Drafting a Plan

Business plans keep new owners on track in their goal of developing a successful company, but it may require some help to get it started.

Drafting a Plan

Taking time to sit down and look over your options and talk to others in the industry is a good place to start when drafting a business plan. (Photography by Amy Voigt)

The circumstances are perfect: You’re ready to make a major career move.

You’ve decided to open your own plumbing business. You have an idea of how to pull it off and the confidence to get started. Now you need a well-conceived business plan to set you on the right path.

Dave Kaster, principal at Fidelis LLC, has written over a thousand business plans for clients at his business advisory practice in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Kaster says clients need just two things before writing a business plan. “They need an idea to start with, and they need the time to explore the idea,” he says.

You start with a concept of how to generate money for a particular service or product, and then you make sure that concept passes an evaluation on various levels. If you’re ready to write a business plan, you already know what you want to do. Now you just need to flesh out your ideas by answering five questions: who, what, when, where and how?

“Who does what? What are you trying to do? When do you do it? Where and how do you do it? But the biggest question is the why,” Kaster says. “Once you decide to do a business plan, that’s what I’d start with: Why are you doing it? Because that gives you the end result.”

LOOKING TO THE END

Oftentimes, the most ignored piece in any business plan is the vision for the company.

“You absolutely have to start with the end in mind,” Kaster says. The first step is understanding the end goal. Decide what you want out of the business, and work backward from there.

“Let’s say you want to run a plumbing business from the ground up and run it for 20 years. You have to determine how you want to get out,” he says. If you plan to pass the business to your kids, it makes sense to invest in a permanent building, expensive equipment and a long-term marketing campaign.  

It’s a different mindset if you plan to be in business for 5-10 years, retire and let the company fade away.

“Define your exit strategy and what your ultimate goal is — to pass down to the kids, to sell, whatever — so any investors know exactly the endpoint or determination when and how to get out,” Kaster says.

DOING THE RESEARCH

To flesh out your ideas, it’s important to do some research. Talking to other plumbers is a good first step. Ask them how and why they got started and the difficulties they faced. Kaster suggests contacting a business consultant or marketing specialist to help put together your business plan.

“Picture a good time frame, 5-10 years down the road, and determine what you want your business to look like,” he says. “You need a target to start shooting arrows at.”

One of the first things to decide is what type of plumbing to do: repair work, residential, commercial, working as a subcontractor on new construction, or a combination of these. From experience, you know what you’re good at; a business plan puts it all down on paper.

THE THREE ELEMENTS

One of the elements of a business plan is a marketing strategy. You’ll need to define who your clients will be and how to reach them.

“Someone could say, I’ll just advertise on social media,” Kaster says. “Who’s going to do that? I haven’t seen a business owner yet who’s done that regularly, consistently and correctly. So, you need someone from the outside to really dive in.”

A second element to strategize is operations. Determine how to manage your company in an effective way. “Working at a business is different than running a business,” he says. “You have to think of things at a different level. You’re not only affecting yourself, you’re affecting the entire business. Clients. Suppliers. Every decision you make has ripple effects.”

A third element to consider is financing. Decide how to finance your startup and how to use the money to grow your business.

“If you’re going to family finance it, you owe it to your family to write a plan they can keep you accountable to,” Kaster says. “You need to tell them ‘I’m going to keep you safe by following through with these plans.’”

If you seek outside funding, the business plan will have a different emphasis. Investors will require detailed market research, financial projections and operational methods to project the rate of return on investment. Bankers will need proof of cash flow to pay back a loan.

THE DIFFERENT AUDIENCES

In general, business plans are written for a particular purpose and for a particular audience. The first audience is yourself.

“You have to go step by step and prove it out,” Kaster says. “Make sure everything makes sense. It’s always good to solve a problem before a problem comes up, so it’s good to identify what the problems may be.”

The second audience is the money stream. Solid business plans include carefully prepared financial projections, budgets and cost analyses. The average business plan is 40-50 typed pages, filled with charts, concepts and objectives.

“The best function of a business plan is to give you the end goal in mind and give you a starting point to get you through your first 60 days or so,” Kaster says. The plan serves as a blueprint to identify obstacles and opportunities before you fully commit to the career move that will change your life.



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