Crafting the perfect business plan is often a challenge for any number of reasons. However, one of the biggest challenges standing in the way of a good business plan is the fact that oftentimes, no two investors, judges or members of your audience are looking for the same thing when evaluating a business plan. To help, here are six questions every business plan should answer.
What is the competitive advantage?
I always look for what will give the business a competitive advantage relative to businesses that want to offer the same or similar goods and services and an analysis of the competitive landscape. I pay particular attention as to whether there is valuable intellectual property, be it patents, trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets, that will serve as barriers to entry for competitors. Similarly, I like to see a discussion of the intellectual property of the most direct competitors and how the new business will avoid infringing on it. — Scott Locke, partner and chair of the intellectual property department at Dorf and Nelson LLP
Is it in a growth market?
The key to any successful business is to be a growing company in a growth market. A business plan should articulate how the entrepreneurs will enter the market, apply their investment to prepare them to grow quickly, and participate in the expansion of an industry that is thriving, with a better-than-average growth trajectory. As I have spent my career working for hyper growth companies in rapidly expanding markets, a founder of several small businesses, and adjunct professor of a course on entrepreneurship, this has been the common denominator. — Walter Recher, CEO of SmallBall Marketing
Will customers pay for it?
When looking at business plans, I always want to know how the owners plan to get paying customers to engage at a fee and quantity that allows them, as owners, to be in business and sustain themselves. My frequently asked question is, "how do you plan to feed and clothe yourself and where do you plan to sleep while you're getting this venture off the ground?" My hope is that it will cause the students to consider why they are planning to take the risks of entrepreneurship. — Andi Gray, CEO of Strategy Leaders
How will the business be staffed?
In every business plan, I like to see the recognition of the need to cover and staff the production, sales and finance parts of the business. Roles should be established for the entity as if it were mature and successful. Multiple roles should be assigned at first if necessary, and filled with the right people as the entity grows and the timing is right. I like to see that type of thought process because it shows me they recognize that they won’t be able to do it all themselves and that business success revolves around collaboration and management. It also shows that they recognize their own limitations, their ability to focus on their strengths and the need to bring in others who know what they don’t in order to reach the goals they envision. — Larry Holfelder, CEO of Connect My Advisors
Is the product innovative?
Is the idea for the product or service innovative, a unique invention, or is the dream truly inspired? By innovative, I want to understand if the business plan is centered around a new twist on already-existing technology or services delivered in a new and compelling way? If inventive, can the idea be protected against new or existing competition? Finally, is the team assembled an excellent group that can't be stopped from succeeding? Are they inspiring to me, each other, and their marketplace? While this is very simple in summary, the task of evaluating by the three "I" criteria is something to be vigilant while reading any plan and listening to any entrepreneur. — Irwin Glenn, Managing Director, Profit Velocity
Are the plans and goals realistic?
I look for it to be a realistic business plan, not something that is pie in the sky. I want to see reasonable expectations. I tend to look more on the conservative side since I feel that is the safest way to go. The idea doesn’t have to be reasonable, the plan does. The idea can be anything. I always look for projections on what the business will do in the first year, second year, third year and fourth year showing sales, expenses, plots the bottom line as the business progresses. Those assumptions have to be reasonable. — Charles North, president and CEO Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce