Investors see thousands of business plans each year, even in this down market. Apart from a referral from a trusted source, the business plan is the only basis they have for deciding whether or not to invite an entrepreneur to their offices for an initial meeting.
With so many opportunities, most investors simply focus on finding reasons to say no. They reason that entrepreneurs who know what they are doing will not make fundamental mistakes. Every mistake counts against you.
This article shows you how to avoid the most common errors found in business plans.
Failing to relate to a true pain
Pain comes in many flavors: my computer network keeps crashing; my accounts receivable cycle is too long; existing treatments for a medical condition are ineffective; my tax returns are too hard to prepare. Businesses and consumers pay good money to make pain go away.
You are in business to get paid for making pain go away.
Pain, in this setting, is synonymous with market opportunity. The greater the pain, the more widespread the pain, and the better your product is at alleviating the pain, the greater your market potential.
A well written business plan places the solution firmly in the context of the problem being solved.
Phrases like "unparalleled in the industry;" "unique and limited opportunity;" or "superb returns with limited capital investment"taken from actual documentsare nothing but assertions and hype.
Investors will judge these factors for themselves. Lay out the factsthe problem, your solution, the market size, how you will sell it, and how you will stay ahead of competitorsand lay off the hype.
Trying to be all things to all people
Many early-stage companies believe that more is better. They explain how their product can be applied to multiple, diverse markets, or they devise a complex suite of products to bring to a market.
Most investors prefer to see a more focused strategy, especially for early stage companies: a single, superior product that solves a troublesome problem in a single, large market that will be sold through a single, proven distribution strategy.
That is not to say that additional products, applications, markets, and distribution channels should be discardedinstead, they should be used to enrich and support the highly focused core strategy.
You need to hold the story together with a strong, compelling core thread. Identify that, and let the rest be supporting characters.
No go-to-market strategy
Business plans that fail to explain the sales, marketing, and distribution strategy are doomed.
The key questions that must be answered are: who will buy it, why, and most importantly, how will you get it to them?
You must explain how you have already generated customer interest, obtained pre-orders, or better yet, made actual salesand describe how you will leverage this experience through a cost-effective go-to-market strategy.
"We have no competition"
No matter what you may think, you have competitors. Maybe not a direct competitorin the sense of a company offering an identical solutionbut at least a substitute. Fingers are a substitute for a spoon. First class mail is a substitute for e-mail. A coronary bypass is a substitute for an angioplasty.
Competitors, simply stated, consist of everybody pursuing the same customer dollars.
To say that you have no competition is a fast way to get your plan tossedinvestors will conclude that you do not have a full understanding of your market.
The "Competition" section of your business plan is your opportunity to showcase your relative strengths against direct competitors, indirect competitors, and substitutes.
Besides, having competitors is a good thing. It shows investors that a real market exists.