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How to create an investor-ready business plan

A business plan allows you to detail a strategic operating plan, define and execute your value to customers and verses others in the market, and develop a robust financial model that details what you need to accomplish in order to meet your projections. This is an extremely valuable process to go through and document to have.

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When I am introduced to an early-stage company – either to explore helping them as an advisor or as an investor – if I like the initial discussion, I ask for a formal business plan as follow up. Far too often I am then sent a PowerPoint presentation. The PPT is colorful, packed with infographics and does help illustrate the industry and the opportunity. But it is NOT a business plan.

As discussed in last week’s column, the first step to creating a business plan is to develop an executive summary. If you hope to grow your business, raise capital and/or hire partners and employees in the future, you’ll also want to take Step 2: creating a formal business plan.

A business plan allows you to detail a strategic operating plan, define and execute your value to customers and verses others in the market, and develop a robust financial model that details what you need to accomplish in order to meet your projections. This is an extremely valuable process to go through and document to have. You will find that a business plan is an invaluable tool if you want to bring on a business partner or get in sync with existing partners or employees, and if you ever want to raise money it will likely be required by a potential investor or for bank loan.

I believe the sections introduced below are the most valuable topics to cover in a business plan. Some may be more relevant to you specifically, and others not as much, so use this as a guide rather than a golden rule.

Cover Page and Table of Contents: It may seem simple, but these are important. The cover page should make it clear what the plan will discuss. The table of contents will allow anyone reading the plan to skip ahead to the sections most important to them.

Executive Summary: Your previously developed executive summary should lead off the business plan.

General Company Description: Discuss how the business was born, the current state of operations and where you want to go.

Objectives & Exit: What are your “end game” goals? Do you want to save enough money to retire? How about sell the business to a larger competitor? Pass along the business to your children or a protégé? It is important to honestly define what you want the outcome to be so that you can tailor the rest of your plan towards these ends. It is also important to set expectations for those working with you.

Management: Provide a detailed biography for all the key leaders involved (even if it is just you) and discuss how prior experience and success will help achieve current goals. You should also discuss any leadership positions that will need to be hired for as your business (and the plan) matures.

Product & Service Description: Provide details on what you provide to your customers. You should prioritize the most important revenue streams first, but all should be mentioned. You should also talk about how and how much you get paid for each product you sell or service you provide.

Market Analysis: This section should provide a detailed description about your specific market. Include objective details like total market size, growth trends and customer behavior statistics. You should also provide subjective analysis on where you fit in and where customer behavior is headed. This section should also detail your competition. You may also want to do a SWOT analysis for the company here (Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats).

Marketing Strategy: Detail your strategy to acquire and retain customers, and to provide an exceptional customer experience. Include overall goals as well as specific and tangible strategies like online advertising, public relations and original content creation.

Investment Opportunity: This section is only relevant if you need to raise money to fund your business, but this includes both external money (i.e. bank, venture capital or angel investor) and internal money (i.e. your savings or family/friends money). Detail how much money you need, the premium that an “investor” will get for providing this money and how/when it will be paid pack. Even if it’s your personal money, you want to make sure you have a solid plan and a strong return on investment.

Financials: This is a vital component of every business plan, and as such it needs it’s own column. This will also be covered in the near future. Even if you only develop an executive summary and don’t do the full business plan – make sure you develop detailed financials. You need to build a sophisticated model that discusses all your revenue and costs. You should not work backwards from your financial goals to build this model – that is a common and big mistake. You need to start with realistic business assumptions that match up to your plan and then work towards determining accurate final projections.

As with your executive summary, the process of creating this document is as important as the document itself. Once complete your business plan is a detailed capsulation of everything about you and your business. You can use it to recruit employees, add strategic partners in peripheral industries and raise money. Do not ignore its value for you personally (and your management team) though. Make sure your efforts are in line with the strategy you have mapped out.

If market conditions change, then your plan likely has to change too. Finally, your financial model and projections should be used as an important management tool. If your assumptions prove to be off, correct them and project how this will affect your business. If done well, this plan and your financial model will help you optimize your business and avoid problems as you grow. It will be your roadmap to success.

Hoyt David Morgan is an entrepreneur, angel investor and business strategy leader. He is an investor and/or adviser to a handful of exciting and high growth companies, and has been a part of several high-value exits. He is passionate about customer experience, smart business and helping innovative companies grow... and sailing.

Business Entrepreneur

5 ways productive business owners fight through distractions and stay focused

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) No, multitasking isn’t something you should brag about. Retrain your brain to stay focused and boost your productivity with these simple tips.

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business owner staying focused on work without distractions

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate. And if you aren’t careful, daily distractions can prevent you from accomplishing what you need to get done. But how do you stay focused?

Practical suggestions for eliminating distractions

Research suggests that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds today. For perspective, that’s shorter than the average attention span of a goldfish! And if certain offenders are worse than others, business owners would have to be near the top of the list.

It’s not that the human brain is less capable of focusing today than it was a decade ago. The problem doesn’t lie within – it can be found without. It’s the direct result of the onslaught of new distractions competing for our limited focus.

As a business owner, your responsibilities run deep and wide. And if you aren’t careful, you can easily become overwhelmed and rendered useless. Here are some practical ways to fight back:

1. Centralize communications

As a business owner, it’s not uncommon to have half a dozen communication channels open at one time. Between email, phone, SMS, Slack, and social media messages, you find yourself constantly tending to notifications across a spectrum of isolated platforms. The result is constant back and forth movement that’s difficult (if not impossible) to keep track of. One way to fix this is by centralizing communications.

There are numerous ways to centralize communications, but a social intranet is a fantastic option – particularly if you can find one that integrates with G Suite (or whatever collection of tools you use).

2. Block distracting websites

We all have our favorite go-to websites. These are the sites that we mindlessly browse when we’re looking to kill time or avoid doing work. News sites, blogs, and social networking sites are all good examples. And though there’s nothing technically wrong with any of these, they become problematic when they keep you from important tasks.

If sheer willpower isn’t doing it for you, try using some sort of website blocking tool that prevents you from visiting these websites during work hours. (Here’s a list of some of the top options.)

3. Create email time blocks

Email is a time killer! The average business owner receives well over 100 emails per day and, if you aren’t careful, managing your inbox can become a full-time job.

One of the best techniques is to create email time blocks. These are blocks of time – between 15 to 60 minutes – that you dedicate exclusively to email. And then during the rest of the day, you log out of your email account and reserve your focus for other tasks.

You might think this sounds impractical, but it’s really not. A 20-minute email block early morning, late morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon is enough to keep you in the loop without totally eating away at your schedule.

4. Silence your phone

Your phone is another attention magnet. By silencing your phone for large chunks out of the day, you can keep your focus on the tasks that matter. (If you have an assistant, ask them to filter your calls for you and only pass along the ones that are urgent and necessary.)

5. Avoid multitasking

 As Americans, we love to brag about multitasking. We flaunt our ability to juggle multiple tasks at once like it’s a badge of honor. But no matter how skilled you think you are at multitasking, there’s simply no evidence to suggest you’re getting more done. In fact, all of the research indicates you’re preventing yourself from being as productive as you could be.

As Travis Bradberry writes for Forbes, “Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.”

Bradberry points to additional research from the University of London that found multitasking also lowers your IQ and leads to long-term cognitive impairment. In other words, it doesn’t just impact short-term focus. It also inhibits long-term results.

Reclaim your focus and boost productivity

Focus can be difficult to cultivate. But if you want to enhance your productivity and output, it’s a critical element in the equation. From centralizing communications to eliminating your reliance on multitasking, a quick and thorough response is a must.

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Business Entrepreneur

‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.

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American small business

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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Business Entrepreneur

Why and how to acquire a business – 4 tips for radical success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Acquiring a business can be a key part of your business’s future growth, but there are some factors you should consider before signing the deal.

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A meeting room with people shaking hands over acquiring a business

Growing businesses have multiple levers that can be pulled separately or in unison to continue scaling and expanding. And while many companies choose to grow internally, there’s always the option of acquiring other businesses to supercharge results and instantly expand.

Why Acquire?

Acquiring a business is certainly a complicated path to expansion, but it’s also a highly attractive one for a variety of reasons. This includes:

  • Increased market share. If you’re acquiring a business that happens to be a competitor, you can instantly increase your market share. If you currently own 20 percent of the market share and the competition has 15 percent, you suddenly catapult to 35 percent. That might make you the industry leader overnight!
  • Expansion into new markets. Sometimes you acquire a business outside of your industry or niche. In this case, it allows you to expand vertically or horizontally. This can improve top-line revenue and/or reduce costs and benefit profit margins.
  • Advanced tech and IP. In some situations, an acquisition is about acquiring a specific piece of technology or intellectual property (IP). This may prove to be the final boost you need to accelerate growth and initiate further expansion.
  • Talent acquisition. One of the secondary benefits of an acquisition is the opportunity to welcome new talent into your team. Whether it’s a seasoned executive or a highly effective sales staff, this is one benefit you can’t ignore.

Mergers and acquisitions aren’t the correct solutions in every situation, but they often make sense. It’s ultimately up to your team to sit down and discuss the pros, cons, opportunities, drawbacks, and possibilities of pursuing this option.

Helpful Acquisition Tips

Should your business choose to move forward with the acquisition route, here are some essential tips to be aware of:

1. Assemble a Talented Team

Don’t do anything until you first develop an acquisition team. This is a very important step and should not be delayed. (Many businesses make the mistake of starting the search and then forming a team on the fly, but this results in missed opportunities and foundational errors that can compromise an otherwise smart acquisition.)

A good acquisition team should include an experienced mergers and acquisitions advisor, a responsible executive, an attorney, an HR professional, and an IT expert. You’ll also want to bring on a public relations professional as soon as possible. This will ensure you control the messaging that customers, investors, and even employees hear.

2. Do Extensive Due Diligence

With the support of a talented dream team, you’re equipped to find the best acquisition opportunities. As you narrow your targets down, you’ll want to identify and implement a very detailed due diligence process for acquiring a business. This may include an extensive, objective analysis that consists of a letter of intent, confidentiality agreement, contracts and leases, financial statements, tax returns, and other important documents.

3. Make an Initial Offer

If the due diligence checks out, then it’s time to work on formulating an offer for acquiring a business. While the first offer almost certainly won’t be the offer that gets accepted, it’s the single most important offer you’ll make. It frames the transaction and sets the tone for the rest of the negotiations. It’s generally a good idea to offer no more than 75 to 90 percent of what you’re willing to pay. It should be low enough to leave room to inch up, but not so low that the other party could potentially see it as an insult.

4. Negotiate

Your first offer won’t get accepted. But unless you’ve totally insulted the other business, they should come back with a counter. Now is where things get really interesting. Negotiations ensue and it’s time to counter back and forth. The offer consists of a variety of elements – not just a price tag – so consider all of these variables in your subsequent counters.

Adding it All Up

As valuable as an acquisition can be, the process is often filled with friction. It’s up to your team to make the transition after closing as smooth as possible.

It’s very important that you respect the products, services, employees, and customers that the acquired business has. If you come into an acquisition and attempt to shake things up on day one, you’re going to get backlash. There’s nothing wrong with making changes – you now own the business – but be diplomatic and patient. Build trust, work together, and gradually introduce changes.

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