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What is the point of a Business Plan?

24th August, 2016 No Comments


Start Up Instructions Steps Dry Erase Board Launch New Company
At the beginning of this month. Tara Gillam, Head of Enterprise at Business West (the Cavendish partner delivering business support in the South West) touched briefly on business plans and validating the content.  Here, Mike Gibbs Business Advisor at NBV, reiterates Tara’s sentiments and looks at why the business plan is such an important document.

So, you are all excited about starting your new business when you are asked the question ‘Have you written a business plan?’

And what goes through your mind?  “Oh no, that thing, I know I am supposed to have one, but I can’t be bothered.”

You think to yourself “I have all the information I need in my head! What do I need to write it down for?”  Very few of us have the ability to completely plan a new business and keep the details stored in the brain, most of us need to get those thoughts onto a piece of paper, the very act of which will trigger all sorts of other ideas you would have missed if left in your head!

And you’re also thinking “My friends and family have told me it’s a great product!”  But friends and family will usually tell you what they think you want to hear, not what you need to hear!  Showing your business plan to an independent person will give you honest, unbiased feedback, and will potentially give you ideas for improvement.

Always bear in mind that there are two main reasons for writing a business plan:

1)  To help you to lay down a plan now and in the future

It is your route map of how you get from today to some other place in the future and all the things that might happen on the way, and what you will do about them, profitably!

Before you start your business 100% of your customer base is in the hands of your competition, and you need to figure out how you are going to break into their market. Think of your potential market place as a picture, a jig saw, and as you gather little bits of information you can start to paint the picture, you will never get all the information, but you need enough to convince yourself that there really is a business to be done! This is the ‘homework’ doing enough research to suck as much risk out of what you are proposing to do to give yourself a better that even chance of success. If you can’t find that evidence then it is probably best to rethink the whole shebang!

2)  To show others how sustainable your business idea actually is

You may need someone else to help finance the project, in which case the plan is going to be the only chance you have to persuade them it is a good idea to lend or give you some money.

If you are going to apply for a loan or a grant the first document you will be asked for is a Business Plan. Often you will not get the chance to explain your business in any other format, so the plan is it! It had better be good or your idea will stumble before it has even started. Put yourself in the position of a bank manager. You may see several plans a week, most of which are barely adequate for the job, but if yours stands out you have a better chance of success.

Templates for business plans can be sourced from several organisations such as banks, the Princes Trust, enterprise agencies and commercial software companies to name but a few. They come in all shapes and sizes, but generally speaking they all want the same information; who are you, what is your idea, what is the product or service, who are you competing with, how are you going to talk to customers and what does the money look like? The more thorough you are in preparing the information the more risk you take out of the project, but business is inherently risky, so the better informed you are the less likelihood of costly mistakes.

Just a thought about templates! If you put your information inside my template, to me it looks like my business. You need the content, so lift the headings from the template and create your own document, personalise it, illustrate it, and make it come alive. You have a vision of what your business looks like; your business plan should reflect that. Difficult to do inside someone else’s template. Think of that old bank manager again, another template, how boring!

Don’t be tempted with doing the bare minimum – the headings and details requested in a Business Plan are there for a reason.  If you are going to spend time and money and effort into launching a business shouldn’t it be the best it can possibly be?

As an example the number of times I have seen the answer to the question of ‘Who are you customers?’ as ‘Everyone!!’ Dooohhhh!!! You won’t have the resources to market to everyone, so be more focused, who is most likely to buy your product or service and where will you find them?

OK, so now you have written it, the bank has lent you some money, now we can chuck it in the cupboard and forget it! I wouldn’t; it should be a working document that you revisit regularly to check if things are going to plan. The only thing you can be absolutely certain of with a forecast is that it is wrong! The question is by how much and when!

Get into the habit of taking a regular review of the business and update the relevant parts of your plan accordingly. Once the business is underway you will start to get access to the reality of the results; actual sales rather than forecast, so your knowledge bank builds with experience, and this is invaluable for looking further into the future and anticipating things that will command your attention.

Written by Mike Gibbs, Business Advisor at NBV, the Cavendish partner delivering business support in the East Midlands

Under the Start & Grow initiative, the business start up and growth support programme delivered by Cavendish Enterprise partners, new businesses will get help, advice, and guidance in preparing a business plan to the standards required of most financial institutions and other lenders.  To join the Start & Grow programme contact the Cavendish partner working in your region.

 

Scales-of-Justice

Transparency is coming to legal fees …

11th August, 2016 No Comments


Various coins presented close up on banknote background shown in the distance

Our latest Guest Blog from LawyerFair, the on-line law services platform, reviews how pricing in the industry looks set to be revolutionised:

LawyerFair recently delivered a presentation to 80-100 business owners and opened with a simple question … “How many of you, when instructing lawyers for your business, had advanced knowledge of your fees?”

Remarkably, but perhaps not surprisingly, the show of hands was zero.

Not one business owner, in a room of relatively sophisticated and regular buyers of legal services, had forward visibility of costs on their legal fees.  And this anecdotal experience of how lawyers still charge, has been endorsed by a recent report from the Centre for Policy Studies – The Price of Law – which accused law firms of “using a lack of transparency on fees to distort the free market in a way that creates inefficiencies and undermines the wider economy.”

The report continues “The high level of legal fees is an efficient drain on commerce. British industry is forced to suffer a deadweight loss as excessive amounts of time and money must be spent dealing with legal issues.”

Jim Diamond, former lawyer and author of The Price of Law, revealed in an article in the Daily Mail that firms typically bill in six minute units of time, and that “for typing ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and hitting ‘send’ on an email, the partner might count it as a six-minute time unit and bill £110 for 30 seconds’ work.”

To those who know how the traditional solicitors model works, this report is hardly a surprise. Law firms continue to measure success, by the growth of their hourly rate … an anachronistic charging model, that places all commercial risk on the shoulders of the buyer.

But, there are shifting sands in the legal market, and the era of guesswork surrounding expertise and cost is coming to an end.

We’re addressing some of these issues with my own platform at LawyerFair, where we pre-approve all panel lawyers and insist that quotes are fixed, but other services are emerging that help shine a light into this opaque market.

One particular service that’s starting to ruffle legal feathers is Premonition. Co-founded by a Brit, now based in Florida (Toby Unwin), the service utilises big data and Artificial Intelligence, to expose which Lawyers win the most cases, and in front of which Judges.  It’s ground breaking transparency and, having already caused a stir in the US, it’s expanding into the UK and beyond.

Buyers of commercial legal services – from start up to general counsel – have suffered from a lack of transparency in legal services, but in this new era of legal procurement, a variety of services have emerged that have started to shift the balance of this industry from supply led, to demand led.

You might say that historically when it comes to fees, it’s the land of the blind where the one eyed lawyer is kind but …. in the future landscape of legal services, consumers with market intelligence will be King.

Written by Andrew Weaver, CEO & Co-Founder of LawyerFair

If you would like to compare legal fees, LawyerFair can do an audit of fees for free, as well as offer legal advice, so please do get in touch.

 

DKY Staff meeting

Pitching your business idea is easy.  Or is it?

9th August, 2016 1 Comment


Multi ethnic business group greets somebody with clapping and smiling

You’ve come up with a great idea for a new product or service and you need support, whether it be financial, technical, or professional partnership.  The next step is convincing the right person to give you that support.

So what do you have to do?

Finding the right audience to pitch to is the obvious first step (and there’s a few links below to help with the search), and then you have to prepare your pitch.  And prepare you must!  Your idea will be as clear as crystal in your own mind but you have to portray that idea to others with the same clarity.

Whether pitching to a friend or associate, a group of business angels, or a bank manager, and whether it be face-to-face, using a business plan, or online, there are some fundamental rules to ensure you make your pitch the best it can possibly be.

Be prepared

Make sure you have all the relevant facts and figures at your fingertips – have a print-out with you that you can refer to both at face-to-face pitches and when preparing a written or online pitch.  You should also consider producing a one or two page brief summary; use your business plan as a back up to your pitch (in some cases your business plan will form the major part of your pitch – particularly if you’re talking to a bank about finance); consider producing a PowerPoint presentation; and develop a 5-minute elevator pitch.

Investors are as interested in the entrepreneur as they are in the business idea (maybe even more so) so prepare yourself too!  Be confident in your idea and show a passion for the business.  Investors need to know that you are logical, efficient, quick-thinking, and able to see your idea through.  They also need to know who you are, so be yourself!

Practicing your elevator pitch for face-to-face meetings will bring confidence but you also need to have answers to all the potential questions that might be asked of you.  Know your product, costs, market, and processes inside out and you will not be caught out by questions you cannot answer.

‘Knowing the enemy’ will give you an advantage too.  Research the investors wherever possible and use the information to your advantage to benefit your business – do they have experience in your industry? ; have they invested in a similar business before and how successful was this? ; how much time do they have to support you and your business?  Pitching to the wrong people is both a waste of their time and yours!

Pitching your idea

Spencer Waldron, presentation expert at Prezi, suggests that the best pitches tell a story.  Consider formatting your pitch with an introduction, a middle section of ‘chapters’, and an end where the main character in the story is your proposed market / customer.

The introduction could cover what is available now and the gap in the marketplace that your product or service will fill.  The middle chapters will cover your target audience and their needs; why your product will benefit them; why they will buy from you; who might stop your business being successful and how you will counteract this.  And the end would be the growth plan for your business and your exit strategy.  It would be worthwhile adding a brief summary which highlights the 3 things you want people to remember from your pitch – choose the 3 wisely!

Ensure your content covers all the issues that your potential investors will want to know about:  customer base; your team; costs and financial forecasts; competitors; and, of course, what exactly is it you want from the investor (and, where applicable, what do they get in return).

And finally your presentation should be well designed – smart, crisp, and to the point.  And make sure your personal appearance is as polished as your presentation.  In any printed or digital material keep text to a minimum; highlight important parts with ‘bold’ / text size / text colour; discuss one point at a time (in a PowerPoint that’s one point per screen); and use photos and images wherever you can.  Finally, maintain your branding throughout your presented materials.

So, there you have it – pitching your business idea is easy, isn’t it?

Written by Davina Young, Marketing Manager at Cavendish Enterprise

 

Cavendish Enterprise partners are able to advise and support you in writing your business plan.  Our business advisors can also assist with other skills and knowledge you may need to develop your business idea.

Some useful links:

Additional tips and thoughts on ‘how to pitch your idea’ from the British Library and from James Caan of Dragon’s Den.

Once you’ve got your pitch ready, the following links may be useful:

Pitch to Peter Jones

Pitch to Angels’ Den

Pitch on BBC’s Dragon’s Den

Launch your project on a crowdfunding platform

Looking to start a food and drink business?  Pitch on 16th Sept 2016

Pitch your business in Dundee, Scotland

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Tara Gillam

The importance of validating your business idea and creating a solid business plan

1st August, 2016 No Comments


Man with graphic question marks in chalk

You have a business idea ……….. the inspirational ‘Eureka!’ moment.

And of course you want to get started immediately.  But there are a few things you need to consider in order to validate your business idea, as well as the need to produce a supporting business plan. Ask yourself the following;

Is your business original?

Using a search engine and social media sites to search for your idea can show you whether your business is original, but remember to look beyond the first results page.

Researching your competitors is essential if you are validating your business. If there are similar products or services on the market already, having competitors is not necessarily a problem. It just means there is a demand for your product or service and by identifying your competition; it will help you to recognise what differentiates your business.

If you have a unique selling point (USP), you will be able to win and maintain a higher share in the market. You can also learn from other business’s mistakes and successes by understanding how they promote themselves and who they target. Google Trends can also be useful for validating whether you are going into a stable or growing market.

Can you validate the demand?

You can reduce the risk of selling something that nobody will buy by validating the demand for your product or service and its market. Compiling a list of potential customers will also help to reduce the risk of low traffic in your initial few months.

A way to find out if customers would be willing to pay for your product or service is to set up a free landing page. Useful sites for free landing pages are Strikingly and Launchrock. Strikingly uses no code and you do not need any design experience to build a page. Launchrock is also easy to use with a block-based builder and custom HTML blocks.

Landing pages will usually feature a short snippet about your product or service with ‘coming soon’ or ‘in development’. The key is to make your landing page attractive to capture the email addresses of visitors. You can see how many people are visiting your site by using an analytical tool such as Google Analytics, or by creating a sign-up form using sites such as Wufoo. This sign-up form will ask people to leave their email address if they would like more information on your idea or your launch. If lots of people visit the site, you will know people are interested in your idea.

Another way to validate your business is to send out surveys. By using tools such as SurveyMonkey, you can send it out to all your contacts and get it shared on social media. It is important to ask the right questions so you can gather as much information about your idea as possible. Examples could be:

• Would they buy the product or service?
• Do they like the name of the product/business?
• How much would they pay?

The answers to these questions can help shape the final launch of your idea and give an indication of how successful the idea can be in comparison to how many people are engaged.

Have you produced a business plan?

Your business plan is the document that allows you to turn your thoughts and ideas into a business. It may seem like an intimidating task but it is a valuable document outlining your business strategies and makes you think about every aspect of the business to understand it thoroughly.

As your business progresses, your time working on the business will become more limited as you spend more time in the business. Consulting your business plan can allow you to make more informed and effective decisions and ensure you are keeping on track.

Also, a business plan is vital for anyone seeking or thinking of seeking finance, now or in the future. Banks, investors and other lenders will expect to see a business plan and will not provide capital without one. It provides them with an overall understanding of the business and the likely returns. Keep you business plan active so you are able to refer back to it and keep business progression on track.

Are you asking for help?

There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you are starting a business.

There are numerous services to provide you with the support and guidance you might need. Industry experts can help you understand how to make the most of opportunities and further identify the needs your target market. A mentor is a valuable asset to anyone starting a business and this avenue shouldn’t be overlooked. A mentor can give you one-on-one support and provide you with dedicated advice and guidance.

Another great way to get your business off the ground is to attend seminars and workshops which can help you develop necessary skills and knowledge. You can get support for your start-up through the Start & Grow programme which is tailored specifically to your needs and your business idea.

Written by Tara Gillam, Head of Enterprise, Business West – delivering business support in the South West

 

 

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