Saturday, March 22, 2008

After the S.W.O.T...

Start Figuring Out Your Business Plan!

The best thing to do before you sit down and start writing of course, is to have a look at a few ideas online. The most important page to consider at this stage is the Contents Page.

To be honest, the most practical templates are the least complicated ones. As you go through your own plan, you will find that you need to add in relevant chapters and subchapter headings; then all you need do is check back with those listed below. Many of the online tools (found on websites like AIB) are helpful in the short term but the number of subheadings can look confusing (just a bit too academic!) for some entrepreneurs...

Some really helpful sources for a good, decent business plan template:
County & City Enterprise Boards - in Ireland, each county has its own local Enterprise Board - a support and development agency, run by small dedicated teams of business advisors. You can find your local agency online and just click the Downloads tab for a copy of their recommended business plan template.

I would recommend getting in contact with your local Enterprise Board anyway, for real, practical, genuine advice on how to start up a new business idea.

Enterprise Ireland - businesses who consider themselves having the potential to do huge international trade - millions of turnover in just a few short years (wouldn't that be nice for all of us!!) - can contact Enterprise Ireland. Their business plan template is reasonably straight forward, and the rest of their inforamation can be found on their extensive website.

High Potential Start Up businesses (H.P.S.U. for short) are the core target for Enterprise Ireland, a much larger organisation than a 4 or 5 person team at your local Enterprise Board. This can have advantages and disadvantages of course. It takes a long time to develop a good relationship with your "Development Advisor" which is assigned to you if you are HPSU material. When you do, they can open a lot of doors for you.

If you are hoping to start a local, service based business, then the team at Enterprise Ireland will probably direct you toward your local County Enterprise Board.

Of course, no Irish based Business Start Up advice column would be complete without mentioning Brian O'Kane - source of much knowledge on the subject and author of - amongst other things - Starting Your Own Business: A Workbook, published by Oak Tree Press. Brian has uploaded another template for writing a business plan, which isn't bad at all!

There are others out there, all you have to do is pop a search into Google. Dublin Institute of Technology have one, for example.

If I can share any advice with you it's this: writing a business plan is not rocket science! Anyone can do it, believe me. The super-dooper free software out there which you have to download for it to write it for all gets a bit much.

The truth is, all you have to do is:
  • Open a Word document.
  • Write 9 or 10 bullet points on your own Contents page.
  • Page Break.
  • On the first page, write Introduction.
  • Page Break (I mean it! Write no content the first time you sit down at your computer).
  • Next heading: Executive Summary (leave this until last to write, since it's the "best bits" from the rest of the plan!).
  • Page Break.
  • Company Description...
  • Page break....
You get the idea! Like I said, pick the best bits from all the templates you peruse, the most suitable ones for your business, then just open up the Word Doc! It really is that easy to start. Then save, close, go make lunch/supper, whatever tickles your fancy. The worst thing you could do is get bogged down and go stale on good ideas too quickly! Just come back to it when you're ready.

Good luck!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Starting Up in Business

One of the first things you can do when thinking about starting a business is just taking a look at the contents page of a business plan template. Business Plans are NOT an exact science, no matter what anyone tells you.

At the same time, do not underestimate the value linked to spending a good bit of time compiling one. I'll blog later about the many different places you can find a decent template - online, in your local library...there are tons of books published on the subject.

I know it's scarey. I've done them - they take time! More time if it's not your business at all and you have to get to grips with someone else's industry/market/sector. Much easier when it is something you know a little about... Simple statement, rings true.

The first thing you do is open up the template and just have a think about each section. There are less than 10 major sections, and if you think about each one in chunks, it will not be so bad.

Before you sit down to talk about the actual business plan itself, the best thing to do is a little SWOT analysis. Write it on a napkin at a bar or a coffee shop, it doesn't take too long. Do the little grid first for yourself, and then for your business. Do not be afraid to complete it honestly - it's not for everyone else to see, it is for yourself.

A SWOT Analysis is very simple, it is just a list of your S-trengths, W-eaknessess, O-pportunities and T-hreats.

First of all, your
strengths. Be generous, be realistic. List them with pride! Expand on them. Really think about all the areas in your life where key elements of entrepreneurship might lie. If your 9-5 is on a production line, you attention to detail might be a big strength. If you are a stay-at-home parent, your ability to multitask must be at a peak! Not to mention your budgeting abilities... If you are already a CEO probably know how to do a SWOT.

Next, your
weaknesses get a good going over. A lot of people look unsure when I mention this one. It is a wise and more importantly, a responsible entrepreneur that knows their own boundaries & limitations.

If you were never great with numbers in school, and the idea of bookkeeping makes you shiver, then do not be afraid to identify that as a weakness. The main reason for this identification is so that you can do something about it now, before you start operating: if you can afford it, employ the services of a reliable bookkeeper or qualified accountant. If you can't afford it, ask a friend or family member who you trust, to give you a helping hand in the area, for the first few months of operation. Ask them to give you a crash course or better still, find a local course and take it.

The same goes for you if selling is a scarey concept. If the idea of picking up the phone to make a cold call and then being yelled at by 10 angry people makes you want to run & hide (and you would not be alone on this one) then go and learn how to do it best! Or ask a friend...or employ the services of a small telesales business operating locally...if you have the budget!

Can you see a pattern emerging?

What's next?
Opportunities. They come in all shapes and sizes - the trick is to identify them. You are doing this SWOT on yourself so have a little think about where the opportunites are for you. Remember, nobody else has to see this SWOT analysis, so put anything you like down here. Some examples of personal opportunities from self-employment might be: better quality of life...more time at home with the kids...more money...control of your own time in order to travel a lot...who knows?! You tell me...

The Threats are then the last part of the S-W-O-T. This is anything that could possibly stand in the way of you achieving your objectives - such as a downturn in the economy for example. If there is a threat of maybe losing your part-time job in the near future, it may mean that you will not be able to find the energy and money you need to put into your new business. Your own personal situation will dictate what is contained in this list of threats.

Once you have completed the SWOT Analysis of your own good self, you should (after going and getting another cup of java...) conduct a similar list with the very same headings, for your business.

Much more fun! You will suddenly find opportunities everywhere, and realise the importance of measuring your threats.

The trick with entrepreneurship is to flip threats around and turn them into opportunities. e.g. If someone just like you went out of business recently, that is not a threat of the current economic climate - it is an opportunity to pinch all their good-paying customers and decent suppliers!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

First Post

Greetings, world of Blogging.

I've been considering for quite some time whether or not to start a blog. Coming across so many interesting people, businesses, experiences & success stories over the past decade I thought it best to share. So here it is.

With this blog I hope to provide those who want it with a place to come and ask a few questions - mainly on the subject of enterprise.

In my experience it often matters less the identity of the sector in which you operate, but more how you approach it.

I myself am not that interesting. I have studied entrepreneurship, slogged my guts out for a real life entrepreneur and now I work every day with many types of business people, each with their own flair for enterprise. They come to me for advice, even though I have never taken that risk of throwing all my cash & time into a new venture, all of my own. It seems that being a little removed from the harsh realities of self-employment, that seat-of-pants-flying stuff, has given me a great opportunity to observe from the commentator's box.

One day I'll do it myself. For now, I'll just write about it.