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business plan

You have a business plan – what now?

climbing small

 

You have spent time putting together a great business plan, don’t waste it

 

It takes time thought and money to put together a credible business plan. You may have needed one to get finance, or to get suppliers to support you, or because you believe that planning your business is the right way to go, which is the best reason. Now the plan is complete, it has goals, targets and projections, mission and vision, marketing promotions, organograms, staff recruitment and training plans, financial projections and all the other characteristics of a great business plan – so what now?

Sadly in even the best intentioned businesses the day to day activities of running the business, and as all that great work fades from memory the plan document remains in a file, never to be looked at aside from out of nostalgia. If this is done deliberately it can be a good strategy, especially if you follow Eisenhower’s motto that “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” In this strategy the business recognises that merely developing a plan drives the business to more focused and effective actions, but the entrepreneur wants freedom to react to situations on the ground, rather than stringently following the plan. If this is so in your business I have no problem at all.

However if your business is like the majority, the great ideas and lofty goals set down in the plan will slowly be submerged in the sea of day to day tactical management, and very few of the goals of the plan will be met. If this is you, or if you are in a planning cycle and fear this very widespread problem then read on… Continue reading

Competitive strategy

2014_AugustThis article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in August 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

Is this only for the big corporates?

 

 

Large IT companies spend millions on market research to see how they stack up against their competitors and use this information to figure out how to be different and better than them. Automotive manufacturers and importers watch every move competitors make, being first-to-market with a new fashion trend can mean the difference between a clothing brand outselling its competitors or disappearing. Even cities position themselves against other cities to attract tourists and businesses. Why should competitive strategy, a vital part of marketing strategy only be relevant to very large organisations? Why not your business?

Being competitive is a core requirement for all businesses irrespective of size. Not-for-profit organisations like charities, schools and religious organisations compete for funds, members and media attention. Very small business and start-ups must wrench business away from competitors or alternatives just to survive. Without a compelling message about what advantages they offer over others many of these organisations will fail as consumers take the easy route of buying the most popular, the most accessible or the most familiar.

Competitive

More than 30 years ago Michael Porter defined competitive strategy as “The plan for how a firm will compete, formulated after evaluating how its strengths and weaknesses compare to those of its competitors”. This plan should be focused on getting a sustainable advantage over competitors so it is much more than simply reducing price or having a special offer. Continue reading

Which business should I open?

13 August CoverThis article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in August 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

What is the right type of a new business for young people?

 

 

A young relative asked me: “If you were 23 what sort of business would you open?” I realised what an interesting question this is. Imagine being 23, with the experience to know what to consider and where the opportunities lie. Thanks for the great question entrepreneur-to-be Jean!

The first answer is that if you want to be business owner you should become one. Starting a business is nowhere near as difficult as people suggest. Even desperately poor and illiterate people open sustainable businesses all over the world without business advice, bank loans or advertising. It is more difficult to launch and develop a business that can grow out of the survival phase to provide employment and value or wealth to the entrepreneur, and if that is your dream choose a business that can grow, as opposed to lifestyle entrepreneur businesses like a photographer.

Be capable of running it

You should be capable of operating the business. At 23 you may lack business experience but business owners need to be able to handle finances, marketing, sales, HR and administration. Don’t choose a very complicated business or one in a highly regulated sector, like food or medical supplies. Choose an area you know or have a passion about. Continue reading

Talents and weaknesses

13 Feb coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in February 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

 

Capitalising on strengths and overcoming problems are essential entrepreneurial abilities

 

 

Challenge

This entrepreneur asks if it is advisable to start a clothing business without the ability to sketch or draw designs. She has a good eye for trends and understands the clothing manufacturing process.

Response

This entrepreneur-to-be has identified her major strengths and weaknesses. She then asks for advice about a significant weakness. This is smart thinking. All too often would-be entrepreneurs simply dive into their dreams without evaluating their talents and skills and then become frustrated when they cannot get start up finance, or attract customers because they lack a vital skill or simply do not understand the complexities of the business they wish to enter.

In this case her strengths of having an eye for trends and understanding the manufacturing process are significant advantages  in a business where being the first with a trend is a huge competitive advantage. She worries about her inability to get her ideas on paper, and correctly so. If she cannot overcome this weakness then all the talent for spotting trends cannot be turned into saleable garments. Continue reading

The very first thing

12 November cover This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in November 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

The first actions can turn a dream into a business – or a nightmare

 

 

Challenge

This entrepreneur has what he believes to be a viable idea for a new magazine. He asks what the very first step should be, in order to bring the idea to fruition.

Response

Of the many things that have to be done to convert an idea into a start up business, which is the most important first step? I suggest there are two equally important considerations; ensuring real passion to launch and run a business, and testing for commercial viability of the venture.

Starting up and running a new business is not easy. It is extremely hard work, risky and unrewarding in the early stages. Start up entrepreneurs work long hours and are confronted with unexpected problems. They need to become instantly proficient in marketing, finance, HR, production, negotiation cash flow management and motivating staff. They risk family disruption, business failure and the loss of substantial amounts of money. Continue reading

What is the right price?

12 October coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in October 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

Focusing on pricing will pay dividends to start up entrepreneurs

 

 

Challenge

This entrepreneur asks where he can find help in setting prices for advertising space on digital displays and which procedures he should to follow before deciding on the right prices.

Response

Setting the most appropriate price is important but not easy to do. It needs at least as much attention as any of the other ’4Ps’ of marketing. Start up entrepreneurs traditionally spend most of their effort on product development, put time and thought into marketing promotions and sales channels and not enough time and effort on pricing. Price is important in almost every buying decision so it can be as crucial as the product features in securing the sale. Continue reading

Getting started

12 August coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in August 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

Turning an idea into a viable business is not as difficult as it seems

 

 

Challenge

This entrepreneur has a business idea which he thinks will make a viable business, but is unsure of how to go about commercialising the idea. He asks how to execute this transition.

Response

Many people have a business idea. Very few ideas actually turn into commercially viable businesses. This is sad when our country so desperately needs all the new businesses possible to address the terrible unemployment situation. A part of the reason for this failure is highlighted by this month’s challenge; many potential entrepreneurs do not know which steps must be taken to commercialise an idea.

The first step is the business model, including the source of income. This entrepreneur will provide a service to a tightly defined market, and make his money from fees. In other enterprises the income could be commission on sales, sponsorship of an activity, rentals, royalties or from advertising income. The source of products for resale and other necessary services must also be identified. Continue reading

Finding start up capital is a challenge

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in November 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

Entrepreneurs need to think creatively about their capital needs
 

The challenge

My challenge is finding capital. I am a full time mom with no income or assets, so a bank loan is out. I’ve consulted family members with my business plan without success.

My business idea is to supply a niche market with, latest technology imported equipment. I’ve done market research this business seems very promising.  But where do I obtain initial capital?

Our response

Getting finance to start a business is very difficult. Whether the investors are family members, finance houses, venture capitalists or angel funders, start up capital is scarce and difficult to secure. This gets worse if the would-be entrepreneur his little or no surety, has not previously run their own business or has no relevant business experience. But good entrepreneurs are a hardy lot, and used to finding solutions to intractable problems, so they do find ways to start businesses despite these problems.

Before answering this potential entrepreneur’s question I would like to pose one of my own: If she had sufficient money to start this business would she commit the funds, even if it was all she had? How sure is she that the business idea will work? If there are question marks then the entrepreneur should go back to the business plan and research more and test the concept to reduce the risk of failure. Few funders will finance a business where the entrepreneur would not risk her own funds. Continue reading

Capital growth for a new venture

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in June 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

All start-up entrepreneurs should understand their business finances before they launch

By Ed Hatton

 

Challenge:

An entrepreneur is planning to start cattle farming, but has very little economic or entrepreneurial background as he works in the medicine field. He wants to know what the growth in capital ia that is needed by a business during its first year to sustain further development and growth.

Solution

This is question all start-up entrepreneurs should ask themselves. The focus is usually on the initial capital needed to start operations, but sustaining the business past the first year is equally important.

To answer the question we need to take a step back to the business plan for the new venture. This should start with how much the entrepreneur wants from the venture as a monthly income and / or capital gain. That will tell him how many calves he will have to sell each year if he makes assumptions of the sale price and cost of breeding, rearing and sale. The estimated yield will tell him how many breeding cows he will need. The size of the breeding herd and the capacity of the land to produce grazing and fodder will tell him how much land, labour and infrastructure he needs. These factors will determine his start up capital needs Then he needs to do the cash conversion cycle (from when cash is laid out to produce stock to the time cash is paid as a result of sales) and work out the operating cost of running the business during that period to establish his working capital needs.

This is a business like any other. The entrepreneur has to identify his target market and see what it needs, decide how to compete, then get the right product (breed and quantity) and distribution channel to sell his breeding stock, find the right production facility (land and infrastructure) and identify the right labour and management to handle the required volume. Continue reading

Find a gap in the market – and meet it

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in March 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

Responding to a need is a great way to start a business, but it is not as simple as it seems

The Challenge

An entrepreneur has recognised that government departments and some private companies often pay their suppliers very late, or make wrong payments. Together with her spouse who runs a human relations consulting firm which is fully accredited with ETDP-SETA, she has the knowledge and expertise to set up policies and train people to fix this problem and so improve service delivery. However she has not be able to form a strong sales and promotion strategy.

Our response

This woman dreams of becoming an entrepreneur while she runs the department which pays suppliers in a large company. She sees entrepreneurs struggling to get paid on time by government departments, local authorities and some large companies.  She knows she could put the right policies, processes and training in place to turn the situation around. Her spouse could do the training and the combined service would enable departments to make payments on time. President Zuma, in his State of the Nation address suggested that this improvement in service delivery was vital, so the need for the service is there.

Who has the need?

This business opportunity looks like a textbook case of identifying an unmet need and having the capacity to fill that need. But, and this is a lesson for all entrepreneurs, first ask who has the need. For instance consider out of order traffic lights. The motorist desperately needs them fixed, but the duty pointsmen earn their living from them. The roads department is judged on performance but has harsh budget restrictions, so they may have mixed feelings. The point is that answering a need may have to include appropriate strategies if the party with the need is different to the party who will pay. Continue reading

Plans vs. Planning

This article was written by Ed Hatton and first published as a Sanlam Cobalt Business Tips article during December 2010. Sanlam has valuable resources for entrepreneurs and you should consider subscribing to receive the Sanlam Cobalt articles if you have not already done so

….the simple plan

That they should take who have the power

And they should keep who can – Wordsworth

 

Will you be the growing business taking more market share? A defender of your customer base? Or one of those that lose ground to better planned and organised competitors? Do you have a plan to guide your business? Does it work for you?

Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything”. The process of developing a good business plan will force you to think about your customers, competitors and the resources you need, and that thinking should drive your business in the future.

Assume you want to develop a plan for 2011 to defend your market share, or take new business. You may be tempted to download one of the excellent business planning templates and then concentrate on filling in the blocks. Some entrepreneurs, especially those starting out, will engage a cut-and-paste business plan developer. But there is a much better way:  Simply follow Eisenhower’s advice and focus on the process of planning. Continue reading

Questions to ask when planning a start up

Image courtesy of imageafter.com

If you are planning to open a new business you will need to think of many different things. Here are a few really key questions that you may not have thought about. If you cannot answer any one of these satisfactorily you may be taking unnecessary risks. With the horrifying failure rate of new start up businesses you would want to reduce risk as much as possible, so if any of these questions cannot be answered or leave you feeling uneasy, then my advice would be to attend to this urgently, even if it means delaying your launch.

  1. What loyalty from customers can you bring or build? Do you have special relationship with customers who will follow you to your new business?  Do you have special skills or knowledge that will draw customers and make them want to stay?  And by ‘special’ I mean rare, unusual or significantly different to those of competitors. Do you have an engaging manner and a real desire to make customers happy? Someone who is seen as likeable and eager to please? Do you offer a unique service or a level of convenience that will be irresistible to customers? Continue reading

Twelve reasons why marketing plans fail

pic courtesy of imageafter.com

pic courtesy of imageafter.com

It has become fashionable to discuss only business plans in the entrepreneurial environment. The marketing plan should be incorporated within the business plan, but many business plans provide only a cursory look at marketing. One reason is that many business plans are produced with the sole purpose of gaining finance for an enterprise, and so the focus is on financial projections, staff required and management experience. Once the finance has been secured the plan can be buried with all the other tiresome paperwork.

This is sad, because my belief is that most entrepreneurial failures and businesses in difficulty arise from one simple fact – they do not sell enough! And many times the reason that they do not sell enough is that their marketing and sales is unplanned, and poorly funded, the salespeople are insufficiently trained and the person responsible for marketing lacks either knowledge or clout or both.

As Dwight Eisenhower famously said “Plans are nothing, planning is everything”. The process of marketing planning will force research and debate and question assumptions. It will point to the need to set aside budget and train people. And it will link performance to actions.

Even with a carefully thought out marketing plan there is still a risk of the plan not having the desired effect. In my experience the failure of marketing plans comes from some or all of the following: Continue reading