Category Archives: Business

A marketing plan is a core component of a business plan

The starting point for any marketing plan is an analysis of the strategic context, as a typical objective for most plans is promoting a good or service as effectively as possible. An assessment of the company, its environment and its customers helps to ensure that the author of the plan obtains a holistic view of the wider context. In turn this helps them to focus their energies and resources accordingly. This is particularly important given that most marketing managers will be subject to that all-too-familiar constraint—limited resources (invariably financial). In effect, a marketing plan is produced to ensure that limited resources are allocated to activities that are likely to bring the maximum return.

An assessment of the context will include analysis of both internal and external factors. There are a number of frameworks and tools designed to assist you with this:

  • A SWOT analysis forces you to consider internal Strengths and Weaknesses alongside external Opportunities and Threats.
  • Porter’s Five Forces is a framework designed to assist you in considering the broader competitive and environmental context.

It is also vital that you have a thorough understanding of your customers; look to whether segments exist within your broad customer group that can be profitably served utilizing specific and targeted marketing activities.

Following an analysis of broader conditions, a marketing strategy can then be put in place. This strategy needs to include financials so that all activities can be assessed in the context of their cost as a portion of the overall marketing budget. Regardless of the product or service, the objectives tend to be similar for most managers; create awareness, stimulate interest in the offering, and ultimately (profitably) convert this awareness into sales. All these factors are intertwined and, hence, the importance of effective market planning.

Using a local restaurant as an example, their marketing activities are going to be predominantly concentrated within a two to three mile radius of their restaurant, as this area is where the vast majority of their customers are likely to come from. Tactically, there is no point in such a restaurant advertising on TV (even locally) as the cost would be prohibitive in the context of their business model. They are limited in terms of capacity (number of seats) and their average cost per head so that, even if they created huge awareness and interest via TV advertising, the resultant revenues would still be unlikely to cover the cost of the specific marketing activity. On the other hand, stuffing leaflets through local letterboxes is extremely targeted and comes at low relative cost, which explains the sheer volume of fast-food flyers most of us get on a daily basis.

The reader of the plan should clearly be able to relate to the marketing initiatives in terms of the message, the target audience and the means to accessing this audience. A good marketing plan will detail specifics, i.e., a number of marketing activities, their respective costs, and the expected return on investment. Measuring return on marketing has historically been one of the greatest challenges the industry has faced. The advent of PPC (pay-per-click) advertising via the Internet has finally resulted in managers being able to track sales resulting from specific campaigns and adverts. However, this is just one means of advertising, and calculating effective ROI (return on investment) figures for other forms, such as billboards and TV, remains as elusive as ever.

In summary, a marketing plan should enable marketing managers to document their assessment of the opportunity in terms of effective allocation of limited resources. While most managers would love the luxury of a seven-figure marketing budget to spend on every conceivable advertising medium, the reality is that most need to market effectively on a pittance. A marketing plan assesses the most efficient means to attract potential customers and ultimately convert them to sales. Without a plan, a business is essentially rudderless and marketing activities are more likely to be reactive and, hence, considerably less effective.

The illustration below shows a Business Ratios table

It includes dozens of standard business ratios calculated from business plan financials, and used and expected by bankers, financial analyists, and investors. It also includes a column of statistical indicators for the specific type of business. This industry information is classified and categorised by Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes. The data involved comes from the database of Integra Information System, a leading provider of industry-specific economic information.

Main ratios

  • Current. Measures company’s ability to meet financial obligations. Expressed as the number of times current assets exceed current liabilities. A high ratio indicates that a company can pay its creditors as they fall due. A number less than one indicates potential cash flow problems.
  • Quick. This ratio is very similar to the Acid Test (see below), and measures a company’s ability to meet its current obligations using its most liquid assets i.e. cash or cash equivalents. It shows Total Current Assets excluding stock divided by Total Current Liabilities.
  • Total Debt to Total Assets. Percentage of Total Assets financed with debt.
  • Pre-Tax Return on Net Worth. Indicates shareholders’ earnings before taxes for each pound invested. This ratio is not applicable if the subject company’s net worth for the period being analysed has a negative value.
  • Pre-Tax Return on Assets. Indicates profit as a percentage of Total Assets before taxes. Measures a company’s ability to manage and allocate resources.

Additional ratios

  • Net Profit Margin. This ratio is calculated by dividing Sales into the Net Profit, expressed as a percentage.
  • Return on Equity. This ratio is calculated by dividing Net Profit by Net Worth, expressed as a percentage.

Activity ratios

  • Accounts Receivable Turnover. This ratio is calculated by dividing Sales on Credit by Accounts Receivable/ Debtors. This is a measure of how well your business collects its debts.
  • Collection Days. This ratio is calculated by multiplying Accounts Receivable by 360, which is then divided by annual Sales on Credit. Generally, 30 days is exceptionally good, 60 days is bothersome, and 90 days or more is a real problem.
  • Stock Turnover. This ratio is calculated by dividing the Cost of Sales by the average stock balance.
  • Accounts Payable/Creditors Turnover. This ratio is a measure of how quickly the business pays its bills. It divides the total new Accounts Payable/Creditors for the year by the average Accounts Payable balance.
  • Payment Days. This ratio is calculated by multiplying average Accounts Payable by 360, which is then divided by new Accounts Payable.
  • Total Asset Turnover. This ratio is calculated by dividing Sales by Total Assets.

Debt ratios

  • Debt to Net Worth. This ratio is calculated by dividing Total Liabilities by total Net Worth.
  • Current Liab. to Liab. This ratio is calculated by dividing Current Liabilities by Total Liabilities.

Liquidity ratios

  • Net Working Capital. This ratio is calculated by subtracting Current Liabilities from Current Assets. This is another measure of cash position.
  • Interest Coverage. This ratio is calculated by dividing Profits Before Interest and Taxes by total Interest Expense.

Additional ratios

  • Assets to Sales. This ratio is calculated by dividing Assets by Sales.
  • Current Debt/Total Assets. This ratio is calculated by dividing Current Liabilities by Total Assets.
  • Acid Test. This ratio is calculated by dividing Current Assets (excluding stock and debtors) by Current Liabilities.
  • Sales/Net Worth. This ratio is calculated by dividing Total Sales by Net Worth.
  • Dividend Payout. This ratio is calculated by dividing Dividends by Net Profit.

Budgeting Tips

  1. Understand that it’s about people: Successful budgeting depends on people management more than anything else. Every budgeted item must be “owned” by somebody, meaning that the owner has responsibility for spending, authority to spend, and the belief that the spending limit is realistic. People who don’t believe in a budget won’t try to implement it. People who don’t believe that it matters won’t worry about a budget either.
  2. Budget “ownership” is critical: To “own” a budget item is to have the authority to spend and responsibility for spending. Ideally a budget management system makes plan-vs.-actual results visible to a group of managers, so that there is peer pressure that rewards budgeting successes and penalizes budgeting failures.
  3. Budgets need to be realistic: Nobody really owns a budget item until they believe the budget amount is realistic. You can’t really commit to a budget you don’t believe in.
  4. It’s also about following up: Unless the people involved know that somebody will be tracking and following up, they won’t honor a budget. Publishing budget plan and actual results will make a world of difference. Rewards for budget success and penalties for budget failures can be as simple as peer group managers sharing results.

Your budget and milestones work together
As you develop your budget, keep in mind your business plan milestones. That’s where you set specific goals, dates, responsibilities, and budgets for your managers. It makes a plan concrete. Make sure your budget matches your milestones.

Ideally, every line in a budget is assigned to somebody who is responsible for managing that budget. In most cases you’ll have groups of budget areas assigned to specific people, and a budgeting process that emphasizes commitment and responsibility. You’ll also need to make sure that everybody involved knows that results will be followed up.

The ideal plan relates the budgets to the Milestones table. The Milestones table takes all the important activities included in a business plan and assigns them to specific managers, with specific dates and budgets. It also tracks completion of the milestones and actual results compared to planned results.

Resolutions for Entrepreneurs Top 6 Priorities

The New Year is synonymous with resolutions and promises of making changes. If you are an entrepreneur, this time of year offers you a perfect opportunity to take stock of your business, as emails are probably at an all-time low over the holiday period. Here is my checklist of priority resolutions for all entrepreneurs for the New Year:

1. Review your business plan
One of the most important requirements for any entrepreneur is a business plan; not one that lives in their head or one that is consigned to an office cupboard- but a living business plan. If you have never written one, now is the perfect time to do so. If your business plan is in a drawer, take it out, read it and update it accordingly. Without a business plan, your business is essentially rudderless and you run the risk of not focusing on the key activities that need to be undertaken to bring you success.

2. Run through the numbers
For many people, numbers are not necessarily their strong suit and in small companies without dedicated in-house accounting departments this can result in serious problems. There is an old saying that what gets measured gets managed. So if you are starting a business, it is worth revisiting some of the fundamentals that are vital to your business. If you do not have any metrics in place, now is a perfect time to set them. These can include key financial ratios as well as customer and Web based metrics, e.g. £ value per customer, conversion rates, etc.

Topics to brush up on include:

  • Break-even Point
  • Profit Margins (Gross and Net)
  • Cash Flow Forecasts
  • Profit and Loss
  • Sales Forecasts
  • Cost of Sales
  • Creditor and Debtor Days

It is tempting to delegate the maths to others. However, you need to understand these concepts so you can manage your business effectively. For example Insolvency is one of the biggest threats to companies in the UK, yet cash flow management is an area which many entrepreneurs neglect. By understanding the numbers that are relevant to your business you can ensure that you are giving yourself every opportunity to grow and prosper.

3. Optimise your website
Most businesses set up a website when they start, but many entrepreneurs then ignore it. It is essential that websites are maintained and are mined for information. Where are your customers coming from? What are they looking at? What is the conversion level for visitors? All of these questions, and more, are easily answered using free tools such as Google Analytics. If you have not done anything with your website for some time, you should implement Google Analytics so you can understand more about your customers. Armed with this knowledge you can then tailor your website for the audience you attract and help achieve the objectives that the website was designed for in the first place.

4. Familiarise yourself with Google AdWords
The growing use of the Web is facilitated in large part by the use of Google as a signposting mechanism to resources and as a means to find answers to questions and issues. Google is the dominant search engine in the UK and AdWords is a powerful tool that can be used to target prospective customers. AdWords lets you show your ads only to people searching on a specific phrase related to your business, so it is highly targeted marketing. If you have an AdWords account, the New Year offers you a great opportunity to review campaigns from the preceding months. If you do not have one – set one up. The benefits of the system are excellent, not least in terms of accountability and targeting, but also marketing effectiveness and the ability to generate a good return on investment.

5. Identify a business book and read it
Entrepreneurs are typically very busy people, dealing with a whole raft of different issues and challenges. However, time needs to be set aside so as to consider the bigger picture as wider circumstances impact upon the prospects for businesses. It is important entrepreneurs remove themselves from day-to-day ‘fire fighting’ to assess future strategy. One means to assist this is by reading publications that either relate to the industry you are in or that will broaden your knowledge in a particular aspect of business. There are huge numbers of business books available at any bookstore (many written by business academics) and some will naturally be more relevant to you than others. Again the New Year offers the perfect opportunity to broaden your knowledge base with some relevant business books.

Business SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis begins by conducting a review of internal strengths and weaknesses in your organisation. You will then note the external opportunities and threats that may affect the organisation based on your market and the overall environment. Don’t be concerned about elaborating on these topics at this stage; bullet points may be the best way to begin. Capture the factors you believe are relevant in each of the four areas. You will want to review what you have noted here as you work through your marketing plan.

The primary purpose of the SWOT analysis is to identify and assign each significant factor, positive and negative, to one of the four categories, allowing you to take an objective look at your business. The SWOT analysis will be a useful tool in developing and confirming your goals and your marketing strategy.

Some experts suggest that you first consider outlining the external opportunities and threats before the strengths and weaknesses. Marketing Plan Pro‘s EasyPlan Wizard will allow you to complete your SWOT analysis in whatever order works best for you. In either situation, you will want to review all four areas in detail.

Strengths

Strengths describe the positive attributes,tangible and intangible attributes, internal to your organisation. They are within your control. What do you do well? What resources do you have? What advantages do you have over your competition?

You may want to evaluate your strengths by area, such as marketing, finance, manufacturing, and organisational structure. Strengths include the positive attributes of the people involved in the business, including their knowledge, backgrounds, education, credentials, contacts, reputations, or the skills they bring. Strengths also include tangible assets such as available capital, equipment, credit, established customers, existing channels of distribution, copyrighted materials, patents, information and processing systems, and other valuable resources within the business.

Strengths capture the positive aspects internal to your business that add value or offer you a competitive advantage. This is your opportunity to remind yourself of the value existing within your business.

Weaknesses

Note the weaknesses within your business. Weaknesses are factors that are within your control that detract from your ability to obtain or maintain a competitive edge. Which areas might you improve?

Weaknesses might include lack of expertise, limited resources, lack of access to skills or technology, inferior service offerings, or the poor location of your business. These are factors that are under your control, but for a variety of reasons, are in need of improvement to effectively accomplish your marketing objectives.

Weaknesses capture the negative aspects internal to your business that detract from the value you offer, or place you at a competitive disadvantage. These are areas you need to enhance in order to compete with your best competitor. The more accurately you identify your weaknesses, the more valuable the SWOT will be for your assessment.

Opportunities

Opportunities assess the external attractive factors that represent the reason for your business to exist and prosper. These are external to your business. What opportunities exist in your market, or in the environment, from which you hope to benefit?

These opportunities reflect the potential you can realise through implementing your marketing strategies. Opportunities may be the result of market growth, lifestyle changes, resolution of problems associated with current situations, positive market perceptions about your business, or the ability to offer greater value that will create a demand for your services. If it is relevant, place timeframes around the opportunities. Does it represent an ongoing opportunity, or is it a window of opportunity? How critical is your timing?

Opportunities are external to your business. If you have identified “opportunities” that are internal to the organisation and within your control, you will want to classify them as strengths.

Threats

What factors are potential threats to your business? Threats include factors beyond your control that could place your marketing strategy, or the business itself, at risk. These are also external –you have no control over them, but you may benefit by having contingency plans to address them if they should occur.

A threat is a challenge created by an unfavourable trend or development that may lead to deteriorating revenues or profits. Competition – existing or potential – is always a threat. Other threats may include intolerable price increases by suppliers, governmental regulation, economic downturns, devastating media or press coverage, a shift in consumer behaviour that reduces your sales, or the introduction of a “leap-frog” technology that may make your products, equipment, or services obsolete. What situations might threaten your marketing efforts? Get your worst fears on the table. Part of this list may be speculative in nature, and still add value to your SWOT analysis.

It may be valuable to classify your threats according to their “seriousness” and “probability of occurrence.”

The better you are at identifying potential threats, the more likely you can position yourself to proactively plan for and respond to them. You will be looking back at these threats when you consider your contingency plans.

The implications

The internal strengths and weaknesses, compared to the external opportunities and threats, can offer additional insight into the condition and potential of the business. How can you use the strengths to better take advantage of the opportunities ahead and minimize the harm that threats may introduce if they become a reality? How can weaknesses be minimised or eliminated? The true value of the SWOT analysis is in bringing this information together, to assess the most promising opportunities, and the most crucial issues.

Products for Starting a New Business

Starting a business is an incredibly exciting time for any entrepreneur; however it can also be stressful with so much to do in so little time. The start-up phase is also characterized by significant expenditures against a backdrop of uncertain income. However, there are a number of products and services that can help you maximize your chances of success while also saving you considerable time and money. This article aims to introduce you to some of the less obvious ones that are available via the Internet. These products and services can help you set your business on the right path from Day One. While these recommendations will not be appropriate for all, those who need to bootstrap and build their business the hard way will benefit the most.

1. Create a website

Regardless of whether you intend to sell online or not, all new start-up businesses should secure a domain name and create a website as soon as they can. Thankfully, the cost of getting a site set up has fallen significantly over time and there are now a host of different packages and providers to choose from.

2. Download a profile of your industry

The factsheets, reports and guides from Scavenger are essential reading material for anyone starting up a business in the UK. The Business Opportunity Profiles are downloadable reports on specific UK industries. With over 800 reports in total, the range includes everything from ‘Children’s Day Nursery’ profiles to ‘Coffee Shop’ profiles to a profile on ‘Wedding Planners’.

Where: www.scavenger.net Cost: Individual reports cost around £5.

3. Set up your company accounts

One of the big challenges start-up companies face is managing cash flow. Insolvency is one of the main causes of failure for entrepreneurs in the UK. However, with some careful and appropriate financial planning, cash crunches can be avoided. While this in itself is an important reason for buying a bookkeeping package, there are countless other reasons ranging from the ability to manage invoices through to managing payroll. The two main recommended introductory packages are QuickBooks® Simple Start from Intuit® and Sage® Instant Accounts. View online demos before you purchase.

Where: www.sage.co.uk and www.quickbooks.co.uk Cost: From £43.97 at www.amazon.co.uk

4. Download business planning software

When you start up it is important to write a business plan to ensure you adequately plan the future of your business. The very process of creating a plan is beneficial, not least because it forces you to take a holistic view of your company. Business Plan Pro is the best-selling business-planning software available. It is easy to use, saves time, and has over 500 sample plans to get you started. It is also available via download so you can get instant access to it and hence pay no postage and packing.

Where: Business Plan Pro is available from www.paloalto.co.uk Cost: RRP is only £79.99 for the Standard version and £129.99 for the Premier.

5. Save costs on your phone

Using applications such as Skype together with a headset, it is now possible to make telephone calls from your computer at a very low cost. There is no need to commit to a monthly phone contract with line rental. Instead you can just pay as you go. You can also obtain a Skype number so people can call you back. However it is recommended that all start-up businesses do have at least one fixed line number they can be contacted on. Finally, you should also consider getting a portable number that is easy to transfer if you move offices.

Understanding the dynamics of competitors

Background
The pure competition model does not present a viable tool to assess an industry. Porter’s Five Forces attempts to realistically assess potential levels of profitability, opportunity and risk based on five key factors within an industry. This model may be used as a tool to better develop a strategic advantage over competing firms within an industry in a competitive and healthy environment. It identifies five forces that determine the long-run profitability of a market or market segment.

  • Suppliers
  • Buyers
  • Entry/Exit Barriers
  • Substitutes
  • Rivalry

Supplier power

  • Supplier concentration
  • Importance of volume to supplier
  • Differentiation of inputs
  • Impact of inputs on cost or differentiation
  • Switching costs of firms in the industry
  • Presence of substitute inputs
  • Threat of forward integration
  • Cost relative to total purchases in industry

Buyer power

  • Bargaining leverage
  • Buyer volume
  • Buyer information
  • Brand identity
  • Price sensitivity
  • Threat of backward integration
  • Product differentiation
  • Buyer concentration vs. industry
  • Substitutes available
  • Buyers’ incentives

Entry/Exit barriers

  • Absolute cost advantages
  • Proprietary learning curve
  • Access to inputs
  • Government or other binding policy
  • Economies of scale
  • Capital requirements
  • Brand identity
  • Switching costs
  • Access to distribution
  • Expected retaliation
  • Proprietary products

Substitutes

  • Switching costs
  • Buyer inclination to find alternatives
  • Price-performance
  • Trade-off of the available substitute products or services

Rivalry

  • Exit barriers
  • Industry concentration
  • Fixed costs
  • Perceived value add
  • Industry growth
  • Overcapacity status
  • Product differences
  • Switching costs
  • Brand identity
  • Diversity of rivals
  • Corporate stakes

Service

  • Level of service compared to others
  • Added value perceptions
  • Dynamics with other attributes

Power of suppliers
An industry that produces goods requires raw materials. This leads to buyer-supplier relationships between the industry and the firms that provide the raw materials. Depending on where the power lies, suppliers may be able to exert an influence on the producing industry. They may be able to dictate price and influence availability.

A segment is unattractive when an organization’s suppliers have the ability to:

  • Increase prices without suffering from a decrease in volume
  • Reduce the quantity supplied
  • Organise in a formal or informal manner
  • Compete in an environment with relatively few substitutes
  • Provide a product/material that is a critical part of the end product or service
  • Impose switching costs on their customers when they depart
  • Integrate downstream by purchasing or controlling the distribution channels.

How Be an Entrepreneur

In a world increasingly affected by globalisation, increased competitiveness and maturing products, the need for creativity and entrepreneurship has never been greater. Luckily, the attractions of becoming an entrepreneur have never been greater either, especially since a shift from a predominantly manufacturing- to a service-based economy has lowered the cost and barriers to entry for entrepreneurs. The British government has moved entrepreneurship (and support for it) to the top of their domestic agenda. Meanwhile, entrepreneurship has become a hot topic, with conferences, exhibitions, and even TV shows, such as “Risking it All” and “The Dragons’ Den” evidencing the popularity. But while the environmental conditions may be attractive, entrepreneurs still need a workable idea that is commercially viable. This article endeavours to assist wannabe entrepreneurs (wantrepreneurs) in coming up with ‘the plan’ so as to enable them to finally take the plunge into the world of entrepreneurship.

 

2. The environment

Before deciding on ‘the idea’ it is worth assessing the landscape thoroughly so as to consider the broader context and the impact that trends or changes may have on it, i.e. whether it is future-proof, etc. There are three main trends to look at – global trends, national trends and local trends.

Keeping up to date with global developments via The Economist or the BBC will certainly give you a good base to start from. However, to gain a more in-depth understanding of global changes from a business opportunity perspective, websites such as Trendwatching (www.springwise.com) are very useful. In an increasingly homogeneous global economy, it is obvious that what works well in one market can easily transplant into other ones with the minimum of localisation. Between them, these sites give a more in-depth insight into some of the latest emergent business ideas and can be considered in tandem with macro trends affecting us all, like environmental challenges, the increasing cost of oil, volatile currencies, etc.

On a national level, there are a number of trends that we are all familiar with in the UK: increased ubiquity of broadband access, the fact that as a population we are aging, increased expected life spans, growth in the number of single-person households, and so on. The key with all of these trends is to focus on the opportunities associated with these demographic shifts and trends. For example, it is safe to predict that an aging population will increase the demand for certain goods and services, such as home-help services, medication, nursing, and glasses, and that the growth in single-person households will increase the demand for convenience food products and more economical white goods such as smaller fridges and washer/ dryer all in one’s.

On a local level, there are also numerous resources we can use in assessing the local environment and, in particular, the likely demand for our goods or services. Websites such as ACORN (www.caci.co.uk/acorn) and UpMyStreet (www.upmystreet.com) provide extensive free demographic data about areas based on UK postcodes. These enable you to build up profiles of the local population and are ideal when you are looking to set up a shop or service to serve the local community specifically. Of course when it comes to local opportunities, these need to be assessed in conjunction with plenty of ‘on-the-ground’ research: walking in and around the area targeted for the new enterprise.

 

3. The options

 

The big idea

Whilst the majority of new businesses are replicas of existing businesses, some entrepreneurs will strive to create something completely unique. One of the most powerful things the Internet enables us to do is to search for solutions to problems more efficiently than ever before. Goods and services are designed to fulfill the needs of people. In other words, goods and services solve people’s problems; and while your proposed solution may be unique, it is likely the problem is not. Hence, an Internet search focusing on the problem your solution is trying to address is likely to highlight substitutes and competitors, which may all help to shape the nascent idea.

Using the Internet, you can often assess the potential demand for your service by gauging the number of people who search for a term related to the problem that your good or service satisfies. For example, our company, Palo Alto Software, produces business planning software. One way people find us online is by searching for help for their problem: their need to write a business plan. Using the Key Word Assistant on Overture, we can find out how many times “business plan” and other related terms were searched for in the previous month. This data can help us assess whether business planning is a significantly more popular term than “business plan”? If so, we might consider renaming our product “Business Planning Pro” instead of  Business Plan Pro.

Planning Is Not Just for Startups

One of the greatest misconceptions about business planning is that a business plan is useful only for start-ups. While start-up companies are indeed one significant segment of business planners, business planning is being utilised by an increasing number of companies as a means to manage growth better, to ensure new ideas have been assessed for commercial viability, and to value a business on exit.

Secondly, the importance of the business planning process is often under-emphasized relative to the primary focus on the final output, the business plan. The very process of producing a business plan enables management to take a holistic view of their organization. It helps them give due consideration to the various factors that mesh together to create the opportunity they are seeking to explore, as well as the resources required and the key drivers needed for success. This article aims to justify a more expansive remit for the business plan, by highlighting a number of key areas where its application is of considerable benefit for all companies.

1. Intrapreneurship
Companies are increasingly encouraging employees to create new growth opportunities as competition intensifies in their core (mature) business lines. Mature invariably means competitive, so the focus on growth opportunities is via innovation and creativity, especially in emergent areas. The term intrapreneurship thus refers to “inside entrepreneurs”; where intrepreneurs personify the key characteristics of an entrepreneur, but do so within the company bounds.

Intrapreneurship is not new – 3i, a venture capital/equity investment company, has been one obvious practitioner for many years – and its application of intrapreneurship has helped to spawn a number of new products. Google, a company renowned for innovation, operates a 70 percent rule, whereby employees are expected to spend 70 percent of their time on the core business, 20 percent on related projects, and 10 percent on unrelated new business opportunities. While the generation of new ideas is paramount, ensuring their commercial viability is of critical concern, and writing a business plan is one key way to assess the merits of an innovative proposal in a more rigorous fashion. The plan can thus be produced for an internal opportunity as if it were a stand-alone entity, with the author being required to detail both the opportunity and the resource implications of pursuing it.

2. Managing performance
A business plan can also be used as a management tool to assess ‘actual results’ against ‘planned results’. Using these figures in conjunction with an assessment of year-on-year performance can ensure that managers reflect on performance not just based on the previous year’s achievements, but also in relation to the original planned figures. This enables managers to analyse deviations from plan so as to understand what figures are materially different from the planned ones and what drivers shaped the disparities. It also helps to shift the focus away from solely historic comparisons –instead the manager is tasked with planning for the year ahead and hence there is an agreed goal up front and greater transparency on a month by month basis when ‘actuals’ can be compared with ‘planned’.

Such analysis helps to enhance a manager’s understanding of the changes that have impacted recent performance. If planned results and actual results are considered on a monthly basis, this analysis may also help the manager take remedial action in a more urgent time frame.

3. Planning strategically
The process of business planning is, in and of itself, a worthwhile pursuit as it forces the authors to remove themselves from the day-to-day tactical/responsive mode in which many managers operate. The planning process forces any manager to consider the future. In particular, they must take into account the resources at the company’s disposal and plan to maximise the return on capital, as limited by the wider context.

For many companies, a desire on the one hand to maximise the return from the existing product/service revenue stream, needs to be balanced on the other by a desire to develop new additional revenue streams. By putting a business case together for a particular course of action, a manager ensures that the proposal is financially robust (i.e., worthy of pursuit), that the goals are kept in focus and that resources are allocated accordingly.

Hence, a business plan can support a company’s focus on exploiting a particular market segment, creating a new product, promoting a new use for a product, etc. Once the plan is committed to paper, it is easier to ensure that there is consensus, ownership of the plan, and a breakdown of tasks, milestones and deliverables to help achieve the goals set out in the plan.

4. Preparing for a future exit
At some point in the life cycle of a business, the founders/investors may decide that they want to cash out of the business. The exit strategy will typically focus on extracting the highest value possible from the sale. An up-to-date business plan detailing the opportunity for new buyers will support any valuations put on the business by its current owners.

Before a company reaches the point of sale, it is important to get everything ready by making sure that all historic accounts, cash flow statements and business plans are up-to-date. It is generally accepted that thorough preparation for a sale, well in advance of the sale date, improves internal management focus, aids performance, and ultimately serves to increase the final valuation.

Once management identifies the key drivers for a typical potential acquirer, a business plan can be put in place to focus the minds of employees and ensure that the sale value is maximized. For example, if the general bases for valuation for the industry are focused more on cash generation than profit, a company can drive short term revenues by undercutting sales prices of competitors by selling at cost + 5%. While such activity may not be sustainable in the long run, it can serve to help cash flow when a sale is being considered and prospective acquirers are reviewing performance. While some managers are not that comfortable with planning and projections, the preparation of a thorough business plan plays a vital role in extracting the maximum value from a sale.

5. Supporting a company valuation at sale time
Ascertaining the value of a company is a difficult and ultimately subjective process whereby the sellers are naturally looking to maximise their return and the buyers to minimise their outlay. The bases for valuation are numerous and tend to be the subject of much negotiation, with various multiples being considered as both parties attempt to come up with an agreed price.

The primary aim of the acquirer will usually be to assess the future income generation capability of the company. As a result, negotiations will usually include attempts to agree on an ‘earnings multiple’, a common method of valuation which focuses on the ability of the firm to generate revenue and cash. These earnings multiples can vary but are correlated with perceived risk, so they tend to go down for smaller companies, where the perceived risk is often higher. Conversely, a higher earnings multiple is likely when a company has strong historic growth figures and a robust business plan. This will usually lead to a higher price.

The importance of business planning

While the business-planning process is in itself a very worthwhile pursuit, most business plans are produced for a specific purpose. The plan is used as a means to convey an idea with a view to achieving a specific goal, e.g. securing funding. Hence the plan needs to be tailored with the audience in mind, and good knowledge of their requirements will help shape a winning plan.

For example, the requirements a Venture Capitalist will have in assessing a plan seeking to secure a million-pound investment will differ considerably from those of a local bank manager who needs a plan to support a small-loan application. While the former will be primarily looking for capital growth, the latter will be more concerned with security. Regardless of the specific purpose of the plan, these following business plan lessons will apply.

1. Incredible financial projections

One of the key areas business plan readers will focus on will be ‘the numbers’. Specifically, they will concentrate on the projected Income Statement or Profit & Loss. The fact that numbers are projected does not mean that those figures can be included without due rigour or process. They need to be credible, defensible and consistent. Of course forecasting is not an exact science, and the use of proxies can help the author ensure that the figures included are plausible and consistent with the story being told in the other areas of the business plan. The figures must also show an ability of the company to generate free cash flows so that the business can be run profitably while satisfactorily servicing their debts at the same time.

All costs should be recorded including salaries to owner managers who run the company. It is not credible to generate P&L projections where expenses such as salaries are omitted to demonstrate managerial commitment or to artificially reduce losses, etc. By the same token, no investor will be prepared to fund a business where the projected salary payments are excessive. While dealing with finances is not everyone’s strong point, there has to be someone on the management team who is cognizant with the maths. A business plan will need to include everything from break-even projections to proposed return on investments to cash flow forecasts, and one of the key players will have to converse on these subjects in a convincing manner. They will also need to justify the numbers.

2. Lack of a viable opportunity

A business plan needs to not only describe an opportunity, it must also detail how the opportunity can be exploited profitably and demonstrate the company’s ability to deliver what is required. In recent years there has been a significant increase in plans that are inaccessible to the average reader because they are couched in technical jargon and unfamiliar terms. If the reader of the plan cannot fully grasp who the prospective customer is, how that customer will be targeted, and the prospective benefits from the proposed solution, the reader will not invest. In an increasingly time-pressed world, people crave simplicity. Many business plan recipients will only scrutinize the Executive Summary and the financials, using these as the decision points as to whether to read further or not. Hence it is of paramount importance that both the executive summary and the wider plan describes the opportunity in readily understood terms, such as:

  • What is the issue or pain point?
  • What is the proposed solution?
  • What are the benefits of the solution?
  • Why are these benefits compelling?
  • Who will benefit the most from these?

Once these are detailed, there will be greater transparency regarding the viability, or otherwise, of the proposed opportunity in terms of the company’s ability to profitably serve the target market.

3. No clear route to market

All opportunities are only prospective ones without evidence that the target market can be accessed profitably. Many entrepreneurs are inherently product focused, concentrating their energies on ‘the idea’ to the exclusion of many other important elements such as how they intend to access their customer base. The growth in popularity of the Internet has certainly helped niche producers find geographically dispersed customers, making many more ideas commercially viable. However, it does not come without its challenges, as creating awareness online is both costly and intensely competitive. The business plan must include a comprehensive and credible analysis of how the company intends to secure access to their target market in a cost-effective manner. The low cost and barriers to entry for websites have resulted in the creation of hundreds of thousands of sites. Ensuring that a site stands out from the crowd is easier said than done. Knowledge of who the customer is and how they buy is very important, but identifying them and accessing them on an individual basis is much more challenging and costly.