The power of planning: How to develop a successful business plan

Whether you’re just starting out with your business or you’re a seasoned business owner, one thing’s for sure – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. 

Your business plan acts as your roadmap, guiding you on the most efficient and effective path to success. It’s how you prove the viability of your business, and you have to have one before you can expect anyone to invest their time, money or energy into your enterprise.

A well thought-out business plan will help you establish your priorities, take control over your business journey, and seek out financing opportunities.

We were recently joined at the Brisbane Business Hub by Angela De Palma, a Business Mentor at Vision Accountable, and Caroline Jones, a Business Advisor at Prestige Staffing Solutions running the Self Employment Assistance Program, who took us through the steps of creating a fool-proof business plan. This was based on a template that’s available for free at business.gov.au/businessplan

Here are Angela and Caroline’s tips and tricks for putting pen to paper, getting your ducks in a row and creating a killer business plan.

Caroline and Angela in front of the Welcome to BBH sign

1. The key details

As both an advisor for small businesses and a business owner in her own right, Caroline knows the challenges that come with jumping head-first into your business plan.

“I’ve tended to approach them in two ways,” she says. “I’ve either wanted to get straight into the action, and rushed through the business plan, or I’ve spent so much time investing in the perfect business plan that I never get around to actually starting the business.

“But it’s worth taking the time to get your business plan right. It’s not just about solidifying the business [for those on the outside] – it can be a confidence-building exercise, and it can help you to clarify things about your business for yourself.” 

First off, begin by putting together a snapshot of the key details of your business. Anybody should be able to take a brief look at these details and understand how your business works. 

This includes everything from your registered business name (and the date you registered it), the type of business structure you fall into, the licences and permits you might need, your contact details, and any online and social media presence you’ve established. 

It’s OK if you don’t have all of these things completely figured out yet, but this is a good place to start. 

2. The business

Next, you should elaborate on what the business does – i.e. the products and services you sell – and also give people an understanding of the values that you’re bringing to the business. What is the purpose of your business, and how do you fit into that picture as the business owner? 

“Here you should be asking yourself what are the products and/or services that you’re putting into the market,” Caroline says. “What are your business goals? What history do you have that means you’re equipped to be starting this business? What qualifications and expertise do you have? What are the unique selling points of your business?” 

Angela is a big advocate for using your personal branding here to leverage your strategy and achieve your business goals. 

“Having your own personal brand is the only way to actually stand out,” she says. “If there are two people or businesses with the same skill sets, credentials, products and qualifications, who are you going to pick?

“Chances are you’re going to pick someone who resonates with you and your values, so you need to be strategic in how you share that.

“You need to know what your personal brand is, and also be able to pitch and communicate what makes you unique. You want to do the work for your prospect so that they can immediately see themselves in your values and in your ‘why’, so that the choice is easy for them.”

Once you’ve established your bona fides, you need to get into the nitty gritty, operational side of the business. 

This includes how you’re planning to sell and distribute whatever you’re selling, what technology you will need to support this, what assets you already have, and who the key people are that will be involved.

3. The market

You’ve explored the internal side of your business – now it’s time to look out at the market your business will operate in. 

What’s the problem that you’re solving, how are you solving it, and who are you solving it for? Knowing the answers to these questions will go a long way towards being able to complete your business plan. 

“We can’t get our message across to everybody in the entire world that our business exists,” Caroline says. “So we have to make sure that we’re carefully targeting the people that are most likely to be our customers.”

This can be quite a research-heavy process, as you begin to understand who your customers are, who your competitors are, how you will advertise and promote your business within your market, and what your pricing strategy will be. 

You may find through this process that your customers aren’t who you thought they were – and Caroline says that’s okay. 

“You need to be open to learning and evolving as you discover through your analytics who is actually engaging with your business,” she says.

“You have to make sure you’re still targeting the people you want to be targeting, or if those people have changed. And if they have changed, you need to begin catering to your new audience instead.”

Caroline and Angela presenting at BBH

4. Risk management

This isn’t necessarily the most exciting part of the business plan process, but establishing your risk management process and procedures is arguably one of the most important steps.

You need to ensure you’re dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s when it comes to the legislation that pertains to your industry and your responsibilities as a business owner.

“When I talk to business owners about risk, the first thing most of them think of is workplace health and safety,” Caroline says. “And for many businesses, that can be their biggest risk. But that’s hardly the extent of it – other risks could include loss of equipment, theft, even IP theft. Before COVID, most people wouldn’t have identified a pandemic as a risk to their business, but now we know that’s something people should be thinking about. 

“So in this section, you need to identify the potential risks to your business, what you can do to prevent them occurring, and the mitigation strategies you can put in place for if and when these risks occur. In other words, what’s the worst thing that could go wrong? And if it happens, what are you going to do? 

“Do your research – call up insurance brokers and find out what you need for your type of business. Most businesses need public liability insurance as a minimum, but you might also need public indemnity, product liability and so on. Call up the brokers, have the conversations, and get the quotes before you make any decisions. You don’t want to start a business without insurance.”

5. Goals and actions

Okay, now we’re back to the fun stuff – establishing your short- and long-term business goals. 

“These goals need to be SMART goals,” Caroline says, “which means they need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.”

This is also where time management comes into play.

“You need to find a time management strategy and action plan that works for you,” Angela says, “so that you know how you can physically achieve the things you want to, and determine who is responsible for what tasks.

“How people work differs greatly from person to person, so you need to experiment and find what works best for you.”

The provided template prompts you to plan out your goals for the next year and for the next three years, but Caroline and Angela recommend breaking this up into even smaller chunks. 

6. The finances

Time to get down to brass tacks. How much money will you need, and where is that money coming from? 

This section of your business plan should include any finances that are needed, the expected sources of funding, your current finances, a balance forecast and a profit and loss forecast. 

“We use an all-encompassing spreadsheet,” Caroline says. “You plug your numbers into the relevant fields and it does the calculations for you, so you can see how the numbers you input will impact your business revenue.

“This will help you determine if your business idea has commercial viability, and later down the track, figure out if you need to hire more people, and whether or not you can actually afford to do that.”

Once you’ve got your finances in order, you’ll need to ensure you have any supporting documentation you might need, such as your licences and permits, and include those in your business plan as well.

Once you’ve drafted your business plan, it’s important that it doesn’t become a document that you leave to gather dust in your desk drawer. Instead, it should be a guiding light for how you run your business. 

Your business plan should continue to evolve as your business grows and changes – and as you grow as a business owner.

Get started on your business plan for free at business.gov.au/businessplan.

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Brisbane Business Hub

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