Many investors skip straight to the financial section of the business plan. It is critical that the assumptions and projections in this section be realistic. Plans that show penetration, operating margin and revenues per employee figures that are poorly reasoned, internally inconsistent or simply unrealistic greatly damage the credibility of the entire business plan. In contrast, sober, well-reasoned financial assumptions and projections communicate operational maturity and credibility.
For instance, if the company is categorized as a networking infrastructure firm, and the business plan projects 80% operating margins, investors will raise a red flag. This is because investors can readily access the operating margins of publicly-traded networking infrastructure firms and find that none have operating margins this high.
As much as possible, the financial assumptions should be based on actual results from your or other firms. As the example above indicates, it is fairly easy to look at a public company’s operating margins and use these margins to approximate your own. Likewise, the business plan should base revenue growth on other firms. Many firms find this impossible, since they believe they have a break-through product in their market, and no other company compares. In such a case, base revenue growth on companies in other industries that have had break-through products. If you expect to grow even faster than they did (maybe because of new technologies that those firms weren’t able to employ), you can include more aggressive assumptions in your business plan as long as you explain them in the text.
The financials can either enhance or significantly harm your business plan’s chances of assisting you in the capital-raising process. By doing the research to develop realistic assumptions, based on actual results of your or other companies, the financials can bolster your firm’s chances of winning investors. As importantly, the more realistic financials will also provide a better roadmap for your company’s success.
Documenting Partnerships in Your Business Plan
Forging partnerships to improve market penetration has become commonplace, particularly for “new economy” businesses. And, most companies proudly mention their many partnerships in their business plans.
The fact is that, regardless of whom the partnership is with, partnerships by themselves are meaningless. What are meaningful are the terms of the partnership. For instance, while it sounds great to have a partnership with a Fortune 500 company, the details of the partnership are what investors find important. For instance, investors will look poorly upon a partnership in which the Fortune 500 company earns 90% commissions on customers it refers. On the other hand, investors would look favorably upon a more equitable partnership.
As such, be sure to detail the specifics of the partnerships. This includes factors such as how the partnership will work, payment terms, contract length, minimum and/or maximum guarantees, the type of customer leads expected from each partner, timing of payments, etc. In addition, if partnerships are a key part of the business plan, expect prudent investors to interview the partners and scrutinize partnership contracts.
Partnerships can be a major factor in the success of growing companies, providing leads, sales, capital and/or other critical benefits. However, ventures should be careful not to place too much emphasis on any one partner in their business plan. Partnership agreements, like other legal agreements, can be breached, and if the venture positions any one partner as critical to its success, this will become a risk factor to investors.
Overall, partners can provide a great boost to growing ventures. Business plans should not only discuss who the partners are, but detail the terms of the partnerships and how they will benefit the company. Finally, the business plan must not place too much emphasis on any one partner in order to convince investors that the business is capable of success even without it.