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Marketing & Sales:  Business Plan Basics
Every good marketing plan should include two major parts - a definition of your target market and a specific outline to market, promote and sell your product or service.

Target Market
It's critical to clearly define your target market in your business plan - investors expect it.
Tell your business plan reader about your customers and describe their defining characteristics in detail. Include information such as age, gender, geographic location, income bracket, buying similarities, and more.

The goal of this section is to build a demographic profile of your typical customer.
The more clearly you pinpoint the defining traits of your customer, the easier it is to construct a marketing program to reach them effectively.

The information and research included in your target market section should originate from primary and secondary sources.
Primary sources includes information that you discover or conclude from personal observation and research, such as personal studies, results of questionnaires, site visits, and conversations with experts in your industry.
Secondary sources include such sources as journals, books, published reports, government statistics, or internet findings.

Marketing Program
After you define your target market, you need to determine specifically how you will reach them.
Outline the details and steps necessary to reach potential customers and convert them from prospects to paying customers.
It is important to demonstrate to investors that you have identified specific marketing avenues and procedures to effectively sell your product or service.
Answer questions such as the following in your marketing program section:

  • What specific marketing mediums will you use to reach your customer?
  • How often will each be used?
    What will they cost?
    Why did you choose these marketing avenues over others?
  • What marketing materials will you need?
    (brochures, website, etc)
  • Who will design your marketing materials?
    What will they cost?
  • What is the cost of marketing materials per prospect or client?
    (You may choose to include marketing pieces in the appendix of your business plan)
  • Will your company be able to attract PR?
    Why will they run your story?
    What's the "angle"?
    Which publications and mediums will you target?
Marketing & Sales:  Mistakes to Avoid
Here are some of the most common mistakes found in the marketing and sales section:
  • Defining your target market too widely, and assuming success will result from simply capturing a "small portion" of this enormous market.
  • Unclear definition of your target market.
  • Attempting to attack an entire market instead of a narrow niche.
  • Making assumptions about your target market without research or concrete support.
  • Not specifically identifying the mediums you will use to advertise and promote your product.
  • Omitting details such as when, where, why and how you will reach your target customer - along with costs.
  • Making the assumption that offering a lower price will lead to increased sales.
  • Underestimating the importance of packaging, brand name, and reputation.
  • Attempting to immediately fill several lucrative but unrelated markets.
  • Lacking clarity about how future changes might effect your market.


Competitive Analysis:  Business Plan Basics
The competitive analysis section of your business plan is an objective overview and comparison between your company and your competitors.
Begin by identifying your direct and indirect competitors, what and how much they sell (in units and sales dollars), the number of years they have been in business, and their specific market niche. Outline the strengths and weaknesses of each of your competitors from an unbiased perspective.

It is advisable to include a chart or pie-graph showing what share of the market each of your competitors commands, the trends and changes over time.
Explain the percentage of the market you intend to capture, and from whom or how you will achieve this market penetration.

More than anything else, it is important to be straightforward and honest about your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses.
Many first time business plan writers don't realize that investors want to see that other businesses are profitable and successful in your chosen market.
If you fail to present your competitors, or claim you have no competition, why should investors assume that a market even exists from your product or service.
Instead, present comprehensive information and point out how your unique strengths and tight market niche will result in your success.


Competitive Analysis:  Mistakes to Avoid
The following are several common mistakes that can decrease the effectiveness of your competition section:
  • Assuming you have no competition!
    (Please don't do this! Claiming you have no competition or anything remotely similar, is a sign of inexperience that readers pick up on immediately.)
  • Failing to identify both direct and indirect competitors.
  • Underestimating the power and strength of competitors.
  • Omitting the specific competitive advantages you hold over your competition.
  • Demonstrating a lack of knowledge or strategy to combat changing competitive conditions.
  • Failing to define and clarify your position, strength, and market niche focus.


Competitive Analysis:  Newsletter
There might be a planet somewhere in the universe where companies have no competition, but this planet isn't one of them.
Many entrepreneurs make a critical mistake in their business plans - they claim they have no competitors.
A plan stating that no competition exists, quickly loses credibility with bankers, investors, and experienced business people.
Don't make this mistake yourself.
Unless you're a government entity, public utility, or communist country - you have competition.
And even these monstrous organizations are realizing that competition exists for everyone.

But competition isn't necessarily bad.
Coke has Pepsi. Nike has Reebok.
Wal-Mart has K-Mart.
And the list goes on.
The value of competition is that it forces you to analyze who you're up against and what it takes to achieve success in your industry, market, and business.
Competitors actually help you clarify your selling position and determine how to best distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Nike makes billions and so does Reebok.
But, everyday they wake up with the desire to compete against each other and win.
At one point in time, Nike even adopted the mission statement, "Crush Reebok".
Signifying how a competitive rivalry can drive companies to greater heights.

Investors will read your business plan and expect to see your competitors identified - don't disappoint them.
Keep in mind that most investors ARE investors because they successfully dealt with business competition in the past.
With that in mind, never even imply the following ideas in the competition section of your plan: "XYZ Corp has no competition", "XYZ Corp's product is so superior that we have no competitors", or "XYZ Corp's service is so different and unique that we have no competition".
Your reader will disagree, wonder why you can't see that you operate in a competitive environment, and assume you're a business dunce.
This is clearly not the goal of your business plan.

Instead, your business plan should honestly and intelligently outline how your business fits into the big picture of your area, market, and industry.
If you do this concisely but thoroughly, and pinpoint factors that separate you from your competition, it will go a long way in the eyes of the investors reading your plan.

So exactly how do you identify your competitors?

Sometimes it's easy to determine and sometimes it is not.
If you intend to open a donut shop, then all the other donut shops within perhaps a 10 mile radius would be considered competition.
But what about supermarkets that serve donuts?

And what about bakeries that sell donuts and other baked goods?

These are pretty obvious, and most people would consider them when starting a company and writing a business plan.

But what about Bagel shops?

They don't serve donuts, but they still compete for the same breakfast dollar.
And what about the coffee shops and the Starbucks of the world?

Your potential customers might decide to spend their money on a morning cup of coffee instead of a donut from your shop.

Consider including these topics in the competition section of your plan:

Competitor Profile
This section should outline the basic characteristics of your competition.
Discuss the key features of competitors' products or services such as: purchase price, peripheral costs, quality, durability, and maintenance needs.
What is the perceived value of their product?

Is the image or name brand a factor?

Where are they located?

What are their credit policies and delivery terms?

How does their customer service stack up?

Also consider the financial strength, marketing savvy, and technological advantages of your competitors.
How solid is their access to suppliers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers?

Do they have any strategic partnerships or patents, which could cause problems for your company?

Do they have economies of scale in place that make it difficult for your company and others to compete.

Market Share
In this section, provide a breakdown of your competitors by percentage of market.
If possible, try to analyze and present this information from both a revenue and units sold perspective.
This gives you insight into your market, who the big players are, and where you can fit in and begin to take market share from.
Consider preparing a five year analysis showing how market share has changed and shifted over time.

Your company's ability to focus on a market niche can help you gain market share.
Pick a niche and make it yours. It can establish your products and reputation, and will help you gain loyal customers and market share as your company grows.

Comparison of Strengths and Weaknesses
Clearly present and compare your strengths with that of your competitors in this section.
Don't forget to present your weaknesses.
Every company has them.
Be honest and logical about the comparisons you make.
Consider product superiority, price advantages, market advantages, management strengths and weaknesses, and more.

Barriers to Entry
Think about the factors that make it difficult for you to enter and compete against established companies - these are called barriers to entry.
The following list of barriers should be addressed in your business plan, considering both the positive and negative issues related to your business and your industry.

  • Patents/Proprietary product differences
  • High-start-up costs/Capital requirements
  • Substantial expertise required
  • Manufacturing or engineering difficulties
  • Market saturation - no room within market for new competitors
  • Economies of Scale
  • Brand Identity
  • Access to distribution
  • Government policy
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