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Guide to creating a business plan

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You’ve heard of a business plan – the Holy Grail of starting a business; the strategic, ‘living’ document that will be your business’s North Star. It’s The Document you must refer to when you reach a crossroads in your business, the one that will secure funding, should you need it.

But what exactly is a business plan? And why – really – do you need it?

Let’s have a look.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a document that establishes the foundation for your business. It is a working document that tracks the strategy, structure, and financial plan most likely to secure sustainability and growth. It needs to be based on facts and thorough research to mitigate any risks and entice potential investors.

A business plan can be drafted for a start-up or an already established business. Regardless of when it’s drawn up, it should be updated regularly to reflect any changes that could affect the business.

Your business plan should include both short- and long-term goals and help you determine if you are on course to reaching those goals or if you need to adjust where your business is heading.

If you need financing, your business plan must provide sufficient information to convince a prospect financier that the venture is commercially sound, that there’s a market for your product or service, and that it’s likely to be a success.

Why do you need a business plan?

Research has shown that businesses with a plan grow faster, are more likely to secure funding, and stand a better chance of scaling. What’s more, it helps you focus on what your business – and customers – need most.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that it’s not essential to have a business plan because so many small businesses operate without one, but here are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to have one:

  • Funding. You might require funding for your business at some point. Funding comes in many forms, but you’re unlikely to see a cent from anyone without a solid business plan. You will need to show how you plan to generate revenue and indicate when you are likely to be profitable. You should also know how much investment you need and when you’ll be able to pay it back.
  • Prove viability and avoid mistakes. A business plan can help you to turn your vision into reality because it helps determine if your business is viable or not. Business plans require you to think about solves to the top reasons businesses fail so that you can avoid pitfalls such as a lack of market or demand, shortage of capital, staff issues, competition, and poor pricing choices.
  • Decision-making. Having considered the various scenarios mentioned above and troubleshooting worst-case scenarios, you’ll be better equipped to make sound decisions for your business’s future. Once your business is on the go, you’re unlikely to have the luxury of time to think through all the possible scenarios and weigh up the pros and cons again.
  • Outsider’s view. Creating a business plan forces you to take an objective look at your business. Outsiders will experience your business differently, and knowing what that looks like is critical. Where are the holes or weaknesses in your plans?
  • Communication. A business plan can show anyone precisely what your business is and what it does. It can also help you in the recruitment process and assist with securing suppliers and vendors.
  • Setting objectives. Without a plan can easily get lost or seem nonsensical. Having a business plan helps solidify those objectives and keeps you accountable to your long-term goals.

What to include a business plan

A business plan doesn’t need to be overly long or complicated. A shorthand business plan is known as a lean plan, and it keeps matters concise and straightforward, focusing only on what you need to know to build your business successfully.

Here is an outline of what a typical business plan includes. Lean plans will only have one or two sentences for each that can be expanded on later:

  1. Executive summary

The executive summary is a general overview of the business, including its history, location, industry, products and/ services, employees/potential roles to be filled, funding required, and letters of intent.

  1. Business description

Describe what the business does. You will also need to supply copies of the following documents (if applicable) to prove that your business is a legal entity:

  • CICP registration documents
  • Income Tax and VAT documents
  • Tax clearance certificate
  • Proof of registered address of the business
  • Copy of the IDs of all shareholders
  • B-BBEE certificate
  1. Value proposition / Unique selling point

What is unique about your business? Does it meet a need that few others can? Think about what you would say if someone asked you to describe your business in only one sentence. That is your value proposition.

  1. Goals and objectives

List your short- and long-term goals. These can be profit, employee, or store number based. Be realistic as this will help you navigate the way forward and show potential investors that you future-plan. Use the SMART model (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) to plan, and you will quickly know if the business is achieving its goals.

  1. Market analysis and target market description

You need to answer two crucial questions before starting a business: Who would be interested in what you have, and how much are they willing to pay for it? Next, you can look at where you will find your market, what size it is, and who your likely competition will be. Market analysis will also include your sales projections, marketing strategy, and market research.

  1. Go-to-market strategy

This is the action plan showing how your business will reach its market and gain a competitive advantage. It aligns stakeholders on the way forward. It also helps you to engage your customer and explain why they should buy your product over another.

  1. Competitor analysis

This is used to outline the strengths and weaknesses of competitors. Where do you fit in? Will you be able to outperform them?

  1. Financial plan / projections

Include a financial forecast, balance sheet, and (projected) income statement.

If you need funding, include a potential ROI for interested investors. Be honest about funding you have already received and other funding that you have applied for—and how you will spend it. If you have debts or overdraft facilities in place, include those too.

Your balance sheet must include all existing assets and liabilities and any that will be brought into the business.

Your income statement should have sales projections that align with contracts you already have in place. Cost of sales must be accurately calculated and accounted for per item, and all possible expenses must be considered.

  1. Operational plan

Detail the day-to-day tasks required to run the business. Defines how, who, and what needs to work together for the company to succeed.

  1. Marketing and sales strategies

How are you going to reach your customers? Will you be advertising on social media, local radio stations, television? Once your customers are intrigued, how are you getting them to buy? Online, in-store, or both? Consider all the messages you will need to communicate and build trust with your customers.

  1. Your team

Who is in your business and what roles do they fill? Will you be including more staff soon? Be sure to explain the hierarchy of staff here, not only for potential investors but for your team too.

Some helpful tips

  • Keep your business plan short
  • Keep it simple
  • Make it visual (using free tools like Canva)
  • Include charts, summary tables, infographics, etc
  • Create a one-page, easily accessible summary

If you don’t have a written business plan yet, it’s never too late to get started on one. It’ll help you leave less to chance and give you the clearest possible view of your business’s future.

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