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What a Business Plan Can Do For You

What a business plan can do for you and how to use it

 

Running a business without a business plan is like rock climbing blindfolded. Your chances of making it successfully to the top are slim. And the process will surely be a death-defying one.

Contrary to popular practice, a business plan is not a means to securing financing. Instead it is a step-by-step guide to running your business and creating the product or service that will make it in the marketplace. And like any other map, your plan will have to be adjusted according to your vision for the company, conditions and opportunities in the marketplace and your business' current condition.

Whether it's formal or informal, every business has a plan. The local hair salon may not have formally written down the plan, but before setting up shop, a smart owner would have assessed the need for a shop in that area of town, the ability to attract clients there, the appropriate amount of chairs, whether to hire someone to do the shampooing and sweeping, the cost of utilities, the parking availability for clients. The owner who waits to figure these things out using trial and mostly error will be lucky to be left with his/her wits, much less any customers. A business plan helps to minimizes those pitfalls.

 

To many people, the concept of writing a business plan for their own business is a daunting one. Perhaps it would appear less daunting to view the process as simply writing the answer to three questions, namely:

  1. Where are you now?
  2. Where do you want to be at a future date?
  3. How will you get there?

 

THE FIRST QUESTION – 'Where are you now?' – must be your starting point. This question seeks to provide a planning base. It looks at your business to establish such things as: ?

  • your business idea ?
  • your current level of sales ?
  • your customer groups ?
  • your products and services ?
  • your pricing policy ?
  • your distribution policy ?
  • your promotional activity ?
  • your overall operation ?
  • your team members ?
  • your finances

Answering the question, "Where are you now?" is often a major stumbling block because most people don't know where to start. However, the answer is surprisingly simple if you divide your business planning into four key areas: Operational, Marketing, Employees and Finance. Such a division allows you to analyze your business (or assumed business) to create a solid planning base.

 

THE SECOND QUESTION – "Where do you want to be at a future date?" is simply asking you to visualize your business operation at a set date in the future. This visualization process is almost identical to the exercise of setting personal objectives. The difference, however, is that the focus here is on business objectives.

 

THE THIRD QUESTION – "How will you get there?" asks about the steps you need to take in order to achieve the business objectives you have set. These steps, or strategies, can be identified, written down and programmed. Additional things a business plan should consider:

  1. What is a reasonable expectation of profitability and when?
  2. How will the business pay you and any team members?
  3. What are estimated expenses?
  4. What is the pricing strategy?
  5. What is the need for what you are offering and what profit margins can you expect?

While much of this may have occurred to you informally, it is very import to write it down. If you ever need to approach a bank or investors, you will need it. Writing it down will reinforce your vision, give you a reference point for checking your business' progress and will most likely bring up factors you did not consider when creating the plan in your head.

 

Writing your business plan down:

  1. Helps you determine and coordinate all aspects of business operations
  2. Gives you a means to analyze and determine what might be the best change to boost your business out of a stagnant situation
  3. Assists you in determining the risks and benefits associated with any changes
  4. Decreases your chances of making a mistake or not considering important factors in your business, and most importantly,
  5. Dramatically increases your chances of success.

Business plans are not only for those just setting out their journey in the marketplace. They are useful when acquiring a new business, forecasting growth, introducing a new product or service, entering a new market, responding to changes in the market or changing a significant aspect of your business.

 

 

 

Creating a Promotions Strategy

How to create a promotions strategy that works

 

You may have the greatest product ever but if you don't tell the world, it will sit on the shelves collecting dust until you finally have to close your business. Remember, you know what is great about your business because you created it. The rest of the world is not thinking about you and what you have to offer. So you have to tell them and you have to tell them in a way that makes them want what you have to offer.

Many small businesses shy away from promotions thinking they can't compete with the advertising, public relations and promotions budgets of their large competitors. But good promotions do not have to be expensive. And if you stay focused and create a clear plan, they don't have to be time-consuming either.

First develop a plan. This should be included in your business plan. Here are the steps to developing a strong promotional plan:

 Identify your target buyer

Consider what kind of customer you want to do business with and to whom your product or service is most likely to appeal. Take into account demographic (i.e. age, gender, location, marital status), lifestyle (i.e. athletes, club goers, outdoor enthusiasts) and psychographics (i.e. personality traits and emotions that affect buying decisions) information.

 Make Them Want What You Have to Offer

Distinguish your product or service from all the rest. This has to be meaningful and accurate, otherwise you will lose credibility with your consumers. First you will need to know what features, benefits and brand attributes your target buyers consider when making a purchase. For example, if you are a local nursery, your target buyers might take into account return policies on plants that don't survive, quality of plants in store and availability of informed people who can assist them with plant choices and directions for caring for the plants.

 Create a strategy and make it clear

Write down who your target buyers are, what your competitive environment is and what your meaningful differences are. This is called your positioning strategy statement. You must develop a consistent message and look and feel in all of your promotional campaigns.

Think about the personality of your business in relationship to your target buyers. Is it a young, hip, friendly, casual environment? Or is it a more reserved, traditional and slightly more conservative environment? These characteristics will inform the look, feel and tone of your business, as well as promotions.

 Create a clear, concise and memorable message that impacts your target buyers

This can be a challenge but doesn't have to be. Think about your business value proposition (BVP). If you have clearly identified the unique features and benefits of your product/service that truly matter to your target buyers, you will be well on your way. Take this information and brainstorm potential slogans, keywords in all marketing messages and visual images that correspond to your BVP.

 Consider your budget

When promoting your products, services and business there may never seem to be enough money. However, not all promotion costs money. Creating a mix between word-of-mouth, customer referral programs, public relations and advertising will save you a lot of money. Imagination and relationship building are the keys.   

 

Many small business owners are entrepreneurs who went into business seeking freedom, a better lifestyle, more money or simply because they wanted to run their own show. Financial acumen is rarely high amongst the skills possessed by such people. As such, it is only to be expected that business owners make financial mistakes which can jeopardise their dreams. Here are four of the most common mistakes and how business owners can avoid them.

 

  1. Failing to plan

Few small businesses have a working budget and cash flow forecast which is rolled over on (at least) a quarterly basis. As a result, they make decisions based on guesswork and have no idea whether their business's actual performance is better or worse than what they expected. A solid budget requires the following information, ideally seasonalised and presented on a month by month basis:

  • Sales – not just a lump sum figure, but broken down by product or service line and calculated as number of sales multiplied by average sale value
  • Variable costs – these are costs that vary with sales and as such, should be driven by your sales forecast
  • Fixed costs – unless there are any significant changes, these can be taken from your most recent financial statements and adjusted for any known or expected increases

Once you have developed a budgeted profit and loss account, you should then create a cash flow forecast. This differs from the profit and loss budget because it is looking at the cash inflows and outflows. As such, it needs to take account of how long your customers take to pay you, how quickly you turn over inventory, how quickly you pay your suppliers, any loan repayments due and any forecasted capital expenditure that will not appear in the budget profit and loss account.

For a thorough budget that could be presented to a bank for the purpose of raising finance, you should also complete a budgeted balance sheet.

 

  1. Financing capital expenditure out of cash flow

As a general rule, and to the extent that it is possible, it is good practice to cash flow the lifetime of a purchase. By that we mean this: if you are buying stock to sell in the short term, then finance it out of your day to day working capital. But if you are buying a large piece of machinery with a ten year life, then you should look to finance it over ten years. Similarly, don't fall into the trap of many small business owners where you have a good quarter and go out and buy yourself a flash new car – out of cash flow. Unless you are confident (and have evidence to back it up) that your strong sales will continue, you could find yourself in a cash flow bind if you empty the bank account to buy new assets every time you find you have a bit of surplus cash.

Form a strong relationship with a bank manager and keep them up to date with your plans. Often, the banks will be happy to lend when times are good for your business and you should take advantage of that to properly finance any capital expenditure required to expand your business. Similarly, the best time to secure an overdraft is when you don't need it. The banks will be more willing and able to help you out and then if you hit a rough patch, you have a safety net.

 

  1. Cutting costs rather than driving revenue

When considering how to improve profitability, many business owners resort to hacking at costs. That's all very well, but there is a finite limit to which expenses can be cut – zero. And then you have no business. On the other hand, the opportunities to grow revenue, assuming you manage your growth within the constraints of your cash flow, are limitless. It comes down to understanding the drivers of revenue, which in most businesses are:

  • Number of customers
  • Number of times those customers buy from you
  • The average sale you make each time a customer buys

Once you understand the drivers, you can put in place strategies to increase each of those critical measures.

Another thing to be aware of when reviewing costs, which, of course, is still a valid strategy, is knowing where to cut. For example, too often businesses cut back on marketing which can often be the last place you should be making cuts. Similarly, a knee jerk reaction to cut back on travel expenses could see an adverse reaction (a recent study conducted by Oxford Economics and commissioned by the US Travel Association found that 57% of businesses surveyed felt that cutting their travel costs during the recession in the US hurt their business.)

 

  1. Running your business from a spreadsheet

Quite possibly the most important to avoid of all of the mistakes listed. In this era of Cloud accounting solutions accurate management information integrated with daily bank feeds is readily available. Not to take advantage of such information is to run the business by the seat of your pants. Yet many small businesses persist in keeping their records on a spreadsheet or worse, in a shoe box!

Talk with your accountant today if you feel that your accounting records are inaccurate, unhelpful or obsolete. In fact, your accountant can help you avoid all four of the key financial outlined in this article, helping to set you up for more profitable days ahead.

Contractor Confusion

Over the last couple of years the ATO has made a concerted effort to tackle what they see as problem contractors or to put it more simply people who are working as contractors who the ATO think should be treated as employees. There has been many political arguments put forward arguing the case for the use of contractors and their use is the norm in industries such as building & construction but despite the rhetoric whether someone is an employee or a contractor comes down to the facts of the situation. 

The ATO has plenty of information available on this area and the following link includes some checklists to help determine the employee vs contractor status, http://www.ato.gov.au/Business/Employee-or-contractor

In summary the characteristics of a contractor include:

  • the ability for the worker to sub-contract or delegate the work;
  • the worker quotes for the work and is paid for a result achieved based on that;
  • the worker provides all or most of the equipment, tools etc required to do the work and does not receive an allowance or reimbursement for the cost of this equipment;
  • the worker takes the commercial risk with the worker being legally responsible for the work and liable for the cost of rectifying any defect in the work;
  • the worker has freedom in the way the work is done subject to the specific terms in any contract or agreement and
  • the worker operates their own business independently from the business that hires them. They perform services as specified in their contract or agreement and are free to accept or refuse additional work.

You will note that having an ABN is not a factor in determining whether a worker is an employee or not.

Whether a worker is classified as an employee or a contractor will determine the types of tax deductions that they are allowed to claim as well as the obligations the business paying them has for PAYG withholding, leave entitlements and possibly superannuation and workers compensation.

If you would like further information or would like to discuss your situation with us please call and we will be happy to help.

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