What is a business plan?

A business plan is an essential tool for any business and entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs will say that they don’t have plan but prefer to ‘Just Do It’ – which is true until they need to communicate in a formal way to others (banks, partners, customers, suppliers and the workforce) what the business is all about and what value it generates and for whom. So a business plan is a way to formalise the entrepreneurial vision so that it can be shared…like with us for instance when you are entering the Making Business Happen awards! It is also important to just note that when we say formal we don’t mean that your plan should be devoid of passion and spirit…quite the opposite – a formal plan allows you to share your enthusiasm about the business in a way that is ordered and coherent – definitely not boring!

An excellent resource is www.entrepreneur.com. It is a US web based resource for all entrepreneurs (at whatever stage) and they say the following about business plans:

A business plan is a written description of your business’s future. That’s all there is to it; a document that describes what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. If you jot down a paragraph on the back of an envelope describing your business strategy, you’ve written a plan, or at least the germ of a plan.

An alternative source is www.business.wales.gov.uk which is also a good place to look for advice on planning for business (which is a nice way to look at the start up phase of your venture). Their view on what a business plan is suggests that:

It is essential to have a realistic, working business plan when you’re starting up a business. A business plan is a written document that describes a business, its objectives, its strategies, the market it is in and its financial forecasts. It has many functions, from securing external funding to measuring success within your business.

If you have never written a business plan before, then don’t worry, you are not alone as our friends at Start Up Donut (great name!) pint out: Many potential start-up businesses are daunted by the prospect of writing a business plan. But it is not a difficult process – and a good business plan focuses the mind as well as helping to secure finance and support.

The business plan will clarify your business idea and define your long-term objectives. It provides a blueprint for running the business and a series of benchmarks to check your progress against. It is also vital for convincing your bank – and possibly key customers and suppliers – to support you.

What should a business plan contain?


A business plan as outlined above is a pretty valuable document to have if you are serious about business – but the plan needs to be flexible and fluid in order to enable the business to make the most of opportunities as they arise, which means that you need to refer to the plan on a frequent basis and update it regularly. It’s a very worn cliché but think of your venture as an adventure, a journey and the business plan is the map – it helps guide you and others…but you need to refer to it often otherwise you will have to backtrack and that will waste resources.

As Santander suggest: Careful planning is crucial to the success of any business. You should aim to define your objectives for each year and decide how you will achieve them. One of the best ways to make sure nothing is overlooked is to prepare a detailed Business Plan. To produce your business plan you will need to:

  • Research your market. To complete your cash flow projections and write your Business Plan you need to research your market carefully and show that your estimates for income and expenditure make sense when set in that background.
  • Keep up to date. Use them as a resource to:
  • keep up with new developments
  • research new opportunities

So what should go in the plan – what will make it valuable and usable for the future development of the business? The following discussion and suggested resources take a variety of viewpoints – which are pretty much similar, but the sequence and terminology may differ to the Making Business Happen entry form, so just bear that in mind when you are accessing them.

Business Wales make the following points:

Your business plan should provide details of how you are going to develop your business, when you are going to do it, who’s going to play a part and how you will manage the finances. Clarity on these issues is particularly important if you’re looking for finance or investment. The process of building your plan will also focus your mind on how your new business will need to operate to give it the best chance of success. Your plan should include:

  • an executive summary – this is an overview of the business you want to start. It’s vital. Many lenders and investors make judgments about your business based on this section of the plan alone. See the page in this guide on the executive summary
  • a short description of the business opportunity – who you are, what you plan to sell or offer, why and to whom. See the page in this guide on your business, its products and services
  • your marketing and sales strategy – why you think people will buy what you want to sell and how you plan to sell to them. See the pages in this guide on your markets and competitors and marketing and sales
  • your management team and personnel – your credentials and the people you plan to recruit to work with you. See the page in this guide on your team’s skills
  • your operations – your premises, production facilities, your management information systems and IT. See the page in this guide on your operations
  • financial forecasts – this section translates everything you have said in the previous sections into numbers. See the page in this guide on financial forecasts

As we have stated – this may not be the exact framework for the Making Business Happen entry form – but we will ask for the same information – just in a slightly different order, to prove our point here is what www.entrepreneur.com say:

So what’s included in a business plan, and how do you put one together? Simply stated, a business plan conveys your business goals, the strategies you’ll use to meet them, potential problems that may confront your business and ways to solve them, the organizational structure of your business (including titles and responsibilities), and finally, the amount of capital required to finance your venture and keep it going until it breaks even.

Sound impressive? It can be, if put together properly. A good business plan follows generally accepted guidelines for both form and content. There are three primary parts to a business plan:

The first is the business concept, where you discuss the industry, your business structure, your particular product or service, and how you plan to make your business a success.

The second is the marketplace section, in which you describe and analyse potential customers: who and where they are, what makes them buy and so on. Here, you also describe the competition and how you’ll position yourself to beat it.

Finally, the financial section contains your income and cash flow statement, balance sheet and other financial ratios, such as break-even analyses. This part may require help from your accountant and a good spreadsheet software program.

Breaking these three major sections down even further, a business plan consists of seven key components:

  • Executive summary
  • Business description
  • Market strategies
  • Competitive analysis
  • Design and development plan
  • Operations and management plan
  • Financial factors

Why do businesses use business plans?

To some extent we have covered this already in this section, but it is always worth emphasising the point about the need to communicate your great ideas and passion to others.

There are many benefits to creating and managing a realistic business plan – so says Business Wales:

Even if you just use it in-house, it can:

  • help you spot potential pitfalls before they happen
  • structure the financial side of your business efficiently
  • focus your efforts on developing your business
  • work as a measure of your success

Many people think of a business plan as a document used to secure external funding. This is important because potential investors, including banks, may invest in your idea, work with you or lend you money as a result of the strength of your plan.

The following people or institutions may request to see your business plan at some stage:

  • banks
  • external investors – whether this is a friend, a venture capitalist firm or a business angel
  • grant providers
  • anyone interested in buying your business
  • potential partners

You should also bear in mind that a business plan is a living document that will help you monitor your performance and stay on track and will therefore need updating and changing as your business grows. Regardless of whether you intend to use your plan internally, or as a document for external people, it should still take an objective and honest look at your business. Failing to do this could mean that you and others have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved and when.

These points are underlined by the UK Government www.gov.uk/write-business-plan:

A business plan is a written document that describes your business. It covers objectives, strategies, sales, marketing and financial forecasts.

A business plan helps you to:

  • clarify your business idea
  • spot potential problems
  • set out your goals
  • measure your progress

You’ll need a business plan if you want to secure investment or a loan from a bank. It can also help to convince customers, suppliers and potential employees to support you.

So the message is strong: you need a business plan to help you communicate what your business idea is all about and why other people should support it. Entrepreneur magazine goes a stage further and makes the point that there will be differing audiences at different times for the business plan depending on the life stage of the business. As they state: about the only person who doesn’t need a business plan is one who’s not going into business. You don’t need a plan to start a hobby or to moonlight from your regular job. But anybody beginning or extending a venture that will consume significant resources of money, energy or time, and that is expected to return a profit should take the time to draft some kind of plan.

Two stages of business plan development are suggested, the start-up and an established business.

  • Start-up’s -The classic business plan writer is an entrepreneur seeking funds to help start a new venture. Many, many great companies had their starts on paper, in the form of a plan that was used to convince investors to put up the capital necessary to get them under way. However, it’s a mistake to think that only cash-starved startups need business plans. Business owners find plans useful at all stages of their companies’ existence, whether they’re seeking financing or trying to figure out how to invest a surplus.
  • Established businesses seeking help – Not all business plans are written by starry-eyed entrepreneurs. Many are written by and for companies that are long past the startup stage. Middle-stage enterprises may draft plans to help them find funding for growth just as the startups do, although the amounts they seek may be larger and the investors more willing. They may feel the need for a written plan to help manage an already rapidly growing business. Or a plan may be seen as a valuable tool to be used to convey the mission and prospects of the business to customers, suppliers or others.

Who reads them?

Again we have probably answered this question already, but it is worth adding a few final comments on Business Planning Trends from Mark Hendriks of www.entrepreneur.com.

Plans today no longer need the 20 to 40 pages prescribed by classic planners. “The shorter [it is], the better chance [it has] of being read,” says Bill Bygrave (professor emeritus at Babson College and long-time entrepreneurship researcher), who recommends devoting no more than five pages to income, cash flow and balance sheets. “And don’t have any numbers in [there] you can’t explain instantaneously.”

As tools such as spreadsheets and plan writing software have grown in importance, some critics say business plans have become overstuffed with complex financials that are often backed up by little more than guesswork. “[These tools have] made it easier to produce a business plan,” says Bygrave. “But they’ve produced page after page of financials that basically came out of thin air.” As a result, investors today want fewer and better-documented financials.

What you really need to communicate is that you have done your homework and your research: especially the market – without customers (potential or real) there will be no business.

Further Information and Links

The following links are a valuable business planning resource – however there is a lot of information contained in these links, much of it will cover the same subjects but from a different angle. The list is not meant to convey any of our preferences but we hope that it will be of use not only for your successful entry into the making Business Happen awards but also for you future business development.

General business plan advice and templates:

Some video case study presentation examples:

Examples of business plans:

And finally – what it should all be about:

Who can participate in the competition?

Please see the section on criteria in the category overview.

However there are two key points:

You must live in the UK.

You, and all team members, are over 16 years of age on the September 1 2016.

Can a business proposal enhance an existing, revenue generating business?

Yes. However, your business or business idea must be your own. Franchises or subsidiaries of existing companies are not eligible

Can my plan be a social venture?

Yes. But keep in mind that it will be judged by the same criteria as other plans. See what judges look for in a plan.

What if I have never written a business plan?

Now’s a good time to start. A business plan demonstrates that you have thought through the critical issues related to launching a business. See Business Plan Guidelines. Also, take a look at the resource links that we have made available to assist you in writing a plan in the Help and Advice section.

Who will be judging the awards?

All Making Business Happen award categories will be judged by a combination of industry experts and experienced members of the academic team from the University of South Wales Business School.

Will the judges sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)?

No. Requiring the judges to sign an NDA would overwhelm them with legal requirements that would severely inhibit their ability to participate in the competition. You should take appropriate steps to protect your intellectual property, just as you would if you were approaching institutional investors.

Most judges are alumnus, or friends of the school, interested in supporting the awards from an educational standpoint.

This is a great opportunity to get feedback on your idea from professionals who wouldn’t otherwise have the time to look at it. We would encourage you to take advantage of it.

Will I get feedback on my application or plan?

No. Unfortunately, the judges do not have the time to provide individual comment on each proposal.

Can my school or college get support and advice for students interested in entering the Award?


The Awards have been designed to fit easily with a range of related enterprise activity that schools and colleges might be covering for the syllabus of a number of level three qualifications. If you would like to find out more about any aspect of the Awards please email us at makingbusinesshappen@southwales.ac.uk.

Through our schools and colleges outreach programme it is also possible to book a number of  enterprise, business and marketing related outreach sessions which can be delivered at your school or college by an experienced member of Academic staff from the University of South Wales Business school. This will also provide an opportunity for students and staff alike to take advantage of the change to discuss the Awards and get a ‘judges perspective’ on things.

See our ‘schools and college resource‘ section to find out more.

What defines a social venture?

A social venture needs to have a primary focus on some social or environmental mission. There are naturally some grey areas in which very profitable businesses may include an important social mission.

Is there a suggested length for the business plan?

Yes. The online entry form has sections that have word limits – so make sure that you are aware of these before you submit your entry.

How quickly will we get our money if we win?

All monetary prizes will be distributed to the various award winners as soon as possible following the prize giving at the showcase event on Tuesday 22 March 2016.

Can my team have more than six members?

No. In order to ensure fairness across all entries the maximum number of team members per entry is six.

Who is judging the presentations of the finalists?

All presentations will be judged by a combination of industry experts and experienced members of the academic team from the University of South Wales Business School. Take a look at the biographiesfor our judges.

Do I have to accept the full support package?

No. The support package is on offer as a supplementary package to the cash prize. However the support is of a significant value to both the business and you and you may want to accept some of the offer if not all. No cash equivalent will however be offered.

Do I have to record a video as part of my application?

Yes and No!

This is an opportunity for you to bring your business and idea to life and ‘tell’ us about your business. You can use a video or an animated power point – it’s up to you. All we ask is that your ‘elevator pitch’ conforms to the length stipulated in the entry criteria for your chosen category, is introduced with your name and the name of the business and does not contain any copyright content (material that other people have made!).

See our ‘guide’ to making a ‘pitch’ in the Help and Advice section.

Can I submit a business plan that has been previously entered into another business plan competition?


Do I apply by submitting a completed business plan?

No. You apply by completing an application online, which has sections for you to upload your business plan. We also require a short video creative and some specific details depending on the award you are entering – so please read the category overview before submitting your entry.

Can I submit a plan if I have had contact with an organisation with which a judge is affiliated?

Yes. However, you will risk disqualification if you attempt to approach a judge, or have someone do that on your behalf, specifically in connection with the Making Business Happen awards.

What if my/our situation changes after submitting an application but before judging is completed?

Let us know of any significant changes by email (makingbusinesshappen@southwales.ac.uk) as soon as you learn of them. These include receiving financing from another outside source, a change in business focus or plans, and/or other material events.

Can social entrepreneurship ventures make a profit?

Yes. Just make sure to differentiate this in your entry.

How do I know if I have a good business idea?

While this is a very tough question to answer briefly, here are some initial things to consider.

Talk to as many people as possible! Speaking with individuals who you are close with as well as entrepreneurs or individuals in your industry of interest will provide you with key points of concern that you will need to work through as you learn to articulate your idea.

Do your research!

Ask yourself what problem you are solving: good entrepreneurial ideas can often be framed as a problem that your venture would somehow eliminate or alleviate.

Can we submit a business plan for a business idea that is or may become a nonprofit / social business in the future?

Yes. The Making Business Happen awards are open to all types of business ideas.

If I win a place to compete in the showcase event what cost elements are covered?

The University will provide all members of shortlisted teams plus their teacher / guardian with paid for accommodation for one or two nights  (as required).

Lunch and dinner will be provided to all showcase attendees.

In general entrants are required to pay for their own travel expenses, but the University will consider individual applications for contributions towards costs associated with attending the showcase events. More details will be provided when the successful entrants are notified following the initial judging process conclusion which will be by no later than Friday 24 February 2017.

Where will the awards ceremony take place?

The awards showcase event will take place at our Pontypridd Campus in June 2017

If I win, do I have to invest the prize money in my business/business idea?

We would like you to. Our aspiration is that you invest the prize money into ‘Making Business Happen’ and could be both business and/or personal development.

Do I have to complete my application in one sitting?

No – you can take as much time as you like to complete your application – as long as you submit the completed form by 23:59 on Friday 7 April 2017.

Do I have to be in my video?

No. Your video is a creation of your imagination. Different types of video content may include:

  • Live action
  • Screen casts
  • Motion graphics/animation
  • Slideshows with voiceover.

See our ‘guide’ to making a ‘pitch’ in the Help and Advice section.

May a business plan be submitted that has received institutional, angel, or other financing?


Do proposals have to focus on technology?

No. Entries may be submitted for any type of business or business idea. See what our judges look for in a plan.

Why can't I apply by submitting a complete business plan instead of completing an online application form?

We use an application in order to provide a level field for all applicants. Asking all applicants to answer the same set of questions ensures that the judges get the same input from each applicant. If everyone were asked to apply by submitting a completed plan, there likely would be a wide range of plans submitted and many would likely fail to include the key answers to questions. This would likely be especially true for those who haven’t written a business plan before. The short creative is an opportunity for you to bring the plan to life and add passion to the words.

Can I look at other business plans submitted for this competition?

No. All entries submitted to the competition are considered confidential. But, take a look at the resource links that we have made available to assist you in writing a plan, which contains excellent advice from experienced entrepreneurs and business owners: see Help and Advice section.

What if I/we have to withdraw from the competition after filing an application?

Let us know by email (makingbusinesshappen@southwales.ac.uk) as soon as possible. This is especially important so that our volunteer judges don’t spend time evaluating a proposal that is no longer active. Only the principal applicant listed on the application may withdraw an application from the competition.

Will you return my plan after the competition is over?

No. The organisers will endeavour to collect and destroy all copies used by the judges.

Do you need a business background to compete?

No, but you will need to communicate business principles.

Can a student submit plans for more than one team?

You are allowed to participate in the Making Business Happen awards in more than one team. It can be a logistical challenge to do, but it is possible.

When will the competition take place?

Visit our ‘timelines’ page for more details.

How can I keep up to date about the Making Business Happen Awards during the rest of the year?

You can check our Making Business Happen website regularly and sign up to receive updates. Registered entrants will also receive emails from us, usually sent to the team leaders. You can also follow us on Twitter.

What sort of questions will I be asked in the application form?

The application form focuses on three main parts – your basic information, your business plan and a creative (some categories will also require further specific information):

Basic information: This is the real ‘need to know’ stuff- such as your contact details and team members

Business plan: This part will ask you for the detail of your business plan. We have broken it up into separate sections – each will have a word limit.

The creative: This is your opportunity to enhance your entry using a short video or creative (see guidelines in the Help and Advice section).


Are you an aspiring entrepreneur with a great business idea? You can enter the Making Business Happen Awards.