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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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Published on June 5, 2018

Is It Time for a Career Change? Find Your Answer Here with These Steps

Is It Time for a Career Change? Find Your Answer Here with These Steps

Are you challenged at work? Do you regret career decisions? Are you happy? If the answer to the questions leads to a negative feeling, it is time to determine next steps.

Many people settle for a career that no longer brings satisfaction. Most will respond by stating, “I am surviving” if a colleague asks them “How’s work?”

Settling for a job to pay bills and maintain a lifestyle is stagnation. You can re-direct the journey of a career with confidence by taking control of future decisions. After all, you deserve to be live a happy life that will offer a work-life balance . Let’s look at the reasons why you need a career change and how to make it happen for a more fulfilling life.

Signs that you need a career change

The challenges of dissatisfaction in a career can have a negative impact on our mental health. As a result, our mental health can lead to the obvious appearance of stress, aging, weight gain and internal health issues.

You deserve a career that will fulfill the inner desire of true happiness. Here are common factors that it is time for you to change your career.

Physical signs

Are you aging since you started your job? Do you have anxiety? What about work-related injuries?

It feels amazing to receive a pay cheque, but you deserve to work in an environment that brings out the best of you. If the work environment is hazardous, speak to your boss about alternative options.

In the case that colleagues or your boss take advantage of your kindness, feeling the anxiety of fear of losing your job because of a high-stress environment may not be right for you.

Mental signs

One out of five Americans has mental health issues, according to Mental Health America.[1] In most cases, it is related to stress.

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I remember working at a job in a work environment where harassment was acceptable. I had to walk on eggshells to avoid crossing the line with colleagues. My friends started to notice the difference in that I seemed out of character. It was then that I knew that changing a career to freelancing was the right decision.

Here is a list of mental signs of workplace unhappiness:

  • The tension in your neck
  • Difficulties with sleeping
  • Unable to concentrate
  • High anxiety
  • Depression

If you start to feel your self-esteem is diminishing, it is time to consider if working in a high-stress industry is for you. The truth is, this negative energy will be transferred to people in your life like friends and family.

Why a career change is good for you

I have a friend that works in the medical industry. She was once a nurse working directly with patients in one of the top hospitals in her area. After five years, she started to internalize the issues with her patients to the point where she felt depressed after work hours. It impacted her relationship with her family and she almost lost herself.

One day, she decided to wake up and take control of her destiny. She started applying for new medical jobs in the office. It meant working on medical documentation of patients which is not an ideal career based on what society expects a medical professional to perform. But she started to feel happier.

It is a classic example of a person that was negatively impacted by issues at work, stayed in the same industry but changed careers.

A career change can fulfill a lifelong dream, increase one’s self-esteem or revive the excitement for one’s work.

You know a career change can be the right decision to make if you experience one or all of these:

  • Working in a negative workplace: Don’t be discouraged. A negative workplace can be changed by working at a new organization.
  • Working with a difficult boss: The challenges of working with a difficult boss can be stressful. All it takes is communication. You can address the issue directly with a manager professionally and respectfully.
  • Feeling lost about what you do: Most people stay at their jobs and settle for mediocrity because of the fear of failure or the unknown. The rise to success often comes with working a tedious role or stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. If you fear the idea of being involved in activities that are new, remember that life is short. Mediocrity will only continue to make you feel as if life is passing you by.

Common mistakes of people making a career change

Most people that feel they need a career are frustrated with their situation at work. What is your situation?

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  • Desire for an increase of salary: The desire for a higher income can persuade some to believe they are in the wrong career. The issue with this is more money requires more time in the office or taking on several positions at a time. At times, pursuing a high-income role can be the complete opposite of what one is expected. It is what happens when a colleague leaves a company to a new one and returns several years later.
  • Overnight decision: Let’s face it. We make overnight decisions when stressed out or disappointed with situations at work. The problem with a quick decision is the negative and positive points is overlooked.
  • Rejected for a promotion: I have heard stories of managers that applied ten times for a position throughout a 5-year period. Yes, it sounds to be a lengthy process, but at times, a promotion requires time. Avoid changing a career if you do not see the results of a promotion currently.
  • Bored at work: Think deeply about this point. If you work a job that is repetitive, it is normal to feel bored. You can spice it up by changing the appearance of your desk, socializing with new employees in a different department, joining a leadership committee at work or coming to work with enthusiasm. Sometimes, all it takes is you to change jobs into a fun situation.

A career change can take time, networking, education and the job search process can be a journey. Here is a list of things to consider before making a final decision:

  • How long have you worked in your career?
  • What is the problem at work? Do you work well with the team?
  • Do you receive recognition?
  • Can you consider working in a new department?

The reason it is important to think about the work situation is some people decide to change career for factors that are insignificant. Factors that can potentially change if the person works in a different department or new organization. Here is a list of unimportant factors to think about before you decide to make the transition:

Now that you had a chance to review your work situation and none of these recommendations can help, it is time to take the next step.

How to make the change for a successful career (Step-by-step)

The ultimate key to success is to go through a career transition step by step to avoid making the wrong decision.

1. Write a career plan

A career plan has a dead line for action steps that includes taking new courses, learning a new language, networking or improving issues at work.[2] A career plan should be kept in your wallet because it will motivate you to keep pursuing the role.

You can learn how to set your career plan here.

2. Weigh your options

If you have a degree in Accounting, write down five positions in this industry of interest. The good news is diplomas and degrees can be used to a variety of roles to choose.

You don’t have to stick to what society holds a top job, in the end, choosing the right role that will make you happy is priceless.

3. Be real about the pros and cons

It is time to be honest about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that are impacting the current situation.

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A SWOT Analysis of a career can include:

  • Economic factors
  • Direct competition: Is this role in high demand?
  • Location: Do you need to move? If the goal is to work in tech and living in Cincinnati is not realistic, consider moving to San Francisco.
  • Achievements: To stand out from the competition achievements like awards, committee involvement, freelance work or volunteering is a recipe for success.
  • Education: Do you need to go back to school? Education can be expensive. However, online courses, webinars or self-study is an option.

A career blueprint is the first step to creating realistic goals. A person without goals will be disappointed without a clear direction of what to do next.

4. Find a mentor

A mentor that works in the desired position can share the pros and cons of working in the role. Here is a list of questions to ask a mentor:

  • What is required to be successful in the role?
  • What certification or educational development is needed?
  • What are the challenges of the role?
  • Is there potential for career advancement?

A chat at a coffee shop with a mentor can change your mind about the desire for a career change.

Find out how to pick a good mentor for yourself in this article: A Good Mentor Is Hard to Find: What to Look for in a Mentor

5. Research salary

Some people decide to change careers for a role that pays less or perks like benefits to make up for the difference in previous to potential salary.

It can reveal the cities throughout the country that offer a higher salary for those that have an interest in relocating for work.

6. Be realistic

If your goal is to move up into an executive position, it is time to be honest about where you are in your career.

For example, if boardroom meetings, high-level discussions about financials or attending weekly networking events are boring, an executive role may not be right for you. If you are an introvert and working with people every day is nerve wrecking, you need to reconsider a job in sales.

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Ask yourself if you can work in this role for the next five years of your life. If other benefits that come with the role are enticing, other roles are fit that will make you happy.

7. Volunteer first

A person that wants to become a manager should take on volunteer opportunities to experience the reality of the position.

Becoming a committee member to pursue a presidential opportunity can provide a perspective on leadership, maintaining a budget and public speaking.

Volunteer in a role until you are certain that it is the right opportunity.

8. Prepare your career tools

I recommend asking a boss, colleague or mentor for career tools. If you prefer professional assistance, you can seek out resume writing assistance. Here is a list of things to consider when preparing career tools:

  • Online search: Search your name online to see what shows up. I recommend searching images that are on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or other sites on a personal account. The last thing you want to realize is the job search is unsuccessful because there is unprofessional content you posted online.
  • Be LinkedIn ready: Recruiters conduct a LinkedIn search to see if the work experience is the same on a resume. Remember to change the wording on LinkedIn from the resume, or it will appear there was no effort put into creating the profile.
  • Portfolio: A portfolio of work is recommended for people that work in the arts, writing, graphic design and other fields. I recommend a portfolio online and one that is available in hand when attending job interviews or networking meetups.

Final thoughts

It takes time to move towards a new career. Pay attention to the physical and mental signs to maintain your health. You deserve to work in happiness and come home stress-free. If you avoid the common mistakes people make, you will discover the role that is the best fit with your skillsets.

Master these action steps and changing careers will be on your terms to make the best decision for your future.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1]Mental Health America: The State of Mental Health in America
[2]MIT Global Education & Career Development: Make a Career Plan

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