Online Tools for Business That You Should Have It

download-38Most start-ups need to keep their costs down when they start out, as revenue is uncertain. There are a bunch of free online tools that can help you manage your business costs more effectively. The companies running some of these tools rely on word of mouth as their primary marketing technique and hence some of them will not be familiar to you. Help is at hand though, as this article aims to introduce you to some of the free business tools available – all you need is an Internet connection and a willingness to try these out.

Blogs

Blogs have become increasingly popular as a means for companies to communicate with their customers. Blogs are typically news posts that tend to be more informal than the typical corporate blurb you find on most websites. However, before you implement a blogging strategy, you need to consider the likely demands on your time that result. An empty blog sends out all the wrong signals, so someone in your company will need to commit to writing stories for the blog to ensure it remains up-to-date.

o    More Information:  http://wordpress.org/
o    Drawbacks – Keeping a blog up-to-date can be very time consuming.
o    Verdict –Don’t rush in!

Writing a business plan is one of the most important things a start-up business should do, but it is a task that many new entrepreneurs find challenging. Help is at hand from Palo Alto Software  which provides a whole host of free business-planning tools and resources. These range from free sample business plans to hundreds of articles to business start-up calculators.
o    More Information: BPlans
o    Drawbacks – Using a free or inexpensive sample plan from the Internet is rife with pitfalls. No sample can exactly represent you, your location, or your business.
o    Advantage – You are better off writing your own business plan from scratch using Business Plan Pro.
o    Verdict –Upgrade to Business Plan Pro (£79.99)

Customer service email

Once your website is up and running you’ll need a system to manage your email. Here at Palo Alto Software, we designed an email product to help you manage all email going to shared email addresses such as info@, sales@ or support@.
o    More Information: Email Center Pro
o    Drawbacks – Given we built it, there are none!
o    Verdict –Try it out free here.

Keyword search alerts

Google Alerts sends you emails updating you on the popularity of particular keywords or terms you specify. These alerts can help you monitor competitor behaviour, or keep you abreast of the latest developments in your industry.
o    More Information: Google
o    Drawbacks – Extra mails in your inbox!
o    Verdict –Optional Tool.

Google Docs

With the increasing shift to online applications, it may not be necessary to kit everyone in the office out with their own copies of Microsoft® Vista™. Instead, some people could use an open-source desktop application, along with the online file-editing and sharing tool, Google Docs. These applications work like simplified versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint®, and allow colleagues to work together on the same document.
o    More Information: Google
o    Drawbacks – Don’t lose the password!
o    Verdict –Essential Tool.

The business to success

download-39Economic downturns tend to be self fulfilling. We all help to drive market conditions, so if we all decide to ‘batten down the hatches’, and become more risk averse we all contribute to prolonging a downturn. However though it may sound counterintuitive, an economic downturn is as good a time as any to start a new business.  This short article discusses how entrepreneurs can bootstrap their way to success, by describing what it means in practise and suggesting some benefits to bootstrapping.

While certain businesses will struggle to get off the ground in a recession (in particular ones that require significant investment), for others, the time is as good as any to take the plunge. For a start, there tends to be a wider pool of qualified candidates available to work as unemployment rates increase. Similarly some companies may reign in marketing spend so there is a greater opportunity to market at more competitive rates. Finally, there are also stronger disciplining forces at play when conditions are tougher as people keep a much closer eye on outgoings. In short, it is a perfect time to bootstrap a start-up.

What is bootstrapping?

The phenomenon of bootstrapping is simply starting a business without external funding such as venture capital (VC) funding. The aim is to maintain a strict discipline on cash flow by managing costs very closely and trying to get the company up and running as cheaply as possible. By ensuring as low a cash burn rate (rate at which a company uses up cash) as is feasible, you increase the chances of your business succeeding. Similarly, without any debt repayments or obligations to shareholders you can afford to be more flexible with your idea. Other commentators, such as Seth Godin, believe bootstrapping is as much a state of mind (1) as anything.

Of course, bootstrapping is not possible for all start-ups as it will depend on a number of factors ranging from the nature of the product or service, whether the business is capital intensive or not, and whether low-cost guerrilla-marketing techniques are suitable in the industry context, etc.

What does it mean in practise?

For me, bootstrapping means behaving very smartly at every cost point, given there is no external investment in the business.  It means entrepreneurs consume business essentials only and are constantly looking for innovative means to substitute costs out of operations.  It means resourcefulness, and plays to the fact that larger companies are less nimble than start-ups.

The phenomenon of bootstrapping can be viewed in stark contrast to the excesses of the ‘Dot-com’ boom.  During this period, companies secured significant funds from financiers and some of these investments were squandered or invested in non-revenue-generating assets such as perks. This profligacy typified a classic case of the ‘Principal Agent problem’ (2), which occurs when the incentives of management and investors are not aligned and management (agents) spends money on items (perks) which are not aligned to generating a return for investors. These included water features in receptions, chill-out rooms replete with table football, offices in prime locations and generous expense accounts. With bootstrapping there is no scope for excess. The sole focus is getting the company running without incurring any non-essential costs.

What are the benefits of bootstrapping?

One immediate benefit of bootstrapping is that you are not reliant on outsiders for funding. As a result there is greater flexibility afforded you, the entrepreneur, as you put your ideas into practise.

Similarly, if the business fails to take off it is less painful to exit as the cash burn rate will have been low, so there are no significant losers. However, if the business takes off the rewards are not dispersed to third parties.  Once there is proof of concept and evidence of demand, it is a lot easier to secure financing at more favourable rates.

Finally, with bootstrapping, incentives tend to be aligned so those that invest their time are rewarded accordingly, which typically leads to greater focus and reduced agency costs (see Principal Agent problem above).

Planning for small business

download-40Looking to write a small business plan?

If yes, you’ve come to the right place. Regardless of the size of your business, a business plan is an important element in helping you ensure that your small business has every chance of surviving and prospering.

While business plans are synonymous with start-up’s they play a vital role in all businesses from the very smallest to the very largest. There are a number of benefits to business planningaside from seeking to raise finance i.e.

  1. To help reduce uncertainty
  2. To help manage cash flow
  3. To decide on a future strategy
  4. To help reduce risk

This BPlans website is packed with small business resources that can help you write a compelling small business plan. Here is a list of some of the key resources on our site that we recommend.

  1. Understand how to write a business plan by reading Tim Berrys’ Hurdle Book on business planning.
  2. Review a free sample business plan so you get a feel for the business plan layout and contents.
  3. Look up examples of mission statements and executive summaries so you can write your own.
  4. Consider the benefits of Business Plan Pro in helping you write a business plan.
  5. Gain an understanding of cash flow with a cash flow calculator.
  6. Read an article on everything from sales forecasting to why you should enter a business plan competition.

The above just represent the tip of the ice berg – Bplans is packed with information to ensure you have all the resources you need to write a small business plan you’ll be proud of.

Times of extreme turbulence

September has witnessed a period of unprecedented economic turbulence and instability. Of course, this uncertainty is not just affecting us here in the U.K.; in a globalised economy it is affecting people all across the world. Years of consistent economic growth have given way to rising unemployment, increased costs, reduced disposable income and a greater number of risks. In this short article, I will describe some courses of action that may help to reduce the sense of helplessness businesses are currently experiencing.

1. Stay abreast of economic indicators

The global credit crunch and the increased uncertainty affect almost everyone. Very few U.K. businesses are immune to the effects of reduced credit, devalued housing stock and the greater perceived risk we all feel. These are clearly very difficult times and potential solutions are occupying the minds of economists, bankers and ministers alike. Hence, it is important to stay abreast of developments to ensure that management decisions are made in the context of the most up-to-date economic indicators and forecasts.

2. Revisit your business plan

It is perfectly acceptable to revise your business plan more frequently than once a year. If you have not done so for some time, it is worth revisiting it now. Business plans are written with certain assumptions built in and these assumptions are context-sensitive. If your business plan is over six months old, then it is likely that you will need to revise revenue figures downwards and costs upwards. Do this as soon as you can, and revisit key indicators such as current cash burn rates i.e. cash spend per month, debtor days, etc.

An up-to-date business plan can help ensure everyone is aligned towards the strategic goal of the company, to ensure that cash flow is monitored and that the impact of changing assumptions is reflected in the numbers.

3. Review current projects and plans

Most businesses have a number of projects and initiatives on the go at any one time. These projects will consume resources over a number of months and years, and will typically involve investment of time, people and money. The end goal of the completed project will often be designed to help your company generate additional revenue streams or to protect current streams. Again, projects that have been planned over six months ago, and that take a number of months to complete, should be reappraised. It may be more appropriate to defer projects until the economic conditions are more favourable, or until the level of perceived risk and uncertainty declines. Any new contracts with third parties need to have additional safeguards built in. For example, if exchange rates move outside certain agreed bounds, it should trigger a renegotiation of the terms or an option to break the agreement.

4. Communicate effectively

It is not just management that feels the pinch when economic conditions deteriorate. It is likely some employees may be saddled with credit card debt, or may be sitting on properties with negative equity and may be worried about their futures. Management needs to ensure their employees are aware of issues with implications for them. It is also important that employees are fully aware of the wider context, so that any legitimate change initiatives designed to reduce costs are accepted rather than resisted.

5. Consider outsourcing some activities

In most industries, it is possible to outsource non-core activities. There are many pros and cons for outsourcing; however, if cash flows are under pressure, the inherent flexibility of outsourcing may be more appropriate until economic conditions improve.

6. Assess exposure to known risks and dependencies

In times of uncertainty it is important to step back and identify risks and to appraise key relationships. Is the company over-reliant on one particular company or industry? While this reliance may have been fine during periods of economic growth, it is important to recognise that a dependency on one supplier or customer dramatically increases the risk. Any vulnerability in one particular industry sector can lead to ‘knock-on effects’ in the most unexpected of places (as well as in the more obvious areas). A diversification strategy can help to mitigate an over-reliance on one supplier or customer.

Accuracy in a bussiness plan

When a business plan is being produced it is important that the final plan makes a lasting impression on the recipient. However an all too common trend is for the business plan to make an impression for the wrong reasons.

Incredible as it may seem, one of the most common mistakes we see is the phrase business plan being spelt as bussiness plan. In this day and age, with spelling checkers built in to most text editors it beggars belief that people can write a bussiness plan rather than a business plan.

A second common theme is for people to abbreviate phrases so we get biz plan, bizz plan, biz plan pro or even bizplan. Perhaps I’m a little old fashioned, but again I find these abbreviations lazy, annoying and by extension I feel they reflect poorly on the author.

A business plan is a formal document, whereas a text or an email are typically less formal and I feel therein lies the crux of the issue. We undertake these activities daily and brevity is accepted in these exchanges as an acceptable trade off for grammatical and spelling accuracy. A business plan however is not only used as a means to describe an opportunity but is also used to assess the competence of the author. I am sure I am not alone in the view that no matter how good a bussiness plan is, I will have serious doubts about the person entrusted with delivering the business plan if the document contains basic spelling mistakes.

What do you know about business pitch

The use of phrases such as ‘business pitch’, ‘elevator pitch’ and ‘video pitch’ have grown in popularity in recent months. But what are these terms and what do they mean for entrepreneurs? This short article describes the concept of pitching in detail, as well as recommending some tips for those needing to pitch their ideas.

Defining the various pitch terms
A pitch is basically delivering a business plan verbally. A pitch typically takes the form of an entrepreneur or group of entrepreneurs presenting or describing their ideas to prospective investors.

An elevator pitch is simply a very short pitch that distils the idea into a short summary that takes only as long as a short elevator ride. A video pitch is a pitch done via a short video rather than in person. Regardless of the means chosen to pitch, the aim is typically the same; describing a business opportunity with the intention of securing funding to develop the idea further.

The business plan pitch process
Typically, entrepreneurs commence the pitch with a request for a certain amount of funding in return for a certain percentage of equity in the business. The presenter then describes the opportunity and concludes with a Q&A session. If an offer is made by an investor and it is accepted by the presenter, due diligence would then be undertaken to ensure that the investment opportunity is as it was described and that the key financials stand up to scrutiny.

Business plan pitches are often presented with the aid of presentation tools such as Microsoft PowerPoint. If this is the case for you, it is worth reading up on key presentation tips such as Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule (see Key resources, at the end of the article).  It is also worth providing the audience with a copy of the slide deck so they can take notes. Finally these handouts should contain an appendix with an additional level of detail not covered by the main pitch.

It all starts with a business plan
Unlike most business plans, the pitch is not a physical (or virtual) document. A pitch should, however, contain the same content as a business plan, with the main differences being the breadth of material covered and the delivery method. Therein lies one critical problem. For some entrepreneurs, business planning is ‘difficult’ and pitching is assumed to be a slightly easier means to secure funding. This perception results in shortcuts and a dangerously myopic perspective. Preparation tends to be more limited and the results are all too predictable — the entrepreneur is discomfited when the prospective investor asks the most rudimentary of questions. The lesson is clear- a pitch is not a substitute for a business plan; it is simply a different, more concise, delivery method.

Creating an ideal pitch
The optimum way to create an effective pitch is to start with a thorough business plan. Once this is written, the key elements of the executive summary can be distilled into a pitch. One major benefit of this method is that while the process of creating a business plan can be difficult, it is also rigorous and usually an exhaustive process. Hence it serves to equip the author with the answers to typical questions they should expect from prospective investors. Creating a pitch without the discipline of following the business plan process is fraught with danger. While the presenter can describe the product or service in detail, those that pitch without a business plan tend to fall down when asked to describe the market opportunity or their sales forecasts in more detail.

The investment
A primary aim of most pitches is to secure funding for an idea. The presenter needs to decide in advance what the likely terms are for the investment. Like a business plan, a pitch needs to describe the opportunity for the investor in clear terms so they can assess risk and return, and how it sits within their existing investment portfolio.

Considering pitches along a continuum, at one end you have an idea (which is essentially worthless) and at the other end a successful company generating significant free cash flows on a daily basis. The point along the continuum where your company sits is hugely relevant in the context of the investment opportunity. An idea that has not yet been commercialized and has no customers is hugely risky and, as a result, any prospective investor is going to demand a significant equity stake in return for their investments. For many the risk may even be too high to bear as they may doubt the ability of the company to generate sufficient cash to cover day-to-day operations, to say nothing of generating sufficient sales to support an exit for the investor in due course. The equity you are prepared to give away and the value that you put on that equity needs to be based on real metrics, such as existing sales. While the means to value businesses are varied, the figures you are offering need to be plausible and realistic when considered in the context of existing sales levels (as distinct from aspirational sales levels).

Business plan is just write for first

There are three main ways to write a business plan:

1. Pay someone to write the business plan.

2. Write a business plan yourself using Microsoft® Word and Excel.

3. Write it using software such as Business Plan Pro.

If you, like many entrepreneurs, are time rich and cash poor, option 1 quickly removes itself from the equation, given the cost of having someone write a business plan for you.

You are then faced with the choice between using Business Plan Pro or writing the business plan, from scratch, in Microsoft Word and Excel.

Why are we not recommending other business plan software options? Because Business Plan Pro is the best business planning software available – without exception. Palo Alto Software (the maker of Business Plan Pro) has a proud history, has had category leadership for years and has extensive lists of testimonials and business plan software reviews on the website, all corroborating this view. By all means, do feel free to consider other business plan software options; however, we are confident that your own analysis will reveal that Business Plan Pro stands head and shoulders above the alternatives.

When it comes to using Word and Excel there are undoubted benefits – not least the fact that they are ‘free’ in the sense that they are bundled on most PCs. The interface is also familiar, given the popularity of their use. However, while these tools are excellent when you know exactly what you need to produce, they offer negligible assistance when it comes to producing specific content, such as that required when you need to write a business plan. If the purpose of the business plan were simply to jot down a few notes to keep you on track, they would suffice. However, if you intend to circulate the business plan to peers, colleagues or prospective investors, you will need to produce a business plan worthy of your name. After all, you are the author!

Here are the reasons why we believe that using Business Plan Pro is the easiest way to write a business plan:

1. Offers significant time saving

Business Plan Pro was designed to help you write a business plan as efficiently as possible. It comes with extensive help, lots of examples and expert advice.

2. Provides the structure

Business Plan Pro walks you through a list of specific tasks, step by step, in stark contrast to the blank screen and flashing cursor you face when you create a new document in Microsoft Word.

3. Includes hundreds of examples

Business Plan Pro includes over 500 sample plans so you can browse plenty of examples to help give you ideas.

4. Ensures you do not leave out any sections

Over ten years of history means that we know what sections to include, where they should appear in the business plan and what you need to put in them.

5. Makes the numbers part easy

We recognise that while compiling the financials is an essential part of any business plan, it is a very challenging area. We have simplified this process with the inclusion of easy-to-use financial wizards and automatic calculations, linking together all the financials from Start-up costs to Sales Forecast to Personnel Expenses to Cash Flow to Profit and Loss.

6. Free business plan support available

Alongside the extensive in-product help, we also offer a free support line and a comprehensive help facility on our website.

7. Signposts relevant resources at appropriate points

The software also includes links to relevant local resources where you can read specific advice on any areas with which you need further assistance, including trademarks, company formations, and more.

8. Designed specifically for producing a business plan

Whereas Microsoft Word is a general purpose tool, Business Plan Pro is designed specifically to help you write a business plan with the least amount of hassle.

9. Risk free

The time saving alone will easily justify the small cost you will need to pay for Business Plan Pro. However, you can avail of our 60-day money-back guarantee if you are still unsure as to whether it will benefit you.

10. Increases your chances

Finally, for most people a business plan is written for a specific purpose, such as securing funding. You should give yourself every chance of succeeding by producing the best quality business plan that you can.

Marketing Lessons That You Should To Know

What does Duct Tape Marketing mean and what relevance is it to me? This short article is designed to introduce the concept of Duct Tape Marketing and to give some practical advice based on the idea.

What is Duct Tape Marketing?

Duct Tape Marketing is the name of the best-selling small-business-marketing guide from John Jantsch. ‘Duct Tape’ is, of course, a fabric-reinforced vinyl tape (typically black or silver grey) that is renowned for its versatility, strength and low cost. John Jantsch uses this metaphor to illustrate that the marketing techniques he prescribes are also low cost, versatile and practical. In fact an emphasis on practicality is a constant theme for him. His primary intention is to educate small business owners and entrepreneurs about the benefits of implementing a practically oriented small business marketing system that is both highly effective and competitively priced.

The context

One thing evident from an analysis of marketing literature is the heavy preponderance of marketing academics (as distinct from practitioners) writing on the subject. This has resulted in a significant body of material based on academic theories and models. Author John Jantsch come at it from a different angle. Using his perspective and experience he recommends practical small business marketing advice and tips that cut straight to the issues at hand. In essence, this is the core of the Duct Tape Marketing process – marketing using practical activities that help to ensure that your company is known, liked and trusted by your target market.

Who is responsible for marketing?

This is, of course, a rhetorical question. There is pretty much universal agreement now that marketing is everyone’s responsibility, given its all-pervasive nature. Again, this is something John Jantsch wholeheartedly espouses. Marketing is not something tacked onto a small business, but rather an integral component from day one. Ensuring a strong marketing culture permeates all elements of your business is critical, as ultimately, marketing is about creating awareness for your product or service, gaining trust and finally delivering value.

“If you get nothing else from this book, get this: you are in the marketing business. Marketing is an all-encompassing outlook that must inform every activity of your business,” writes Jantsch.

The primary audience for Duct Tape Marketing is entrepreneurs and small business owners, people who typically perform numerous functions within their business. Multitasking as a skill is a prerequisite for most entrepreneurs. However, these entrepreneurs are also the very same people who often relegate ‘marketing’ to the sides as it drops down the ‘To Do’ list. This is also why the Duct Tape Marketing message is so important and so timely!

Key Lessons

There are three main areas covered in the book:

1. Creating Trust – getting prospects to know about your business, like you and trust you.

2. Generating Action – ensuring that these prospects act on their connection to you.

3. Replicating Success – finding out what works and then concentrating resources for maximum effect.

Together, these three areas create a holistic marketing system.

1. Creating Trust

Creating familiarity with and trust in your company, and its product or service is one of the most fundamental components of any marketing activity. If no one knows about your business, how can you expect to make money? However, creating awareness and then trust is not as easy as it seems. We live in an increasingly media cluttered world where people receive a daily bombardment of different marketing messages from disparate sources. The aim of all entrepreneurs is to make their idea stand out from the crowd, and to get themselves noticed by their target market. Without trust there will be no action and without action no revenue.
The Duct Tape Marketing System commences with the notion of an ideal customer or client. The recommendation to entrepreneurs is to identify an ideal client (or clients) first, and to then decide how best to reach them. You decide where best to target your marketing activities. This necessarily means you are NOT trying to serve everyone. By limiting your focus, you increase your perceived legitimacy as someone who understands this particular customer’s needs.

Only after there is a good understanding of your ideal customer can you design appropriate branding, marketing materials and product features for this market. Jantsch emphasizes that you want to offer products and services for each stage of prospect/customer cultivation, from free educational offerings for prospects through to loyalty offerings for repeat customers. An additional key element is the use of the Internet to help create awareness through the creation of a website.

A final component implicit in the process of ‘creating trust’ is the need to undertake marketing activities with integrity. Generating awareness without engendering trust is not going to lead to any action in stage two.

2. Generating Action

Once you have created familiarity and generated an element of trust, the next stage is generating leads and encouraging action. In practical terms, this involves the target for your marketing activities (leads) acting on the messages and buying your product or service. It does not stop there however, as these customers can be vital in generating further custom or referrals based on their perceptions after their initial purchase action.

How do you get these leads to act?

There are a number of methods suggested by Jantsch to motivate those prospects who didn’t act following the trust stage. Jantsch is a keen advocate of direct response advertising. This is advertising where the customer is enticed to engage with an advert or website. Typically this will take the form of a coupon, free offer, or discount in return for the prospect acting, be that providing data or clipping a coupon out. For example, on our BPlans.co.uk site we offer a freebusiness plan eBook in return for a name and email. The beauty of this model is these prospects are highly qualified leads who you can then market to. He is also a keen advocate of direct mailing where you send offers to appropriately targeted leads.
With all of these methods, the message from Jantsch is clear – these are not activities that should take place in isolation. These activities need to coexist with appropriate PR and other marketing activities. Marketing needs to take many measurable forms where you can clearly identify responses (and actions) to specific activities so as to ensure that the various activities you undertake are driving action. For example, Web analytics products such as Google Analytics can be used to manage the effectiveness of disparate marketing activities that result in customers engaging with a website.

The final component to the lead generation initiatives relates to referral-based marketing. On this Jantsch is unequivocal:

‘If you provide a product or service that helps people solve problems and meet needs, then you are doing a disservice to your customers and the world … if you don’t actively seek referrals.’

3. Replicating Success

The final section advises the reader to analyse which marketing activities have worked and to do more of them. The emphasis now is on planning, with Jantsch recommending that goals be set,budgets worked out and a marketing calendar prepared for the year to come. The key marketing activities for the year will be correlated with the achievements of the previous year. The focus is on goal setting with clear metrics related to revenue and profitability with specific activities put in place to achieve them.

Plan Layout or Business Plan Outline

The first point to make with regard to a business plan layout (also known as a business plan outline) is that there is no one typical layout. Business plans are unique and the layout will be dependent on a number of factors, not least the purpose of the business plan, but also whether the plan relates to a new start up or an existing business. In Business Plan Pro, for instance, we ask a number of targeted questions as the planning process starts which then serve to shape the subsequent business plan layout.

Although the layout itself can vary, every business plan needs a number of crucial components.

It needs to start with an executive summary (typically written at the end of the process) so as to whet the appetite of the reader (often a prospective investor).

It then needs to follow a particular structure which will include details about the opportunity, those tasked with delivering the idea, and the financing required to bring the idea to market.

Within Business Plan Pro, you get a recognised business plan layout which can be fully customized so that you can tailor it to meet your own individual requirements.

Sales forecasting, budgeting, and business planning are vital management activities regardless of the size of the business or the level of uncertainty we face. As the above example illustrates, sales forecasts are not just for the benefit of the business plan reader, but are a means to help managers make informed decisions. Looking to the future to help make decisions is always going to be an imprecise science, but there are ways to forecast sales with some degree of probability. The key elements are to (a) identify the key factors that are likely to impact on demand and (b) then consider a range of plausible outcomes. This is, in fact,scenario planning, whereby a number of plausible scenarios are considered, discussed, and then assigned probabilities.

Is Need of Business Plan Template

Looking to write a business plan?  Considering using a business plan template?  Think again!  Here at Palo Alto Software we make Business Plan Pro- the fastest and easiest way to write a business plan. There are a number of reasons why we believe Business Plan Pro is the best option for writing a business plan as this article illustrates- The Easiest Way to Write a Business Plan.

Business plan templates are increasingly common, but they are often very basic, consisting of just a few headings and a spreadsheet. These business plan templates are typically Word Documents and do not offer any assistance with the business plan content. The result is often a poorly crafted business plan.

Here at Bplans our site contains a selection of free sample business plans as well as sample business plan outlines. One of the difficulties of relying too heavily on free sample business plans is that the quality of the business plan may be suspect. Our sample business plans on the other hand are designed to give you, the reader, the opportunity to read a sample plan so you can get a feel for the structure, the content etc as well as gaining an understanding of important concepts such as sales forecasting, executive summaries and cashflow.

In short, free business plan templates are no substitute for the real thing. A business plan is for your business idea, not some one else’s.

If you want to get a sense of what a business plan for your industry might look like:

1. Click the link below to access the free sample business plans
2. Browse through the sample plan categories, or enter your business type in the keyword field

Know More About

Sales forecasting is an integral part of business planning. I have written on the subject of sales forecasting a number of times in the past. However, for many of us, we are now dealing with a level of uncertainty we have not encountered previously in our lifetimes. As a result, some managers are eschewing forecasting, given the volatile market conditions. For listed companies there is an added complexity to their forecasting. They are fearful that if they publicly announce their projections for the year, as they usually do, there is then a chance that their share price will be hammered if they subsequently fail to meet their targets. As a result, some have chosen not to give annual earnings estimates for 2009.

However, as a recent article in The Economist, “To forecast or not to forecast?” (28 Feb 2009) declared, ‘Precisely because peering into the future is harder today than it was a year ago, managers should be using every available means to gauge what the world could look like in the coming months and to establish targets using this analysis’.

The reasons given by managers for not planning or not forecasting are simply not tenable; added uncertainty increases the need for planning, rather than diminishing it. A recent case in Ireland serves to illustrate the difficulty people find themselves in. It was reported that the new CEO of the C&C Group (Magners Irish Cider), John Dunsmore, had issued “a thinly veiled criticism of the Magners Cider maker’s previous management by hitting out at overstocking and over investment and writing down the value of the company’s manufacturing plant. ” In this instance the forecasting was imprecise and the result was overproduction and over investment against a backdrop of declining sales.

Sales forecasting, budgeting, and business planning are vital management activities regardless of the size of the business or the level of uncertainty we face. As the above example illustrates, sales forecasts are not just for the benefit of the business plan reader, but are a means to help managers make informed decisions. Looking to the future to help make decisions is always going to be an imprecise science, but there are ways to forecast sales with some degree of probability. The key elements are to (a) identify the key factors that are likely to impact on demand and (b) then consider a range of plausible outcomes. This is, in fact,scenario planning, whereby a number of plausible scenarios are considered, discussed, and then assigned probabilities.

As I stated in my article, Planning in Times of Uncertainty,
“The importance of scenario planning grows when uncertainty increases. Scenario planning is when management considers a range of plausible future outcomes ranging from a ‘small stretch of the imagination’ to the ‘outlandish’.The aim is to think through the implications for the company if certain scenarios came into effect. For example, what would happen if sales decline by 20% or if oil doubles in price in 2009? By thinking through a number of plausible scenarios, and designing strategies to deal with such eventualities, companies will be better prepared if one of the scenarios does, in fact, occur.”