The Big Idea

Business Plans: Financial Planning & Forecasting | Knowledge

What to look out for
  • Red You need a plan of action – do you know what will happen three months down the road, let alone three years?
  • Amber Invest some time. You may even need to bring in some outside help to put together a comprehensive plan
  • Green A well-prepared Business Plan is likely to increase your number of business financing options

Discover how to prepare a business plan, what your plan should look like, what to include, the financial examination and the benefits for securing finance.

What is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a document you use to explain what a new business does / is planning on doing, how it operates, makes profit, and any of the finer details of your planned or existing business.   

A good Business Plan will describe your business now and what you expect it to look like in the future. Focus on how you intend to get there and the implications of the growth.  Remember, don’t just make it all sound like plain sailing, you should also make it clear you have recognised potential downsides and pitfalls and have a strategy to avoid, or at least, mitigate them.

Does my business plan need to include financial planning?

Most definitely - we are trying to convince a potential lender that your business is viable. Closer to home the plan can also act as a vital check that you properly understand the impact of the planned growth and, crucially, that you have the finances in place to cope with it.

Does business growth automatically mean more profit?

Well yes, hopefully, but don’t take it for granted. Consider this: You take on more staff to respond to the growth but also need machinery – you may even need new premises. That’s a potential big hit to your cost base. You need to be pretty confident you can cover those extra costs by larger profits from extra sales.

Profit doesn’t automatically mean extra cash . . .

And you don’t need me to tell you that profit doesn’t automatically mean extra cash.  Your payment terms to your suppliers are 30 days, your wages, premises and machinery costs need to be paid monthly but your customers are paying you after 60 days. Suddenly the extra sales mean money is going out the door, fast – at least in the short-term. You need to make sure that you and your business are ready for that.

A Business Plan will also help potential lenders

A solid Business Plan will help you – and any potential lenders - understand this.  Have you spotted that all of a sudden we’re putting your need for a Business Plan ahead of your urgency to borrow money.

Is a Business Plan all about financials?

Not entirely. The financial examination - of past, current and future trading – might be best described as the impact of your trading. First of all the lender will want to understand your business, not least to get a handle on your financial performance. Remember, you have an advantage over the lender; you know more about yourself and your business and your market as well. Make the most of it when writing your business plan.

Will I make my Business Plan too long if I include every detail?

I’m not saying include every detail - the balance of a good Business Plan is to be sharp and to the point but that mustn’t be at the expense of a good demonstration that you have considered the key challenges and the issues that could have a major impact on your success.

What should my Business Plan look like?

I would normally expect to see the following included: Executive Summary, description of what the business does and its marketplace, key individuals, future plans including the need for additional funding, summary of past, present and future financials and then a summary highlighting key points.  As appendices, I would also include detailed financials and – depending on size and stage of business - breakdowns of personal assets and liabilities and personal Income and expenditure.

Are your expectations for your business realistic?

I hesitate to say it, but this isn’t necessarily the definitive list because it will vary from business to business, sector to sector, lender to lender and even the size of loan you are looking for. The key thing to remember is that you are demonstrating to yourself, and potential lenders, that you have thought this through carefully, your expectations are realistic, you have mitigated risks as far as possible and even that you have a “plan B” and covered “what if” scenarios.

Monitor the progress of your business

It’s certainly not a five-minute job but think what you are putting at risk and, just as importantly, what you stand to gain.  This plan is not just to attract funding, it will also be a tool to help you monitor the progress of your business.  Are your sales on track? What about your costs? Etc etc. An early warning can be crucial – far better than waiting six months for your accounts to tell you that you’re paying too much for your supplies and not selling enough, your prices are too low or you have taken on too many employees. What I’m trying to force home is don’t put the Business Plan aside once you’ve got your funding in place. If you don’t look at your ‘map’, how do you know if you are off course?

Should I use outside help to prepare my business plan?

Yes, but it is your business. You will know more about it than anyone else. Are you happy sharing that information with maybe your accountant or another person? I recognise we all have different strengths, so play to those, accept the additional cost where you consider it appropriate.  On the flip side, it’s always good to get another view of your plan before presenting it, to ensure that it makes good sense.

A Business Plan will increase your choice of finance providers

Yes, without doubt. A number of lenders will insist on a Business Plan and that will obviously increase your choice of finance providers and therefore potentially reduce the cost of your finance.  I have heard many successful business owners reflect on how relieved they are that they planned, even if in some cases it took them a good while to do so.

Benjamin Franklin is much quoted, one such quote being “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” - a Business Plan is essentially a formal demonstration and examination of such planning.

Useful links

Business loans: How to bring cash into your business

Business funding: How to decide on the right type of finance

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