James West shares his recipe for creating one-pager and full business plans worth reading.
You may already have a business plan that feels old and out of date. Or maybe you’re starting from scratch and want to create a business plan worth sharing.
Whatever stage you’re at, this guide aims to help you overcome your nerves about business planning and create a document that works for you. That might be a one-page plan or a novel.
What will make it exciting? In a word: clarity. The most exciting business plans are short and sweet and create colour for the reader. They tell a story of where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.
"The most exciting business plans are short and sweet and create colour for the reader."
There are certain things that need to be included in a business plan. The secret is to take that fixed structure and tailor it in length and detail to suit your organisation.
Why have a business plan?
4 top reasons
- It gives you something to aim for and a chance to look at your organisation objectively, on your own or as a team. It's something you can share with colleagues and partners to focus their minds.
- It provides a map — it's a plan of how you're going to get to somewhere and the kind of journey you're going to take.
- It's a way to attract people. You can use it as part of your recruitment process to attract talent or share it with partners or funders to get them excited about your work.
- Business plans are a really useful thing to look back at so you can see how far you've come.
What not to do when writing a business plan
9 things to avoid
- Be too vague — avoid being lofty and strategic and overfilling your plan with ideas.
- Be too detailed — there's nothing worse than wading through a pile of information that's not relevant.
- Be sloppy in style — it's important to be concise.
- Be over-hyped — everything in your business plan should be defendable; if funders and lenders read it they will be looking for gaps and holes.
- Make unrealistic claims — don't make sweeping statements that aren't backed up by research.
- Say there's "no risk" or "no competition" — there always is and you need to be prepared for it.
- Hide your weaknesses — tackle them head on.
- Make "Hockey Stick Forecasts" — that's when you start your business and profits go straight up. We all know it doesn't happen like that.
- Write it as a plan — when we get into our planning heads it's easy to tell the future. Your business plan is an assessment of how your organisation is going to grow through the future.
Who are you writing your business plan for?
Defining audience and requirements
It's important to begin by asking who you are writing your business plan for. When you define your audience you start to define what you need in your business plan. Depending on who your audience is, you may not need a full business plan. Identifying your audience early on can really help streamline the document.
The range of people you're writing your business plan for can be quite broad. It might include:
- Your board
- A bank
- An investor or funder
- Customers, particularly if you're working B2B
Or it might just be for you.
Whoever your audience is, never hold things back from your business plan for fear of what people might do with the information. Otherwise your business plan will only ever be half of the story.
Have an executive summary and, if you're worried about sharing more, have a non-disclosure agreement and ask people to sign it before they read the rest of your business plan.
Download the guide to read on:
Creating business plans to get excited about (PDF)