Getting down to business: Our ‘how to’ for writing a compelling business plan

Your team probably doesn’t shout ‘hooray’ at planning time but implementation is often where the rubber hits the road. A business plan can be an invaluable tool to enable the rollout of your business model. It can be presented to seal the deal with potential collaborators and funding partners or used to guide your organisation’s advocates as they bring externals along on the journey, building support more softly. There’s a bit of an art to crafting a business plan so we’re sharing our insights on how to nail it…

Crafting a sustainable business model and an aspirational values-based strategy are the bedrock of a resilient and impactful organisation. At Spark, this is our bread and butter – we’ve been fortunate to work with over 200 for-purpose organisations on their strategic plans and business models.

Once you’ve pinned these down, the work of implementation begins. Creating a business plan is an important step in determining how you will operationalise your new strategy or sustainable business model. It can also be just as important as a tool to communicate with potential partners, investors and funders. We know that working on a worthy cause with a great solution is not enough to attract funding.

The business plan is an opportunity to communicate how and where support is required. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that the plan for your organisation is sustainable. For example – by mapping the different types of funding you’re seeking, the intended value each source will create, and how this fits into your approach to creating a financially resilient and impactful organisation.

Our top tips for writing a compelling business plan are:

Tell a story

Weaving a narrative through the business plan will keep the reader interested. It will make the document easier to read, and the case easier for advocates to communicate. It should include:

  • a nuanced understanding of the social need;
  • a clear explanation of how the organisation addresses that need; and
  • how your approach will deliver outcomes (more effectively than others).

The emphasis should be on the latter two points, your reader is likely to already have an understanding of the social problem (use this section as an opportunity to establish your credibility). Creating a narrative around your theory of change can be a great way to communicate this information in a way that puts your organisation and your approach at the centre of the business plan.

Share your plan for sustainability

Make it clear that you have a plan for financial sustainability into the long term and be open about what that plan is. Use the business plan to articulate how you’re going to operationalise your sustainable business model. Funders almost always want to know what will happen to the initiative or organisation once the funding they provide has been expended. So, communicate what you need and where this fits into the wider plan to operationalise your sustainable business model. Letting funders know that they will play a key role, but as one element of a journey towards sustainability, will make supporting the organisation a more inviting prospect.

Knowing what success looks like, as well as your business model will help here. Take a look at the Stanford Social Innovation Review article What’s Your Endgame for insight into different expressions of what success looks like for organisations in the social sector.

Include a call to action

If there is an ask of your audience, be clear and explicit. Is this a document for your Board or Executive to secure their buy-in and/or request re-allocation of internal resources? Are you looking to build long term partnerships to fund ongoing programs? Or would you benefit from an injection of cash to strengthen internal capacity? Are you pursuing innovative sources of funding? Regardless, communicate what you need, making sure the call to action is direct and unambiguous.

Keep it snappy

People have a short attention span, so it’s wise to assume that the reader won’t make it beyond the first page. Make sure that the most important information is up front: what you’re going to do and the call to action. This sometimes means starting with the conclusion and working backwards to make the case – not always the most intuitive approach to constructing an argument.

That said, some potential investors and funders will want to read a very detailed plan – especially if the organisation is new – as one way to assess whether you’ll be able to manage the funding effectively. So it can be valuable to create multiple versions of the business plan – say, a one page executive summary, a ten page summary and the full plan.

Have you found benefit in creating different variants of your business plan or achieved tangible benefit as a result of a clear call to action? We’d love to hear what’s worked for you in crafting an impactful business plan…and what hasn’t! If you’ve got any lessons or insights to share, please contact us at info@sparkstrategy.com.au.

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