What should you know about business plan competitions

Business plan and startup contests take an entrepreneur’s thirst for competition to the next level. Throughout the year, organizations all over the country open their doors to new, aspiring or established business owners, offering them the chance to win much-needed funding for their ventures.

Even though most competitors don’t end up winning the prize money, they do gain one thing that all startups need: the chance to network and share their ideas with fellow entrepreneurs and mentors. If you want to advance your entrepreneurial dreams, consider entering one of these annual business plan and startup competitions, open to eligible entrepreneurs in all U.S. states. Visit each competition’s website for contest dates and entry information.

American Dream Seekers – Fort Myers, Florida. RJ Riley & Company’s American Dream Seekers competition provides a platform for showcasing business creations to industry leaders, potential investors, peers, friends and family. Five finalists are selected from a number of categories to compete for a $5,000 prize.

FastPitch Competition – Savannah, Georgia. Students, early stage startups and established local entrepreneurs are invited to share their three-minute pitches at The Creative Coast’s FastPitch Competition. Local community leaders, academics and investors will assess the viability of each venture, and will also provide coaching and feedback to contestants throughout the competition. The winner receives a $3,000 prize.

Innovation World Cup – International. With the Internet of Things, wearable tech and cloud solutions rapidly integrating into everyday life, Navispace AG’s  Innovation World Cup series gives global, early stage entrepreneurs the chance to introduce innovative tech solutions to a panel of industry experts. The winning product for each of the three competitions (IoT/M2M, wearable technologies, cloud) gets a $5,000 prize.

MIT-CHIEF Business Plan Content – Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since 2011, the MIT-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MIT-CHIEF) Forum has sponsored a business plan contest that connects entrepreneurs in the United States and China with resources such as funding, industry expertise, legal services and marketing know-how. Startups in the clean technology, health care, consumer tech/services, social good and Web/IT/mobile industries compete for a $20,000 prize.

NAPEC Innovation Challenge – Chicago, Illinois. The North American Professionals and Entrepreneurs Council (NAPEC) Innovation Challenge is designed for student entrepreneurs from top universities who want to pursue an innovative business idea, develop a technology or create a new approach to a difficult problem. Finalists present their ideas to entrepreneurs, investors and venture capitalists for the chance to win the $10,000 grand prize. Second- and third-prize winners receive $5,000 and $2,500, respectively.

Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit Business Plan Competition – Lafayette, California. If you have business idea that will capture the growing baby boomer market, the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit is the competition for you. Early stage entrepreneurs in all industries are welcome to submit a 10-slide-deck business plan to the competition organizers at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.

Challenges to Overcome

Starting a business? Entrepreneurs know that dreaming up a business idea is the easy part it’s making your dreams come to fruition that’s the real challenge.

And one of the first steps to taking on that challenge is creating a business plan, a task that can be pretty daunting no matter how great your idea is.

Your business plan is essentially your map to success — it’s an outline of the goals, research and projections you have for your new company so that you can stay on the right track, and is an especially important document to have if you’re seeking funding.

Business News Daily asked business owners, strategists and experts what the most difficult part of writing a business plan is. Here are 13 challenges you’ll face writing your business plan.

Actually starting it

“The hardest part about writing a business plan is getting it started. Lock yourself in a room, turn off your phone and focus.” – John Gavigan, executive director, 43North

Filling out your financials

“The most difficult part of writing a business plan is the financial section. It is difficult to project figures on a brand-new business with, possibly, a brand-new concept. There is not roadmap, no one to follow. The best you can do is find a similar company and try to gauge what they are making.” – Rosemary O’Brien, owner, Pocket Parks Publishing

Knowing your demographics

“The hardest but most important piece is getting your target demographics dialed in properly. You need to know who you’ll be selling to and how big the market is to estimate with some accuracy how many people you can reach and sell your product or service to.” – David Batchelor, founder, DialMyCalls.com [Writing a Business Plan? Do These 5 Things First ]

Planning for tech changes

“Predicting the unforeseen technology variables that the future holds [is a challenge]. When I started my business nearly 10 years ago, there was no marketing on Facebook, and Twitter and Instagram did not yet exist. Today, these social media platforms play a huge role in my business’ marketing strategy and directly affect sales.” – Monif Clarke, CEO and founder, Monif C.

Being concise

“[One of the top challenges is] keeping it short and sweet. The more concise and focused a plan is, the more likely business owners are to achieve the goals they have set out for themselves and their business.” – Rick Faulk, chairman and CEO, Intronis

Making it interesting

“The hardest thing about writing a business plan is being able to tell your story in such a way that people buy into your idea. If you tell a lousy story, people won’t want to invest.” – MJ Pedone, president and founder, Indra Public Relations

Establishing workable goals

“Establishing clear, concise and understandable goals — these goals must also be realistic. When people can’t see the vision of the plan, they won’t take action to pursue the plan. In addition, by having set goals that align with your plan, you have measureable targets to track your progress.” – Mike Rodriguez, coach and business consultant

Staying grounded

“[You need] to be honest with yourself. Entrepreneurs are by nature dreamers and optimists and business plans require them to challenge their assumptions about  market opportunity, the competition, the value of their product and growth projections. That is where they get caught up in defining an aspirational, but somewhat realistic, business plan.” – Vikram Aggarwal, CEO and founder, EnergySage

Entrepreneurs Tips For Business Plan

Writing a business plan is an important step in the startup process. It helps you and your partners decide if you will work well together, teaches you about the marketplace, and lets you brainstorm business and product goals. But because of all the effort and detail involved, many entrepreneurs dread the thought of sitting down and creating this critical but time-consuming document.

While business plans can be frustrating if you’re writing one from scratch, there are plenty of online templates available to take some of the pain out of the process. Small business owners can benefit from simple, easy-to-follow business-plan tools so they can spend less time writing and more time launching.

Here are eight resources you can use to help you craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.

$100 Startup

You’ve heard about those entrepreneurs who started off by jotting down their ideas on a napkin at a bar, café or restaurant. $100 Startup’s One-Page Business Plan is a little like that, but more organized. Designed for entrepreneurs who are itching to get started, this simple business-plan template asks a handful of questions that you can easily answer in one or two sentences. It covers everything from what you sell and who will buy it to how you will get paid, “hustle” to find customers, foresee challenges and overcome the obstacles — all in a single page. [Writing a Business Plan? Do These 5 Things First]

Copyblogger

Not all small businesses are concerned with credit lines, partnerships and office space — at least not in the beginning. So why should their initial business plans include these things? Copyblogger’s Remarkably Simple Business Plan doesn’t. Instead, it offers a business-plan template fit for the real would-be entrepreneur’s world. Whereas most business-plan templates assume all businesses are uniform, Copyblogger’s Remarkably Simple Business Plan was created to get to what entrepreneurs really need to know to start a business: the ins and outs of the product or service, how customers will find the business and how the business will make money. Simply copy and paste the template of the Remarkably Simple Business Plan, created by Sonia Simone, co-founder and chief content officer of Copyblogger Media, and you’re good to go.

Enloop

Founded in 2011, Enloop is regarded as an innovative player in the business-plan-creation industry. Like many others, the service uses an online interface to help automate your business plan’s creation. To get started, users enter basic information about their businesses, including product details. Then, Enloop’s software uses metrics to help predict the financial performance of the company in comparison with others in the sector. According to CEO Cynthia McCahon, the goal of the company is to help entrepreneurs make better-informed decisions. Users can get started on Enloop for free; more advanced paid options are also available.

LivePlan

LivePlan is a relatively new entrant to the online business-tools market that helps you every step of the way, from the planning stages through your launch. Like other services, LivePlan allows business owners to craft perfectly formatted plans. From there, users can create the presentation necessary to pitch their business ideas to would-be investors. Once off the ground, businesses can track revenue and expenses against forecasts, and multiple users within a company can work through the LivePlan interface. Pricing starts at less than $12 a month.

The One Page Business Plan Company

Created by The One Page Business Plan Company, this simple business template covers only the key areas entrepreneurs need to address to start a business: their vision for the company, mission for why the business exists, objectives for setting out goals, strategies to make the business successful and action plans indicating what work needs to be done. Unlike complicated business plans, boring blocks of text are not required — bullet points will do.

Platform Planner

Are you the visual type? Look no further than Angela Bowman’s One-Page Visual Business Plan. Based on the principles of the Business Generation Model Strategyzer app, Bowman’s One-Page Visual Business Plan uses sticky notes to help you creatively craft an out-of-the-box business plan. To create a One-Page Visual Business Plan, start by separating a single page into different sections or columns, such as company information and customer segments. Write down your ideas or responses on a sticky note, and then stick it on the corresponding section. You can also color-code the sticky notes for better organization. Then, if your plans change, you can easily remove a note, move it around or add new ones to better fit the direction in which your business is headed.

SBA Build Your Business Plan Tool

The fact that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has an online tool to help users craft business plans will come as no surprise to anyone who has investigated the SBA’s offerings before. The agency has a wealth of free planning, financing and consulting tools and resources, both online and through available consultants. The SBA’s online tool for business-plan creation allows a user to enter information on a Web interface that is tied to that user’s account. The administration says this is intended to be a “live” plan that can be referred to and changed as the company’s plans progress. The SBA encourages entrepreneurs to use their generated plans to discuss their company’s prospects with SBA advisers like those available through SCORE and the Small Business Development Center. The SBA’s tool is available online at no cost.