Creating a business plan

The following post is from forbes.com writer Patrick Hull.

Bio – Patrick Hull

I am a serial entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experience launching successful companies, including GetLoaded.com, a freight matching service for long-haul truckers that revolutionized the transportation sector. As a business owner and investor, I have financial interests in more than 30 companies which span a variety of industries, including transportation, technology, entertainment, real estate, energy, insurance, and mobile applications. I believe it’s important for professionals to be strong community stewards and serve as mentors for the next generation of entrepreneurs. From Richmond, VA, I’m also active in philanthropic efforts throughout the United States and across the world.

[Previously,] I discussed the components of a strong business plan and why entrepreneurs should create them, regardless of their venture.

I’ve had experience both developing business plans and reviewing them for potential investments. Although an idea is what often gets investors interested, a business plan is definitely needed to get financial support from them.

The simple act of writing down your idea and outlining how the business will operate can be helpful to ensure that you communicate your vision and that everyone is on the same page. It also helps you benchmark and check your progress as the company grows.

A business plan is crucial to get support for your vision because it shows that you have thought through an idea clearly and aren’t just winging it.

For example, I once wrote an entire business plan with a business partner on paper towels. We recognized an opportunity, but had to write it down and test the idea to make sure it would work (we didn’t have any paper handy, although that didn’t stop us). The plan was just for us, but we still had had to see if the vision, the financials, and the strategy were sound. We created that company and it went on to gross millions of dollars a month. In other words, your business plan doesn’t have to be some manicured document in order to make it successful.

Now with this example keep in mind that I didn’t need to raise capital for this company and I had existing expertise in this industry. I’m certainly not advocating people draft business plans on paper towels! However, even with capital and expertise, it was still important to write out our idea and create a business plan. Otherwise, the company could have lacked direction and structure.

Your business plan should be clear and provide a roadmap for your company. Without a plan, you’ll find it more difficult to communicate your vision and see a path to growth.

Here are five other business plan writing tips I’ve found useful during my career:

Get rid of the fluff: You should always be as concise as possible and remove any filler language. Even if it sounds nice, fluff gets you nowhere and wastes space. Plus, no investors want to read a long business plan. Get to the point quickly.

Be realistic: You should be honest with yourself in your business plan, which is why it’s important to consider challenges and opportunities. If you’ve got a strong idea, let it stand on its merit.

Show you’re conservative: Everyone says they’re “conservative” in their business plans, but most aren’t. You should be. Use examples to demonstrate that you’re conservative in your approach and projections.

Visuals are good: Whenever possible, and without overdoing it, use visuals in your business plan. Graphs, charts, and images can help bring your concept to life. Plus, it breaks up the text and helps a plan flow better.

Be creative: Include a creative element in your business plan so you stand out and grab someone’s attention. You can use templates, but don’t look identical to a template. Do something unique to make the plan yours.

If you need help writing a business plan (the financial information can be complicated), here’s a guide from SCORE, a nonprofit association that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners, to a number of business plan templates.

 

Lean Business Practices

Blog Credit goes to – Bank of Ireland Group PLC – https://www.thinkbusiness.ie/articles/what-does-lean-mean/

Lean is a term frequently used in the business world, but what exactly does it mean? Simply, lean can be described as creating greater value for the consumer while using fewer resources.

A business adopting lean principles will try to eliminate waste and increase operational efficiency. According to Womack and Jones, there are five principles of lean thinking:

Specific value as perceived by the customer: When it comes to being lean, value is defined by the customer. Many organizations fail to observe a product from the customer’s viewpoint. Products should be created to suit customers’ needs; for example, organizations may need to re-examine the product itself if demand is poor rather than changing marketing strategy. Simply put, when creating a product, make sure that you are addressing customers’ needs and giving them what they want.

Identifying the value stream: The value stream is the entire lifecycle of a product from the origin of the raw material/idea to the finished product. If an organization examines the entire process, it will almost always reveal a large amount of waste (this is known as process re-engineering). If an organization wishes to become truly lean, the value stream must be analyzed and improved.

Making the value flow through the value stream: For the value to flow then waste needs to be eliminated. If the process fails to move forward, then this can be considered waste. A value-stream needs to be created where every aspect of production is completely synchronized with all the other elements. A proper structure, therefore, needs to be put in place to make sure that the entire production stream flows efficiently, thus eliminating waste.

Pulling the value from the value stream: Rather than pushing the product to the customer, you allow the customer to pull the product from you. This pull approach ensures that nothing is created ahead of time and facilitates a much more synchronized flow. To achieve this greater flexibility is required as well as a very short cycle of design and production.

Striving for perfection: An organization that is “going for lean” is striving for perfection; however, this is an ongoing process. Getting value to flow faster will always expose hidden waste that is present in the value stream. What becomes evident is that there is no end to the process of reducing all the waste factors such as time, cost and mistakes. The company must always strive for perfection.

2 National Holidays Today you should pay attention to

There’s a common misperception that Chamber of Commerce people don’t like to have fun.  They’re stuffy and just really like the good ol’ boys club.  Well I thought I’d attempt to prove otherwise.  There are some weird holidays out there every year.  And some are worth celebrating and enjoying.  We even think that by enjoying these holidays you can support your local economy and increase your business acumen.

National Double Cheeseburger Day – go get yourself a BURGER!  It’s a requirement on a day like this.  Stop in at Washington Street Steakhouse & Pub, West Valley Taphouse, Spirit Mountain Casino or Blue Garden Restaurant and enjoy one of their delicious burgers and wash it down with a milkshake, soda or craft brew.  My mouth is watering already.

National Online Learning Day – time to add to your knowledge.  Today is the day you register for an online class of your choice through Chemeketa Community College, Western Oregon University or SBDC.  There’s so much learning to do you just have to decide what you want to learn next and do it in the comfort of your home.  Homework in your pajamas, been there done that, bought the T-Shirt.

See, we like fun.

8 Reasons You Should Care About Sustainable Tourism

By Beth Winchester of Visit.org

…No matter where we may go, we should remember we have the ability to participate in Sustainable Tourism.

What Is Sustainable Tourism?

Sustainable tourism is, in a nutshell, the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to only make a positive impact on that location’s environment, society and economy.

That largely means supporting locally managed businesses and participating in activities that do not harm the environment or exploit local culture.

Benefits Of Sustainable Tourism

You may be wondering why you should care.

I mean, it’s obvious why you should care; but, for in terms of concrete benefits, there are many. Some include:

1. It benefits the local community

Offering not just employment to local residents but through non-profits, when you explore as a sustainable tourist by frequently locally owned and operated businesses your money goes directly back into the community.

This means that your business as a tourist brings in profits that will help the local community stay profitable long after you have left.

2. It helps to conserve precious natural resources

Earth’s many unique ecosystems are made the way they are for specific reasons, and they are not renewable.

Any chance we have to avoid damaging it, we should take.

You can take part in conservationist tourist activities by first avoiding support of any programs that hurt the land or animals; for instance, the majority of zoos and any landscaped parks or recreation areas that have torn down natural resources in order to find their space.

There are tours and parks that enable the original land to be preserved and enjoyed, so you should look for those.

3. It gives tourists a more honest look into the local area

By supporting locally-run tour guides and businesses, what you learn from them will be the truth about their culture and environment, from people who live there.

You won’t be fed the traditional scripted tourist-friendly information, but rather will get a first-hand glimpse into life as a local and learn to love the community for what it is.

Some places to look for these types of tours and experiences include Visit.org (the author of this post and a social impact business), NYC Photo Journeys (Epicure & Culture’s New York-based tour company), Grassroots Volunteering (volunteering) and Omprakash (volunteering), to name a few.

4. Sustainable Tourism isn’t just about creating better places to visit

It’s about creating better places to live.

Traditional tourist-heavy areas rely on tourist money pouring into their hospitality and services to keep their local economy afloat.

There are two possibilities as to how that scenario plays out.

  • The first option: Heavy tourist traffic — often called “overtourism”— will deplete the natural beauty and culture of the area, leaving a ghost of the original place for locals to live in.
  • The second option: The tourism industry helps to maintain the natural land and culture of the area, while also employing and empowering locals who get to live in their community year-round without having to change it all for tourists.

Sustainable tourism practices help ensure that the second scenario is the one we find ourselves in.

An easy way to support local residents is by patronizing independent hostelshomestays or AirBnB locations.

Hostels are often run by locals, and don’t take up as much real estate as hotel chains do. AirBnB — a system in which people rent out a part or all of their house or apartment for travelers — is definitely run by locals, and is often a way for individuals to supplement their income through the influx of tourists.

Both of these options are often cheaper than hotels as well.

Always use good judgement when choosing a place to stay, but take these options into consideration rather than assume you should stay at another big brand chain.

5. It can help avoid the displacement and resettlement of local communities

This is unfortunately often a consequence of tourism coming to a location previously untouched by major businesses.

For instance, in the past when a new beach town is “discovered” by tourists — typically from the First World — major hotel and food companies come in to benefit from the influx of potential customers.

They don’t tend to care about the survival of local life that was there before.

Sustainable tourism does, and it advocates for finding the best combination of exciting and profitable tourism and the continued existence of indigenous communities.

You can make efforts to be sustainable in this way by not supporting programs that exploit the local culture for entertainment or tourist photo ops.

Do some research to discover if the program or workshop you’re signing up for is being run by genuine residents or members of a certain culture or subculture, and not a larger outside corporation.

6. It prepares us for the future

The traditional tourism industry, with its very large eco-footprint — supporting heavy vehicle traffic, traveling and construction of large hotels — is not sustainable.

Travel will become more expensive, and rarer – especially the experience of going to unique lands and cultural areas.

Every major tourist destination may start to conform and look the same, contorting themselves to offer the same services and experiences.

But every community isn’t supposed to be the same, and not every experience should be either.

Sustainable tourism ensures that one-of-a-kind communities retain that which makes them special.

A simple way to be more environmentally conscious while traveling is to use bikes as well as our own feet as transportation.

At the very least, use them for short distances when possible.

This helps cut down on the air pollution in the area, which is often magnified by the throngs of tourists.

7. It is our duty to follow the “campsite rule”

Leave the person or places you encounter in at least the same state, if not a better one, than it was in before you.

Tourism is supposed to encourage and make feasible the experience of visiting the rest of the world and stepping into someone else’s shoes for a bit.

It isn’t supposed to grind the small communities down to a pulp, in favor of large tourism hubs.

8. Supporting sustainable tourism is a responsible thing to do

You lose nothing by taking part in it, and you get a guarantee that the beautiful forest, mountain town or pristine beach you spent a few delightful days in will still be thriving far into your future.

And when you return in the future it will be there waiting for you.

About Visit.org

This post was written by Beth Winchester of Visit.org, an online marketplace for tours and activities that benefit communities. Visitors add immersive local experiences to their existing travel itineraries. Social organizations raise awareness and revenue for their causes.

10 Tips for Starting A Small Business

If you’ve thought about opening your own business, you might have begun to look for advice. There are so many tips for starting a new business out there that choosing which ones to follow can get confusing.

As a seasoned entrepreneur, I can tell you that there is no perfect formula for starting a small business. I’ve learned that the best business advice usually forces you to think in a new way. So, I’ve compiled a list of tips for starting your own business that you might not have heard.

Tips for starting a small business

Opening your own business is often a learn-as-you-go process. But, the more smart decisions you make early on, the better chance your company has for success. If you have an entrepreneurial idea, try these ten tips.

1. Address excuses

Today In: Entrepreneurs

Countless people dream of becoming entrepreneurs, but they never do. They’re burdened with excuses and fears of failing. From money to time to responsibilities, you can make a million cases for not starting a business.

Let’s face it, being your own boss is scary. In most cases, new business owners have a lot to lose with little insight into their chances of success. Worrying about the risks of business ownership is normal.

But, excuses only slow you down from reaching your goals. If you really want to start a business, you need to address the reasons you think you can’t start a business and get rid of them. Find a solution to the issue rather than let it hold you back.

2. Absorb everything

Listen to what others have to say—friends, family, experts, even yourself. When it comes to things that have to do with your entrepreneurial goals, be a sponge. As you learn, start to work out the idea in your head. Write things down. Keep notes from all the resources you come across to develop a detailed plan.

When you tell people about your startup, read their body language. Do they like the idea? Or, are they just being nice and really think you’re going in the wrong direction? Encourage your listeners to be honest with you. The collective opinion you get from peers could be a reflection of how consumers will react.

Don’t ignore the power of advice from experts and veteran business owners. These folks know first-hand what does and doesn’t work. Smart entrepreneurs learn from the mistakes other business owners have made.

3. Be a solution

Rather than starting your idea with what to sell, think about what it will solve. It’s a lot easier to gain a solid customer base when your business is fixing a problem. Your startup should fill a hole in a certain market or niche.

For example, I didn’t create Patriot Software just because I had a passion for software. I wanted to solve an issue that small business owners like me faced. After doing some research, I found I could provide payroll and accounting software that is easy-to-use and affordable.

Home in on why you are opening your own business. Understanding your motives will help you create a brand and market your company. Know what problems your target customers face and how you can solve them.

4. Keep it simple

If you’re like many entrepreneurs, you have a business idea and you’re ready to run with it. Be careful not to let your concept snowball into something overcomplicated. You could end up with an expensive, elaborate end-product that nobody wants to buy.

As a new business owner, try to start small and narrow your focus. Learn how to test your business idea. Create a simple, quality good or service. A successful business idea should fulfill promises to customers and exceed expectations.

Cut unnecessary features that water down your offerings and cost you money. As a small business, you don’t need all the bells and whistles of a giant corporation. It will be easier to add to your business as it grows.

5. Count the costs

Once you start to develop your business idea, add up how much it will cost. You will need to factor in every business expense necessary to launch and operate. Some costs to keep in mind include your location, rent, supplies, marketing, and more.

Come up with the most educated number you possibly can. Then, take whatever you think that dollar amount is and quadruple it. Seriously, quadruple it. You’ll experience unexpected costs of running a business around every corner. It’s better to be over prepared than short on funds when bills start to roll in.

When you’re thinking of the cost to start a business, don’t forget about your personal budget. Look at how much money you need to live, including rent, food, gas, healthcare, etc. Lay these expenses out in order of which ones you must pay (e.g., mortgage) to ones that can slide if the money runs out (e.g., entertainment).

Once you have a grasp on all your expenses, start to create a business budget. At first, you might need to get some outside capital to make ends meet, like a small business loan. Go over all of your options before putting your money into the startup.

6. Imagine yourself with zero money

I mean zero. There is a high probability that this will happen. I’ve had several businesses not make it for the long haul. And, I’ve come close to bankruptcy.

Launching an unsuccessful business idea is a reality for many entrepreneurs. Over half of new businesses fail within the first five years of opening. How would you handle having no incoming money?

It’s a good idea to come up with a “just in case the worst outcome happens” plan. You might need to get a job on-the-fly or temporarily live with your parents. You might have to go without comforts that you’re used to. Figure out how you would get by if your business plan went south.

Look at your current sources of income. What do you earn from your current job? How long would your savings last if you quit? What unexpected things could mess up your plan (e.g., you wreck your car or your furnace breaks)? Prepare yourself for all the situations that could happen if the business idea doesn’t work out.

7. Earn while you build

If you want to start a small business, don’t quit your day job—yet. Launching a successful startup is a process. Build your business in stages and gradually transition from employee to entrepreneur.

As a new business owner, it will take some time to earn a steady income. Keep your nine-to-five and work on the business during off hours so you can earn during those tough, first stages. Once you have a healthy inflow of cash from your company, you can tackle business ownership full time.

8. Speak up about your business

One challenge many business owners face is that they don’t know how to sell. It can be intimidating to share your business with the world, especially when you’re new.

If you’re worried what people will think about your business, you need to get over it. If you can’t convince consumers to buy from you and support your company, it’s difficult to make money. Not outgoing? Fake it ‘till you make it. If you really want business success, you can’t afford to be shy.

In my early days as an entrepreneur, I had to to do public speaking for the first time. Back then, I didn’t have any training or experience in talking to large groups of people, not to mention I wasn’t very keen on the idea of facing my worst fear.

But, if I wanted my young company to succeed, I need to to get out of my comfort zone. This came in the form of planning and hosting nearly 70 three-day conventions for my customer base of network recruiters.

I can’t begin to tell you how afraid I was. As it turned out, I became a lot more comfortable in front of people after speaking at the conventions. Though I was more introverted than extroverted, I learned to “put myself out there” for the sake of my business.

Be ready to speak confidently about your business, even if it makes you uncomfortable. As a new business owner, you will need to market and network constantly. From networking with clients to negotiating supplier payment terms, you must be able to communicate.

9. Know the legal requirements for starting a small business

Starting a business is exciting. Laws are not. But, you need to understand the rules that come with opening a business. If you fail to follow government regulations, you could face steep penalties.

From forming a legal structure to setting up an accounting system, you must follow laws. You need to register the business with your state. You must also take care of business-specific tax liabilities. And as you hire workers, you need to follow employer laws.

The rules that apply to you depend on your state, business structure, and industry. Consider talking to a small business accountant as you set up your company.

10. Balance passion with wisdom

One of the most important ingredients in a successful business idea is passion. Passion will consistently drive you to improve your process so your business grows.

That said, don’t let passion take over all your decisions. Passion will move you forward, but knowledge will point you in the right direction.

Conduct market research on your industry and talk to target customers to find out your business’s potential. Ask experts questions about launching a startup. Reach out to professionals that can help you with certain areas of business, such as financial advisors and lawyers.

As your business starts to come together, think of it like driving a car. Let your passion hit the gas pedal and your mind control the steering wheel. That way, you can be confident about the direction you’re headed and sustain the momentum you need to get there.

Mike is the founder and CEO of Patriot Software, LLC. He has over 30 years of entrepreneurial experience across five startups. He started Patriot Software in the basement of a factory and grew it into a multi-million dollar company that serves small businesses all across the United States. he knows what small business owners and entrepreneurs face because he’s faced it himself. For more information, please visit Patriot Software or Follow: @PatriotSoftware on Twitter.