Lessons on creating a business plan

Hilary Quartner is co-founder of Hilma, a brand that makes natural health products. She explains how her team brainstormed the business plan.
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When did you create your plan?

A. ‘Our business plan was more our investor pitch than anything else. In creating that pitch, we started very broadly with an outline, effectively, of a diligence list. This became the narrative we told externally. And in answering that long list of questions, our business plan emerged.’

Did investors ask for a particular format for reading your plan?

A. ‘Not really. Our pitch deck effectively was the plan – it said how we’re different, where we were playing in terms of our product, what channels we see ourselves selling in and our go-to-market strategy. Implied in that was our financing strategy, just by nature of the conversation. Then the next step, obviously, as we took money from institutional investors, was our model. I spent a lot of time building on and thinking through what story the numbers told – the options we thought we had, what the numbers said and what we could really do. So I think those two, exercised in conjunction, really, were our business plan.’

What advice would you give a small business owner trying to figure out their plan?

A. ‘Ask yourself: what are my biggest questions? What are my assumptions about why this should work? And then what are all the things that would be reasons why they don’t? What are the data points I need to support my intuition that it should work? Be very methodical and force yourself to articulate, list, research, pull information and talk to consumers to validate or invalidate those initial points. That’s the highest-level and best place to start. Beyond validating the idea and what you need to tell a story that logically holds up are the tactics of who you need to make this come to life. What’s your plan to get the right people involved? For us, we’re a three-person founding team and we all approached this opportunity from the business and consumer perspective, but none of us are scientists or doctors. And so, it was like: OK, this can’t happen if we don’t have the right partners. How are we going to convince people to believe in us and be excited about this idea?’

Did your plan end up reflecting reality? What did you get right or wrong?

A. ‘Our go-to-market strategy was very much tied to the sequencing of what channels we wanted to sell in. For us, that was starting with direct to consumer as a way to build the brand and educate consumers about the space we’re playing in. But we believed we had to be omni-channel from the beginning – we never had the illusion that retail would be enough. ‘We had a view of, ‘OK, we’re going to have a mass retail partner and we’re going to do a Harry’s-style launch, then we can add on online channels as we want and need.’ But obviously, that’s not going to happen because of the coronavirus. I think we’ll still go into retail on the same timeline, but we’ve accelerated Amazon. The options accessible to a retail brand are no longer as stigmatised as they used to be. For us, it was just an obvious choice and a good decision. It won’t limit our options for partners in the bricks-and-mortar landscape as much as it used to. A lot of the things that we thought about the interplay of channels slowly fell away and that was accelerated by the pandemic. But, you know, it’s kind of a second-order result.’

Some tools to get your business plan started

has more than 500 business plan templates across numerous industries and sectors, plus useful advice, tips and tools.

• For a lean, one-page version, check out Lean Canvas’ stripped-back template you can do in 20 minutes.

LivePlan creates visual, infographic-led plans – many of which are one page long.

Score.org has an excellent downloadable template you can use for inputting financial projections.

This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2021. To become a subscriber or purchase our newest guide, head to our webshop.

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