If your business plan is only well defined in your mind, it becomes difficult to convince lenders, investors and shareholders, that you have a credible business and that you will be able to use their funding well. And it is precisely for this reason that you need a business plan.
It is a recognized management tool that consists of a written document describing who you are, what you want to accomplish, and how you plan to overcome risks and produce the expected returns.
The usefulness of a clear and well-documented business plan is not limited to starting a new business or applying for a loan. A business plan provides a roadmap and objective direction that you and your team can use to lead the business, stay focused on your goals, and track your successes.
A detailed plan, but simple
A business plan doesn’t have to be a complex document that spans hundreds of pages. In fact, it should be simple and to the point while providing readers with all the information they need to assess your plans and business prospects.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for writing an effective business plan. The goal is to demonstrate that you are ready to build a sustainable business and that you have the expertise, skills and confidence to complete the project.
Here are some tips you should keep in mind when getting started:
- Write down your ideas as quickly as possible and don’t worry about the details, especially at the first draft stage.
- Try to keep the information clear and direct. Bankers want facts.
- Submit the plan to your board (if applicable), senior management, and key employees for feedback.
- It’s always better to have someone in-house write the plan. But it can be helpful to get feedback from an independent expert.
- You can also get advice from a mentor who understands the challenges faced by immigrants who want to start a business. You will find mentors at organizations like ACCES Employment and Futurpreneur Canada.
The first section of your business plan should provide an overview of your business. This includes:
- Your corporate and business name, business address and contact information.
- A brief description of the business.
- Summaries of your products and services, pricing, distribution, risk factors and competitive advantages.
- A description of your market and how your business aligns with demographic, economic, social, industry and cultural trends as well as the market.
- A description of the major players, including major competitors, suppliers and distributors.
- Your company’s mission and vision as well as its value statements. Your mission describes the activities of your business. Your vision highlights what your business is trying to accomplish. Your values allow the reader to understand the top priorities of your organization eg teamwork, integrity, customer focus.
- Applicable government regulations.
Sales and Marketing Plan
This section explains how you will attract customers, convince them to buy your products and services, and retain them.
A sales and marketing plan includes a detailed portrait of your target customers, the estimated demand for your products and services, and the reasons why your offering will appeal to customers. You will need to explain how your business will change the lives of your customers and why they will have a preference for your products over those of competitors.
Other useful elements for this section are:
- A description of your brand’s unique identity.
- A description of the customer’s buying journey ( i.e. how they interact with your business).
- Your marketing goals (eg, target market share or number of customers).
- A list of existing customers and suppliers, if applicable.
- Your plans for advertising and promoting your business.
- A brief description of your customer service policy.
Plan of operation
The plan of operation provides information on your physical facilities (location, size, property), your capital assets (such as machinery and technical equipment), your impending capital expenditure needs, your intellectual property, your furnishings. , your research and development initiatives as well as the work required to ensure environmental compliance, if applicable.
Human resources plan
A rigorous business plan should explain how you intend to recruit and retain employees and plan for any human resource challenges that your business may have to overcome. You should also include an organization chart, job descriptions, hours of operation, as well as information on compensation and benefits, vacation policies, performance review procedures, and employee training and development.
You should describe the ownership structure of your business i.e. who owns it and what type of business it is (Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Joint Stock Company, B Corp). If you are acquiring an existing business, provide details of the acquisition agreement. Remember that all contracts and legal matters should be reviewed by a lawyer.
You will include here a table or graph (one or two pages should suffice) indicating the objectives and key milestones for the next few years. It can be useful to indicate target dates and who is responsible for each task.
A concise and general summary (one or two pages should suffice) is a good way to conclude the plan. It should include:
- Your objectives and a description of the project. ( Be sure to specify if this is a brand new business, an expansion of an existing business, or the acquisition of a new business.)
- A history of the company and a description of the nature of the activities.
- Your products or services as well as their exclusive points of sale.
- Your financing needs.
- Management and advisor information.
- A brief description of your risk assessment and contingency plan.
- Contact details for your financial institutions.
It is important to include information to support your business plan. It can include feasibility studies, surveys, market analysis, key information about your main competitors and an industry overview. You can include footnotes in the main document to direct the reader to supporting documents.
Annex – Financial plan
Your business plan should include a financial plan explaining how you expect to earn income from the activities and what your expenses and funding needs will be.
A sound financial plan should include:
- Basic information (address, contact details, start date of activities, year end date).
- Sales data (historical and three-year projected data). This data should be broken down by product category and expressed in dollars and as a percentage of total sales.
- Fixed and variable costs (historical and projected costs), broken down by category, such as inventory, materials, transportation, tariffs, labor costs, repairs and maintenance, utilities and other services, depreciation, indirect costs, travel, advertising, office expenses, insurance and taxes. Well-documented start-up costs should also be included.
- Include a historical and projected income statement and statement of financial position.
- The projected cash flow monthly for the next three years.
- A statement of financing needs for each sector of your business. This should include a description of the existing loans and the reasons for which they were taken.
- A table of performance indicators, with historical and projected data. It can include a few key metrics, such as general liquidity ratio (current assets divided by current liabilities), average time to collect accounts receivable, inventory turnover, interest coverage, ratio debt/equity, return on invested capital and asset turnover.
- Financial information on the directors of the company. Lenders must be able to assess your ability to repay a loan. You must include your home address and contact information, income and assets, obligations, name of your spouse, and employment information. You must also communicate the financial information of your partners, if applicable.
Bankers are also interested in the state of your personal finances, since they ask for certain investments from you as proof of commitment. (Money can come just from you, or your family and friends.) The general rule is that money attracts money; the more investors you have, the easier it is to attract others.
Keep in mind that a banker will also review your credit history to assess your reliability. Make sure you know your and your business records with the credit bureaus.
If you are new to Canada, you may not have a credit history to present to the banks when you apply for a loan for your business. One practical solution is to get a credit card and use it responsibly. You can also explore government financing programs like the BDC Newcomer Entrepreneur Loan.
Avoid these pitfalls
- Don’t be unrealistic in your business plan. You should be able to justify all of the assumptions and projections.
- Don’t try to cover up financial difficulties. Be honest with your lender. For example, if your sales fluctuate, you might like to have a flexible payment schedule. A transparent business plan is your best ally in gaining the trust of bankers and investors, whether they are your associates or individuals independent of the company.
- Do not provide inadequate information. Provide sufficient information on the management team, marketing plans and start-up costs.