So you want to start a business but have no clue where to begin. With this guide, you’ll have a more concrete list of tasks that will get you ever closer to being your boss. The first and most important aspect to understand is that each business action plan will be unique and will require some creativity on your part. This guide is by no means exhaustive but will be a great foundational start to getting up and running.
Getting Things Started
To be upfront and to the point, no business will succeed without funding. Even before the venture capital days, small businesses relied (and still do) on startup capital. Not everyone is as fortunate as Jeff Besos or Bill Gates when it comes to having already rich parents you can seed hundreds of thousands of dollars, but all is not lost. The good news is that each year, thousands of new businesses get their start through small business loans.
Technically speaking getting a loan is not the first step on any action plan, but it is the very first goal you need to establish very early on if you are serious about starting your own small business. This first goal is what sets the very foundation for what your business is, how it will operate, how it will grow, and more. So, to go about getting small business loans, you first need a business plan. Without it, your hopes of getting funding from a bank, venture capital group, or your rich parents is nill at best.
Developing a Winning Business Plan
Put simply, a business plan details what your financial goals are and how you’ll achieve them. To be frank, most small business loan lender doesn’t quite care what your business is, just that it’s going to be profitable so you can repay their loan. So the first real step in a business action plan is creating your own personalized plan.
The Executive Summary comes first, though it’s the part you’ll want to write last. It’s best to think of this section as your elevator pitch or when distant family asks, “so what do you do with your time”, your response should roughly be your executive summary (expect a little more formal sounding). This section is going to include a mission statement or what the goal of the company will be. For instance, Jeff’s bakery’s mission statement may be, “To bring the community the finest fresh baked bread, pastries, and other cafe treats in a sustainable, organic, and gluten-free environment. Next, you’ll want a general statement on the products or services offered along with a broad summary of your financial goals. It’s important to keep these goals realistic but also specific.
Describe Your Company
Next up it’s time to talk about what your company looks like from the ground up. Who will run day-to-day operations? How many employees will the business need now and in the event of growth? Where will the business make sure to highlight any “key people” such as the CEO, CTO, CFO, etc?
Now it’s time to state what exactly you are setting out to do in your action plan to start a business. It’s best to remain as objective as possible and keep this section as financial as possible. Again, keep things realistic in terms of sales revenue or growth, and be sure to be somewhat specific too in terms of timelines and numbers.
An overview of products and services comes next. This is the section where you can go in-depth with exactly what you offer. Be sure to include all of your product or service offerings and how great they are. Make sure to mention each feature of your product or service, its cost, how it is performed/done/sold, and most importantly how that product or service is scalable. This is essential because every funding agent will want to see the potential for growth in any business.
Now it’s time to back up your products or services with some cold hard market research facts. This section essentially justifies why your products are going to sell and why your business will be successful. Make sure to include relevant demographic information about the people to whom you will sell too. Often this includes income information, age, gender, and other times more specific information like the type of work they perform and general likes and dislikes.
Now, how are you going to get your name/brand/product in front of people in your action plan to start a business? What will your efforts to be successful look like? This can vary widely so it’s very important to make sure you’re very specific and straight to the point. Be sure to include how much you’ll be spending on marketing and sales, and what if any tools or programs you’ll use. For instance, many companies use CRM (customer relation management) to manage new prospects by scoring them and determining where they are in the buying cycle. Be sure to also include your marketing plans like when and where you’ll market, exactly how that will look and what your plans for more marketing will look like. Again, be sure to be somewhat specific such as “we’ll push local radio ads every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 3 PM on XZY radio station”.
This section is perhaps best served by hiring an accountant or business analyst who can run your numbers and spit out your profit margin, operating expenses, and so on. Unless you’re well-versed in finance and business, having someone separate from you to help balance this part is a great asset. Banks in particular will be very interested in this section so it’s important to be thorough and do it correctly.
Financial projections should follow. This section will expand on the last and describe how the business is expected to grow over time and what that looks like in terms of new expenses, more payroll, more revenue/profits, and so on.
Appendix and Summary
The final hoorah before your pitch is over. Now is the time to add any additional information that may help your cause. It’s also time to wrap everything up into a nice little package and summarize why your business idea is a great one. Doing this first will be sure to get your business some small business loans.
Finding Your Business Style
Aside from getting start-up capital, it will be important to start generating some internal documentation that will serve to define and grow your company culture and style. Don’t worry this can easily change over time and doesn’t need to be submitted to any bank. Instead, the way you define your company style will define the way your business is perceived and approached in the future when making an action plan to start a business. If you’re lost here it may sometimes be helpful to travel to your favorite businesses and get a sense of the person of the “vibe” they have.
Focusing on Growth
Another important long-term aspect of your action plan should include growth. Quite often business owners get caught up in running their own business that they cannot get back into the “bigger picture” mentality. This is also why it’s so important to hire the right people to get the job done, otherwise, you’ll never have enough time to think about growing 5, 10, or even 20 years from now when working on an action plan to start a business. A great way to get out of a “rut” of not thinking of growth is in cleaning businesses. By cleaning out inventory, clearing out clutter, and overall polishing your physical space, you can bring to focus on streamlining operations to scale bigger and better. It seems superficial, but research shows that a clean atmosphere makes for a happier workplace. Sometimes if people are burning themselves out juggling too much work around their business, hiring someone to help take the load off can be an unprecedented help.
Research shows that a “brand” is key to business success. Not because people care about the brand itself, but rather because people want to feel something individual and unique every time they buy something. The more personal and emotional the feeling, the more loyal people will be to your brand. This can also be done relatively cheaply in the beginning through printing custom business signs or getting decal printing services done. Just keep in mind the “brand” that you craft should be authentic and an extension of the people and their culture that work so hard to make things happen.
Another aspect to focus on when making an action plan to start a business is keeping up with changing trends through digital marketing. Even mom-and-pop shops nowadays rely heavily on internet advertising and digital marketing services. Depending on your brand and business you may not need sophisticated digital marketing. However, it’s always a great idea to have a website and a social media presence, and use internet advertising to your advantage. Simple ad placements on social media, the radio, or even on search engines, and review sites can make or break some businesses. The good news is if you’re willing to learn, then most digital marketing services can be done in-house for either free or cheap.
Alongside digital marketing, it’s important to make sure you stay in touch with the right people. One of the biggest factors in small business success can simply be the people you know and how you treat them. In some cases knowing the right person could be the difference between winning a proposal or running in the red for another month. So be sure to keep up with professional networking by being engaged in the community and attending relevant events and conferences whenever possible. It will also be important to develop a method of capturing and responding to all relevant business opportunities. So be sure to have a professional business phone system, receptionist, and email response times.
Protecting Your Assets
Aside from protecting your future with constant growth and community engagement, you’ll also want to protect your physical assets and employees properly. It may be best to have alarm system businesses survey your location or properties to ensure you are getting the best security possible. Even if you have business insurance that covers theft, break-ins, or vandalism, insurance typically does not cover downtime, loss of security from employees who feel threatened, and loss of revenue due to events out of your control. That’s why it’s best to deter any possible harm or criminals by being smart and using deterrence. A simple video surveillance system, proper lighting, security locks, and 24/7 staffing or building security can all ensure break-ins never occur.
Knowing the Right People
Earlier we talked about having professional connections and knowing the right partners, but knowing other professionals who can supplement your business and its needs is also highly important. When making an action plan to start a business it will be important to find business lawyers. Something as simple as an annual Christmas card can oftentimes get you better retainer rates and be the difference between having a responsive lawyer or one who “will get to you shortly”. Business lawyers will not only be a valuable asset in the case of litigation, but they can also keep you out of trouble by preventing litigation in the first place. Business lawyers are excellent at identifying potential legal trouble before it becomes a real threat. For instance, in the case of negotiating contracts with suppliers, vendors, or even employees, only a business lawyer will know the ins and out’s of your state’s specific laws regarding business contracts and employment law(s). Business lawyers are also helpful in identifying exactly what types of insurance to get and how best to protect your business with the proper amount of coverage.