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How to write a simple business plan print Print

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Thinking about starting your own business? This step-by-step guide outlines the benefits of having a business plan, the key elements, and how you can prepare a simple but effective plan for your business.

Do you really need a business plan?

Yes you do, and here’s why: research shows that businesses with a business plan perform better than those without one. For example, a study showed that new businesses which had a written business plan grew around 30% faster than those which didn’t*.  It’s as simple as that.

Writing a business plan is easier than most people think – and to make it even easier, you can use our Business Planning Template to guide you through the process step by step.

The benefits 

Business planning works because it:

  • challenges you to really think through your ideas and identify possible issues
  • gives your business a sense of direction and urgency
  • helps you prioritise your effort
  • allows you to measure your progress towards your goals and take action if you need to
  • builds credibility and convinces others (including lenders) that you know what you're doing.

Getting started - what do you put in a business plan?

There’s no one set formula for writing a business plan. The secret is to keep it short and simple. Think of it as simply answering some key questions about your business which will help you clarify your thinking:

  • where do you want your business to go? (Your Objectives)
  • how will it get there? (Your Tactics) 
  • what will it cost? (Your Budget).

Below we’ll explain the key information you should include, using the structure in our Business Planning Template as a guide.

1. Your business profile

Before getting into the detail, start your business plan with a brief business profile. It will enable others (e.g. potential lenders or investors) to get an understanding of your business idea at a glance. It should contain:

  • a brief explanation of your background, your skills and experience
  • your business objectives, what you want to achieve
  • a description of your business and the products and services you offer 
  • the make-up of your business: the number of employees, location, turnover, and profit margins.

2. Your competitive advantage

Why should your customers buy from you rather than your competitors? Is it your products? Your service? Your expertise? Your after-sales service? Your pricing? Or a combination of these factors? If you aren’t clear, your customers certainly won’t be.

3. Marketing and sales planning

An understanding of your market, how you’ll persuade them to buy your product or service, and how you’ll deliver it to them, is fundamental to success. You’ll need to think about:

a) Assessing your market:

  • what is the current size of the market? Is it big enough to generate the revenue you need?
  • what’s the nature of the market – is it relatively new, in a growth phase, mature or in decline? What’s the projected growth rate for the future?
  • how much competition is there?
  • is the market profitable enough?

Places to go for help with your market research include:

  • Statistics New Zealand’s Business Toolbox
  • Trade or industry organisations
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • City or regional councils
  • New Zealand Trade & Enterprise
  • A mentor or someone with experience in your industry.

b) Your marketing channels:

Use your understanding of the market to decide the best way to reach your customers, and how often, with information and offers, e.g:

  • advertising (TV, radio, print, online, mobile, social)
  • direct marketing (direct mail, email, SMS)
  • through influencers (e.g. lawyers, accountants, trade or professional organisations)
  • public relations, events and/or sponsorships
  • or a combination of methods.

You’ll need to identify the cost and effectiveness of your preferred marketing approach.

c) Your distribution methods:

How will you get your products or services to your customers? Will they come to you (e.g. retail outlets) or will you need to deliver to your customers (e.g. an online business)? For many businesses, it’s now a combination of both. Can you use joint ventures or allliances to distribute your products or services?

4. SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis outlines your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This helps you compare your business against your competitors in your market, and decide how you’ll build on your strengths and opportunities, and mitigate your weaknesses and threats.

Consider both internal factors (e.g. staffing) and external factors (e.g. market or demographic trends), and above all – be honest.

5. Financial forecasts

Your financial forecasts are one of the most important parts of your business plan. Why? Because if you don’t have a clear understanding of the revenue and profit you need to achieve to cover your operating expenses, you may be in for a nasty surprise. You should:

  • calculate the start-up funds that your business will need, by creating a schedule of the assets and equipment you’ll need to get your business going
  • calculate your break-even point, the point at which your sales revenue is sufficient to cover operating expenses (use our gross profit break-even calculator to help)
  • complete a cash flow forecast so you can assess your working capital needs until the business breaks even (use our cash flow forecast calculator to help)
  • identify seasonal cash surpluses and shortfalls: most businesses have some degree of seasonality. Use your cash flow forecast to identify and manage cash surpluses and shortfalls throughout the year.

Your accountant or ANZ Business Specialist can help you review your financial assumptions and ensure they’re realistic.

6. Turning your plan into action: Setting goals

You can turn your plan into action by setting specific goals for each aspect of your business - and importantly, by measuring your progress towards them. That way you’ll know if you’re on track or whether you need to adjust either your goals, or the assumptions behind them.

The key is to make your goals realistic. Shooting for the moon is great but if your goals are overly ambitious you’ll lose heart and motivation. Keep your objectives SMART, that is:

  • Specific – If the goal is too general, you will lose focus
  • Measurable – You can’t manage what you don’t measure
  • Achievable – Large goals can seem daunting. Break bigger, more complex goals into smaller, more achievable chunks
  • Relevant – Goals should relate to your overall business objectives
  • Time framed – Without a deadline, your goal is just a dream that you have forever to achieve.

Here are some typical examples of SMART goals:

  • financial objectives – to achieve turnover of $x and profits of $y by the end of the financial year
  • strategic objectives - to gain two corporate customers by the end of the year
  • operational objectives - to increase productivity by 20% by the end of the second year
  • marketing objectives - to increase e-commerce sales by 10% by 1 June next year.

Once you’ve established your goals, write down who is responsible for achieving them.

Once you’ve written your plan, what next?

No market stays the same. Your business will face different challenges and opportunities over time. That’s why it’s essential that you regularly review and update your business plan – at least annually. Put aside some time in your diary for this, otherwise it will get lost amongst all the other things you have to do.

Here’s a business plan template to get you started

Our business plan template can help you create your own business plan from scratch. It’ll lead you through the process and help you develop a Word version of your plan that you can review and update at any time. 

Also check out our business plan blueprint infographic to see what's involved in writing a business case at a glance.

Get your ANZ Business Start-up Package

If you're starting up your own business, check out the ANZ Business Start-up Package. To help you while you’re getting into business, we won’t charge monthly account or transaction fees on your ANZ Business Current account in the first year.**

*Multiple effects of business plans on new business ventures – Burke, A; Fraser, S and Green, F; Journal of Management Studies Vol. 47 Issue 3 pp. 391-425, May 2010.

**Eligibility criteria and service charges apply.

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