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Crafting a Simple Business Plan

Find out why a fully detailed, elaborate business plan may not be your best choice.
March 1, 2005
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/76478

When I first started working with business plans back in the late 1970s, the average plan was much longer and more complex than what I see today. That might be because business plans are more common than they used to be--they're used more and more often and by more people. It might also be a matter of trends among bankers and investors who read business plans. Or it could be because people have less time to waste wading through documents!

For whatever reason, the trend in business plans these days is to go back to the fundamentals, with good projections and solid analysis. An "easy to read quickly" format is more important than ever. If you want people to read the business plan you develop--and most people do--then my best advice to you is keep it simple. Don't confuse your business plan with a doctoral thesis or a lifetime task. Keep the wording and formatting straightforward, and keep the plan short.

But don't confuse simple wording and formats with simple thinking. The reason you're keeping it simple isn't because you haven't developed your idea fully. You're keeping it simple so you can get your point across quickly and easily to whoever's reading it.

With that in mind, let's get down to some specifics when it comes to simplifying your plan.

Rein in your prose. Effective business writing is easy to read. People will skim your plan-they'll try to read it while talking on the phone or going through their e-mail. Save the deep prose for the great American novel you'll write later. When you're crafting your plan, remember these tips:

Keep it short. The average length of most business plans is shorter now than it used to be. You can probably cover everything you need to convey in 20 to 30 pages of text plus another 10 pages of appendices for monthly projections, management resumes and other details. If you've got a plan that's more than 40 pages long, you're probably not summarizing very well.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. I recently saw a plan for a chain of coffee shops, for example, that included photos of the proposed location, mock-ups of menus and maps of other proposed locations. The graphics made the plan longer, but they added real value. Product shots, location shots, menus, blueprints, floor plans, logos and signage photos are useful.

Use business charts. Make your important numbers easy to find and easy to understand. Use summary tables and simple business charts to highlight the main numbers. Make the related details easy to find in the appendices. Also...

Polish the overall look and feel. Aside from the wording, you also want the physical look of your text to be simple and inviting. So take my advice: