5 Things Planners Should Keep in Mind to Create Change in 2019

Eliza Esquivel, a marketing consultant, shares her insights on the future of account planning with Jessica Abo.


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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


In this video, consultant Eliza Esquivel shared her insight on future of account planning with me. Here are two important questions for Esquivel about business planning in 2019.

What opportunities do you see for the planning discipline in 2019?

Esquivel: The account planning practice has remained largely hidden from anyone outside of advertising, so I see a huge opportunity in 2019  to explain what we do and apply it more broadly.  If the planning mindset were applied to the bigger forces shaping our society today like technology, entertainment, media and even organizational design we could have wide-reaching impact in creating a world we all want to live in.  

This is the year planners can unlock new growth and revenue streams in ways that have wide benefit for people and society.

Professionals trained in account planning can rally together to find new ways to bridge the way creativity has been generated in advertising with the way creativity is generated beyond advertising and marketing.  

Account planning is a disciplined process of connecting the dots from radically diverse perspectives:

  • We generate insight and foresight,
  • We conduct audience analysis through a incisive cultural lens,
  • We distill information for maximum stimulation of the imagination, and 
  • We lead fearless ideation that gets results.

What are the five things planners should keep in mind to create change?

First we need to distinguish strategy from planning.

Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King’s College defines strategy as a focus on power and the use of resources.  Exploring power dynamics and the flow of resources, especially financial resources, is an important part of business success.  And is a critical element of what we do.  But strategy is not planning.  Planning is the application of multiple ways of knowing and seeing to essentialize a problem so that can be acted on by the imagination.  Put another way, planning is about powerful art.  In order to be successful in building a bridge outside of advertising, we need to be adept at both strategy and planning.  But planning is the bit the larger world has yet to understand and utilize to its greatest potential.  

Second, we need to embrace “new power.”

Old power is about hierarchy, exclusion and resource consolidation.  New power is about networked governance, transparency, inclusion, and shared resources.  Often times, new power is informal.  Look at culture, at categories, and industries for signs of new power – where are informal networks collaborating to create new approaches and or breaking through the status quo?  This is where the opportunity for planners lies because these groups of people will likely be the most open to new approaches and fresh ways of solving problems.   

Third, we need to keep art in focus.

It might sound counter-intuitive for me to recommend that you focus on art after I’ve just talked about power dynamics, but being able to understand radically different perspectives is one of the things that makes planner’s valuable.  Art is not just about going to museum’s or watching art films – although these are great ways to start.  But art is about all the arts which include architecture, literature, film, music and so on.  The most valuable approach is not to simply look at art, but to study it like an artist.  How do ideas float across artistic disciplines? How do other artists and critics talk about and think about the ideas in their art?  For example, one of my favorite things to do is read everything about a film I loved – from the directors, writers, producers and to also try and study the development process and funding of the film.  

Fourth, we need architect creativity as part of the way we architect growth.

Architecting growth is about going beyond consumer understanding and imaginative leaps to provide platforms for business growth based on understanding sources of revenue and profit. It’s needed.  But it’s not enough.  We also need to become “architects of creativity.”  This is about understanding the structural and contextual requirements for creative breakthrough and then designing those elements into the places they are needed most.  Linda Hill’s staging matrix for innovation is a great example of this: make room for creative abrasion (being able to have real debate about ideas), creative agility (psychological safety for experimentation) and creative resolution (decisions that embrace risk).  We need to create “cultural experiences” within an organization where creativity itself can be practiced.

Lastly, we need to defend the science of the imagination.

According to the World Economic Forum, creativity will be the third most important skill required in 2040 (behind complex problem solving and critical thinking). Increasingly creativity is desired more in business, but it’s not fully understood or embraced. Business decision-making has real financial consequences so factual proofs are often preferred over alignment to unknown unverifiable “gut.” However, there is a science of creativity and the imagination. It was Einstein himself who reportedly said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” So we need to become more familiar with the science of imagination – and to package and process ways to access intuitive thinking as well as analytical thinking.  

The ultimate opportunity for planners is to redefine our discipline and process to appeal to worlds beyond marketing, especially in industries that could benefit from a more rigorous and holistic approach to “creation” for the greater good.

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How to Write a Business Plan: Use This Checklist to Keep Yourself on Task

business plan checklist

First, why are you writing a business plan? Usually, the reasons fall into one of the following areas:

  • For idea validation: You have a business idea and just need to get all the details on paper so you can start to really understand whether you have a good business model.  
  • For a bank: Do you need a formal business plan to give to your bank as part of your small business loan application?
  • For investors: Are you seeking funding for your startup from angel investors or venture capitalists?
  • For strategic reasons: Does your company need an internal roadmap for growing and managing your business?

How you format your plan and how detailed it will depend on why you’re writing it and who will look at it when you’re done. If you’re looking to validate an idea, start with a very simple one-page pitch. If you’re seeking funding, you’re probably going to need a traditional, formal business plan. If you want to use your business plan as a tool for strategic management and growth, write a Lean Plan so you can update it easily and often.

Here, you’ll find a checklist for writing each of these types of plans, so you can choose the one that fits your particular needs.

If you have any questions, be sure to reach out to us on Twitter @Bplans and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

1. The simplest business plan: A One-Page Pitch

A One-Page Pitch is the simplest business plan you can write.

There’s not much difference between it and the executive summary in the standard business plan—though of course, as the name implies, it should fit onto just one page.

You can use this version of the business plan to validate your idea (more on that here), or to provide investors with a clear and succinct introduction to your business.

You can also use it to get all of your ideas onto paper and distill your thoughts into the essential business plan elements before you begin writing a standard plan. You can create a One-Page Pitch in LivePlanuse this free templateor follow along with the checklist below.

One-Page Pitch checklist:

  • Describe your business in one sentence (what do you do, and who do you do it for?)
  • Describe the problem your potential customers have
  • Describe your solution to the problem—this is your product or service (how does it solve your customer’s problem?)
  • Explain who your target market is and how large it is
  • Describe your competitive advantage (talk about how your customers are solving their problem currently as well)
  • Describe how you will sell to your customers (will it be directly, or via a storefront, distributors, or a website?)
  • Describe what marketing activities you will use to attract customers
  • Detail your business model—this is how you will make money (what are your revenue streams?)
  • List your major initial expenses—startup costs (don’t go into a lot of detail here—it’s early days at this point)
  • List your primary goals and milestones that you want to accomplish over the next few months
  • Outline your management team and any people you want to hire to help you launch your business
  • List any partners and resources you need to help you launch

The Lean Business Plan Template

2. A Lean Plan: A nimble tool for growing your business

Lean Planning is a methodology that will help you grow a better, smarter business a lot faster.

While you can use Lean Planning to help you produce a business plan document, you should think of Lean Planning as a tool, rather than a path to a finished product. If you’ve heard of a business model canvas, a Lean Plan is really a better, more useful version of that idea.

The goal here is to write a business plan that has more detail than a one-page pitch, but that’s still quite brief. It should be a truly useful tool that you review and update regularly. It’s a great framework for reviewing your financial goals and progress on a regular basis. For more resources on Lean Planning, check out this guide.

Lean Business Plan checklist

  • Write a One-Page Pitch (as outlined above—this is how every Lean Plan begins)
  • Test your idea (get out and talk to your potential customers—make sure you’re on the same page as they are)
    • Do they have the problem you think they have?
    • What do they think of your solution?
    • What’s the best way to sell to them?
    • What marketing tactics will work? What won’t work?
  • Review your results (you will likely do this throughout the life of your business)
  • Review your financial performance if you’re already up and running
  • Revise your plan based on what you’ve learned and set new milestones
  • Set your sales forecast and create a budget for your expenses
  • Once you’re up and running, be sure to hold regular plan review meetings to ensure you stay on track

3. The standard business plan

For most people who are pitching a bank or an investor, a standard business plan will be the required format for the business plan. This is the version of the plan these investors are most familiar with, and the version that will give them the most information. It contains all the needed business plan components that banks and investors expect.

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If you want to increase your chances of getting funded, follow this format. Check out our definitive guide on how to write a business plan. You can also download a free business plan template here, or use LivePlan to walk you through writing an investor-ready business plan.

  • Define the opportunity
    • Go into more detail here about the problem and why it is worth solving
    • Discuss your solution to the problem (your product or service)
    • Talk a little more about how you validated your idea and what your future plans look like
  • Write the market analysis summary
    • Include more detailed information about your market segmentation and your target market segment strategy, key customers, future markets, and the competition
  • Outline how you’ll execute the plan
    • Discuss your marketing plan and your sales plan
    • Include information about your location, facilities, technology, equipment, tools, key metrics, and important milestones
  • Write the company and management summary
    • Write about the organizational structure of your company, the management team, any gaps in the team, and your personnel plan
    • Include information on your company’s history, as well as information about ownership
  • Write the financial plan
    • Arguably one of the most important business plan components, this will include:
  • Write the appendix
    • This is the spot for anything that’s important, but that would otherwise bog down someone reading your business plan for the first time; include extra detail, charts and graphs here
  • Write an executive summary (this goes at the beginning of the plan document, but we recommend you write it last)
    • Talk about the problem you are solving, what your solution is (your product or service usually), the market, the competition, and some key financial highlights

Whatever your reasons are for writing a business plan, you should know that it’s scientifically proven that planning makes you more successful. If you’re looking for more information on how to write a business plan, check out our business plan writing guide.

If you have any questions about writing your business plan, or about what format to use, be sure to reach out to us on Twitter @Bplans.

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How to Get the Most Out of a Sample Business Plan

sample business plans

The basic idea of a sample business plan makes perfect sense. If you haven’t done a business plan before, a sample plan gives you an instant idea of what you should include, how to structure it, and even what to write.

Bplans offers a library of more than 500 sample business plans across a wide variety of industries. Here’s how to get the most of any sample business plan.

What is a sample business plan?

A sample business plan gives you an idea of how another small business or startup in your industry built their own plan. A good business plan example will have all the elements your bank or angel investor (or venture capitalist) will expect to see when you ask them for funds.

The most important thing to remember when looking at sample business plans is that they’re samples (that’s why we call them that). They’re not pre-written plans that you can pick up and use right out of the box for your business. And anyone who tries to tell you that you can is wrong—or is trying to make a buck off of you.

Can I really write my business plan myself?

You don’t have to be a business planning expert to develop a business plan; you just need to know your own business. With that alone, you can use a sample plan as a tool to write a business plan that serves your business needs.

It can be as simple as a short, Lean Business Plan that serves as a strategic roadmap for your business, or as comprehensive as a formal business plan that instills confidence in bank lenders and investors.

This article will help you understand how to make the most of a sample business plan while avoiding some of the following common mistakes.

Download the Business Plan Template today!

Mistake 1: Looking for a sample plan that’s an exact match

Let’s say you’re opening a Pakistani restaurant. You’d probably have to look long and hard to find a sample Pakistani restaurant business plan. But right here on Bplans, you could find more than three dozen restaurant sample plans.

It really doesn’t matter if it’s an exact match in this case. An Italian restaurant plan will still show you the layout and structure of the document. Even specific things, like whether the tables and chairs you buy will be assets or expenses, will translate from one type of restaurant to another.

Look for a sample plan that’s a relatively close match, but don’t get hung up on the details. Because you’re the expert on your own business, the research you do to understand your target market, your competition, and your particular business model will help you fill in the details and really make your business plan useful and credible to potential funders.

Mistake 2: Assuming the sample is perfect

On Bplans and in business planning software like LivePlan, our free sample business plans are all real business plans written by real people. But that doesn’t mean they’re all perfect. If you are looking at a business plan and a piece of it doesn’t fit your business model or just doesn’t sound right to you, don’t be afraid to discard it.

Too often, people think a sample plan is a model, when really it’s just an example of what one person did. One size doesn’t fit all, so don’t try to cram your business idea into a sample plan just because it seems like it’s close.

Remember, if you just need a Lean Business Plan, not a formal business plan, shorter is better. The formal business plans you’ll find as samples tend to be extremely comprehensive. If you don’t need all that, don’t do it.

Mistake 3: Wholesale cut and paste

As already mentioned in the intro, a sample plan isn’t going to work as a pre-written plan for your business that you can copy and paste and hand to your lender. If you’re planning to open a pet boarding kennel, for instance, you might take one look at the Noah’s Arf sample plan and think your work is done for you.

While Noah’s Arf is a great example of a dog and cat kennel business plan, even if your business model and Noah’s Arf’s are identical, you can’t just swap out the names and call it a day.

Some of your business plan elements will invariably be different, so you’ll want to ask the following questions:

For instance, in the Noah’s Arf plan, full-time employees will be making $1,280 a month, which would be $8 an hour. That might have been fine in 2001, but if you were opening a kennel in the state of Oregon today, you’d get in big trouble with those numbers, since you’d be planning to pay your staff $.50 below the state’s current minimum wage. So be sure to edit thoroughly!

Mistake 4: Misunderstanding the business plan purpose

Your business plan should suit your business purpose. You don’t need a full formal business plan if you don’t have to show a plan to outsiders for some business purpose, such as a loan or an investment.

A Lean Business Plan is way easier to develop than a full formal plan; and for most businesses, the Lean Plan serves the purpose better. Every single business, whether you’re launching next week or have been around for 50 years can benefit from business planning.

It’s scientifically proven. If you’re doing it to give your company a better strategic roadmap, keep it short so you can easily review and edit it often. Form follows function. Don’t do what you won’t use.

So, for example, if you aren’t writing a plan for outsiders, then you probably don’t need descriptions of the product, team, or exit strategy. Just cover the key points—strategy, tactics, milestones, and essential numberswith simple bullet point lists and tables.

What’s the point of a business plan?

It might seem like turning out a printed document is the sole purpose of writing a business plan. But at Bplans, we believe that the most important part is not the finished product, but the process itself.

Whether you’re writing your business plan for your own peace of mind, to present to investors, or because a banker or advisor told you that you have to do it, there is tremendous value in the process of thinking critically about your business. You gain insight into your market, intimately understand your financial forecasts, and get a deeper understanding of the details of running your own business.

So when you find a sample plan that you think you like, don’t cheat your business by taking too many shortcuts. Use the sample for inspiration and guidance, and to get a clearer sense of what the necessary business plan sections really are. But do your own work, so you can reap your own rewards.

Visit the Bplans sample business plan library >>

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Sabrina Parsons
Sabrina Parsons

Sabrina has served as CEO of Palo Alto Software since 2007.



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Should You Stick to the Business Plan or Change It?

should you stick to the business plan or change it

Is it time for plan B?

The best and most useful kind of business planning is not just a use-once business plan, but rather a continuous process.

The first business plan is just the first step. For the rest of your business’s life, you review the plan once a month. Compare actual results to what you had planned, determine what steps to take to optimize, and revise the plan.

You’ll find that continuous business planning helps in many ways:

  • It helps maintain focus
  • You’ll be able to align the team with priorities
  • You can address changes in the marketplace as they happen
  • It helps you tune strategy and tactics to what’s working and what’s not working

It starts with knowing what happened

Review means comparing what actually happened to what you expected. Business plans are always wrong, so there will always be a difference between the plan and the actual results.

For the actual business numbers, such as sales, expenses, and such, accountants call the difference between the estimates in the plan and the actual results variance. Variance analysis looks at these differences to determine where the numbers are different, and in what direction.

You can do variance analysis on the numbers with a spreadsheet, or with accounting software. LivePlan can link to your accounting software and deliver automatic dashboard comparisons between actual results and the plan, and between actual results and previous results.

The illustration here shows an example:

should you stick to the business plan or change it

The Dashboard in LivePlan.

What’s important here is not the accounting or the calculations, but rather the resulting management. You look for indications of problems or unexpected positives, so you can react.

In the illustration above, revenue is lower than planned and expenses are higher. Operating income is less than planned. Cash and cash flow are improving, which is good news. However, that may be because this company is stretching out its payments, averaging about six months, which is seven times more than in their plan. So accounts payable is 25 percent higher than planned. That’s good because it’s helping with financing and keeping money in the bank, but may also be bad because it could be spoiling reputation and relations with vendors.

The point is the management, not the hard numbers. What should be done, given these results, to make the company better?

The monthly review meeting

The monthly review meeting is absolutely essential to real business planning—Lean Planning. The real value of business planning is the decisions it causes, and the management that results; and for that, you need not just a plan but a regular monthly review to track results and revise as necessary.

And the toughest part of the review meeting is this crucial question: Do we stick to the plan, or do we change it?

That comes up often because in the real world things never go exactly as planned. Business plans are supposed to set goals, tracking, milestones, and expectations.

The review meeting is when you ask:

  • What happened? What went right and what went wrong?
  • If I change the plan, then is my plan (forecast) versus actual result valid?
  • Doesn’t it take consistent execution to make strategy work?

These are valid questions, and there are no easy answers. You won’t find some set of best practices to make this easy. You’ll end up deciding on a case-by-case basis.

Hear more about changing business plans with Peter and Jonathan on the seventh episode of The Bcast, Bplans official podcast:
Click here to subscribe to The Bcast on iTunes »

The arguments for staying the course with your plan

I consider this an awkward, difficult fact about business strategy:

It’s better to have a mediocre strategy consistently applied over three or more years, than a series of brilliant strategies, each applied for six months or so.

Too often, management teams get bored with strategy before it’s had a chance to be effective. I was consulting with Apple Computers during the 1980s when the Macintosh platform became the foundation for what we now call “desktop publishing.” We take it for granted today, but back in 1985 when the first laser printers came out, it was like magic. Suddenly, a single person in a home office could produce documents that looked professional.

What I saw in Apple at that time was smart young managers getting bored with desktop publishing long before the market even understood what it was. They started looking at multimedia instead. They were attracted to new technologies and innovation. As a result, they lost the concentration on desktop publishing and lost a lot of market potential as Windows vendors moved in with competitive products.

That argues for staying the course. Strategy takes time.

The arguments for revising the plan

On the other hand, this is also true:

There is no virtue in sticking to the plan for its own stake. Nobody wants the futility of trying to implement a flawed plan.

Generally accepted best practices have changed over the three decades I’ve been focusing on business planning.

Back in the 80s, business timeframes stretched longer and many business leaders recommended sticking to the plan. But times have changed. You’ve probably dealt with the problem of people doing something “because that’s the plan” when in fact it just isn’t working. I certainly have. That kind of thinking is one reason why some web companies survived the first dotcom boom and others didn’t. It also explains why some business experts question the value of the business plan.

This is sloppy thinking, in my opinion—confusing the value of the planning with the mistake of implementing a plan without change or review, just because it’s the plan.

Download the Business Plan Template today!

How to decide: Stay the course, or revise the plan?

This consistency versus revision dilemma is one of the best and most obvious reasons for having people—owners and managers—run the business planning, rather than algorithms or artificial intelligence. It takes people to deal with this critical judgment.

One good way to deal with it is by focusing on the assumptions. Identify the key assumptions and whether or not they’ve changed. When assumptions have changed, there is no virtue whatsoever in sticking to the plan you built on top of them.

Use your common sense. Were you wrong about the whole thing, or just about timing? Has something else happened, like market problems, disruptive technology, or new competition, that has changed your basic assumptions?

Do not revise your plan glibly. Remember that some of the best strategies take longer to implement. Remember also that you’re living with it every day; it is naturally going to seem old and boring to you long before the target audience gets it. But do revise your plan if it is out of date, inaccurate, or based on false assumptions.

That’s why you have the plan in the first place: to manage your business better.

Note: Some of this material is taken from my latest book, Lean Business Planning, published by Motivational Press in 2015. A LivePlan version of it is available for download free at this link.

This article was originally published in 2015. It was revised in 2018.

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How to Write a Business Plan for a Subscription Box Service

starting a subscription box business

The subscription box industry is growing rapidly thanks to a steady revenue model and tapping into people’s love for surprises. Ipsy, Birchbox, and Dollar Shave Club are the premier companies doing exactly this and therefore reach the 15 percent of online shoppers signing up for subscription boxes.

But with so many people trying to get their share of the growth, many subscription box businesses fold within a year or two. Lots of new box companies have trouble ironing out the kinks in their process: their customer can’t easily unsubscribe, their boxes just aren’t exciting or well-curated, and more. Any of these can lead to failure.

There are several different types of business plans that can help you stay on track. If you’re seeking a bank loan or outside investment, you probably need a traditional business plan. But if you’re writing a plan as an internal guide for strategic growth, you should consider a lighter version—a Lean Plan. A Lean Plan can also serve as an initial plan that helps you think through all the aspects of starting your business.

This guide to writing a subscription box business plan will help you through the process either way. If you’re writing a traditional plan, you’ll provide more details and it will be more comprehensive. If you’re writing a Lean Plan, keep it shorter and think about making it easy to revisit and revise often.

A subscription box business plan will include the following components:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Your problem and solution
  3. Target market (intended customers)
  4. Marketing and sales plan
  5. Operations
  6. Team
  7. Company overview
  8. Financial plan
  9. Appendix (optional)

To help you get started, you can download this free business plan template for writing a traditional business plan for a loan or investment, or this Lean Plan template for a more nimble, easy to update plan.

1. Executive summary

The first element of every business plan is the executive summary. But, don’t write your executive summary first—it’ll be quite a bit easier to write after you’ve written the rest of the plan. It provides an overview of your business plan by compiling the most important information from the sections that come after.

Investors will read your executive summary first, so give enough information that they’re intrigued enough in your business to be interested in seeing your full plan.

This is what you’ll include:

  • Problem: State the problem your subscription box will solve.
  • Solution: How does your box and the products it contains solve that problem?
  • Target market: What groups of people will want your box?
  • Competition: What other subscription box companies target the same niche?
  • Team: Who are your coworkers and what’s their business experience?
  • Financial summary: Project your revenue for the first few years.
  • Milestones: List major long-term goals you hope to achieve.

starting a subscription box business

Opportunity: Proving there’s a market for your subscription box

Because you complete the executive summary last, you will begin your actual business plan writing process with the problem and solution section of your business plan.

Think of the opportunity as including the problem you’re solving, the solution to that problem, who you plan to sell to, and how your business fits into the existing competitive landscape.

2. Problem and solution

Defining the problem you’re trying to solve is an important part of your business plan because it’s the first place where you’ll demonstrate that idea is viable—that you can actually make money with your business model and idea. Your subscription box service could solve any number of problems.

Here are a few examples (but definitely not an exhaustive list):

  • Other boxes appealing to your niche are too expensive.
  • No box exists for your niche.
  • Online shopping for your product is difficult to some extent (hard to find, can’t return it, often doesn’t fit, so on).

Then, explain how your subscription box company solves the problem.

For example, if your box service will be cheaper than others in your niche, talk about your business model and how you’ll keep your box more affordable.

3. Target market

The target market section of your subscription box business plan identifies which subset of people you will focus your marketing and sales plan on. You can’t target everyone. If you’re selling a box that curates hair products for wealthy, curly-haired men, you probably don’t want to use your marketing dollars to advertise to people outside of your demographic.

Even narrower, not everyone who’s in your niche will want your box. A majority of men with curly hair probably have a product they always use, or they don’t use a product at all. The example box should, therefore, target men with that hair type who are looking for a new product.

Doing a formal market analysis can help you valid the assumption that people will actually pay for your box, as well as identify which people have the best chance of purchasing a subscription.

Additionally, you’ll want to have done some market research or analysis before you attempt to secure outside funding. Banks and investors will be looking to you to prove that you’ve had some initial sales success, but they’ll expect you to prove that you can continue to build your customer base in service of growing a profitable business.

The target market section of your business plan should include your TAM, SAM, and SOM, a brief buyer persona, your key customers, competition, and your pie in the sky future plans.

TAM, SAM, SOM

TAM, SAM, and SOM are three indicators that can help you think through how big your opportunity really is. In the beginning, your SOM is the most important number to think about. Most products aren’t really marketable to every single person with a credit card.

It can be tempting to think that you’re going to advertise to everyone everywhere—but that’s a huge and fairly unnecessary expense. Figuring out who can can really reach and get to pay for your product will save you time and money in the long run.

Understanding TAM, SAM, and SOM:

  • Total Addressable Market (TAM): If you’re selling a men’ hair product subscription box, you might say that every man with hair is your TAM. That’s probably not completely accurate. Maybe your TAM is actually every man in a certain income bracket that is fashion conscious and has his hair styled by a professional.  
  • Segmented Addressable Market (SAM): This is how much of the TAM you’ll target. The SAM for our example might be men with curly hair because you curate products specific to that style.
  • Share of the Market (SOM): Your SOM is who you will reach in your first few years of business. The example’s SOM would, therefore, be a percentage of men with, curly hair based on the number of orders your business model can handle. It could also narrow the SAM by selecting specific regions that its box will be available in.

Buyer persona

Creating a buyer persona puts you in the customer’s shoes to guide marketing and sales decisions. You can see what your customer needs out of your subscription box, and why they need it.

It also gives you an edge over competitors without one. Keeping your buyer persona in mind can help you as you develop your marketing and sales plan, and think through crafting messages to potential customers that will compel them to convert, or subscribe to your box.

Key customers

This section is for businesses that sell to enterprise customers, not consumers. Companies that become a big subset of your revenue are likely strategic alliances, though, which is a later section. A key customer for a subscription box might be a large organization that contracts with you as an exclusive provider of something they need.

Maybe your subscription box is a monthly curated selection of comic books. If you partner with a large, wealthy private school district who wants you to provide comic book packages to all their eighth-grade students every month, that contract might be key your business survival for a period of time. They’re a key customer because without their business, you’d be in trouble.

Competition

Name the other subscription boxes that appeal to your niche. The men’s hair product example would list Birchbox, Dollar Shave Club, Bespoke Post, and Luxury Barber. Describe their pricing, what sort of products they include, how many items are in each box, and so on.

An easy and visual way to do this comparison is with a competitive matrix. A competitive matrix lists the company names down the left column and particular features across the top row. Check marks indicate which company has which feature—you should construct yours to highlight why your box is different and better.

Then, explain how your subscription box service differs, and how those differences appeal to your target market.

Future plans

This section is for your hopes and plans for scaling your business. Maybe your comic book subscription plan eventually wants to branch into comic book merchandise curation in the future. Maybe you want to start marketing your subscription boxes at different price points to increase your available market share. Put those ideas here.

starting a subscription box business

Execution: How you’ll do it

Now that you explained your opportunity thoroughly, it’s time to describe how you plan to take advantage of it. Now, you’ll describe your marketing strategies, sales plans, operations information, milestones, your team and company basics, and your financial plan.

4. Marketing and sales plan

For many businesses, marketing and sales effort stops once a particular customer purchases its product or service.

Subscription boxes are nice because they’re designed to retain customers. But a lot of subscription companies bill on a period basis, like monthly, so you’re always thinking about how to retain the customers you have while you seek new customers.

Your marketing and sales plan should include a positioning statement, your initial pricing tests, tactics for promoting your brand, and information about any strategic alliances that are critical to your success.

Positioning statement

Your positioning statement should explain how your subscription box is different than competitors. Most statements follow this template:  

“For [target market description] who [target market need], [this product] [how it meets the need]. Unlike [key competition], it [most important distinguishing feature].”

Pricing

Next, it’s time to determine your box’s pricing.

There are a lot of factors to consider when determining your monthly price:

  • Product itself
  • Fulfillment
  • Packing materials
  • Transaction and platform fees
  • Labor
  • Postage and shipping

With the total cost of each box in hand, calculate a price with at least a 40 percent profit margin, as suggested by CrateJoy. Cratejoy also has other resources for calculating the best price for your subscription box.

There’s one final aspect of pricing to consider. Established subscription box services generally offer different rates depending on the length of subscription. For example, the men’s hair product box might cost $39.95 per month, but if you commit to subscribing for a year, its monthly cost will drop to $36.95.

If you do this, make sure the annual plan with cheaper monthly payments still generates a profit.

Promotion

Most of your outreach will happen during the pre-launch stage. Subscription box services primarily use social media (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and influencers) to show off some of its curated products and give offers prior to official launch.

Get the email addresses of interested customers by advertising email sign-ups rather than pre-orders on your website and social media. You can then personalize your pre-launch marketing plan with emails to these interested people. This will keep your leads warm and encourage a higher percentage to subscribe once you launch.

Consider landing page design, easy email sign up, and potential deals for pre-subscribers during the pre-launch promotion as well.

One thing to be cautious of: how you advertise the products in your box. Not getting permission from the manufacturers on their product limits how much you can advertise it.

Strategic alliances

What vendors can you partner with to give you discounted or free sample products for your box? Let them know that they get cheap advertising by sponsoring your box.

Your business has a lot of potential if you can attain such partnerships. They save time by lessening your product curation efforts, and they make the overall product cost cheaper.

The example box might reach out to popular hair product brands like American Crew, Baxter of California, or Kevin Murphy to get free samples. Customers try each one in their box and decide if any are worth buying a full bottle of. If none work perfectly, they wait until the next month’s box, plus they don’t waste any product because the samples are small.

You should also explore other types of strategic alliances, like brick and mortar locations or selling through Amazon. These, among other ideas, can help your store reach new target markets, expand business operations, and improve profit margins.

Finally, an overlooked alliance is the one with each of your customers. Subscription models depend on customers staying for a while and increasing their lifetime value. Make the boxes personal and provide reliable customer service to grow your business and retain customers.

5. Operations

The operations section includes the logistics, technology, and other behind-the-scenes pieces of your business. For a subscription box service, this section will primarily focus on product curation and box distribution.

Sourcing, fulfillment, and distribution

Where will you get your products? How you will assemble them in your box. What packing materials will you use and how will you make the inside of your box aesthetically pleasing?

Then, talk about the box itself. Will you have a custom box designed, or will you keep it super simple at first? Will you outsource your packaging and shipping?

Once your business can’t run out of your garage anymore you’ll probably want to consider outsourcing some of the work. If you don’t plan on outsourcing initially (as most don’t), explain how you will handle box distribution. Your explanation should include how you will ship boxes, keep track of shipments, and any other logistics for getting your product to the customer’s door.

Deliver your boxes on a regular schedule—customers should receive their order within the same time frame each month (or whatever time period) to avoid confusion. Also, offer tracking information so they can see where their package is in the shipping process.

Startup costs

There are several expenditures you need to address before starting your business operations. Your startup costs will include acquiring your initial inventory, or the products you plan to include in the first edition of your box service.

You’ll probably also want to include your first round of shipping materials: filling, boxes, and labels. Say where you will get these and why that’s the cheapest option—you’ll likely buy these supplies in bulk. And if you’re paying for space for storage or packing operations, you’ll want to include that too.

Away from the box itself, you will pay for a website to process payments and advertise your service. Will you need an app? Think that through from the beginning too. You’ll want to think through which tool is essential from the beginning.

At first, you might get away with manually billing each of your customers each month, but it probably won’t be long until you’ll need tools to help with automated re-billing, order management, shipping label generation, customer management and more. The key for startup costs is to decide what you can’t live without from day one.

Milestones

Set milestones to show your business plan’s audience where you realistically see your company going long term. Add the milestone’s name, due date, budget, and person responsible to a calendar to put “some bite into your plan and management.”

Stay up to date with these milestones once your business gets off the ground; they will keep you and your coworkers on track toward your original goals. Schedule monthly review meetings within your team (or schedule time to review by yourself, if you’re starting out solo) every month to monitor your progress on each milestone.

Traction

No investor will give away money to an unproven business idea. Even if you haven’t launched your subscription box yet, run a minimum viable product (MVP) to demonstrate that people will pay for your box. This can be as simple as selling a beta version of your boxes to verify that people will pay for it.

If your business is already up and running, include the milestones you already achieved. “Traction” shows that your subscription box is heading in the right direction and is important to investors as proof that your business is viable.

Key metrics

Going smaller, use key metrics to ensure that your business is on track to reach your milestones.

The five key metrics to judge your subscription model’s success are:

  • Churn and churn rate
  • MRR (monthly recurring revenue)
  • ARPU (average monthly revenue per user/customer)
  • LTV (lifetime value)
  • CAC (customer acquisition cost)

Most business owners would be terribly concerned their sales stagnated. That’s one benefit of the subscription pricing model—a slower sign up rate isn’t always bad for your business. Use these five metrics to track how many people are continuing their subscription and to know when you need to address stagnated sales.

Key assumptions and risks

State the key assumptions and risks of your subscription box service.

Knowing your assumptions helps maintain the business’ consistency because the subscription box industry is always changing. They become even more important when you revisit and update your business plan in the future.

Additionally, acknowledging potential risks can guide your business to reduce its susceptibility to them. Investors want to know that you’ve thought about situations that could negatively affect your service business, plus ways to avoid them.

Issues related to credit card fraud is a big risk with any ecommerce business model. Address the security risk with your website, as well as how you plan to stop any sort of fraud.

6. Team

You want to make your management team attractive and credible to investors. If they know your subscription box idea will get customers, show them why you and your team are the ones to make it happen.

Name the people involved with your subscription box service. Your team might change as the business grows, though. You might outsource packaging, shipping or both instead of hiring more people to work with you directly. 

Explain your business qualifications, along with any business partners or key team members. Also, describe why they are passionate or knowledgeable about the niche your box specializes in. Why do they know how to curate products that will surprise and satisfy customers?

The Lean Business Plan Template

7. Company overview

In the company overview section, you’ll explain what your company values, how it will legally protect its products, follow certain regulations, and structure ownership. Include your business’ history and location as well.

Mission statement

The mission of your subscription box is what you ultimately want people to recognize the brand name for. A generic template for a mission statement is:

“The mission is to provide X (services) by doing Y (methods) for Z (target market).”

Keep it as short and meaningful as you can.

Intellectual property

Trademarking your business name, logo, and so on are the main intellectual property issues for a subscription box.

But if you have some sort of new technology or method that improves an aspect of your service, make sure to protect it with patents. That could be anything from improved packaging methods to automated product curation.

Legal structure and ownership

Each legal structure has its own pros and cons, so do your research so you can make in informed decision.

Location

Where is your distribution center? Is it in an optimal location for reaching your target market without expensive shipping costs? This might change at some point in the future if you choose to outsource it.

History

If you’re writing this business plan as a strategic guide and your startup is already up and running, talk about how it began. Highlight any major achievements you have already reached.

8. Financial plan

With so many fluctuating expenses to account for in the curation and distribution of your boxes, you need to make sure that you are still making a profit.

For a subscription box company, like any other business, there are eight elements you need to include in the financial section of your business plan.

Here are the components of the financial plan that you’ll need to include:

  • Sales forecast: There are two parts involved with your sales forecastannual revenue projections and cost of goods sold (COGS).
  • Personnel plan: How much will you pay each employee. Include “employee burden” costs as well—the cost of an employee beyond their salary.
  • Break-even analysis: Calculate when your business will break even and begin making a profit. Show what your profit numbers will look like from that point forward.
  • Profit and loss statement: Compare the revenue projections by time period with your expenses. The bottom line of a profit and loss statement is net profit, or how much money you’re making after all expenses are paid. Here’s a template to help you get started.
  • Cash flow statement: The cash flow statement helps you recognize what your startup’s cash position is—profit isn’t the be-all-end-all metric for the money you have. This statement tracks how much cash you have, where it’s coming and going from, plus on what schedule. Here’s a cash flow template you can use in Excel.
  • Balance sheet: Make sure your assets and liabilities balance out to show financial health. Your balance sheet is a snapshot of your businesses’ financial health. Here’s a balance sheet template you can use to get started.
  • Use of funds: Talk about where potential funding from investors or the bank will go and why the money is necessary there. Omit this bullet if you’re not seeking any funding.
  • Exit strategy: Name a few other subscription box services or outside companies who might want to take over if you decide to exit the industry down the line. Omit this bullet as well if you’re not seeking funding.

Appendix

Like with any appendix, add any charts, tables, pictures, or other necessary information that didn’t fit neatly into the business plan.

This section is not necessary—only include it if you have supplemental information that you need to cover.

Conclusion

Subscription-based business models are growing exponentially in all industries because people are figuring out how to maximize the profit margins, and subscription box businesses are one of the premier industries taking advantage of this new and popular business model. They supply customers with unique, curated products, and provide the excitement of the unboxing experience that no other industry can.

Before you enter this lucrative industry, ask yourself these seven questions to make sure it is right for you. Then, start working on your business plan—keep it as short and concise as you can so that it’s easier to use it as a tool to guide your business.

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Nate Mann
Nate Mann

Nate Mann recently finished his second year at the University of Oregon. He is pursuing a major in journalism, along with minors in business administration and computer science. He is currently a content marketing intern for Palo Alto Software. Outside of school and work, Nate is an avid basketball fan and writes about the Portland Trail Blazers for Rip City Project. He is also a data reporting intern for the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.

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Why You Should Update Your Business Plan Regularly to Drive Growth

business planning for growth

I started an insurance agency two years ago. I had some friends who were all very successful in the industry, which led me to think that I would be blessed with the same fortune.

My business was in a highly competitive industry, rated as one of the best industries to start a new business in. Around 58 percent of businesses in the insurance sector survive longer than four years.

Things went well in the beginning, but just as I approached my first year, business started to slow down dramatically. It was like my business came to a halt.

The problem: Insufficient planning

My business came to a standstill.

I didn’t know what was wrong.

It was obvious that the market was saturated, but the insurance industry is evergreen and wasn’t going anywhere—I knew a significant number of people who were very successful with their own insurance firms.

I started to take a close look at my business.

After getting out an old document that was my business plan, I realized that I had reached the full potential of the plan I drafted when I first started the business. I also noted that I didn’t really leave room for further expansion, which explained a lot.

This was when I realized that I had to continuously plan for the future if I wanted my business to continue growing.

Even though life is unpredictable, many business-related aspects can be forecasted—often successfully.

The Lean Business Plan Template

Tips to help your business grow with a solid business plan

Because as my business became more established I basically ignored the business plan that I relied on when I started my business, I felt lost when everything started to slow down.

I was confused about what I could do to gain new customers. Thankfully, I wasn’t losing customers.

After a lot of research and dusting off my business plan, I was able to reverse the downtrend.

Below, I’ll share a couple of the lessons I have learned along the way.

1. Keep your business plan alive

Your business plan is not something that should be written once and then buried away.

Instead, it is a document that you should refer to frequently. Something that should be updated regularly and then compared to the actual results you’re achieving.

Keep your business in line with what is currently going on, as well as what you plan to come.

When you reach a goal, then mark it on your business plan and set out to reach the next goal. Sometimes these goals are called milestones and they can help you keep your business on track.

At least twice a year, schedule a day or two to plan ahead of time.

Ask yourself:

  • What worked in the last quarter? (Note: Do more of that!)
  • What didn’t work and why?
  • What can you do differently?
  • What goals would you like your business to reach in the next six months?
  • Where do you see your business in three years?

Focus on the short-term goals, but also plan for the long game. If you’re using a business dashboard, that can make it easier to see how your actual performance compared to your projections, and to model possible future scenarios.

2. Let your business plan be the light

As business owners, we are sometimes faced with an endless road of darkness.

I remember how much more effort it took to stay motivated and keep hustling. At times, it felt like things were over—there was little I could do.

When times are tough, you can quickly lose your motivation to rise to the top – or even to get back up and fight to keep your business alive.

Some businesses choose to give up at these times and I wouldn’t blame them. 

In these dreadful times, your business plan should be the light at the end of that dark tunnel. When you look at your business plan, there is a good chance that you will find some useful information that could reveal to you why you are going through your current situation. At the same time, you might just discover solutions you have been looking for by analyzing the data in your business plan.

3. Keep things organized for better decision making

A study that was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explained how a clinical trial found being organized leads to improvements in cortisol levels, stress, anxiety, and even depression.

Especially in the business world, being organized will make a huge difference in your effectiveness.

When things are organized, it is easier to spot problems, as well as to make more accurate forecasts based on your company’s current situation.

4. Track your progress

How would you know how well your business is doing (or how poorly) if you don’t track your results and progress?

I was also a victim to this problem: When things were going great, I didn’t make time to look back and track how well I was heading toward my short or long-term goals.

Write S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable. action-oriented, relevant, and timely) goals in your business plan—dedicate an entire section to short-term goals and a separate section to long-term goals.

Add documents, scribbles, and anything else that has to do with your progress with your business plan.

Make some time every quarter to sit down and see how well you are really tracking so you can plan your next moves accordingly.

5. Keep it simple

A lot of people tend to overcomplicate a business plan.

While the document is important and will be extremely valuable for the future of your business, there is no need to compile an entire book.

Many businesses are turning toward a one-page business plan or Lean Plan to simplify things.

The single-page document would contain all of the most important elements of your business—a summary. I personally like to keep a one-page summary pinned at my desk, and keep the detailed information in the main document on my laptop.

As your business grows, so will your business plan and all the documents that go with the plan. Here’s a link to a downloadable template you can use to get started.

6. Consider your competitors

An often overlooked element of a good business plan is a thorough analysis of competitors.

You can learn a lot from watching your competitors. Competitor data allows you to see what they are doing, so you can decide if you should do the same or take a different approach.  If your competitors are doing something that works, consider copying them.

I used a variety of tools to help me gain valuable insight into how my competitors are marketing their products, who their target audience is, and what makes them unique.

Google is always a good starting point. Getting ahold of your competitor’s marketing material is another. If you come across a competitor’s customers, take a moment to ask them why they chose to do business with your competition.

By studying your competition, you may be able to pick up a few ideas to help grow your business.

Final words

Even though my business came to a standstill at one point and even caused me to lose some money, I did not regret starting my own company.

What I do regret, however, is that for a long time I didn’t pay enough attention to my business plan.

Only when my business seemed to be standing still did I revert back to my business plan, only to discover that the plan I had for my business mapped out all the success I had been riding all along.

Never underestimate the power of a business plan.

Frequently updating your business plan and comparing your real results to your forecasts will give you valuable insight to help your business grow into the future!

If you’re looking for sample business plans to give you a better sense of what you should include, check out Bplans’ examples specifically for insurance companies.

You can also download a free business plan template or even a Lean Plan template (it’s an alternative to a business model canvas) if you’re looking for a shorter version of a plan that can be updated quickly and easily on a regular basis.

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John Catibog
John Catibog

John Catibog is a business insurance broker and founder of Indagard Insurance Services. Based in Melbourne, Australia, John has an education in computer science, business and marketing and logistics. Combined with his insurance broking experience, he works closely with local business owners to cover the many risks they face in business today. John’s is a regular presenter on cyber insurance to protect against cyber risks. Over the years, John has worked in the healthcare, retail, and transport industries.

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