By David Dixon

Getting a small business off the ground can seem like an uphill struggle at times, especially in the current challenging economic climate. That is why it is crucial to seek support and guidance to ensure that your idea or enterprise can develop and grow.

There are many ways Business Link can support a business and help it plan for the future. If you haven’t already started your business, research and planning are key tasks for you to complete.

Developing your business idea into a viable product or service is a critical part of building a business. Thorough assessment and market research at an early stage will help you to establish whether there is a market for your product or service.

Your next step is to complete a realistic, working business plan when you're starting up a new venture.

The Business Link website, under the heading ‘Starting up’ shows you how to prepare a high-quality business plan using a number of easy-to-follow steps.

A business plan is a written document that describes a business, its objectives, its strategies, the market it is in and its financial forecasts.

As well as acting as a prompt to make sure you have really thought through your business idea, a clear plan will also be vital if you are looking for financial support to get your business off the ground, or to grow. It is also useful in helping you to assess how successful your company has been performing, by looking back at your forecasts and comparing them to results.

You should also bear in mind that a business plan is a living document that will need updating and changing as your business grows. Regardless of whether you intend to use your plan internally, or as a document for external people, it should still take an objective and honest look at your business. Failing to do this could mean that you and others have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved and by when.

Practically, there are a number of things that you need to think about when producing your business plan. It should include: · An executive summary - this is an overview of the business you want to start. This is vital as many lenders and investors make judgments about a business based on this section of the plan alone · A short description of the business opportunity - who you are, what you plan to sell or offer, why and to whom · A marketing and sales strategy - why you think people will buy what you want to sell and how you plan to sell to them · Your management team and personnel - your credentials and the people you plan to recruit to work with you · Your operations - your premises, production facilities, your management information systems and IT · Financial forecasts - this section translates everything you have said in the previous sections into numbers. Business Link offers a useful online guide explaining exactly how to compile each of these sections, available at

To make sure your business plan has maximum impact, there are a number of other factors to consider. It is important that you keep the plan short and concise - it's more likely to be read if it's a manageable length. Similarly, it is worthwhile giving some consideration to the presentation of the plan, even if you only intend to use it internally. Remember, a well presented plan will reinforce the positive impression you want to create for your business. Basic things to consider are: · The layout of the plan - you should include a cover and a contents page with page and section numbering · Legibility - make sure the type is ten point or above · Formatting - you may want to email it, so ensure you use email-friendly formatting · Even if it's for internal use only, write the plan as if it's intended for an external audience · Editing - get at least two people to read the plan and check that it makes sense · Avoid jargon and put detailed information such as market research data or balance sheets in an appendix at the back. You may have more detailed plans for specific areas of your business, such as a sales plan or a staff training plan, but it is best not to include these, though it is good practice to mention that they exist.

It is sensible, once you have drafted your plan to seek the opinion of an expert, such as your accountant, who may be able to offer help and guidance to improve your plan. However, it is not a good idea to get them to write the plan for you. Investors and lenders need to have confidence that you personally understand your business plan and are committed to the vision for the business.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure your plan is realistic. Once you have prepared your plan, use it. If you update it regularly, it will help you keep track of the development of your business. Once an outline business plan is in place, Business Link can provide a wealth of guidance and impartial advice to get you off to the best possible start. Business Link has a team of expert advisers who offer advice, help and information to individuals and companies across the region, giving them access to the ‘business brains’ who will help to get their business idea off the ground, or grow their existing company. For further information about Business Link visit or call 0845 600 9 006.