Business planning is something we’re asked about a lot. We’ve put together 10 quick tips to help guide you. Firstly, consider what the purpose of this plan is, i.e. is it to start a business, grow a business or get funding? Whatever your reason, write it down in one line and use it to help guide decisions.
Before you Start Writing
1) Who is going to read it?
Who will read your business plan and why? If you are being asked to complete a business plan by a funder, finance provider or third party – ask them if they a specific template or format that they would like you to use. Make it easy for you and the audience (reader).
Who will read your plan?
2) How will it be used?
Many business plans are stored away, rarely seen and rarely used. Is it going to be a guiding document referred to regularly? Would a short 3 min presentation, video, infographic or one-pager be better for you than a business plan (all quicker and easier to create, view and update). This is where you need to remember the purpose of your plan and the likely audience.
3) Keep it short
Make your plan sound credible (e.g. evidence based), keep it clear, concise and up-to-date. The best way to do this – and get it read – is to keep it short. Summarise and use plain English, think newspaper: headline, explainer paragraph, and visuals to explain. Keep detail to appendices – easier to add, edit and update. Less is more. Aim for two pages (8 pages max for main body).
Use visuals to help get complex information across
The Content - What Should Actually be in it:
The business name, when established, size (staff, annual turnover), legal status, location, primary product/service, summary contact details, and business model. Also outline your business goal and purpose of this business plan. Setting this out at the front helps place the rest of the plan in context.
Short bio of the key people. Bullet point relevant experience and role within organisation (leave CVs, charts etc to appendices). Highlight number of staff, volunteers, trustees and growth. Also indicate shareholders/mentors where appropriate and identify gaps (roles) that will need filled. Where appropriate outline how you recruit, retain, motivate and develop your team.
6) Product (problem solved)
What problem or need does your business solve? What is your primary product or service? How did they originate (tip: think why did you start the business)? Use plain English, visuals and an example to help explain. How do you deliver your service? How many times have you delivered the service? (NB evidence of sales, feedback etc). Going forward how can your product or service develop?
7) Customer & Competition
Who is your customer? Who signs the cheque for your service and who uses your service? (Example: if you provide an arts programme for children, children will be the beneficiary(user) but it will be parents or a public body who are probably paying for it). Who else provides a similar service? and what makes yours different? Better? what is your unique selling point (USP)? Substantiate with evidence.
8) Marketing & Sales
Define your target market (i.e. who buys your service)? How big is that target market (use evidence)? Profile a typical customer. How will you get your next 10 customers? Do you need a third party market place (e.g. Etsy) or you reliant on physical markets, venues or tenders? Can you sell online or take card payments? How do you promote & sell your goods (e.g. find/engage your customer)? Is it effective?
9) Finances, Operations & Risks
Make this as credible as possible. Don’t go further than two, max 3 years out with projections. Use cashflow to illustrate how cashflow changes during the year and how you will maintain sufficient funds in the bank at all times. If you are not confident with figures, please ask for help in this area & only present summary information (keep detail for appendix). Outline what the business does day-to-day, its key risks and how you mitigate them.
10) Format & Version Control
Place the version number (date and version) in the footer and at the start of your plan. Always send as a PDF. This ensures the plan looks consistent and is easy to view across multiple devices. Never assume the reader has same version of software and hardware as you. Finally, state clearly what you want the reader to do. Do you want them to respond, review, put into action, provide funding etc? Make it easy for the audience.
Keep it clear, concise and up-to-date. Make it easy for the audience and remember what the purpose is. Finally, a business plan is meant to make you think about key issues, identify gaps and help you make decisions. You will learn more from the process than the plan itself; ask for advice. There are many different thoughts and templates on business plans; but the core issues will always be the same (steps 4 – 9) above. Most of all make a start, even a one pager is better than nothing. Good luck.
McGarry Consulting have helped creative and community organisations for over twenty years. Check out mcgarryconsult.com for more information on services, case studies and testimonials or contact Liam via email@example.com at any time.
Arts & Business is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.