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15+ Business Plan Writing Tips

        posted by , April 13, 2013

Never underestimate writing. It's not easy.

Writing a business plan is about the toughest writing out there — the toughest of the tough.

You want your plan to inspire investors, partners and other stakeholders. You've put too much into your business to slip up on your business plan. You need writing that wows them.

The following tips focus on the art of persuasive writing for business plans. They'll point you in the right direction and steer you away from some disastrous pitfalls.


1. Tackle Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Investors value certainty.

It doesn't matter if your business proposal is high risk or low risk — your investors want certainty.

Never Show Uncertainty

Never show uncertainty in a business plan.

In many cases, negative information beats uncertainty.

For example, an investor asks about the strength of a competitor. It's more effective to admit that the competitor represents a significant threat than to answer "I'm not sure but we'll check it out." Positive answers are the best. If you can point out weakness in the competition, that's great.

Instead of pointing out unknowns, list next steps. If you have to reveal negative information in order to provide certainty — go ahead.


Uncertainty triggers fear instincts that will have your investors running for the door.


2. Be Specific

Be highly specific in your plans. Plan out every detail as far as it can be planned.

Whatever you don't know — be specific about that too. For example, if you're not sure where your office will be located, document specific selection criteria and next steps.


3. Establish Credibility

Use hard data to support your plans. Identify industry insiders who you've engaged. Show that your plan is solidly linked in to reality.


4. Avoid Flowery Speech

Your business plan may be very awesomely great but leave out the flowery adjectives and adverbs.

Flowery words dilute your writing style at the best of times. In the case of business plans, your readers and target audiences want you to get to the point.

Example: Flowery Speech

Keep your sentences as focused as possible. Refine them until they have no extra words. Compare the following two sentences:

Our considerable competitive strength is that we have a superbly capable team of highly talented and driven individuals whose excellence has been demonstrated by years of successful industry experience.

vs.

Our competitive advantage is our people.


The first sentence isn't memorable. At the end of your presentation your audience will have no idea what your competitive advantage is.



5. Focus On The Investor

Take a hard look at your plan from the investor's point of view. Use words such as "you" in place of "we" and "I".

It's common for proposals to be self-focused, even when the writer is convinced it's not.


6. Reinforce Your Central Message

It's difficult to communicate ideas. People will listen to your entire presentation and only walk away with one or two ideas. People will flip through your plan and only grasp a point or two.

Choose your central message carefully. State your message in different ways. Use visual communication techniques to ensure that the idea gets across.


7. Anticipate Objections

Examine every sentence, paragraph and idea in your plan. What objections could investors have to your ideas? How can you reword your ideas to avoid these objections?

It's best to address objections upfront. Develop counter arguments to anticipated objections and present them in your plan.

If your strategy is risky — point it out. Explain why the rewards are worth the risk.


8. Keep Your Ideas To One Page

Every idea whether it's a central message, supporting idea or counter objection should be contained in one visual component such as a page or a bullet point.

Avoid forming a single idea over multiple pages. It's better to over-simplify your presentation than to leave your investors lost.


9. Balance Your Buzzwords

Buzzwords and business clichés such as "customer satisfaction" or "customer experience" are useful because everyone understands what they mean.

Over use of buzzwords can have the effect of making your plan sound unoriginal. Original language makes your ideas stand out.

As a guideline, use buzzwords that are critical to your plan. Avoid using buzzwords that are only remotely connected to your plan. In other words, don't use buzzwords to impress. Use them when you really need them.


10. Why First

Always explain why before what and how.

Poor quality business plans tend to focus on what, how, when and where. You want to launch a new product. You've worked out your execution plans.

Why?

Explain the urgent need that you're fulfilling. Explain why your product is a winner. Explain why you're personally excited about it. Explain why customers are excited about it. Explain why your competitive advantage is sustainable.


11. Start and End With a Bang

People remember the start and end of your business plan more than the middle.

It's absolutely essential to start on a high note to set the tone for the proposal. It's equally essential to end on a high note to leave your investors with a warm fuzzy feeling.


12. Test Your Elevator Pitch

Your key message either flies or crashes and burns. No matter how well your message is crafted it might not be interesting or convincing.

Use social media to test similar messages to see if they fly. Try similar pitches on anyone who will listen (omit confidential information).


13. Read As Many Business Plans As You Can Find

Good writers read at every opportunity. If you really want to master the art of business plan writing — read business plans on a regular basis.

When you can't find sample business plans to read considering check out the investment prospectuses of companies. An investment prospectus is similar to a business plan. It's essentially a pitch to investors to buy a company's stock.

Most large public companies produce glossy pamphlets for potential investors. These are easy to find on any corporate website. They tend to exceed the quality of the average business plan.


14. Proof Read Your Plan At Different Levels

When you proof read your plan it's important to consider different modes of reading.

Skim through your plan in a few seconds. Does your central message come across after a quick browse? Read your plan from front to back. Is your plan cohesive and compelling?

Get 6-10 people to provide you constructive feedback.


15. Brand Your Look and Feel

Show that you're thinking about your brand by branding your business plan. A logo and consistent color theme are essential. Consider a professionally designed corporate logo.

Use color to brand your documents and highlight critical information. Avoid using color as a decorative feature. A chart with 18 colors will blind your audience. A chart that uses one color to highlight an important point has impact.


16. Prioritize Information Over Showy Graphics

You know that great television commercial that everyone loves but no one remembers what product it's selling?

The advertiser puts big money into a commercial that's a success but doesn't generate sales. Don't let that happen to your business plan.

Glossy visual communication is fine but don't expect it to get you anywhere. Focus on information.


17. Consider Producing Multiple Versions

It's often a good idea to customize your business plan. For example, venture capitalists may refuse to sign an NDA before they see your plan. This is to protect the investor in the case that your plan is overly generic — they may fear you will later claim they stole your idea to "start a coffee shop".

Produce a teaser plan that hides your most confidential ideas ... provide just enough information to inspire your investors to sign an NDA.


18. Consider Hiring a Business Plan Writer

Writing a business plan is an ability that people tend to underestimate.

Find an experienced writer who has been at it for a long time. Improving your writing is a long, arduous process that requires failing, improving and failing again.

If you're about to launch a new business you may be too busy to give your business plan the attention it deserves.

Avoid cheap writers who want to pump out your plan in an hour. Choose a writer who engages you to understand your proposal inside-out.


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