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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 April 17, 2019

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

2. Flexibility

Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

3. Being a Team Player

Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

4. Positive Mental Attitude

There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

5. A Strong Work Ethic

People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

  • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
  • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
  • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
  • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

6. Public Speaking

Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

7. Integrity

From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

  • Always doing what you say you will do
  • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

…even when no one is around to check up on you.

There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

8. Managing Your Time

Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

9. Assertiveness

In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

  • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
  • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
  • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
  • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

How do you use this information for yourself?

It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

10. Creative Thinking

LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Final Thoughts

The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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