How to avoid four common mistakes when building your business plan

By Daniel LaBossière
Assistant Vice President, Business Development
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

ss_meeting_141838162_jpgYou may be tempted to think of a business plan as something you put together hastily when you need a loan and want to impress your bank.

But that’s not the way to look at a business plan. Instead, you should see it as an invaluable management tool that helps you set clear objectives for your company and describes exactly how you’ll achieve them.

Common pitfalls in preparing and using a business plan can be avoided if entrepreneurs take the necessary time to put together a sound document. Allow yourself ample time to do your research and adjust your plan.

Overall, it’s important to make sure your vision, strategy and plan are backed up by solid facts.

Here are a few areas where entrepreneurs should be particularly vigilant.

1. Include detailed assumptions

The core of any good business plan is solid assumptions. Think of an assumption as a premise that helps you forecast future results and allows you to simulate how your business will perform.

Entrepreneurs typically need to make assumptions about three key areas when writing a business plan: sales, variable costs and fixed costs.

In the simplest form, you’re projecting what sales you’ll need to cover fixed and variable costs. Business owners often fail to include detailed assumptions that are clearly broken down. You have to show that you’ve given your plan a lot of thought.

For example, your assumption might be that you’re going to get 1.5% of a particular industry market, which represents $1 million. However, you have to go further and break down your targeted market share so the reader understands how you are going to achieve your goal.

You need to build specific objectives you can aim for (e.g., five commercial contracts per month averaging $10,000). Detailing your assumptions and objectives will also help you establish specific marketing strategies and identify the required resources to meet your objectives. Everything in your business plan has to tie together.

2. Don’t forget start-up requirements

A common pitfall in business plans is omitting to cover start-up requirements. It’s not enough to simply say, ‘We need $400,000.’ It’s important to clearly outline the specifics so that the reader feels that you’ve done your homework.

For example, you’ll be looking at factors such as how much equipment you’ll need. Do you have sufficient working capital? Will your real estate needs change? How about your hiring needs? What are your possible sources of funding and how will they be used? These details give your plan credibility and build confidence that you know exactly where you’re going.

3. Provide supporting information

Backing up your assumptions is also crucial when writing an effective business plan. If you’re trying to make a case, you’ll need the ammunition to support it.

Supporting information can include feasibility studies, surveys, market analyses, key competitive information and industry overviews. The reader should see clear footnotes that point to your supporting information. Keep the information clear and concise. Bankers want to see the facts, but avoid overwhelming the reader with irrelevant data.

4. Emphasize human resources management

Business owners often overlook key areas such as human resources management in business plans. HR poses many challenges to entrepreneurs, particularly when recruiting in a tight labour market. You have to show that you know precisely how you’ll attract skilled staff to operate your company.

Business plans should include your organizational structure, as well as clear HR requirements such as recruiting and outsourcing strategies. People are the core of any business, so your overall company strategy has to address intangible assets such as employee skill sets and knowledge.

For more help, entrepreneurs can visit the articles and tools section of BDC’s website and download our free business plan template.


Celebrate Small Business Saturday 2015 with us!

Small Business Saturday is tomorrow! We are ready to shop small to make a big difference!

Shop Small Biz Canada

smallbizsatFBSmall business Saturday is on October 24th! With the support of Interac and our media partners, we’re inviting all Canadians to celebrate businesses like yours that provide jobs, help sustain the local economy, and make Canada’s neighbourhoods unique and vibrant.

Get involved in Small Business Saturday by visiting ShopSmallBiz.ca/smallbizsaturday for more info. You’ll find amazing Small Business Saturday deals from shops in your neighbourhood! You’ll also see awesome videos and be able to download free materials to show your support.

If you own a business, sign up and start advertising by visiting www.shopsmallbiz.ca, so that potential customers can find you!

Once you’re registered, be sure to add a deal that shows consumers how you’re celebrating Small Business Saturday at your business, then download free materials to display in your place of business and share on social media.

Let’s get everyone excited about shopping small on Small…

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Breathing life into startups: Toronto’s Starter Company offers funding and an entrepreneurial crash course

ss_puzzle_112214768_jpgAdam Paulin had almost everything – a sound concept for his wearable weight-loss technology Thin Ice, a background in neuroscience and psychology, and an intimate knowledge of the personal fitness industry.

But the missing element to launching his business was perhaps the most vital one – the $15,000 prototype to woo investors and let customers touch and feel the product he had envisioned.

“I had a strong business plan but I didn’t have the finances to get a prototype made,” explains Paulin. “The concept was hard to explain to other people without something more concrete.”

That is until he tapped into Enterprise Toronto’s Starter Company program, an entrepreneurial crash course geared towards young people 18 to 29 looking to launch a business. The City of Toronto’s entrepreneurship program couples in-house small business advisors, business plan sculpting and bespoke mentoring with an opportunity to apply for a grant of up to $5,000 to start or grow a business.

“I feel like that initial grant money and advice was what was able to get me over that hump that every entrepreneur faces,” he says.

Paulin is one of myriad businesses – from a fashionpreneur launching her spin on Siberian footwear Love Winter, to three digital gurus looking to get their marketing firm Social Buzz off the ground – that have built their startup’s foundations and fine-tuned their entrepreneurial aptitude throughout their time in the six-month program. The tailored training and insight from successful local entrepreneurs helps provide relevant, executable advice.

“We were good on the service side, we’d built our skills in social media and advertising, we understood the graphics industries but in terms of growing a business, it was just an idea,” recalls Parminder Sarna, co-founder of Social Buzz and past participant of the program. “When we came into the Starter Company program, we actually turned our idea into a business that could make money.”

With small businesses representing 98.2 per cent of all businesses in Canada, the program builds on Toronto’s reputation as a world-class city for entrepreneurs.

“Toronto is a microcosm of entrepreneurial talent, there’s so much going on here,” says Chris Rickett, ‎manager of entrepreneurship services at the City of Toronto. “Starter Company is about connecting those dots – through mentorship, through funding, through advice – and strengthening the underlying fabric of the small business economy in the city.”

That same entrepreneurial talent will be on hand for the City of Toronto’s annual Small Business Forum on Thursday, October 15, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. In addition to a tradeshow offering a range of opportunities and resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners – including an information booth on Starter Company – there will be keynote presentations on everything from crowdfunding to adapting to a digital world.

“This is where the next generation of entrepreneurs connect,” says Rickett.

Get  information about Enterprise Toronto’s Starter Company program.


What to Say When You’re Asking for Money: Five Tips to Help You Secure Business Funding

Written By: Sarah Hashem, Director, National Client Relationships, Futurpreneur Canada

Congratulations, you’ve found the ideal funder for your start-up project! Now how do you get them to see your business as an ideal investment?

shutterstock_115704301_jpgStart-up funders come in many shapes and sizes and, like your business, they too have a target demographic or theme—youth, innovation, IT, good credit, etc. These five tips can help your application receive a winning review, so you can get one step closer to receiving the business funding you need.

1) Describe yourself in their words.

A key to getting funders’ attention is to describe yourself using the same words they’re using. For example: If you’re applying for a youth fund, highlight the fact that you fall within their target age group. If you’re applying for an innovation fund, highlight the ground-breaking change deployed by your product. Shed light on the elements that meet their criteria – it’s a “pick me, pick me” strategy.

2) Tell them how you will advance their agenda.

Go a step further and tell the potential funder how you will help advance their agenda. Help them picture your business as a success story—if you were their poster child what would that poster say? It might help you to filter through the stories of their ambassadors. Take a look at the funder’s website, and the milestones and events they have celebrated with their past “success stories”.  If your story fits the bill, make sure you illustrate that in your application.

3) Find the perfect length for your application.

Whether the application is a form online or a business plan, make sure you don’t say too little or too much. Good business ideas could be lost in a lengthy document or missed in too many graphs. Address application questions head on with clarity and precision, and skip all the fluff.

At first glance, the person evaluating your application will look for answers to their questions and you want to ensure they don’t have a hard time finding them. This information is easily obtained from most funders—all you need to do is ask. “What do I need to submit? Is there a page limit? Is there a deadline? What makes a strong application?”

4) Get your numbers right.

Nothing screams red flags like poorly projected financials that aren’t based on facts. If someone is asking you for money, wouldn’t you want to have confidence in their abilities to manage it? A poorly projected cash flow makes funders run away.

While everyone recognizes that projections are best “guesstimates”, make sure  that you explain the rationales behind your numbers. While no one will hold you accountable for fifteen sales a day, they’ll be happy to know that you’ve accounted for seasonality, length of the sales cycle and special promotions to predict your monthly sales.

Need help with your cash flow? Visit Futurpreneur Canada’s free template here.

5) Take feedback with open arms.

You may not always get the answer you wish for but “no” seldom means “never”. Ask for feedback, check if you can apply again, and if all else fails ask for additional resources. People are likely to help you find what you need if you show gratitude for their time and feedback. At Futurpreneur Canada, we call that character, and it’s the most valuable asset you have as an entrepreneur.

About Futurpreneur Canada:

Futurpreneur Canada has been fueling the entrepreneurial passions of Canada’s young enterprise for nearly two decades. They are the only national, non-profit organization that provides financing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners aged 18-39. Our internationally recognized mentoring program hand matches young entrepreneurs with a business expert from a network of more than 2,700 volunteer mentors. For more information on Futurpreneur Canada’s programs, visit : www.futurpreneur.ca/get-started.


Exclusive to My StartUp/CFIB Members: FREE Social Media Mastery Webinar

social-mediashutterstock_vector_78037192CFIB Business Resource counsellors have been getting a lot of questions about social media marketing lately. In response, we’ve invited Bobby Umar, one of Inc Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers and Amazon #1 Best-Seller author of “How to Network Anytime.” He is also a four-time TEDx speaker, personal brand, networking & social media leadership advocate, and Huffington Post writer. With over 320,000 Twitter followers, Bobby will cover the topic of social media mastery for small business owners.

If you have questions about social media marketing, please join us for this free webinar, exclusive to CFIB members, in which Bobby will cover the following topics:

  • Understanding how social media works for your small business
  • Top 5 business strategies each for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter
  • How social media and networking work together to generate revenue
  • Building great content and thought leadership

You will have an opportunity to ask Bobby your social media marketing questions towards the end of the webinar.

Social Media Mastery: Ramp Up Your Business, Impact and Life
Tuesday November 3rd, 1pm EDT
Friday November 6th, 1pm EDT

If you are a My StartUp/CFIB member, check your inbox for an invite with a link to this webinar. Call 1-888-234-2232 if you did not receive your invite.


Lessons learned: a Scotiabank perspective on keys to small business start-up success

Small Business Advisors at Scotiabank learn from the thousands of small business start-ups we support every month across Canada.  From this vantage point, we enjoy the benefit of a great perspective as to why some small businesses succeed while others struggle. It would be a stretch to suggest that there is some magic formula, but there are definitely some key attributes that tend to rise to the top for owners of successful businesses.

Successful businesses owners are “all in”

shutterstock_46019578_jpgWe don’t see it spelled out in any loan application, but there are certain attributes that characterize small business owners who spearhead successful enterprises:  drive, passion, a sense of urgency and a willingness to work hard, among others. Strong businesses don’t just happen. They are the product of hours of research, planning, learning, trial and error. They are led by people who have the ability to take a calculated risk, as opposed to a flyer; people who are able to bounce back from failures and still keep a positive attitude; people who are willing to build strong relationships with advisors, suppliers, customers and employees. You can see it in their eyes. For these people, business is personal and they are “all in.”

Eyes wide open

When it comes to understanding what will make a business succeed, we usually see two types of business owners. On the one hand, there are those who are convinced they have a great business idea and just want to roll up their sleeves and get to it, come hell or high water. Then there are those who are convinced they have a great business idea and have carefully considered the market, their potential customers, competitors, and suppliers. They understand the fundamentals of the financial frameworks that will support their success and have a written business plan that lays out both the results of their research and their planned strategies, as well as a Plan “B” which covers the risks. While both types of business owners may succeed, the path to success for the business owner who has done the legwork to fully develop a plan will be much more assured. They are going in with their eyes wide open.

Rising above the crowd

I call it the “if you build it they will come” illusion. Business owners who have a realistic view of how their product or service will compete in the marketplace have the best chance of success. They know they will be up against competitors across the street and, in today’s web-enabled environment, potentially anywhere around the world. They have developed an understanding of what they need to do to create visibility for their new business, actively reach out and engage customers, actually close the sale and then build a long-term relationship where the customer will buy again. That’s entirely different than believing the attributes of your product and service, in and of themselves, will attract buyers. It’s the difference between believing “if I build it they will come” and planning how they will rise above the competitive crowd and drive sales.

It’s not a perfect world

shutterstock_124904123In a perfect world, all our plans would unfold exactly as we predicted. Customers would press through the doors on opening day, all suppliers would deliver on time at the agreed price, and we would have all the money we need, when we need it. While nobody believes this is reality, it is surprising to see how many prospective business owners have not considered how they will respond when the road to success takes a bit of a detour. The best have a plan “B.” They have considered the three or four things that are fundamental to their business and have a backup plan they can resort to if needed: an alternate supplier in the wings; an emergency fund to cover that unplanned cash shortfall; a training plan to ensure a key person can be replaced in the event of an emergency. While there may be a natural reluctance for an optimist to consider the potential for a negative event, the best invest by planning for the reality that it’s not a perfect world.

For Scotiabank Small Business, there is nothing we enjoy more than supporting the success of business owners. Working with partners such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and CFIB’s My StartUp program members our coast-to- coast network of hundreds of Small Business Advisors offers our exclusive Running Start for business program.

We look forward to helping start-up businesses achieve their owners’ vision for success.

We understand that business is personal.


Small Business Forum 2015 – Free Admission

Toronto Small Business Forum 2015

CFIB will be at the Toronto Small Business Forum on Thursday, September 15th. We invite you to attend this free conference and stop by our booth, where experienced business counsellors will be on hand to discuss your small biz questions face-to-face.

About the 2015 Small Business Forum:

Technology is transforming traditional businesses – whether it be e-commerce on Main Street, or mobile devices and the sharing economy, businesses can no longer afford to ignore technological advances that can alter their business models.

Join 2,500+ small businesses at the 2015 Small Business Forum to learn more about how your business can survive and thrive in the digital economy.

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Keynote: Re-Born Digital: The Changing Nature of Small Business

Ray Reddy, CEO and Co-Founder of Ritual, will provide insights into the changing nature of small businesses and how mobile technologies can be harnessed to operate and grow your business.

Ray is currently the CEO and co-founder of Ritual, a mobile app that connects urban professionals with local restaurants. Previously, Ray founded mobile commerce company, PushLife, which was acquired by Google in 2011. At Google, Ray led the product team for mobile commerce and helped launch Google Express to 10 US cities.

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  • Engaging discussions on the changing nature of small business …
    • Business Model Disruption: Adapting in a Digital World
    • Digital Main Street: Making Bricks & Mortar Dynamic
    • Small Business Tool Box: Technology Tools for Building Your Business
    • Digital Marketing: Leveraging the Cloud to Drive Sales
  • Plus tactical seminars and resources to address today’s business challenges

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Date: Thursday, October 15, 2015

Time: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Location: Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 222 Bremner Boulevard, South Building – Level 800

Cost: Free

Register Here: www.toronto.ca/smallbizforum


FREE Webinar – Credit Card Processing Contracts: What Your Small Biz Needs to Know

ss_DebitMachine_27385918Choosing a merchant service provider can be a daunting task for any small business owner.  Every day, merchant processing companies are competing for your business, which often leads to high-pressure tactics and promises of huge savings.

To help you make an informed decision, CFIB has developed a webinar that can save your small business time and money.

This webinar will provide you with  the tools needed to make educated decisions about payment processors. It will show you what you need to look for before signing a merchant contract, how to differentiate a good service provider from a questionable one, and review the common warning signs in a bad merchant contract. We will also cover the newly updated Credit and Debit Card Code of Conduct, and how it is designed to protect your business.

Join us on October 27th, 28th (French) and 29th for this free webinar, open to Canada’s small business community.

Credit Card Processing Contracts: What Your Small Biz Needs to Know
October 27th, 1pm EST
October 29th, 1pm EST

Paiements par carte : attendez avant de signer un nouveau contrat!
October 28th, 1pm EST


Get found in the crowd: start up financing

How to get crowdfundingWhen you’re thinking about financing your start up, there is safety in numbers.

Crowds are often known for their mob-like behaviour, but they also possess wisdom when it comes to allocating funding resources to viable start ups.

Where an opportunity exists to deliver an innovative service or product, look to crowdfunding as a potential source of financing.

Crowdfunding is a fairly new phenomenon that has been ushered into the new economy through the broad connections available through the internet.

Where a start up previously had limited access to a large audience of interested investors, this is now literally a few clicks away.

In fact, an entire sector of the economy is exclusively dedicated to crowdfunding, which is encouraging for unorthodox or risky start ups that may not have been able previously to cast a wide enough net to capture an adequate source of funding. Basically, in a world of billions of internet users, the scale of the platform is its appeal: where else are you going to have literally thousands or millions of small-scale investors looking at your pitch?

The North American crowdfunding scene is looking up. According to the National Crowdfunding Association of Canada, North America is currently the largest crowdfunding market by volume. In 2014, crowdfunding platforms grew by 145% to reach almost $10 billion. Most of the action is in lending-based crowdfunding, with additional growth in equity-based and hybrid or royalty-based crowdfunding.

One caveat: the crowdfunding equity market in Canada has been slow to pick up steam, relative to global trends. Although equity crowdfunding has been available under Canadian securities laws since 2003, it is still not picking up as much traction as some would expect. Much of this may relate to a lack of investor awareness of the availability of equity crowdfunding, or it could simply be a conservative Canadian investment culture.

Two Canadian provinces (British Columbia and New Brunswick) offer tax credits that may be of some assistance to crowdfunding investors, in that they aim to reduce the risk of investment into venture deals.

You can seek crowdfunding via the two big boys on the block, Kickstarter and GoFundMe, but do consider broadening your scope. The sheer variety of players in this space means there can be a benefit to shopping around.

This video offers some pointers on how to exceed your fundraising goal using Kickstarter, while this article covers a case study on how to drive web traffic to your Indiegogo campaign (hint: marketing, marketing, marketing).

Here are some additional methods to keep in mind before you launch your crowdfunding campaign:

  • Bone up on your research – absorb and take notes of any and every crowdfunding success story that exists. Although there may not be much in common between your pitch and what you’re reading about, you can still learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and then apply the tactics and strategies to your own project.
  • Firm up your narrative – people love a great story behind a product. Rags to riches, eureka moments of inspiration, dogged determination, or just plain serendipity: the crowd wants to hear the tale of the tape.
  • Pictures tell a thousand product stories – make sure your product cleans up well on your crowdfunding landing page. Which takes us to a really important point…
  • MAKE A GOOD VIDEO TO SHOWCASE YOUR PITCH – if you want to generate buzz and viral interest in your pitch, the video portion of your landing page could be the make or break component.
  • Spread the word – use every network you have at your disposal (friends, family, workplace, and social media) to make people aware that you’ve launched a crowdfunding initiative.

So where’s your best bet for crowdfunding opportunities? If you think you’re ready to take your start up to the crowd, be sure to check out this helpful directory of Canadian crowdfunding opportunities for a thorough overview of the opportunities that exist.


Free Webinar! How to Build Your Business Plan

shutterstock_216859354
BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS PLAN – A business plan is a ‘must have’ for any entrepreneur Not only is it a valuable tool, giving your business structure, direction, and identity, it is also a critical document for procuring investments or loans to start, run, and grow your business. This webinar on building your business plan will cover the format of a successful business plan, highlighting the necessary components and offering examples of common content that all successful business plans contain.

In this free webinar, you will be guided you through a step by step approach, starting with the basics of where to find templates, how to access data and information needed to research your industry and company, through to final formatting tips and, finally, submission. Participants will have a firm grasp on the process, what to expect, and how their completed business plan can be used and adjusted as their business evolves. You will also be given the opportunity to have your questions answered at the end of this 30-minute presentation.

This webinar is free to all participants. Sign up now:

How to Build Your Business Plan
October 20th, 1pm EST

How to Build Your Business Plan
October 22nd, 1pm EST

Créer un plan d’affaires, ce n’est pas sorcier!
October 21st, 1pm EST

 

Brought to you in conjunction with Futurpreneur Canada. business plan how to