Tips for bright & not blurry eyed business plans

Dont be a pile of paper
Don't be a pile of paper

I finally broke down over the weekend and attacked the stack of five business plans that I promised to read and comment on. They ranged in length from 15 to 80 pages and covered multiple industries and segments. My mind was whirling as I completed the last “…in conclusion” section. As I compared and contrasted the individual documents I was inspired to write a couple tips to help those entrepreneurs with their next versions.

a) Capture my attention quickly – Perhaps its starts with your overarching vision, but find a clever way establishing and leading our interest in your product or service quickly.

b) Make it easy to read and compelling to turn the pages – Think about that spy novel that drives you absorb the content and turn the pages as the plot unfolds.

c) Follow business plan protocol – There are many protocols & templates out there and they all lead the reader through a time tested process. All of the headings and topics will need to be addressed so there are no shortcuts to be taken. One client suggested that since their product was so unique they had no competitors and “never would’ – therefore they left the section completely out!

d) Cadence your content with appropriate emphasis – A colleague of mine at MaRS, Andy Haigh, has developed a 25-page format for the business plan. His rationale is simple: create something that the reader can digest in a single sitting – lean towards 25 pages rather then 60. The flow goes something like:

  • Executive Summary (2-3 pages) – Company description, value proposition, key highlights
  • Introduction (2-3 pages) – What is the problem that the company is trying to solve?
  • Product & Technology (2-4 pages) – How does your technology solve the problem?
  • Market Size (2-4 pages) – Start with the big numbers and narrow it down to your market.
  • Go to Market Strategy (2-3 pages) – How do you plan on attacking the marketplace?
  • Competition (2-3 pages) – How are you “better, faster, cheaper” ?
  • Management (2 pages) – Do you have the team to make it all come together?
  • Financial Summary (2-3 pages) – Financial model, investment opportunity, cash flows.
  • Strong Summary (1 page) – Re-iterate key points

e) Visualize at every opportunity – 25 pages of solid text will not work for your reader. Since a picture says a 1000 words, photographers and graphics designer are the world’s most effective writers. Use charts, graphs, pictures, white space and section headings to help illustrate the points and focus the reader.

f) Proof points – Do you have the customers, beta trials, strategic partnerships and trending financials to clearly demonstrate that you have it right?

g) Strong finish – Having lead the reader through a compelling 25 page journey, re-iterate the key points to leave them with a lasting impression.

I have tried to capture in a few words what is clearly a significant art form. Have Andy and I missed anything? We look forward to your feedback.