Got a great idea? Want to turn it into monetary reality? For Write a Business Plan month, we asked Business Doctors’ Sandra Murphy for her top tips.
Write a Business Plan Month is quite clearly not a concept with universal appeal and if you don’t run or plan to launch a business there’s not much in it for you. From this point on I’ll be assuming you do. Otherwise, switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead.
Apart from being achingly on-trend and getting down with the general December strategic vibe, why would you write a business plan? The most common reason is because you want someone to give or lend you money.
Banks and investors love business plans. But done badly, they can be the enterprise equivalent of your kids’ weekly spellings homework. Everyone secretly knows it’s doing nothing to improve the accuracy of their vocabulary, or the long-term potential of your company, but somehow you can’t stop playing along.
When I’m talking to new and growing businesses, I often start by telling them to throw away their business plans. And as you would expect, people don’t tend to form an orderly queue next to the nearest bin.
I’m not anti-business plan per se, but I am increasingly cantankerous around the kind of going-through-the-motion plan that simply ticks boxes and then gets filed away forever in a box marked ‘useless crap to stick up in the loft’.
For what it’s worth, here are some pointers on writing the kind of plan you wouldn’t be embarrassed to wake up next to in the morning.
A good business plan should be a working document that you can refer to over and over again
Written properly, it will be the first step along the way to producing a full strategy for your business. A strategy, put simply, states where you want to go, how you’re going to get there and who’s going to help you along the way. It’s a frequently misused word for what is really quite a straightforward idea.
Don’t just big yourself up
A common mistake seen in business plans of the ‘just chuck ‘em in the bin’ variety is a blind focus on describing and bigging up your product or service with almost no emphasis on who will buy it, why they will buy it, how often they will buy it, who else is selling it and why your milkshake brings all the boys to your yard and not theirs, where they will buy it from, how they will know about it in the first place and how much all of this is going to cost.
Oh yeah, and how much money all of this will make. Basically, the ‘plan’ bit is missing.
“Don’t be like some of the clearly nervous muppets on Dragons’ Den who stumble and stutter over the first question they are asked. If you can’t evidence it, then don’t write it down.”
It’s not all about the length
Think of it like your CV. (Or something else entirely different that isn’t all about the length. We’ll leave it up to you.) Just because you could write 50+ pages about your amazing product or service, it doesn’t mean you should.
A business plan, like a CV, is a starting point. An introduction. A summary document. A taster. You can always add to it, but when your audience is slumped, drooling and vacant at page 42, you’ll wish you’d cut it down.
Remember who it’s written for
Again, taking the CV analogy, think about who the business plan is written for and what is its purpose. Just as you would tailor your CV to make sure you come across in the best possible way for a particular job, you may need to produce distinctive versions of your business plan for each intended recipient.
Watch your language
A business plan is no place for text-speak, but it also doesn’t pay to be overly formal. You’ll just sound odd. And possibly out of your depth. Also, if you work in an industry that’s acronym-heavy, make sure you explain what all those initial letters actually mean.
Check your evidence
Make sure you can back up everything you say in your plan. Absolutely everything. And bring piles and piles of supporting notes with you when it comes to presenting. Don’t be like some of the clearly nervous muppets on Dragons’ Den who stumble and stutter over the first question they are asked. If you can’t evidence it, then don’t write it down.
Get a critical friend
I don’t mean the kind of friend who always manages to put you down, even when they’re not talking about you. A critical friend is someone who will speak truthfully to you in a supportive way. They don’t even have to be your friend.
Once you have drafted your plan, find an impartial outsider to your business and ask them for some honest feedback. You will be amazed at some of the assumptions you have made and draft two will be 100 per cent better.
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Sandra Murphy loves living in Brighton and working as a Business Doctor. She spends her days helping small and medium-sized businesses of all kinds to grow and thrive, find funding and better engage their employees. Other Business Doctors are available, but none have as sharp a bob as Sandra.