The business plan is a document that outlines what your business is about and what it intends to achieve. However, few business owners understand how to really write a good business plan. They only think about writing a business plan when the time has come to acquire funding for their business.
And next, they write the business plans with the sole aim of getting money from banks or potential investors. This is the wrong way to go about things. Even without having funding in mind, it’s best to have a cohesive business plan written down, for your own benefit.
Below, we’ll show you how to write an accurate, detailed, concise, and comprehensive business plan that will give you the best chance of funding and assist you in understanding your own business.
The most commonly cited reason to write a business plan is to acquire funding. Whether you want to get an SBA(7)(a) or look towards venture capitalists, you’ll need a solid business plan.
The business plan is an outline of what your business is about, what your value proposition is, how you intend to market your business, the target demographic, and how you intend to spend the acquired funds.
Tutorial starts at 1:20 Whether you’re starting a new business or just trying to get your existing business a bit more organized, writing a business plan is the perfect way to clearly outline how your business operates, declare goals, and set out a strategy to reach those goals. In this video you’ll learn about the six essential pages every business plan should have, what to record on each of those pages, and also how to write your business plan as quickly and easily as possible — even if you’re a complete beginner! 🔹
In short, the business plan is a detailed representation of what your business is about, containing all the possible details that a potential investor would like to hear.
However, there is another reason why you’ll want to write a business plan. A business plan is essentially a crystallization of your business on paper. It will help you to understand your business. And it’s always useful to clearly define your goals and expectations.
The business plan helps you to do this, in the most efficient possible way. You are really hitting two birds with one stone. The business plan will help you to run your business, and could also help you to acquire funding. It could be said that there are four major reasons why you should write a business plan:
To outline your business goals and aspirations in writing.
To identify strengths and weaknesses objectively.
To communicate the vision of the company.
To convince investors to lend you money.
Stages of the Business Plan
There are many business plan variants that depend on your industry, business, size, preferences, and numerous other factors. However, the Business Plan is often described as going through 3 primary stages. These stages are:
The Mini-Plan – This is really just a business plan outline. It is typically short, less than 10 pages in length. However, it will contain all of the relevant data. Depending on what you are trying to do and who you are trying to convince, the 10-page plan can be more than enough.
The Working Plan – The working plan is often between 15 and 25 pages in length and explains how the business will operate in more detail. This is the plan that business owners will typically ‘work’ from, though it is still a little bit rough around the edges.
The Presentation Plan – This is the business plan as presented to investors and bankers. It is the business plan with the correct terminology and images as appropriate for convincing a particular audience. This is really a term that is synonymous with a “business plan”.
Even before engaging in a full-blown business plan, it’s best to have a mini-plan to refer to. This can be used when hiring employees or working with partners/contractors, to give them an idea where the business is headed.
The 6 Components of a Business Plan Outline
While there is a lot of room for customization (and a lot of opinion on the matter), the business plan can be loosely broken down into 6 components:
These components are outlined in more detail below. Some steps have multiple subcategories (for example, you can break up step 5 into your current financial situation, projected financial situation in the future, and include a funding request).
Component #1 – Executive Summary
The executive summary is covered in more detail below in the 12 step outline. It’s the most important part of the business plan. It will contain:
A summary of what you provide and who you are.
The current market situation.
How much money you have, and how much you need.
A justification (brief) about why your business will succeed against competitors.
The growth potential of your enterprise.
The Executive Summary is actually the easiest part of the entire process. It’s only 1- 2 pages long and should be a neat outline of what you intend to achieve. But it’s very important to get this part correct. It will set the tone for the rest of the plan. So it has to read well and smoothly.
When writing the Executive Summary, take note that all businesses exist to solve customer problems. What is the problem, how are you solving it, and why are you better than competitors? If you answer these questions succinctly, then you are highly likely to acquire funding. Don’t hype your position – just state it clearly.
A great way to think about an Executive Summary is that it is a written elevator pitch. The Executive Summary is the perfect tool for you to refine your business concept. It allows you to write down a precise and exact concept about what your business stands for. If you have zero intention of acquiring funding from clients, it’s still a great idea to write out an Executive Summary.
Additional benefits of a concise Executive Summary are that it will help you to determine your priorities and will help the rest of the business plan run smoothly. It is often the case that if you start strongly, you will finish strongly.
Component #2 – Opportunity
The Opportunity section details where the customer base is under-served. This is a perfect place to include statistics indicating your target market and how it is expanding. Know your target market inside and out. What their spending habits are, what they are looking for, what methods of payment they prefer, how you can enhance their lifestyles, etc.
The more intimately you understand your target market, the better you can give them what they want. The more sophisticated investors will need to know that you have done extensive research on your target market.
Before you embark on any campaign you must do research to see what is viable and what isn’t. The best way to start is with a question and answer session. Here are some typical questions you could ask before starting out:
Is the overall industry stagnating, growing, or declining?
Is the demand for my specific products/services stagnating, growing, or declining?
What customer segment am I targeting?
What do customers pay, on average, for my products and services?
Will I offer products service for less, more, or the same price as the market average?
Is my price justified, and why?
Can I distinguish myself from my competitors in a meaningful way?
Have other businesses tried to do the same?
Asking these questions is critical to keep you on point. You can always refine your products and services later on, but you will still need to remain in the ballpark in terms of what the customers are looking for.
A key point here is that you need to distinguish yourself from competitors. Even in tough markets, you can do well if you offer a particular niche that is distinct from others. You will be the same, but different, though that is something of a contradiction in terms.
Investors will want to see that you are justified in asking for money and that you have given the issue a great deal of thought. Don’t get discouraged if you are in a tough and declining market. As long as you have a practical way of attracting a target market and the idea makes sense, then your business plan is solid.
A potential area of contention is that of creating a new market versus attracting an existing market. It’s entirely possible to create a market with new products. For example, nobody calls for new smartphones until they are released with new applications and features. When they find out about these new features, they ‘have’ to have them.
But as a general rule of thumb, you do need to give customers what they are already looking for. Creating a new market demand is for more ambitious types, and investors are typically very skeptical of these endeavors. Even the very best products may not sell if there is no market for them. It’s best to dig, do some research, and be very exact in terms of your target market and how you are resolving their problem.
The opportunity section will also include what your competitors are doing and how you can do it better. Differentiate yourself from your competitors as much as possible.
Component #3 – Execution
Execution is the sales and marketing side of a business plan. You can invent the world’s best application, and nobody will download it if you don’t place it in front of them.
This is where many businesses can fall short. You have to sell your products and services hard and aggressively. ’Build it and they will come’ does not work anymore. ‘Build it, market it aggressively, and they will come’ is much more accurate.
Sarah Davis is a business executive specializing in mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance, and international law. She achieved her MBA from Cornell University after completing a legal undergraduate at UC Berkley. Sarah runs her own business consultancy firm in tandem with working alongside the FinImpact team.
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Financial services in 2020 was defined by a sudden acceleration in digitization and digital engagement—pushed by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Exchanges shut down their trading floors and moved to remote trading, mobile banking transactions spiked, personal trading apps saw record transaction volumes, and call center personnel kept customer support going by working from their living rooms.
While the financial services industry was able to weather the digital tsunami and continue its operations, it has become clear that the winds of change are not transient. Financial institutions are now thinking strategically about their technical setup and questioning whether the tools that they have previously relied on are the right ones to use going forward. Here are a few major themes we’ve identified as being likely to dominate financial industry conversations and technology roadmaps in 2021:
1. Modernizing dated core systems will be imperative
2020 was a year that put the financial infrastructure to the test and challenged existing architecture planning assumptions. Many of the core systems had not been architected to address the volume and pace of change that was suddenly required, and dated core systems struggled under the added weight.
Relief programs such as the Payment Protection Program (PPP) in the U.S. saw tremendous demand, but loan document processing, manual reviews, and approvals became bottlenecks. As the credit needs of small and medium businesses surged, lenders faced challenges updating their legacy underwriting and risk management systems to meet the demands. Batch-based, fragmented, and slow-moving information and data pipelines hindered the ability to gain real-time insights and rapid response to customer needs.
As financial services rallied to overcome what economists were calling “The Great Shutdown” or “The Coronavirus Recession,” the need for modern, agile, scalable, secure, resilient technology infrastructures became abundantly clear—and the new imperative in 2021.
2. Banking goes beyond cash with digital engagement
The role of cash in society was in flux before 2020, with contactless payments already a way of life across Europe and Asia. Even in America, which has been resistant to move away from cash, 27% of U.S. businesses reported an increase in contactless payments by customers as a result of the pandemic, according to an April 2020 survey. That trend will continue in 2021, with 74% of global consumers saying they will use contactless payment methods even after the pandemic. Globally, the contactless payment market size is expected to grow from $10.3 billion in 2020 to $18 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.7% during the forecast period.
This trend toward contactless finances extends to banking. In 2020, 44% of retail banking customers relied on mobile apps to conduct business. Both traditional players and financial tech firms introduced new finance apps or upgraded existing ones to offer new services and programs to match consumer needs, such as benefit tracking for government-sponsored food allowances or access to early wages. As downloads of mobile apps soared, transaction volumes skyrocketed.
In 2020, faced with a major health crisis, economic distress, and an uncertain future, insurance companies redefined how they did business almost overnight to provide stability, comfort, and peace of mind for their customers. For example, auto insurance providers offered discounts or refunds given decreased levels of driving. Health insurance companies adjusted their premiums to reflect reductions in non-essential surgeries.
It has become clearer than ever that the most useful products are tailored to the specific needs of the customer, and that hyper-personalization will continue to define the customer journey in 2021. Auto insurance products are more valuable when they are based on miles driven. Home insurance products are more effective when they are integrated with connected homes, so that they can prevent or minimize damage from water leaks or fires.
4. Institutional and wholesale trading moves off trading floors
Suddenly, trading was no longer confined to corporate trading floors. While a small handful of firms positioned their traders as “essential workers” and required them to work on site, the majority of firms allowed traders work from the safety of their homes. As trading floors and exchanges worldwide emptied, the prior assumptions that all trading will happen from physical offices—over corporate networks and enterprise-operated data centers—were suddenly rendered obsolete. Operational resilience plans that counted on falling back to a secondary disaster recovery site became useless when all corporate sites shut down.
In the new world, financial architectures will decouple financial activities from physical facilities through the use of technologies like zero-trust networks that enable location-independent secure access. Operational resilience plans will be updated to include globally and regionally resilient infrastructures like cloud.
5. Work-from-home must work across financial services
Throughout 2020, widespread stay-at-home restrictions challenged businesses everywhere to keep employees engaged, productive, and connected. With the pandemic, as corporate offices became unavailable overnight, the entire financial services workforce—from traders to bankers to support personnel—relied on their at-home internet connections along with existing VPN and virtual desktop infrastructure solutions to do their work. While it got the job done, internet connectivity issues, bandwidth limitations, security concerns, interoperability problems, and limitations in collaboration capabilities plagued the day-to-day experience.
It will take a reimagined work environment—one that combines immersive digital and mobile experiences with flexible hardware—to support in-person and remote workers.
Work-from-anywhere solutions need to take a comprehensive look at seamlessly enabling a heterogeneous, globally distributed workforce, including traders who need high-speed connectivity, quantitative analysts who need vast amounts of compute capacity, retail branch workers who need responsive insights platforms to serve customers, and more.
It will take a reimagined work environment—one that combines immersive digital and mobile experiences with flexible hardware—to support in-person and remote workers. New ways of hybrid working and connecting with customers will also lean heavily on helpful, integrated tools centered on the cloud to level traditional boundaries in 2021.
6. Embedded innovation is the new status quo
While 2020 was bleak from many perspectives, one of the rare positives is that it helped prove that agility and innovation, done right, is a game changer. The speed at which the financial services industry transformed to help their customers through the pandemic is the speed at which they want to continue operating. And that requires a culture of innovation that is embedded into the corporate culture of an institution.
From financial services institutions to vendors, regulators, and supervisors, 2021 is likely to be a year of deliberate cultural transformation to find new ways of working together to create safer, cheaper, more inclusive, and more equitable financial markets.
This year at Google Cloud, we will continue working with our customers across financial services to help them prepare for the future, through our technology, tools and innovation partnerships.
Keep learning: Discover the steps any organization can take to quickly adapt and achieve positive results with tighter resources. Get Google’s Guide to Innovation.
Ulku Rowe Ulku Rowe, Technical Director, Office of the CTO, Google Cloud
At the forefront of Google’s cloud and machine learning capabilities, Ulku enables the financial services industry to take advantage of Google’s technology to fuel their digital transformation. Before joining Google, Ulku was a Managing Director of Technology at J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America. Ulku holds an MS degree in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a BS degree in Computer Engineering. She also serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Fintech Advisory Group.
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Macy’s plans to close 125 of its least productive department stores — almost a quarter of the total — over the next three years and cut about 2,000 jobs as part of a large restructuring.
The stores, including 30 that are already in the process of being closed, account for about $1.4 billion in annual sales, the company said in a statement. Across the rest of the locations, the company is adjusting its staff — reducing in some locations and increasing it in better-performing stores. The shares climbed as much as 3.5% in late trading.
Analysts have said Macy’s is weighed down by too many stores in under performing malls. It currently has more than 600 Macy’s across 43 states. Last month, it reported encouraging sales numbers for the crucial holiday season, but said it would close more than two dozens stores as it adjusts to changes in the way consumers shop.
“We’ve been saying they need to close stores forever,” said Poonam Goyal, senior retail analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “This is a good enough number to show that they’re doing enough to solve the overstored problem in the U.S.”
Consumers have grown more comfortable shopping online and ditching the in-store experience. Department stores, in particular, have suffered and last year, they sized up as the worst sector in the S&P 500. Many have invested in pop-up shops and brand partnerships to entice shoppers back into stores. The loss of foot traffic in department stores has had a ripple effect in malls across the country, which depend on the “anchors” to draw people to the centers.
Macy’s will also consolidate its corporate headquarters in New York, where it already makes a big part of its business. Its massive flagship store in Herald Square has been situated there since 1902. It is closing its corporate offices in Cincinnati.
In a note to employees sent Tuesday and described to Bloomberg News, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Gennette said it would be a “difficult week” for everyone at Macy’s as he outlined the path the retailer will take in coming years. He said that the structural changes were a necessity in order to return to profitable growth.
“We are making deep cuts in almost every area of the business,” he said in the note. “Every function was required to take a hard look at their organization and reset their cost base. This means the departure of many valued colleagues.”
The plan was developed over six months, Gennette said. Managers will begin sharing details with their workers this week.
Macy’s didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the letter.
The company expects the restructuring to generate annual gross savings of about $1.5 billion, which will be fully realized by 2022, with savings this year of about $600 million.
As part of the reorganization, which it dubbed its Polaris Strategy, the company also made a number of leadership changes. Marc Mastronardi, for one, was promoted to chief stores officer, according to a separate letter to employees seen by Bloomberg News.
Macy’s is also introducing a new small format store, and will open a 20,000 square-foot location in Dallas on Wednesday called Market by Macy’s. The store is an immersive shopping experience and multi-purpose event space, according to the letter.
Earlier Tuesday, Macy’s said it would close its San Francisco offices, which include its technology operations. The company said it would offer severance to eligible staff at the offices while some other employees will be able to transfer.
Retailers have been closing stores by the thousands as bankrupt chains liquidate and survivors shrink their footprints, having accumulated too much selling space as shoppers went online. More than 9,000 stores closed in 2019, according to data from Coresight Research.
It’s not the beginning and its not going to be the end,” said Simeon Siegel, a retail analyst at BMO Capital Markets. But store closures alone aren’t enough. “At the heart of it you have to look at what you value proposition is that’s driving customers to stores. In what way does it get better by getting smaller?”
The economic outlook at any point in time can cause confusion. Is the market bullish or bearish? What if Wall Street is happy but wages aren’t keeping pace and thus customers are tightening their belts?
One thing we can say for sure is that traditional markers of economic growth and stability show the U.S. economy is improving. Hiring is up, and unemployment is down. California just posted it’s lowest unemployment numbers in more than four decades. However, there are always doubts about the economy when debt is high and many people have little extra spending money.
What are some unconventional but beneficial moves for small businesses to make in this economic climate, then? Here are a few options.
Invest in upgrades now, not later.
Typical posts about recession-proofing your business would have you save up and hunker down for the inevitable economic downturn. While saving up is always a good thing, sometimes the best strategy to meet economic uncertainty is to grow before it arrives. Growth requires facilities sufficient to sustain increased demand. Consequently, now’s a great time for your business to invest in better equipment and facility upgrades.
Make sure you line up funding before you begin a facility overhaul or equipment buying spree, however. Start shopping around now for the best funding options. Explore bank loans, lines of credit, or other kinds of financing from different sources so you can find the most competitive terms available to you.
The types of financing available to small-business owners are increasing these days. Financial and risk-management technologies are making the extension of business credit in the form of loans or revolving lines of credit more attractive for lenders. That means you’ll have an easier time securing financing now than, say, later on, if the economy takes a turn for the worse.
Add mobile payment options.
How easy do you make it for your customers to make purchases? According to a recent Bank of America report, 46 percent of small businesses were equipped to take digital payments in 2018, a substantial increase from 36 percent in 2017.
Expanding your customer base and making it easier for those customers to make purchases is one of the soundest investments you can make in your business. Leaning into digital payment technology isn’t something that’s usually at the top of the list for most companies when times are lean. With a healthier economy right now, make sure you’re keeping up with the technological times and helping your mobile customers give you their business.
Attract top talent.
If you want your business to dominate your industry or even just a slice of it, you’ll need the best possible people on your team. Figure out ways to court the best workers in their fields for open positions.
A key strategy for accomplishing this goal is to examine what your industry leaders do. What kind of compensation packages are they offering? Where do they recruit? Do they offer college internships, and are they paid or unpaid? Adopt and adapt their tactics to suit your own business.
Plan to expand.
The crash of 2008 put a lot of business plans on hold. While the economy has certainly improved, that sense of pressure and crisis is hard to shake off. And many companies have shied away from significant investments.
Therefore, an unconventional tactic may be to dust off those expansion plans. Be careful, though. Evaluate your revenue and cash-flow projections to make sure your future earnings warrant such a move. If so, then proceed with those plans if the expansion still makes sense for your business. However, remember that goals you set years ago may not necessarily fit your business today.
Attack your debt, and build up reserves.
Pay down both personal and business debt where you can. High levels of credit card debt can rack up thousands, especially with interest rates in the double digits. If you have college student loans, pay those down as well.
Also, aggressively add more to personal savings and build up cash reserves for your business. Extra cash on hand will come in handy during a downturn.
Get a professional opinion and advice about other smart money moves. Hiring a personal or business financial planner is a savvy investment. In addition, expand your own knowledge in other ways. Read books on the economy and financial planning, take a course at your local college or online, and spend more time keeping up with financial developments through news sites and financial blogs.
Finally, set realistic yet challenging financial goals, both for yourself and your business. Goals that feel like a bit of a stretch are usually the ones that keep us fired up and motivated. Write down your goals and then figure out how you can achieve them within a realistic time frame.
In 2017 Farzan Dehmoubed, a marketer, and his wife Jennifer, a schoolteacher, created the Lotus Trolley Bag, a set of washable bags with attached rods that can be hung inside a shopping cart. The bags, with features like secure pockets for egg cartons and wine bottles and an insulated pocket for frozen foods, quickly became the top-selling reusable bag on Amazon, and are now sold in stores like Wegman’s, Albertson’s, Kroger, and TJ Maxx. But getting to that point required overcoming a mishap that nearly sunk their startup. –As told to Kevin J. Ryan
We invested $45,000 into our first inventory. It sold out in 10 days. We were really excited. We called up our manufacturer and placed another order. We wired them $50,000–everything we made on the first batch and more.
Six weeks later a big container arrived. We had our friends and family help us unload it. We opened up the boxes and looked at the product, and it was nothing like the first set of bags. It looked the same from a distance, but when you actually looked at the stitching and the quality of the printing and the logo, it was not what we had ordered. My wife and I looked at each other and said, “This can’t be real.”
I remember thinking to myself, ‘We can fix this, maybe it’s just some loose thread.’ But it wasn’t salvageable. We placed a complaint with the manufacturer, even though we knew it wouldn’t go anywhere, since we were just a family business with very little leverage. We later learned it had outsourced the order to save pennies on the dollar.
We decided pretty quickly we couldn’t sell the bags. We didn’t feel comfortable putting our name on them. That meant we would have to take the $50,000 loss. I don’t think Jenn and I talked for the rest of the day. It took a day or two to absorb the shock.
Even though the manufacturer promised us they would do better the next time around, we weren’t going to be fooled twice. I flew to multiple manufacturers in Vietnam until we found a new one we were happy with. We hired a third-party quality check company. When the goods were ready to ship, they would go in and do an audit: open up each box and check them, and send us videos. We kicked ourselves for not doing that in the first place.
We placed a new $50,000 order, which required emptying our life savings and practically maxing out our credit cards. It was two months before the new inventory came. We were pretty upfront with our customers during that time. We told them very frankly: The bags didn’t come out the way we ordered them, the shipment is going to be delayed, and we really thank you for your patience.
I think letting your customers know you’re just like them, and that you’re just trying to provide a product that they’ll be happy with, goes a long way. People related to us. They were very understanding.
We still had a lot of orders canceled though, and we gave discounts to customers who had been patient. We were nervous when the new container came–if the product was bad, we would have lost everything. But it was exactly what we’d ordered. We sold out almost right away. Because of the discounts, we didn’t make much money at all on that order, but we had our reputation.
Not putting that product on the market was one of the best decisions we ever made. If we had, I can guarantee you we wouldn’t be where we are right now. It would have killed our reviews. It would have ruined our brand.
We now have a 4.6-star rating on Amazon with more than 700 five-star reviews. We’re on pace for $3 million in sales this year. We just launched our second product, a reusable produce bag, and those same early consumers are buying it.
As a business owner, you have to make your decisions for the long-term. For us to take that financial hit was scary, but we had bigger goals in mind. We got through it. And we made a lot of loyal fans in the process.