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.

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