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Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company and often regarded as one of the most successful businessmen in American history, once said, “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.”
A business plan — defined by the World English Dictionary as “a detailed plan setting out the objectives of a business, the strategy and tactics planned to achieve them, and the expected profits, usually over a period of three to 10 years” — is the key piece to starting up a business. It’s a blueprint that will contain everything there is know about a proposed business: The demographics, projections, logistics, competition, budget, and design, and it has to be well executed, well researched and without flaws.
Check in with the pros
The new carwash investor should start with the International Carwash Association™ (ICA), the industry’s largest trade association, which offers up help and advice on their website, www.carwash.org. The Association also has financial tools, templates and a loan payment calculator for investors to test the viability of their plans.
For even more advice, we turned to business plan expert Kylon Gustin, who is president of BusinessPlanAdvice.com. He has been quoted in Bloomberg Businessweek, The L.A. Times, and is now offering his advice to the readers of Professional Carwashing & Detailing. Below are his tips on what to do, and not do, when preparing your business plan.
Top 5 tips
Here are Gustin’s top five tips to consider when preparing a business plan:
- Keep your reader in mind. Don't use terms with which they are unfamiliar; read your plan through the eyes of someone not familiar with your industry and judge the clarity based on that. You can also have someone else read it and tell you what doesn't make sense. It may not even be a technical term that throws them off. Often, when we write we leave out the details necessary to create a complete picture in the mind of the reader. We have immersed ourselves in the business for so long that we write too cryptically, filling in the blanks in our minds.
- Keep it simple. I just told you not to be too cryptic, leaving out critical details, but now I am going to tell you to be concise. There is an art to telling a detailed story in as few words as possible. Detail is great, especially in the body of the plan. But your executive summary needs to get to the point and excite the reader to read the detailed portion of the plan.
- Don't forget your competition. You might think that since there is no carwash within 10-20 miles, your potential customers have no alternatives. Well, how many people wash their cars in their driveway? That is a competitor, or an alternative. If you don't mention and analyze your competition the lender will not take you seriously. Be sure to list your competitive advantages.
- Remember, experience is everything. The investor is investing in you - the one that is responsible for making day-to-day tactical and strategic decisions. If you have no experience running a business or in your industry they are going to be very uncomfortable lending you money. If necessary, bring someone on board that can complement your background with industry specific experience.
- Packaging will not get you a loan. So many entrepreneurs feel that if they spend a lot of money on high-gloss paper and a fancy binder/folder that this will impress the lender. It's just as easy to throw away a fancy folder as a stapled business plan.
Big mistakes you shouldn’t make
It takes more than making sure your t’s are crossed and your i’s are dotted, a proper business plan takes a lot of research and homework.
According to Gustin, cash flow, or lack of cash flow rather, is what causes most businesses to fail, so when planning your financial projections be sure to have realistic revenue projections (a long ramp-up period) and a clear understanding of your cash flow.
“With a carwash business, that is primarily cash or credit card, calculating your cash flow will not be too difficult,” he said. “Your greatest challenge is to properly anticipate how long it will take to acquire regular customers. Of course, marketing will play a major role here.”
Set aside the time
Constructing a quality business plan takes longer than anyone thinks, Gustin said.
The time it takes, he said, is based on:
- Your industry knowledge;
- The availability of market research data;
- Your writing skills; and
- Your comfort level with financial statements.
“I've seen people write a business plan for their own business in eight hours. For some it takes months. Business plan software, like Plan Write for Business, or hiring a consultant can ease the pain and shorten the time,” Gustin said.