Firstly, organize what ought to be in the plan before you start writing it. This will save you much editing later on as you realize that you have put something in the wrong logical place or the wrong place for the flow of your narrative.
It also helps to write down the key headings — leaving plenty of space between the headings — and then to jot down a list of the critical issues in the section. These may become subheadings in your plan, but they don’t have to.
For example, you wanted to establish a new chain of bookshops in the UK so that you might have had the following first list of headings for key issues:
1. the market background; why you are different;
2. the management team; operational details; the proposals;
3. forecasts; e exit strategy.
This was an existing and a filature market: one that the potential traders of your business plan would think they knew well because they would be users Of bookshops; clearly, you needed to explain “how the market operated, to correct any misconceptions, Then you need to convince them that you could make a successful entry into this well-established marketplace with something different. To complete this, it is essential to explain why you are a powerful management team and explain how the ‘mechanics’ of the trade worked since you proposed introducing innovations. From there, the issues to be covered followed a fairly standard pattern, covering the proposal itself, what you hoped to achieve (the forecasts), and how investors would get their return (exit strategy).
Within the operational details section, for example, your subheadings should be:
e customers; e products; e the supply chain; e systems.
You had to explain who your customers were — and were not — to persuade the reader why you would get more customers than your competitors.
Under the product sub-heading, you can cover your product range: the most popular general books (i.e., not academic books) and a complementary range of CD ROMs, music CDs, greetings cards, gift wrap, etc.
Again, the supply chain was critical because it intended to approach it slightly differently from competitors, so that too had to be explained.
Finally, within this section, your systems were crucial to making ideas work, and so they needed to be discussed and explained.
It is particularly important to persuade the reader that effective systems could be put in place quickly and cheaply.
Once you have produced your complete list, look at it critically. Is there anything important that is missing? Add it in — ensure that every issue you think is essential has been covered within the plan.
The exact items in a structured plan will vary from business to business, but, broadly, they will be:
summary; introduction; business background; the product; the market; operations; management; proposal;
financial background: — trading to date; forecasts; risks; conclusion; appendices.
The order will depend upon how it projects the story best. Remember that you are trying to tell a clear and convincing story. You may merge some sections, such as the product and the market, but on the other hand, you may have different areas that are not mentioned above.
To keep a clear structure, you will find yourself repeating some things. The contents of your summary will be repeated in more detail in the body of the plan. You may find some things set out in the introduction or background being repeated elsewhere.
That is fine as long as you don’t explain all the detail in two or three places, which will make your document boring to read.
There may be other items that are necessary to explain your business. The list above does not include anything on technology, politics, trading partners, or options (concerning the different ways you may develop the company), any of which may be appropriate for particular activities.
Most businesses nowadays use computers and the internet, so a section on technology is becoming more usual. This is not a question of going into technical detail but explaining how business-critical issues have been covered. An example would be a business trading through its website whose plan should cover who will build, maintain and host the site — giving evidence of sufficient bandwidth to support the forecasts included in the project. This might fall within a section on ‘operations,’ but depending upon how central it is to the business may justify a dedicated team.
Your plan may have much detailed evidence to support it. If that is the case, then consider carefully whether you need it to be included or whether you could refer to it and have it ready if asked for. If you feel it adds significantly to your credibility, then put it in appendices and summarize it in the plan. Always refer clearly in your schedule to the appropriate appendix so that the reader can find it easily. The appendices may be in a separate bound document if that prevents the primary copy from being too bulky. A colossal tome can be very intimidating to your reader, so try to keep the plan itself to a manageable size. It is better for the appendices to be a bulky document and for the plan to be relatively short.
Do not put detailed data or evidence in the plan itself. That disrupts the story you are telling and makes the document dull. Summarize and explain what the evidence says and refer to it. An easy example would be where you have several years of for a business. It is easy to summarize the key numbers in the plan while putting the accounts themselves in a separate document.
There are two types of document you may want to put in an appendix to a plan: 1) something that persuades the reader of your case; 2) proof of what you are saying in the plan. The former is essential; the latter may be held in reserve unless it adds weight to your case. The sort of data you may wish to include in appendices may be:
1. Copies of patents, copyright evidence or trademark registrations; o copies of leases;
2. Detailed accounts; e-market research reports;
3. CVs of key personnel;
4. Photographs that provide relevant support, e.g., of retail units if you are in a retail business or of designs if yours is a design business;
5. Technical descriptions; e product brochures.
This is far from being a comprehensive list because there are so many possibilities, but it gives a flavor of the sort of evidence you may consider necessary.
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