Know Your Audience: Investors, Bankers, and Partners... Oh My!
Not all business plans are created equal. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to your business, so it makes sense that it doesn’t work with your business plan. Your business plan isn’t just a roadmap for your company's future; it's a critical tool for communicating with various stakeholders. And just as you tailor your pitch for different audiences, your business plan needs to be adapted to resonate with its intended reader.
A piece of advice I will often give entrepreneurs is from Seth Godin’s book “This is Marketing.” Though I believe it can be applied much more broadly than just to marketing. It’s the metaphor of the lock and the key.
Simply put, it’s a silly idea to build a key and then find a lock it fits into. Instead, you should find a lock you want to open and then build a key that fits it. Normally the lock is the market you want to serve, but for the purpose of the business plan, let’s think of who’s going to read it. The same key probably won’t work for all three.
So who do you write a business plan for?
- Investors: The Visionaries
I once read that there are three different types of investors. The first is friends, family and fools. The second is angel investors and the third are venture capitalists. While the first group may be willing to take a chance on you, the next two need something more than a dream and a desire. Investors, especially venture capitalists and angel investors, are looking for the next big thing. They want to be dazzled by your vision, compelled by your drive, and convinced of the potential ROI (return on investment).
Adapting your plan for investors:
Do your Research: Just like anything else in your business, do your research on who you’re presenting the plan to. It may impact how you present or position your plan, and what you ask for. One of the things I tell entrepreneurs looking for investors is to avoid “dumb money”. That means money that comes with nothing else. Often, investors will be able to bring other things to the table. Connections, resources and expertise that can help blow the business up.
Lead with Vision: Start with a compelling narrative about the future of your industry and where your business fits in. The best advice I've ever heard when it comes to presenting to investors was “Heart first, mind second and wallet third”. A lot of people will try and lead with the ask, or talk about why it’s a good idea, but your vision and using it to paint a picture will go a lot further.
Show Growth Potential: Investors want to see a return. Use market data and trends to showcase the growth potential of your business. Ultimately, the only indication of future behavior behavior, so whatever data you can bring to the table will only serve to help. Especially if it’s real data from your own customer interactions.
Highlight Your Team: Investors don't just invest in ideas; they invest in people. Showcase the strengths and expertise of your team. They aren’t just going to get into business with you because of the idea. They want to know that the business owner, or team, can help take them the distance.
- Banks: The Pragmatists
Unlike venture capitalists, banks are not in the business of taking risks. They want assurance. Assurance that if they lend you money, you will pay it back.
Adapting your plan for banks:
Emphasize Financial Stability: Dive deep into your financial projections, ensuring they're realistic and backed by data. That’s why the cash flow is so important for the banks, especially if you’re a start up. I always found it funny when a business owner would come in and talk about the fact that they were going to make so much money that they could pay the bank off even faster than our set terms. This tells me that you don’t really understand how a bank makes money (interest) and what they’re interested in establishing (assurance).
Showcase Past Performance: If you have a track record of success, flaunt it. Banks love a proven performer. You’ll notice that this is the same as part of the advice for investors. It’s important, so I’ll say it again. The only indicator of future behavior is past behavior. In the absence of past performance, do you have anything else that can showcase a track record of success or help to validate what you put in your cash flow? Sales contracts as an example.
Detail Collateral: While not the most exciting topic, banks want to know what assets they can claim if things go south. It’s funny how often I would see applications come in that would ask to borrow money to start a business, sometimes more than a mortgage, and they wouldn’t tell the bank what it was for. Just for start up. As we’ve already said, banks don’t tend to take risk, and they want to know exactly what you’re going to purchase, and what they can take if you don’t pay.
- Partners: The Collaborators
There’s an old African proverb that says “if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”. Whether it's a strategic alliance, a joint venture, or a merger, when you're seeking to collaborate, your business plan needs to inspire confidence and highlight synergies. That means, what can you do better together than either can do alone.
Adapting your plan for partners:
Show Mutual Benefits: Clearly delineate how the partnership will benefit both parties.
Highlight Complementary Strengths: Showcase how your businesses can fill gaps for each other.
Be Transparent: Potential partners need to know both the strengths and weaknesses of your business. A SWOT analysis can be an excellent tool here. But it also goes beyond that. Knowing and outlining the terms of the partnership and what is expected of both parties is critical. Knowing who provides what when and who is accountable can only help to set up a partnership successfully.
Understanding your audience is half the battle. With a tailored business plan, you can speak directly to the concerns and interests of investors, banks, or potential partners, increasing the likelihood of achieving your business goals. Remember, in the world of business planning, customization is king.