No matter what stage you are at, a flexible business plan is a must.
Business plans help us make sure we’re focused on the right things. They give us clear goals to work towards, make sure what we’re doing is relevant, and that we understand what we need to have in place to succeed.
Many small business owners only write a business plan when the bank demands it, often with unrealistic financial projections and not enough detail to provide a blueprint that is a clear guide to getting from where they are to the place they want to be. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and keep doing what we’ve always done.
But things change around us, sometimes without us noticing, and we can miss valuable opportunities and the warning signs of threats. While the objective of planning will be the same no matter what stage you are at in the business lifecycle, as the business environment has and will become more volatile (with, for example, COVID-19), we all need to plan and replan and stay agile to meet our goals.
Business planning time can also be a great opportunity to think about your own role and personal goals if you’re an owner/manager and put in place concrete goals to change things, if that’s a priority for you. In turn, this is a good time to do a review of your long-term financial and life goals to make sure you’re on track towards them.
Businesses go through periods of change, expansion and retraction, and it’s often not clear that a change of model or other radical shift might be required until an owner/manager takes the time to review progress to date, the future environment and plan accordingly. Make the plan, get the data and replan. Stay agile, informed and proactive.
So how do you prepare a business plan, and what should it contain?
There are so many variations on business plan structure that it can be hard to start. They’ll all get you to the same place in the end, but with varying levels of complexity, focus and detail.
Whatever template you choose to follow, your plan needs to be simple, workable and changeable. The most important thing is to come up with a plan that works for your organisation and is relevant to the times, the market, your current product and service offerings and the current state of your business. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
Startup business plans ensure you’re clear about your goals, you’ve considered the market for your product or service and the wider environment, have taken into account what your competitors are doing, and there’s a workable way to launch your startup with reasonable timelines. Estimate how much cash you’re going to need and where you’ll get it, how you’ll staff and resource your business, and what’s critical to success.
Established businesses would do an update at least every three months to ensure goals and objectives are still relevant and new conditions or internal changes are factored in. Modern business planning is focused on staying agile and using data to support any decisions. The great thing about modern management and accounting systems is that the data is as up to date as you keep it - another great reason to make the shift to XERO if you haven’t done so already. New opportunities and threats can emerge quickly in the environment we’re operating in and we need to be ready to take advantage or negate these swiftly.
Here are some common questions we get from clients about business planning:
Should I use an online template, get some help, or both?
It doesn’t really matter as long as your plan has a format that you are comfortable using. Online templates can be a useful place to start, providing thought-starters and structure, but no two businesses or situations are the same. It’s a good idea to look at more than one template to see what fits best, and an even better idea to check in with a mentor or advisor to make sure you haven’t missed anything vital.
What time frame should my small business plan cover?
Businesses usually think in a 12 month cycle but 90 day reviews are really valuable. And the lastest thinking is that plans should be in a constant state of revision.
What should my business plan contain?
Why are you in business, what are your longer term goals, these are your overriding goals. We often commence a business plan with an exit plan. Then, what are your short term goals - 12 months down to 90 days. Who does what? Remember the focus of all your efforts should be toward your customer - you don't exist without them.
How do we forecast income and cashflow in COVID’s uncertain environment?
Flexible models are the answer, structured but flexible. So you’ll want to be thinking about ‘what-if’ scenarios, what really drives the financial numbers in your business; is it sales, treatments, contracts, the number of people, that kind of thing. Your financial forecasts should allow easy modification of these and the costs.
How can my accountant help me with business planning?
Business Plans start with the Purpose and the Vision which drives the whole plan. Your accountant will help you focus on “Why” and then the “How” and the “What” of your business. Your accountant has worked with thousands of businesses and this gives them insights to assist you to put a plan on paper and ensure your business plan is not just another piece of paper that sits in your bottom drawer. Your business plan is a living document that needs to be reviewed and referred to regularly.
Who should I involve in my business planning process? Staff? Family members? A facilitator or advisor?
If you use an advisor such as a business coach or accountant to set up a professional template for your plan and model for your planning process, then you should be able to drive and revise these yourself on an ongoing basis. OneTeam’s Paul Davies ran a business coaching business for two years that is now integrated into OneTeams offering.
“It’s often very lonely in your own business and difficult to stay motivated. Your accountant or business coach is one person who understands what it’s like and what you are trying to achieve.” They want to help for the right reasons, and have the skills and experience to do that. They will be right by your side helping you to stay on track and achieve your goals. Statistics show that a start-up business with a written business plan is 16% more likely to succeed and creates a 30% greater chance of growth than those without one.
OneTeam Partner, Raymond Goh, says one of the benefits of getting external advice is that it is objective and tailored especially for you.
“The plan must be specific to your needs, reviewed often and backed with facts and figures.”
How will my bank or investors read my business plan and what are they looking for?
Your bank or investors are looking for realism. They don't want to be disappointed and become disillusioned with your plans. They will be looking for your budget and cashflow plus financial results for last year and Year To Date. They will also want to assure themselves that you can repay the debt - this involves looking outside the business at your personal equity and whether you can repay the debt should the business not perform to expectations. Most banks only look at the facts and figures to make their recommendations for funding. Your accountant is invaluable here as they understand these requirements.
For more information about business planning you can access online resources and there are thousands of options available in all shapes and sizes and costs.
The government has some excellent tools available see:
Whether you are looking for advice and direction to help prepare your own plan or for us to do it for you, your OneTeam advisor can help.
The best place to start is with a Business Planning Session - you can book one here LAND ON BOOKING PAGE
Key benefits of having a Business Planning session:
Review and set business direction
Align goals amongst the directors
Identify Gross Revenue Targets and Key Performance Indicators
Establish a robust accountability system
Identify critical challenges and opportunities in your business and the actions required to resolve or maximise them
Set timeframes for achieving goals
Identify what support and resources you will need to achieve your goals
Enables you to communicate your business goals and vision with your team
Provides a platform to develop Financial Forecasts
Use as a basis to set team members’ individual goals and targets