1What’s your vision, mission statement and strategic objective?
What is the business, why will you (or why did you) set it up, how is it independent of you, the owner/founder and how will your business form part of your life goals? Your strategic objective is clarifying exactly what you will do and what you will not do. It’s a carefully defined and detailed plan to achieve all your long-term objectives.
2Who are you and your two tribes?
Think of your mission and the two teams of people who will go with you. The first team is your internal tribe. This includes your management team (if you have one) and your employees.
The second is your external tribe and this needs to be comprised of people outside your business that can help you. This can be a formal Board of Directors or if you are a very small business, this could be an informal advisory board comprising a key customer, supplier, your accountant and/or lawyer, your banker and even self-employed consultants who are complimenting you or your employees and filling skill gaps if you are in the early stages of development or cannot financially justify a full-time employee.
3What’s your market niche and edge?
What’s important to an investor or lender is what exactly does your business do and why. In your chosen market niche, which segment(s) of the market do you address and what’s your competitive edge and unique selling point (USP)? This provides investors and lenders with the link into the customer and competition.
4Why will a customer buy from you and not someone else (direct and indirect competitor)?
The customer and competitor questions are critical. I have lost count of the number of businesses that have told me they have no competition. In my experience, if you have no competition, you have no business. Even if you are lucky enough to have a product or service that is truly unique, you still have indirect competition for the other products and services that compete for the budget your prospective customer has to do business with you. I call this share of wallet and you need to clearly define any direct or indirect competition you have and how you will beat them. Defining the sales proposition is also critical to an investor. We all remember the story of the drill and hole. People don’t buy drills (this is a feature) they buy the ability to drill a hole into a wall (an advantage) and this will allow them to hang up a picture to enhance their homes (a benefit). Investors will drill you on what I term the F.A.B – Features, Advantages and Benefits and look to invest in, or lend to a business that has something people want – – something that will solve a pain problem or assist in the achievement of a critical goal. Customers will not buy a product from you just because YOU think it’s cool, it must be something they desperately need. This will form a critical section of the business plan.
5How do you get your product or service into the hands of the customer, who will benefit from it?
Once you have a clearly defined product or service that someone desperately needs, you need to determine how you will place that value in the customer’s hands. What are your routes to market or distribution channels? Who exactly is your customer? Take Intel as an example. Intel doesn’t sell microprocessors to the public although its consumers and businesses that receive the benefit. Intel must sell its products to computer manufacturers, who then build a laptop or other device around the chip. Understanding your supply chain and value chain is critical.
6Can you build a systematic, automated business that is independent of you so you can sell it?
As we will discuss in question 1, the only reason you go into business is to eventually exit. There isn’t a business founder in history that has stayed with their business forever. You either exit in a programmed way, or you pass away, or the business fails and you close the doors. An investor will not invest in your business if you cannot show an exit strategy, and I have seen 1,000s of businesses where the owner running the business, really is the business and it relies totally on that individual. So, if that is you and you sell the business, it cannot operate in the same way. Some owner managers control and influence all the sales relationships, so if another business suddenly acquires it, the customer goes elsewhere since the personal connection is now broken. Similarly, in operations when the owner or manager keeps all the processes and systems their head, when under new ownership, things just don’t work the same way. You cannot sell a business if it’s not independent from you, the owner.
7What’s the financial return?
Investors and lenders love numbers, as you can imagine. What is your forecasted profit and loss over the next five years and beyond, what will your balance sheet look like and what will the cash flows be? As the business grows, is the cash flow generated sufficient to fuel the growth, or will additional funding be required? What is the valuation of the business and if someone invests, what will the return on that investment be in say three, five or 10 years’ time, when you come to eventually sell it? For a lender, can the business service the debt and make all necessary interest and capital payments over the term of the loan? What are covenants and why must you comply with them?
You also need to understand how investors think and how you sell your business proposition to them. All small business owners must sell two things: their products and services and their businesses ability to generate a limited risk return to investors and lenders.
8What’s the risk?
In all businesses, there are risks. The 96% failure rate (inside of 10 years) is a testament to that. There are two elements to the risk question:
Financial risk – how can you de-risk the investor or lender losing all their money? How will the investor or lender perceive risk and more importantly: how do you overcome it?
Operational risk – what can go wrong in your business and what are your contingency plans to stop these events crippling you and your business.
9Why do you need the funding?
One of the most common omissions in business plans for equity investment or debt funding is exactly what do you need the money for? Hiring new employees, buying assets to help the business grow, working capital, research and development, acquisitions are all great ways to spend the funds you raise. Extortionate salaries, dividends or luxury items are a big turn off for all forms of the investor. You need to generate your shopping list of essential items and why they are all critical to the growth and evolution of your business.
10What’s the exit strategy?
As we mentioned earlier, you must have an exit strategy. What are the types of exit and how do you plan for them?