In the article “What’s Your Plan,” David Newman presented several compelling reasons why a business plan is an important tool for growing your business. But where do you start? One resource you may find valuable is your regional Small Business Development Center. Business plan guidance is just one of the services SBDCs offer.
That’s not to say they’ll do it for you, but they can sure help you narrow down what you want to consider. Thomas Juring, director of the University of Pittsburgh SBDC, notes that he encourages people to go ahead and sketch out their business plan before meeting with them. “That way, when we sit down with you, we’ll have had the chance to do some basic market research and financial analysis,” he says. “If you are way off base, we’ll tell you; and we can help you identify your hidden strengths, as well.”
Visit the SBDC’s resource-laden information clearinghouse at www.sbdcnet.org and click on “Business Plans,” under “Small Business Information Center,” or visit the Business Plan resource center directly. You’ll find links to sample business plans, but there’s something odd about all these samples: they aren’t targeted at you, the financial advisor—unless you’re interested in moonlighting as, say, a bed-and-breakfast proprietor or a retail store owner.
But when it comes right down to it, you need some of the same things in your business plan. “We provide an extensive list of questions our clients can consider while they are putting together their business plans,” says Juring. “Some of the questions will be applicable, and some won’t. But they cover management, marketing and financial issues that you should be putting some thought into—because if you don’t, you may be at a disadvantage with competitors who are thinking about these things.”
Questions to consider
Juring shared a few of these questions, which you could use to help shape your business plan. If you see something in this list you’re not currently focused on and should be, use that as your starting point.
- Who are your best clients and how can you reach more of them? Do you have a niche? If you do, what particular value can you provide to that market segment?
- What’s special about your business that sets you apart from your competitors?
- What do you want to accomplish in the next year? Two years? Five years? (Remember to use specific, measurable goals.)
- Is your location well suited for the clients you want to serve?
- Evaluate your pricing strategy. Is now a good time to switch to a partly or completely fee-based practice? If it is, how will you go about doing so?
- Do you need more staff? If it’s time to make a new hire, plan out the position ahead of time so you know exactly who you’re looking for.
- Is your business a seasonal business? For instance, are you more likely to experience an end-of-year rush or a big boost in business around tax time?
“The only way you’re going to be able to get a handle on these things is by putting them all together,” says Juring, adding that these are just a few questions to get you started. “A few people can do it all in their heads—I’ve met a few folks like that, and I have a great deal of admiration for them. But I would say that most people are not able to do that. There are too many issues to consider.”
Use all your resources
The real advantage to having an extra set of eyes or two on your business plan is that you will better be able to know you’re on the right track before you set out on it. And with so many of these resources available on the internet, you may be thinking you can avoid the trip to the university town in which your regional or state SBDC is based. But it may well be worth the trip, says Juring. “There’s an enormous amount of research available that you won’t find on the internet, and that surprises a lot of our clients after they work with us,” he notes.
SBDCs, being closely affiliated with universities—particularly business schools within those universities—have access to librarians who specialize in connecting you with that research, as well as to graduate students who can help you sort through that research (under the guidance of an experienced mentor) for a fraction of a professional consultant’s cost. And they can help you learn how to get to that research on your own through your public library.
To learn more about SBDCs and other resources available to you through the Small Business Administration, visit the SBA website at www.sba.gov.