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What Is a SWOT Analysis?
A SWOT analysis is a great business planning and analysis framework designed to help organizations analyze their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. By assessing these elements of your company, you can explain SWOT analysis to your team and, set yourself apart from your competitors and grow your business.
What Does SWOT Stand For?
The acronym “SWOT” stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and treats.” Strengths are your core competences as a business, which help set yourself apart from your competitors. Weaknesses are areas where you can improve or where your competitors outperform you. Opportunities are elements of the market that you could potentially use to your advantage, whereas threats are market elements that could cause you problems in the future.
Why Should You Do a SWOT Analysis?
The basic idea behind the analysis is to look at these four elements to see both internal and external factors that could influence your company. By separating positive and negative factors both inside and outside your business into groups and looking at each of these groups of factors separately, you can help reveal new information that you hadn’t previously thought of. This can help you conduct general market analysis, outline a business impact analysis of a new direction in your company or do a thorough customer analysis to help you see your business as your customers see it.
How Should You Do a SWOT Analysis?
SWOT analyses work best in meeting settings. If you run a large company or team, plan a meeting with key players and decision makers. If you run a small independent business, try a brainstorming meeting with your employees or even a trusted friend or mentor. Start by defining your business and setting up a profile of your business as a whole. Then, draw out a square-shaped chart with one of the SWOT groups in each square. This is the standard SWOT market analysis template. Ask for input from each person at the meeting, and add them to the appropriate category. If a suggestion overlaps, add it to the space between two categories.
What Are Questions to Ask During a SWOT Analysis?
Some good topics to bring up during a SWOT analysis are things that your business does best, the price of your products or services, customer feedback, things that help you win sales, things that make you lose sales, your company’s financial position, changes in the market, changes in government policy, local infrastructure and technology. Do as much research as possible before you start the analysis, and print off any supporting material.
How Do You Use a SWOT Analysis?
You can use a SWOT analysis for a number of things. The “Strengths and Weaknesses” sections can help you improve your human resources, customer service policies and other internal company policies so that your company runs smoother and you build a solid reputation with your customers. You can use the “Opportunities and Threats” categories to help you carve out a new marketing strategy or develop new products.
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What is an industry analysis.
An industry analysis is a marketing process that provides statistics about the market potential of your business products and services. This section of your plan needs to have specific information about the current state of the industry, and its target markets. An industry analysis may contain reference materials such as spreadsheets, pie charts, and bar graphs in order to represent the data.
- Library Business Research Resources
- Government Websites, Including Labour Market Information Sources
Identify your industry and provide a brief overview. You may need to explore your industry on a local, regional, provincial, national, and/or global level. Be sure to define relevant industry codes. Provide statistics and historical data about the nature of the industry and growth potential for your business, based on economic factors and conditions.
Summarize the nature of the industry. Include specific information about growth patterns, fluctuations related to the economy, and income projections. Be sure to document recent developments, news, and innovations. Also, discuss marketing strategies, and the industry's prevalent operational and management trends.
Provide a forecast for your industry. Compile economic data and industry predictions at different time intervals (5, 10, 20 years). Be sure to cite sources. Note: the type and size of the industry will determine how much information you will be able to find about a particular industry. Define if it is new and emerging, growing, maturing or declining.
Identify government regulations that affect the industry. Include any recent laws pertaining to your industry, and any licenses or authorizations you would need to conduct business in your target market. This section may include information about fees and costs involved.
Explain your unique position within the industry. Once you have completed your Competitive Analysis (in the next section) you can list the leading companies in the industry, and compile an overview of data of your direct and indirect competition. This will help you communicate your unique value proposition.
List potential limitations and risks. Write about factors that might negatively impact your business and what you foresee in the short-term and long-term future. Outline what you know about the driving forces: new regulations, technology, globalization, competitors, changing customer needs.
Talk to people! Go to tradeshows, do cold calls, talk to people in relevant associations and go to business events.
Tip: How to generate keywords to search databases
Before you access the resources and databases below, it is best practice to consider the key words you can use as search terms to find information about your industry. Follow the steps below:
- Pinpoint the main words/phrases that describe your industry. (i.e. "bar")
- Brainstorm several alternative words/phrases that will bring you additional search results. These may be direct synonyms, or tangentially related. (i.e. "pub," "nightclub," "drinking place," "tavern," "restaurant.")
Tip: How to use NAICS codes
At the start of your research, it may not be clear what specific industry you should be examining. A good strategy is to find out if your business idea is classified in an industrial classification system. These systems organize industries by assigning them a numeric code. The most commonly used system is the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Once you know your Industry Classification Code you can use this number to :
- Find industry-specific statistics on government websites or in library databases
- Generate lists of competitors in company directories
Another common classification system is the Standard Industry Code (SIC). NAICS have most replaced the SIC, but the SIC is still used by some commercial databases. Finding and using these classification systems to effectively search can be tricky, so don't hesitate to ask a librarian for help.
You can keyword search for your industry NAICS code here:
Search or browse all NAICS or SIC codes on the NAICS Association website . Some NAICS codes are different in Canada — you can search by keyword or browse Canadian NAICS codes at Statistics Canada or Canadian Industry Statistics. To search for a SIC code using a NAICS code and vice versa, use the NAICS & SIC Crosswalks.
For more information about planning your industry research, including identifying your industry codes, check out the video tutorial for Module 3: Planning Your Industry Research .
Don't forget to take a look at our Industry Guides for detailed industry-specific market research resources!
Library Business Research Resources:
Business resources at academic libraries .
Colleges and Universities with business programs will have useful business collections you may be able to get access to through their academic library. Often these academic libraries can provide the general public with access to their collections, which include electronic resources like databases and e-books. For example, they could have alumni or community cards, and can provide temporary "guest" passes in certain situations. Contact your local college or university library to see what they can provide. Please note: you probably will not get access to their electronic resources with remote access.
UBC Library Business Databases
How to access: If you are a UBC student, staff, faculty or in-person library visitor you may have access to business databases through the David Lam Management Research Library and Canaccord Learning Commons through the links below.
Full Listing By Title or Full Listing By Subject
There are two different ways to identify databases: Use "by title" if you already know the name; otherwise you can search the list "by subject" to find starting places for undertaking market research, finding articles or researching companies. To learn more about how you can access library resources if you are a community user or temporary visitor, check out the UBC Library Community Users & Visitors Guide . Community users and temporary visitors may have additional access restrictions to specific databases because of license agreements.
Discovering where you can access the information you need to complete your research can be tricky. Below, we have a few examples of potential sources that collect the type of information you will need.
Ibis World Industry Reports
Business Source Complete
Canadian Business and Current Affairs
Trade Publications, Journals, and Magazines:
Industry and trade associations work to keep people within an industry informed about the industry through newsletters, magazines, and trade fairs. The information can range from a detailed focus on a specific product line, to general coverage of an industry or key business risk and trends. Industry and professional association websites can be excellent sources of free information whether or not you are a member of that organization. In addition, you can find news about industries via government websites, news databases, as well as news directories and search engines.
Ulrichsweb Provides publisher information on more than 300,000 periodicals of all types. Use this to create a list of relevant ones to check out in your industry. Search by keyword, publisher or geographic location.
Trade associations often publish free industry newsletters that are excellent sources of information for your business plan. Such newsletters often have articles that cover in-depth topics on business management, manufacturing practices, how-tos, current industry news and much more. One good reason to create a list of relevant associations is to see if any of them publish a monthly industry newsletter on their website.
ASAE Gateway to Associations Directory Use this directory to search for an association by name, interest area, or international geographic location (including Canada and BC). You can also search using a combination of various fields.
Associations Canada This library database covers Canadian, as well as some international, industry, professional or special interest associations. Searchable by type or keyword. You can use this to identify key associations' websites and search for freely available newsletters, blogs or reports they they may publish on your industry. Please contact your local public or research library for access. Use of your library card may be required for online access to this resource. Print copies may also be available for in-person users.
Web searching tip: Use Google or another search engine to search for industry associations relevant to your industry in your location. If you don't find a relevant industry association, try broadening your geographic area (e.g. from Vancouver to British Columbia, or from Canada to the U.S. or international). If your industry is very specialized or new, look for associations for broader or similar industries.
Government Websites, Including Labour Market Information Sources:
BC Stats | Current reports and statistics from British Columbia's central statistical agency including labour market information, economic statistics and bankruptcies. Start by searching their Industry section and narrowing by industry type or go to the Business, Industry & Trade page to skim all the different business-related topics.
WorkBC | Find current employment outlooks, labour market information, relevant links, and a geographic representation of the BC workforce. Start by searching your Industry Profile .
Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada Provides market research, industry statistics, licensing information for intellectual property, and information about doing business internationally. The Industry Canada site features interactive applications such as customizable trade reports, cost calculators, and online business planning guides. You can also search broad Canadian industry statistics .
Entrepreneurship Indicators Database This database is intended to provide comprehensive business demography statistics and performance indicators for enterprises in Canada. This information is available upon request.
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What Is an Industry Analysis and Trends Business Plan?
An industry analysis and trends business plan is a component of a business plan that provides a comprehensive insight into industry conditions and trends. 3 min read
An industry analysis and trends business plan is a component of a business plan that provides a comprehensive insight into industry conditions and trends that can impact a company's success and growth. A thorough analysis of your industry and its trends can give you and other people a clearer idea of the feasibility and relevance of your business idea or goals.
Elements of a Business Plan
There are many different types of business plans. When you are creating your business plan, the information you choose to include will depend on your audience and personal preferences, as well as the questions you wish to answer and problems you seek to solve. While business plans may vary greatly, most of them contain the following elements:
- Executive summary
- Business description
- Analysis of business environment analysis
- Industry analysis
- Market analysis
- Competitive analysis
- Marketing plan
- Management plan
- Operations plan
- Financial projections
- What Is an Industry Analysis?
An industry analysis enables you to gain a better understanding of the industry and market in which you will be conducting business. By conducting an industry analysis before you start writing your business plan , you will be able to:
- Identify industry trends, such as potentially problematic aspects of the industry
- Identify trends and opportunities in products and services
- Calculate capital requirements
- Determine business risks and find ways to reduce them
An industry analysis must be specific to the industry in which you are conducting or are planning to conduct business. With the information you obtain from the analysis, you can devise a long-term strategy to mitigate risks and take full advantage of growth opportunities.
It is important not to confuse an industry analysis with a competitor or market analysis. An industry analysis seeks to describe the products or services offered in a specific industry and the boundaries of the marketplace in relation to economic, political, and regulatory issues. In other words, it defines the scope of the marketplace. A market analysis , on the other hand, helps you determine whether or not a market within your industry will be profitable for your products or services.
Conducting an Industry Analysis
The most widely used method for evaluating any industry was devised by Michael E. Porter from Harvard University. This method can help you create an effective strategy for competing in your industry. According to Porter, all industries and markets are influenced by five forces, which include:
- Ease of entry — Companies that are already operating in an industry will enjoy a competitive advantage over newcomers. However, their profits will be reduced unless they find a way to slow down or block the new entries. As for new businesses, they will face a variety of barriers, including government regulations, patents and copyrights, and customer loyalty.
- Suppliers' power — Suppliers of materials, products, or services can have a significant impact on a business' ability to compete. In the event that there are few suppliers offering the products or materials or few alternative products, the suppliers have the power to dictate quantities, prices, and delivery times for companies that have no choice but to buy from them.
- Buyers' power — In an industry where buyers can choose from many competing products, consumers will have strong bargaining power. This can affect the ability of a company to price its products or services without being afraid of losing customers.
- Availability of alternative products — In the situation where two businesses with similar products are competing within an industry, both of them will benefit as their marketing efforts will generally increase demand for their products. However, their market share will be reduced if there is another company selling a different kind of products that can serve as a substitute for theirs.
- Competitive rivalry — Competitive rivalry takes into account the number of competitors present in a particular industry, as well as their relative strength. In an industry where many companies are selling similar products, there is little opportunity for one company to control consumers' or suppliers' tendency to go elsewhere.
There are many free industry analysis tools and resources available to business owners who are preparing to create a business plan, such as:
- Securities and Exchange Commission
- U.S. Census Bureau
- Hoover's Online
- Thomas Register
- Library of Congress Legislative Information
- Websites of trade associations and companies
If you need help creating an industry analysis and trends business plan, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.
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Document your market analysis
How to write your market analysis
- Define your target market
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Optional information to include
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How to Conduct an Industry Analysis
8 min. read
Updated March 8, 2023
I bet you agree: You need to know the industry you want to start a business in, and the kind of business you want to start, before you can start it.
Industry analysis is part of good management. That’s not just for the business planning, but rather for business survival, beginning to end. Most of the people who successfully start their own business have already had relevant business experience before they start, most often as employees.
But in this article, I focus on how to consolidate and formalize that industry knowledge into a formal business plan .
Although all business owners need to know their industry, the documented details and explanations are mainly for when you’re writing a business plan you need to show to outsiders, like bank lenders or investors . You’ll need to do some industry analysis so you’re able to explain the general state of your industry, its growth potential, and how your business model fits into the landscape.
And if your business plan is more of an internal strategic roadmap, you should still be very sure—whether you have to prove it to others or not—that you know your market, even if you don’t do a formal industry analysis. Whether you’re a service business, manufacturer, retailer, or something else, you want to know your industry inside and out.
On this page
What to cover in your industry analysis
Industry participants, distribution patterns, competition and buying patterns, main competitors.
Whether you write it all out in a formal business plan or not, when you’re doing your industry analysis, you’re looking at the following:
Everything in your industry that happens outside of your business will affect your company. The more you know about your industry, the more advantage and protection you will have.
A complete business plan discusses:
- General industry economics
- Factors in the competition
- And whatever else describes the nature of your business to outsiders
A note on finding industry information
The internet has had an enormous impact on the state of business information. Finding information isn’t really the problem anymore, after the information explosion and the huge growth in the internet beginning in the 1990s and continuing in the 21st century.
Even 10 or 15 years ago, dealing with information was more a problem of sorting through it all than of finding raw data. That generality is truer every day. There are websites for business analysis, financial statistics, demographics, trade associations, and just about everything you’ll need for a complete business plan.
You should know who else sells in your market. You can’t easily describe a type of business without describing the nature of the participants. There is a huge difference, for example, between an industry like broadband television services, in which there are only a few huge companies in any one country, and one like dry cleaning, in which there are tens of thousands of smaller participants.
This can make a big difference to a business and a business plan. The restaurant industry, for example, is what we call “pulverized,” meaning that it, like the dry cleaning industry, is made up of many small participants. The fast-food business, on the other hand, is composed of a few national brands participating in thousands of branded outlets, many of them franchised .
Economists talk of consolidation in an industry as a time when many small participants tend to disappear and a few large players emerge. In accounting, for example, there are a few large international firms whose names are well-known, and tens of thousands of smaller firms. The automobile business is composed of a few national brands participating in thousands of branded dealerships, and in computer manufacturing, for example, there are a few large international firms whose names are well-known, and thousands of smaller firms.
Products and services can follow many paths between suppliers and users.
Explain how distribution works in your industry:
- Is this an industry in which retailers are supported by regional distributors, as is the case for computer products, magazines, or auto parts?
- Does your industry depend on direct sales to large industrial customers?
- Do manufacturers support their own direct sales forces, or do they work with product representatives?
Some products are almost always sold through retail stores to consumers, and sometimes these are distributed by distribution companies that buy from manufacturers. In other cases, the products are sold directly from manufacturers to stores. Some products are sold directly from the manufacturer to the final consumer through mail campaigns, national advertising, or other promotional means.
In many product categories, there are several alternatives, and distribution choices are strategic.
Amazon made direct delivery a huge competitive advantage, especially in its earlier years. Doordash and competitors chose to be intermediaries between restaurants and customers, and several businesses offer prepackaged meal ingredients delivered with instructions for finishing the preparations in the consumers’ kitchens. Now major grocery chains offer grocery delivery. Red Box made a strategy of DVDs in kiosks. An entire industry of food delivery options gives consumers choices like restaurant meals or fresh meals ingredients being delivered. Many products are distributed through direct business-to-business (B2B) sales and in long-term contracts such as the ones between car manufacturers and their suppliers of parts, materials, and components. In some industries, companies use representatives, agents, or commissioned salespeople.
Technology can change the patterns of distribution in an industry or product category. The internet, for example, changed options for software distribution, books, music, and other products. Cable communication first, and more recently streaming, changed the options for distributing video products and video games. Some kinds of specialty items sell best with late-night infomercials on television, but others end up working on the web instead of television.
Distribution patterns may not be as critical to most service companies, because distribution is normally about physical distribution of specific physical products such as a restaurant, graphic artist, professional services practice, or architect.
For a few services, the distribution may still be relevant. A phone service, cable provider, or an internet provider might describe distribution related to physical infrastructure. Some publishers may prefer to treat their business as a service, rather than a manufacturing company, and in that case distribution may also be relevant.
It is essential to understand the nature of competition in your market. This is still in the general area of describing the industry or type of business.
Explain the general nature of competition in this business, and how the customers seem to choose one provider over another:
- What are the keys to success?
- What buying factors make the most difference—is it price? Product features? Service? Support? Training? Software? Delivery dates?
- Are brand names important?
In the computer business, for example, competition might depend on reputation and trends in one part of the market, and on channels of distribution and advertising in another. In many business-to-business industries, the nature of competition depends on direct selling, because channels are impractical.
Price is vital in products competing with each other on retail shelves, but delivery and reliability might be much more important for materials used by manufacturers in volume, for which a shortage can affect an entire production line.
In the restaurant business, for example, competition might depend on reputation and trends in one part of the market, and on location and parking in another.
In many professional service practices, the nature of competition depends on word of mouth, because advertising is not completely accepted. Is there price competition between accountants, doctors, and lawyers? How powerful are the insurance decisions in medicine, like in or out of network? How do people choose travel agencies or florists for weddings? Why does someone hire one landscape architect over another? Why choose Starbucks, a national brand, over the local coffee house? All of this is the nature of competition.
The key to your specific industry analysis is a collection of decisions and educated guesses you’ll probably have to make for yourself. There are few pat answers. Maybe it’s easy parking, a great location, great reviews on Amazon or Yelp, or recommendations on social media. You can’t necessarily look this up. It’s the kind of educated guessing that makes some businesses more successful than others.
Do a very complete analysis of your main competitors. Make a list, determining who your main competitors are. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?
Consider your competitors’:
- Financial position
- Channels of distribution
- Brand awareness
- Business development
- Technology, or other factors that you feel are important
- In what segments of the market do they operate? What seems to be their strategy? How much do they impact your products, and what threats and opportunities do they represent?
Finding competitive information
Competitive research starts with a good web search. Look up competitors’ websites and social media, then search for mentions, reviews, announcements, and even vacancies and job search information. An amazing array of competitive information is posted in plain sight, where anybody can find it.
From, there, for a good review of additional sources of information, I suggest Practical Market Research Resources for Entrepreneurs , also here on Bplans.
A lot of businesses organize competitive analysis into a competitive matrix. The standard competitive matrix shows how different competitors stack up according to significant factors.
Some people also use a SWOT analysis to think about competition in terms of opportunities and threats, the “OT” of SWOT. Opportunities and threats are generally taken as externals, which would include competition, so it’s valuable to run a SWOT analysis on your business to help figure this out.
Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.
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How to Write a Business Plan
When how to write a business plan is at the top of the SBA list of the ten steps in how to start a business, it tells you something about how important the experts consider it to be. Planning a business and writing a business plan is more than just having a location picked and a product or service to sell. Financing, marketing strategy, and future growth all require a well-researched and thought out business plan.
- Chapter 1 – Getting Started
- Chapter 2 – The Key Elements of a Business Plan
- Chapter 3 – Executive Summary
- Chapter 4 – Business Description
- Chapter 5 – Business Environment Analysis
- Chapter 6 – Industry Analysis
- Chapter 7 – Competitive Analysis
- Chapter 8 – Market Analysis
- Chapter 9 – Marketing Plan
- Chapter 10 – Operations Plan
- Chapter 11 – Team and Management Plan
- Chapter 12 – Financial Projections
- Chapter 13 – Appendix
There are many articles and resources available on the Internet explaining how to write a business plan, but writing a business plan is more than merely following a business plan template or copying someone’s business plan examples. A business plan can be as simple as a few notes scrawled on a paper napkin. It can be a 40-page document with multiple sections and subsections describing every minute detail of its operations, products, and finances.
Writing an effective business plan is easier if you take time before starting the writing process to conduct your research and gather the information you need to incorporate into it. Business owners of new startups or established companies can benefit from thinking through and researching such success-determining issues as:
- Marketing strategies
- Regulatory environment
- Capitalization requirements
- Financing opportunities
From this list, you quickly realize that a business plan is more than a document a business uses to get financing or to attract investors. It is a roadmap of how your business will operate to succeed. Before you can begin writing your business planning roadmap, you need reliable information about your industry, your competitors, your product, and your customers for inclusion in it. An industry analysis, competitor analysis, product feature comparison, and market research will give you the information you need.
How to Conduct an Industry Analysis
Understanding the market and industry in which your company will do business is accomplished through industry analysis. An industry analysis conducted before you begin to write a business plan will help you to:
- Recognize and analyze ways of reducing business risks
- Identify industry trends including potential problem areas within the industry
- Project capitalization requirements for your business
- Identify product and service trends and opportunities
Industry analysis is specific to the particular industry in which a business is currently operating or plans to venture. It provides information from which a business owner can create a long-term strategy to minimize risks and take advantage of growth opportunities.
Porter’s Industry Analysis Method
A method developed by Michael E. Porter of Harvard University has become the most frequently used method for analyzing any industry to create a strategy to compete within it. According to Porter, five forces influence all markets and industries.
The five forces are:
- Ease of entry: When new companies can enter an industry with relative ease, those companies already in operation will love their competitive advantage. Profits will suffer unless existing companies have a way to block or slow new entries. Government regulation, customer loyalty, and patents and copyrights can be barriers to new businesses entering a market or industry.
- Power held by suppliers: Suppliers of products, services, or materials that a business needs can affect a company’s ability to compete. If there are few alternative products or only a few vendors offering the materials, the suppliers can dictate prices, quantities, and delivery times to businesses that must purchase from them.
- Power of buyers: Strong customer bargaining power, as in industries where there are many competing products from which a buyer can choose, can affect a company’s ability to price its products without fear of losing customers.
- Availability of substitute products or services: If two companies with similar products compete within an industry, they will each benefit as advertising and marketing by the companies will generally increase customer demand. For example, two businesses selling different house paint brands will mutually benefit as customer demand for their products increases due to the competing marketing campaigns. A company that sells and promotes vinyl siding as a substitute for painted surfaces will reduce the market share’s size for paint.
- Competitive rivalry: This factor in the analysis takes into consideration the number of competitors in an industry and their relative strength. An industry with many companies offering similar products will offer a company little opportunity to control consumers’ or suppliers’ ability from going elsewhere.
Porter believed that an analysis of the five forces that exist in every industry could help forecast a company’s ability to compete and remain profitable. You will obtain sufficient information on your industry from the five forces analysis to formulate long- and short-term strategies to incorporate into your business plan.
A business plan for startup companies will benefit from an industry analysis that provides ownership with information to make decisions and formulate policy in certain key areas. You should be able to answer the following key questions about the industry and your company’s ability to successfully compete in it when you have completed the industry analysis:
- What are the primary economic characteristics of the industry?
- How strong are the competitive forces that exist within the industry?
- What trends or changes can be expected in the industry, and from where will they come?
- What response will competitors make to the entry of a new company into the industry?
- What are the factors that will determine your company’s ability to succeed?
- What are the industry prospects for profitability and potential for growth?
- Will the company compete on a local, national, regional, or international basis?
- What modifications or changes must be done to the company’s products or services to make them competitive in this industry?
Industry Analysis Resources and Tools
There are several free industry analysis resources and tools available to entrepreneurs preparing to write a business plan. A few of the more popular sources of industry information include:
- BizStats (www.bizstats.com): It offers statistics and financial data on businesses in a variety of industries as well as tools to calculate business valuation and cost of goods sold.
- Securities and Exchange Commission (www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml): The SEC makes annual reports and other financial filings of publicly traded companies available for review at its website.
- FreeLunch.com: This site from Moody’s Analytics offers data on economic trends and financial data from around the country.
- Hoover’s Online (www.hoovers.com): This is a Dun & Bradstreet offers a searchable database of financial information and profiles of public and private companies.
- U.S. Census Bureau (www.census.gov): Government agencies can offer a treasure-trove of information. The Census Bureau has searchable databases with industry overviews, economic data by region, and population statistics.
- Thomas Register (www.thomasnet.com): Originally published in book form, the Thomas Register is a searchable database of product information and market trends for various industries. It publishes an annual survey it calls its “Industry Market Barometer” that shows where reporting companies are, where they have been and where they are heading.
- Library of Congress Legislative Information (https://beta.congress.gov/): The primary source for information about recently enacted federal legislation that could affect a business or an entire industry.
- Websites of individual companies or trade associations: Most companies have websites that provide information about the business, including products and management structure. Trade associations usually have websites that offer glimpses into what is happening within an industry from those working in it.
Industry analysis is not to be confused with a market analysis or a competitor analysis, both of which are included in a business plan for entrepreneurs. Industry analysis will describe the products offered within a particular industry and the marketplace parameters concerning economic, regulatory, and political issues. An industry analysis establishes the marketplace’s scope; a market analysis tells a business owner if a particular industry’s market will be profitable for a company’s product.
How to do a Competitor Analysis
Competitor analysis is when a business obtains information to identify and learn more about key competitors to predict how the competition will react. Competitive analysis plays a vital role in strategic planning, so writing a great business plan becomes easier if you do your research before writing your business plan.
Unlike the competitive rivalry factor of industry analysis, a competitor analysis focuses attention on each competitor’s strengths and weaknesses instead of focusing on the overall competitive climate within an industry. A competitor analysis offers a detailed profile of each competitor along with an analysis of marketing strategies that can be used to counter position your company to improve market share or profitability.
At the completion of your competitor analysis, you should be able to:
- Identify your primary competition within your industry and marketplace
- Know the company profile of your competitors
- Identify the geographic location in which competitors operate
- Identify competitor’s market share and profitability
- Know and understand your competition’s strategies and objectives
- Identify benefits, such as increased customer awareness, derived from your competitors’ marketing
- How to identify and understand competitor strategies that are successful and those that are not
- How to anticipate your competition’s response to implementation of your strategies and plans
- Learn how to turn your competition’s anticipated response to your benefit
The following steps will guide you through your competitor analysis:
- Create a list of your current and future competitors
- Gather data and information about your competitors, their products, and their marketing and pricing strategies
- Review and analyze the data
- Create a list of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses
- Create strategies to take advantage of competitors’ weaknesses while a minimizing threats posed by their strengths
Sources of Competitor Information
Information for competitor analysis is available from several sources, including news stories and press releases, advertising, company websites, promotional campaigns, patent and copyright applications, price lists, and, in the case of publicly traded companies, annual reports, and SEC filings.
Sometimes, getting information about a competitor might require a bit of sleuthing on your part. If your competitor has a store that is open to the public, no rules are prohibiting you from visiting it and taking a look around. Becoming a member of a competitor’s mailing list to receive promotional material and updates on new products and pricing is a quick and easy source of information.
The information gathered about competitors might not seem like much when looked at separately, but it can be mosaic-like in what it reveals about your competition when viewed as a whole. A random conversation with a supplier might reveal information about a change in a competitor’s product line. The point is to take advantage of every opportunity to acquire data about the marketplace in which your business operates. It might reveal something about your competitors that could be used in developing or refining your marketing strategy.
How to do a Product Feature Comparison
A product feature comparison allows you to compare your company’s product with products produced by competitors. Unlike a competitor analysis that allows you to determine how your business measures up to competing businesses, product feature comparisons limit their focus to the products themselves. When used as part of creating an easy business plan, product features comparison data can provide critical information to making marketing decisions.
1. Conducting the Research
The first thing you should do is purchase or acquire your competitor’s product. This gives you the chance to evaluate your competitor’s sales process while acquiring the product to test. Using the product, you can compare features on the competitor’s product with your own product. If the features of the competing product give it a performance advantage over your own, you can evaluate how important those features are to determine if your product should be redesigned. Another source of information on the product is the internet. What are consumers saying about your product versus the product sold by your competitor? Product reviews by websites that specialize in testing products could also tell you how your product is faring in the marketplace compared to other products.
2. Product Comparison Tables
The information you obtained through your research and product testing is easier to compare if compiled in a simple table format. Each product’s features can be listed under separate columns for each feature, and each product feature can be judged to determine which one was the best. The best feature gets one point while the other product’s feature gets no points. The winning product is the one that ends up with the most points.
Another method of evaluating the features of different products is to assign a score of 1 to 10, with a higher score going to features deemed to be the most important as far as product performance. The winning product is the one that ends up with the highest overall score.
3. Coming to a Conclusion
Comparing a competitor’s product features with those of your own product is only useful if you use the information to make worthwhile improvements to your product. Redesigning your product just to make it look more like your competitor’s product only makes sense if the redesign meets a customer need that your product is not currently meeting.
The conclusions you reach from the data a product feature comparison gives can be incorporated into the market analysis, competitive analysis, and marketing plan sections when writing a business plan. The information will also be useful in guiding decisions made for the future development of new products.
How to Conduct Market Research
Market research provides businesses with information about their customers and the markets in which they do business. By analyzing its data, business owners offer products that consumers want at competitive prices with other sellers. For the new entrepreneur who is learning how to start a business, market research performed before preparing a business plan can help formulate strategies to reduce risks, recognize marketplace and industry trends, and identify opportunities to increase sales.
The marketplace for many businesses is no longer limited to one country. The growth of internet commerce has made it possible for even small businesses to participate in the global economy for many products and services. Market research can help owners of businesses to evaluate the feasibility of expansion into international markets.
The data collected through market research should give a business owner the answers to the following questions:
- Who are the customers for a company’s product or service? What factors influence consumers to purchase this product or service?
- What improvements or changes in current products would encourage customers to purchase more of them?
- What price range will cause customers to switch to other competing products?
- What features of a competitor’s product do customers like or dislike?
- What other uses of the product exist that can be introduced into new markets?
- Marketing research allows you to compile a profile of your current or potential customers to provide answers to the following questions:
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- What is their highest level of education?
- How large is the customer base?
- What are their favorite leisure time activities
- What do they do for a living?
- How much do they earn?
- Where are they employed?
- What technology do they use and prefer?
- What are their beliefs, values or opinions?
- Where do they prefer to shop?
- For whom do they shop?
Market Research Tools
The methods of gathering information about consumers do not have to be complicated. Frequently used methods include: Interviews by telephone or face-to-face Surveys are conducted online, by telephone, or through the mail. Questionnaires are completed online, in person, or through the mail. Focus groups to solicit feedback from people representing a cross-section of potential customers
Steps in Market Research
Any of the tools used to gather information can be employed using a five-step approach.
- Step 1: Identify what you want to learn or find out. Be specific about what you want to learn. Working on a single issue or question is easier than trying to create a survey or interview covering a wide variety of topics. For example, if your company is attempting to develop a new and improved widget to replace widgets currently being sold, you might focus your research on customer experiences with the old widget. Are they satisfied with how it performs? Do they believe there is a need for a new and improved model? Would they buy a new and improved model? How much are they willing to pay?
- Step 2: Draft questions to allow for follow-up questions depending upon the answer given.
- Step 3: Identify the target group for your research. Interviewing people who have never used your product will not generate data to determine how your product users react to its design changes.
- Step 4: Select the most effective tool for obtaining the information you need. If your company is in the telecommunications industry, surveying by telephone might be more effective than one conducted through the mail.
- Step 5: Analyze the results of your research. Market research data is only as good as the use to which you can put it. Go back and review the purpose of your research. Determine if the data you gathered allows you to answer the question or solve the problem. If it does, develop a strategy and implement it. If it does not, then decide what additional data you need and return to step 1.
The Key Elements in Writing a Business Plan
The answer to the question “How do you write a business plan?” depends upon the type of business and the purpose for which you are going to use it. Too many business owners think of a business plan as they need to convince a bank to lend their company a loan or convince a venture capitalist to invest in it.
In fact, business plans come in all shapes and sizes, depending upon the audience for which the plan is intended. For example, a startup company would want a business plan containing all of the bells and whistles to serve as a comprehensive guide for the new owners and management. Should the time come when financing is needed for new equipment or expansion, a revised business plan that focuses on the company’s financial growth and ability to repay, the debt would be needed.
Business plans are written with an audience in mind. Internal business plans are written for a company’s management team to use as an operational guide. It can also be written with a specific project in mind to allow owners and managers to evaluate its feasibility and profitability. These types of plans might include projections about profitability and growth ten or more years into the future.
External plans are written for the benefit of an audience located outside of the company. Prospective investors or venture capitalists and lending institutions are examples of the types of audiences for which external business plans are created. These types of plans are created to answer a question or address a particular problem. For instance, prospective investors want a business plan that demonstrates their future growth and profitability to generate a return on their capital investment.
Too many businesses start with inadequate planning. No one goes into business to lose money. If you start a business, you expect that it will be profitable and succeed. Writing a business plan forces you to focus on the strategies that will make your business a successful one. That is why learning how to write a plan is important for new businesses or established businesses that might be venturing into new markets or launching new products.
Business plans come in all shapes and sizes, so what you choose to include in your business plan will depend upon your audience, the question it seeks to answer or the problem it seeks to resolve, and your personal preferences. The most frequently included elements of a business plan are the following:
- Executive summary
- Business description
- Business environment analysis
- Industry analysis
- Competitive analysis
- Market analysis
- Marketing plan
- Operations plan
- Team and management plan
- Financial projections
The Executive Summary
Regardless of the business plan format chosen, the executive summary always appears first in the document. Its purpose is to educate and inform the reader about the company. It should explain where the company is at present, where it is going, and how it plans to succeed. In a plan prepared for an external audience, such as investors or bankers, the executive summary is the first opportunity the business owner has to engage the reader’s interest.
Even though it appears first in a business plan, the executive summary should be written last. The executive summary is a snapshot of your business plan that a reader can quickly look at to become acquainted with your business. Writing it last allows you to highlight your plan’s strengths in the first section your audience reads.
Your executive summary should include the following information
- Mission Statement: This explains to the reader why your company exists. Its mission statement should guide the activities of your company.
- Company Information: This is a brief statement giving a historical perspective of your company. It should include the date of formation, locations, company founders, and current employees.
- Highlights: This is an opportunity to tell the reader about profit or market milestones achieved by the company since its inception.
- Products and Services: Briefly mention and describe the company’s products or services.
- Financial Information: This section is particularly important for companies seeking financing and should include mention of bank references and investors.
- Future Projections: Explain the direction in which ownership and management plan to take the business.
Remember that even though it might be the last thing you write for your business plan, the executive summary is the first thing people will read. You have to grab the reader’s attention and hold it. Think of the executive summary as a highlight reel showcasing your business. One of the reasons for saving the executive summary until last to write is to give you the chance to include the best parts from each of the sections of your business plan in it.
Write the executive summary with a particular audience in mind. If you are trying to attract investors, you should focus on those sections of your business plan that establish how your company’s product fills a consumer need. Reference the market research and marketing strategies that demonstrate how your company will take advantage of this.
After completing the executive summary, read it aloud. It should convey your intended message is clear, unequivocal terms that flow without sounding like a sales pitch.
A business description tells the reader more than simply, “We sell things.” This section of the business plan is an overview of the company, including its legal structure, its owners and management, a brief company history, information about the products or services it offers, markets the company will serve and other information to demonstrate how the company plans to introduce its product into the marketplace.
The purpose of the business description is to help a reader to quickly grasp the goals the company has set and how it intends to meet those goals. By the time people are finished reading, they should have a clear picture of the nature of the company’s business, its business structure, its goals and objectives, and its strengths and advantages.
Begin the description with a few sentences that give a capsule view of the company, its product, and its position in the industry in which it competes. This is an elevator pitch to get the reader interested in learning more about the company. Let the reader know if this is a new venture or a business for a while.
The business description should continue with a statement about the type of business structure adopted by the company. Explain whether it is a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, or limited liability company, and list the principals’ names along with brief profiles for each one showing how their presence benefits the company.
Part of the business’s description should include information about the company’s products and services, the potential customers, supply and distribution channels, competitive advantages offered by product features, and how the company plans to exploit those advantages. End the business description by explaining the specifics of how the company plans to be profitable.
The business description section of a business plan should not be overly long. Depending upon the company’s size and the number of products offered by it, a description that is one to two pages in length should suffice.
Business Environment Analysis
Business planning is an ongoing process that does not begin and end with writing a business plan. Periodically taking stock of how a company is doing is essential to ensuring that it meets its goals and will become or continue to be successful and profitable. A business plan should be flexible by incorporating tools to analyze company performance compared to other industry businesses.
A business environmental analysis accomplishes section accomplishes this by providing useful information to management and company owners. Analyzing this data allows the management team to identify those plans and strategies that are not.
The environment in which a company operates involves internal and external factors that influence how business is conducted. Internal factors include a company’s business culture, its organizational structure, and the methods by which it is managed. External environmental factors might include government activities such as laws and regulatory actions, economic changes such as recessions, social trends and movements that shift consumer preferences, and innovations in technology that can help or damage a business’s profitability and productivity.
A systematic process of analyzing the environment to identify those environmental factors affecting a company determines its impact on the business and developing strategies to take advantage of them or limit their effects. After a business has implemented a strategy, the process will monitor the business environment to ensure that it is working and does not require modification or change.
Business plan tools that give management a constant source of current and accurate information about the marketplace and the industry and competitive forces at work in both are essential to an effective analysis of the business environment. Three of those tools are the industry analysis, the competitor analysis, and the market analysis that should be included when writing a business plan.
The industry analysis you performed before sitting down to write your business plan can be incorporated into it to provide data on the industry and markets in which your company conducts business. Drawing upon the data you collected using the various industry analysis resources mentioned earlier allows you to identify the risks and opportunities confronting the company as it prepares to enter the marketplace with its products or services. This information permits you to develop strategies to take full advantage of business opportunities while minimizing or avoiding the identified risks.
When written as a section of a company’s business plan, an industry analysis can be presented as a five-step process.
- Step 1: Give a brief overview of the industry. Define the industry in terms of historical background, the geographic area it services, and its products.
- Step 2: Review trends and growth patterns that have existed within the industry.
- Step 3: Identify factors that influence the industry. These might include government regulatory policies and competitive practices of other businesses.
- Step 4: Using data gathered through research, the industry forecast anticipated growth. The predictions should be both long- and short-term.
- Step 5: Describe how your company will position itself within the industry. Focus on how your company can take advantage of opportunities identified within the industry.
You want your business plan to tell you how your company compares to others in the industry. It is difficult to predict how your company’s product or service will perform in the marketplace without knowing what your competitors are doing. A competitive analysis section draws upon the research you did before writing your business plan to offer the data and analysis to support your performance assumptions.
Writing an effective competitive analysis can be accomplished in five steps. Keep in mind that the data you will need about your competitors should have been gathered earlier when you conducted the industry analysis before starting work on creating your business plan.
- Step 1: Identify and list your competitors. You can do this in paragraph format or a spreadsheet. You should include each competitor’s name and location along with the products they offer, sales volume, market share, pricing information, marketing strategy, and other details of their business.
- Step 2: List your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
- Step 3: Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your company. Focus on how your company can exploit its strengths while overcoming or minimizing identifiable weaknesses.
- Step 4: Describe your company’s role in the marketplace. Explain how your company can compete for a market share, given the information you acquired about your competitors. This is where you support marketing decisions and strategies with the data you previously gathered through your marketing research, product feature comparison, competitive analysis, and industry analysis.
- Step 5: Give a detailed description of your company. Use this opportunity to describe how ownership, management, location, business structure, and other resources possessed by your company will allow it to succeed in the marketplace.
You should use this section of your business plan to describe the market into which you intend to introduce your company’s products or services. This is where you draw from the data you collected earlier when you did your preliminary market analysis before getting to work on preparing your company’s plan.
Ideally, the market analysis should offer an overview of the marketplace, the positions held by your competitors, and other facts to support your company’s strategies about marketing, production, and distribution.
Some of the key topics that should be addressed in this section include:
- A description of the industry and the market. This should include information about projected growth, potential changes in consumer demand, and anticipated trends or cycles that could affect product performance.
- Describe your customers. Describe the customer need that the product or service satisfies. Provide demographics about your customers and show how the product your company offers falls within those demographics.
- How big is the market? If your market research shows that the market has been shrinking, a decision to enter or continue in the market should be supported by research supporting a prediction for future growth.
- Describe and explain the pricing structures of your company and its competitors. Describe how your marketing and pricing will give your company an advantage in the market, or describe what changes must be made to give your company an edge.
- The data collected in the competitive analysis can be incorporated into the market analysis to show how your company will compete with other companies offering the same or similar products or services.
The purpose of a company’s marketing plan is to attract customers willing to purchase a particular product or product line. Creating a market for the product or service your company offers began with the business environment analysis and continues by developing a marketing strategy. A marketing strategy must be flexible and should be evaluated periodically to determine if it must be reworked due to changes in the marketplace.
Marketing plans frequently include strategies for four stages.
- Penetration strategies represent the company’s plans for its initial entry into the market.
- Growth strategy builds upon a product’s success by introducing it to different users or into new markets.
- Another strategy analyzes new or alternative methods of distributing a company’s product to increase sales, such as hiring salespeople or developing new retail outlets.
- The fourth strategy controls the communications process between the company and its customers. Methods of advertising and audiences to be targeted are just two of the issues that a communications strategy should address.
The strategies created by a company under its marketing plan are affected by or affect other aspects of the business plan. For instance, a business’s decision to expand into new markets by acquiring a company already selling in the new market might be hampered by a lack of capital to complete the transaction. It might force the company to seek additional capital by adding investors or borrowing money.
The operations plan is closely tied to the team and management plan section of a business plan. An operations plan is the engine that runs the machine you call a business. Without an operations plan, nothing else in your business plan will get done. The operations section of a business plan created to obtain bank financing or some other external purpose does not require the details to go into a plan that will guide ownership and management in running the business.
This section should be crammed with details and instructions to direct people within the business’s day-to-day operations. The personnel covered in the team and management plan section of a business plan should refer to the operations plan to carry out the strategies and tasks needed to run the business.
An effective way of including an operations plan when writing a business plan is to combine it into a single section entitled “Operations and Management Plan.” Writing the section begins with creating an organization chart showing each business member’s title, duties and responsibilities, and supervisory role.
Team and Management Plan
The people who make up your ownership and management team focus on the team and management portion of a business plan for entrepreneurs. Whether intended for internal or external use, readers of this section of a business plan should have a clear understanding of who is in charge. The length and complexity of this section will depend upon the size of the company. The business plan written by a sole proprietor will be much shorter than one prepared for a corporation with multiple management teams, a board of directors, and multiple locations.
The team and management section includes a list of owners and key management personnel and a description of the role each plays in running the organization, the compensation and benefits each one receives, and the criteria used for giving promotions and increasing compensation. Brief biographical information for each of the owners, key personnel, and members of the board of directors offers readers insight into the qualifications each person brings to the organization.
Other information about the company that should be included in this section includes:
- Business structure
- Length of time business has existed
- Mission statement and values
- Background and history of the company
This section of the business plan provides readers with a picture of where your company has been and where it is going from its finances. Established companies should include financial data on past performance. Banks, venture capitalists, and other lenders usually want at least three years of financial data, but some might want to see up to five years of information.
Financial data that should be included in the plan include income and cash flow statements and balance sheets. Some lenders might ask to include accounts receivable statements, accounts payable statements, and documentation of other company debt obligations.
Regardless of how long a company has been in existence, this section must include projections of its future financial picture. These projections must be supported by data the company has compiled through its research and analysis of the industry, competitors, markets, and products.
Financial forecasts should include the following documents:
- Statements of projected income
- Balance sheets
- Cash flow statements
- Capital expenditure budgets
Assumptions that a company makes about future market trends or other factors that could influence the financial projections should be explained. People outside of a company want to see that financial projections in a business plan are supported by accurate data or an analysis based on assumptions having a historical basis.
Financial projections can be supported by graphs, charts, credit history, order history, reference letters, or anything that a business believes will lend credibility and support the plan’s predictions. Such items might work best if they are included in the appendix section of the plan.
The information supporting projections, strategies, and assumptions made in a business plan will be found within the body of each section of it. An appendix usually contains financial information to which company owners and managers might want to limit access. For example, a company that prepares a plan specifically to obtain lender financing could use the appendix to submit tax returns, credit histories, and confidential data such as customer information only to those lenders requesting it. It can also be used for supporting reports, photographs, and other information that takes up more than a couple of pages.
An appendix should begin with a table of contents corresponding to the organization of the business plan sections. Even if it only contains information on some but not all sections of the plan, the appendix should always be located after its last section.
Resources on How to Write a Business Plan:
Business plan examples.
http://www.bplans.com/sample_business_plans.php http://www.score.org/resources/business-planning-financial-statements-template-gallery http://www.businessplans.org/businessplans.html http://www.businessballs.com/freebusinessplansandmarketingtemplates.htm http://www.businessplanarchive.org/
Business Plan Writing Resources
http://www.carnegielibrary.org/research/business/bplansindex.html http://www.hbs.edu/entrepreneurship/resources/businessplan.html http://www.entrepreneur.com/businessplan/index.html http://www.sbdcnet.org/small-business-information-center/business-plans http://www.inc.com/business-plans https://www.sequoiacap.com/grove/posts/6bzx/writing-a-business-plan http://www.sba.gov/tools/business-plan/1 https://business.usa.gov/start-a-business http://www.startupconnection.net/premium-resources/business-plan-disconnect/
Article References on How to Write a Business Plan:
- William A Sahlman. How to Write a Great Business Plan. Harvard Business Press Books 2008. ISBN-1422121429
- Bruce R. Barringer. Preparing Effective Business Plans: An Entrepreneurial Approach. Prentice Hall 2008. ISBN-0132318326
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Simple Business Plan Template for Startups, Small Businesses & Entrepreneurs
Industry analysis, why your industry analysis is important.
The Industry Analysis section tells the reader about your industry/marketplace. It is important since readers want to know a) that you are an expert in your market and b) that the market is large enough to support your company and industry trends are working in your favor.
What to Include
The Industry Analysis section has two sub-sections: Market Overview and Relevant Market Size.
Here you will discuss the characteristics of your market. How big is it in units and/or revenues? Is the market growing? What are the trends facing your market?
As much as possible, cite established organizations to lend validity to your research. For example, you can say that according to XYZ Research firm or the National Restaurant Association, restaurant sales were $X billion last year and are expected to grow to $Y billion next year.
Importantly, show how the research supports your success. For example, a growing market size clearly supports you. But for example, if research shows customer needs are shifting in a way that makes them more likely to buy from your company, this is something you want to highlight.
Relevant Market Size
Your relevant market size is the annual revenue that your company could attain if we owned 100% market share.
The formula is simple.
First, enter the number of customers who might be interested in purchasing your products and/or services each year.
Then enter the monetary amount these customers might be willing to spend, on an annual basis, on your products and/or services.
The product of these two figures is your relevant market size. Calculate this figure here so your readers understand the size of your market opportunity and can confirm it’s big enough (particularly if you are seeking debt or equity capital).
BUSINESS PLAN TEMPLATE OUTLINE
- Business Plan Template Home
- 1. Executive Summary
- 2. Company Overview
- 3. Industry Analysis
- 4. Customer Analysis
- 5. Competitive Analysis
- 6. Marketing Plan
- 7. Operations Plan
- 8. Management Team
- 9. Financial Plan
- 10. Appendix
- Business Plan Summary