Writing a business plan

5 ways to tackle a business plan like a pro.

When you have an amazing idea for a business or product, you’re ready to do whatever it takes to get that idea off the ground. One of your first (and most important) tasks is to find investors and lenders with the capital to invest in your dream. To do that, you have to pitch it to them—with a well thought-out and compelling business plan.

But for many inexperienced business starters, the task of preparing one can be intimidating. Requirements like drafting a financial projection or conducting a market analysis (two essential elements of any good business plan) may seem difficult and confusing…even discouraging for some people.

First, take a breath.

Next, don’t think of a business plan as a potential roadblock. Get excited! This is where you’ll start working towards turning your dream into reality. Think of it as your first chance to impress investors and make them as eager to get your baby off the ground as you are.

Here’s a step-by-step plan of attack to get you started.

Step 1: Figure out how much help you’ll need.

There are definite pros and cons to hiring a professional business plan writer. A professional could help you set, plan for and keep track of your goals while freeing you up to focus on other critical aspects of starting the business. This service can be an investment all its own, however (costing anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000 (around £3,000 to £25,000), reports Forbes.com) and it’s your baby. They might not be as passionate about or familiar with it as you are.

One solution is to collaborate closely with someone—either a friend, colleague or family member—with more experience in business. That way you can focus on selling your idea with your own brand of passion and smarts, while allowing someone more experienced to assist you with the harder stuff.

Step 2: Set small goals and give yourself time to complete them.

One common mistake that new entrepreneurs make is focusing too much energy on the finish line, resulting in critical errors that could cost them funding. Even if you’re eager to have your business up and running by a certain time, you shouldn’t rush writing the business plan. The key to not feeling overwhelmed is to look at each element of the plan as a smaller deliverable on its own, rather than thinking of the finished document as one monster project.

Start a draft and keep updating it as you go. Collect the information you need for each small deliverable and use your partner or team to help you keep things organised and up to date.

Step 3: Do your research. It isn’t enough to be excessively enthusiastic about your business idea.

Arming yourself with information is your best defense against any holes or inconsistencies that might crop up. Although it is important to be concise and realistic about your idea’s potential, you need to show the evidence that proves that potential.

When your investors see that you’ve done your homework, they’re more willing to listen.

Step 4: Answer these four questions. Ask yourself what you’re really selling.

There are millions of products and services in the world, and they can all run together in a consumer’s mind unless there is something specific that makes that product or service stand out. Investors need to know that you understand whom you’re marketing to and, more importantly, why they’ll choose your product over someone else’s. Before you start, make sure you can answer these questions:

  • Who is your customer?
  • What is your customer’s need/problem?
  • What is your solution for this need/problem?
  • Why will yours beat out other solutions in the market?

Step 5: Remember why you’re doing this.

Business plans don’t have to be boring. You need more than accurate numbers for a persuasive pitch. Think of this as an elevator pitch in writing. Your job is to convey the passion you feel for your product or idea, explain why it’s a good investment, and then back up your explanation with solid research. Use things like your cover letter and executive summary (often considered the most important section of a business plan) to speak clearly, directly and personably about your business, where you want to take it and why it will be successful.

Taking these tips into consideration will get you started with confidence and focus, and help you build a solid foundation for a well thought-out and compelling business plan. There’s also a world of resources available that dive deeper into the process, for every level of experience.

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