10 tips to writing a readable business plan

1. Think about your readers

Bankers, marketing experts, staff and shareholders are interested in different information. Who is this for and what are their questions about your business? Concentrating on these will help you to keep it short and relevant.

2. Why are you writing it?

Is this supporting a request for a loan, or for internal communication? How you put across your content should depend on why you want someone to read it.

3. Select the content

This was ably covered by Helen Reynolds in her guide: How to write a business plan.

4. Structure the content logically

Summary first – a single page that covers just enough for the reader in point one to understand why this business is great and what you want from them. The introduction then provides a little context and background to get them into the subject. Divide the main information into a maximum of seven sections covering the team, the product and so on. The order is up to you – if describing the market before the product or service makes it flow more easily, do it that way. Your conclusion pulls the whole thing together and reminds them why they are reading this. How much money did you want to borrow?

5. Select a template

Decide how you are going to format the document – portrait or landscape? If you choose landscape, use at least two columns rather than writing all across the page. What fonts will you use and do you have good heading styles (three should be enough) set up in your word processor? Use graphics to illustrate points (graphs of market information or product shots for example) and to give the document interest but never put in irrelevant clip art.

6. Write it quickly

This is only a small part of the job. Do it as fast as you can to leave time for the last three points. Don’t ponder over a sentence – if it’s not right, put a symbol by it to remind you to go back to it and carry on.

7. Give it a rest

Overnight is best but you must spend a minimum of a few hours thinking about something completely different.

8. Review

Print it out and read it through from cover to cover as if you had never seen it before.  Make notes about omissions, repetitions, lack of clarity, illogical links and where it strikes a false tone. Add a table of contents.

9. Proofread

Painstakingly go through it word by word to make sure you have not written ‘from’ where you meant ‘form’, that you have used capital letters consistently and that there are no spelling errors. Search for the symbols that indicate unfinished sentences. Start with the last page and work steadily towards the beginning. Be hard on yourself about unnecessary words. Say ‘fixed rules’ not ‘hard and fast rules’; you can usually leave out ‘very’ and ‘really’.

10. Get a second opinion

Choose someone who will give it serious attention but who is not too close to you or the business to be critical. 

Jane Penson is a writing skills consultant at words-work who diagnoses problems leading to poor written communication and works with companies to solve them. 

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