Throughout the last several years that I have been working with seasoned entrepreneurs and potential launchers, I have been asked the same question over and over again. “I’ve got a business idea that I want to pursue…” or “I need to expand my existing business, so now what?”
The first step is determining whether or not your idea is a feasible one. In other words, you are determining if the idea, whether it is expansion for a new product line or a new business venture, is viable and worth your time in pursuing it further.
Ask yourself questions such as: Does it make sense? Is it reasonable? Is it something that consumers will get excited about? And, are there any fatal flaws in the service or product’s basic design or concept? How is your business unique, and why will your goods or services appeal to customers? What are the primary differences between your company and your competitors? What are the driving factors to choose your business over another? In other words, what is the underlying reason a customer would do business with your company? These are all questions that speak to the basic appeal of the product or service.
If you have determined that your business idea or concept is a feasible one, I strongly suggest that would-be entrepreneurs write a business plan. A business plan is a formal document that explains in detail your strategy for developing a financially successful business. Writing a good business plan is a must if you expect to receive financing for your business. Virtually all sources of financing will want to see your plan, and a substantial part of the lender’s or investor’s decision on whether or not to finance the business is based on your business plan. As a result of completing the plan, you will be even further prepared and know whether or not your business idea is feasible.
Whenever I am working with a potential business launcher or even one who is looking to expand an existing business, I always tell them that a business without a business plan is a plan for no business!
Planning is a process the helps you reach your goals and objectives. Day-to-day planning is part of your operations and management. It includes financial, marketing, employee and customer needs. This should be one year at a time.
Strategic planning is beyond one year and up to three years. It deals with the business industry, the current business economy and environment. Long-term planning should deal with succession planning as well as financial loan repayments up to five years and beyond. It will define and focus your objective using appropriate information and analysis. You can use it as a selling tool in dealing with important relationships including your lenders, investors and banks. Your business plan can uncover omissions and/or weaknesses in your planning process.
Writing a plan forces you to consider important issues and to answer fundamental questions about your business before you actually start the business. The business plan helps you to organize your thoughts as well as your resources. It helps you to communicate the specifics of your business idea to others, including business advisors, potential suppliers, major customers and family and friends, and can serve as a “yardstick” against which you can measure your progress during the initial years of your business. Research has shown that businesses that start with a formal business plan are considerably more likely to succeed than those that go without a written plan.
You can begin by looking at sample business plans to see how they are put together. There are many resources available on the Internet and local libraries. Start by entering into your favorite search engine, “sample business plan for ________” and type in the kind of business you are pursuing. Speak to a business plan consultant such as a SCORE (Service Core of Retired Engineers) or a business development counselor from your local small business development center or your local economic development director. Another suggestion is to contact the Business Development Outreach Specialist through Nicolet College’s Workforce and Economic Development Office.
A former business owner herself and graduate of the Urban Hope Entrepreneur program out of Green Bay, Michelle Madl-Soehren is currently the business development coordinator for Nicolet Area Technical College, where she assists and coaches new and existing entrepreneurs and small business owners with business plan development, provides professional development workshops throughout the area and coordinates and teaches Nicolet College’s eSeed Entrepreneur Program. She holds a baccalaureate degree from Mount Mary College in behavioral science and a master’s in management and organizational behavior from Silver Lake College. Madl-Soehren is also the current president of the Northwoods Entrepreneurs Club and Northwoods Women in Business, and sits on the state advisory board for the Small Business Development Centers. She can be contacted at email@example.com or (715) 365-4492.