Written by Growthink on Wednesday, May 7, 2008
This video teaches you how to create an effective company
analysis section that will educate investors about your company’s history, past
accomplishments, and unique qualifications.
Written by Growthink on Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Watch the first installation of our new Business Plan Video series.
This video, "How to Write an Executive Summary," provides advice on how to create a compelling executive summary for your business plan.
Written by Growthink on Wednesday, April 30, 2008
We are proud to announce the launch of the Growthink Business Plan Video section within our Business Plan Help Center.
These videos walk you through each section of the business plan, providing expert tips and advice on how to construct your business plan to better stimulate, engage, and impress your audience.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, April 30, 2008
On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both - as young college graduates are - were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.
Recently, these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion.
They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.
But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.
What Made The Difference?
Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.
The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.
And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: to give its readers knowledge - knowledge that they can use in business.
The above story/sales letter, written by Martin Conroy, was used by the Wall Street Journal for 25 years starting in 1974. Doing the math regarding how many people this letter was sent to, the percentage of orders that came from it, and the subscription prices, it is estimated that this story resulted in $1 billion in sales for the paper.
So, what’s the point?
The point is that stories are an extremely effective, but often overlooked, sales tool that can allow emerging ventures to compete with large established companies. Stories allow companies to get their prospects involved in their message. It gets them excited. And then they want to learn more.
Here's an example of another startup who crafted a great story...
I’m about to tell you a true story. If you believe me, you will be well rewarded. If you don’t believe me, I will make it worth your while to change your mind. Let me explain.
Lynn is a friend of mine who knows good products. One day he called excited about a pair of sunglasses he owns. “It’s so incredible!” he said. “When you first look through a pair you won’t believe it.” What will I see? I asked. What could be so incredible?
Lynn continued. “When you put on these glasses your vision improves, objects appear sharper, more defined. Everything takes on an enhanced 3D effect and it’s not my imagination. I just want you to see for yourself.”
The story goes on to discuss all the benefits of Joe Sugarman’s BluBocker sunglasses… over 20 million pairs of which have now been sold!
company have a great story?
Written by Growthink on Wednesday, April 23, 2008
To make your new venture succeed -- whether you are creating a new product, constructing a hotel, or developing a community center -- you must convince investors and/or management to fund your initiatives.
Feasibility studies play a critical role in this early planning and fundraising process.
A feasibility study is a detailed investigation and research analysis of a proposed venture or development project. The purpose of a feasibility study is to determine whether it is technically and financially feasible to move forward with a new project.
An effective feasibility study demonstrates the following:
- That your ideas are sound
- That there is a need for your venture
- That your execution plan is practical
To help you navigate through the feasibility study development process, we have just released a special report titled:
13 Costly Feasibility Study Mistakes – And How To Avoid Them
In this free report, you will learn:
- The key mistakes to avoid when conducting a feasibility study
- The important difference between “data” and “intelligence”
- How entrepreneurial over-confidence can doom a feasibility study
Click here to download the report.
Written by Pete Kennedy on Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Are you looking to raise venture capital?
You need a good idea – and an excellent business plan.
Business planning and raising venture capital go hand-in-hand. A business plan is required for attracting venture capital. And the desire to raise capital (whether from an individual “angel” investor or a venture capital firm) is often the key motivator in the business planning process.
But how exactly will your business plan persuade investors to sign a check?
This article provides advice on how to position each section of the business plan for an investor audience. These tips draw on Growthink’s decade of experience consulting to start-ups in the business planning and capital raising process.
Goal of the executive summary: Stimulate and motivate the investor to learn more.
- Hook them on the first page. Most investors are inundated with business plans. Your first page must make them want to keep reading.
- Keep it simple. After reading the first page, investors often do not understand the business. If your business is truly complex, you can dive into the details later on.
- Be brief. The executive summary should be 2 to 4 pages in length.
Goal of the company analysis section: Educate the investor about your company’s history and explain why your team is perfect to execute on the business opportunity.
- Give some history. Provide the background on the company, including date of formation, office location, legal structure, and stage of development.
- Show off your track record. Detail prior accomplishments, including funding rounds, product launches, milestones reached, and partnerships secured, among others.
- Why you? Demonstrate your team’s unique unfair competitive advantage, whether it is technology, stellar management team, or key partnerships.
Goal of the industry analysis section: Prove that there is a real market for your product or service.
- Demonstrate the need – rather than the desire – for your product. Ideally, people are willing to pay money to satisfy this need.
- Cite credible sources when describing the size and growth of your market.
- Use independent research. If possible, source research through an independent research firm to enhance your credibility. For general market sizes and trends, we suggest citing at least two independent research firms.
- Focus on the “relevant” market size. For example, if you sell a portable biofeedback stress relief device, your relevant market is not the entire health care market. In determining the relevant market size, focus on the products or services that you will directly compete against.
- It’s not just a research report – each fact, figure, and projection should support your company’s prospects for success.
- Don’t ignore negative trends. Be sure to explain how your company would overcome potential negative trends. Such analysis will relieve investor concern and enhance the plan’s credibility.
- Be prepared for due diligence. It’s critical that the data you present is verifiable, since any serious investor will conduct extensive due diligence.
Goal of customer analysis section: Convey the needs of your customers and show how your company’s products/services satisfy those needs.
- Define your customers precisely. For example, it’s not adequate to say your company is targeting small businesses, since there are several million of these.
- Detail their demographics. How many customers fit the definition? Where are these customers located? What is their average income?
- Identify the needs of these customers. Use data to demonstrate past actions (X% have purchased a similar product), future projections (X% said they would purchase the product), and/or implications (X% use a product/service which your product enhances).
- Explain what drives their decisions. For example, is price more important than quality?
- Detail the decision-making process. For example, will the customer seek multiple bids? Will the customer consult others in their organization before making a decision?
Goal of the competitive analysis section: Define the competition and demonstrate your competitive advantage.
- List competitors. Many companies make the mistake of conveying that they have few or no real competitors. From an investor’s standpoint, a competitor is something that fulfills the same need as your product. If you claim you have no competitors, you are seriously undermining the credibility of your plan.
- Include direct and indirect competitors. Direct competitors serve the same target market with similar products. Indirect competitors serve the same target market with different products, or different target markets with similar products.
- List public companies (when relevant, of course). A public company implies that the market size is big. This gives the assurance that if management executes well, the company has substantial profit and liquidity potential.
- Don’t just list competitors. Carefully describe their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the key drivers of competitive differentiation in the marketplace. And when describing competitors’ weaknesses, be sure to use objective information (e.g. market research).
- Demonstrate barriers to entry. In describing the competitive landscape, show how your business model creates competitive advantages, and – more importantly – defensible barriers to entry.
Goal of the marketing plan: Describe how your company will penetrate the market, deliver products/services, and retain customers.
- Focus on the 4 P’s. They are: Products, Promotions, Price, and Place.
- Products. Detail all current and future products and services – but focus primarily on the short-to-intermediate time horizon.
- Promotions. Explain exactly which marketing/advertising strategies will be used and why.
- Price. Be sure to provide a clear rationale for your pricing strategy.
- Place. Explain exactly how your products/services will be delivered to your customers.
- Detail your customer retention plan. Explain how you will retain your customers, whether through customer relationship management (CRM) applications, building network externalities, introducing ongoing value-added services, or other means.
- Define your partnerships. From an investor’s perspective, what partnership you have with whom is not nearly as important as the specific terms of the partnership. Be sure to document the specifics of the partnerships (e.g. how it will work, the financial terms, the types of customer leads expected from each partner, etc.).
Goal of the operations plan: Present the action plan for executing on your company’s vision.
- Concept vs. reality. The operations plan transforms the business plan from concept into reality. Investors do not invest in concepts; they invest in reality. And the operations plan proves that the management team can execute on your concept better than anybody else.
- Everyday processes. Detail the short term processes and systems that provide your customers with your products and services.
- Business milestones. Lay out the significant long-term business milestones for the company, and prove that the team will execute on the long-term vision. A great way to present the milestones is to organize them into a chart with key milestones on the left side and target dates on the right side.
- Be consistent. Make sure that the milestone projections are consistent with the rest of the business plan – particularly the financial plan.
- Be aggressive but credible. Presenting a plan in which the company grows too quickly will show the naiveté of the management team, while presenting too conservative a growth plan will often fail to excite an early stage investor (who typically looks for a 10X return on her investment).
Goal of the financial plan: Explain how your business will generate returns for your investors.
- Detail all revenue streams. Be sure to include all revenue streams. Depending on the type of business, these may include sales of products/services, referral revenues, advertising sales, licensing/royalty fees, and/or data sales.
- Be consistent with your pro-forma statements. Pro-forma statements are projected financial statements. It is critical that these projections reflect the other sections of your business plan.
- Validate your assumptions and projections. The financial plan must detail your key assumptions, and it is critical that these assumptions are feasible. Be sure to use competitive research to validate your projections and assumptions versus the reality in your market place. Assessing and basing financial projections on those of similar firms will greatly validate the realism and maturity of the financial projections.
- Detail the uses of funds. Understandably, investors want to know what, specifically, you plan to do with their money. Uses of funds could include expenses involved with marketing, staffing, technology development, office space, among other uses.
- Provide a clear exit strategy. All investors are motivated by a clear picture of your exit strategy, or the timing and method through which they can “cash in” on their investment. Be sure to provide comparable examples of firms who have successfully exited. The most common exits are IPOs or acquisitions. And while the exact method is not always crucial, the investor wants to see this planning in order to better understand the management team’s motivation and commitment to building long-term value.
Above all, the business plan is a marketing document that helps to sell the investor on the business opportunity, the management team, the strategy, and the potential for significant return on investment.
Raising venture capital is a difficult and time-intensive challenge. There is no easy shortcut or silver bullet. However, you can greatly improve your chances of raising venture capital by writing a business plan that speaks directly to the investor’s perspective.
Ready to get started? Download Growthink's business plan template and finish your business plan today.
Since 1999, Growthink's professional business plan writers and investment bankers have assisted more than 2,000 clients in launching and growing their businesses, and raising more than $1 billion in growth financing.
Need help with your business plan?
Speak with a professional business plan writer today.
Raising money from individual "angel" investors?
Contact our private placement memorandum experts.
Or, if you're developing our own PPM, consider using Growthink's new private placement memorandum template.
Written by Pete Kennedy on Wednesday, April 9, 2008
1. To prove that you’re serious about your business. A formal business plan is necessary to show all interested parties -- employees, investors, partners and yourself -- that you are committed to building the business.
2. To establish business milestones. The business plan should clearly lay out the long-term milestones that are most important to the success of your business. To paraphrase Guy Kawasaki, a milestone is something significant enough to come home and tell your spouse about (without boring him or her to death). Would you tell your spouse that you tweaked the company brochure? Probably not. But you'd certainly share the news that you launched your new website or reached $1M in annual revenues.
3. To better understand your competition. Creating the business plan forces you to analyze the competition. All companies have competition in the form of either direct or indirect competitors, and it is critical to understand your company's competitive advantages.
4. To better understand your customer. Why do they buy when they buy? Why don’t they when they don't? An in-depth customer analysis is essential to an effective business plan and to a successful business.
5. To enunciate previously unstated assumptions. The process of actually writing the business plan helps to bring previously "hidden" assumptions to the foreground. By writing them down and assessing them, you can test them and analyze their validity.
6. To assess the feasibility of your venture. How good is this opportunity? The business plan process involves researching your target market, as well as the competitive landscape, and serves as a feasibility study for the success of your venture.
7. To document your revenue model. How exactly will your business make money? This is a critical question to answer in writing, for yourself and your investors. Documenting the revenue model helps to address challenges and assumptions associated with the model.
8. To determine your financial needs. Does your business need to raise capital? How much? The business plan creation process helps you to determine exactly how much capital you need and what you will use it for. This process is essential for raising capital for business and for effectively employing the capital.
9. To attract investors. A formal business plan is the basis for financing proposals. The business plan answers investors' questions such as: Is there a need for this product/service? What are the financial projections? What is the company's exit strategy?
10. To reduce the risk of pursuing the wrong opportunity. The process of creating the business plan helps to minimize opportunity costs. Writing the business plan helps you assess the attractiveness of this particular opportunity, versus other opportunities.
11. To force you to research and really know your market. What are the most important trends in your industry? What are the greatest threats to your industry? Is the market growing or shrinking? What is the size of the target market for your product/service? Creating the business plan will help you to gain a wider, deeper, and more nuanced understanding of your marketplace.
12. To attract employees and a management team. To attract and retain top quality talent, a business plan is necessary. The business plan inspires employees and management that the idea is sound and that the business is poised to achieve its strategic goals.
13. To plot your course and focus your efforts. The business plan provides a roadmap from which to operate, and to look to for direction in times of doubt. Without a business plan, you may shift your short-term strategies constantly without a view to your long-term milestones.
14. To attract partners. Partners also want to see a business plan, in order to determine whether it is worth partnering with your business. Establishing partnerships often requires time and capital, and companies will be more likely to partner with your venture if they can read a detailed explanation of your company.
15. To position your brand. Creating the business plan helps to define your company's role in the marketplace. This definition allows you to succinctly describe the business and position the brand to customers, investors, and partners.
16. To judge the success of your business. A formal business plan allows you to compare actual operational results versus the business plan itself. In this way, it allows you to clearly see whether you have achieved your strategic, financing, and operational goals (and why you have or have not).
17. To reposition your business to deal with changing conditions. For example, during difficult economic conditions, if your current sales and operational models aren’t working, you can rewrite your business plan to define, try, and validate new ideas and strategies.
18. To document your marketing plan. How are you going to reach your customers? How will you retain them? What is your advertising budget? What price will you charge? A well-documented marketing plan is essential to the growth of a business.
19. To understand and forecast your company’s staffing needs. After completing your business plan, you will not be surprised when you are suddenly short-handed. Rather, your business plan provides a roadmap for your staffing needs, and thus helps to ensure smoother expansion.
20. To uncover new opportunities. Through the process of brainstorming, white-boarding and creative interviewing, you will likely see your business in a different light. As a result, you will often come up with new ideas for marketing your product/service and running your business.
Since 1999, Growthink's business plan experts have assisted more than 1,500 clients in launching and growing their businesses, and raising more than $1 billion in growth financing.
Need help with your business plan?
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Seth Godin’s Purple Cow
has a relatively simple premise that new products need to be truly remarkable in
order to succeed. His book is packed with great examples and
In this video, Godin starts off by
explaining the failure of the sliced bread machine and explaining that ideas
that spread, win. Worth watching:
Written by Pete Kennedy on Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Over the last thirty years, baseball statistician Bill James has revolutionized the way that players, managers and fans think about statistics in baseball. By carefully analyzing statistics, James has dispelled numerous myths and has shifted the Boston Red Sox management’s decision-making process from one based on intuition and “gut” to a rigorously fact-based approach.
What has been the result? After decades of loss and heartbreak, the Red Sox have won two World Series Championships in the past 5 years.
Bill James’ analyses have dispelled many myths and have helped both the Red Sox and much of the industry focus on proven measures of performance. For example, James was a leading force in emphasizing the significance of on-base percentage over a player’s batting average. On-base percentage, James argues, is a more significant statistic, since batting average fails to account for bases gained from walks.
Regarding batting strategy, James says that the order of the line-up is inconsequential to overall performance, and that the concept of a “clutch” hitter is nonsense.
On the subject of a player’s lifetime performance, James concluded that the “prime” years of a baseball player’s career are his mid-late 20s. The Red Sox took James’ recommendations into account when deciding against re-signing star player Johnny Damon.
Regarding pitching strategy, James argues that “closers” – pitchers traditionally brought in during the final inning(s) of a game – should instead enter at critical moments when a team’s lead is at stake (e.g. perhaps in the 6th inning), rather than waiting longer.
What does all of this have to do with business building and entrepreneurship?
James makes a compelling case that all businesses – not just professional baseball teams – can benefit from careful statistical analysis. Such analysis can dispel unfounded theories, identify significant measures of performance, and illuminate creative, counter-intuitive strategies to bolster a business’ competitive advantage.
James’ fact-based analytical approach is especially valuable for emerging companies who are competing against larger, more established businesses.
If Bill James were to analyze your industry or your business operations, what myths would he dispel? What performance benchmarks would he stress? What strategies would he recommend?
- Bill James was profiled on CBS’ 60 Minutes last Sunday. You can read more about the episode and watch a clip here.
- An excellent book on this topic of statistical analysis is Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning by Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris. It's available for sale on Amazon here.
Written by Growthink on Tuesday, March 25, 2008
We just released a white paper titled "Secrets of Investing in Startup and Emerging Companies
." It provides tips and advice for those looking to make early stage investments in private companies.
We're releasing the report in the midst of strong "angel" investing activity in the United States. According to the University of New Hampshire's Center for Venture Research, in 2006, there were approximately 234,000 active individual angel investors and approximately 49,500 private companies which received funding from individual investors.
Early stage angel investment can produce stratospheric returns on investment. Our report cites the famous example of Google's first private investor, Andy Bechtolsheim, who wrote a $100,000 check to Google in 1998 when it was an early stage private company. That $100k investment grew to be worth $1.5 billion.
And, according to more than 20 years of data collected by Thomson Financial, early and seed stage private company investing has over the long-term, outperformed all other investment classes -- with average annual returns of over 20.6%.
The report provides an overview of private investing, including its benefits and risks, and key advice for successfully investing in early stage private companies, including:
- How to Find, Evaluate, and Profit from Early Stage Investment Opportunities
- How to Position Yourself to Earn Outsized Returns
- How to Mitigate Your Risk Through Diversification and Investment Monitoring
To download the report, please follow this link: Secrets of Investing in Startups and Emerging Companies.