The potential readers of a business plan are a varied bunch, ranging from bankers and venture capitalists to employees. Although this is a diverse group, it is a finite one. And each type of reader does have certain typical interests. If you know these interests up front, you can be sure to take them into account when preparing a plan for that particular audience.
Active venture capitalists see hundreds of plans in the course of a year. Most plans probably receive no more than a glance from a given venture capitalist before being rejected; others get just a cursory inspection. Even if your plan excites initial interest, it may receive only a few minutes of attention to begin with. It’s essential, when courting these harried investors, that you make the right impression fast. Emphasize a cogent, succinct summary and explanation of the basic business concept, and do not stint on the details about the impressive backgrounds of your management team. That said, make it concise and to the point. Remember, time is of the essence to venture capitalists and other investors.
Bankers tend to be more formal than venture capitalists and more concerned with financial strength than with exciting concepts and impressive resumes. For these readers, you’ll want to give extra attention to balance sheets and cash-flow statements. Make sure they’re fully detailed and come with notes to explain any anomalies or possible points of confusion.
Angel investors may not insist on seeing a plan at all, but your responsibilities as a businessperson require you to show them one anyway. For such an informal investor, prepare a less-formal plan. Rather than going for impressive bulk, seek brevity. An angel investor used to playing their hunches might be put off by an imposing plan rather than impressed with your thoroughness.
If you were thinking about becoming a partner in a firm, you’d no doubt be very concerned with the responsibilities you would have, the authority you would carry and the ownership you would receive in the enterprise. Naturally, anyone who's considering partnering with you is going to have similar concerns. So make sure that any plan presented to a potential partner deals comprehensively with the ownership structure and clearly spells out matters of control and accountability.
Customers who are looking at your business plan are probably doing so because they contemplate building a long-term relationship with you. They're certainly going to be more concerned about your relationships with your other customers and, possibly, suppliers, than most of your readers. So deal with these sections of your plan in greater depth, but you can be more concise in other areas. Customers rarely ever read a company’s business plan, so you’ll probably have your miniplan available for these occasions.
Suppliers have a lot of the same concerns as customers, except they’re in the other direction on the supply chain. Above all, they’ll want to make sure you can pay your bills, so be sure to include adequate cash flow forecasts and other financial reports. Suppliers, who naturally would like their customers to order more and more, are likely to be quite interested in your growth prospects. In fact, if you can show you’re probably going to be growing a lot, you may be in a better position to negotiate terms with your suppliers. Like customers, most suppliers don't take the time to read lengthy business plans, so again, focus on the shorter version for such purposes.
Strategic allies usually come to you for something specific—technology, distribution, complementary customer sets, etc. So any plan you show to a potential ally will stress this aspect of your operation. Sometimes potential strategic partners may also be potential competitors, so you may want to present your plan in stages, saving sensitive information such as financials and marketing strategies for later in the process when trust has been established.
Managers in your company will be using the plan primarily to remind themselves of objectives, to keep strategies clear and to monitor company performance and market conditions. You’ll want to stress such things as corporate mission and vision statements, and analyses of current industry and economic factors. The most important part of a plan intended for management consumption is probably in the financials. You’ll want to take special care to make it easy for managers to compare sales revenue, profitability and other key financial measures against planned performance.
There’s one caution to the plan-customization exercise. Limit your alterations from one plan to another to modifying the emphasis of the information you present. Don’t show one set of numbers to a banker you’re trying to borrow money from and another to a partner you’re trying to lure on board. It’s one thing to stress one aspect of your operation over another for presentation purposes and entirely another to distort the truth.