How to Write Business Plans
An effective business plan is a sales document that sells on a factual basis. Its content, data and sources need to come together to market a company goal and to meet specific aims but, without solid writing skills, even the best plan can come undone.
You don’t necessarily need to go on commercial writing courses or to hire an external consultant to make this work. You do need to consider how you say what needs to be said. Let’s look at some ways you can improve your skills.
Develop Appropriate Commercial Writing Skills
Your audience here will expect you to write formally rather than informally so avoid using abbreviations and slang, jargon and buzzwords. There may be a place for these in some business sectors (in which case they can be included) but they often confuse and even irritate the reader. This is not something you want to make happen.
Every single word you write in your plan counts. Try not to over-complicate your writing by using big words when small ones will do, write in plain English and be as concise as you can. If you can say what needs to be said in a sentence, then do it. Don’t be tempted to say the same thing multiple times in different ways in the hope that a paragraph will build a stronger case. It won’t.
Active verbs win out over passive verbs in business writing as they are easier to read and create stronger sentences. The same goes for strong words (e.g. ‘is’ and ‘will’) which imply conviction more than weak ones (e.g. ‘may’ and ‘might’). This can work to your advantage in convincing the reader. Use them with care, however, and be prepared to back up a ‘will’ statement with proof.
Stick to the Facts
Although your business plan is a sales document its language must sell realistically for it to work. Try not to use too many overly enthusiastic words as empty superlatives can negatively affect the balance of your content and won’t necessarily convince others of your case. Investors and stakeholders may admire commitment, ambition and the ability to see a ‘big picture’ but they want these qualities grounded in hard reality.
On the other hand, under-selling to avoid being too pushy won’t work either. You need to pitch your plan at the right level based on the facts as you present them. Every selling point and merit you highlight should be backed up by evidence clearly and concisely. Don’t avoid negatives or barriers – readers will be less concerned if you cover these issues and state positively how they will be addressed. So, write confidently to the facts as you know them.
Check, Double Check and Have Someone Else Triple Check Your Business Plan
You can’t just rely on a spelling and grammar check and one quick read through once you’ve written your plan and expect it to be perfect. Whenever we write, we tend to see what we want to see on the page and often miss typos, bad grammar and clunky sentences. It is worth leaving your plan for a few days and then proofing it again to get a fresh perspective. Try starting from the last section and working backwards to the beginning – reading something out of written order sequence can help you spot mistakes.
Do have someone else read the plan as well, ideally somebody with strong business and writing skills. Ask them to comment on flow and clarity and to highlight areas that they feel are weak or lack purpose. Finally, if you know that your spelling and grammar skills are a little wobbly, consider hiring a professional proofreader to edit the document. Simple errors can affect your chances of success but are easily avoided.
Writing business documentation is a specific skill. It can be taught or learned easily enough, but it takes some work to develop a professional voice. Putting time and effort into developing your content so that it pitches your message in the right way can improve your overall chances of success. If you are having trouble getting started, it might be worth looking at business plan templates, samples and examples to see how others do it.