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The written business plan

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In a previous column I wrote about the importance of a business plan. In this column, I want to expand on it further. Specifically the written start-up business plan.

A start-up business plan should be comprehensive, detailed and should cover all aspects of an organization. Effective start-up business plans are the essence of a business, providing holistic direction concerning management, mission statement, financial plan, risk assessment, tax awareness, operations and products.

There are outside firms who specialize in this niche-those who skillfully compose a written business plan. They know the keywords to use, bullet points, and craft the proper grammar and sentence structure. Furthermore these specialists know the optimum length of the written business plan,which is never a one size fits all. Rather depending on your business sector and what needs to be conveyed, and who is going to be reading it, that is how long the written business plan should be.

Professional business plan writers.enhance your presentation, since they do this for a living, whereas, your attempt at writing it, occurs infrequently, to say the least.

This is a make or break proposition that must catch the target audience's attention and interest.

Business consultants emphasize the need to analyze your business and plan for future growth. A business plan is an excellent tool. However, too often planning stops with the written document.

Your business plan, which is rooted in strategy, should describe how you will grow your business. An action plan will help you put your theories into practice. Think of it as a big-picture 'to-do' list.

Here is how you can create an action plan in just four steps.

1. Start with brainstorming
Before you can create an action plan you need to list the various things you could do to implement the strategies in your business plan. You don't want the first ideas that come to mind - you want to use the most effective and economical ones. After all, why spend money on untested advertising when a combination of cold-calling, networking and sales might work better?

With brainstorming you put as many ideas as possible down on paper. Since your business plan will cover four main areas - market research, marketing and sales, operations, and administration - you will want to develop four action lists. This can be done informally - brainstorming sessions often work best when you feel relaxed and open to unusual solutions.

As you brainstorm you will want to think laterally, coming up with a myriad of different and creative ways to implement the strategies in your plan. For example, if the operations section of your business plan says that you will deliver excellent customer service, one solution on your list may be to provide an online support forum includes relevant information and video clips. This option may be too expensive for some companies, but for others it could be a way to reduce support costs while offering customers a level of service that they will not be able to find elsewhere.

2. Identify costs
Once you have your ideas on paper it is time to apply critical analysis. While buying prime time TV ads may seem like a great idea, chances are good that you won't have the budget for this option. Also, this form of advertising may not deliver the best value for your money, even if you can afford it.

There are two questions to consider as you evaluate your options:

  1. What are your resources and what can you afford?
  2. Which options will deliver the best results for your investment?

To answer these questions, start by assigning a budget to each component of your business plan. For example, you may decide that you can afford to spend $6000 a month on operational expenses and $1000 a month on marketing and sales.

You are now ready to create a simple spreadsheet that includes time and cost estimates for each item on your list. Here is an excerpt from a sample marketing spreadsheet for a new business-to-business service company.

3. Find the best value
Now it is time to sort through the various options and create a final list that fits both your budget and your objectives. You should quickly see that some items will be affordable and effective, while others will be unrealistic at the current time.

If you have a tight budget you will likely be forced to make some difficult choices when narrowing down your list. For example, you may need to decide between an investment in trade shows and media releases or focusing instead on cold-calling and direct mail promotions. If this is the case you may want to create a second list of items for future consideration.

4. Add a Timeline
Your final step is to add a timeline to your action plan. It helps to rough in the timeline on a monthly basis at first and then refine it as time progresses.

As you can see, once the timeline is added your action plan can be used as a checklist to ensure that you actually do the things you wrote about in your business plan. You have turned a theoretical document into a powerful business compass.

But again, since you are not a professional writer, it is worth the extra cost, to utilize a company that can effectively communicate your vision and hopefully turn it into a successful venture. Like a resume, the reader will glean quickly whether or not the document is worth reading thoroughly by the first paragraph.

Clever writing is both an art and a science.

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