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Business Plan Basics: What to include to impress an investor or contest judge

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Steven McKean, Richard Ginsburg, Mike Tomas and Melissa Krinzman discuss business planning and capital raising at the Miami Herald Business Plan Bootcamp at Miami Dade College Feb. 26. Shown below is entrepreneur Jessica Kizorek posing a question to the panel. Photos are by Patrick Farrell of the Miami Herald.


If you are crafting a short business plan to enter into this year’s Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge or to send to an investor, how do you make your plan stand out?

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 young mid-market and early stage investment company that has invested in two local companies; 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 makes you different, better, cheaper, faster 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 models, 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, your traction so far and about 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 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, potential customers, management expertise. 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 -- you are going to go through tough times with them.”

Sometimes the best investors might be retired executives in your industry, Krinzman said. Tomas added it is very 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.”

BIZMON_bootcamp03xx b epfDuring 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 to small, local  businesses -- are welcome and are judged by how well you convey your strategy to make it a success in your market.  Some of the panelists' answers and advice:

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

* Read Starting Gate, join MapYourStartup.com and check out events that are going on and who’s attending who can help you 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 do a section called additional opportunities or you can show your growth strategy with bullet points on the additional products you plan to launch, Krinzman said.

 * Books to read: McKean recommended “Great by Choice” by Jim Collins, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harish on managing a growing company, and “Playing to Win” by AG Lafley on integrating strategy and execution. Krinzman recommended reading the blogs of the 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.”

ADEM1354 Business Plan Logo 2013Questions about the Business Plan Challenge? Email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. Contest rules and more tips can be found here. Did I say the deadline is March 11? Get moving! And follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

(Photo in the middle is of entrepreneur Jessica Kizorek of Badass Business Women posing a question to the panel.)