Everyone knows the saying that there are only two things of which we are certain in life:
“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”
History tells us that this saying originates more than 220 years ago. American-born Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, scientist, and writer who frequently corresponded with the prominent international figures of his time.
In 1789, at the age of 83, Franklin was still corresponding with Jean Baptiste Leroy, a French physicist and writer. Many of Franklin’s personal letters contained simple maxims – the kind found in his Poor Richard’s Almanac – and they prove that his wit and wisdom were not impaired by age.
One of these comments was:
“Our Constitution is in actual operation. Everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”
The Advent of the business plan
Now, long after his death, I believe it is sensible to add a third aspect of which we can be certain in life… business plans.
Whether you are starting a new business and require funding for your business venture or whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur that is seeking capital to grow your business, one thing is certain, any potential investor will require a business plan from you. So, with this realisation that you can’t cheat death, taxes or business plans, the question beckons, “How do you choose a business plan consultant/writer in South Africa?”
You may need to interview a number of different business plan consultants prior to making a decision of who to work with. In Gauteng alone there are a handful of reputable business plan consultancies and a considerable number of other firms that merely offer a generic/template/software-generated business plan service with no guidance, support, strategic advice or consultation.
It is more important at this stage to ensure you have positive answers to the following questions. Merely deciding on the cheapest business plan consultant may cost you much more in the long run.
1. Why do I need a business plan consultant?
A good business plan consultant has experience working in and working with a broad range of businesses. It is the accumulated business experience and knowledge of a business plan consultant which makes the consultant valuable. A good business plan consultant is experienced in a number of different types of businesses and industries, while also having very specific experience in running companies, in the financing of a company and most importantly in the marketing and sales of a company.
In other words, a good business plan consultant has broad and specific business experience and typically, 15 years or more of accumulated business experience. Having an MBA or CA qualification isn’t enough. The business plan specialist must have solid real world experience with many types of companies and within various industries in order to be an effective consultant.
2. Will the business plan consultant I choose write the business plan for me?
Be wary of companies that promise that they will just “write a business plan for you.” A reputable business plan company will develop a business plan in close consultation with you.
There are numerous so-called business plan “experts” in South Africa that will ask you to provide them with very little information and then they write the entire business plan for you, without meeting or even speaking with you.
This type of process will produce a poor quality business plan. As client, you are the expert in your business and should walk side-by-side with the business plan consultant throughout the entire business plan writing process. This type of consultative process will ensure that they produce a business plan that will be effective and improve your chances of success.
3. I have limited cash available! How can I afford the services of a business plan company?
How can you not? Even though sufficient cash may not be available prior starting your company, you cannot make many mistakes before you find yourself quickly out of business. Spending money on the services of a business plan writing company shouldn’t be seen as an expense but rather as a time to invest in your company’s strategic direction and market positioning.
4. Should I take a cautious approach when choosing a business plan consultant?
Like any supplier you evaluate, you should ask yourself the question:
“What is important to me”?
The business plan consultant should be with you in the beginning, middle and at the end of the business plan writing process. While this personal approach may take a bit longer, the extra time spent on your project will make a noticeable difference in your confidence and the quality of your business plan. And, when you sit down face to face with a potential investor, you will be fully conversant with all aspects of your business plan.
When someone tells you they can complete your business plan in a few days or merely gives you a business plan template suggesting that all you have to do is insert your data where noted, what you are looking at is the proverbial money down the drain.
Be very careful! There are companies that operate in this manner as it is easy to make quick money. Be extremely cautious of “generic” or “template” business plans; whether you find these generic templates in your Google search, in a bookstore, in cheap business plan software or from a business plan consultant. Numerous so-called business plan writers take this approach and charge you next to nothing for such a service. There is no such thing as a generic or template Business Plan.
Make sure that you partner with a reputable business plan company that takes an approach which will ensure that the final product is “your” plan and not a “generic” plan that’s been produced by a business plan software programme or inexperienced business plan writer.
5. Will the business plan that a business plan consultant writes guarantee investment funding?
All South African investors and financiers require a sound and feasible business plan for funding approval, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee funding. Every investor will evaluate a number of criteria when making a business loan or investment decision.
They typically consider the validity/viability of the business- and financial model, the entrepreneur’s experience, market potential, solid market research, use of funding, ability to repay the business loan, the entrepreneur’s personal credit history and the collateral available to secure the loan. And needless to say, just like in an interview for a new job, the responsibility remains that of the client to “sell” the business plan and business venture/concept to potential investors.
6. Why is it important to use a business plan specialist?
The business plan specialist utilises many different outlooks to develop a business plan that will be focused on your company. The business plan consultant gets the opinions of your colleagues, co-shareholders and management team and uses experience gained across various markets and industries to write a business plan that is unique and that will address your exact requirements.
Most new entrepreneurs have very specific technical knowledge about their intended business venture, product and/or service. Unfortunately, these entrepreneurs aren’t always fully conversant with aspects pertaining to the management of a company, business planning principles, market research, financial projections, sales, marketing, etc.
This is where a business plan company can be of extremely good value as they will be able to partner with you and guide you on these aspects, providing you with useful information and an opportunity to learn new skills and obtain new knowledge.
7. Is it important to you that the business plan consultant be local?
With video conferencing, Skype and e-mail widely available, there is no reason to limit your search to local business plan consultants. If you have no fear of throwing a wider net in search of the best business plan consultant for you, you can use this technology to connect with individuals you may never meet in person during the process.
For example, why not put a Cape Town based business plan consultant in competition with a Gauteng based business plan consultant; as long as you are comfortable with virtual collaboration methods (Skype, telephone, email, etc.).