Like me, you’ve probably read a lot of people like Tim Berry or Guy Kawasaki and skimmed over their pet peeves about business plans. Well, here’s the hard truth, they’re right! How do I know this? I recently reviewed and rated over 350 applications for a business grant. When you have to read that many applications in a very short amount of time, most of what you read just becomes a blur. Those that stand out usually do so because they’re really badly crafted and then there are the few (very few) that are outstanding. What makes the difference? How can you stand out in a good way, whether it’s a business plan for investors, or a competition? Here’s what I learned and will put to use.
- Everyone should do this. It forces you to focus on what your business goals are and how to share that vision with someone else. Do it because a business plan is an integral part of your business. Do it for practice, that way when it’s really important (like finding funding), you’ll be confident.
- Remember that someone, a regular person, is reading the entry. Write for them. Write as if you were having a conversation with them. Don’t write to impress anyone, it won’t!
- Keep it interesting. Tell a story. Get your reader (the regular person, remember?) involved. Some humor is always a relief. One of my favorite entries said that their staff was all going to have to lose weight so they could squeeze by the additional equipment in the over-crowded office. It was amusing reading and made an excellent case for why they needed to expand.
- Show the human side of the business. People like to know the back-stories. A few words on how the business came to be. What was the a-ha moment that made you do this? Did an employee do something extraordinary for a customer? Overcome a big obstacle?
- Be precise. What does your company do? Over a dozen of the applications I read, forgot to say what the business was. A couple of them I finally deduced from the rest of the application, but there were at least five, where after reading over 2000 words, I still couldn’t figure it out.
- Be specific. If you’re looking for funding, lay out exactly how you’re going to use the money and in what timeframe. Don’t just say “we’re going to hire two full-time employees.” What will their positions do/report to and what salaries are you bringing them in at?
- Don’t spend all the money on sales, marketing, building a website or social media. These should already be part of your DNA. Enhancing any or all of them is fine. Implementing them for the first time is not.
- Car wrapping is not the answer to your marketing/sales needs. A solid marketing plan is. Same for hiring sales people. You will need to at some point, but in the beginning, if you can’t do sales, you don’t have a business.
- If a company says it’s “revolutionary” it usually isn’t.
10. Same for using the “teach a man to fish” quote. If you only have 30 seconds to a minute to capture someone’s interest, why would you waste it on fishing?