How to create a winning business plan

If you are creating a short business plan to enter in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge or to send to an investor, how do you make your plan stand out from the pack?

With the March 11 deadline for the Challenge looming, our judges, all very experienced in business planning and capital-raising, have some advice for you on writing a plan, whether you are starting your very first business or are a serial entrepreneur. “You have a short space, we get a stack of these, you have to grab our attention from the start,” Melissa Krinzman told the audience Tuesday night at our Business Plan Bootcamp at Miami Dade College. So let’s get started.

Krinzman, a veteran Challenge judge and managing director of Venture Architects, which helps companies with business planning and the capital-raising process, moderated a panel that included Richard Ginsburg, a former CEO of electronic security companies and co-founder of G3 Capital Partners, a mid-market and early stage investment company; Steven McKean, founder and CEO of Acceller, a 13-year-old Miami-based tech company in the business of customer acquisition for phone, cable and satellite companies, and a Challenge judge; and Mike Tomas, CEO of Miami-based Bioheart, president of ASTRI Group, an early-stage private equity investment group in the healthcare space, and a Challenge judge in the FIU Track.

According to the panel, a short business plan should always include:

•  A strong opening statement: “We want to know what it is you actually do. If we have to keep guessing we don’t want to keep reading. Action verbs are important: Do you manufacture, do you sell, do you create. Be specific,” said Krinzman.

•  The problem you are solving in the marketplace: Also include how your solution is better than the competition. And don’t say you don’t have any competition; directly or indirectly, there is always competition.

•  How you plan to make money: This may seem obvious but it is surprising how many entries expend all their space on explaining their product or service and its awesome features and forget to include this. Are you a subscription-based model, are you selling a product nationally or locally. Tell us.

•  Sales and marketing: If you are already on the market, briefly tell us your marketing strategy and your customers. If you don’t have customers yet, who do you think they will be and how will you market to them?

•  Team: No need for long bios here — include relevant experience for you and members of your team.

“Include why you have the right management team and why we should bet on you,” said Tomas. What particularly impresses an investor, he said: relevant industry experience, if you’re a serial entrepreneur and been there before and if you have people around you that are stronger than you are.

The panelists also talked about their vast capital-raising experiences, as both entrepreneurs and investors. “I have been raising money my entire life, you never stop,” said Tomas. “To me the most important component is networking — go to as many events as you can and get to know folks… Some of the best leads I got for raising funds were from folks who have never written a check.”

All mentioned looking for investors that can offer more than a check — expertise in your industry, connections, management experience. There’s value even if the answer is no.

“When someone takes a meeting with you to hear your idea, there is a lot more you can get out of it than just the money,” said McKean. “You can get a relationship out of it, you can get customer referrals, but I think the most valuable thing you can get out of it is feedback."

“I invest in people. If you are passionate about your business, if you invested your own money in it and went to your mom and she invested her 401k, that means a lot to me. I also have a car ride test, if I don’t want to share a 90 minute car ride with you I probably don’t want to invest,” added Ginsburg. It goes both ways and you have to like your investor as well. “You are in the trenches with your investor.”

The best investors could be retired executives in your industry, Krinzman said. Tomas added it is important to allocate resources for a good lawyer and other professional services. “Some will disagree with me, but debt is cheaper than equity,” he added. “Bootstrap as much as you can.”

During the bootcamp, some entrepreneurs in the audience pitched their businesses while others came armed with questions for the experts. It’s important to note that in the Business Plan Challenge, all types of businesses — from high-growth ventures to small, local businesses — are welcome and are judged by how well you convey your strategy to make it a success in your market.

More advice from the panel:

•  Cut the jargon. Explain your business in simple language. Use analogies to simplify.

•  Read Starting Gate and check out events and who’s attending in your industry. Look at speakers’ bios. Follow them on Twitter — it shows you are aggressive.

•  Sometimes starting your plan with an example or two will help explain it to the reader. Tell a story — at the end of the day businesses are about the story, and why this business is important, Krinzman said.

•  On financials (yes, include a financial section in your Business Plan Challenge entry — you might want to use your supplemental page for this), show that you understand what it costs to find, acquire and keep a customer. Source your assumptions where appropriate, Krinzman said. “Have a methodology, have a thought process, outline your assumptions and where they are rooted and you are away ahead of the game,” Ginsburg added.

•  Be realistic on the financials. If you are showing 90 percent net three years out, we’re not going to believe you, McKean said. It has to pass the sanity test.

•  If you have already raised capital, it validates your business plan. Definitely include it in your plan, said Ginsburg. Customers are even better, added McKean.

•  Most investors are looking for a company, not a product. If you have a single product with plans for additional products, you could show your growth strategy with bullet points on the future products, Krinzman said.

•  Books to read: McKean recommended Great by Choice by Jim Collins, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harish, and Playing to Win by AG Lafley on integrating strategy and execution. Krinzman recommends reading blogs of celebrity investors like Fred Wilson, Brad Feld and Mark Suster. “Those are some of the guys that write daily, are brilliant, and will give you an inside point of view on growing a business, thriving in business and what investors look for.” She also recommends Inc. magazine.

•  Favorite entrepreneur? Ray Kroc, hands down, said Ginsburg. “That guy got involved with the McDonald’s brothers in his mid-40s. You can do it at any age. You don’t have to be 19 to start a successful business.”

Questions about the Business Plan Challenge? Read more about the community-wide contest, co-sponsored by FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, on and follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

Your last-minute questions about the Challenge are answered here.

Read more Business Plan Challenge stories from the Miami Herald

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