Should You Write Your Own Business Plan?
If you are just starting a company and looking for funding, or looking for additional funding for growth, you will need to develop a traditional business plan. Creating a business plan is a business hurdle that entrepreneurs seem to dread. Do you do it yourself? Do you hire someone to do it? How do you get it done quickly, but without spending too much money on it? Will what you do yourself be adequate to get funding?
In this article I will discuss the pros and cons of do-it-yourself business planning versus having a business planning consultant do it for you or with you.
The Do It Yourself Business Plan
Particularly if you are seeking capital of less than $200,000, consider creating the plan yourself after taking a class or reading some books or getting some coaching for someone who has written successful business plans.
Consider taking a three-hour business planning class through SCORE or the local Small Business Development Center. Even if you decide afterwards not to write your own plan, you will have a much better idea of what you want out of the process and what to expect.
There are some good reasons for an entrepreneur to do the business plan:
Outsourcing the Business Plan Process
Entrepreneurs are fire fighters. One of the most important jobs of an entrepreneur is to manage time, and do those things that you are best skilled to do. Many entrepreneurs decide to hire someone else to do their business plans, often because they have an urgent need for the funding and can't afford the learning curve to be able to develop a high-quality plan that will meet the needs of lenders or investors.
In addition, if your funding requirements are more than $500,000 my recommendation is to get some professional help with this project, even if you do some of it yourself.
Some reasons to consider hiring a consultant:
No matter what, don't let a business planning consultant talk you into putting any information into your plan that you aren't comfortable with. If it doesn't look right to you, it probably isn't. It is your business, and you will be stuck with the plan long after you've paid the consultant's bill. Make sure it is the plan that you want, one that matches your goals and objectives, and captures the way you look at business and the spirit of your company.
If you do decide to hire a business planning consultant, here are some of the important questions to ask to make sure you get the greatest value from your investment:
The Optimum Solution: A Blended Approach
At best, the planning process should not be at either end of the spectrum, but squarely in the middle. In my experience, plans that win funding come from a true collaboration between a skilled consultant/facilitator and the entrepreneur's team of employees and advisors.
A business planning consultant can act as a coach, first assessing the job to be done, and then recommending who is best to do it. The business plan should be a compilation of work between the vision and goals of the entrepreneur, the technical understanding and expertise of his or her accountant and other professionals, a consensus of employees or others, and the research and writing abilities of the business planning consultant. The consultant should meet with all parties involved, talk about what is needed for the plan, and use all the resources available to get the work done as quickly and cost effectively as possible. It is the consultant's responsibility in the process to take all the pieces and make the final plan into a readable, accessible document that will stand up to investor/lender scrutiny.
My final caveats:
And one final thought: Don't go on to start a business or make changes in your current business if everything in the business planning process tells you it won't work. Things don't get better out in the real world if they don't work on paper. Deal with the weaknesses ? get more training, consider product redevelopment, or have a home-based business to reduce costs until you can sustain the rent for an office. Businesses fail finally because they've run out of money. If your plan tells you that you can't make enough money to make the business work for the long run, pay attention to that reality.
About The Author
Jan B. King is the former President & CEO of Merritt Publishing, a top 50 woman-owned and run business in Los Angeles and the author of Business Plans to Game Plans: A Practical System for Turning Strategies into Action (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). She has helped hundreds of businesses with her book and her ebooks, The Do-It-Yourself Business Plan Workbook, and The Do-It-Yourself Game Plan Workbook. See www.janbking.com for more information.
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With the economic downturn, students in all the major business schools have been dropping out of their entrepreneurship classes and transferring back to classes where they think they have a secure future. Students and professionals who were once planning to start businesses now have decided to go back to their cushy jobs. Everything is going back to normal. Or at least that is how it looks. Below are nine reasons why any student should start a business:You gain experience. Owning and running your own business is an incredible way to gain experience and credentials regardless of whether you decide to stay in business once you graduate. Jaime Gonzalez of Oklahoma State University received the highest job offer in his entire graduating class. Now, there are two kickers: First, he was the founder of an IT consulting company, and second, he had a 2.4 GPA. Hmmm...I wonder if starting a business helps in getting a better job when you graduate? You have nothing to lose. I think it's safe to say that most students dip into their parents' checkbook when it comes time to pay the bills. In general, students aren't paying child support, rent, utilities and many other expenses. The worst thing that could happen if your business fails is that you get a job, have an incredible credential on your resume, and have experience that will increase your chances of success in the future. The best thing that can happen is that you'll become the next Microsoft. I don't know about you, but I think that is better than choosing between no job and jobs that you're in just for the money. Two-thirds of millionaires are entrepreneurs, according to Thomas Stanley and William Dank, authors of The Millionaire Mind. If it's the money you want, then consider entrepreneurship. You receive not only a salary, but also a lot of money if you're lucky enough to sell your company or take it public. Michael Furdyk, a successful young entrepreneur, was able to sell his business, MyDesktop.com, for $1 million when he was 16 years old! You develop networking skills. You've likely heard that your network increases your net worth. Consider the fact that by running a business and constantly being in a business community, you will develop excellent contacts. If you choose to get a job after you graduate, you will have a great pool of people who will be more than happy to hire you or send your resume to somebody who wants to. You increase your value. Put simply, starting a business in college increases the value of "the brand called you" and gives you more options. For example, an entrepreneur with a large brand value can publish a book, star in a documentary movie (i.e., Startup.com), or go straight to the top of another company. I recently met one of the founders of Diversity Planet, a job site for minorities. He spent a year working very hard on the company and has since left to take a reporting job with Dateline NBC at the ripe age of 20! People don't often don't get an opportunity like that until they are much older. Operating a profitable business in the long term is less risky than being an employee in the long term. For example, just look at the recent economic downturn. Tens of thousands of people have been laid off. I can guarantee the owners of profitable businesses are still with the business. They will be the last people to go down with a ship. Business owners can have multiple streams of incomes from different customers. If you're an employee, you only have one stream of income and therefore are bearing more risk. You will learn more about yourself and what they don't teach or prepare you for in school. Furthermore, entrepreneurship is the combination of all the disciplines of business. It includes knowledge of marketing, accounting, management and operations. Already having knowledge of these topics before you take classes on them allows you to see more clearly how everything applies. Also, you will be able to learn early-on what subjects you like so you can make better decisions on what to major in and what industries to target. It is yours. You make the rules, create your own hours, work from wherever you want and choose who you want to work with. You can also pick what interests you the most in the world and then start a business that is related to that topic in some way. If you like art, you can start a design business. If you like marketing, you can create or choose a product and then market it. If you like writing, you can write a book and do your own public relations and marketing. If you like the Internet, you can start a Web development business. You'll grow. I personally have grown a lot from owning a business. I used to be terrified to speak in front of others. Now I look forward to it. Before owning a business, I had probably read a total of five books outside of school, and I only read them because my mom made me. Since starting my business, I've probably read more than 100 books. The business has also allowed me to learn more about myself. I know that I will be an entrepreneur forever in some way, shape or form!
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