You have an innovative idea that could make a real difference to your business. Perhaps you have even had some encouragement to pursue the idea. Your friends think it's great. Your boss is interested — but needs convincing. You have seen others charge ahead and
implement their ideas. You wonder, "How do I get from a good idea to a successful venture? How do I communicate my vision?"
The answer is to write a business plan. A business plan shows that you are serious, are committed — and not only have an idea, but have thought it through. The goal of a business plan is to help others visualize the same opportunity you see.
Writing a business plan is an intense, focused, time-consuming task. To bring your idea to fruition, you must first meet the challenge of convincing your company to commit resources to it. As the saying goes, "You must spend money to make money." And to spend it, you must first get it!
A business plan starts with an outline — you can find examples on the Web, or perhaps on
your intranet or from your boss. In the outline, you'll see sections calling for a description of your idea and an analysis of the business environment, industry, competitors, and market. Not all business plans are written in the same way. Don't feel bound to dutifully fill in every section of the outline exactly as others have done. Plans can vary in structure, based on your circumstances and the opportunity you are pursuing.
Customize the standard outline, based on the answers to three questions :
First : Who is the audience for the business plan? Is it your boss? Your company's
executive team? Or an industry association?
The second question is: What does this audience want to know? Your business plan
should highlight the answers to the questions you expect your audience to ask. For example, your boss will be focused on the resources required and how quickly there will be a return on the investment. An industry association would be looking for something different that represents their interests.
And third , ask yourself: What do I want from this audience? For example, do you want a
corporate stamp of approval? Do you want straight funding, or do you also need people and infrastructure? Does a new group need to be formed to run with your idea? Once you have settled on your business plan outline, use the following five tips to write a
First , ensure your plan makes a positive initial impression. It should have a clean,
professional appearance. Include a table of contents so readers can flip from section to section easily. Give your business or project a name. Naming something makes it feel real and possible. Have other people read the plan before you submit it, to ensure that the language is clear and there are no typos.
Second , spend time on your mission statement . Here is an example of a mission
statement for a startup, the Private Communications Corporation: "The mission of PCC is to provide the consumer with a unique telephone service that offers all the benefits of telephone communications while giving users control over their privacy."
The mission statement, in a single sentence, summarizes what your business is, the industry you are in, and your competitive advantage, or differentiator. Much of the rest of your business plan is support material for the mission statement. You want your audience to read your mission statement and immediately think, "Yes! I see an opportunity here. I want to read more." Although your mission statement should be short, it still needs to convey the kernel of your business plan. Take time to choose your words carefully.
The third tip is to describe the business opportunity from the point of view of the customer.
What customer pain does your idea alleviate? What customer problem does your idea solve? Why will customers value what you are proposing? Customer value — not fancy product
features — is what drives demand. The readers of your business plan will be looking for convincing evidence of market demand.
The fourth tip: Define the size of the market or the potential impact of your idea. Does your
initiative have the potential of making $300 thousand a year for your company — or $300
million? Or, is this a concept that will transform your industry? How does pursuing your idea help prepare your company — or your industry — for the future?
The fifth and final tip is to show the path forward — how you propose to turn your idea into
reality. Imagine yourself on the edge of a small river. Do you get across by building a makeshift bridge? If so, what sort of bridge? Is there a narrow place where you can throw a log across to the other side? Maybe the current is strong, so you need a boat? You figure out what you are going to do before you attempt a crossing. If you cannot come up with a good plan, you don't cross the river!
The same is true with a business plan. You may be able to persuade your readers that you have a fabulous idea — but unless you can demonstrate how you will make it happen, they will back away — and decide not to cross that river. With the details you put in your plan, you help them visualize each step from one side of the river to the other.
In your plan, answer questions such as: What marketing techniques will you use? What expertise is needed? How much capital? When will your initiative break even and start to make a profit?
As you think about turning an innovative idea into reality, look around you — your
organization is the result of people like you having ideas and making them happen. To take your idea to the next step, write a clear business plan with a compelling mission statement. Describe the customer pain you are addressing, and the potential impact of your idea. And don't forget to show your audience a clear path forward, steps that take them from idea to reality.