Tell an excited entrepreneur running a services-oriented business that it is time to write the annual business plan, and there is a good chance that his or her eyes will glaze over. The business owner wants to serve customers– not spend time writing something that will need revision each year thereafter.

Yet, the business plan is a key document. What scares people away from producing this critical document? There are lots of factors, like time, lack of knowledge, fear of writing, and others. However, in today’s environment, market conditions change rapidly, like when competitors who are disruptive innovators seem to appear overnight. The services industry is particularly vulnerable because of the ease of market entry for businesses selling items like software.

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Focus on Operational Success

Yes, it is important to revise or rewrite the business plan each and every year. The good news is that entrepreneurs can develop a short-form version that focuses on operations. The short version is only a few pages long, so it is not so formidable. However, any entrepreneur who dreads any kind of business plan writing is likely to put the annual task off.

Since the business mission and management (in most cases) are not changing, the short form can concentrate on revisions to the operational plan which then leads to revisions to the financial projections. The first step is mastering the business planning process.

Following are some suggestions to make the process a little easier.

1. Define the specific reason for writing the operational business plan which includes raising new funding or revising strategies that accommodate market changes. The business plan should guide decision-making over the next 12 months.

2. Keep the writing concise and clear. If that is a real issue, retain the services of experienced business plan writers.

3. Write an Executive Summary that presents a clear picture of the entire document. This is often the most difficult section to write because it is only one page most of the time. There is no room for extraneous information or words.

4. Develop an elevator pitch because that helps the writer zoom in on what is truly important information to share about the business. Then write the Executive Summary. Only then develop a presentation for investors that includes the Executive Summary and additional interesting material like stories and videos.

5. Describe the services sold, or that could be sold, in terms of experience. How many times were the services delivered? Rank the services offered by importance in a numbered list, and use that list to identify where effort should be placed. If items topping the list are in high demand, it is likely the business will place emphasis on continuing sales growth through marketing or product enhancements. If it appears sales are slowing, it is likely time to concentrate on new items. The last item on the list might be a service that could be sold should the customers demand it, but the business needs an injection of money and other resources to achieve potential.

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6. Devise strategies for each type of service, but make them flexible enough that the business can adapt based on customer demands. For example, sales of services at the top of the list peak during the year, but the company can proactively grow sales of services further down the list.

7. Include a section on partnerships, alliances, and collaborations that contribute to business success.

Make notes during the year about business events, issues, new challenges, changes in customer demands, new competition, and so on. The notes make annual business planning much easier. Successful businesses today are flexible and agile, and the business plan should reflect those qualities.

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