How To: A Wrap-Up of the Research Series

The research series covered research of the:

The questions that are included in these posts are not meant to be exhaustive; their purpose is to get you started on the questions that you need to ask at the beginning of your business plan process. When answering questions other questions will come up. pay attention to them. And don’t forget to have fun in the process.

How To: Research the Rest of the Plan

This section of the series covers the production plan, operations plan, marketing plan, organizational plan, and financial plan. The assessment of risk is more of a look at the parts of your business plan are the riskiest, so researching it involves understanding risks and digging into your plan to find what risks are inherent in your plan. Research of the other five parts of the plan involves figuring out what is needed to make your venture successful.

Production Plan:

  • What facilities are needed to execute your plan and what production processes are needed to bring your products to the point where they are ready for purchase?

Operations Plan:

  • What specific operational competencies does your venture need to be able to deliver on the product/service that you are offering your customer?

Marketing Plan:

  • What kinds of programs do you think will best bring your product to your customers?
  • What pricing strategy will best help your venture find the balance between a maximizing profit and also pricing to attract the customer?
  • What is the best way to package the offering to make it appealing to the customer, what should the package look like, what should it feel like, what should be printed on it?
  • And of course how do you distribute the product to the customer (see the supplier subheading of Industry Analysis Research Post for more specific questions on this)?

Organizational Plan:

  • What kind of brain trust will you need to bring your business from paper to real life?
  • Where will you recruit these people from?
  • What functions will they serve?
  • Do you have to have to hire everyone in house or can you outsource some of the required functions?
  • Does outsourcing present a risk to your organization?

Financial Plan

  • The primary research involved in this area is determining how much everything costs.

Finding the answers to these questions involves having an understanding of what a business like yours would need to operate effectively. A good start might be to look at exemplary businesses in your prospective industry and use them as a model to get the information that you need to develop your own plan. Another option would be to look at a company whose methods you admire and whose method can be effectively used for your purposes. Things that need to be known include:

  • Production methods, capital requirements, and associated costs
  • Operation models, capital requirements, and associated costs
  • Marketing decisions that need to be made, marketing methods, and associated costs
  • And of course the human resource needs of the company, how these will be sourced, and associated costs

How To: Research the Description of Venture

Hello Folks!!!!

It has been a while since I posted on the site, but I have not forgotten about the research series. We are almost at the end of it and to let you know what to expect, there are only two parts left – new questions and a wrap up.

To do a recap here is where we have been so far:

Let’s dive right in.

The key question that this section needs to answer to yourself and to the reader is:

What type of business do you want to build?

This question is a fun one to answer because it requires more introspection than external research  The key to successfully getting to the bottom of things in this section is to be honest about exactly what your business is trying to achieve. No false modesty and no illusions of grandeur, just the plain truth about what you want to build and how you are going to get there. Since this section is more about introspection on what your business will be, I will dive right into the questions that I believe are critical to fully answering the question above. Here goes:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What makes your business uniquely endowed to solve this problem?
  • What about your business makes it suited to serving the customer segment that you are targeting with your offering?
  • What exactly is your offering?
  • How is this offering differentiated from the rest of the market?
  • What makes this point of differentiation relevant to the target customer?
  • What do you need to produce your offering? Here you deal with logistics (see the distributors and suppliers portion of the Industry Analysis Research How To for more on this):
    • Where will your facility be, what size, utilities et al do you need?
    • If it is a production facility how will your product reach the customer?
    • If it is a service facility/retail location is it easily accessible?
    • What are the cost implications of all of this?
  • And last but not the least, what qualifications do you have to bring this business to life and run it in a way as to make it successful?

These questions only begin to scratch the surface of getting to the heart of the purpose of your business, and as with most good questions the answers to them might bring up more questions that need to be answered. The goal to getting this section right taking the time to do the work of answering the questions honestly and not just state what you believe will make a good read.

How To: Research the Industry Analysis

As discussed in the post on the contents that your business plan should cover, the purpose of the industry analysis is to give the reader (and yourself of course) a clear picture of the environment your company is going to be operating in. You need to understand the environmental issues as it relates to general industrial trends from the international to the local level, the government regulations, the competitive environment, and of course the customer.

The key to understanding the environment requires identifying who the key players in your market are, and what the key drivers of success in your industry. The key drivers of success vary from business to business, but the questions below will start to help you to understand what you need to do as a business owner to ensure that you will be successful in the long run.

So let’s start with the key players in the market. Regardless of what business you are in you would have to relate with:

  • Customers who buy your products
  • Suppliers
  • Distributors
  • Competitors
  • And Government Regulators

The industry analysis requires a look into all of these people/aspects to find out how they impact your business.

Customers are obviously the most important part for any business’ operations. Without the customers there really isn’t any reason for your company’s existence. With respect to customer research you need to understand who the customer for your offering is and how your offering solves the particular problem that it is targeting. The key customer questions are:

  • How many potential customers exist for your offering?
  • How many of these people are willing to pay for this offering?

Suppliers are required to get your product manufactured. The term suppliers in the context of this article refers to all those that supply raw material or are involved in the production of the finished products. So this will include material suppliers and subcontractors who make products that go into yours. Some key supplier questions are:

  • What parts of your offering will be produced by your suppliers?
  • How many suppliers are available to you within your immediate area?
  • Do they service your competition?
  • What roles do subcontractors play in your production process?
  • How many subcontractors are available within your immediate area?
  • Do these subcontractors service your competition?
  • If there are no suppliers or subcontractors in your immediate area where can you get access to these people?
  • What kind of shipping logistics would you require to get your supplies and your components/finished offering to you?

A lot of the detail here will help with your production plan and operations plan.

If you have been reading the articles on business models, you would know your distributors are part of the channels on your business model. The key questions that you need to ask with respect to your distributors are:

  • What distribution channels are better suited to get your offering to your customers?
  • Are these channels owned or not?
  • If they are not owned do they work exclusively for you or do they service your competition?
  • Do you have more than one distributor working for you or would you have to work exclusively with only one distributor?

Your competitors are a very important part of your company’s environment. While as a company it is advisable to focus primarily on your customer, when you are in the process of customer acquisition you need to understand the other products that they have available to them. This is necessary because regardless of what your marketing message is, you will be positioning your products against the competition’s in the market place. Here are some key questions that need to be answered when you are looking into the competition:

  • What market offerings will be directly competing with yours?
  • What market offerings will be competing indirectly with your offerings? These are substitute products that are not necessarily in the same industrial space; think pen and paper as a substitute for a computer as a writing instrument.
  • Who makes these offerings?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the companies that make these competing offerings?
  • Where are these companies located?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the offerings being put forward by the competition in the context of the problem that the offering is trying to solve? A SWOT Analysis might help with this.
  • How will your offering compare when the customer considers it against the competing offerings?
  • Are there any possible alliances that can be forged with competing companies?

With regulators it is critical to keep an eye on what regulations can keep you from opening your doors, or what regulations can make it prohibitively expensive for you to produce your offering at rates that will allow it to sell to willing consumers at a reasonable profit. You should also be on the lookout for regulations that could benefit your business. Examples of pertinent regulations are the imposition of price ceilings/price floors which can have an impact on the demand for products or even your ability/willingness to supply them. Regulations can also be implemented in other ways that can help or hurt business; for instance a country like America that is looking to be energy independent has regulations that will positively impact the business of a company that is in renewable energy. An example of a downside of government regulations are the banning of the importation of foreign goods; this could have devastating effects on the business of a company that requires foreign goods as an input (raw material or component) for its offering.

  • What government regulations have implications for how you and your competition do business?
  • What government regulations have implications for how your suppliers and distributors do business?

Where can you find this information?

Every country has a census bureau, some better than others, but there are published figures about populations of most countries that could be used as a starting point for information on how many of your potential customers you have. The key to find out the information on your particular customer is to ensure that you have a detailed customer profile developed to begin with; this means demographic information, geographic information, and psychographic information that answers the question of who your customer is. If you do business in a developing country like I do you might think that you can’t get this information online, but look online for census information, a lot of countries have census details online and they might also have demographic research surveys. Other sources for places that don’t have as much detail as places like the U.S. include the United Nations, World Bank or similar organizations. These organizations usually conduct research in developing countries to help them further their development efforts in this areas. One example of such a report is the Doing Business report that is put out annually by the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank.

How To: Research the Executive Summary

The purpose of the executive summary is to give the audience a brief overview of what is contained in the rest of the business plan. Think of it as a sales pitch for the rest of your plan, the more effective it is the more likely your audience is to read the whole thing. Here’s the definition of the executive summary straight out of the business plan contents post:

The executive summary is just as the title says – an executive summary of the business plan. It doesn’t need to go into as much detail as the plan, but it needs to give a high-level overview of the key sections that will be discussed in the plan. Think of the executive summary as the hook that invites the reader to go deeper and read more. The people who review these plans generally have very busy schedules, and this summary is the sales pitch to help them see that reading the entire plan is worth their time.

To write an effective sales pitch for the rest of your plan you need to know the answers to two questions:

  • Who is the audience that will be reading the plan?
  • What is the most important part of the business plan for that particular audience?

Examples will better explain this, so here are two scenarios – one for a non-profit business plan with an audience of donors and the other for a for-profit business trying to win a government sponsored business plan competition whose primary goal is job creation:

Case 1:

A non-profit organization should have two primary goals. Making the impact in the lives of those that they set out to work with and being financially sustainable so as to be able to continue to make an impact in the lives of their primary stakeholders.

If you want the donations of donors reading the plan, you need to explain the problem you are solving, how you are solving it, how you are qualified to solve the problem (or how you will recruit people who are), how much you need from them, and how that money will be put to good use. Addressing these areas should get donors attention as they are concerned about where their money is going to and how it’s being used, and discussing these areas should help them determine whether or not they can trust you with donations.

Case 2:

With the government sponsored business plan your primary audience would be the people tasked by the responsible government agency to review the plans. Since the goal of the competition is clearly stated – to fund businesses that will create jobs and by extension improve the economy – your research task is to go through your plan and ferret out the areas that show that your company will do just that. Your organizational plan will give some information about how many people you plan to hire upon start-up as well as how your hiring will change with the growth that is fueled by the funding they provide. Other areas to highlight would be your financial plan with respect to discussing how much you plan to spend on human resources in the first few years of existence and how that spending will affect your bottom line; with this you are trying to show that your company can make a profit while you grow in revenue and numbers.

It is also advisable to highlight any sort of government relevance your business may have such as bringing your country closer to energy independence (for the U.S.A.) or helping your country achieve it’s millennium development goals (for developing countries such as Nigeria). Some other examples of policy goals are technological advancement (in the case of telecoms start-ups), education (a private school or non-profit literacy program), or even contributing to infrastructure building (oil refining, power plants). Making it known that you can be a partner in helping the government achieve policy goals can be added motivation for the reader to see the details of how you do it. But with this particular case make sure that you are satisfying the primary objective i.e. job creation.

Focusing the information in your executive summary does not imply that these are the only items that need to be focused on through out the business plan. It only means that this is the information that you should highlight in the executive summary as a hook to get your audience to read about the entirety your operation in the rest of the plan.

How To: Embark on Business Research

I’ve been watching the YouWin competition with avid interest, and I recently decided to do a series on business research alongside the other business plan related articles. Why business research? Well, the purpose of a business plan is to have a structured guide to help examine the risks involved in the business that you are looking to get into. A common misconception is that business plans are used to get funding, but that is only a side effect. Imagine going through the whole process of registering your business, getting your first production run, spending money to promote your brand and after all this hard work you realize that it isn’t as profitable as it looked like from the outset. Presenting that scenario isn’t to imply that going through the process of writing a business plan will mean that you will avoid all that, it just means that you will more than likely have a mitigation plan in place i.e. you are not blindsided.

So what is research anyway? Research is the process of searching for information to help you answer the critical questions that you need answered. Some such critical questions in this context are:

  • Is the problem I’m trying to solve actually a problem?
  • Who are the people who are experiencing this problem the most?: The answer to this question will give you an idea of the potential customer base.
  • How are these people currently solving this problem?: The answer to this question will give you information as to who your competition is.

These are just examples of some of the questions you will need to answer to determine how risky the business model you are embarking on is.

There are two types of research, primary research and secondary research. Primary research is research that you collect yourself. Examples of such research are experiments, surveys et al. Secondary research is using primary research that has been collected by others, this is when you cite the work done by others.

Whether it is primary or secondary research the goal is to use the data to answer your questions. Next week we will start to discuss some questions that need to be answered to fully address the requirements of the previously discussed business plan sections.