An important feature of business plans is the summary memo, a streamlined executive summary of 2-10 pages maximum. Investors often prefer just the summary memo. If they like what they see there, then they want to see the whole plan.

The summary memo should have the key points, such as competitive edge, market needs, defensibility, and, of course, track records and resumes of main team members. Sell your plan, but keep it short and rich. Focus on real content, not hype.

Another important new trend is the steadily increasing demand for research. Investors expect entrepreneurs to do their homework. You are supposed to know the investors' preferences on deal size and industry segment. Some venture capital firms want software, early on, and others want biomedical, second or third round. A mass mailing is no longer acceptable.

As for the plan itself, the key is getting to the point and making the point. Investors won't wade through excess words or unsupported numbers. Nobody has extra time to find diamonds hidden in the verbal or formatting rough. Presentation is always important but only to communicate content. Good charts are dynamite when they make numbers easier to read quickly, and essential when numbers are complex.

Good text formatting should make the text easy to read. Use a legible font and a good mix of section headings and subheads and such to make the organization visible. Bullet points are generally easier to read than long paragraphs. Color is good for charts when it makes numbers easier to understand, but it gets in the way when used for text.

Fancy paper, expensive bindings, and excessive presentation are not really needed. Make the paper whatever quality it takes to make the plan easy to read, avoiding some of the more fibrous papers that end up interfering with the printed content. Make the binding a good coil, or some other binding that will hold up to use, but keep it practical so you impress with content, not expense.

Submitting a plan by e-mail is a matter of recipient's preference. There's nothing wrong with e-mail when your e-mailee prefers to receive e-mail. Best to make sure, though, because a non e-mail user won't like it at all. Don't be afraid to ask. As long as your target person is used to the Net and e-mail (these days most are), they might want to receive the summary memo in e-mail.

Don't try to do a whole plan in e-mail text, though. I'll bet a lot of investors would be fine with a Rich Text Format (RTF) file or Adobe Acrobat attachment (Portable Document Format/PDF) for the plan itself. Make sure you check first. I expect the e-mail plan (RTF or PDF) to become the norm. Fast communication is the key, and there is nothing better than an e-mail attachment for fast communication.

Copyright 1997-1999, Palo Alto Software Inc.

This piece was based on an article featuring Tim Berry in the December 1998 issue of Home Office Computing magazine.