The Beautiful Business Plan
OH THANKS! JUST STICK IT ON THE SHELF OVER THERE
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.” — Yogi Berra
You what? Say that again. Beautiful Business Plan? You’ve got to be joking!
No, I’m not. You see, when it comes to business plans, I’ve got form.
I used to write business plans sponsored by the UK Government — the Department of Trade & Industry as was. They paid extremely well so I couldn’t submit anything less than 2 inches thick, now could I? Never mind the quality, feel the weight seemed to be the thing. They were jammed with pie-charts, tables, statistics, graphs and dry, often incomprehensible language. I don’t think anyone actually read them. Probably went straight onto a top shelf in some dark corner — or propped up the new coffee machine.
Later, as part of a Deutsche Bank initiative, I taught students at the UK’s top creative colleges how to write really useful, beautiful business plans. This is what I told them.
First of all, contrary to the popular stereotype, business plans are not all about money. They are about the idea, the project, its qualities and benefits and how you get from where you are now to where you want to be in six months or a year. In that sense, it’s a story — your story — of how your business will grow. And of course money comes into it, but as a means, not the end. Unless of course your business is primarily intended to make you big profits, with the product or service being the means.
I firmly believe in a world where the commercial imperative is changing, away from greed and the exploitation that feeds it and towards more inclusion and sharing of resources, with money no longer the only goal.
Nicholas Murray Butler puts it even stronger: “Businesses planned for service are apt to succeed; businesses planned for profit are apt to fail.”
In my view, a business plan should reflect that approach and start with an outline of the business idea and, crucially, proof of the real need for it, how it will benefit the world — and you. Once that’s clear, we can look at the money that’s needed to achieve it.
There are a few basic questions to ask yourself before you start on your business plan:
- Who’s it for?
- How long should it be?
- Do I have to use special business-speak?
The answers are equally simple: 1. it’s for you. Of course you can use it to help raise investment, secure grants, loans etc but how can you pitch your idea successfully if you don’t fully believe in it yourself? You need to be excited by your business plan, eager to tell everyone (unless there’s IPR involved!). 2. As short as possible; if you’ve got lots of supporting data, stick it in an appendix. If the appendix gets too big, make it a separate document, otherwise it’ll be mistaken for the business plan and no-one will bother to read anything. Maximum twenty pages — including images — is the aim. 3. No, please avoid business-speak. Everyone hates it but some feel it’s essential. It’s not! It’s a way of confusing your message. Leave the ridiculous jargon to those who still think its smart. So, no blue-sky scenarios, left-fields, pushing envelopes or bouncing dead cats.
Simple, well modulated language that you are familiar with. It’s your story, after all.
There is no set structure for a business plan despite what some banks tell you, but there are some elements you need to cover. There’s a suggested structure below. Bear in mind you need to take your reader with you, so a useful way of doing that is to follow the “statement: doubt: reassurance” format.
They read, they understand, a doubt creeps in, you reassure them by anticipating their doubts in the very next section. And all the way through. By they time they get to the end, there are no accumulating doubts to contaminate their view of you plans. You’ve landed them!
You probably need to start with an Executive Summary.
This is a summary of the whole business plan — not just another way of describing your idea — and is aimed at those that don’t have time — or think they don’t. You’ll then need to outline your idea, say what you are offering the world, your USP, and demonstrate that you and your team are superbly qualified to deliver it as you have relevant experience and track record.
Next — and crucially — you need to give evidence that there is a real and demonstrable need for your product or service, that it is not just a lovely idea you dreamed up in the bath but something that your market — people — will bite your hand off for. Of course you need to show that you have a means to let them know you have the answer to their prayers, so marketing — promotion — needs to be thought through and outlined.
Then there is what I call the “nitty-gritty”, the details of how your business is going to operate: where you’ll be based, if you need a physical space or can be nomadic, who’s working with you and under what arrangement, what legal form will you take etc etc. In short, all the everyday detail that can make or break an enterprise. Because that’s where those pesky little devils live.
By now you should be thoroughly convinced and have evidence for the fact you have a sound business idea based on your skills, a real need and a strategy for delivery.
So you can now start on the money. The “nitty-gritty” exercise will give you a useful check-list from which to extract costs — capital and revenue — so you can then calculate any investment requirements. Once you know how much you need, you can start on devising an income plan — investment, loans, operational income etc. Keep this bit really simple in the business plan but know it inside out and have it recorded in detail so you can answer any specifics.
A vital part of any business plan is a Gantt Chart — a timetable — using the information from the “nitty-gritty” to chart out how long all this is going to take, vital because it is one of the early reality checks, the moment you realise there is only one of you, that — annoyingly — there are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week.
You are not superwo/man, even if you think you are, and you’re not going to be much use to anyone if you’re absolutely knackered all the time. So build in time to enjoy the excitement! And sleep!
Finally, you’ll need a Cashflow Forecast.
This is where the costs, income and time predictions come together in a wonderful final reality check. One of my greatest triumphs as a Business Development Coach was to get a regular class of would-be therapists — aromatherapists, reflexologists, acupuncturists — to actually understand and even get a little excited about the value of cashflow forecasts and — yes! — to actually do them!
As with a good pitch, appearances are crucial.
Your business plan does need to be beautiful, does need to be an enjoyable read, therefore does need to include a good selection of images. Images soften too much text, and give a visual account of what you’ve written, backing up your argument in a subtle, non-verbal way. Because your business plan does indeed need to be a joy to read. I read hundreds of them and I’m always drawn to those that are really attractive to look at.
Inspired, I am more motivated and better able to understand and evaluate the financial aspects. Inspired and convinced, I am more likely to recommend the idea to investors and funders.
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