A business plan is something which you tailor to your needs. It’s something that is totally unique to you and your business. However, a typical sales agency business plan will include at least the following elements.

What’s needed to get started, personally

  • Too many people who have been very successful selling for others think that all they need to do is open the doors, make a few calls and the commissions will roll in. It just doesn’t work that way. If you’ve been used to delegating work to others when working for a big company, you’d better be ready to do a lot of things you never thought of when you are the new and lonely kid on the block. When you create a personal success profile, use it not just to make you feel good, but to make you worry a little. If you’ve never balanced a set of books, get a little nervous. You will either have to learn to do it yourself, or be prepared to engage the services of others to do it for you.

Your capital requirements

  • The chances are that you will be starting out as a solo and your only expenses will probably be those needed to keep yourself going in the business. You may be willing to tighten your belt a little to do this, but you’d better be very sure you know about how long you’re going to have to operate on a limited income. A good business plan will include realistic checkpoints so you can see if you’re moving ahead or losing ground. And, if you’re going to need outside capital, your plan should detail just where you’re going to get it. Don’t be vague — be very specific. Know which of your personal assets can be used as collateral. Know who will be willing to lend you money when you need it.

The nature of your business

  • Sure, we know! It’s a sales agency. But you will quickly discover that you’ll be doing a lot more than just selling. Some of your principals will want you to service the products you sell. Others will have work for you to do other than selling. Your plan should be flexible enough to include these variations and to show you just how a principal’s requests will impinge on your nicely-worked-out plan to make money. Most agents who have been around the block a few times will tell you that although you make your money selling, there will be a lot you have to do that you never anticipated just to keep the doors open.

Record keeping

  • The tax and legal requirements of your state and the federal government will pretty much dictate how you keep your records. However, think about the other records you will need to keep. Unless you have an incredible memory, you’re going to have to keep masses of information somewhere. Each of your principals will have many customers. And there will probably be several people at each customer site that you will have to know and work with. And, of course, multiply this by the results of your prospecting. You will have to know where each of these people is on their way to becoming one of your customers. Fortunately, there are many good computer contact management programs that greatly simplify this work. But, unless you plan for it right from the start, getting up to speed halfway ‘round the track can be a killer.

Agency personnel

  • Whether you plan to remain a solo or build a big, multi-person agency, you will be working with others. They may be actual employees, and they may just be suppliers to your agency. Either way, you will have to plan how to work with each. For example, if you plan to work with sub-reps, you will have to plan just as carefully as you would if you were going to hire employees. Your business plan should be very specific on the relationships you will have with all who have anything at all to do with your sales agency.

Offices and other spaces

  • Don’t think that just because you will work from home that you don’t have to consider this in your business plan — you will have to do it no matter where you hang your hat. For example, an agent recently told us that although he has worked from a home office for many years, he never checked the local ordinances which regulate working at home. He only discovered that there were such ordinances in place when the tax collector made an inspection of his home as part of a tax revaluation program his town was doing. He discovered that he should have been paying local taxes and that he was going to get nicked for a tidy piece of change simply because his business plan failed to set him straight.

Stock and inventory

  • Most agents don’t buy, stock and sell, but some do. You may want to take on a small spare parts inventory for a few principals someday. If this is even a remote possibility, include it in your business plan. Actually, many agents discover that they not only make a good return on spare parts resale, but they also effectively lock out competitors when they can provide needed parts to customers immediately.

Advertising and promotion

  • Most agencies spend very little on advertising and promotion. However, the times are changing, and we hear more and more from agents who are doing local promotion. An agent told us recently that he found it very beneficial to promote his agency as a good place for customers to do business with, rather than to promote specific products he sells. He said, “My principals spend a lot of money promoting the products, so I don’t think I have to worry about that too much. However, I want prospects in my territory to know of me and my agency. I want them to think that we are a good outfit to deal with. I want them to know that we provide service along with good products. And that’s what I promote. I included this notion right from day one in my business plan. And when I revise the plan every couple of years, I carefully evaluate the expenses involved and the benefits I receive from the effort.”

Outside assistance

  • You should have a few other professionals working for you in the background — an accountant, possibly a lawyer, and a very reliable person who takes care of the shop when you’re out making calls. Your business plan will outline the characteristics of the ideal person, how you will find that person and how you will work with and compensate that person. You might even think of having a board of unpaid advisors work with you. Several agents have told us that they work with others on a quid pro quo basis. One said, “I sit on the board of a local delivery company, and the owner of the company sits on my board. Neither of us pays the other, but we help each other in ways that would cost a fortune if we had to hire the talent when needed.”

Financial projections

  • The goal of your agency is to make money, and your business plan should be very clear on how you are going to do this. It should be specific to the point where you have a good idea of the typical commission rates you can expect, and the approximate volume for any given product in your territory. In short, you should be able to know whether you can expect to make money, how quickly, how much — and how much it’s going to cost you to do it.

An executive summary

  • This is a boildown of your plan. It should put the entire document into perspective quickly. It won’t give the reader point-for-point details. But anyone who is interested should be able to read it and get a clear picture of just what you are planning to do.

Get Help!

A business plan is a complex undertaking. It takes time, effort and a lot of research and thinking to create one. If you have no experience with these plans, we urge you to go to your local library and check out several books on the subject. Read them all carefully before you put anything at all on paper. Get a good overall feel for just what you will need and how to go about it. Then create a draft. When you have your first draft, review it in light of what you have read. Make corrections and refinements before making your final draft. Then — use it! Don’t put it in a drawer and forget it. A good business plan is a working partner. Treat it well and you will be rewarded.