When a new industry or business sector emerges, Wanda Halpert is one of the first to know about it. Since 1997 the Founder and CEO of Concord Business Plans has been creating business plans that have helped entrepreneurs of both private and public companies secure the funding needed to start new businesses, launch new product lines, and manage growth and expansion.
More than 90% of the firm’s clients ultimately find financing for their businesses. The success of the firm’s unique business plans has its origins in the experience and outlook of its founder, Wanda Halpert.
“I am an entrepreneur. I’ve had businesses of my own since I was 18 years-old, so I learned about manufacturing, I learned about distribution, I learned about marketing. I knew about a lot of different sectors from having done it on a small scale,” Wanda remembers. “In Vancouver there is a strong stock market community, but there was a really no one providing good business plans. A friend approached me and asked for help and the business developed from there. 1997 was the dot com boom and we did hundreds of dot com business plans. Now with the legalization of cannabis, we’re doing dozens of dot bong business plans!”
Throughout the past decades, Wanda has seen mining businesses come back in the early 2000s as the price of gold rose, tech and oil & gas rise and then fall to rise again. The demand for business plans for cannabis companies started in 2012 and her company created its first cryptocurrency and blockchain plan in 2013.
The biggest change for Wanda Halpert and her team, though, has been changes they have made to the very nature of business plans.
“Back in 1997, business plans were all in black and white because that was what you did for your thesis back in university,” Wanda says. “It was all Times Roman font size 12, double spaced. The business plan sector was ripe for disruption. The first thing I did was to hire a graphic designer to do logos for our client. We would source images and choose photographs extremely judiciously. We’d also create our own graphs and charts in the company’s colors to make the business plan look more like a magazine. The content was written to MBA standards and cited and sourced. Our research is award winning and we use respected industry associations, but we make our work look fresh, modern and current.”
It is not a case of appearances winning out over substance. Documentation, especially business documents that are used to make funding decisions require serious consideration and crafting. But, having a brand that is communicated across a new company’s business plan, pitch deck, business cards, and web site does have an impact on how new entrepreneurs and their businesses are perceived by potential funders.
“It makes early stage companies look more ready,” Wanda says. “We have a comprehensive launch package where we provide all of the necessary branded materials presented consistently and professionally. We have never had a client who has subscribed to that package not get funding and that is because they look ready to launch.” The carefully curated content supports entrepreneurs who often have no idea what must go into a business plan.
“Entrepreneurs are excited about their ideas, that’s what they want to talk about,” Wanda says. “When a client meets with me, I go through all of the necessary sections with them and help them understand the points we must touch on to create the plan make their business model relevant. You need content in the plan that can be re-purposed to hit many targets including legal, fundraising and marketing.”
One of the problems, Wanda has found, is that many new entrepreneurs don’t know the difference between a strategic plan and a business plan.
“A strategic plan stays in the company,” Wanda explains. “It’s for all the management to get on the same page. It’s the inner workings of the company and anyone outside the company doesn’t need to see that. A business plan is different. That goes out to bankers and VCs. It outlines the steps and the operations that must be built and maintained to generate the company’s revenue and growth. We build a strong model and that’s why our business plans have a high rate of investment success. It makes sense.”
These are the kinds of lessons Concord Business Plans shares with its clients. Wanda often calls it Wanda’s Business Planning 101. She agreed to share one of those lessons with our readers.
According to Wanda, every business plan is built around a 4-part cycle:
Part 1: The Product or Service Chapter
“You have a chapter called the product,” Wanda says. “You must explain why it is the very best product in its sector. If you are selling ice cream, you must explain precisely why it is the very best ice cream, list your flavors and ingredients.”
Part 2: Market Research and Analysis Chapter
“This is where you examine and describe your market or audience. Who is buying ice cream? What are the trends in terms of flavors?” Wanda explains. “Do they want organic vegan ice cream? Do they want interesting combinations of flavors? What are the target demographics? Where are the clients?”
Part 3: Marketing Strategy Chapter
“This is where you explain your strategic marketing plan. You need to understand how to reach people and bring awareness about your product,” Wanda says. In today's business reality, you need to have both an online marketing strategy and an offline strategy and understand how they work together. It is your marketing plan that drives revenues and growth.”
Part 4: Financial Projections
“This is where you explain how much it costs to earn your sales revenue,” Wanda says. “This is where our financial analyses department uses the models that show how balances and return on investment, ROI, is calculated. This is where our work with financial analysts and accountants is essential because standards must be adhered to. This is what people really want to see.”
The cycle can be repeated in full or in miniature to deal with different levels of business.
“Once you’ve completed the cycle at part four, then you start back at the top with Opportunities for Expansion and Growth and begin the cycle again,” Wanda explains.
The company does not use templates, but creates a completely unique document for each client. It’s a formula that works for both client and the team at Concord.
“There are no short cuts to what we do,” Wanda says. “All of the research, all of the writing, all of the graphics: It’s a lot of hard work and long hours and then, we deliver it to the client and we wait for the client’s feedback. Sometimes, we’re on the phone with them and we can hear everyone in their office react positively to their first view of the plan.” That is rewarding to us.
But, that’s not the best thing for the CEO whose firm has written over 700 business plans for companies that now trade on every stock exchange in North America.
“The even bigger satisfaction”, Wanda says, “is the fact that they get funded. That’s the greatest feeling of all.”
Kate Baggott's technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review at MIT, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun, and on the Business to Business News Network
Kate is the author of two short story collections.
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