Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 25, 2012

SCORE: Your business plan guides you

By Dave Olson

---- — We've all grown to depend on GPS technology to provide step-by-step guidance on how to successfully get to our destination. It helps to ensure we're traveling in the right direction.

Entrepreneurs also need help navigating the road to building a successful business. For the small business owner, the GPS is their business plan. Every aspiring entrepreneur needs to research and validate their business idea. Only then can one determine the best way to get an idea from point A to point B and beyond.

While it does require a little time and effort, a business plan doesn't need to be a long or complicated document. And preparing a business plan has never been easier. There are plenty of software tools and templates available to guide you through the process. Many are available online free of charge.

Business plans typically include standard information such as a market and competitive overview, product or service description, management structure, target customer definitions and financial projections. For those seeking funding from a bank or other potential investors, a business plan is especially critical.

The business plan not only helps validate a business concept, it also helps guide ongoing decisions once the business is up and running. And just as GPS software requires periodic updates, a business plan does as well. That's because small businesses need to evolve and adapt in response to changes in the local market, competitive landscape, new technologies and shifts in customer preferences.

Here are some guidelines for business plan reviews:

"¢ Annually. Review assumptions, projections and priorities and adjust if needed. Look for ways to increase sales and improve profitability.

"¢ Every three to five years. Conduct a more comprehensive review of trends, target markets, competitors and focus on growth opportunities.

"¢ After a major shift in your industry or other significant event. Examples include a change in your business structure such as the departure of a business partner, a new regulatory requirement, entry of a major new competitor, etc.

In addition to regularly monitoring your financials, revisit your overall business plan periodically to ensure you stay on course on the road to success.

For assistance with developing a business plan or starting and growing your small business, contact Traverse City SCORE at 947-5075 or toll-free at 888-796-4913. Visit to schedule a free and confidential appointment with a SCORE mentor.

Dave Olson is a volunteer SCORE mentor and retired CEO with experience in manufacturing, marketing and investment banking.