Business Planning: The Next Generation
Starting a business requires extensive planning and research.
At SCORE, one of the first questions we ask a client who intends to start a new business is: Do you have a business plan? That's because the overwhelming evidence is that it is just plain foolhardy to begin a new business without having a well-conceived plan.
No one would think of competing in an athletic competition just by knowing the rules of the game. Being competitive means understanding the factors that can affect performance, such as the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, as well as their own qualities, both good and bad. The same is true in business.
Developing a good plan for a new business is no easy job. It requires discipline and the ability to objectively assess the business environment, the competition and the potential obstacles that may develop in getting the business under way.
It is a fact that no banker will even talk about financing a new business if a rigorous plan has not been developed. And part of that development should include an objective review of the plan by someone who can be trusted to point out possible shortcomings in the plan. A founder should not open the doors for business until the plan passes the tests and is in place .
But just because things are up and running doesn't mean the days as a strategist are done. In fact, they are just beginning.
Planning is an ongoing necessity because the environment in which any business, and especially a small business, operates continually changes.
New opportunities and challenges will arise that are different from those assessed during the startup stage. The initial financial projections may be literally and figuratively on the money - or trending in a different and unexpected direction.
Here are some planning tips to help keep a small business on track for long-term growth:
n Revisit the business plan. The plan shouldn't become a "trophy" of start-up success. Refer to it regularly (every quarter or every six months) to match the initial planning estimates with current realities. Update the plan as needed with new or modified contingencies, and adjusted time frames for key milestones such as expansions or new product/service lines.
n Watch those numbers. Financial statements provide a window into the health of the business. Project cash flow several months into the future based on reasonable expectations for sales and income, customer demand, regular payments (e.g., loans and rent) and other factors. By comparing actual cash flow to projections, you can spot opportunities to improve performance.
n Watch your industry. In today's interconnected global economy, any change anywhere can have a ripple effect on any small business. The influences can be as far-reaching as a shift in demand for a certain commodity or as local as a new stoplight near your store.
Stay current with world and community events. Study your sales records, and communicate with customers, suppliers, and colleagues. You'll be less susceptible to surprises, and better prepared to anticipate and capitalize on these changes.
n Develop relationships. Although growth usually implies investing in additional resources, there may be more cost-effective options better suited to your immediate and long-term needs.
Building partnerships with other businesses in the same field and specialty consultants can help stretch your capabilities. They may also call on you when they need help - perhaps during a period when you have time or capacity to spare.
n Invest in your staff. Because a growing business will demand more of your time, identify employees who can take on routine and management responsibilities. They'll relish the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, and you'll be free to focus on the most important issues of the day.
An experienced, outside perspective can benefit any small business. That's why it's a good idea to contact SCORE (Counselors to America's Small Business). SCORE is a nonprofit organization of more than 10,500 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential business counseling and training workshops to small business owners.
The Sandhills chapter is active in counseling, mentoring and presenting free business seminars. If you wish to speak to SCORE counselors about your business, please register online as a client at www.edmis-score.org/0364 and one of our counselors will contact you.
In addition to counseling by appointment, the Sandhills chapter has drop-in service, for those who have registered, from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Fridays at the Moore County Chamber of Commerce building on U.S. 15-501 in Southern Pines. The phone number is (910) 692-3936.
More information on SCORE's counseling activity can be found at the Sandhills SCORE Web site, www.sandhillsscore.org.
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