How to Draft a Good Business Plan

If “start a company” is on your to-do list or you’d like it to be, you’ll need a business plan. Even the smallest businesses will benefit from a clear vision and strategy to help you get there.

Business plans include market research and details about your marketing strategies, intended audience, staffing, potential obstacles, and overall goals.

The first part? The executive summary. This critical piece of the plan gives you–and potential funders–the elevator speech version of what you intend to do: your products and services, a brief market analysis, your strategy, and your risk analysis.

Ready to get started? Great. Let’s take a closer look at these five strategies for creating the perfect business plan.

Pick a format

Format matters. You might need the traditional 20-30 page business plan if you’re going after big funding right off the bat. To get started, you may need a smaller version of your plan, or several smaller versions depending on your audience. A slideshow is a nice idea if you’re presenting your plan in-person to a potential investor, customer, or potential employee.

A one-page plan is the shortest version possible, and something you can use when you want that potential investor, customer, or employee to take something with them when they leave your meeting.

Business plan software or a good old-fashioned paper plan can do the trick, too. Most software offers templates that you can tailor to meet your intended audience’s needs.

Regardless of the format you choose, know that you may want to have a few versions. Need help? Ask for it.

Keep it short

And sweet, while you’re at it.

No one wants to read that 30-page plan, let alone 100 pages.

Write your business plan as a refined work-in-progress that you use to run and grow your business. A long business plan is a hassle. A short, clear one gives you a clear roadmap with room to grow and improve.

Your mission, vision, goals, obstacles, and strategy should be clear. Your purpose should be clear, too.

Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve

The secret to a successful business? A clear vision. What do you want to achieve as a company? Before you begin writing this plan, sketch out the vision and there or four key strategies that you’ll use to facilitate your vision.

The mission and vision are related. Your mission is the “why” of what you’re doing now. Once you’re clear on that, you need to develop the “why” of what you’ll do in the future. That’s the vision. That’s key. Investors want to know how they can expect to see a (big) return on their investment.

Identify your target audience

Easier said than done, right? You need to figure out the answer to this question: “For whom are you solving a problem, or offering a better solution?”

Once you determine your “for whom,” and you may have multiples, write your plan in language for them.

Here’s an example: if your company is developing technology that helps banks, but your prospective investors are scientists, and don’t understand banking language, adapt. Make your langauge accessible to your target audience–and your target investors.

Hard to do when they’re from different sectors, but worth your time.

Make sure it includes all necessary elements

Ready? At a minimum, your plan needs some iteration of these six things: an executive summary, opportunity, execution, team and company, finances, and an appendix.

Your executive summary includes your mission and vision, product or services, and basic information about the company and its finances. It should offer a one-sentence business overview, a problem, your solution, and your target market. It needs to be short, sweet, and concise.

Your opportunity section delves into the detail of the problem you’re solving, the solution, your intended audience, and how your product or service is unlike the competition. You’ll also detail more of your vision here. You may opt for a formal market analysis here, too.

A word of warning on formal market analyses: your target audience is never “everyone.” Be specific and broad at the same time.

Your execution section explains how you’re going to achieve your goals, and your team and company section describes who’s going to do it for you. Keep these sections clear, detailed, and concise.

Your finances need to include your current financial situation–and how you got there–your financial goals, a plan for getting there, and a respectful ask, if you’re making one. Don’t be afraid to use graphics to illustrate your points.

With a clear business plan, you can make your dreams realities. Remember: audience and purpose are just as key as clean language and a clear vision.

Seven Benefits You Should Request From Your First Employer

Launching yourself from studenthood into adulthood with your first career job is a daunting endeavor. The job search itself feels like a full-time job: crafting the perfect cover letter, updating your resume, checking in with references, and then hoping to find the right match.

Once you do find the right match, though, the work only just begins. Before you sign a contract — full-time, part-time, freelance or otherwise — consider the employee benefits you could get, how important they are to you, and if and how you should negotiate for them.

Looking for some advice on how to do that? Here are seven things you might want to ask for, with advice on how to ask for them:

1. Student loan repayment

One of the biggest employee benefits of 2018 according to Forbes, student loan repayment is a key recruitment tool at some of the biggest companies such as finance firm Fidelity. If you do not know whether your prospective new employer has a student loan repayment program, ask politely.

According to personal finance site Make Lemonade, there are over 44 million graduates who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loans, the largest consumer debt category after mortgages.

Many companies find that helping out with student loan repayment not only attracts but keeps great employees.

If your new job does not offer student loan repayment, try to lower your interest rates through student loan refinancing.

2. Health insurance coverage

You need to know whether or not your employer offers health insurance, but that’s not enough. You need to know how much you will have to put into it — and if you have a family, how much your family is covered.

Check those premiums and make sure your deductibles are not through the roof.

Ask your employer to review the health insurance plan options with you and understand the restrictions and limitations, especially when it comes to pre-existing conditions.

Make sure you completely understand the health insurance options from your employer and that the plan meets your needs. If not, ask questions.

3. Pension payments

No, you are probably not thinking about your pension just yet, but it should show up on your radar screen.

Do not overlook a full pension or matching programs on 401(k) and 403(b) accounts.

Matching programs are pretty valuable, especially when employers match your saving dollar-for-dollar or a certain percentage of your income.

Here’s how it works. If you make $70,000 but your employee matches 100 percent of your contribution up to 6 percent, over 30 years, you will have quite a bit of cash.

Think on it — and do the math.

4. Access to wellness programs

Sometimes employers lump these together with health plans and sometimes they are stand-alone.

Some companies offer to pitch in on your health insurance premium if you agree to take health-risk assessments, or they may even offer financial perks for wellness activities like flu shots, joining a gym, and meeting biometric targets for cholesterol and high blood pressure. That’s right: some employers pay you to stay healthy! After all, a healthy employee is usually a happy — and productive — employee. So it’s a win-win.

Ask a benefits counselor in human resources for more information about your employer’s wellness program and go ahead and get that discounted gym membership!

5. Professional development perks

While your experience and credentials got you this great gig in the first place, you will need to stay current with the latest in your field. How? Training, conferences, workshops, seminars, and a host of other activities.

Does your new employer foot the bill for classes, conferences, seminars, or tuition reimbursement? Find out.

Larger companies often offer some type of undergraduate or graduate educational assistance. This means more money in your pocket.

6. More paid holidays

There should be paid time off in your contract. It is not always easy, but try to ascertain if the work-life balance is acceptable to you.

If you are coming from an employer who offered more time off, politely negotiate with your new employer to match that number.

If you are worth it to your new company, they will be willing to listen. Make yourself worth it to them. Companies often offer good benefits so people will be happy in their jobs and they will benefit from both lower attrition (as recruitment can be costly and time-consuming) and more motivated employees.

7. The possibility of working from home

Working from home at least part of the time has become more popular and it is entirely reasonable to ask if the option exists.

Negotiate this ahead of time — don’t ask your boss if it is ok if you work from home every Friday once you are in the job. Even if you do not settle on an agreement in the negotiations, ask the human resources office about their remote work policies and their expectations of your presence in the office.

Why You Should Blog about Your Research

You can blog about anything: cooking, teaching, fashion, books, history, politics, sports, current events, science… your research… the list goes on.

Why should you start a blog about your research? Exposure.

What is it? “Blog, “short for weblog is a website or page that your regularly update with news and material relevant to you.

Some use blogs as online personal diaries or journals. Others use them to generate web traffic to their sites using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies.

Blogging about your research not only associates your name with your research on the internet, it also has a myriad of other benefits.

Let’s take a closer look at the top four reason you should blog about your research:

1. It will improve your writing

Writing is harder than it looks. You know this if you ever tried to blog or write outside your research area.

Here’s how blogging will improve your writing:

Establishing Routine – establishing a healthy writing practice that is both academic and creative is imperative for your writing to improve. What better way to practice writing than to blog? Write every day with the expectation that you will publish your blog at least once per week, at least to start. That gives you a whole week to write and polish one good piece of writing.

Experimenting With Forms – sometimes your research requires a narrative reflection to explain. Other times, it requires a more academic voice. By blogging, you can experiment with different types of writing and publish them on your website. Experimenting with different types of writing will also help you expand your audience (see #2).

2. You’ll learn to talk to a wider, more general audience

Academic blogs tend to focus on professional topics and research. Being able to talk about your research in plain, clear language will help you not just with writing, but with your public and personal interactions with other people.

Remember: the internet is global. If you optimize your blog and web page to get the most hits on google, you’ll reach the global public—and this can open up other possibilities down the road.

Embrace the public engagement that is blogging and learn to discuss your research in more meaningful ways with the whole world.

3. It’s great for your CV or resumé

Want a new job? Trying to land that research grant? Looking for new collaborators? The better your blog and the more interactions you have with other researchers and scientists, the more likely it is that you’ll already have opened those doors to collaboration.

Putting your highly respected, comment-laden, well-written blog on your resume shows that you’re serious about what you do.

Bottom line? Get exposure. Get feedback. Ignite your real-life and internet personas with blogging and market yourself as an expert in your field.

4. It will help generate new ideas

Blogging requires you to flex your writing muscles, write outside of what you know, and write credibly.

How do new ideas happen? You think. How do you think? You write. And write and write and write.

Writing forces your brain to digest new information, synthesize new information improve your thinking and voila! You have new ideas. All the time.

Here’s the best part of blogging: when you write something and someone—a stranger on the other side of the world, perhaps—engages with it or comments on it, you know you have something to say that others are interested in.