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Posted: March 12, 2013

A road map for your business

Creating a plan takes time, but it's worth it

Gale Dunlap

If you had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Europe, wouldn’t you want some sort of map to help you figure out what you wanted to do, how long it would take you to do certain things – and therefore how much the trip’s going to cost?

Creating a business plan is like having a road map for your business. It makes you think through where you are, what things you want/can do, and how much it’s going to cost you to do all those things.

If you’ve got a map, you’re much more likely to get to where you want to go. If you have a business plan, you’re much more likely to stay on track and realize when you’re off track which is equally important.

Business plans are often created for investors in hopes they’ll invest in the business. But a business plan can also be used by management strictly for internal use to keep track of where the business is going (market opportunities), what it needs to do to get there (employee talent), and how much it’s going to cost to get there (financials).

It takes time, effort and thought to create a business plan, but it’s worth it. And you don’t have to do it all at once. Begin with an outline including the sections listed below. Jot down your thoughts within each section. Come back to it later when you feel inspired or have specific points you want to include about your market, financials or whatever.

And keep this in mind: your business plan is never done. It’s fluid, constantly in progress, waiting for you to add, delete, modify or edit depending on changing market conditions and opportunities.

Here are the most important sections for your plan:

Executive Summary

This section is a concise overview of all that is included in your business plan. It should be about two pages and well written. Even though the summary is the first section of a business plan, I suggest you write it last. It will be much easier to encapsulate what your business is, how it’s different, who’s the competition, etc. after you’ve taken the time and thought necessary to write all the other sections.

Products and Services

  • Thorough description of each product/service you offer, emphasizing benefits
  • Analysis of your competition

Market Analysis

  • Industry description; more information on competitors
  • Sketch of targeted customer segments

Strategy and Implementation

How you will reach your targeted customers: pricing, promotion, distribution

Management Team

Skills/talents of management team, consultants

Financial Plan and Projections

This outline will help you get started. And the more time you spend working/thinking on your business plan (not obsessing on it), the more you will learn about your business.

The exercise makes you stop and think about your direction: Does it make sense, are there other options, who is your competition, what are they doing, etc. Your next steps will become clearer whether you do them tomorrow or next year.

Gale Dunlap is President of Standout Strategies, a company that helps business owners and job seekers market themselves and their businesses more effectively. Her career has included management consulting and operating management. in marketing strategy and management training for companies such as Amoco, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the Kauffman Foundation, and many start-ups and nonprofits. For more detail visit www.standout-strategies.com, call 303-250-8039 and connect with Gale on LinkedIn

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