When you don’t need a business plan… yet
Idea stage entrepreneurs are told by many sources that they need a business plan. When they ask for loans, banks tell them this. When they seek advice, mentors and advisors ask to see their plan. And, certainly, when they speak with many companies or individuals who write business plans for a living, they will hear the same.
However, there are situations where writing a business plan is simply premature and can be a waste of time and money. It may be more appropriate to start by taking a hard look at the key financials, market or the intended business, and your own situation. This is what business planners refer to as a feasibility study or feasibility analysis.
For example, a new client I recently spoke with told me of her need for a business plan. Upon deeper examination, I found that she felt uncertain about some of the fundamental elements of her idea. Questions remained such as: “Is there a sufficient potential market to sell to?”, “Will suppliers provide products at a price that makes the business model work?”, and “Will key partners be interested in signing on?”
The fact is that most of these questions can and should be answered before a full business plan is created. The entrepreneur can save a great deal of money by doing this legwork early on. The strategy is then fine-tuned based on the answers. Sometimes he or she will realize that the idea should be scrapped altogether!
A feasibility study is a way of asking “Does this business idea really make sense?” before creating an investor-grade or loan-ready business plan for it. Most feasibility studies for small businesses require at least three components, each answering the following questions:
- Market feasibility: Is there a true need in the market for the solution the business will provide? Is there room for the business to create a competitive advantage against the existing competitors and substitutes?
- Financial feasibility: Can the product or service be produced at a price that covers costs and allows for sufficient profit? Can the business be launched for an amount of capital which can reasonably be raised and recouped?
- Personal feasibility: What time commitment must the entrepreneur put in to get the business off the ground (or even planned successfully)? What skills or experience does the entrepreneur lack? Can these be lacking skills made up for by bringing on a partner, employee or consultant?
To study market feasibility requires some preliminary market research and competitor research, as well as consultation on the differentiation strategy for the business. A carefully written, presentation-quality report is not needed at this time as it is only the entrepreneur and his partners that must be convinced at this point. The work can and should be carried out by the entrepreneur and consultant as a team for the best results.
To study financial feasibility requires basic financial modeling with rough, top-down estimates and some research on some large, actual costs. It does not require a full set of financial statements yet. However, this work lays the groundwork for those statements to be developed later on.
And to look at personal feasibility, the entrepreneur needs to think clearly about his own strengths and weaknesses. The entrepreneur must be objective about himself and a trusted advisor can be a great benefit to him in this process.
If you are at a loss as to how you should study these three areas, a consultant can set you on the right path or partner with you in the process. When you get these questions out of the way first, the business plan you eventually create will be more compelling and less expensive than it would have been otherwise.