Building a business without a business plan is like building a house without a blue print. In the end, nothing may be left standing but a few vague dreams.
In addition to being an invaluable guideline for running your business, a business plan is a useful tool for attracting investors, employees, suppliers and strategic partners. All funding sources from banks to venture capitalists will judge your ability to succeed in large part based upon the thinking that has gone into your business plan.
It you have hesitated to start writing your plans because it seems daunting, do it in small one-to-two hour increment and start with the easy steps first.
Remember your first draft is meant to be revised, so don’t even try to make it perfect. Here are the components of a business plan:
1. The Title page includes the Company’s contact information and the name of the CEO.
2. The table of contents lists the main sections and their starting page members.
3. The Executive summary summarizes the highlight of your business plan. (Skip this until the rest of the plan is complete)
4. The Vision/mission describes your business and its products and /or services. It offers a snapshot of the present stage of your business, plus your vision of its future development. Include your goals and objectives here.
5. The company overview section provides basic information about the structures, management, staffing and strategic alliances of your company.
6. The products/service strategy section describes what makes your product or service unique or competitive. Include research and development plans as well as production and distribution channels, if applicable.
7. The Market Analysis section helps define your market. Describe your customers, give a detailed summary of the competitions products or services and identify any business and environmental opportunities and risks.
8. The Marketing plan section outlines all of your sales strategies, from advertising and promote to public, relations & internet marketing. Add budget numbers wherever possible.
9. Your financial plan includes projections requirement & its profit potential. It will be closely scrutinized by investors and bankers, so make sure your projections are plausible and include as much detail as possible.
10. Attached support documents and substance to your business plan and include Company brochures, management, resumes, patents, trade names, purchase orders for future sales etc.
DEVELOPING A SOLID MARKETING PLAN
Marketing makes it possible if you want to sell your products or services by letting people know what you do, where you are, how to get there and how someone will benefit from buying your product or service. As a smart business owner you need to plan effectively and come up with the right recipe to successfully market your business.
1. Do your research.
Find out if you’re supplying all of the necessarily sales tools. Determine the hurdles that are preventing you from gaining new customers. Review past marketing activities to see what worked. Use the success stories as the corner stone of your new plan. Check out what the competition is doing. You may want to survey some of existing customers or prospects to see how aware they are of your competitors.
Try out new technology for innovative way to market your business.
2. Establish a time period
Timing is critical to a good marketing plan. Determine what your resources are and allocate the resources to the time of year that works best for you. Use some of the activities listed below.
3. Allocate Your Budget
How much you budget for your marketing will affect how much marketing you can do. All companies need to market. You might want to allocate a set amount and determine which programme will get what percentage of the fund.
4. Select your activities
The following is a list of some of the activities you may wish to invest in.
* Direct mail
* Referral programmes
* Sales tools
* Employee training
* Affiliate Marketing
* Public relations
Once you’ve come up with your list of marketing activities to pursue, prioritize. This will help you when you are allocating your marketing dollars.
There are two (2) factors to consider when you’re assembling your plan, you will want to consider:
How much money goes to each area as well as when to roll that activity out? Once you put it all together, you will want to end up with a plan that outlines your marketing activities by Calendar months as well as a budget containing the cost you anticipate. It is also important to schedule periodic evaluation of your marketing plan, don’t be afraid to modify and adapt. If a wonderful opportunity arises, you may need to relocate some of your funds. Careful planning is an important part of marketing but don’t be so stopped on the plan that you miss out on a good opportunity.
PROMOTING YOUR BUSINESS THROUGH A WEB PAGE
The WWW has leveled the playing field for Companies desiring to promote their business. No matter the size of your business, prospective customers view your page through the same browser they use to access any site. So it pays off to display information that is relevant, timely and interesting to existing and prospective customers. Successful business promotion involves the following:
The biggest benefit of using a website is to showcase your products and services; you can update the info, change the focus or refine your look without the expense and the time involved with profit media.
* Product descriptions
Don’t forget to cover features, benefits and target audience for all of the products you offer; graphic images are a nice addition here.
* Case Studies
It is easy to publish case studies or any examples of products in action these success stories help create images in the visitors mind and establish credibility.
* Public relation – Posting press releases stories about your business and other favorable news will bolster your standing as a solid reliable company.
* E-Commerce – Bring E-Commerce to your business, offer products or services for sale online. If you don’t have the budget or the capabilities at least include a photo gallery and clear ordering information.
2. CUSTOMER SERVICES
Customer Services on a Website encourages the user to help him or herself by providing all of the tools necessary to find the answers or the Company contact who do.
* Contact Information – List ordering instructions as well as clear contact information for customer services. Post a frequently asked question sections for popular questions.
* Company Information – Include directions, your location, key management contact, company history, earnings or investment information (if it’s relevant). Don’t leave people guessing.
* Adequate Staffing – If your site offers online ordering, you’ll need to have either staff around the clock or post your hours.
* Feedback is your friend – Put up a feedback/suggestion link. Your customer will feel valued and you just might learn something useful.
While this isn’t necessarily a revenue-building area, a strong sense of community can lead to loyalty which in turn can help retain existence customers and bring in new ones. Anything you can do to drive traffic to your site is a good idea. And if you can keep people coming back, so much the better.
* Collect email addresses and build a database for newsletters, special offers, holiday hours and any other bulk message you want to send.
* Online chat or message board – Chat is a great way to encourage participation, builds community, and engenders loyalty. One draw back staffing and technology lost. Message boards offer a less expensive option that is less dynamic but can provide a valuable resource as the “threads” in the discussion topic grew.
* Links to other sites – Create a “hot list” of links to industry, partner, product, or services, sites your client might find interest in. Tip; program the browser to open the link in a new window that way site remains open on a desktop.
* Community Involvement – If you sponsor a little league team, participate in a charitable fund raiser or perform some other community-base service, your Website is a nice vehicle for spreading the word and building support. Add an unusual, user-friendly feature.
* Post quirky quote of the day, highlight a customer of the month, offer an opt-in newsletter or offer an interaction feature.
* Giveaways – Popular ways to give away prizes include online surveys, random drawings or a reward for a post on message board. Gifts could be anything from a pager to a car, or theatre ticket to an online bookstore gift certificate. Company logo merchandise is always a good idea.
Common pitfalls to avoid.
The size of your material is so very important. A picture is worth a thousand words. Unless it’s so large that downloading the page takes much time than it’s worth. Use images that are small enough to load quickly. JPEG and GIF images are the easiest for websites.
Post your policies. This is especially important if you have return policy or any other policy that a customer may contest in the future.
Connect your system. If you offer Email, Website, telephone and fax and/or mail orders, make sure that all of your systems talk to each other.
There is nothing more frustrating than placing an order online and calling a phone no to follow, only to be told that the order isn’t in the call system because it was a Web order. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Don’t forget to register your site with online search engine. Some will let you do so for free, others will require a fee. There is a science to getting your site listed. You’ll do well to hire someone who is familiar with how it’s done, or be prepared to take a crash course.