Mapping Your Route

Dress Your Plan for Success

The easier your plan is to read and use, the more likely it will bring the results you're hoping for. Follow these guidelines for a useful plan:

1. Writing. Write in a conversational style. Use short sentences and avoid cluttering them with adjectives. Use bullets, rather than commas or semicolons, to itemize points in lists. Include only essential information. Avoid slang and explain any industry-specific terms. Stick to the facts. Avoid generalizations. Ask someone who knows business writing to edit your work.

2. Artwork. Using charts and graphs can make your plan user-friendly, but don't insert them just for the sake of including something other than text. Good bets for charts and graphs are financial data and organizational charts.

If you have a logo or photos that would enhance your readers' understanding of the business, feel free to include them in the appendix, but avoid gimmicks or anything that would undercut a professional image.

3. Overall presentation. If you're selling a unique product or service, don't be afraid to present it in a distinctive way. Sibulsky provided two audio tapes and a cassette recorder along with his written plan. The professional quality of the tapes supported the assertions he made in the written document and provided an immediate understanding of message-on-hold for people unfamiliar with the concept.

But be careful: While audio or video tapes can be helpful, they must be professionally produced and linked directly to some aspect of your plan.

Whatever the format, your business plan should be as perfectly dressed as you would be if you were walking into the bank to ask for a loan. At the same time, cautions Christy, don't go overboard. "You can spend considerable money on a bound presentation that's gold-plated," he says, "but that may send the wrong message to the lender or investor: It says you may not be using your money in a prudent way."

Use plenty of "white space" surrounding your type. One-inch margins work well. Be absolutely certain there are no typographical, grammatical or spelling errors.

The cover can be simple, but should carry the company's name and logo, if possible. Bind the pages in some way other than using staples or paper clips. (Most major office-supply outlets offer binding services for a reasonable fee.)

You'll never outgrow your business plan if you continue to update it as conditions change. Sibulsky reviews his plan every few months. "Looking over the financials," he says, "seeing where I am, compared to where I projected I would be, helps me continually refine my goals."

Faria agrees. "The business plan is a tool by which entrepreneurs should manage their businesses," she says. "But it's only a valuable tool if they use it."

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This article was originally published in the December 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mapping Your Route.

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