How to Address Multiple Stakeholders in Your Business Plan
Different people will read your business plan for different reasons. Some may have direct stakes: You owe them money, for example, or they own a piece of your company. Others have less tangible interests: suppliers who want to continue selling to you or civic organizations that want to make sure you remain a good corporate citizen.
The following three parts of your business plan help different audiences to quickly access information that addresses their unique interests.
Business plan table of contents
A well-designed table of contents offers a map that leads readers to the sections of your plan that most interest them in no time flat.
If your business plan is more than ten pages long, consider including a table of contents that lists sections and subsections. Include page numbers so that you and your readers can quickly locate specific sections in the plan.
Business plan executive summary
A solid, well-written executive summary gives a clear and concise description of your company and the key issues that the main body of your business plan will describe. Some of your readers may find out all they need to know in this summary. Others will decide to read the rest of your plan based on what they read in the executive summary. Either way, the executive summary is a critical piece of all but the briefest written plans.
To decide what to put into your executive summary, go through the revised draft of your plan and highlight all the critical points that you want everyone — including those who read only the executive summary — to know. Be ruthless here. Choose the one or two elements in each section that are absolutely essential. Remember, the executive summary is meant to give a very quick overview — the rest of your plan fills in the details.
After you highlight the critical points, organize them into the first draft of your executive summary. Try to express major ideas by using the same words that you use in the plan itself.
As you get started, think about the short speech you’d give if one of your stakeholders — a banker or potential investor, for example — asked you to describe your business on an elevator ride from the lobby to the 25th floor of a high-rise building. In those few seconds, how would you describe your business idea, your strategy, and how you intend to achieve success? Right now, write down your answer. (If you have a tape recorder handy, start talking.) Chances are good that you’ll instinctively hit all the key points. Make sure that your executive summary hits all those same important points. It’s basically the written version of your elevator speech.
Ideally, you should keep the executive summary of your business plan to a single page. This section is a summary, after all. If it runs long, try tightening up the language or pruning out the least essential points.
Business plan appendixes
Unlike your appendix, which sits in your body and does nothing, the appendixes in your business plan range from useful to absolutely essential — especially if you want your business plan to address several audiences at once. The appendixes are where you can stuff all the nitty-gritty details that flesh out your market analysis, your technology, or your product specs — details that may be essential to a full understanding of your business plan but are of interest to only a small number of your readers.
No one judges business plans by the pound, so don’t fill your appendixes with absolutely everything you know just to make your plan look heftier. The material they contain should relate directly to your business plan and should provide important details about your markets, your strategy, your management team, your technology, or other key aspects of your business.
In fact, you should reference all documents that appear in the appendixes at some appropriate place within the main body of your plan. Here are two examples:
Our advanced Internet platform offers many competitive advantages over existing software, including higher speed, lower cost, and greater reliability. (For technical details, see the Technical Specifications of ISP Version 6.1 in Appendix 2.)
Our market analysis shows that many IT professionals are concerned about the speed and bandwidth of existing Internet software platforms, and they’re willing to pay more for next-generation technology. Their chief concern is reliability. (For details, see the Market Data Analysis Summary in Appendix 3.)
References alert readers to where they can find additional information. By putting supporting documents at the end, you ensure that the main body of your written business plan doesn’t become bogged down with details.