Saturday, October 5, 2013

Writing Your Business Plan Made Easier

Whether or not you are seeking financing from lenders, it is essential that you create a comprehensive well thought out business plan.  Writing your plan will help you think objectively about your business idea and help evolve strategies for the future.  It creates a road map for your business to help you determine what resources you will need to make a profit.
This all sounds great but if you have not written a business plan before, it can seem a daunting and confusing to know where to start. To help complete your plan we have listed below some of the most common pitfalls of writing a business plan and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Create a Vision for Your Business Idea 

Once you have come up with the idea for your business it is often tempting to roll up your sleeves and dive right into the details of market research and operational logistics.  But before you get lost in the details it is important to have a clear vision of what you want your business to be and a set of values you want business to adhere to.  This will help you establish your business priorities and therefore plan more effectively.

2. Know that a Financial Plan is not the same as a Business Plan

You cannot create a solid plan without a financial plan and forecast.  But your financial plan should ultimately reflect all of the elements in your plan.  If you have not completed your market research on your industry, customers and competitors before you create your financial plan, your numbers are not likely to reflect reality. 

3. Don’t Forget Your Customers 

Many entrepreneurs come up with a brilliant idea, thinking they know exactly what their client want but never actually ask their client if that’s true.  Take time to understand your customers and build your business plan on what they need and how you will service that need.

4. Pay Attention to your Competition

Don’t assume that you will be the only business around offering your service.  Research your market and find similar companies.  Study these companies and learn about what works for their business and what doesn’t.  Then make your business better.

5. Don’t Avoid Risk

Creating a business plan isn't about avoiding risk; it's about understanding and managing risk. Your business plan should anticipate possible challenges and address your strategies for meeting these challenges.  Remember there is a difference between calculated risk and recklessness.  Your plan should help you make that distinction.

6. Get a Third Party Review

It’s difficult to detach yourself and review your plan neutrally, so ask a htird party to review your plan.  They will be able to objectively highlight any areas you might need to improve or any areas you may have missed.  

7. Expect the Unexpected

It is important to leave some room in your plan for any unexpected changes.  Whether this is in your budgets or in your marketing and operational plan: build in some flexibility to your overall plan.

8. Don’t Skip the Plan! 

The worse mistake of all, of course, is not creating a business plan in the first place.  Writing a business plan is hard work and there is no guarantee it will make your business succeed.  But it is still the best way to turn your idea into reality. 

How to Get Starter Your Business Online

You know that your business needs a website, but taking your business online can be intimidating when you don’t have any experience with web design or development.

Fortunately the process for getting your business online isn't as complicated as it may first seem to be, and can be broken down into these simple steps:

1. Research and Register a Domain Name

Ideally, you’ll find a suitable domain name for your business at the same time that you choose and register your business name. Use an online domain name registrar to search for and purchase the preferred domain name for your business as soon as possible.

2. Determine What Your Website Will Need to Do for Your Business

Your website is a tool and should only exist if it provides some kind of value for your business. If all your website needs to do is provide basic company information and contact details, then a simple brochure-style website will suit your needs. However, if you need something more extensive that incorporates a blog, third-party plugins, or e-commerce functionality, then the scope of your website project will be much larger.
Make sure that you are very clear about what you need from your website – separating the “must haves” from the “nice to haves” – so you can make an informed decision about picking a website platform to suit those requirements, and to make sure that your website project stays within scope and on budget.

3. Decide Whether to Hire Help

To create a website, you have two choices: you can do it yourself, or you can hire someone to do it for you. If you decide to build your website yourself, pre-designed themes for self-hosted WordPress sites and fully-hosted services such as Squarespace will allow you to do so with little or no knowledge of HTML or other coding languages.

However, while the DIY route may be cost-effective, it can also be very time-consuming. If you would prefer to hire a web designer or developer instead, you have a number of options. On the less expensive end, you can hire a student. Having a student build your website should cost less than hiring an experienced web professional, but keep in mind that they may lack certain skills and their availability may be limited by academic commitments.

Alternatively, you can also hire a freelance web professional, or if your websites requirements are extensive (and your budget can afford it), you may need to hire a web design agency for the most comprehensive set of resources, skills and services.
See How to Design and Build Your Website for more information on how to make the best decision about who to hire to help you build your business’ website.

4. Find a Hosting Company

If you plan on building your website on your own, you’ll need to look at web hosting providers. A web host provides space online for you to store and serve up your website files to visitors.

There are many hosting options available – the host that you choose will depend on how your website is built (for instance, if you’re building your website on WordPress, does the web host support that platform?), and how much bandwidth you will consume every month (do you anticipate a lot of traffic, or do you plan on posting large media files on your site?).

While changing your web host after you’ve launched your site is possible, try to pick one now that supports your current needs, as well as your anticipated future needs.
If you’re working with a web developer or designer, they may provide web hosting as a part of their services. Be sure to confirm this at the outset of your project.

5. Determine What Content Management System You Will Use

If you hire someone to help you build your website, they may have a content management system (CMS) that they prefer for website development.  A CMS provides a way for you to log into and simply update the content on your website without any knowledge of HTML. Some widely used CMSes include Drupal, WordPress and Expression Engine.

Before you proceed with development, make sure that the CMS will suit you needs (ask your web designer or developer for a demo before you’re committed to it) so you can have the control you need to update content on your website without constantly relying on external support.

6. Develop Your Website Content

Unfortunately, website content doesn’t appear out of thin air – somebody has to create it. Never assume that your web developer or designer will do it for you. If you don’t feel comfortable writing effective content and copy for your website, then you may want to hire a copywriter to work with you.

Keep in mind that content includes more than just words – it also includes images, audio, and videos. You’ll want to make sure that any media you post on your website is professional and appropriately placed for the context. Also, avoid stock photos wherever possible. Your customers want to see images that are a true representation of your business.

7. Research Legal Issues

Keep in mind that the rules that to a normal business apply to online business as well, but there are legal concerns specifically related to doing business online, so be sure to consult your lawyer. A legal professional can help you create relevant contracts, website terms and conditions, end user agreements, and anticipate and intellectual property issues.

8. Integrate E-commerce

Do you plan on selling goods or services through your website? If so, you’ll need to decide how you will collect the funds, and if you’ll need a merchant account or payment processor. You’ll likely need a shopping cart tool as well, and you’ll want to verify that the web host you chose can support it. Above all, you’ll want to make sure you have business processes in place to manage and fulfill online orders.
Consider consulting with a web developer for qualified advice on what e-commerce solution will best suit your requirements.

9. Launch and Maintain Your Website

The switch is flipped and your website is live! Now you need to make sure that people can find it and that you’re measuring your online growth.

See 5 Myths of SEO Busted for tips on improving your website’s search engine optimization, and see How to Install Google Analytics  for information on how to set-up analytics for your website so you can track your visitor traffic patterns over time.

Online Business: How To Install Google Analytics

Every business has different goals for what they want their website to accomplish and should have key metrics to make sure they succeed in meeting those goals.  Some business owners only require a website to act as an online brochure, while others are concerned with how much revenue the website is actually generating.

The simplest way to start measuring your website's impact is to use Google Analytics.  This free tool is advanced enough for the most expert of users, but easy enough for the non-tech small business owner to understand.

Installing Google Analytics

To start using Google Analytics you'll need to paste a small piece of code into a template on your website, so that it is included on each page of the website. 
Installing Google Analytics is quite simple:
  1. Visit 
  2. If you have a Google account – use it to sign in or make a new account by following the instructions
  3. Once you have signed in you can click the sign up button and you will now be prompted for some information about your website – including the domain name and the time zone that you are in
  4. On the next screen you may be prompted to accept Google's terms and conditions
  5. Finally you will be presented with a piece of Javascript code that needs to be inserted onto the header of each page of your website to allow Google to track visitors
Most modern websites should be template driven, which means that you can simply paste the analytics code once and it will be included on each page.  Normally the analytics will go into the header template anywhere above the tag, which could be called header.php for example.  
If you are unsure or if this sounds too technical, it may be a job for your web developer or tech savvy friend to help you with, but once complete Google will begin collecting information as people visit the web site.
It is worth noting that if you are using the popular WordPress Content Management System, you can simply install the Google Analytics for WordPress Plugin, which will take care of tagging up each page for you.

Understanding the Data

Don't worry if you do not see any data in Google Analytics straight away, it can take up to 24 hours for it to appear.   It is worth waiting for a week to capture a decent amount of data and then start to explore the different screens within Google Analytics.  
Some of the key information you want to look for is:
  • How many real people have visited (Unique Visitors)
  • How many people found your site after making a search (Search Visits Report)
  • What other websites are sending you traffic (Referrers report)
  • What words did people search for to find my website?  (Keyword report)
You can start to compare these key metrics on a month to month basis to monitor how you site is performing and how any changes that you make impact the metrics. For example, if you begin a social media campaign or optimize the content on your website for search engines, it's important to have a baseline to measure against so you know if your changes are successful.

What Will I Gain from Using Google Analytics?

For some business owners, spending a small amount time looking at Google Analytics can have a dramatic effect.  By understanding where your customers are coming from and what they are doing can influence where you see and position your website going forward.  It can even affect your sales strategy by highlighting low hanging fruit that with minimal cost and effort can reward in higher profits.
If you have a simple five page website and have never considered who is looking at it, why not take the time to install analytics and find out who your potential customers are?  If, when you first install the analytics, you find that not many people are finding your site, it may give you the motivation you need to expand your website and give your company a greater voice.

Easy Tips For Write a Business Plan

Planning for SuccessYou've no doubt heard the expression, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."
Many entrepreneurs write a business plan only when they need to secure start-up financing. However, your plan is far more than a document for banks and investors to read; it's an invaluable roadmap for launching and growing your business.
In order to put your business concept on paper, you need to think through and research the many factors that are needed to make sure your business is a success. With a plan, not only can you spot potential weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, your plan can help you make informed decisions about your venture before you commit yourself legally or financially.
Here, we've summarized the key sections that you'll find in a business plan.

The Seven Key Sections of a Business Plan

1. Executive summary

Your executive summary should be 1–2 pages long, and provide an overview of your business concept, key objectives of your business and your plan, ownership structure, management team, your product or service offering, target market(s), competitive advantages, marketing strategy, and a summary of your financial projections. Your executive summary should be written last, after you've written the rest of the plan; each paragraph should be a summary of the more detailed, related section of the plan.

2. Business Overview

In your overview, include details regarding your business’s history, vision and/or mission, objectives, and your ownership structure.

3. Products and Services

Expand upon your products and services, including features and benefits, competitive advantages, and, if marketing a product, how and where your products will be produced.

4. Industry overview

The industry overview is your opportunity to demonstrate the viability of your business by discussing the size and growth of your industry, the key markets within your industry, how your customers will buy your products or services, and which markets you’ll be targeting.

5. Marketing Strategy

Here you describe your target market segments, your competition, how you'll differentiate your products or services, and your products’ or services’ unique selling proposition (USP).
  • Discuss product or service pricing and promotion, including how your promotional programs will appeal to each of your target market segments.
  • Provide a plan of traditional and guerrilla marketing tactics, such as tradeshows, press-magnet events, social media marketing (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.), networking, and print, media, or online advertising. Include the cost associated with each tactic.
  • Describe how your products or services will be sold (e.g. storefront, online, wholesalers), and your target markets’ buying cycle.

6. Operations Plan

Provide a profile of your management team, your human resources plan, your business location(s) and facilities, your production plan (if selling a product), and an overview of day-to-day operations.

7. Financial plan

Some believe this is the most important part of a plan – so much so, it’s worth dedicating up to 80% of your time to writing this section. You'll need to show three years’ worth of projected financial statements, including income statements, pro-forma balance sheets, and monthly cash flow and annual cash flow statements. Summarize each statement into a few easy-to-understand sentences and put these in a cover page for the statements. Be sure to document all of the assumptions you used in forecasting your revenues and expenses.
Download the Small Business BC How to Write a Business Plan checklist and start planning for your business success.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Understanding The Basic Business

Think about your daily routine, you might stop at a coffee shop in the morning, perhaps you workout at the gym in the afternoon or go for dinner with friends in the evening. Every place that you visit, and every business you connect with during that day, exists because of an idea and an entrepreneur.
Whether that entrepreneur comes from a family of business owners, or is starting out on their own with no previous experience, running their business requires a set of key skills.  But what are the skills you need and how do you acquire them?  

Your Key Business Skills

Running a small business often requires that you become a jack-of-all-trades.  It is therefore important to know early on the skills that you have and those that you will either have to learn or delegate to others.  The key business skills to consider include:
  • Strategic Management. Creating a business and strategic plan for your business and making sure you keep to it.
  • Basic Accounting. Which records to keep, how to keep them and how to file them.
  • Financial Management. Where to find financing and how to manage it once you’ve sourced it.
  • People Management. Hiring your first employee and how to manage them.
  • Marketing. How to market your business through traditional channels, web and social media.
  • Sales. How to complete a sale and look after your customers.
  • Operations Management. Choosing and managing your suppliers. 
When considering the skills that you lack there are three avenues you can take: you can hire employees who are strong in those specific areas, you can engage professional business advisors, or you can take the time to learn these key skills yourself.  

The Basics of Business

In acknowledgement of the need for these essential skills, Small Business BC has created a new affordable seminar series to help BC’s entrepreneurs.  The Basics of Business is a combination of courses including:
  • Branding- More than a Logo
  • Powerful Marketing for Small Business
  • Getting Your Business Online-A Website
  • Tax Tips from an Accountant
  • My First Year in Business: A Financial Overview
  • Operations for Small Business
  • Sales Strategies for Small Business
  • Attracting and Hiring Top Talent
  • Business Viability 1- The Break Even Analysis
  • Business Viability 2- The Cash Flow Forecast
  • Social Media and Online Marketing Tactics
Delivered by industry experts with real small business experience, this highly anticipated program covers the 11 essential elements of running and operating a small business in just a few short weeks.