Great Business Plan Tools

If you are trying to write a business plan and you have yet developed these tools, then stop. You can only write a good business plan after you give a good thought to your business.

Here's how.

Use business plan tools to write a great business plan. Nobody reads a mediocre business plan. Instead, develop these business plan tools: your business sound bite, a good executive summary as a teaser and a Powerpoint presentation instead!

When you are done with the above tools, I have put a sample business plan for you to start work with. But please, don't start hacking on the business plan before you've finished the business sound bite, the teaser and a business plan presentation. Trust me!

Sometimes, I wonder why people even ask for a business plan, as if it is the single most important document. Well, a business plan is everything, yet nothing.

A business plan is everything because, just like you’ll need a resume to apply for a job, you’ll need a business plan to raise funds, tell your story in an entrepreneur competition, or your professor about your business ideas.

It is nothing because, just like a resume does not get you the job, the business plan simply opens the door for you.

I have never met an entrepreneur who sticks to his business plan after it is written. Nimble entrepreneurs keep adjusting their plans according to situations and circumstances. Many of these are unforeseen at the time the business plan is written. By the time the business is of some success, most would have deviated much from the original business plan.

Asking for your business plan seems to be test on your ability. Lecturers, business angels, government officials, venture capitalists and even your friends, they all do it! Why? If you’re like most people, you will find it hard to hammer down a good business plan. And if you can’t even put your thoughts on paper, you’re not likely to be able to articulate your business proposition in person. What then? Hasta La Vista!

Let’s say you went a bit further than that. You managed to do some research, burnt some midnight oil and drafted out a mediocre business plan. Your readers will go straight to the executive summary and read the first paragraph. Don’t even know what your business is about. Adios!

Get the picture now? Most people, including me, don’t even go beyond the first paragraph of the executive summary. Here is where I’ll ask you to work on more productive business plan tools before you write your 20-pages long business plan.

With these business plan tools, I'm confident you will appear a more impressive entrepreneur.

Business Sound Bite

The most important business plan tool is probably the business sound bite. What’s a sound bite? Sound bites can consist of facts, anecdotes, stories, one-liners, or clever quips. Mark Twain describes it as “A minimum of sound to a maximum of sense”.

These are famous sound bites, sound bites are not easily forgotten: 
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself” Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Your business sound bite should articulate your business strategy, your unique selling proposition and your mission in 10 to 25 words. This is the single most useful tool you will ever create for your business. The Business Plan PresentationYou'll need to impress your audience in this presentation. Rehearse this again, again and again.

My recommendation is to limit your presentation to 10 slides. Keep more slides as appendices or I’ll call them backup slides. The backup slides will only be used when you are asked to elaborate on certain sections of the business plan. Plan to use these slides during the Q&A sections.

Executive Summary

Your executive summary should work like a teaser. It should give your readers a taste, but don't give them all the information. Let them have a peek, but don't let them see everything. Use the executive summary to give readers tantalizing snippets of information.

Limit your executive summary to one page, but if you can’t then two. Each section in your executive summary is made of two to three short but carefully composed sentences, similar to blurbs and extracts.

The executive summary should support your business sound bite and the business plan as a whole.

What are the sections in the executive summary? The same sections in the business plan of course! Then add an introduction to yourself.

But please do not simply extract a sentence or two from the business plan and plonk it into the executive summary. Rewrite all the sections with the sound bite concept in mind. Keep your language strong and positive.

Done? Read it out loud to yourself and your spouse or a friend. You want some fresh eyes and ears to your copy.

Business Presentation - Just 10 Slides

The Business Presentation should just be 10 slides. The 10 slides can be structured this way:

  1. The cover slide : offer complete contact info, use the first business plan tool - the business sound bite here.
  2. Introduce the team. Highlight the backgrounds of the key members of the team, and any directors or advisors (not too many) who bring something special to the startup. If you intend to add members to this team, verbally inform your audience now.
  3. Is your product or service addressing a problem? Articulate this problem in this slide. Emphasize the pain level and the inability of incumbents to satisfy the need.
  4. Introduce your product, and the benefits and how it addresses the problem raised in (3).
  5. Elaborate on the technology, service or process you have developed. If appropriate, mention patent status or any IPR filed. Talk about your unique selling proposition here.
  6. Already have customers? Show off early customers or distribution progress: numbers, logos, testimonials.
  7. How will you be approaching the market? Use the 4 Ps (product, price, promotion, place) as a guideline.
  8. Competitive landscape. You can use the SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analysis to articulate the current competitive landscape. Remember to articulate how you can overcome the weakness and neutralize the threats.
  9. Show market size estimates.
  10. Financials. Historical and pro forma Income statement (show only the topline/revenue and bottomline/profits). Prepare lots of backup slides to illustrate the assumptions behind these financials. You might need an 11th or even 12th slide to cover all the financials, to describe the follow-on businesses that may arise, or to provide a timeline if you have a complex product road map. Don’t go beyond 15!

ANOTHER BUSINESS PLAN TOOL TO USE: Add a multi-media video clip not more than 2 minutes beginning of the presentation if you like. In social  entrepreneurship, where you need to touch the heart strings of your audience, this is a must.

Now... ready for the last of the business plan tools? The FAQ.