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The art of writing a business plan

In my time I’ve written many, many business cases, starting when I conceived my first business idea about six years ago (cooking and travel tours in India… I’ve never been to India, I really just wanted to travel there).

While doing my MBA I was paid to write business and marketing plans for businesses who didn’t have the ability to write one themselves and I also won the Venture Fund award for a business idea I developed into a plan. In the past six months alone I have written about eight business plans in total.

I’ve probably written in the range of 50 business plans over the past six years, and of those I’ve written for myself, one has seen the light of day and made it into a business (in the early days, an amazing learning experience, but not a good business idea). Most others have had various stages of success, but for some reason the reality is that they aren’t feasible and they get shelved.

My point is that I use the process of writing a business case to objectively work through an idea that I am excited about before I tell others about it. More often than not, I am able to work out myself why the idea is flawed, and in the cases where I am unsure or still positive I will work through the business case with someone whose opinion I respect.

Lessons I have learned along the way:

As with anything creative, writing is part science, part art.

When you are new to writing business plans you have to begin focusing on the scientific side. Find templates, work through the sections, see which apply to your idea. Once you have the skill base and experience, writing business cases (or anything at all) becomes an art. You’ll be able to visualise the concept and all its interlinked parts in your head, and be able to pluck out the components you need to fully represent it on paper.

Put in the hard yards and do the practice (or scales for a musical analogy).

Don’t try to cut corners as those more experienced than you will be able to see through your efforts faster than you can say "Beethoven". You might also end up starting a business on a flawed idea (not looking at anyone other than myself…). It may seem obvious, but Google “writing a business case” to find one relevant to your idea’s industry and start at the very beginning (“it’s a very good place to start”).

Start with a one sentence description of your idea.

This will be the aim, or what you’re attempting to justify through your plan. Don’t get this confused with the gap in the market which enables your product or service, or the opportunity or pain point which you are attempting to address.

Once you have worked your idea into a presentable format, seek advice from, and listen to, the right people.

These are people who understand the industry in which you are proposing to operate. This isn’t mum or dad or bank managers, it is those who will understand your product or service. Mum, dad and friends will be good to give you feedback on your proposal, and the bank manager will be able to give it a business spin, but if you think your idea really has legs seek out someone you can trust who will give you industry advice. You don’t have to tell them your business idea but you can ask them questions around the topic. They should be able to help you identify and address potential issues (or further potential opportunities) with your idea.

Keep a notebook or a piece of paper with you at all times.

You’ll think of some other variable to support your idea at the weirdest times and you need to jot it down. Once you open the floodgates to thinking about ideas they will keep streaming in. Write everything down; you never know when it will be relevant. And don’t be afraid of marrying two disparate ideas – that’s where innovation can really happen.

Stacey Riordan spurned the corporate ladder in favour of learning the ins and outs of business from a successful New Zealand entrepreneur. She blogs at staceyriordan.com.