“In my nine years of mentoring, I have worked with over 1,000 small business clients — both in business and those thinking of starting a business. I see each of them one-on-one and have felt their struggles, frustrations, and fears in writing a business plan. I have also seen the great improvements that can be made with a little coaching.”
– Hal Shelton, author of The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan

Hal Shelton, author of The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan: A Pro Shares a Step-by-Step Guide to Creating A Plan that Gets Results
Hal Shelton, author of The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan

For nearly a decade, Hal Shelton has dedicated his life to helping small businesses succeed.

As a SCORE small business mentor, he has worked with more than 1,000 small business owners and has learned firsthand the importance of an effective business plan.

I had the chance to sit down with Hal to discuss his new book, The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan, and to learn more about what it takes to create the perfect business plan.

I also took the opportunity to ask Hal about his experience as a small business mentor, and how working with a mentor can help a business owner succeed.

Here is my full interview with Hal Shelton:

Would you tell me a little about your background as a small business mentor?

I fully subscribe to “giving back.” I had mentors throughout my career, so now I volunteer to provide this coaching to others.

I am committed to and passionate about helping small businesses. I have been a corporate executive and board member for publicly traded companies and nonprofits, certified SCORE small business mentor and chapter leader, a SCORE national board of director, and an early-stage company investor.

Years ago, I heard a friend’s enthusiasm for being a SCORE volunteer. With my interest piqued, I asked him to tell be more and why he cared so much year after year. Nine volunteer years later, I am just as enthusiastic.

Founded in 1964, SCORE is a nonprofit devoted to helping people with mentoring, advice, training and education to start, operate and grow successful companies. SCORE with 11,000 volunteers in 320 chapters across the U.S. is about business people helping business people with business issues–all for free.

Last year, according to a survey conducted for SCORE by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, SCORE clients started 38,630 new businesses, created 67,319 new jobs; in addition 40,175 client companies experienced revenue growth.

What inspired you to write your book, The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan?

The past few years have been challenging times — when more and more people are going into business for themselves. That means greater competition to develop a solid business venture that succeeds over time.

In my nine years of SCORE mentoring, I have worked with over 1,000 small business clients — both in business and those thinking of starting a business. I see each of them one-on-one and have felt their struggles, frustrations, and fears in writing a business plan.  I have also seen the great improvements that can be made with a little coaching.

With my experiences and training, I know something about business plans so I was looking for a way to reach a greater number of small businesses quickly, and the book was the solution — putting the keys of success that have helped my SCORE clients on paper so everyone can benefit.

I think a lot of people have heard about business plans before, but how do you define a business plan? What is it, and why is having one so important?

A business plan is a process to test ideas to determine if they are feasible and financially attractive; it becomes a road map to successful business idea implementation. During the process, messages based on facts and analysis are developed, which can be used in discussions with others.

Appearing next week in the first blog is the full answer to this key question.

In the book you talk about The 12 Commandments of Writing a Business Plan. Without giving too much away, I’m interested to know how you came up with these.

The commandments summarize the book’s key themes and based on my experience are the foundation of an effective business plan. To see all 12 Commandments, go to my web-site at www.secretsofbusinessplans.com and click on the book to “look inside” and read the entire introduction for free.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen entrepreneurs face when coming up with a business plan? And what are some of the most common mistakes?

I have identified 18 common mistakes/challenges faced by entrepreneurs in developing their business plan. Here are three.

  • The business plan does not succinctly describe why the business idea will be successful—the value proposition and the competitive advantage statements are weak.
  • The sales forecast is not believable—it is not supported by a well-thought-out marketing action plan.
  • The business plan reflects poorly on the entrepreneur—it’s not laid out in a logical manner, there are spelling and grammar errors; charts do not covey the message, etc.

There are simple ways to overcome these mistakes and this is the type of help I want to provide through my book and the blog series.

As a small business mentor, I know you’ve worked with a ton of entrepreneurs. What are some of the benefits of working with a business mentor? How can someone go about finding a mentor to work with?

A business mentor with experience in you industry, or a particular business area experience like marketing or finance can provide valuable information about how to conduct your business, so you can avoid the common pitfalls and achieve success—the “been there, done that” experience.

Also, business mentors who are not family and close friends might be less inhibited to sharing feedback you might not want to hear. For example, family members might feel they cannot be critical of a business idea or tactic, while an experienced mentor can demonstrate what others have done in similar situations.

Here are links to the three SBA (Small Business Administration) “resource partners” that offer free business mentoring:

Your book is full of awesome advice for writing a successful business plan, but if you could give one piece of advice to someone who is just getting started, what would you say?

Whether you are an experienced or just starting entrepreneur, surround yourself with trusted advisors and mentors, and talk through your business ideas with them. Starting and growing a business is difficult, and more than half will fail by the fifth year. No one person can have all the knowledge, experience, or even perspective to handle every business situation. Gain from other’s skills and experiences.

We have a tradition at Constant Contact and thought you might be interested in answering too—would you share one fun fact about yourself?

I enjoy surf fishing. With toes buried in the sand, listening to the rhythm of the waves and waiting for the fish to bite — which is most of the time — there is opportunity to think and solve many of the world’s problems and how I will cook the catch.

Stay tuned for more…

Over the next few months, Hal Shelton will be sharing his expertise here on the Constant Contact blog.

Topics will include why you need a business plan (and the best style for you), four sections every business plan must have (and why they’re important), when is the best time to revamp your business plan, and creating a business plan for a nonprofit.

Have additional questions for Hal? Post them in the comments below.

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