Home » action plan

Category: action plan

Back to the Basics: What is a Business Plan?

If you’re driving cross-country to a destination you’ve never visited before, would you want to leave home without your GPS?

Probably not.

However, new business owners sometimes make the mistake of accelerating at top speed to launch their companies without having a business plan to guide them.

A business plan serves as your roadmap. It describes your objectives and the strategies you’ll use to achieve them. Like a GPS, it offers assistance to help you get to where you’re going. And like a GPS’s directions—which change depending on traffic conditions, detours, and other unexpected circumstances—a business plan is a flexible tool. As you encounter market demand changes, new competitive pressures, altered regulatory requirements, and more, you can revisit your business plan and make adjustments to reset your course.

What does a good business plan cover?

What a company includes in its business plan depends on the nature of its business, whether it wants to pursue funding, and other factors. Some companies might find that a simple two-page business plan provides enough direction while others will need one that’s far more extensive and detailed.

The following elements are commonly found in business plans:

  • Executive Summary
  • Business Details
  • Market Analysis
  • Management and Organization
  • Description of Products and Services
  • Marketing and Sales Strategy
  • Financial Projections
  • Supporting Data

 

Executive Summary

This section of a business plan summarizes what your company is, what it does, where it’s located, and its mission. You might decide to include an overview of your leadership team, staff, finances, and growth objectives.

Business Details

This includes detailed information about your company and the problems it solves for its customers. In this section, share about your business’s competitive advantages (e.g., team expertise, use of advanced technology, etc.)

Market Analysis

To complete this section, you’ll need to do some research to learn about your target market and industry outlook. This is where you’ll identify what your competitors are doing, the market challenges you anticipate, and how you intend to successfully compete in your market.

Management and Organization

This section explains how your company is structured and managed. Will you operate as a sole proprietor, partnership LLC, or some form of corporation? It should also share about the people who are running your company, including their level of experience, education background, and skills they bring to the table.

Products and Services

In this part of your business plan, share details about the products and services you offer. How do they benefit your customers? Are you safeguarding your intellectual property by applying for patents or copyright protection? What is your research and product development process? What is your pricing strategy?

Marketing and Sales

Describe your strategies and tactics for attracting new and retaining existing customers. How will you reach your target audience and what does your lead generation process look like?

Financial Projections

This portion of the business plan has a two-fold purpose. It’s for your own benefit (to help you establish your financial goals and expectations) and for potential lenders who want to assess how well your business might perform financially. Within this section, businesses often include sales and income projections, an expense budget, cash flow statement, balance sheet, and break-even analysis. Graphs and charts can be particularly helpful in this section to aid understanding and highlight key information.

Supporting Data

Having an appendix at the end of your business plan will allow you to provide supplementary documentation and information, such as credit history, resumes, patents, licenses and permits, contracts, product guides, or items specifically requested by a lender or investor.

Where to Find Help in Developing Your Business Plan

You can find many online resources that offer business plan templates. For example, the Small Business Administration has a Build Your Business Plan tool, which provides a step-by-step guide for creating a business plan. Also, SCORE has a downloadable Business Plan Template for startups. As you use these tools to get started with your business plan, consider reaching out to a SCORE mentor for guidance and feedback, too. With experience in helping business owners in nearly every industry start their companies, our mentors can offer valuable insight as you develop your business plan and use it as your company’s GPS to success.

 

Eight Ways SCORE Can Help You Succeed in the New Year

 

Whether your New Year’s resolution is starting a new business or you want to grow your existing one in 2017, you’re smart to seek expert guidance and resources that can help you. That’s exactly where SCORE , a national non-profit offering free, confidential mentoring and business education comes in.

 

For more than 50 years, SCORE has helped entrepreneurs like you navigate the challenges of launching and building their businesses.

 

As a local chapter, we at SCORE Portland Maine find that not all small business owners in our community are aware of how we can help fuel their success. You might say one of our New Year’s resolutions is to change that!

 

SCORE Portland Maine’s services include:

 

  • FREE mentoring – That’s right. For absolutely no charge, you can consult our mentors for as many sessions and for as long as you feel you need to. Our volunteers come from diverse professional backgrounds and collectively have knowledge and expertise in every aspect of starting and managing a business. You can meet with mentors in person, by phone, by video call or receive counciling via email.

 

  • FREE Workshops – We offer several workshops to guide you through the steps of starting a business and help you learn how to more effectively run a business. From digital marketing to financial projections, our workshops offer something for everyone.

 

How can SCORE services help your small business succeed in 2017?

 

  • You can share your business concept with a trustworthy, objective third party who can help you see if your idea is viable.

 

  • You can learn how to develop a business plan to guide your efforts.

 

  • You can get valuable input and feedback to help you make smarter business decisions.

 

  • You can learn about best and worst entrepreneurial practices, which can help set you on the right path and avoid disaster.

 

  • You can access small business resources recommended to you by your mentor.

 

  • You can gain an understanding of how financial reports work and how they measure the health of your business.

 

  • You can learn about tried-and-true and cutting-edge marketing and advertising tools and tactics to generate leads and boost sales.

 

  • You can learn management and leadership skills from experienced professionals.

 

  • You can count on getting a realistic picture of the benefits and challenges of entrepreneurship. SCORE mentors are honest and won’t sugarcoat the hard work it requires to build a sustainable business.

 

Ready to get your New Year off to a stellar start?

Contact us and set up an appointment with a SCORE Portland Maine mentor. And don’t forget to check out our upcoming workshop offerings. Whether you’re in the beginning stages of exploring entrepreneurship or you have an existing small business you want to take to the next level, we’re committed to helping you succeed.

Time for Your Business End-of-Summer Checkup

 

With the end of summer closing in and fall just around the corner, now is a perfect time to pause for a moment and assess what’s working and what isn’t for your business. Although most of the year is behind you, you still have time to make adjustments that could save costs, drive more revenue, and improve profitability for 2016.

Time for a Small Business Checkup

By performing this end-of-summer checkup, you’ll assess where you might have fallen behind, so you can take action and get your business back on track this fall and winter.

 

  1. Evaluate your sales efforts. If you’re behind on revenue, it might be because you aren’t reaching out to as many prospects as you need to, or you might not fully understand the needs of your potential customers. No one ever said selling is easy. It’s hard work and it demands a willingness to recognize, accept, and fix weaknesses in the sales process.

 

  1. Review marketing tactics and initiatives. Look carefully at the collateral you’re presenting to customers, the marketing channels you’re using, and the brand message you’re communicating. Is your brand image consistent across all fronts? Are you seeing results in the way of brand awareness and revenue generation from your tactics and strategies? Review and assess how your website, social media, and print marketing materials are performing, so you can identify where you need to make changes.

 

  1. Improve customer relationship nurturing. Customers who feel they’re appreciated and wanted will always be more likely to stay for the long term. By making customers understand that they truly matter, you increase loyalty and satisfaction. A stellar customer experience drives existing clients to buy more—and it prompts them to happily refer others to your business. If you haven’t been making an effort to nurture your customer relationships through post-order phone calls or emails, periodic check-ins to ensure they’re happy with your services, updates about what’s new and exciting, and other efforts—it’s time to start.

 

  1. Find ways to streamline operational and administrative processes. Wasted time prevents businesses from growing to their potential. When excessive paperwork, duplicated work, and inefficient systems slow processes down rather than improve productivity, you need to find a better way. Carefully look at the various systems and processes (such as accounting software, project management apps, customer data management, lead generation, etc.) you use in your business and look for ways to streamline activities and save time.

 

  1. Evaluate expense habits. Your business’s spending habits directly affect your bottom line. While it’s important to stay on top of your expenses year-round, it’s especially critical as the year is winding down. If your profit and loss statement doesn’t look as favorable as you had hoped it would by now, dig into what you’re spending money on and identify what you might cut back on.

 

With the kids back to school and summer vacations now just memories, now is the time to get back to business and back on track to reaching your goals. By doing an end-of-summer checkup, you’ll have a head start in finishing strong when the year is at its end.

If you need guidance to help you keep your business on the path to success, contact SCORE about our free mentoring. Our mentors have knowledge of every aspect involved in starting and running a small business. 

 

Business Model or Business Plan? You Need Both!

 

As a startup entrepreneur, you’ve likely heard and seen the terms “business model” and “business plan” in conversation and online.

 

While they sound nearly the same, they’re distinctive in their structures and purposes. When used together, they can help you keep your small business focused and on the path to success.

 

The Big Picture View: Your Business Model Canvas

A business model canvas is a one-page diagram of the essential components your business needs.

A business model should answer important questions, such as:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What do those customers expect and what do they value?
  • What is your value proposition? What problem are  you solving?
  • How will your business make money?
  • How do you intend to deliver value to your customers while making a profit?

It should also identify:

  • Customer segments
  • Customer channels
  • Revenue streams
  • Key vendors and partners
  • Cost structure
  • Value proposition
  • Resources
  • Key activities

 

The Roadmap For Staying On Course: Your Business Plan

A business plan is meant to help you navigate to where you want to go in your business. As important as it is for starting a business, it’s also a valuable tool for managing and growing a business.

A business plan includes:

  • Your business opportunity
  • Your products and services
  • Your marketing strategies
  • Your financial projections
  • Your staffing needs

In relation to your business model, a business plan defines how you intend to operate your business. The length of your business plan can vary—it just depends on the size and complexity of your business and the depth of information investors ask for.

 

Together, a Business Model Canvas and Business Plan Provide a Strong Foundation to Build Your Business

Having a business model canvas and a business plan can help you operate your company with purpose so you stay on track to accomplish your objectives. If you have one without the other, you might put time, effort, and money toward resources and initiatives that won’t sustain or grow your business. And when you do that, you risk missing out on opportunities, falling short of goals, and losing morale.

If you’re worried about the time it takes to develop a business model and business plan, relax. You don’t have to tackle them in one fell swoop. Work on them in smaller bits and pieces and set aside time on your schedule for them. To help you structure your business model and think through your business plan, consider using the Business Model Canvas. Also, explore the various business plan templates and software available online.

And remember, our SCORE mentors have experience in helping small businesses of all types start and run their companies. Contact us today to schedule a free mentoring session. We’re here to provide you with expert guidance as you work on your business model and business plan.

Professional Development Benefits Your Business

Whether you’re a brand new entrepreneur or a small business owner who has been in business for years, expanding your knowledge and fine-tuning your skillsets are crucial for sustained success.

Professional development never goes out of style, and if you make it a priority, it can set your business apart from your competitors. Dedicating time and energy on a continual basis to honing your talents and learning new things will show your customers that:

  • You’re dedicated to providing them with the best products and services.
  • You can provide them with more value than your competition can.
  • You have a grasp on the bigger picture and are better able to propose solutions.
  • You’re worth every penny they’re paying you.

Finding Opportunities For Professional Development Isn’t Difficult. Finding Discipline To Follow Through With Professional Development Can Be.

As you explore how you might boost your knowledge and improve your skills, consider these effective and affordable options:

  • Reputable industry or topical blogs—Look for blogs that specifically address topics related to your types of products and services and for those about managing a business.
  • E-books—Ditto on what we said about blogs.
  • Business podcasts—With a vast selection of podcasts about leadership, marketing, business, and industry trends out there, you have plenty of options. To stay productive when you sit down to listen, consider hitting “play” while you’re taking care of “no brainer” busy work.
  • SBA online training center courses—In addition to a wealth of informative articles, the SBA also offers a number of free online courses to guide you through different aspects of starting and managing a business.
  • Local lunch & learns, seminars, etc.—Chambers of commerce often offer these types of programs to help their members manage their businesses better. They also provide the opportunity to network with other professionals in the community.

To make the most out of any of the above professional development tools, also consider signing up for free face-to-face or email mentoring with certified SCORE mentors. They have knowledge of and experience in every aspect of starting and running a business, so they’re well equipped to guide you as you navigate the opportunities and challenges of entrepreneurship.

Ready to get your small business off the ground or take it to the next level? Contact us to get started!

Manage Your Time Effectively

Small business owners and solopreneurs are eternally challenged to get the most done with the limited time available. With responsibility for all aspects of their businesses, using time—or not using it—as wisely as possible can mean the difference between success and failure.

If you or someone you know is struggling to keep up with all there is to do in managing a business, adopting some good time management habits can help.

Time Management Tips For Small Business Owners And Solopreneurs

Say Goodbye To Multitasking

Unlike the word implies, “multitasking” doesn’t help you get multiple tasks done more quickly. In fact, studies have shown that it kills focus and people get less done, not more, when they attempt to multitask.

Prioritize Effectively

This may seem like stating the obvious, but it’s easy to get distracted from doing what’s most important  when you’ve got a long list of to-dos. Consider deadlines and the financial impact projects and tasks will have as you decide which should get your attention first.

Reserve Time

Intentionally dedicating time on your calendar for projects and tasks will help you stick to your priorities and meet deadlines. It can also help you better identify when you’re over-committing.

Outsource When It Makes Sense

Speaking of which, another way to avoid over-committing is to outsource tasks that are keeping you from revenue-producing activities and that don’t specifically require you to complete them. Examples might include bookkeeping, writing and/or proofreading, social media, data entry, etc. Outsourcing work to an independent contractor or agency for even a few hours a month can help prevent you from getting overwhelmed.

Try A Tried-And-True Time Management Technique

Practicing the Pomodoro Technique or something similar to improve mental acuity could also help you make your time more productive.  It involves breaking the time you work into a series of short intervals intermixed with short rest periods. The premise behind it is that you’ll stay more fully focused and not allow interruptions when on task because you’ll have set periods (held true by using a timer) of work and rest.

As the new year is upon us, now is an excellent time to gauge your time management skills. Did lack of productivity and organization hold you and your business back this past year? If yes, perhaps it’s time to pick up some new habits in 2015.

If you need a little guidance,  you can always meet and talk with a SCORE mentor. Through our free mentoring services and one-on-one coaching, we’re here to help small business owners navigate the many challenges of entrepreneurship.

Happy New Year!

5 Common Mistakes When Starting a Business

Starting a business comes with a learning curve – often a steep one. There’s a lot to consider, research, and execute. It’s not surprising that new entrepreneurs make mistakes along the way.

According to Alan Shaver, a SCORE Portland Maine mentor for the past 15 years, there are five key mistakes many new startup business owners make.

If you or someone you know is starting a small business, knowing what missteps to watch for can help you avoid getting your business off on the wrong foot.

Top 5 Mistakes New Business Owners Make

 1.   Underestimate the time, effort, and energy required to start and run their businesses.

“They don’t realize it will be as all-consuming as it is,” explains Shaver. “They underestimate the demands it places on them, particularly how it will impact their family relationships and their financial resources.”

He says a lot of people going into business fail to estimate that accurately, so he encourages new entrepreneurs to connect with existing business owners in similar types of businesses who have gone through the process. That can serve as a helpful reality check.

  1.  Fail to conduct sufficient research about the industry and their type of business.

Without researching the business arenas they’re entering, new entrepreneurs often don’t have an adequate understanding of what they can expect.

Shaver explains, “A lot of people don’t want to do that kind of work, but it’s necessary to understand their business and the industry in which they’ll operate.”

“SCORE counselors direct them to various resources to enable them to learn a great deal about their proposed business and its industry.”

One that Shaver regularly shares is an online resource available at the Portland Public Library, Reference USA. It offers a wealth of information to help new business owners understand the metrics, price points, margins, and more that are usual for their types of business. Reference librarians can also assist new entrepreneurs in researching their industries.

  1. Understand the potential limitations of their business.

Will your business be able to sell enough to meet your income needs? Does your location provide an opportunity for growth? What qualifications do your employees need?

The above are tough questions to begin to answer unless a new business owner does financial projections and talks to others in the industry to learn from their experience.

“I had worked with a client who had a successful restaurant with a strong clientele, but his location wasn’t large enough,” shares Shaver. “As a result, he couldn’t turn tables fast enough and couldn’t achieve the revenue goals he wanted to. Sadly, he closed his business. If he had done more homework about the efficiency of a venue his size, he might have chosen a different location and remained in business.”

Similarly, but fortunately with a more successful outcome, Shaver also worked with a thriving coffee shop client who decided not to open another restaurant because he did his due diligence and projected he wouldn’t turn a profit until after three years.

According to Shaver, SCORE mentors help new entrepreneurs tackle challenges like those. They can facilitate connecting new business owners with existing business owners, and they also point entrepreneurs to the Financial Projections template on the SCORE website. By taking advantage of those resources, startups can make better decisions.

  1.  Fail to develop an adequate business plan, specifically the financial projections. 

“A lot of people allow themselves to be overwhelmed about creating a business plan,” says Shaver. “At SCORE, we encourage them to do it in small steps – to tackle it in reasonable workable bites.”

According to Shaver, seriously thinking about your business finances is crucial.

Will you make the money you intend to – or need to – make? Will you be able to pay back your investors and lenders?

Only by preparing realistic financial projections can you determine the appropriate capitalization and most efficient operation of your business.

“Business plans help you measure your own progress against your goals. It’s important to remember a business plan is not cast in concrete. You can change it as you learn more, but it’s essential so you can track if you’re achieving what you set out to do. And if it isn’t working, you need to explore why isn’t it working.”

SCORE provides tools to help entrepreneurs development business plans (such as templates for the narrative portion and financial projections) and offers workshops to guide them as well.

  1. Neglect to review and understand the financial performance of their businesses.

When new business owners don’t obtain financial reports and pay attention to them from the outset, there can be disastrous results.

Shaver warns, “If you don’t look at financial results regularly or faithfully. You don’t really know the score. You’ll have no idea if you’re winning or losing.”

“When small businesses are not winning, they need to figure out why – before they run out of money.”

Shaver encourages new entrepreneurs to reach out for assistance from SCORE counselors to understand what their financial statements reveal about the performance of their businesses.

Bonus Tip:

This doesn’t apply to all entrepreneurs, but if you’re going to have a partner in your business, Shaver recommends getting a written agreement in place from the beginning.

“It’s absolutely essential to have a written agreement that defines ownership and responsibilities. Do it upfront because waiting until there are disagreements or problems in the business relationship is too late

About Alan Shaver

  • Shaver has been a SCORE Mentor for 15 years. He leads several workshops at the SCORE Maine Chapter in Portland.
  • Now retired, he was a corporate lawyer with a large law firm in New York and had a private law practice that served New York and Connecticut. For ten years, he was also a partner in a franchise auto service business in Maine.
  • His areas of expertise include business planning, financial projections, and business funding.
  • One of Shaver’s SCORE clients, Garbage to Garden, was nationally recognized by the SCORE organization as “2014 Outstanding Green Small Business.”

 

Respect Your Competition

You launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue, a friend tells you about a new similar product or service. After your initial shock, do you obsess about losing your edge or embrace the opportunity? At SCORE, we say “FEAR not your competition!” The right move is to transition into discovery mode. Knowledge about similar businesses may add a creative spark to your thinking or confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution to a customer want or need at precisely the right time.  Read more

Home Business or a Hobby: Is it Time to Take the Leap?

Maine is a place that seems to bring out creativity in people. It’s brimming with artisans, inventors and culinary creators who dabble in ventures at all levels. For many, it’s the genesis of a burgeoning small business; for others, it’s destined to remain a hobby. How to you know when it’s time to make the leap from an enjoyable pastime to a professional pursuit? Taking a close look at the key drivers for long-term success and asking yourself the difficult questions are the first steps in making a rational, objective decision.

1. Nail your idea      

Does your hobby involve a brand or service that someone would pay for?  Crafting a product or service that is enjoyable for you does not guarantee you will be paid for your efforts. In the business world, it’s called a value proposition: defining the problem your business is solving. Engage family, friends and potential customers to provide critical feedback on your product. Ask what they like most about your product, how it helps them solve a problem and what they might pay for this product. Ask no fewer than 25 people and jot down their response. 

Read more

Simplify and Focus

Take the time to think about your goals for the new year.  Identifying and implementing something new requires focus.  When tackling a long list of nonessential, tedious tasks, focus is mission critical. Whether the bull’s-eye on your back is a hefty goal or a bunch of minutiae, adopt these tips to sharpen your focus.

Start by defining you what you want to get done. Goals are the big chunks of stuff you want to get accomplished, like find a new job, train for a race, or hire a new employee.  Now cull that list of goals into what is most important right now. It doesn’t mean you are abandoning the other goals. It means you are making a choice.  Too many goals sap your energy and dilute your resolve to achieve anything. Simplify! Pick one goal and identify it as the #1 priority.  You will now have laser-like focus on what you plan to accomplish. Goals without action steps are just words.

Read more