The business plan sets out how the owners/managers of a business intend to realise its objectives. Without such a plan a business is likely to drift.
The business plan serves several purposes:it
(1) enables management to think through the business in a logical and structured way and to set out the stages in the achievement of the business objectives.
(2) enables management to plot progress against the plan (through the management accounts)
(3) ensures that both the resources needed to carry out the strategy and the time when they are required are identified.
(4) is a means for making all employees aware of the business's direction (assuming the key features of the business plan are communicated to employees)
(5) is an important document for for discussion with prospective investors and lenders of finance (e.g. banks and venture capitalists).
(6) links into the detailed, short-term, one-year budget.
The Link Between the Business Plan and the Budget
A budget can be defined as "a financial or quantitative statement", prepared for a specific accounting period (typically a year), containing the plans and policies to be pursued during that period.
The main purposes of a budget are:
(1) to monitor business unit and managerial performance (the latter possibly linking into bonus arrangements)
(2 )to forecast the out-turn of the period's trading (through the use of flexed budgets and based on variance analyses)
(3 )to assist with cost control.
Generally, a functional budget is prepared for each functional area within a business (e.g. call-centre, marketing, production, research and development, finance and administration). In addition, it is also normal to produce a "capital budget" detailing the capital investment required for the period, a "cash flow budget", a "stock budget" and a "master budget", which includes the budgeted profit and loss account and balance sheet.
Preparing a Business Plan
A business plan has to be particular to the organisation in question, its situation and time. However, a business plan is not just a document, to be produced and filed. Business planning is a continuous process. The business plan has to be a living document, constantly in use to monitor, control and guide the progress of a business. That means it should be under regular review and will need to be amended in line with changing circumstances.
Before preparing the plan management should: - review previous business plans (if any) and their outcome. This review will help highlight which areas of the business have proved difficult to forecast historically. For example, are sales difficult to estimate? If so why? - be very clear as to their objectives - a business plan must have a purpose - set out the key business assumptions on which their plans will be based (e.g. inflation, exchange rates, market growth, competitive pressures, etc.) - take a critical look at their business. The classical way is by means of the strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis, which identifies the business's situation from four key angles. The strategies adopted by a business will be largely based on the outcome of this analysis.
Preparing the Budget
A typical business plan looks up to three years forward and it is normal for the first year of the plan to be set out in considerable detail. This one-year plan, or budget, will be prepared in such a way that progress can be regularly monitored (usually monthly) by checking the variance between the actual performance and the budget, which will be phased to take account of seasonal variations.
The budget will show financial figures (cash, profit/loss working capital, etc) and also non-financial items such as personnel numbers, output, order book, etc. Budgets can be produced for units, departments and products as well as for the total organisation. Budgets for the forthcoming period are usually produced before the end of the current period. While it is not usual for budgets to be changed during the period to which they relate (apart from the most extraordinary circumstances) it is common practice for revised forecasts to be produced during the year as circumstances change.
A further refinement is to flex the budgets, i.e. to show performance at different levels of business. This makes comparisons with actual outcomes more meaningful in cases where activity levels differ from those included in the budget.
What Providers of Finance Want from a Business Plan
Almost invariably bank managers and other providers of finance will want to see a business plan before agreeing to provide finance. Not to have a business plan will be regarded as a bad sign. They will be looking not only at the plan, but at the persons behind it. They will want details of the owner/managers of the business, their background and experience, other activities, etc. They will be looking for management commitment, with enthusiasm tempered by realism. The plan must be thought through and not be a skimpy piece of work. A few figures on a spreadsheet are not enough.
The plan must be used to run the business and there must be a means for checking progress against the plan. An information system must be in place to provide regular details of progress against plan. Bank managers are particularly wary of businesses that are slow in producing internal performance figures. Lenders will want to guard against risk. In particular they will be looking for two assurances:
(1) that the business has the means of making regular payment of interest on the amount loaned, and
(2) that if everything goes wrong the bank can still get its money back (i.e. by having a debenture over the business's assets). Forward-looking financial statements, particularly the cash flow forecast, are therefore of critical importance. The bank wants openness and no surprises. If something is going wrong it does not want this covered up, it wants to be informed - quickly.