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, 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

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Before you invest time and money in a business plan make sure you really have an opportunity!

The business opportunity (or proposition) is one of the fundamental elements of your business plan and as such it should be completed ahead of almost anything else. Some people include this as part of a feasibility study, others on its own, and many not at all! But if you are going to end up with a professional business plan you are going to need to address this early on.

But how is your opportunity best identified and supported? How can you ensure the business opportunity is compelling?

As I said in my last blog the easiest person to fool is you. You have every right to put your own money where your mouth on the basis of your "gut feel" but if you are looking for a bank or investor to do the same, your gut feel is not going to be enough to secure funding. As far as possible you need to put aside your motivations and personal conviction and become objective.

So, one of the best approaches to this core area of the business plan is to ensure that you derive the opportunity from objective independent market data where possible. The bottom line is that the more evidence that you have supporting your business opportunity, the more credible will be your business plan.

The first option to explore is freely available internet-based research and freely published information from industry & professional bodies. Even press releases may give you some top level market data. Make sure you cross reference sources and ensure they are reliable. There are also market research reports available from a number of sources that cover different industries and sectors. Be sure you know what you are buying before you start paying out hard cash.

Once you have some useful data then carry out some analysis and financial modelling to see how the opportunity stacks up under different scenarios. Once you have this complete you will be able to “qualify” your opportunity – define it and put it in the context of the market. In some cases where the market is large and diverse it is as important to say what your opportunity is not as much as what it is.

The next stage is to “quantify” the opportunity – establish the size of the opportunity. This can be done in several ways depending on the nature of the market (unit sales, demand for services, survey data) but is often based on a set of assumptions and should always include an estimated value in terms of revenue potential.

So, once you have a qualified and quantified opportunity all you need to do now is show how you are going to execute on this opportunity in the rest of your business plan.

Good Luck!

Jon Hunt
The Business Plan Team

Monday, 25 January 2010

Do You Need To "Let Go" So Your Business Can Grow?

In providing business plan services we deal with many entrepreneurs across a wide range of industries and we are regularly inspired by their commitment and enthusiasm for their business whether it is a start-up or a growth business. We often see entrepreneurs with a clear vision for the business that will drive it forward but in the execution of a business plan this can also be the limiter of its potential if it means an inability to “let go”.

In these cases we see business opportunities that look sound and have great potential but are limited by the entrepreneur’s desire to make judgement calls in areas of business where they lack experience, knowledge or relevant skills. The critical need is for the entrepreneur to be able to "outsource" in these areas and draw on experience of others, trust their judgement and act on their advice if the business is to be a success.

In some cases the entrepreneur is unable to take that leap of faith and remains in their personal “comfort zone” of control where they rely on their own judgement and at best pay lip-service to advice. The result is often delay, prevarication and poor decision making.

Why is this? Well, firstly the easiest person to fool about your business is yourself. It is easy to stay within the bounds of the vision you have created and stick to your plan – opening it up to others exposes it to the risk of someone identifying weaknesses and putting your vision under threat. For someone who has already invested much time and energy in getting to where they are this can be a big risk.

In addition, the entrepreneur can often be reluctant to face up to their own limitations and cede some control of an area of business where someone else is better able to make judgements. For some people there is a reticence to trust another person and act on their advice – and there is no point in engaging with an expert if the advice is then disregarded in preference to one’s own assessment. This inability to “let go" can constrain, or even prevent, a business starting up or growing.

So how can you get to the point of "Letting go"? This not only requires some element of self-awareness but also an ability to have the confidence to acknowledge this to others, be able to source a better qualified person, and manage their input effectively. At the end of the day it is about being a good manager, as well as a good entrepreneur, which can be lost in the excitement and passion for a new business.

So, don't fool yourself ! A third party independent opinion (which doesn't need to be expensive and can sometimes be free or subsidised) can often help by putting your approach in a broader context that will make the decision making process effective and increase the chances of success. In our business we are open about how we think you should choose business plan services and measure ourselves regularly against these criteria. Whatever role or project you are going to outsource you should ensure you choose your counsel wisely and be clear on what basis you are prepared "let go".

Jon Hunt
The Business Plan Team

Monday, 18 January 2010

What an investor or funding organisation looks for in your business plan

I was recently discussing with a friend the best way to describe how investors often review business plans following my post below on the "Three Cornerstones of a Business Plan" and we decided that another really helpful way of understanding what investors look for is the "4 P's" - "People", "Proposition", "Plan" & "Payback" - generally in that order of priority. If the venture does not provide a good match in all 4 areas investors will not part with their money - they will see the risk as too high !

So how do they review these criteria for investing ?

Qualified, experienced, people with a track record of success represent a far higher likelihood of a company succeeding than a team with little commercial experience, an unrealistic plan &/or no track record of setting up or managing a new business.

If the team have the necessary credibility & the proposition is compelling (with unique selling points & the potential to generate a healthy profit in its target market), the venture will start to look like an appealing investment opportunity.

The quality & practicality of your 'Business Plan' is a critical document for investors. If your plan conveys (in easy to understand terms) what is compelling about your venture, why it will make money in a competitive market & that you have a seasoned team capable of building a profitable business, the company will be worthy of serious investor evaluation.

If the investor can see an exit strategy through which they can achieve a good payback over the short to medium term (a multiple return on their investment for their shareholding, such as a trade sale or stock market flotation), the likelihood of the venture securing an investment at terms that work for both parties, increases significantly.

Thanks to Grant for our discussions on this

Jon Hunt
The Business Plan Team

Monday, 11 January 2010

Is a good management team necessary to secure funding for your business plan?

On the face of it the answer is obvious - Yes! Of course you need the right people in place to execute on your business plan. When looking at business opportunities one of the key factors in any Angel or VC investor decision will be the strength and commitment of the management team. The ideal situation of course is that all the experience you need exists within your core management team, with the exception of professional services like legal counsel and audit services.

But what if you have a great idea but don’t have the experience to execute on it? Is it possible to build a team round an idea with little experience in-house? What are the issues around this? I outline a few of these below.

You At the Core of Your Business
In many cases your experience will likely have led you to your business opportunity. Any investor in the business, or source of debt finance, will want to see you operating at the core of the business. However, it is possible that whilst you have experience in the general market place it may be limited to one particular area of business – e.g. sales, marketing, operations or administration. In this case the key is to be able to build a team around you with the skill-set and commitment to drive the business forward.

Necessary Skills and Experience
The first stage is to identify the skills and experience you need on board to execute on the business opportunity. Identifying your own weaknesses and that of any co-founders will be key here. This will not only identify where you can best add value to the business but also those skills that you are missing.

Once you are clear where there is a skills gap build a profile of the type of person that would bring the skills and experience required to the team. It is also important to consider at this stage the personality of the person you want in place – you will have to not only work with them on a professional level but you may also be entrusting a key part of the execution strategy.

Recruiting the Talent
Recruiting people at a start-up stage where minimal funding is in place can be both expensive and time consuming. Using your business networks to reach people can be an affordable alternative so building your network over time will help with this.

The alternative to paying hard cash in salary at this stage is to generate commitment and buy-in to the business by offering some form of ownership in the business (e.g. shares, share options). This has the advantage, if they are structured well, to bind your management team together and align them with your long-term goals for the business. Again, networking and leveraging your contacts to find people willing to operate on this basis is the cheapest and often most successful approach – especially if they come via recommendation.

Incentivising your management team in this way has the downside of relinquishing some ownership of the business. However, if they are linked to performance of the business, specific milestones or personal performance you can ensure that you are only using this as a reward for the growth of your own shareholding. You should seek some legal advice about how to structure any incentives.

Making The Most of Free Resources
Seeking assistance from free start-up resources can be a big bonus. When I was developing a business a few years ago we were fortunate enough to become part of a fast-growth enterprise hub that offered free business mentors. We identified one with experience in a related field and were able to draw on this for a year during the very early stages of development. So, exploring free resources through government back organisations like Business Link or your regional development agency is definitely worth a call.

Other Ways to Build a Skills Base
In the same way that you may recruit and secure the commitment of an individual it may be possible for you to do the same with an industry-related partner. Companies operating in your space my have the skills base to help you execute on your business plan and in return may be willing to accept lower payments up front in return for some form of longer term gain.

Building a strong Non-Executive Team will also bring experience to the management team and guide the growth of the business. Aligning these people with the longer term goals of the business through some form of ownership in the business not only reduces cash-flow but also assures that their commitment to the end game will be aligned with your own.

In summary, to help build a solid management team identify your skills base and any gaps. Whilst keeping the founders at the core of business operations in a role that maximises their own skill-set ensure that you have sufficient skills within the management team to execute on the business opportunity. In these are not in-house bind people or partners in with incentives that aligns your interests and goals for the business. Make best use of free resources and leverage your network to its full extent.

Jon Hunt
The Business Plan Team