Providing an overview of your business can be tricky, especially when you're still in the planning stages. If you already own an existing business, summarizing your current operation should be relatively easy; it can be a lot harder to explain what you plan to become.
So start by taking a step back.
Think about what products and services you will provide, how you will provide those items, what you need to have in order to provide those items, exactly who will provide those items... and most importantly, whom you will provide those items to.
Consider our bicycle rental business example. It's serves retail customers. It has an online component, but the core of the business is based on face-to-face transactions for bike rentals and support.
So you'll need a physical location, bikes, racks and tools and supporting equipment, and other brick-and-mortar related items. You'll need employees with a very particular set of skills to serve those customers, and you'll need an operating plan to guide your everyday activities.
Sound like a lot? It boils down to:
- What you will provide
- What you need to run your business
- Who will service your customers, and
- Who your customers are
In our example, defining the above is fairly simple. You know what you will provide to meet your customer's needs. You will of course need a certain quantity of bikes to service demand, but you will not need a number of different types of bikes. You need a retail location, furnished to meet the demands of your business. You need semi-skilled employees capable of sizing, customizing, and repairing bikes.
And you know your customers: Cycling enthusiasts.
In other businesses and industries answering the above questions can be more difficult. If you open a restaurant, what you plan to serve will in some ways determine your labor needs, the location you choose, the equipment you need to purchase... and most importantly will help define your customer. Changing any one element may change other elements; if you cannot afford to purchase expensive kitchen equipment, you may need to adapt your menu accordingly. If you hope to attract an upscale clientele, you may need to invest more in purchasing a prime location and creating an appealing ambience.
So where do you start? Focus on the basics first:
- Identify your industry: Retail, wholesale, service, manufacturing, etc. Clearly define your type of business.
- Identify your customer. You cannot market and sell to customers until you know who they are.
- Explain the problem you solve. Successful businesses create customer value by solving problems. In our rental example, one problem is cycling enthusiasts who don't--or can't--travel with bikes. Another problem is casual cyclists who can't--or choose not to--spend significant sums on their own bikes. The rental shop will solve that problem by offering a lower-cost and convenient alternative.
- Show how you will solve that problem. Our rental shop will offer better prices and enhanced services like remote deliveries, off-hours equipment returns, and online reservations.
If you are still stuck, try answering these questions. Some may pertain to you; others may not.
- Who is my average customer? Who am I targeting? (Unless you plan to open a grocery store, you should be unlikely to answer, "Everyone!")
- What problem do I solve for my customers?
- How will I solve that problem?
- Where will I fail to solve a customer problem... and what can I do to overcome that issue? (In our rental example, one problem is a potential lack of convenience; we will overcome that issue by offering online reservations, on-resort deliveries, and drive-up equipment returns.)
- Where will I locate my business?
- What products, services, and equipment do I need to run my business?
- What skills do my employees need, and how many do I need?
- How will I beat my competition?
- How can I differentiate myself from my competition in the eyes of my customers? (You can have a great plan to beat your competition but you also must win the perception battle among your customers. If customers don't feel you are different... then you aren't truly different. Perception is critical.)
Once you work through this list you will probably end up with a lot more detail than is necessary for your business plan. That is not a problem: Start summarizing the main points. For example, your Business Overview and Objectives section could start something like this:
History and Vision
Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals is a new retail venture that will be located at 321 Mountain Drive, directly adjacent to an extremely popular cycling destination. Our initial goal is to become the premier provider for bicycle rentals. We will then leverage our customer base and position in the market to offer new equipment sales as well as comprehensive maintenance and service, custom equipment fittings, and expert trail advice.
- Achieve the largest market share bicycle rentals in the area
- Generate a net income of $235,000 at the end of the second year of operation
- Minimize rental inventory replacement costs by maintaining a 7% attrition rate on existing equipment (industry average is 12%)
Keys to Success
- Provide high quality equipment, sourcing that equipment as inexpensively as possible through existing relationships with equipment manufacturers and other cycling shops
- Use signage to attract visitors traveling to the national forest, highlighting our cost and service advantage
- Create additional customer convenience factors to overcome a perceived lack of convenience for customers planning to ride roads and trails some distance away from our shop
- Develop customer incentive and loyalty programs to leverage customer relationships and create positive word of mouth
You could certainly include more detail in each section; this is simply a quick guide. And if you plan to develop a product or service, you should thoroughly describe the development process as well as the end result.
The key is to describe what you will do for your customers--if you can't, you won't have any customers.
Next time we'll look at another major component in a business plan: your Products and Services.
More in this series:
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Key Concepts
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: the Executive Summary
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Overview and Objectives
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Products and Services
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Market Opportunities
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Sales and Marketing
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Competitive Analysis
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Operations
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Management Team
- How to Write a Great Business Plan: Financial Analysis