Some would have you believe that the business plan died with the advent of the “launch and learn” era in the web/mobile space. Those same people might advise you to get your idea into the marketplace, learn from some initial customers, prepare your ego for bruising, fail fast, fail cheap, and then shake it off and use your experience to build the next version…better…stronger…faster.
Unfortunately, if you’re seeking funding—no matter whether it’s a loan from the bank or an initial round from an angel investors or venture capitalists —you’re going to need a business plan.
You may view this plan as a boring hurdle to cross on your way to doing the work you really care about—turning your idea into reality—but your business plan is more than that. It’s your very first content marketing asset, the one that you use to market your ideas, in order to get help creating and marketing your unique products and services.
I’ve had the pleasure—and the pain in some cases—of reviewing 3-4 business plans over the past month. As I read, I realized how much the average business plan misses opportunities to inform and convince.
Below, I offer advice on turning your business plan into an effective, persuasive content marketing asset.
1. Create your own structure.
There’s no universally-accepted structure, format, or design for a business plan. There are certain things that most prospective stakeholders may want to see, such as financial forecasts or product summaries, but get creative about how you present your story. It’s yours, after all.
2. Build a great story, not just a great business.
Speaking of stories, many entrepreneurs fail to tell theirs in a business plan, choosing instead to focus on the cold hard facts and figures. Take a look behind any great, mature business, and you will uncover some unique stories. It may be a story about where the idea came from, or a story about why the founder is passionate about this particular product or service, or a story about how other successful or failed businesses led the founding team to this idea.
3. Write like your business depends on it.
There’s two ways to get readers to quickly tune out your business plan: be boring and write sloppily.
If you’re not a polished writer, find one. If you are a polished writer, get an editor to check for scuffs.
4. Lead with your unique strengths.
If your product is truly revolutionary, but you have no idea how you’re going to market it, lead with your product. If your product is a copycat, but you’ve opened up a unique distribution channel, lead with that distribution piece.
Your weaknesses will be exposed by intelligent people somewhere along the way, but if you’ve sold your strengths well enough, they may just choose to forget about those weaknesses.
5. Do your homework.
“There’s nothing like this out there, so there’s not a whole lot of market or competitive research to do.”
Those words often mark the premature death of a business idea or business plan. Whether it be secondary research, market segmentation research, or even research on a similar business model within an unrelated product category, do something.
Doing nothing comes across as lazy at worst and arrogant at best.
6. Be visual whenever possible.
No one likes to read page after page after page of copy. Use charts, tables, infographics or even early design concepts to break up the document.
7. Don’t be afraid to go long, but give readers short options.
You probably don’t want to go longer than 10-15 pages on your business plan. Even at that length, few will read the entire document. Three tips for appealing to the short attention span types:
- Provide bulleted highlights of each section.
- Write a succinct executive summary that leads with your strengths and includes facets of each subsequent section.
- Consider creating a shortened version of the entire document that includes paragraph summaries of each section and a financial forecast.
8. Be able to provide the logic behind every single number.
Sure, especially with start-up business plans, the financial forecast involves a lot of guesswork, and will change dozens of times over your first few years of operation. Most investors will admit that.
That being said, if you’re going to bother to talk revenue, cost of goods sold, short-term and lifetime value of customers, know what your numbers mean. People want to understand the assumptions behind the numbers, and want to see examples of other companies operating with similar metrics.
Remember—your business plan revolves around an idea, an idea that you feel strongly can change a market, make people’s lives better in some way, or just make a person or people lots and lots of money. A great business plan won’t save a bad idea, but a sloppy plan can certainly slow down a good idea.
If you’re anything like the average entrepreneur, you think you have a great idea. Treat your business plan like your first and most important content marketing project, and your idea has a better chance of gaining the support it needs to become reality.