5 Reasons Why Writing a Strategic Business Plan Dramatically Improves Your Business

Writing a strategic business plan is a critical business management skill that unfortunately in small business is often neglected or ignored. Various studies show that only one in ten businesses have an up to date written business plan. Many businesses do a plan at some stage but 90% do not have an up to date consistent and competent planning process.

As a business coach, I create 90 day action plans every 90 days for all of my clients and the direct result is motivation, direction, focus and better results.

So what are the benefits of writing a strategic business plan? Well here are 5 main reasons why writing a strategic business plan equals maximum business success.

1.Better Management Results

Business planning has long been recognized as one of the first and critical functions of superior management. When planning is not done it is so much harder to lead effectively, to organize key staff, to know which marketing strategy to implement and to know how to grow your enterprise effectively.

2.Keeps your business on track and in better control

There is a proven link between effective leadership control and planning. Why? A business moving towards a set of pre-determined goals and targets, with specific strategies, has against this, a set of measurements and tracking to control if it is effective or not. With this crucial information, a business can therefore make better decisions enabling a better chance of success.

3.Integrate personal and business goals effectively

By focusing on a mix of personal and business goals creates a more realistic feeling going forward. After all, business and personal are always entwined. We all want to achieve more in our work or career so that our personal live is more effective.

A great idea is to put into every plan your three top five year goals for your company. Then your top three personal goals (only if you are the leader or owner).

Then deviate to the short term. Write down your three top one year business goals and personal goals. Have the courage to do this and put it in writing. Review it weekly and look at the possibility of changing your plan every 90 days. Follow this formula for the best chance of long term success.

4.Focus on goals and directions

Goal orientated companies generally out perform those without goals. A big statement but a truism as far as I am concerned. Are your business goals written down and clear?

If not, consider a 5 year view, a 1 year view and a 90 day view of your business and personal goals that are written down and smart tested. Smart tested stands for Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic and have a Time-frame.

5.Improve the efficiency of your systems and overall business performance

Policies and procedures are a vital part of your business improvement so writing a strategic business plan must outline what procedures you intend to improve over the next ninety days and beyond. A practical step depending on the size of your organization is to take one system or procedure every one to two weeks and write it down, look at it’s process and involve your team (if applicable) in improving it and document it further.

Imagine the difference in your business if twenty six policies and procedures were focused on and ultimately improved each year. Now that is continuous improvement at its greatest. Writing a strategic business plan with the planned procedures is an important bridge between thinking and implementation.

Writing a strategic business plan need not be a complicated, drawn out process. It can be motivating, enlightening, empowering and reflect the true feelings of leaders and others to achieve outstanding success. If you are serious about getting business success you must have a strategic business plan. Otherwise where you want your business to go and where you want it to be might not be where it finishes. Business failure and the lack of planning go hand in hand. The statistics tell us this. You need a plan to give yourself the best possible chance of outstanding success.

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Should You Write Your Own Business Plan?

If you are just starting a company and looking for funding, or looking for additional funding for growth, you will need to develop a traditional business plan. Creating a business plan is a business hurdle that entrepreneurs seem to dread. Do you do it yourself? Do you hire someone to do it? How do you get it done quickly, but without spending too much money on it? Will what you do yourself be adequate to get funding?

In this article I will discuss the pros and cons of do-it-yourself business planning versus having a business planning consultant do it for you or with you.

The Do It Yourself Business Plan

Particularly if you are seeking capital of less than $200,000, consider creating the plan yourself after taking a class or reading some books or getting some coaching for someone who has written successful business plans.

Consider taking a three-hour business planning class through SCORE or the local Small Business Development Center. Even if you decide afterwards not to write your own plan, you will have a much better idea of what you want out of the process and what to expect.

There are some good reasons for an entrepreneur to do the business plan:

  • First of all, because you can. If you’ve read sample business plans and find their accounting jargon intimidating, you are not alone. But as long as you can clearly get your message across and have other people such as you accountant look at the plan before it goes to lenders or others, you can do this work yourself.
  • It is in learning the business planning process that you develop analytical thinking skills necessary to run your business with an intimate understanding of your own business model. Going through the planning process is an invaluable business experience.
  • You need to know the plan inside and out and really understand the variables involved. You are the one who will be asked the tough questions by potential investors or lenders, such as “What will you do if only half your expected revenue comes in?” or “What will you do if you find out that direct mail is not working for you as your primary marketing tool?”

Outsourcing the Business Plan Process

Entrepreneurs are fire fighters. One of the most important jobs of an entrepreneur is to manage time, and do those things that you are best skilled to do. Many entrepreneurs decide to hire someone else to do their business plans, often because they have an urgent need for the funding and can’t afford the learning curve to be able to develop a high-quality plan that will meet the needs of lenders or investors.

In addition, if your funding requirements are more than $500,000 my recommendation is to get some professional help with this project, even if you do some of it yourself.

Some reasons to consider hiring a consultant:

  • It will get done! Business planning is done much faster with someone who knows the process. Every entrepreneur has good intentions about getting plans completed, but months later they still haven’t done all the work. Planning should be high priority work, but it is hard to get to when customer calls and employee problems require immediate attention. The sooner the plan is completed, the sooner funding can be attained. And the price of hiring the consultant will be small in comparison with the increases in growth and profitability of the business.
  • It will get done in a way financial professionals will respect. Business planning is done better by someone who knows how finance people look at plans and what they will and won’t question. Once you’ve been through the business plan process many times, you know what it takes to get funding – what to emphasize and what to play down.
  • The consultant’s objectivity will allow for non-emotionally-based projections and expectations for the business. A consultant will be much more objective in the process and question your assumptions, making it less likely that the business will have problems after the funding comes in.

No matter what, don’t let a business planning consultant talk you into putting any information into your plan that you aren’t comfortable with. If it doesn’t look right to you, it probably isn’t. It is your business, and you will be stuck with the plan long after you’ve paid the consultant’s bill. Make sure it is the plan that you want, one that matches your goals and objectives, and captures the way you look at business and the spirit of your company.

If you do decide to hire a business planning consultant, here are some of the important questions to ask to make sure you get the greatest value from your investment:

  1. How many business plans have you written for my type of business? How many of them were funded?
  2. How much time will you need of mine during the planning process?
  3. When will the plan be completed, and how many drafts should I expect to see and have the opportunity to comment on?
  4. Will you be writing the plan yourself or do you have associates who do the work with you?
  5. Will there be an opportunity for you to present the plan or for me to present the plan to my other advisors before the final draft is done?
  6. How do you work in collaboration with my partners and advisors so their input is taken into consideration during the writing of the plan?
  7. Do you do the market research and the financial spreadsheets, or are those things done separately (and charged for separately)?
  8. Does your price include revisions or customization for certain types of funding (to include different information needed by investors versus lenders)?
  9. Does your price include coaching to prepare me to talk with lenders or make financing presentations?
  10. Will I have an electronic version as well as a hard copy version of the final plan (so I can make changes later if I need to)?

The Optimum Solution: A Blended Approach

At best, the planning process should not be at either end of the spectrum, but squarely in the middle. In my experience, plans that win funding come from a true collaboration between a skilled consultant/facilitator and the entrepreneur’s team of employees and advisors.

A business planning consultant can act as a coach, first assessing the job to be done, and then recommending who is best to do it. The business plan should be a compilation of work between the vision and goals of the entrepreneur, the technical understanding and expertise of his or her accountant and other professionals, a consensus of employees or others, and the research and writing abilities of the business planning consultant. The consultant should meet with all parties involved, talk about what is needed for the plan, and use all the resources available to get the work done as quickly and cost effectively as possible. It is the consultant’s responsibility in the process to take all the pieces and make the final plan into a readable, accessible document that will stand up to investor/lender scrutiny.

My final caveats:

  • Don’t pay more than a few thousand dollars for a plan unless you are looking for capital of well over $1 million. I have heard more than a few horror stories by people who have hired university professors assuming they are the experts (they aren’t) and paying tens of thousand of dollars for a poorly written or incomplete plan. Ask your banker for business planning consultant recommendations, or better yet, talk with someone who had a good experience having a business plan written for them. It is reasonable for a consultant to expect you to pay half of the fee up front and the other half at the completion of the plan. And you can’t hold the consultant responsible if you don’t get funding based on the plan – too much is based on your own credit and management skills.
  • Don’t expect to get a finished plan that is a roadmap of everything you need to do to have a successful business. That isn’t the purpose of the business planning process. A traditional business plan is intended only to document your strategies for the business very briefly – but well enough to get funding. If you are hoping for something that will tell you how to market or how many people you need to hire, you will have to start with a deep strategic planning process, and probably buy lots of consulting time to get you going.
  • Don’t expect a great a business plan from a poor business model. If your costs are too high to make your business profitable, the business planning process will help you discover that. Then it will be up to you to make the hard decisions about changing your costs structure to make the business work. The business planning consultant is a skilled professional, not a miracle worker. A good business plan can help you highlight your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, but it cannot make an unworkable business model into a thriving business.

And one final thought: Don’t go on to start a business or make changes in your current business if everything in the business planning process tells you it won’t work. Things don’t get better out in the real world if they don’t work on paper. Deal with the weaknesses – get more training, consider product redevelopment, or have a home-based business to reduce costs until you can sustain the rent for an office. Businesses fail finally because they’ve run out of money. If your plan tells you that you can’t make enough money to make the business work for the long run, pay attention to that reality.

Why Make a Business Plan?

In many cases business plans are very important but so much of the time it’s a plan to try to convince someone else that you know what you are doing with your business like banks, investors, partners, etc. Now it’s true that a well written business plan can also be a major benefit to your success as well if done right. It can guide you and keep you on track and can be the vehicle to get you were you want to be especially with so many outside forces now days that bombard you. A plan can be extremely important to your success especially when you look at the statistics that says 51% of small businesses fail sometime during their first 5 years.

So why make a business plan? I want to show you a totally different kind of business plan. What if you made a business plan that focused only on what you want for your life? You have dreams about what you would like your lifestyle to be, right? Why not make a business plan that could give you those dreams? What would your business look like if it gave you exactly what you want in life. What kind of salary would your business need to give you? Why not build a business plan around that? Decide how much salary you would need to support your dreams and then build a business plan that would show exactly how your business could give you that. Wouldn’t it be better to have your business work for you instead of the other way around?

Did you ever stop and think what a unique position you’re in as a business owner? I don’t know of any other way you can have as much control over your success than owning a business. When you work for someone else, you are totally at their mercy as to what your future may be like. It doesn’t matter whether it is a private business you work for or a large corporation. Your future is in their hands. The only thing that might qualify other than owning a business would be to inherit or win a lot of money that would give you everything you want in life.

So, why make a business plan the normal way when you could first make one that could give you what you want in life? Have you ever thought about doing a plan like that? Would you know how? Would you have the time to do it?

Well if you don’t or not sure, let’s at least see what’s involved.

Here are the steps you would need to take.

First, you would need to know all your current business numbers. This will be the basis for the plan. You’re going to need to know:

1. What your current average monthly sales are
2. What your current average monthly material cost is
3. What your current average monthly labor cost is
4. What your current average monthly fixed expenses are
5. What your current average monthly variable expenses are
6. What your average number of transactions per customer per month are
7. What your average dollar sale per transaction is
8. What your average monthly profit is
9. What your average monthly profit margin is
10. And what % capacity your business is at right now

Second, decide what you want your salary to be

Third, determine how many years in the future you want to plan for

Fourth, you will need to know:

1. What % is your material cost of sales?
2. What % is your labor cost of sales?
3. And what % is your variable expense of sales?

Why do you need to know these percentages? As your sales increases or decreases, your material cost, labor cost, and variable expenses will track accordingly. They will track very close to the same % as your current business. As an example, let’s say your current sales is averaging $100,000 per month and your material cost is averaging $20,000 per month. That’s 20% of your sales ($20,000 รท $100,000 = 20%). So, what would your material cost be if your sales were averaging $200,000 per month? It would still be 20% but it would be 20% of $200,000 or $40,000. So with these percentages, you can project your material, labor and variable expenses. See how it works?

But your fixed expenses don’t do this. They remain the same no matter what sales does. That’s why it’s call fixed. These are expenses like rent, taxes, utilities, phone, salaries, insurance, etc. A lot of business owners never consider this. They just lump all their expenses together. But you could never make an accurate plan if you combine all your expenses together. If you project your sales higher and want to know what your expenses will be, you have to separate your fixed and variable.

So, thinking about this principle, let me ask you a question. If your sales grew 10% and nothing else changed, would your profit margin be higher, the same, or less? Profit margin is % of profit against sales

If you said the profit margin would be higher, then you are right. Why would your profit be higher? If you said because of the fixed expenses, you would be right. Your material cost, labor cost, and variable expenses would have gone up 10% but your fixed expenses would have remained the same. You brought in more revenue because of more sales and you spent 10 % more on material, labor, and variable expense to cover the extra sales, but you didn’t spend any more on your fixed expenses. So, less overall expenses, would give you higher profit margin. Make sense?

So, let’s see how we would make a business plan that would show exactly how your business could give you the salary you want.

First you would determine what you would like your salary to be. You’ve dreamed about having a nice income to support your dreams I’m sure. Let’s say right now you only make what your profit is giving you which might not be much. So let’s say the first year, next year, you would love to have a consistent monthly salary of $4,000 a month, every month. And every year you would like to be able to increase it so that after 10 years it would be at $10,000 per month. And let’s say you would like to grow your business 10% each year.

So, what would your business look like over the next 10 years to give you that?

Could you build a plan that would show exactly how your business could do that?

It would show what your sales, fixed expenses, material cost, labor cost, and variable expenses would need to be. It should also show you how many customers you would need and would show you what your profit and profit margins would be each year.

All it takes is your current business numbers as we listed earlier and you can make a business plan as many years out as you like.

Now, in addition, when you know the average number of transactions per customer and you know your average dollar sale per transaction, you can also project how many customers you would need over those 10 years as well. This would tell you everything about what your business would need to do to give you the salary you want.

So, wouldn’t it be nice to see what a plan like this would look like? Could you do it? It might not be as tough as you might think.

There is no doubt it would take some time and would require a lot of calculations, but when you understand these principles and know how to put it together, you could probably do it. What do you think? Have you ever thought about doing a plan like this? It’s actually kind of in reverse. You decide what you want and let your business give you that.

Now assuming you did do this and it looked reasonable to you, how would you go about making it happen? What approach would you use? This could be a little harder. Well let me show you something. It might be easier than you think.

Did you know there are 7 ways to increase profit in business? If we decided to grow our business, most likely the first thing we would think about would be to add more customers. Adding customers will increase sales and as we seen above can increase profit as well, but it might not be the most effective way to increase profit. Take a look at these and see which ones you think could work for you. Would it be to:

1. Add more customers?
2. Increase your transactions per customer?
3. Increase your average dollar sale per transaction?
4. Decrease your fixed expenses?
5. Decrease your variable expenses?
6. Decrease your material cost?
7. Or decrease your labor cost?

What’s more important, sales or profit? Profit is what generates your salary. You could actually make more profit with less sales. Less sales could actually be less work. The most important thing for a business is to make money. That’s profit. Now some might say, I don’t care so much about making a lot of money. I like the freedom of owning a business. Well that is probably true, but if you don’t watch your profit, you might lose that freedom.

It’s always amazed me how most businesses, even very large ones, talk about how much their sales are. You hear comments like, that’s a $10,000,000 company. But what’s a $10,000,000 company if it has no profit. Now I do admit that 2% net profit of $10,000,000 is a lot bigger than 2% of $1,000,000 but most likely the large one carries a lot more headaches too.

Maybe it would be much better to have focused on profit than sales. What if profit had been the focus instead of sales. What if this could have been the result?

$10,000,000 x 2% = $200,000 profit
$1,000,000 x 25% = $250,000 profit

So when using one or more of these 7 ways to increase profit, the first one (adding more customers) might be the one you want to focus on last. It’s probably more expensive

Now, if you had your plan completed and it showed what your business needed to do over the next 10 years to give you the salary and profit you wanted, the next thought would be how do I make it happen. Well the best way would be to take it one year at a time. Concentrate on next year first and then choose one or more of 2 through 7 to work on before trying to add customers.

As an example, let’s say your current average number of transactions per month per customer is 3.0. Which says on average each customer does business with you 3 times each month. You could calculate how much more profit you would get if you could increase it to 3.5. And I can tell you that would probably be enough to meet your plan. And if that did generate enough profit, all you would have to do is maintain everything else; sales, expenses, labor, average dollar sale, etc, and then just figure out how you could increase your transactions from 3.0 to 3.5. Maybe it could be with some type of promotion that would get customers to come in more often.

Once you chose which one or more of the 7 you want to use and calculate exactly how much impact they have on meeting your plan, you would now have a definite approach on how to make your plan work.

It seems simple. At that’s what it’s all about. It’s about how to make your plan work the easiest and smartest way you can eliminating all the guesswork or trial and error methods. Want to increase your profit? This is a good way to do it.

So, you see, once you decide which of the 7 ways you’re going to do, then the only thing left for you to do is figure out how to make the one or ones you have chosen work.

No doubt there would be a lot work to do to do a plan like this. You would need to figure out how to put it all together, do all the calculations, do a lot of what if’s, etc.. And I’m sure one of the biggest things would be, would you actually take the time to do something like this or even have the time to do it? You could pay someone to do it but that would probably cost you a lot. Plus if you did that, most likely it would require a lot of back and forth work to get it just like you wanted it which would be even more expensive. But even then, would you spend the money to do it?

There is a better way. If you would like to develop a nice plan like this for yourself and give yourself a good shot at making your life better, then find a planning software that does it all for you.

One place and probably the only place I’ve found is http://StrategicBusinessSolutionsLLC.com.