Just as some might claim to love a therapeutic clean (as indeed I do) or enjoy conjuring up a homecooked meal from scratch (I definitely don’t), producing a well-researched three-year business plan is a highly satisfying task. I’ve written many, all of which started on the back of an envelope and one which came about in the middle of the night.
A few bullet points spelling out why your big idea is so great will lead into structure and detail, but at the heart of its 30-odd pages should be you, as an entrepreneur, articulating what excites you about your business.
My business plan format isn’t revolutionary: it covers the idea and product (the opportunity), why it’s needed (the market), who you’re up against (the competition), the research, how you’re going to make it work and what happens when it does (rollout).
My top five rules
Keep it interesting, infectious, information-rich and coloured with your own passion. Start with a winning opener (‘X million people searched online for a product like this last year, but only one has our unique advantage, which is…’) then add detail once you’ve got their attention. Waffle at your peril.
Never lie. Big up your achievements and ambitions but don’t make it all sound like a bed of roses. And stick to the facts. If you will have to tackle a competitor, say so. I’ll often throw some already-solved problems into the mix; potential backers love to see you know how to deal with trouble.
Always tailor your plan to the audience and objective. If you start with a template, ensure it’s the right one. There’s extensive information at businesslink.gov.uk plus many banks or financiers prescribe the exact format they require – use it.
Never forget that a business plan – like the business itself – always comes back to money. Is it viable? Will it fly? Excel spreadsheets of costs, financial results and forecasts are simply a scorecard of how well you’re doing and how soon a venture can take off and will be the most read page by far.
Always include a one-page executive summary. Write it last and put it at the front to double as a taster to drum up interest. Edit it down to 100 words and that’s your elevator pitch done too. Before submitting anywhere, ask two people in your network for feedback.
Even if you’re the only one who ever reads it, don’t run a business without one. Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook was four years old before he told investors to wait three years for his business plan.