Business Planning Resources - dummies

By Steven D. Peterson, Peter E. Jaret, Barbara Findlay Schenck

Before you dive into the business planning process, take a minute to become aware of some of the many resources you can turn to for additional tips and tools along the way.

Informative resources

You’re certain to have questions as your business planning gets underway. For example, you may want to find out about trends in your industry or marketplace or obtain information on your customers or competitors. Maybe you need more information before you develop your marketing plan or need help with your finances. Luckily, you have plenty of places to turn to for help.

Here’s a list of the places you can check out for more information:

  • The Internet: You can dig up information on markets, customers, competition — you name it. The challenge of the Internet these days is wading through the abundance of material to find what you need from reliable sources. Check out reputable industry or government sources, as well as sites vetted by colleges or universities.

    Many companies have discovered that customer reviews on websites are one of the best places to turn for information about what customers like and don’t like about products and services already on the market. Every complaint you see on a website represents a potential business opportunity.

  • Your local college or university library: The periodical section of your library has business journals and other useful publications, and the reference shelves contain books on market demographics, industry trends, and other factual resources.

  • A nearby business school: Many schools offer seminars or night classes open to the public, and professors are usually happy to answer your questions.

  • Industry trade journals: Yes, the subscriptions are sometimes pricey, but they’re often well worth the investment.

  • Newspapers: No matter what your business, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and a local paper keep you on top of issues you should follow.

  • Trade shows and industry symposiums: These gatherings are usually great places to get news about products, services, customers, and your competitors — all under one roof.

  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA): A rich resource for just about everything you want to know about starting and running a small business.

  • Search and research companies: Using these resources comes with a price, but sometimes a LEXUS/NEXUS search or a market-research study is the only place to find must-have data.

  • Professional groups: Almost every profession has a professional group, from the American Medical Writers Association to the Society of Wetlands Scientists. Find the group that serves your business arena and check out the website and membership requirements.

  • Local business networking groups: These groups are comprised of members with experience, insights, and even business referrals to share.

  • Your local chamber of commerce: This organization is a good vehicle for networking and staying abreast of local and state issues and can serve as a resource for all sorts of business and regional information.

Seek expert advice

When you can’t find the answers to specific questions, ask for advice. For example, if you’re thinking of starting a retail business in town, ask other retailers to fill you in on what you need to know. If you want to break away from the corporate grind and go into business for yourself, schedule a lunch with someone who has made a similar move to discover what it takes.

As you interview industry contacts — or people with experience in similar businesses — follow these steps:

  • Prepare your questions in advance. With a little advance planning, you won’t forget to discuss something really important.

  • Explain exactly why you’re asking for help. You can’t expect people to be open with you if you aren’t honest with them.

  • Be prepared to listen. Even if you hear something you don’t want to know, listen anyway. Anybody who warns you about potential obstacles is doing you a big favor.

  • Keep the conversation open-ended. Always ask whether you should be thinking about other issues or addressing other topics.

  • Build your network of contacts. Ask for introductions to others who may be helpful or for suggestions for sources of useful information.

  • Be grateful. Pick up the lunch or dinner tab. Write a quick thank-you note. Remember: You may need to turn to the same people later for additional advice or help.