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Business Planning: The Basics

November 18, 2013


Make Sure Your Plan Covers Three Key Areas

Many how-to manuals and templates for business plans are oriented toward attracting venture capital or helping secure a loan. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it shouldn’t obscure two points. First, business plans have value for all closely held businesses, not just start-ups. Second, well-prepared plans have as much — or more — value for owners as they do for investors or lenders.

A business plan can help you identify your company’s strengths, understand the competition, improve your offerings, sharpen your marketing, master your finances and prepare for long-term growth.

Here are three key areas your plan should cover:

1. Define your company

Your business plan should begin with two elements that define your company: a mission statement and a value proposition.

A mission statement is a simple, declarative sentence that describes a company’s essence and purpose. The sentence should focus on the human needs that your business meets. For example, Cisco Systems describes itself as a “worldwide leader in networking that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate.” Note that Cisco makes no reference to a particular product or product line in its mission statement. Instead, it explains how it makes its customers’ lives easier and helps them prosper.

A value proposition is a concise description of how a company’s products or services benefit customers. It typically emphasizes either quality or price. For example, Apple highlights its products’ elegance, usefulness and ease of operation. Big-box stores, on the other hand, often emphasize affordability in their value propositions.

2. Analyze the environment

Your company operates in two environments defined by opportunities and threats. One is external, the other internal.

Questions to address regarding the external environment include:

  • Who are your competitors and what are they doing?
  • Is technology changing in ways that will affect your business?
  • Are social trends affecting the way your customers think or what they want?
  • How will the political and regulatory climate help or hurt your business?
  • Is the economy weak or strong, and what impact will that have?

Questions regarding the internal environment include:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of your physical setup?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses and those of your employees?
  • What is your company’s production capacity?
  • How strong — or weak — is your company financially?

Work through these questions to help make sure your strategy is in tune with an honest assessment of your company’s situation.

3. Make financial projections

Solid financial projections are crucial. They allow you to map out your sales objectives over a period of time and predict the effects of targeted sales on assets and liabilities. Your company should engage in two types of financial projection: short-range planning and long-range planning.

Short-range planning uses careful analysis of previous performance and recent trends to project your income statement monthly and generate a cash budget for the next 12 to 18 months. This allows you to anticipate short-term borrowing needs and makes it easier to arrange for financing before you need it rather than in the middle of a crisis.

Long-range planning projects your balance sheet over a longer period of time, often three to five years. This type of planning helps your company manage growth effectively. It’s natural to want to expand your business but keep in mind that rapid sales growth is usually accompanied by asset growth. These assets must be financed, often with higher levels of debt.

When your financial projections show debt increasing relative to equity or a mismatch between assets and their funding, you may have to make some decisions. Long-range plans give you an opportunity to modify your growth objectives for safety’s sake and identify opportunities to restructure debt to free up cash flow —opportunities you might miss if you were flying blind. A final element that should be included in every business plan is a break-even analysis. In a break-even analysis, you use the information from your income statement to calculate the minimum level of sales to produce a profit. If your company operates below this point for any length of time, it will lose money. You can help solve the problem by reducing your fixed costs, or costs not directly related to sales.

The Small Business Administration offers additional advice on crafting a business strategy, and SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives) provides free online templates for business and financial plans. City National Bank also offers financial planning assistance for you and your business.

Let City National Bank help your company achieve your objectives with tools and services to help manage finances, improve cash flow and fund operations. Call us at (800) 773-7100 or Email Us and request that a Relationship Manager contact you.


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