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20 Practical Tips For A Great Business Plan

20 Practical Tips For A Great Business Plan

Have you started a new business, or are you contemplating finally launching that venture that has been on your mind for a long time?  If you want to succeed you’ll need a plan.

You don’t need a fancy business degree to be successful, but you do need vision, determination, organization and hard work.  A functional business plan is a good place to start.  This article will give you 20 “practical tips” that will start your business off on the right path.

1. A business plan isn’t a school assignment.

Some people approach a business plan like a school assignment: i.e. there are 20+ “sections” that I need to do in order to complete it.  This is a mistake.  Your business plan is not a school assignment.  There is much more at stake than just “filling in the blanks.”  You have to be thinking survival from day one.  How are you going to realistically get this business off the ground?  How are you going to realistically make money?

2. Think substance over form.

Don’t worry as much about the form.  The substance is what really matters.  If you spend more than about half an hour looking for templates on the Internet then you’ve wasted time.  Form isn’t what is important.  You don’t need a fancy program or template.  A simple word document will suffice.  What is most important is that your plan has substance–it defines a marketable product, a logical and effective plan for growing revenue, and a sound understanding of the potential expenses, competitive pressures and risks involved in getting this venture off the ground.

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3. Don’t overcomplicate it.

Think of the “pitch.”  If you had to explain what you do, and whom you do it for, in one minute, what would you say?  If you had to condense your business plan to one page, what would be the most important things to include on that page?  These are very important questions to ask yourself from the outset.  Pages and pages of market analysis sometimes doesn’t do anything to clarify your strategy, and it only serves as a distraction to the most important issue:  how are you going to create a cash flow before you run out of money?

4. What do you sell, how much do you sell it for, and who buys it?

This is a critical piece that is fundamental to a good business plan.  What is your menu of products or services?  What do you sell?  How much do you sell it for?  Who buys it?  Are there any other people, or companies that may want to buy it?  How do you make money now, and how will you make money in the future?  If you can’t answer these questions, then you shouldn’t be in business at all.

5. Be realistic.

I don’t doubt your ability to change the world.  I don’t doubt your ability to be the next tech billionaire, as long as you can answer this question:  specifically, how are you going to do it?  What idea gets you there?  How does it get you there?  There is nothing wrong with audacious goals (in fact you should set them) but you need a realistic plan to achieve them.  If you set a wild goal in your business plan then you need a very technical action plan that gets you there.  Wild, unrealistic financial projections without a reasonable action plan are a waste of time.  If you can’t produce a specific, and logical, action plan then you’ve set an unrealistic goal.

6. Cover the important stuff, and only the important stuff.

Cut the fluff.  Keep it simple.  Keep it crystal clear.  What is the important stuff?  The stuff that makes you money and keeps your business alive: understanding what you sell, how you produce it, who you sell it to and for how much, what your process is for making it all come together (including who is going to do what), what your expenses are (and whether you have undershot them), who or what your competition is, and what the material risks are in starting this venture.

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7. Do the research and digest it.

Find out what you’re dealing with.  Take some time to research the market that you are entering. Find out who the major players are.  Find out what the international competition is like.  You don’t want to get bogged down in a research abyss, but you also don’t want to shoot from the hip either.

8. Who is your competition?

Understanding who your competition is shows savvy and maturity.   Sometimes your competition isn’t another business; it’s a completely new technology that may render what you do obsolete.  Also, with the Internet, you have to look internationally these days.  There is no other choice.  You are playing in a global world now, whether you like it or not.

9. List your assumptions.

This will be most important when you get to the financial forecasting part of your business plan.  Those numbers (as fun as they are to put down on paper) are based on a set of assumptions.  List what the assumptions are and then incorporate them into your action plan as target goals.  That way, if the assumptions manifest, then your financial projections will as well.  By listing your assumptions you are brining reality to focus.

10. Develop a laser focus.

Yes you may have the confidence to succeed in any industry, however if your business doesn’t have a laser-like focus, it will likely fail.  What does your business do particularly well?  What is the product or service that you can be a market leader in?  What is it that people will talk about?  Narrow it down–before you launch.

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11. Set specific, time-based, goals for the business.

Being a “millionaire” and “financially free” isn’t good enough.  You need to set very specific goals for the business–quarterly, annual and bi-annual goals, with specific action benchmarks that you can track.  Setting out defined goals crystalizes your focus and gives you a way of tracking your progress

12. Be specific in your action plan.

What specific actions are you going to take place in the first month, the first quarter, the first year?  What are your priorities?  Where are you directing your focus initially?  Don’t leave it to chance. Have a specific action plan that you can track.  You’ve heard it over and over:  many businesses fail within the first year.  Time is against you; you need to be as strategic and organized as possible.  Set time-based “action targets.”

13. Chunk it down.

Break down your action plan into chunks.  For instance, you have a marketing objective of penetrating a particular segment, then chunk it down and define how that is going to be accomplished.  Chunking is powerful because it clarifies focus, sets definable targets that you can measure, and serves as a form of accountability (either you’ve accomplished the chunks or you haven’t).

14. Highlight your progress.

The business plan is not meant to be a project that sits in the file for the rest of your life.  It isn’t just a school assignment (see point #1).  It is the foundation of your business.  It is meant to be a living document.  Keep it with you.  Literally keep it in your briefcase (or whatever else you carry around). Refer to it often, possibly even daily.  If you’ve done a good job, your plan will serve as a compass.  It will direct what you are going to invest your time in every single day.

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15. Include all essential parts.

Remember to include the important stuff (see point 6).  Just make sure that you don’t leave any of those important parts out.  If you can’t explain to me what you sell, how much you sell it for, how you are going sell it (and what is involved in that progress), how much it costs to produce, distribute and market your product or service, who your competition is, and what the risks are in your undertaking, then you’ve probably left some stuff out.  Also, if you don’t have definable goals, targets and a specific action plan then you probably have some work to do.

16. Where are you weak?

This is closely related to the principles of being realistic, knowing your competition, and stating your assumptions.  How well do you know your business?  How well do you know what is really involved in making this a success? If you are able to state where you are weak then you know your business well.  Also, when you know where you are weak you can make a plan to correct your weaknesses.

17. Update the plan as you go.

Things change. You’re not going to be able to predict everything on day one.  Some of the products you think are going to take off may fall flat, and from out of nowhere a new revenue opportunity may present itself.  Expenses are often higher than you anticipate, and your financial projections will probably come in lower than anticipated.  All of that is OK.  Remember, this is a living document.  Adjust as needed; make new goals, new plans.  The important thing is that you are moving forward in an organized and effective way.

18. Learn from experience.

Use what happens to your business to inform the ongoing drafting process.  There is only one way to get experience.  You can’t get real entrepreneurial experience in school.  You have to learn it the hard way.  So as things happen, treat it as education and adapt your ongoing business plan taking into consideration the lessons you learned through experience.

19. The plan should reflect your thinking and personality.

Don’t feel like you need to duplicate someone else’s methods.  If you aren’t comfortable using a certain style, then get rid of it.  There is no right method.  Your plan should reflect how you think, and how you work.  If it doesn’t, then it will just sit in a drawer.  It becomes just a school assignment, and is a waste of time.  It has to resonate with you.  Put your own personal touch on it.

20. Gloss is nice, but results are better.

Gloss and polish look nice, but a glossed up business plan full of fluff, without actionable steps, and a reasonable strategy to actually make money, are useless.  Remember substance always rules over form.

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Ryan Clements

A lawyer turned marketing professional, entrepreneur and writer who writes about entrepreneurship, career and personal development.

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

How to Bounce Back Gracefully After Getting Fired

How to Bounce Back Gracefully After Getting Fired

Whether you saw it coming or not, getting fired is a real shock and its impact is daunting. What did you do wrong? What are you supposed to do next? When will you stop feeling so angry?

But there are ways to deal with a layoff.

The most important thing is to remain calm and see it as an opportunity to reflect, change and improve. This is a great time to consider what happened, look again at your needs and desires and start afresh on a stronger, more constructive basis.

Let’s take a look at how you can bounce back gracefully after getting fired.

1. Deal with the Shock of Getting Fired

To lose your job is to lose your identity as a worker and as a person. Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, states that 7 out of 10 of us define ourselves by our job titles, since work is where we spend the majority of our time and energy.

Being laid off affronts your sense of self-worth—it implies that you simply are not good enough. It’s no wonder you feel confused and emotional.

The first thing, then, is to take some time to digest what happened and deal with the overflow of sensations. People who quickly recover from the pain of a job loss tend to do two things very well:

First, they accept their feelings of sadness, anger, fear and shame as a part of the natural healing process.

Second, they do their complaining to a friend.

Never call out your boss in the office or on social media. It’s a bad form to speak ill of the company you work for. Stay stylish, and your employer will speak better of you when you need a reference.

2. Stay Away from the Drama Queens

Mass layoffs are, unfortunately, very common. If this is your situation, then you may be surrounded by a lot of angry people, ruminating and lamenting their fate.

“It’s not fair!” they say. “After everything we did for this company! We don’t deserve this!”

You’ve lost your job and that’s tough. But please resist the urge to join in the negativity. Positivity is by far the most important attitude to apply right now. If staying upbeat means you have to limit your exposure to the Negative Nellies, then that’s what you have to do.

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Remember, life is not harder for you than it is for other people on this planet. You live in a democracy, you have freedom of choice and you enjoy a certain material abundance.

Stay positive and focus on what’s going well in your life and the exciting future opportunities available to you. Getting fired is only a temporary setback.

Staying positing could be challenging in a difficult situation, so these tips can help:

10 Questions To Ask Yourself To Stay Positive When Facing Difficulties

3. Take a Break and Let the Dust Settle

Instead of running straight into another job that may not be the right one either, take a short break to recover from the job loss. You need a week or two to de-stress and meditate on the next step.

Be attentive to your need for self-care during this interlude. Everything goes so fast these days that we often do not stop to think or give ourselves the permission to do a little mourning.

Getting fired is a big shock: you need time to refocus and take stock of the new reality. Do not make things harder for yourself!

What you need is to pause a while and do some self reflection:

How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life

4. Be Anchored in the Present

Since you no longer have a hold on the past, but have not yet designed your future, try to build yourself up with the present. What do we mean by that?

We mean that right now is the only time you have any control over. Focus on that instead of losing yourself in memories or reliving the awful day you got fired over and over in your head.

Get up at 7 a.m. each day, whatever happens. The body needs rhythm and habits. You will feel much more energized if you keep a consistent routine. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, revisit your budget, play sports, volunteer. Take care of the practical stuff like claiming unemployment. Enjoy the small pleasures of everyday life.

When you’re busy, there’s no room for the inner critic to raise up and derail you. Keep active, and you will gain more of the precious energy you need so much to move forward.

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Try these things to help you live in the moment:

34 Ways To Live in the Moment And Grow in the Moment

5. Understand the “Why”

There are lots of reasons why people are fired. Sometimes the mistake is yours and it’s embarrassing to admit you backed yourself into this corner.

Other times, it’s not your fault. Businesses change direction all the time—maybe yours is going through a major transition or merger and your job is disappearing.

Either way, to give the situation some closure, you need to understand why you were dismissed. What slipped? What could you have done differently? Was your boss really out to get you or did you do something to put your job in jeopardy?

Be honest with yourself. It’s not easy to admit that you might have dropped the ball but it’s the only way to turn the situation into a learning experience. Ask yourself:

What skills do you need to improve?

Is there training you can access, or learning you can do?

In the end, did this job suit you that much? Were you happy there?

Reflecting on these questions can help you put things into perspective. What lessons can you learn to avoid reproducing the same pattern in your next job?

6. Find out If You Were the Right Fit

Hiring decisions ultimately come down to personality. You can study for an interview all you like, but every candidate who is chosen for interview has the right credentials for the job.

The final decision comes down to personality. Who does the recruiter like the best? Who is a better fit for the company culture? That’s the person who strikes it lucky.

Firing decisions are based on personality, too. Slacking off, insubordination and playing fast and loose with the company rules—these are the official reasons why people are getting fired.

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But all of these reasons boil down to one thing: personality. Specifically, they signal a personality clash between an employee and a manager, or an employee’s fit with the company’s culture.

Here’s an example:

Suppose you were fired for “not being a team player.” Some people, namely introverts, lose energy when they are surrounded by other people and gain energy when they are on their own. Forcing an introvert to continuously work on a busy, noisy team without any solitary rest periods means the job is a mission impossible. This employee will never perform at her best.

Or how about the time the Kansas City Star newspaper fired Walt Disney for a perceived lack of imagination? Talk about a clash of personalities![1]

Getting fired can be a signal to turn inward and do some self-reflection so you can better understand your personality and how it might fit in with corporate culture.

In particular, personality assessments based on Isabel Briggs Myers’ sixteen personality types can help you to understand your own work style and how you can find a job and workplace that better match who you truly are.

In many cases, it is totally liberating to realize that all the crap you had to deal with was just down to a clash of work styles and not something you did wrong!

7. Rediscover Your Strengths and Talents

A personality test can also give you clear insights into your strengths, weaknesses, motivations and work potential. Do you have leadership abilities? How do you communicate and manage conflict? What benefits do you add to an organization?

Identifying your working style should be your top priority right now, otherwise you risk accepting a new position that has all the same problems as before. The last thing you want is to reproduce the same old dramas the next time around.

When you become aware of your potential, you will have the confidence to search and find the type of work you love.

For example, getting fired from your banking job may have knocked you sideways. But you have some stellar home decorating skills, and a personality test shows that you are curious, flexible, rational and resilient—all the traits of successful entrepreneurs. Maybe this dismissal is an opportunity to launch the business you’ve always dreamed of but never dared to admit to yourself?

By considering all your special skills and talents, you increase your chances of finding a job you would really enjoy, and not just the one you can do.

8. Get the Word Out

At this point, you should be ready to take action and move forward with your job search. Let’s not sugarcoat the situation: getting a new job is tough. It helps to have a clear idea of the direction you want to go in, a list of all your crossover skills and a freshly polished resume.

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Look around for inspiration. Talk to recruiters in your sector to establish what they consider to be your most valuable skills. Use all the resources at your disposal: job search agencies, headhunters, work coaches, careers websites and so on. These resources can help you match your qualifications to the job requirements and ensure you have the right keywords on your resume.

Don’t hold back on marshaling your networks. Put friends and family to work to pop up leads, and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. Sometimes the simple act of getting the word out to the people who know you is the surest way to find work fast.

9. Anticipate Questions and Know How to Answer Them

Even if it wasn’t your fault, getting fired can hurt you if you don’t know how to explain why you were let go. You have to be honest here and tell recruiters the truth. Even if a would-be employer does not specifically ask why you left your previous job, it is better to clarify the situation upfront before it comes out in your references.

The best approach is to take your share of responsibility and show that you want to go forward and that you understand the lesson.

For example, suppose you got fired for asking the difficult questions that no one wanted to answer and your candidness set people on edge. Acknowledge that some people perceive your communication style as abrupt and explain how you’re taking steps to increase your diplomacy skills.

A recruiter can be seduced by someone who knows how to evolve and who shows a great energy for personal development.

10. Adapt and Persist

Throughout this journey, you inevitably will go through moments of self-doubt and disappointment. There are undulations in every road, and these are the normal steps for regaining self-confidence after getting fired.

Stay tough! Don’t conclude that your future is hopeless just because the dream job doesn’t land straightaway. You open a positive path when you maintain focus. Have the confidence to know that the perfect job for you is out there.

Remember, you are not alone. Many people walked this road and they would urge you to keep the momentum. Stay open-minded and go where the opportunities take you: it will bring you closer to the job you really want.

Coming Out on Top

While getting fired isn’t the ideal situation, it isn’t the end of the world either. Even if feels like a doozy right now, you will get through it and emerge happier on the other side.

Be clear on what you want, have courage and believe in yourself. In the end, you may decide that getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to you. It can be the catalyst for a powerful, career-fulfilling change.

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Featured photo credit: Jesus Kiteque via unsplash.com

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