Thursday, November 26, 2009

Business Plan Errors to Avoid

Writing a business plan can be a challenging yet illuminating process. If you're following this blog you would have read about the importance and usefulness of a good business many times. In as much as it is important, writing an investable business plan is also a bit of an art to many and the more plans you come across the more obvious it becomes.

When speaking at events and workshops on the topic, "what re the common errors made by entrepreneurs and what should I avoid doing when writing my plan" I'm often asked. I recently came across this useful bit of comment from the guys at Inc magazine about this exact issue and I must say that I could not have put it better myself.

1) Being All Things to All People
You cannot expect a business plan to appeal to every possible audience. With this in mind, try to pick one business model, and to focus on one industry or one problem. Otherwise, you risk spreading yourself too thin, and potentially creating a sprawling plan that makes a bad first impression.

2) Being Boring
If a potential client gets two pages into your plan and is bored, that's a terrible sign. It is important to have the reader interested right from the executive summary on the very first page. And don't neglect your cover page: a well-designed logo never hurts.

3) Measuring the Size of the Market Too Optimistically
Although it may seem impressive if you project vast markets and the potential for huge sums of revenue, outsize financial estimates often appear gimmicky to investors. Worse, big numbers often make you sound as if you don't know what you're doing or how hard it will be to penetrate your target market. Don’t make big promises unless you're absolutely sure you can keep them.

4) Lacking the Confidence to Sell Your Product
In an effort to portray confidence, too many business plans ignore the competition that a new business will face. Doing so betrays a lack of sophistication. Few if any ideas face zero competition. Even if your concept is completely original, you should take into account forces that compete with your product or service, including different solutions to a problem, different ways that customers might choose to spend their money, and inertia in the marketplace.

5) Repeating Yourself Too Much
Avoid repeating a few catchphrases and a few simple ideas in ten different formulations. Nobody wants to hear the same thing over and over again. Be sure to keep your plan's fundamental message consistent throughout, but employ creative language and appealing imagery to flesh out your ideas.

6) Using Too Much Jargon
Remember that not everyone in business is familiar with cross-industry lingo. If you have a background in a specific industry – this is especially true in science and engineering – try to use simple, specific, and concrete phrases to describe your business. Rely on general terms that most everybody will understand.

7) Not Being Consistent
Eliminate contradictions. Make sure that the information in your plan is consistent — that, for example, a financial chart deep within the plan does not undermine a fact used in an earlier section. Make absolutely certain that every fact about your industry, the market, and key competitors is accurate and readily verifiable.

8) Failing to Incorporate Feedback
Presenting a business plan about which you have not received feedback is an easy amateur mistake to make. Remember: Presenting to a top investor a draft business plan that contains silly errors or gaps in logic is worse than presenting no plan at all. Try reaching out to a few friendly contacts who have vetted business plans in the past before you begin to share it with qualified potential investors. However....

9) Taking Too Many Perspectives Into Account
...Do not go so overboard in anticipating lines of questioning or identifying possible flaws in your thinking that a reader will have a hard time following the narrative thread. Make sure you address some likely investor objections, but balance the desire to be clear-eyed with the overall objective, which is to make a persuasive pitch.

10) Failing to Acknowledge the Competition
Successful plans come in all shapes and sizes and formats, so don't worry about crafting one that looks and reads exactly like every other plan that's out there. Your goal isn't to fit in; you want your business plan to stand out. Remember: If you create a proposal that expresses your idea and your personality, you will be more comfortable and confident when you are called on to present it.

Happy planning!!

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Silver Lining Provided by Entrepreneurs

Those of us passionate about entrepreneurship will quickly tell you that the solution to any economic problem lies with the innovative thinking of the entrepreneur. Coming up with new, innovative and ultimately profitable solutions to current problems is what entrepreneurs are all about. Whether its a business finance, business planning, customer retention, product or services related or marketing challenge, somewhere there will be an entrepreneur ready with a answer.

A new study has confirmed it. A close look at our entrepreneurial history reveals that entrepreneurship is an engine for job creation and economic growth even during difficult economic times. The study, The Economic Future Just Happened reveals that more than half of the 2009 Fortune 500 companies started in a recession or bear market. Similarly, nearly half of the firms on the 2008 Inc. list of America’s fastest-growing companies were launched during a recession or bear market.

This new study by the Kauffman Foundation’s Dane Stangler suggests that policies that support entrepreneurship also support recovery. It also reveals that job creation from startup companies tends to be less volatile and sensitive to downturns when compared to the overall economy. Are there factors in economic tough times that encourage potential entrepreneurs to take the risk of translating their ideas into a startup?

Several are identified. First, firm founders might perceive that their prospective competition might be weakened. Second, entrepreneurs may view unemployment as an opportunity to start a company. In other words, they beat unemployment with a startup. Further, unemployment presents the opportunity to tap into a larger pool of potential employees.

Naturally, not all new ventures survive, not even during healthy economy times. But although the link between new firms and aggregate economic performance is not so straightforward — some of the startups experience an initial expansion only to contract in its second to fifth year before expanding again — in times of recession, the important contribution of new firms regardless of their ultimate fate constitutes their immediate positive impact on job creation. New firms also contribute to innovation, thereby driving economic growth and often restructuring the economy with new patterns of economic activity.

Companies that reach the Fortune 500 and Inc. fastest-growing lists demonstrate strength, innovativeness and flexibility. These companies were once invisible, but their founders were able to turn a problem into an opportunity. I encourage you to read about some of these success stories in “Profiles in Innovation” section. I would not be surprised if some of the entrepreneurs behind these big companies failed for various reasons beyond a depressed economic environment before successfully reemerging. The entrepreneurial process is complex, but as this new study shows, risk-taking offers big rewards in an entrepreneurial economy both to the entrepreneur and the larger economy.

Knowing this, is the government’s response to this recession supportive of entrepreneurs? Despite the spur of entrepreneurship during recessions, obstacles remain, potentially mitigating the positive contributions of entrepreneurs during such difficult economic times. On top of the list is perhaps the tight capital market. In this regard, Financing the Entrepreneurial Recovery: A Kauffman Foundation Summit, offered interesting insights. Its participants, which included economists, researchers, investors, and entrepreneurs, discussed and debated a wide range of policy recommendations. Most urgently, they called for relief from the strangling costs of providing health care and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. When asked for new models of financing entrepreneurs, participants expressed strong support for the continuation of the SBIR program, federal support for university proof-of-concept centers, and a national tax credit for angel investments.

More is sure to come from this and other similar discussions, but one thing is certainly clear – entrepreneurship is the path forward to recovery.

Jonathan Ortmans is a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation where he focuses on public policies to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, he serves as president of the Public Forum Institute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fostering dialogue on important policy issues.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Supporting more than 14 000 small businesses

Latest figures suggest that various government incentives with services like business finance and business plan support have helped over 14 000 small firms in the last 12 months alone. SEDA, with the help of well chosen alliances such as SA Business Plans and the South African Investors Network is delivering on its promise of supporting the economy of South Africa through helping small business owners everywhere.

A recent article on the website explains:

South Africa's Small Enterprise Development Agency helped over 14 000 clients with services ranging from business planning and registrations to cooperatives support and access to markets in 2008/09.

In all, 199 830 potential and existing small businesses accessed the agency's services through its 42 branches countrywide, an increase of 7.3% over the previous year.

Briefing a National Council of Provinces committee in Cape Town this week, Seda CEO Hlonela Lupuwana said that out of those, 46 695 clients' needs were assessed and 14 373 were helped.

The Seda technology programme assisted 835 small businesses with a total turnover of R129-million, through its network of 27 incubators, and also helped to create 224 new small enterprises, Lupuwana said.

Its Community Private Public Partnership programme, which offers support to co-operatives and community-owned projects, has also been revived.

In-house advisors
Seda had decided to limit the use of consultants to the supply of more technical services, and to 20% of all services offered by Seda, with the remainder being offered by in-house advisors, Lupuwana said.

Last week, a group of 25 Seda business advisers embarked on a seven-day visit to Taiwan, where they were expected to gather more diagnostic skills and training on helping business owners.

Another group of 25 advisers were expected to visit Brazil later this year, Lupuwana said, adding that the visits were a cost-effective way of supporting advisers as Seda only had to pay for "minor expenses".

Forging partnerships
Lupuwana said a random survey of 902 clients had shown that 80% of clients found that Seda's assistance had a positive effect on their business.

This support had come amid limited resources, and despite a six-month moratorium on the provision of all services by the agency to small enterprises.

The limited budget – the agency received R331.2-million for 2009/10 – was a "major problem" in terms of meeting the agency's targets.

Lupuwana said the key to widening the agency's support on a limited budget would be the partnerships it could forge with key partners such as provincial and local governments.

In the Eastern Cape, for example, a number of municipalities had donated buildings and paid for rent so that Seda centres could be set up there.

Source: BuaNews

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