An entrepreneur writing a business plan is like a chef arranging a plate of food.
Placing the cooked ingredients and recipes beautifully on a plate takes skill and precision, but the vast majority of the work involved in ensuring the quality of the finished product has already been completed by the chef at this stage. But, present a sloppy plate of food to a customer and it won’t matter how expertly cooked the ingredients are, it will most likely be sent back to the kitchen along with a few choice words.
Your business plan is like that very plate of food. Present it poorly, and it won’t matter how earth-shatteringly genius your business model is, it will go down like a plate of cold spaghetti.
This guide will talk you through a step-by-step plan for completing the remaining 10%
** I have numbered the sections to correspond with the order in which each section would logically appear within your business plan. However, I suggest you complete steps 3 (summary) and 4 (overview) last as you will be better placed to gain an overall perspective on the document at this point.
Step One- Focus on what you want your business plan to achieve
People tend to think of a business plan as a static and fixed document, which of course it isn't. No business is stagnant and correspondingly, your business plan should be fully open to positive change as and when required.
It is perfectly acceptable (and indeed preferable) to create your initial business plan with specific purposes in mind, thus focusing your efforts and ensuring that it delivers against your objectives.
The possible motivations behind your need for a business plan really are myriad, but regardless of these, there is one overarching aim that you must always keep in mind; something that is the common thread between all business documents of this type.
It should form a convincing argument of the significant and reasonable potential for your business to be a relative success.
If you take nothing else away from this guide, let it be this!
Step Two- Plan the structure
You might be tempted to skip this step in favour of diving straight into the nitty-gritty, but please don’t… you will leave yourself flying blind and less likely to create a plan which is well structured, flows naturally, and includes all of the information you are hoping to present to the reader.
Business plans are divided into sub-headings / sections which guide the reader through your business model in a linear fashion. But this structure is also helpful to you as the writer, as it assists you to break down the business model, and all related information into more manageable and easily visualised sections.
Our suggested structure for your business plan is as follows
The Business Products and/or services
The marketplace / industry
The history of the business and its team
The Marketing and Promotions
Finances, current and projected
It may be that the nature of your industry / business model dictates that further sub-sections would be beneficial, these can be inserted as you see fit within this overarching structure.
Each of these 7 headings will also contain a number of sub-sections; we will deal with these individually throughout this step by step guide.
Section 1- The Executive Summary
You will be told by some that the executive summary at the beginning of a business plan is a summary of the business i.e. its aims, operations and so forth. Whilst an executive summary often contains details pertaining to these, this is not what the purpose of the summary is.
Then what is an executive summary?
Quite simply it is a summary of your business plan. Startacus Co-founder Alastair Cameron, summed it up quite nicely.
“If your business plan was a novel, this would be the ‘abridged and condensed’ version; the plot is basically the same, but the detail has been highly reduced. Creating an executive summary warrants a discussion all of its own, but a helpful thing to remember when writing it is that, someone with no prior knowledge of your business idea, should be able to pick it up and understand the basics of how your business will operate, grow, make money”.
In other words it allows a person to quickly become acquainted with the entire document, without having to read it all. If you can spark their interest at this stage you stand a good chance of carrying them through to the end, conversely if you lose them now, you may never be able to regain their attention.
CEOs, venture capitalists, angel investors, managers, and CEOs are all very busy people, and writing a killer executive summary is your best way of keeping your business plan out of their recycling bin.
Putting together your executive summary
Your executive summary does not need to follow a rigid structure, but one thing you must do is ensure that the first paragraph is as engaging as possible.
It should grab the reader's attention and compel them to read the rest of the summary, either by stating the innovations of your business, describing your ‘Eureka!’ moment, or presenting some other unique or interest ‘hook’.
Now proceed through each section of your completed business plan, teasing out the major interesting, engaging, convincing points, and summarising them within a few hard-hitting sentences.
You should focus particularly on;
The company description
The problem you are solving
How you are solving it
Any problems that you have / expect to have
Why you are solving it now
Interesting / startling facts about your industry
Partnerships you have developed
The state of your team
Innovative approaches to marketing
Growth forecasts both long and short term
NB: Use the completed sections of your business plan to inform your executive summary. Compare and and contrast their key points to ensure you have not missed out any potentially important details.
In part two of this guide we will take a detailed look at how to write the remaining sections of your business plan, including; An overview of your business, the business products and / or services, the industry / market, the history of the business and its team, marketing and promotions, and finances.