losses are essential along with a back-up management plan. Readers of the business plan will want to know what qualifications each of the key personnel holds that makes him/her compatible with the venture. If there is not expertise present in a certain area (marketing, sales, finance, etc.), the plan should express concern about this issue and offer ways to compensate for the problem. If professional consultants such as lawyers or accountants are to be used, this section should explain their roles.
The financial plan determines whether the marketing and operational plans are feasible. The financial plan should include initial financial requirements, historical and projected financial statements, and breakeven analysis. Investors will want answers to four basic questions:
A projected balance sheet should show the initial financial position of the business with the relative investment levels of the owners, investors, and creditors. The impact of initial cost overruns on the amount of capital needs should be addressed. Projected income (profit and loss) statements and projected cash flows should be prepared. Sensitivity analysis of the best, worse, and average cases should show the impact of deviations in revenue and expense projections on income and cash flow. Properly prepared cash flow projections will uncover the need for and timing of short-term financing (operating loans). This is essential to an effective operational plan.
Any relevant and supporting information that does not fit appropriately into the body of the business plan may be placed in appendices. Examples include management charts, resumes, brochures, letters of recommendation, or details on markets, finances, or operations. Placing irrelevant or excessive amounts of material in the appendices should be avoided
The culmination of a well-prepared business plan is the presentation of the plan. A primary consideration in the presentation is that the organization of the written document is not necessarily the best way to organize the presentation. Factors influencing the arrangement include the amount of time allocated for the presentation, the complexity of the plan, and whether the audience has had an opportunity to review the plan ahead of time. A formal presentation should not be made until an impartial party has reviewed and critiqued the plan. Another set of eyes can often find critical flaws and prevent an embarrassing moment. Perhaps the most critical consideration is presentation skills. Technical expertise and presentation skills are not always traits that are packaged together. If there is more than one presenter, carefully assess which individual should present each part of the plan.
The plan should be presented from the listener's point of view, not the entrepreneur's. Visuals are important to effectively communicate the plan, especially for very technical information. However, the visuals should not distract from the content of the presentation. They should be clear, type should be large, and only one idea communicated on each overhead. The presenters should be ready for questions relating to the following:
This information is adapted from information developed by: Troy D. Wilson and David M. Kohl of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech
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