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Do You Really Need a Business Plan?

"I don't need a business plan."

Neither did Alice in Wonderland.

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

"I don't much care where," said Alice.

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

As a consultant, I have people ask me "How can I increase my business?" The answer is often easier than they think. But before figuring out how, they must decide where they want to take their business. This is why everyone in business should have a business plan, not just the people seeking venture capital.

Your business plan will be the "road map" of your enterprise. It will show you how to get to where you want to go. To develop a good plan, you need to write down the answers to quite a few questions.

To get you thinking, let's jump twenty years into the future. Describe your life. Are you still working or are you retired? Are you worth a lot of money? If so, how is your wealth distributed? Stocks? Bonds? Equity in your business? Other businesses? Are you an independent consultant or do you have a company? How large is your practice/company? What is your annual revenue (in today's dollars)? How many hours per week do you work? Do you work on weekends? Do you travel? And most importantly, are you happy?

Tough questions? Maybe. But they need to be answered honestly and realistically. I know that life can hit you with some unwelcome surprises that might change the way you want things to be. It is because of these changes, however, that you should re-evaluate your plan every two years -- about as often as you replace a pair of daily-wear shoes.

After defining your long range goals, break them down into ten year and five year goals. Make sure they are consistent with your twenty year plan. The next step is to determine what you need to do to achieve your goals.

Here are some short-term questions you should think about: Do you want more customers or steady customers? What is your competition doing? Will advertising help increase your profit? If so, what kind of advertising and what media should be used? Think of your own questions.

Your specific marketing strategies will depend on your individual goals (once you have an idea of where you want to take your business). Put your answers down on paper! Organize your thoughts, questions, and concerns. If you have financial data, use it. You don't have to take your plan to the bank, but by recording your income and expenditure you will have a benchmark to use when you review your goals and accomplishments. Business plans often follow a general format. You can modify this one to suit your exact needs.

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Profile (including mission statement that describes your business and why you are in it)
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Staff Qualifications
  • Financial Information
  • Appendices (containing any additional information you would like to include)

    Review your plan for consistency. Is it coherent? Is it realistic? This is your guide to your business. It will help you get what you want. Keep it updated. Change it as your goals change or as the market changes. Remember, a little planning will take you a long way.

    Raj Khera is a partner in MoreBusiness.com, a comprehensive resource for small businesses. Find tips, articles, ideas, templates, worksheets, sample business plans, tools, financial benchmarks, sample contracts, and much more to help grow your business.

    Copyright 2005 Raj Khera. All rights reserved.

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