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Serious About Writing A Business Plan... Start A Business Plan Library
Tap these treasures of ideas. The best money you can spend is money invested in your business plan education. Don't shortchange yourself when it comes to investing in your dream. Start gathering samples of business plans and collect business plan books and get a business plan library started, it can change your future. Here's what your library needs to show: that you're a serious student of business strategy and planning, finance and economics, selling, and writing.
Sample Business Plans
Start by gathering sample business plans. Look at the annual reports and S-1s, S-4s, 10ks, or 10Qs filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of companies in your industry. See how they present their case, explain their business, and discuss their industry and competition.
What exactly are these forms and how do you get them? Good question.
These are forms that public companies must file with the SEC in order to register their securities or to maintain the registration of previously registered securities with the SEC. You can find these forms by going to www.sec.gov, clicking on the Edgar database, and searching for a public company in your industry.
The key is to find the most helpful filings. These are the ones labeled S-1, S-4, 10K, and 10Q. They usually contain descriptions of the business, its products, industry, competitors and strategies. Sections that should sound familiar to you if you are planning to write a business plan.
Go to these sections and read how the company presents their business and its products. Look at how they describe the industry and their competitors. I encourage you to read as many filings in your industry as possible. See what the "big guys" are saying, the issues, challenges, and trends they see in the industry and how they're attacking them.
Be careful though about mimicking what they write. Many of these documents are written in legalese despite the SEC's protestations and push for plain English. Just remember, you're doing this exercise to see how other companies have built their case to business investors.
Another approach is to gather and read professionally written business plans of companies in your industry and use them as guides to prepare your plan. Try to avoid generic business plan templates. They're too general and often not worth the investment. Either way. Start filling your business plan library with business plans and registration statements. Keep them close by and refer to them often as you write your business plan.
Now, here's a good book to start your business plan library with. It's called: Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter. In this landmark book, Competitive Strategy, Porter shows you how to identify the forces that drive competition in your industry. Learn what moves your competitors are likely to make within it. Competitive Strategy provides a framework for evaluating the competitive alternatives you must consider and for thinking about how to change the rules of the marketplace in your favor. Competitive Strategy is the bible venture capitalist, investment bankers, and business development executives use when analyzing an industry or business venture. I use this book as the centerpiece of my business plan library. So I'm just asking you to take a look at Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter. If it suits you fine, if it doesn't suit you, keep looking till you find something that helps you understand strategy.
Opening your mind to strategic alternatives is a creative process. You can never have too many books on strategy in your business plan library. Read as much as you can to learn why some companies can sell their products more cheaply than others. Why others provide the best products...products that are just far superior to their competition. And, why some companies just always seem to provide unmatched service.
Fill your business plan library with business books that inspire, challenge and answer these questions. Read. Read. Read. And, study too. Find out how some companies are reinventing competition in their markets and obtaining funding while others are seemingly oblivious to the changing world around them.
Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema set out to find answers to these types of questions in their book The Discipline of Market Leaders. Although the authors won't appreciate this comment, I found the underlying fundamentals in The Discipline of Market Leaders to closely parallel those laid out by Porter in Competitive Strategy. Perhaps that's why I like it so much. The difference, however, is that they present their material in a less academic, more engaging way. And, they provide excellent case studies that are sure to generate many aha's! The Discipline of Market Leaders will make you think about what it is your company or new venture does better than anyone else; what unique value do you provide to your customers? How will you continually increase that value? If you can't easily answer these questions about your business, The Discipline of Market Leaders is required reading and a must for your business plan library. The business owners and entrepreneurs that can answer these questions are not only raising the value bar in their industries, they're raising capital for their businesses!
Finance and Economics
Be sure to keep your business plan library well balanced...
Let me give you a sense of that balance. First is finance and economics. We all have got to have a sense of how to make money...the universal laws of business success, no matter whether you are selling fruit from a stand or running a Fortune 500 company. Finance and economics are the basic building blocks of business. Your business plan library needs a few books on the numbers. When you understand the basics of finance and economics its possible to bringing the most complex business down to the fundamentals. You become empowered to focus on the basics and make money from your venture.
Here's a good book to help you in this area: What the CEO Wants You to Know by Ram Charan. What the CEO Wants You to Know captures the basics of finance and economics and explains in clear, simple language how to do what great business owners and entrepreneurs do instinctively and persistently. Charan explains the basic building blocks of business and how to use them to figure out how your company can, does, or will make money and operate as a total business. Learn how to use these building blocks to cut through the clutter of day-to-day business and the complexity of the real world. What the CEO Wants You to Know by Ram Charan. This little book is only a 137 pages: but I'm telling you, it's so well written you'll be as intrigued as I was. What the CEO Wants You to Know by Ram Charan. Get it for your business plan library.
Next is writing. You have to be able to get your thoughts down on paper. Businessese, academese, legalese - all appear too often in business plans. Often preventing a knowledgeable writer with good intensions to fail at getting the message across to an intelligent, interested reader. For some reason, when people write business plans they are compelled to write "commence" and "prior to" instead of "begin" and "before." If you want to write an effective business plan, your business plan library must have books on how to be an effective writer.
Start with Edward Baily; he wrote a surprisingly straightforward book called The Plain English Approach to Business Writing. This book, The Plain English Approach to Business Writing, is about writing as you would talk, which not only makes your writing easier to read, it's also makes it easier to write. In a brief, entertaining 124 pages Baily clearly lays out the dos and don'ts of plan English, illustrating them with examples drawn from business documents, technical manuals, trade publications, and the works of writers like Russell Baker and John D. MacDonald. The Plain English Approach to Business Writing offers practical advice on clarity, precision, organization, layout, and many other topics. Best of all, you can read it an hour...and use it for the rest of your life.
But writing well is only a part of writing. A good business plan must be persuasive. Listen carefully to what I just said: persuasive. Not misleading or untruthful, but persuasive.
Here's a book you need to look at Persuading on Paper. How's that for a title? Persuading on Paper by Marcia Yudkin. Yudkin is a writing consultant who coaches small-business owners and professionals on improving their marketing materials. In a witty and vivid style, Persuading on Paper shows you how to use the written word to convert strangers to prospects to paying customers (or in our case, investors). What I like about this book is that Yudkin takes you step-by-step through the process of creating marketing materials that sell. Don't underestimate the power of marketing copy in your business plan. You'll be surprised how her methods and strategies can help create a more powerful business plan. Persuading on Paper is a must-have for anyone who wants to attract more clients, customers, or investors.
Next is an understanding of the process of obtaining capital. No business plan library would be complete without a book on the process of raising capital. Without capital your venture is destined for failure. You need to learn how to select the right venture capital firm, make presentations, and negotiate your deal.
Try this book: The Venture Capital Handbook by David Gladstone. As an executive officer at Allied Capital Corporation, a large publicly-owned, venture capital firm in the United States, David has reviewed many proposals for venture capital financing. The Venture Capital Handbook takes you through the entire process from presentation through negotiations, commitment letters, legal closings, due diligence, the exit by the venture capital company, to when the entrepreneur is left to own it all. As a result, The Venture Capital Handbook provides anyone who wants to spend the time and money with an insight into what venture capitalists really want. Prepare for the process of raising venture capital with The Venture Capital Handbook.
Finally, study the art of selling. Like it or not, when you are trying to start a business venture or raise money for your business you have to sell investors on why they should invest with you. It's like a rite of passage. But fast talking salesmanship won't raise the money you need for your business. You need an approach that respects the power of the investor?one that builds a relationship with investors. So, fill your business plan library with books on selling and presenting.
Here's a book to try: Socratic Selling by Kevin Daley with Emmett Wolfe. Socratic Selling as the title implies, uses the Socratic Method: "A method of teaching or discussion, as used by Socrates, in which one asks a series of easily answered questions which inevitably lead the answerer to a logical conclusion" (Webster's Unabridged). Dalely's concise, easy-to-follow chapters explain how to open a sales dialogue and go right to the heart of the matter. Socratic Selling is a fun and informative 162 pages for those of us who believe selling means talking with, not at, investors. Study these techniques; they can make you more effective with potential investors.
If you are serious about writing your business plan...show it. Start a business plan library that shows you are a serious student of business plans. Fill it with business plans, public filings and annual reports of businesses in your industry. Stay away from those generic business plan templates. They are too general. And, Read, read, read and study too about strategy, finance, economics, writing, selling, and how to raise capital. Spend the money. Buy the books. The reward can be great...a funded business plan.
Mike Elia is a chief financial officer and an advisor to venture capitalists and leverage buyout specialists. To learn more about writing business plans and raising capital or to tap into the world's largest business plan library with over 900 industry specific business plans, visit http://www.business-plan-secrets-revealed.com - Business Plan Secrets Revealed.
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