It is said that anybody that fails to plan is definitely planning to fail. Planning is critical to success in any endeavour, especially business. Beyond everything, the plan must also be result-oriented, which is the focus of this text entitled “Writing Business Plans That Get Results” with the subtitle “A Step-by-Step Guide” written by Michael O’Donnell. O’Donnell is a business consultant with the Promersberger Company in Fargo, North Dakota and specialises in developing marketing plans for the firm’s clients.
As a staff member of the Centre for Innovation and Business Development at the University of North Dakota, he worked with inventors and entrepreneurs on a daily basis.
According to O’Donnell, this text will show you how to create a business plan that works. He adds that the text will guide you on what to include in each section of your plan, the most efficient ways to evaluate your company’s products or services, marketing strategies, organisational structure, plans to achieve goals, competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, etc.
The author says since a business plan is used for many purposes, that is, as a development tool, a management and planning guide, a mission statement, a sales document, etc., and is read by several different audiences, you need to tailor each part to the various needs of bankers, venture capitalists, partners, suppliers, accountants, etc.
O’Donnell stresses that you should structure and arrange the components of your plan for greatest impact; anticipate all questions that business plan reviewers will ask; and critique and package your business plan for winning results.
According to him, you need to feel comfortable with why you must go through the exercise of writing a business plan. He says if you do not understand the reasons for it and the benefits it will bring, in all likelihood you will do a less-than-adequate job and thus defeat your purpose before you ever get started.
O’Donnell adds that to be sure, writing a business plan is one of those hoops you must jump through. He stresses that your plan must reflect your ultimate goal and be able to accomplish many things for you and your proposed venture. O’Donnell educates that it is not prudent to try to make it all things to all people.
According to him, one plan will simply not suffice for all possible uses, and most seasoned entrepreneurs will write (or revise) a business plan at each stage of the company’s development. The most successful of these will then write several plans, each adapted to specific players, says O’Donnell.
This text is segmented into 14 chapters christened “Modules”, in addition to another section tagged “Finishing touches”. Chapter one is entitled “The executive summary”. Here the author says the executive summary is one complete module and the subheads should match the major headings or subjects you have covered in your business plan.
O’Donnell stresses that the entire summary should be clear and to the point. He educates that the language should be simple and demonstrate clarity of management objectives. Above all, the summary should show opportunity, O’Donnell advises.
He says the opening statement should grab attention, and you should state something about being the first to introduce the product or the customer demands being generated from your initial market research.
“Describe the nature of the business, i.e., type, location, business form, length, and state of operation. Describe current milestones reached and their financial results, i.e., reaching x amount in sales, evaluation and testing completed, prototype built. State what industry your product addresses,” adds this expert.
Chapter two is based on the subject matter of “Table of contents”. O’Donnell suggests that the length should be one to two pages. He says the following are a list of topics or issues you may include in the table of contents of your business plan, adding that depending on the importance of each issue to your start-up, any one can stand alone as a separate section.
O’Donnell educates that you can include sections such as the company; the industry; product and related services; research and development; market analysis; competitive analysis; marketing strategy; process and operations; and management and ownership. Others are manufacturing administration, organisation and personnel; milestones, schedule and strategic planning; critical risks and problems; and financial data and projections, etc.
In chapters three to nine, the author discusses table-of-contents-related concepts such as the company and industry; product and related services; research and development; market analysis; competitive analysis; marketing strategy; and manufacturing process/operations.
Chapter ten is entitled “Management and ownership”. According to O’Donnell here, “Your readers are going to want to know how the company is managed as much as who is managing it. Demonstrate your awareness and understanding of the administrative details.” He adds that you should explain the personnel needed and how you will fill and train these positions. Include an organisational chart that illustrates the company’s structure, lines of authority, responsibility and delegation, guides O’Donnell.
He says the suggested sequence of presentation in this segment of the business plan is organisational chart; administrative procedures and controls; staffing and training; and management control systems.
In chapters 11 to 14, O’Donnell analytically X-rays concepts such as administration, organisation and personnel; milestones, schedule and strategic planning; critical risks and problems; and financial data and projections. According to him here, this section is highly scrutinised by potential investors and most sophisticated investors will undertake an independent financial analysis of the venture.
O’Donnell says this section must be thorough and convincing, and you must document the need for funds. Demonstrate that you will use the money responsibly and show how they will ensure your success, expatiates the author. He stresses that you should show that your projections are realistic, based on the margins between your cost to operate and expected sales.
As already said, in addition to these 14 chapters, O’Donnell also includes another section called “Finishing touches” which includes exercises; recapitulation of what is already discussed in the text, etc.
As regards style, this text is unique. To arouse readers’ active participation and offer them proper guide, O’Donnell asks pertinent questions at the beginning of every chapter. By writing this book in a modular format, with each module designed to stand on its own, with the assumption that people collect, organise and absorb information in blocks, rather than in large doses, stylistic creativity is displayed by the author.
What’s more, this text is practical and comprehensive. The language is simple while the ideas are well presented.
However, the author uses many long sentences as well as coordinate noun phrases (nouns joined together by the coordinating conjunction of adding “And”) in succession. This syntactic structure makes comprehension taxing.
On the whole, the text is conceptually fantastic. It is a must-read for all entrepreneurs that want their companies to be successful and profitable.