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 The Necessity for a Business Plan

5.2 The Necessity for a Business Plan

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. Understand that the probability of running a successful business is significantly increased with a formal business plan.
  2. Understand that although many small business owners express reasons for not planning, they do themselves a great disservice by not having a formal plan.
  3. Understand that businesses that seek to secure external funding must produce a formal plan.

An intelligent plan is the first step to success. The man who plans knows where he is going, knows what progress he is making and has a pretty good idea of when he will arrive. Planning is the open road to your destination. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you expect to get there?

Basil Walsh

In Chapter 1 “Foundations for Small Business”, we discussed the issue of failure and small businesses. Although research on small business failure has identified many factors, one reason that always appears at the top of any list is the failure to plan. Interestingly, some people argue that planning is not essential for a start-up business, but they are in a distinct minority.Jason Cohen, “Don’t Write a Business Plan,” Building43, January 27, 2010, accessed October 10, 2011, www.building43.com/blogs/2010/01/27/dont-write-a -business-plan. The overwhelming consensus is that a well-developed plan is essential for the survival of any small (or large) business.T. C. Carbone, “Four Common Management Failures and How to Avoid Them,” Management World 10, no. 8 (1981): 38.,Patricia Schaeffer, “The Seven Pitfalls of Business Failure and How to Avoid Them,” Business Know-How, 2011, accessed October 10, 2011, www.businessknowhow.com/startup/business-failure.htm.,Isabel M. Isodoro, “10 Rules for Small Business Success,” PowerHomeBiz.com, 2011, www.powerhomebiz.com/vol19/rules.htm.,Rubik Atamian and Neal R. VanZante, “Continuing Education: A Vital Ingredient of the ‘Success Plan’ for Small Business,” Journal of Business and Economic Research 8, no. 3 (2010): 37. Perry found that firms with more than five people benefit from having a well-developed business plan.Stephen C. Perry, “A Comparison of Failed and Non-Failed Small Businesses in the United States: Do Men and Women Use Different Planning and Decision Making Strategies?,” Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship 7, no. 4 (2002): 415.

A recent study found that there was a near doubling of successful growth for those businesses that completed business plans compared to those that did not create one. It must be pointed out that this study might be viewed as being biased because the founder of the software company whose main product is a program that builds business plans conducted the study. However, the results were examined by academics from the University of Oregon who validated the overall results. They found that “except in a small number of cases, business planning appeared to be positively correlated with business success as measured by our variables. While our analysis cannot say the completing of a business plan will lead to success, it does indicate that the type of entrepreneur who completes a business plan is also more likely to produce a successful business.”Rieva Lesonsky, “A Small Business Plan Doubles Your Chances for Success, Says a New Survey,” Small Business Trends, June 20, 2010, accessed October 10, 2011, smallbiztrends.com/2010/06/business-plan-success-twice-as-likely.html.

Basically, there are two main reasons for developing a comprehensive business plan: (1) a plan will be extraordinarily useful in ensuring the successful operation of your business; and (2) if one is seeking to secure external funds from banks, venture capitalists, or other investors, it is essential that you be able to demonstrate to them that they will be recovering their money and making a profit. Let us examine each reason in detail.

Many small business owners operate under a mistaken belief that the only time that they need to create a business plan is at the birth of the company or when they are attempting to raise additional capital from external sources. They fail to realize that a business plan can be an important element in ensuring day-to-day success.

The initial planning process aids the operational success of a small business by allowing the owner a chance to review, in detail, the viability of the business idea. It forces one to rigorously consider some key questions:

  • Is the business strategy feasible?
  • What are the chances it will make money?
  • Do I have the operational requirements for starting and running a successful business?
  • Have I considered a well-thought-out marketing plan that clearly identifies who my customers will be?
  • Do I clearly understand what value I will provide to these customers?
  • What will be the means of distribution to provide the product or the service to my customers?
  • Have I clarified to myself the financial issues associated with starting and operating the business?
  • Do I have to reexamine these notions to ensure success?

Possessing an actual written plan enables you to have people outside the organization evaluate your business plan. Using friends, colleagues, partners, or even consultants may provide you with an unbiased evaluation of the assumptions.

It is not enough to create an initial business plan; you should anticipate making the planning process an annual activity. The Prussian military theorist von Moltke once argued that no military plan survives the first engagement with the enemy. Likewise, no company evolves in the same way as outlined in its initial business plan.

Overcoming the Reluctance to Formally Plan

By failing to prepare, you will prepare them to fail.

Benjamin Franklin

Unfortunately, it appears that many small businesses do not make any effort to build even an initial business plan, let alone maintain a planning process as an ongoing operation, even though there is clear evidence that the failure to plan may have serious consequences for the future success of such firms. This unwillingness to plan may be understandable in nonemployee businesses, but it is inexcusable as a business grows in size. Why, therefore, do some businesses fail to begin the planning process?

  • We do not need to plan. One of the prime reasons individuals fail to produce a business plan is that they believe that they do not have to plan. This may be attributable to the size of the firm; nonemployee firms that have no intention of seeking outside financing might sincerely believe that they have no need for a formal business plan. Others may believe that they so well understand the business and/or industry that they can survive and prosper without the burdensome process of a business plan. The author of Business Plan for Dummies, Paul Tiffany, once argued that if one feels lucky enough to operate a business successfully without resorting to a business plan, then he or she should forget about starting a business and head straight to Las Vegas.
  • I am too busy to plan. Anyone who has ever run a business on his or her own can understand this argument. The day-to-day demands of operating a business may make it seem that there is insufficient time to engage in any ancillary activity or prepare a business plan. Individuals who accept this argument often fail to recognize that the seemingly endless buzz of activities, such as constantly putting out fires, may be the direct result of not having thought about the future and planned for it in the first place.
  • Plans do not produce results. Small-business owners (entrepreneurs) are action- and results-oriented individuals. They want to see a tangible outcome for their efforts, and preferably they would like to see the results as soon as possible. The idea of sitting down and producing a large document based on assumptions that may not play out exactly as predicted is viewed as a futile exercise. However, those with broader experience understand that there will be no external funding for growth or the initial creation of the business without the existence of a well-thought-out plan. Although plans may not yield the specified results contained within them, the process of thinking about the plan and building it often yield results that the owner might not initially appreciate.
  • We are not familiar with the process of formal planning. This argument might initially appear to have more validity than the others. Developing a comprehensive business plan is a daunting task. It might seem difficult if not impossible for someone with no experience with the concept. Several studies have indicated that small business owners are more likely to engage in the planning process if they have had prior experience with planning models in their prior work experience.H. Hodges and T. Kent, “Impact of Planning and Control Sophistication in Small Business,” Journal of Small Business Strategy 17, no. 2 (2006–7): 75. Fortunately, this situation has changed rather significantly in the last decade. As we will illustrate in Section 5.3 “Building a Plan”, there are numerous tools that provide significant support for the development of business plans. We will see that software packages greatly facilitate the building of any business plan, including marketing plans and financial plans for small businesses. We also show that the Internet can provide an unbelievably rich source of data and information to assist in the building of these plans.

Although one could understand the reticence of someone new to small business (or in some cases even seasoned entrepreneurs), their arguments fall short with respect to the benefits that will be derived from conducting a structured and comprehensive business planning process.

Plans for Raising Capital

Every business plan should be written with a particular audience in mind. The annual business plan should be written with a management team and for the employees who have to implement the plan. However, one of the prime reasons for writing a business plan is to secure investment funds for the firm. Of course, funding the business could be done by an individual using his or her own personal wealth, personal loans, or extending credit cards. Individuals also can seek investments from family and friends. The focus here will be on three other possible sources of capital—banks, venture capitalists, and angel investors. It is important to understand what they look for in a business plan. Remember that these three groups are investors, so they will be anticipating, at the very least, the ability to recover their initial investment if not earn a significant return.

Bankers

Bankers, like all businesspeople, are interested in earning a profit; they want to see a return on their investment. However, unlike other investors, bankers are under a legal obligation to ensure that the borrower pledge some form of collateral to secure the loan.Tim Berry, “What Bankers Look for in a Business Plan…and What You Should Expect When Taking Your Business Plan to a Bank,” AllBusiness.com, November 7, 2006, accessed October 10, 2011, www.allbusiness.com/business-planning-structures/business-plans/3878953-1.html. This often means that banks are unwilling to fund a start-up business unless the owner is willing to pledge some form of collateral, such as a second mortgage on his or her home. Many first-time business owners are not in a position to do that; securing money from a bank occurs most frequently for an existing business that is looking to expand or for covering a short-term cash-flow need. Banks may lend to small business owners who are opening a second business provided that they can prove a record of success and profitability.

Banks will require a business plan. It should be understood that bank loan officers will initially focus on the financial components of that client, namely, the income statement, balance sheet, and the cash-flow statement. The bank will examine your projections with respect to known industry standards. Therefore, the business plan should not project a 75 percent profit margin when the industry standard is 15 percent, unless the author of the plan can clearly document why he or she will be earning such a high return.

Some businesses may raise funds with the assistance of a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. These loans are always arranged through a commercial bank. With these loans, the SBA will pledge up to 70 percent of the total value of the loan. This means that the owner still must provide, at the very least, 30 percent of the total collateral. The ability to secure one of these loans is clearly tied to the adequacy of the business plan.

Venture Capitalists

Another possible source of funding is venture capitalists. The first thing that one should realize about venture capitalists is that they are not in it just to make a profit; they want to make returns that are substantially above those to be found in the market. For some, this translates into the ability to secure five to ten times their initial investment and recapture their investment in a relatively short period of time—often less than five years. It has been reported that some venture capitalists are looking for returns in the order of twenty-five times their original investment.Marc Mays, “Small Business Venture Capital Strategies,” eZine Articles, 2010, accessed October 10, 2011, ezinearticles.com/?Small-Business-Venture-Capital-Strategies &id=4714691.

The financial statement, particularly the profit margin, is obviously important to venture capitalists, but they will also be looking at other factors. The quality of the management team identified in the business plan will be examined. They will be looking at the team’s experience and track record. Other factors needed by venture capitalists may include the projected growth rate of the market, the extent to which the product or the service being offered is unique, the overall size of the market, and the probability of producing a highly successful product or service.

Businesses that are seeking financing from banks know that they must go to loan officers who will review the plan, even though a computerized loan assessment program may make the final decision. With venture capitalists, on the other hand, you often need to have a personal introduction to have your plan considered. You should also anticipate that you will have to make a presentation to venture capitalists. This means that you have to understand your plan and be able to present it in a dynamic fashion.

Angel Investors

The third type of investors is referred to as angel investors, a term that originally came from those individuals who invested in Broadway shows and films. Many angel investors are themselves successful entrepreneurs. As with venture capitalists, they are looking for returns higher than they can normally find in the market; however, they often expect returns lower than those anticipated by venture capitalist. They may be attracted to business plans because of an innovative concept or the excitement of entering a new type of business. Being successful small business owners, many angel investors will not only provide capital to fund the business but also bring their own expertise and experience to help the business grow. It has been estimated that these angel investors provide between three and ten times as much money as venture capitalists for the development of small businesses.“The Importance of Angel Investing in Financing the Growth of Entrepreneurial Ventures,” Small Business Notes, September 2008, accessed October 10, 2011, www.smallbusinessnotes.com/aboutsb/rs331.html.

Angel investors will pay careful attention to all aspects of the proposed business plan. They expect a comprehensive business plan—one that clearly specifies the future direction of the firm. They also will look at the management team not only for its track record and experience but also their (the angel investor’s) ability to work with this team. Angel investors may take a much more active role in the management of the business, asking for positions on the board of directors, taking an equity position in the firm, demanding quarterly reports, or demanding that the business not take certain actions unless it has the approval of these angel investors. These investors will take a much more hands-on approach to the operations of a firm.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Planning is a critical and important component of ensuring the success of a small business.
  • Some form of formal planning should not only accompany the start-up of a business but also be a regular (annual) activity that guides the future direction of the business.
  • Many small business owners are reluctant to formally plan. They can produce many excuses for not planning.
  • Businesses may have to raise capital from external sources—bankers, venture capitalists, or angel investors. Each type of investor will expect a business plan. Each type of investor will be more or less interested in different parts of the plan. Business owners should be aware of what parts of the plan each type of investor will focus on.

EXERCISE

  1. In Exercise 2 in Section 5.1 “Developing Your Strategy”, you were asked to interview five local business owners. In addition to asking them questions about strategy, ask them the following questions about planning: (a) When you began the business, did you have a formal plan? (b) If not, why not? (c) Do you conduct some form of planning regularly?