Seven things you need to ask your client before you start writing a business plan

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I thought I’d write about this because I’m in a learning curve, and I wanted to share the benefit of my experience so far. I admit I thought I knew all there was to know about creating business plans. Recently, I got a wake-up call.

Don’t get me wrong: I do know a lot. But I learned that what I knew didn’t cover some critically important details. I’d like you to benefit from what I didn’t think to ask, and should have. I had help with this from merchandizing expert Donna Geary, www.impactvisual.com, who zeroed in on my client’s situation and unearthed some key challenges that I’d overlooked.

To help you avoid finding yourself in the position of dealing with last minute surprises, as I did, here’s our list of what you might not learn from your start-up client.

  1. Their supply agreement. If they tell you they have one with a supplier, make sure you look at the darned thing closely. Read it through carefully. What have they committed to? Are there any escape clauses? Do they have the money to pay for it? What happens if the supplier goes belly-up and they are left with a boat-load of stock? These questions then lead me to…
  2. Does your client have a knowledgeable business lawyer? My client chose to not  spend any more money on their lawyer. Probably a mistake (advise clients to continue with the lawyer, btw, and avoid heartaches down the road), She *did* advise the client to get a tape recording of the supplier ensuring that they had exclusive rights to the product. When I found this out, really quite late in the process, the warning flags began to make their way up the pole. 
  3. Here’s the cute part: check to see that both parties have signed it. An agreement isn’t worth the powder to blow it to hell if this hasn’t happened, and most bankers would toss it back across the table at you. That conversation would be over before it began.
  4. Delve in to the client’s steps taken up until now.  What have they done so far? Who has already said yes to them, who has said no, and why. Don’t settle for a quick and light answer, because you may find that if you allow your client to skate over this part, it will come back to bite you. (My client didn’t realize how important these details were to their business plan, and indeed, to their chances of getting a start-up loan.)
  5. What bank are they dealing with? A rural branch or a more central office where loan officers are accustomed to working with all sorts of business loans?
  6. What sorts of promises does the client think they have heard from the bank? My client found out that their branch had no previous experience with the type of loan they wanted. When they got down to brass tacks, the loan they *thought* they were applying for was not, well, the loan they were actually applying for. Implications? They’d lose control of the business and work their tails off for peanuts. Horrified, they withdrew their application. 
  7. Does the client have a mentor or friend who has started a business and can do some coaching and hand-holding? Advise them to get one. This is not the job of the business plan writer. Acknowledge this, frequently, if necessary.

About Jane Carthew Davidson

As a former senior public relations specialist with a large publicly traded multi-national chemical company, Jane Carthew Davidson produced the company’s award winning annual report for several years. Later, she was media relations specialist for Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), where she wrote speeches for the executive team, trained spokespersons across the province, and developed talking points and strategies designed to clarify the role played by property assessment within the municipal taxation system. Jane is a former business reporter for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, and the Toronto Star’s Business Today. Her articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, the Medical Post, the Anglican Journal, the Financial Post and most recently, the Globe and Mail’s special supplements on subjects as wide ranging as organic farming and new investment regulations. On several occasions, Jane’s media savvy and quick research skills enabled her to win broad media attention and investment queries from Canada, the Unites States and Europe, for a unique medical device start-up venture. Following Peterborough’s Flood of the Century in 2004, Jane handled media relations for the City of Peterborough, developing and implementing the communications plan for the city’s media outreach to afflicted citizens, concerned insurance companies, city staff and other government stakeholders.
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