How to write a winning business plan

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Most business plans do not do justice to the quality of the ideas they contain or the people that write them. Here, we list the most common errors that people make when drafting a plan, so you know what to avoid. The plan is too long No one will invest straight off the back of a plan. If an investor is intrigued by it, they will want to meet you and find out more. Ultimately, they will be backing your ability to achieve the plan. So, your objective is simple: say enough for the right backer to want to meet you. Your target audience needs to read the plan in one sitting and retain the important points. This means you have 10 to 20 pages to get your plan across. You cannot possibly detail every idea, initiative and piece of evidence. Therefore, your challenge is to summarise the important points just enough to whet a reader’s appetite and entice the right person to want to meet you. The plan is overly optimistic, ignoring the risks and negatives Business plan writers naturally try to put their ideas across as positively as possible. This is natural, and it is important to put across your passion; but most plans end up as blatantly optimistic sales documents, with little thought to risks and downsides. Readers want to see their concerns being pre-empted and addressed rigorously in the plan, not dismissed or ignored. Your plan is an opportunity for you to put yourself across as a passionate but practical business person, and build your credibility. If the plan dwells only on the upside, you come across as unrealistic. It looks like a template Some sections of plans really are necessary most of the time. It is rare that you don’t need a section discussing the relevant market trends, the distinctive differences of your service or the projected financials. However, squeezing in a SWOT analysis puts you in serious danger of looking like an amateur, rather than a smart professional with a convincing investment proposal. If a section adds to the reader’s understanding in a neat, focused manner, then go ahead with it. But the blind application of template business tools will make your plan look worse. There are too many generalisations Most plans focus on a specific opportunity, but often use descriptions of the market that are so generalised that they become meaningless. For example, if your plan is for pet sitting in London, showing how many millions of cats are bought every year in the UK is almost irrelevant. Describe your service, your market and the reasons why people will buy as precisely as possible. You will need to make assumptions, that is fine. However, you should state what they are and why they are credible, then you have a context that is meaningful to all involved. It is written in unclear language A business plan is a serious document that needs snappy, simple writing to get the point across. A good rule to follow is one idea per paragraph, one point per sentence. Avoid sales speak, rhetorical questions, using complex technical language and business speak, which gives an impression of vague thinking and a lack of practicality. People will only back what they can understand, so do your idea justice and describe it with crystal clarity. About the author This article was written by Steve Hacking, founding partner of Latitude Partners Ltd, a small firm that specialises in market investigation and strategic problem solving.