A business plan doesn't have to be all encompassing, especially when you're trying to generate buzz. Here are the elements you really need.
When writing a business plan, it's easy to get lost in the details. You want to demonstrate how you've studied the ins and outs of the marketplace and have crunched every conceivable number. But, really, writing a 100+ page business plan is not the best use of your energy.
'I vividly remember years of lengthy business planning cycles that literally produced books - encased in three-ring binders,' says Denise Barnwell, president of Transformation Marketing in West Orange, New Jersey. 'The ritual of producing these big-company business plan ‘bibles' was mostly endured by all. But small business owners don't have time or patience to produce lengthy business plans – they need action plans.'
Fleshing out your business in such detail can be a worthwhile exercise for an entrepreneur, but the truth is that it's not likely anyone else will ever spend the time to read it – whether you're competing in a business plan competition or trying to raise money from investors. That's why you also should be thinking about how to put together a summary or short-form business plan that ranges anywhere from two pages to 15.
The shorter you can make your summary business plan, the better. You want to focus on just a few key elements of your business that will generate the most excitement among those reading it -- without requiring them to invest a weekend in doing so. You can always pass along a more detailed plan to those interested later. 'One of the most common mistakes is for people to get bogged down in details,' says Mark Herschberg, a veteran entrepreneur and instructor at MIT. 'You don't need to describe every feature, or have detailed product designs. If your investors have detailed questions, they'll ask for more information.'
Dig Deeper: How to Write a Great Business Plan
How to Write a Summary Business Plan: A Few Don'ts
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for things to leave OUT of your summary business plan, according to Malla Haridat, founder and CEO of New York City-based New Designs for Life, an organization that teaches children about entrepreneurship:
How to Write a Summary Business Plan: The Essential Pieces
Turning to what you DO want to focus on, consider the following tips offered by Ken Halkin, a business consultant in Amesbury, Massachusetts:
1. Description: Kick off your plan with a one-page description of your business. Give a brief history of the business and its ownership structure by focusing on:
2. Vision Statement: Write a concise one- or two-paragraph vision statement, which gives your answer to the question: 'What do we want this company to become over the next five to 10 years?'
3. Mission Statement: Lay the groundwork for your 'brand promise' in a one or two paragraph description of what your company will be to its customers.
4. Values: Provide a list of three to five core principles upon which you will build the business and stick to no matter what.
5. Goals: Make a list of three to five long-term goals that translate your company's vision into specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific objectives.
6. Market research: Take the next two to three pages to briefly answer the following questions:
6(a). Market differentiation: Take the next page to detail what makes your product or service unique in the market by answering questions like:
6(b). Marketing message: Based on the answers you outline above, take the next half page to explain the message you plan to communicate to your target market.
6(c). Marketing mix: Use the next page or so to detail the methods you will use to deliver that message.
6(d). Measurement: Follow the previous two sections with another half-page describing how you will measure the effectiveness of each of those delivery methods and, based on the results, adjust your plan accordingly.
7. Sales: Take the next full page to summarize your sales plan by answering these questions:
- How are leads generated?
- How are they researched/qualified?
- How do you get in front of your customer?
- How do you close the sale?
8. Operations plan: Now, take one to two pages to answer the following questions:
9. Personnel Plan: Use one page to describe your 'people' plan by answering questions like:
10. Financial Plan: As noted earlier, keep the details about your financials brief, using the same narrative style you have been using throughout the plan. Then, use a footnote to alert readers that more detailed financial schedules and assumptions will exist in a separate document. To keep focused, consider telling your story by providing the following information:
11. Executive Summary: Save the beginning for the end by taking one to two pages to write a concise synopsis of the entire plan.
If you have followed these guidelines, the narrative portion of your plan should be 10 to 15 pages, with perhaps another eight to 15 pages of attachments and schedules related to the additional details of the marketing and financial sections. Halkin also recommends that you put together a detailed strategic plan that establishes the strategies, steps, accountability and timelines for achieving the one-year goals of the business.
For additional help, look to resources such as the 'The One-Page Business Plan' or entrepreneurial coach Verne Harnish's book, Mastering The Rockefeller Habits, that espouse summarizing your business with a single page of text.
Dig Deeper: Tools for Creating a Business Plan
DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.