I apologize for the length of this letter/speech/memo/blog post. If I had more time it would have been shorter.
That keen insight into effective writing has been attributed to many great communicators, from Virgil to Voltaire. Respect for the reader’s time requires the writer to carefully pare all but the most essential aspects of the message. Editing has the added benefit of helping the writer clarify and sharpen his or her own thinking. If you cannot express the essentials briefly and accurately your confusion and uncertainty will distract and annoy the reader. To write fewer words, think more.
Physicist Richard Feynman, for example, admitted to a colleague that he did not have an adequate understanding of Quantum ElectroDynamics, despite the fact that he had won the Nobel Prize for inventing it.
Feynman’s criterium for understanding was to express it in a lecture comprehensible by a college freshman.
Your business plan is the document that most deserves intense thought and editing to make it concise, persuasive, and motivating. Everyone in your business needs to know what to do, as well as why, when, and how. If you can record and transmit all that in a single page you have a well-considered plan.
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
The one page business plan is an instance of a very useful management policy, one embraced by Churchill, Eisenhower, and Reagan: the one page memo. I have inflicted plenty of long and detailed documents on my colleagues, including lengthy business plans (here is a doosey, from my dot-bomb in 1999, for findAspace.com). That’s fine, as long as your tome is fronted by a brief cover letter or Executive Summary that answers Kipling’s six questions.
What is the opportunity? Define the market need and support with evidence. Describe the product (your Unique Selling Proposition) and your primary customers.
What could go wrong? A SWOT Analysis of the enterprise’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can help your team formulate this paragraph. What keeps you up at night?
Why does this matter? Express the team’s core values, vision, and mission statement. Explain how the success of this business is integral to who you are and how you want to live. Illustrate the impact you will have on customers, shareholders, and society. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
How will this be accomplished? List your key delivery methods, geographic initiatives, marketing campaigns, inventions, sales tools, etc. What do you do all day?
When will it happen? Give dates for goals and milestones; list the key performance indicators (KPIs) you will watch.
Who will make it happen? Discuss the past performance of your team members and explain why these particular people are able to deliver on the promises of this plan.
Where is the business now and where is it going? Include a summary table or chart showing key measures for most recent year, this year’s forecast, and the plan for next year and three (or five) years out. You can download my free Excel template by clicking here.
Click here for another of my lengthy business plans. This one is for MELA, Mayo Employee Leasing, in an industry now knonw as PEO or Professional Employer Organizations. After we raised the money and began operating in 1988 we changed the name to Staff Innovations. It is very long but still has a one page Executive Summary.
I am proud of its highly formatted look back in the day when most people still used typewriters or computers without proportional spacing. See the last page for details on how I did it on an original IBM PC with a monochrome 10 inch screen and a floppy drive.
See also this NPR story on summarizing science. http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2014/02/03/270680304/this-could-have-been-shorter