What makes a good business plan?

Seven steps to writing a winning business plan

The business plan: the foundation on which every SME is based. Writing it well is critical – to getting your venture off the ground, attracting investors and employees, securing future success, and so much more.

There are so many aspects to getting a business plan right we could probably fill an entire issue of SMEXchange on the topic – but, for now, we’ve chosen our top seven.

  1. Write for your audience, not yourself. Often, entrepreneurs want to keep the model at the heart of their business a secret. Or they have such a personal vision, they can only see things in terms of what it means to them. As a result, they end up writing a plan that reads as if they themselves will be the main, perhaps even the only, reader. Unless you intend to start up on your own, using your own money, write your business plan with other readers in mind.

  2. On a similar note, why not write more than one version? You might not have to change the entire plan, but there may be certain sections you can omit, reorder or amend to target particular audiences.

  3. Protect your plan. There are ways to limit the risk of your business idea being ripped off by anyone reading your business plan. For example, insert a non-disclosure agreement. This binds the reader – whether a potential client, supplier, advisor, investor or even employee – to maintain your ‘secrets’ and not take any action that could damage their value.

  4. Be realistic. It might be tempting to be ambitious in your plan – and, to a certain extent, that’s fine. But it’s also important to be realistic, both for the sake of your readers and for yourself. A plan that rapidly loses its links to reality is ultimately of little use. The SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timed) can be a good rule of thumb here.

  5. Make sure to highlight your USP. The meaning of a ‘unique selling point’ has become somewhat tarnished by being seen as a marketing buzzword, but it remains a valid element of a plan. A USP doesn’t have to change the world, but it does have to give solid purpose to your business – and, later down the line, be the reason for winning market share, making a profit and more.

  6. Be clear about your vision and mission. Again, these have become marketing terms, and often end up as jargon-riddled platitudes, but – used properly – they can be valuable components of a plan. In essence, a vision is where you want to go; a mission is how you’re going to get there.

  7. Don’t skip the plan. You might already have the capital, the idea and the people in place, and feel there’s no need for a plan: why not just get on with it? However preparing a business plan is always essential. It helps you to both focus your ideas, and test your resolve about entering or expanding your business. It is also a chance to make any mistakes on paper, rather than in practice.


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