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4 steps to a great business plan

By William Artzberger, Investopedia
November 06, 2008 08:38 IST
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A business plan serves two purposes:  
  • It provides a road map for your business.
  • It helps you obtain outside financing.

If you're going into business for yourself, you must have a business plan - period. Numerous studies have shown that one of the major reasons new businesses fail is poor planning.

The good news is that developing a business plan is not as hard as it seems. In order to develop a solid business plan, you need to have a thorough understanding of the business you're entering. Next, you need to determine how you'll use the plan and who your target audience is. Finally, you should create a complete a business plan that is comprehensive and concisely written. We'll explore each of these steps in detail.

Step 1: Know your business
In order to prepare a business plan, you must know the business you are entering inside and out. This means lots of research. Research comes in two forms: reading everything you can about the industry and talking to those who are already in it. Learn everything you can about your business and industry.

Step 2: Determine your purposes for the plan
A business plan serves to crystallize your business vision and guide you in fulfilling that vision; it is also frequently used to entice potential investors. 

If you are self-financing your business, you design the plan mostly for your benefit, but if you're seeking outside investors, you'll need to target them. As such, before you create your plan, determine whether you will solicit outside investors.

Step 3: Determine your audience
If you plan to recruit investors, you need to build a plan to suit them. Outside investors, who range from friends and family members to banks and venture capitalists, will invest through either loaning you the money, buying shares in your company or some combination of the two. Determine their level of sophistication and what they are looking for in a potential business investment. Remember that regardless of their level of sophistication, they are all looking for four things:

Trust in you - You build trust by demonstrating ethics and integrity, so your business plan should demonstrate those qualities.

Understanding of the business - It is your job to clearly articulate your mission statement, your product offerings and how you will make money. Your may have to tailor your plan to suit your audience: less-sophisticated investors may be scared off by industry jargon, while investment professionals will probably expect it.

Financial confidence - Clearly articulate the risks of investing in your business. Also, show investors how they can recoup their money - whether your venture succeeds or fails.

A good return on investment - Over the period of 1928-2007, the geometric (exponential) return for stocks was 9.8 per cent, while for 10-year Treasury bonds, it was 5 per cent. Historical private-equity returns are more difficult to measure, but, in general, investors will expect a premium of anywhere from 2-5 per cent over public-equity market returns. The return on equity for your new business must be in the private-equity range.

Typically, investors will look to beat a certain internal rate of return. Your job is to make sure your projected returns are in line with those of similar industries.

Step 4: Create your business plan
First, develop an outline of your business plan. Consider every aspect of your business and how it will affect your business plan. Remember, this business plan is a road map. It must guide you. It must also communicate to investors what you're doing and why they should invest with you.

The order in which your plan is presented should be something like the following:
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William Artzberger, Investopedia
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