Business Plans are documents which set out the goals of your venture, how they will be financed and achieved. They’re key to winning over potential investors. There’s a lot of template plans out there, so which is the right one for you?
What the text book says
The Open University MBA programme encourages the use of the Opportunity Business Model to articulate entrepreneurial business opportunities. This encourages budding entrepreneurs think about opportunities in a sense of Dimensions (the core components of an idea) and Drivers (the wider societal, commercial, legal and technological factors which you may not have any control over, but can react to). You can read more on the Opportunity Business Model here.
From my perspective, as someone who likes control, well planned out actions, it feels a little unstructured to me. I feel I need something a little more detailed with an actual plan to deliver.
The Open University does also describe a basic traditional business plan structure:
- Executive summary – Outlines key features of the venture and highlight relevant points such as funding required, growth potential, and returns for investors.
- The business opportunity – Sets out what the venture aims to provide, why there is a demand, and who is involved in the process (e.g. customers, suppliers, partners).
- Management team – Provides information on key people, often in the form of biographies that highlight relevant skills, knowledge, and experience.
- Marketing and promotional strategy – Analyses potential market and competition, summarizes marketing mix, and explains how products and services will be promoted.
- Operational strategy – Sets out practical aspects of the venture including key processes, information systems, assets (e.g. premises, technologies), and controls.
- Financial forecasts – Provide a quantified summary of the other sections, including projected cash flows, profit and loss accounts, and balance sheets.
Blundel and Locket, 2011, p.35
Finding a Business Plan that suits you
Having decided that you need a Business Plan, where do you start? There’s a myriad of different business plans out there, so which one suits you and where do you find one?
Sources and options
This doesn’t tell as an awful lot, so I went looking for some more examples, deciding at looking along several sources of advice for budding business start-ups: The Government, a bank, a charity, a specialist entrepreneurial advice site.
- The UK Government has a great deal of information and guidance on setting up business in the UK. There’s a lot of dry information, probably a little overwhelming.At the very bottom of the long list of advice links there is a link to Writing a Business Plan. This links you directly to the Princes Trust website…
- The Prince’s Trust was already on my list of websites to check, so having the gov.uk website link directly to it has made my life easier, and perhaps added a little more weight to the offering. The Prince’s Trust is a charity specialising in supporting young people in making a start in life. It also provides a start-up support programme for those seeking to set up their own businesses.The Trust provide an enterprise start up support service. This includes advice on how to start up a business, advice and guidance, workshops and business plan templates. The 18 page template breaks down the business plan into 11 sections:
- Exec Summary
- Owner’s Background
- Products and Services
- The Market
- Market Research
- Marketing Strategy
- Competition Analysis
- Operations and Logistics
- Costs and Pricing Strategy
- Financial Forecast
- Back-up Plan
It’s a detailed template that seeks a lot of information, with prompt questions to guide your way through. It provides tables that help format projected profit margins and returns on investment, and detailed prompt questions throughout to help to define the issues and the arguments. It does indicate the amount of information required to developing a realistic and convincing business case.
- Entrepreneur.com is a website for the popular Entrepreneur Magazine. I’ve referenced the website on a few occasions when researching MBA assignments and it appears pretty solid, even if a little too optimistic about entrepreneurship. The website provides guidance for business plans, template presentations, check-lists and even Non-Disclosure Agreements for the budding entrepreneur here.The guidance provides some very basic templates, such as this one that lacks of a lot of detail. It may be useful for plotting general ideas, but probably wouldn’t be useful for seeking investments or loans.
Frustratingly, entrepreneur.com does provide links to ‘Premium’ templates that require you to purchase before you even get to see more than a teaser of the content. While the formatting looks pretty neat and professional, it’s nothing that someone with a good understanding of Microsoft Word couldn’t do themselves.
- Barclays Bank – I’m not a customer of Barclay’s Bank, they simply appeared at the top of the Google search. They do provide a section on their website for budding start-ups including business ideas, funding and of course, business plans. You can sign-up to get guidance documents and useful templates.
The templates are very financially orientated with minimum space for statements on business aims, objectives, customers and competitors. It focusses more on asset values and break-even calculations. There’s even whole booklets focusing on profit and loss forecasts and cash flow forecasts that indicates the attention to detail banks have on the financial elements of start-ups.
All the templates are in PDF format so you can’t actually edit them without completing them by hand, or purchasing expensive PDF editor software…
- bplans.co.uk has a huge selection of example business plans – it’s nearly a goldmine of information. It’s actually a marketing website for software product by PaloAlto for creating business plans. I’m not interested in the software, but it does provide something unique; completed example business plans for nearly any business opportunity you could care to imagine (http://www.bplans.co.uk/sample_business_plans.cfm). It’s a bit odd really. The main hook is that if you want to use one of these examples, you have to purchase the software that goes with it. Or you could copy and paste if you were so inclined. Anyway, it gives you an idea of what you might include in your business plans.
Personal reflection of applying the templates
Having attempted to use the above templates during a New Venture Challenge on the MBA (think Dragon’s Den, online, with people who actually studied business), I decided that none of them really helped that much, so I developed my own.
I started off with the Prince’s Trust template. This proved to be too long (we were limited to 10 pages) and had so many read-only elements that it became impossible to tailor to our needs. I ended up having to start from scratch, creating something half way between the Prince’s Trust template, and the overly simplistic entrepreneur.com templates.
The end result is here: Business Plan Template
Feel free to use at. I’d be interested in hearing how you find it.