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Business plan checklist

What you should cover to give yourself a solid start

Once you've decided to bite the bullet and set up your own venture, you need to know where you're taking the business and how you're going to get there - for your own sake, as much as for others. This is why preparing the right kind of business plan is so important. So, what elements do you need to include in your plan and what is its overall purpose?

"A well thought-out business plan is undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of any successful business," says Julie Stanford, creator of the Essential Business Guide. "Its preparation will give you the opportunity to encapsulate your ideas, targets, actions and forecasts before you embark on the long and often lonely journey into the world of small business," she says.

"Whilst the business plan will be required when talking to your bank or potential investors, it should be first and foremost for you - because it will enable you to judge whether or not all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit together and whether your enterprise will be sustainable financially and truly represent your values and ability," says Julie.

"It's not something you write once and file away. It should be a well-thumbed document, regularly consulted and updated as your enterprise grows, and adhered to as your own set of instructions to yourself," she maintains.

Mission statement

A business plan is:

Your chance to write your mission statement, establish your goals, budgets and projections, set timescales and plan your marketing strategy

The opportunity to work out who you think is going to buy your products or services and how you are going to reach them

The occasion to focus your mind on how best to communicate with your market and to align this with the rest of your business plan

Above all, writing your plan will make you examine every aspect of what you hope will make your business viable. It will give you the opportunity to make last-minute adjustments before taking the plunge

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The checklist

Planning is about recognising where you are now, identifying where you want to get to and what you want to achieve, and the real crunch part, how you're going to do it. Bear in mind, though, that your plan should not be set in stone and will most likely change as your business progresses, so regular reviews will be necessary. It may assist you in preparing or revising your plan to use the following checklist of questions:

Who are you? – your background and track record of the main players. Investors particularly want to see a strong management team

Where are you? – company status; start-up or existing business? And the management structure and share allocations

Where are you going? – your goals and ambitions for your venture

Key financials. You must know to the penny your incomings and outgoings. Know how your industry measures success, and quote figures accordingly - for example, 'average spend per customer'

What is it? – describe your product or service in layman's terms

Who wants it? – where is the market for your products or services?

Why might they want it? – does your product or service solve a problem or add value?

How many people are likely to want it? – information on market size

How will you tell them about it? – describe your marketing strategy, and pricing policy

And how do you provide it? This is your 'operations' question. What are the costs of production, how might they vary, and who are you reliant on?

Who else has it? – analyse the competition. If there is none, why?

How are you different? – niche, better, faster, cheaper?

What are the risks? – be realistic without being pessimistic

What are the rewards? – anyone can produce a set of numbers, so explain how you arrived at your projections

Get it right

Quote�It will undoubtedly be one of the most important business documents you ever create.�End Quote
Julie Stanford

"Whether you are preparing your business plan to encapsulate your thoughts, provide your company with direction, or to win over your bank manager, it will undoubtedly be one of the most important business documents you ever create," says Julie.

"Don't be frightened to show a draft to friends, family and business contacts and ask them for comments. Which parts did they perhaps not understand? And if your budget can stretch to it, seeking the opinion and advice of a professional business advisor could also turn out to be one of the wisest investments you make in the early days," she concludes.

What next?

See how to review your plan once you've finished it. Have you missed out anything cruicial?

We've got lots of other business plan advice: see why you need a business plan, and what research you should do before writing it.

Our regular newsletters contain lots of information about business planning. Find out more and sign up now.

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