Let Your Business Plan Guide You
By Edith Ingram
Edith Ingram is project director of the Central Alabama Women’s Business Center in Birmingham, Alabama, and may be contacted at edith@cawbc.org.
Business plans are not just for start-up companies or initial investments; they are useful for anyone considering the future and overall management strategy of an enterprise, including a law practice. A business plan is frequently called “a road map” as it provides much-needed focus and direction for business owners. Having a business plan will help you view yourself as an entrepreneur, attract more clients, and achieve your business goals.
Attorneys, like any other business owners, need to understand their goals and be able to effectively discuss their services, operations, target market, and marketing strategies. In addition, attorneys need to be able to determine what future plans (at least those in the next year) will be needed. Business plans differ for each type of industry and even the individual business, but all plans answer the same key questions. Writing a business plan requires research and cannot be done from your “armchair.”
There is no fixed content for a business plan because it is determined by your unique goals and audience. A standard business plan is a start-up plan and should include the following:
• mission: core values/foundation
• business description: overview of the company
• product/service description: detailed discussion of what is sold
• market analysis: description of target clients
• industry analysis: description of what makes up and affects the industry
• marketing strategy: description of tactics used to promote the business
• operations: a mini standards and procedures manual
• organizational structure: description of management and personnel
• financial plan: a 3–5 year budget.
You should also discuss the business’s location, pricing, and competition, along with its potential strengths and weaknesses. Finally, if you will have outside readers, add an executive summary—a description of the plan and its purpose and supporting documents, such as résumés, historical financials, further statistical data, sample contracts, and references.
The business plan is a “research paper” on your business, and your assignment is to determine whether your idea has merit. In order for this “research paper” to effectively tell you whether the business is feasible or not (whether it can produce adequate profit), it is imperative that you, the business owner, develop it and view it with unbiased eyes. Also, realize that this document is dynamic and that its many parts are interrelated. For example, determining and understanding your target market dictates the products or services you will offer, the rates you will set, and what marketing strategies you employ. Also, your mission statement keeps you focused on the core values of your business and keeps you from being a “jack of all trades and a master of none.”
As you are developing your plan, try to answer these key questions:
• What is the true purpose of the business?
• What are the services offered?
• How do they benefit the client?
• Who are your target clients?
• Who is your competition and how do you match up?
• What are your financial goals?
• Where do you see the business beyond 3–5 years?
Review other business plans and seek the guidance of a specialist. View sample plans at www.bplans.com and www.businessplans.org. Business plan assistance resources include Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). Seek out other small business organizations in your area.
The business plan is not written on stone; you do not have to live hard and fast by it. No matter how much research you do, there are still too many unknown variables that can affect your success. This is why you review your plan regularly and modify accordingly. Successful entrepreneurs adapt, innovate, plan ahead, and persevere as they grow their businesses.
• Emerging Companies Guide: A Resource for Professionals and Entrepreneurs. 2005 PC # 5070483.
• The Lawyer’s Field Guide to Effective Business Development. 2007. PC # 5110578. Law Practice Management Section.