For Entrepreneurs, Professionals and Growth Businessess Developing a Business Plan to Guide Growth and Secure Venture Funding

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Jon Hunt is the Lead Consultant for The Business Plan Team which works with growing businesses, entrepreneurs & start-ups that need help developing a professional business plan to secure funding and guide internal management. It has developed business plans for a wide range of businesses and corporate clients looking to raise funding of between £250,000 and £200million in many different industry sectors including Social Media, Retail, Construction, Mining, Renewable Energy, Technology, Healthcare, Interior Design, Sport & Leisure, Investment Banking, Wealth Management and Trading. Testimonials from these clients illustrate the high levels of service TBPT provides.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Business Plan: Securing Funding Part 2

In "Business Plan: Securing Funding Part 1" we looked at "How" you write your plan and how a professional business plan gives an indication of your professional approach. We looked at avoiding hype, writing about a "plan" rather than an "idea", being realistic and paying attention to editing and presentation.

In Part 2 we look at content. What are the key elements that you must address in order to secure funding? There are, of course, no guarantees. However, you will significantly increase your chances of funding if you include the following:

1) The Opportunity to Solve a Problem - Your Market Opportunity
Be clear in your business plan what problem you are solving. If you are not solving a real world problem your product or service is simply a "nice-to-have" rather than a "must-have". Must have propositions have a much better chance of getting funded. Once you are clear that you are solving a real problem get clarity on the size of the problem - both in terms of volume and value. You then have an indication of the market opportunity. From there you can go on to show exactly how you are going to reach that market with your solution to the problem.

2) Delivering the Business Plan - Management Team Experience and Expertise
You wouldn't let someone who can't drive and hasn't got a license borrow your car. Whilst they have nothing to lose and will be more than happy to get behind the wheel, you are lining yourself up for an expensive fall! In a similar way, an investor is not going to lend you money for your business unless the management team has proven track record - in particular the knowledge and experience driving your type of product or service to market. Banks or investors need to be assured that the management team will deliver the business plan in front of them. If you haven't got the experience yourself, get it, or get someone on board who has. Investors also like to see that the management team are prepared to get their hands dirty and shoulder some of the risk. You are more likely to secure funding if investor and management risk are aligned.

3) Delivering a Return - Return on Investment (ROI)
You need to convince investors that you have a real market opportunity and that the scale of it has the potential to generate significant profits and cash-flow. You also need to show that they can exit their investment at a future date. Avoid the temptation in the business plan to over-analyse projected revenues, market growth, industry norms and financial valuation models. All this can end up with a highly speculative future business valuation / ROI that can easily be dismissed as over-optimistic by a potential investor. So, you might want to work out funding round valuations yourself, but concentrate your efforts in the business plan on justifying the commercial case. Let them see the potential for themselves and you can then discuss potential ROI with them.

Good Luck!

Jon Hunt
Lead Consultant
The Business Plan Team
The Business Plan Team specialises in helping entrepreneurs, start-ups and growing businesses translate their vision into a coherent and executable business plan that can help secure funding and guide internal management. It provides a range of services from early feasibility studies through professional business plan development, to introductions to sources of funding. It is based in just outside Oxford, UK.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Business Plan Checklist to Secure Funding: Part 1 of 2

It's tough raising funding for your business plan at whatever level. You are up against hundreds of other businesses with polished business plans and you need to ensure that yours shines through. You may not have great experience of business plan writing but you can improve your chances of securing funds but making sure you cover off the basics. We have put together a checklist for anyone writing a business plan and in this first part cover a checklist of "How" to write the business plan.

How you write your plan conveys a lot about you. It shows your ability to organise and present information in such a way that is is relevant & coherent and gives an investor a window on how you approach your business. A professional business plan gives an indication of a professional approach. The opposite can equally be true. So here are a few basics to follow:

1) Write about a "Plan" not an "Idea"
Ideas are not enough. Ideas drain time and money and give investors the sweats. An investor or bank want to see a business plan that is ready to be actioned. If you get your funding tomorrow, do you have a time-table of what needs to be done? You need to explain in detail, exactly how you are going to reach your target audience / make your product / deliver your service / operate the business etc. Detail doesn't mean lengthy. Be concise and ensure your business plan is not too long.

2) Avoid Hype
Avoid extreme statements ("un-parallelled opportunity", "we have no competition", "will be outselling [insert any leading organisation of your choice] within 3 years" etc. .. ). Investors have seen all the hyperbole they can stomach and it won't improve your chances to try and think up some new word for "world beating". Show enthusiasm but stick to the facts. Build the case for the business proposition logically. Tell it how it is and you have a better chance of gaining an investors' respect, attention and funds.

3) Editing and Presentation
There is nothing worse than a poorly presented, repetitive, in-coherent business plan that is missing key information, and has obvious spelling and grammatical errors. Make sure your business plan has all the right sections, and don't get bogged down in tech speak or jargon. First impressions count, so ensure the Executive Summary is well structured and the document itself is presented in a professional way. If you are not the best at this then run the document past someone who is. If you decide that you need business plan help make sure you select a good business plan consultant to develop a professional business plan.

4) Realism
Ground your plan in the real world and avoid over-optimistic objectives and financials. Anyone funding a business plan wants to know they are not going to have to deal with a Walter Mitty character who lives permanently in the clouds, and who generally over-promises and under-delivers. Sanitise your business plan by looking at other businesses in your industry, their financial results, their cost base and their growth rates. You can be sure an investor will. If your business plan diverges significantly ask yourself whether you can justify your claims.

In Part 2 we will will look at "What" specific points you need to cover in your business plan that will improve your chances of securing funds.
Good Luck!

Jon Hunt
Lead Consultant
The Business Plan Team
The Business Plan Team specialises in helping entrepreneurs, start-ups and growing businesses translate their vision into a coherent and executable business plan that can help secure funding and guide internal management. It provides a range of services from early feasibility studies through professional business plan development, to introductions to sources of funding. It is based in just outside Oxford, UK.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

3 Key Tips for Your Business Plan Executive Summary

The executive summary is a crucial part of your business plan. whether you are a Start-up or Growing Business It is the first - and possibly last! - thing that an investor, bank or partner will read. They say that people make up their mind about someone within seconds of meeting. The executive summary is similar - if you don't strike the right tone it will only be a matter of seconds before you hear the dull thud of your professional business plan hitting the reject pile. So, here are a few tips to increase your chances of getting your audience to read it, and read on.

1. Write It Last
The executive summary is the culmination of your business planning - not the start point. It should illustrate how joined up and complete your business proposition is. If you write it early on you are likely to create a disconnect between your executive summary and the content of your business plan. A good way to start is to summarise the content from sections of the plan. Then link them up and edit to create a compelling story....

2. Horses for Courses - Write for Your Audience
Make the purpose of the plan clear (raising funding? which type? etc.) and tweak your executive summary for your audience. If you are writing for an equity investor make sure you include a section on investment, ROI etc.. Likewise, if you are looking for a bank loan make sure you tick all the boxes in terms of lending criteria. Make sure it is crystal clear what you want from whoever is reading your business plan.

3. "Leave them Wanting More...
.. and you know they'll read on" (abridged. Bobby Womak). It needs to be complete in itself. It also needs to be short, to the point. And most of all - compelling. No one invests or signs of debt finance on the basis of an executive summary (if you know someone let me know). It is designed to give enough information to create interest and compel the reader to read on. So, make sure you cover the Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? of your business proposition. Keep sentences short for impact. And entice the reader to read on ...

Good luck!

P.S. If you are looking to get someone to help you develop your Executive Summary and Business Plan check out our tips about selecting a business plan consultant.
Jon Hunt
Lead Consultant
The Business Plan Team

The Business Plan Team specialises in helping entrepreneurs, start-ups and growing businesses translate their vision into a coherent and executable business plan that can help secure funding and guide internal management. It provides a range of services from early feasibility studies through professional business plan development, to introductions to sources of funding. It is based in just outside Oxford, UK.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Tech Business Plan: Improve Your Chances of Funding for Your Technology Start-up or Business

Developing a Business Plan for a tech start-up or early stage business has specific challenges. You will need to cover the key sections of a business plan and address the 4 key areas an investor or funder will review. But you will also have to go a stage further to convince an investor that you have more than just an idea on paper.

Investors want to de-risk their investments and the more you can help them, the more likely you are going to see the colour of their money. Here are a few tips to help improve your chances of securing funding for a technology start-up or business:

1. Management: Make sure you have the right skill sets and can prove your capability to deliver. Investors like to see that the team in place (including any outsourced suppliers) have proven experience delivering the type of technology proposition you are seeking funding for. Knowledge of the market that you are addressing is also critical.

2. Specification & Costing - your investment proposal will be significantly de-risked if you can provide a functional and/or technical specification that has been validated and costed out for the initial phases of development. Summarise this in a product road map that shows milestones of design, prototyping, development, testing, and launch as well as longer term opportunities for growth. 

3. Execution Control - Investors will pay particular attention to your ability to control the development process. It is all to easy to find technology propositions that go over time and budget. Whatever your proportion of in-house and outsourced development show that you have control of the process of development and retention of any Intellectual Property (IP) during development.

4. Working Model / Illustration - If you don't have a fully functioning prototype then develop a mock-up that illustrates the proposition. Communicating the potential and functionality of your proposition is made a lot easier by visualisation.

6. Customers & Sales - If you have customers and sales you have a proof point that there is interest in your market offering which helps further de-risk the proposition in the eyes of an investor. Where this is not possible then see if you can seek letters of interest, letters of intent to purchase, or can demonstrate a significant following of your product or service via social media or within your specialist area of industry.

7. Investors - Choose them carefully and mind your language. Explore the right type of investors for you (hands on or off) and research them in some detail to try and understand their motivations and investment criteria. Once you have done that be careful not to alienate through the use of highly technical language or concepts that may confuse. Remember, investors are primarily interested in a commercial return for their investment - speak to them in a language they will understand.

Finally, if you are looking for inspiration, take a look at the 2013 Technology Pioneers recognised by the World Economic Forum. There are some well known previous winners (Mozilla, DropBox etc.) and both past and present inspire with their potential to change the way we live life or do business.

Good Luck!

Jon Hunt
Lead Consultant
The Business Plan Team

The Business Plan Team specialises in helping entrepreneurs, start-ups and growing businesses translate their vision into a coherent and executable business plan that can help secure funding and guide internal management. It provides a range of services from early feasibility studies through professional business plan development, to introductions to sources of funding. It is based just outside Oxford, UK.

If you are thinking of engaging someone to help you with developing your business plan take a look at our article on how to select a business plan consultant. 

Wordle: Business Planning For Tech Companies

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

10 Key Sections of Your Business Plan

Follow a typical structure for your business plan as it makes it easier for anyone evaluating it. Bankers and Investors see hundreds of plans and if they have to work out whether you have all the information it will likely end up in the reject pile.

The following sections should be in every business plan:

1. Executive Summary: This should be no more than two pages, compel the reader to read on, and be written last of all once all other sections are complete.

2. Company Background and Legal Entity: How and why the company came into existence, what products and /or services it offers, any track record of performance and its legal status.

3. The Market: This should include current statistics and trends on the market being addressed. It should also include an analysis of the customers in the market space - who they are, how and what they buy. It should culminate in the market opportunity facing the company. 

4. Company Product and/or Services: What are you proposing to bring to the market to meet the market opportunity?

5. Competitive Analysis: This should include an analysis of your direct and indirect competition and culminate in how your offer differentiates from that of your competitors in such a way that will gain you competitive advantage.

6. Sales & Marketing Plan: This identifies your target audience and details how you are going to reach it as well as giving a summary of your sales forecast.

7. Operations: This section shows how your business is going to deliver your product or service operationally - who does what and how.

8. Management Team: This is a key section that needs to show that you have the experience and skill-sets within your management team to deliver your proposition to the market.

9. Financial Plan: This is a summary of your financial projections, cash-flow highlights, breakeven, and investor proposition.

10. Appendices: This should include all the detail that you need to support your plan but would make the body of the plan too long if it were included. This will likely include detailed financial statements, management resumes, legal documents, letters of interest etc.

You should also remember that completeness and coherence are important. It won't matter how well written an investment plan if you have omitted to include how an investor will get a return (yes - it happens!) or your marketing plan doesn't address current trends in the market.

Finally, remember to emphasise the three critical elements - Market Need, Product to meet that need, and a Management Team able to deliver the plan.

Jon Hunt
Lead Consultant
The Business Plan Team

The Business Plan Team specialises in helping entrepreneurs, start-ups and growing businesses translate their vision into a coherent and executable business plan that can help secure funding and guide internal management. It provides a range of services from early feasibility studies through professional business plan development, to introductions to sources of funding. It is based in just outside Oxford, UK.

Friday, 15 June 2012

So You Want To Secure Investment?

Well, It all sounds straight forward enough - with an identified and receptive market, well targeted product, sound management team and a plan that conveys a commercially viable proposition who can fail? Well in reality, many people fail to tick all the boxes on the above. This can be through blind faith (someone will see the wonderful opportunity despite the missing bits), understanding (of what a sound management team looks like, for example), or cabin fever (been so long looking at the business that self-delusion has set in).

However, even assuming that a business can avoid these pitfalls, the routes to securing investment at the moment is challenging. There are so many businesses looking for funding that sources of debt or equity funding have a wide choice over which to spread their risk.

So how do you get your business proposition noticed? Well, here are a few ideas.

1. Be realistic and avoid extravagant claims - it may be that you are the next Green, Branson, or whoever but most people are not. Avoid claims you cannot substantiate. Small can be very profitable and attractive. Don't overstate your own position or the claim for your product or service.

2. Show a clear path to profitability and exit - investors like to see measurable milestones against which the progress of the business can be measured and funding drawn down. If you don't have financial or commercial awareness your business will fail without someone with executive authority to work along-side you.

3. Show clearly how you are going to use your funding - investors and banks do not like to see large pots of money allocated randomly across the board. They like to see how, specifically, the funding is going to be used and the anticipated outcomes of that funding.

4. Show a solid cash-flow and a good ROI. Worst case scenario is that the business fails to meet targets, runs out of cash and doesn't deliver anything back to those who have invested time and effort into its growth (p.s. that includes you). Be realistic, don't ask for too little money and if the Return on Investment is not good you should question why you are doing it... and asking others to back you.

5. Keep it Simple - don't claim world domination of a market in 3 years. Instead, make sure the core of the business is deliverable & profitable and also highlight potential upsides once the business is established.

The rest is down to you.  A backer needs to believe in you - and specifically that you can deliver. There is no point over-selling yourself - you will be found out. Tell it how it is and your vision of how you want it to be but make sure it is rooted in reality. Too many people over-promise and under-deliver - don't be one of them. It is easy to lose your credibility and very hard to get it back.

Jon Hunt

The Business Plan Team

Friday, 4 March 2011

Overcoming Start-Up Hurdles

Even when you have done your business plan and think all your ducks are in a row there will be another hurdle to overcome. This is the nature of the start-up, particularly if you are trying to push the boundaries and deliver innovation in your industry.

Your business plan will detail how you will execute on your opportunity. However, in the start-up environment the only constant is change and that throws up new hurdles and challenges to overcome. It is how you deal with these hurdles on a professional and personal level that will set you apart from your competitors and see your business succeed or fail. How can you do this?

1) Face the hard issues up front and head on. Don't let your passion for what you want to do blind you from reality. It is easy to side-step (or at worst ignore) the issues that may fundamentally affect your core business proposition especially if you don't have experience dealing with them. Get them out on the table early on - be honest with yourself and others - it will save enormous grief in the long term. If any issues are serious enough to affect your core business you should review your financial assumptions to see how they affect your forecast going foreward.

2) Don't be afraid to seek advice. No-one has the answers to all the questions that they will be faced with in starting a business. The art is to recognise your limitations and ask the right questions of the right people. Where you have weaknesses build a network of support (professional, informal, non-executive) and use it to overcome problems as they arise. You don't have to know everything, you just have to know where to find the information that will enable you to make the best decision. Budgeting in your business plan for the cost of periodic advice is wise at least on a contingency level.

3) Be ruthlessly professional. When you come across a hurdle deal with it thoroughly and without exception. It is a threat to your success and that of your business. If you don't it will likely come back and cause you problems in the long term. A number of relatively small un-addressed problems can drain the business and pull it down. Executing a business plan relies on the ability to deliver success amidst change. The way you deal with issues as they arise conveys a message to your employees, investors, and partners. If you deal with issues openly, professionally and ruthlessly you will gain their respect even if your business plan is not achieved in full.

Keep track of your progress against your business plan and forecast. Revise it as necessary when your original assumptions are challenged. In the process, face up to the difficult issues, seek advice and be ruthlessly professional.

Good Luck!

Jon Hunt
The Business Plan Team
The Business Plan Team specialises in helping entrepreneurs, start-ups and growing businesses translate their vision into a coherent and executable business plan that can help secure funding and guide internal management. It provides a range of services from early feasibility studies through professional business plan development, to introductions to sources of funding. It is based in just outside Oxford, UK.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Investor Down-Time: Your Business Planning Uptime!

As the festive season approaches investor thoughts go to planning their holidays and time away to spend their gains. This always signals a downturn in investor activity and is the ideal time to write that business plan, or fine tune the one on file, in readiness for their return in mid- to late January 2011. Of course, investor and general consumer confidence is still wavering and the news of Ireland's bail out will raise further questions of contagion and "who's next?".

The High street lenders also go quiet too at this time of year. They are also necessarily conservative on their lending policies in light of the economic conditions and further financial regulation. Any request for borrowing needs to be supported by a coherent and realistic business plan that takes into account the current economic climate.

But there is always appetite for investment in a good proposition that has a clear market opportunity and a team on board that will deliver. Make the most of the up-coming down-time and ensure you have a plan for 2011 that will position you well to accelerate out of recession.

Jon Hunt
The Business Plan Team
tel: 0800 088 7806

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Why is now a good time to do your business plan ?

Of course every business varies according to the need for a business plan, but for many start-ups or existing businesses looking to raise funds the summer months provides an opportunity to prepare. Why is the holiday season a good time for preparation ? Well, for many businesses the summer period means a tail off in business activity and the taking of annual leave.

For prospective start-ups this provides the opportunity to bring your ideas together outside the pressure of your existing work environment - step back from the day to day grind and plan your way ahead. We have many people coming to us who, under pressure of work, need help in putting a plan together. This is a chance to consider, evaluate and assess the feasibility of your ideas.

For existing businesses this time is also valuable to review an existing business plan, measure progress against it and examine potential future strategies. So often, this is difficult in the heat of "doing business" - take a little time now to gain perspective and re-orientate.

But perhaps the most important reason for developing your plan now is timing. For businesses looking to raise funds this is a quiet time of year. Many potential investors are enjoying the fruits of their labours abroad and are taking time out from reviewing investment opportunities. This applies as much to investor networks, VC funds as well as individual High Net Worth (HNW) investors. In my experience the investment community slows to a crawl before coming to life again in mid September and October.

So, whether you are a start-up or existing business, now is the ideal time to get your business plan and pitch documents together, re-work the presentations and get everything ready for the Autumn.

Good Luck !

Jon Hunt
The Business Plan Team

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

How long and detailed should my business plan be ?

We often get asked by clients "how long" and "what level of detail" is required in a business plan. We generally give advice based on a number of factors including the target audience and the amount of funds being raised, but there are some equally important factors that you should consider.

In terms of length and detail there can be a significant difference between a SME business plan that seeks to raise £10,000 and a corporate business plan looking to raise £100m. The extent to which you need to provide detail on market and competitor research for a £100m plan may require a feasibility study that references current research that can in itself be costly. For a smaller business plan this level of detail, for example on competitor financial performance or data on your local market, simply may not be available in the public domain. Even if it were, the cost of procuring it may well outweigh the benefit that this analysis would bring. Remember, the main process of providing information is to reduce the risk profile of the investment.

But even the most detailed information on its own is not sufficient. In providing business plan services we come across many entrepreneurs who have invested considerable time and energy in developing the detail in the business plan, However, in many cases this adds up to little more than a collection of facts. Whatever level of funding you are seeking to start-up or expand your business, the business case for investment (either from a debt or equity perspective) needs to be made clearly. In other words, the argument for the business case is as important as the level of detail provided to support the business plan and needs to be made clearly in simple logical steps.

As important as the argument and detail is to provide a plan that acknowledges the interests of your target audience. Whether approaching angel investors, VCs or a bank, you need to show an appreciation for their investment or debt strategies and provide as much relevant information as possible to enable them to make a decision in your favour. Remember, these people get many plans across their desk on a daily basis. If they see one that simply lacks enough information to assess whether it has potential or not in terms of their own investment strategies the chances are that they will put it to one side where it will gather dust.

Finally, be concise. Irrespective of length and detail the reader should be able to grasp the key aspects of your business plan within 10 minutes . Only then are they likely to drill down into more detail.

Be concise, develop a sound argument and provide relevant supporting data. If only it was as easy as it sounds !

Jon Hunt
The Business Plan Team
Business Plan Services