When it works, a written business plan is the way to get on the schedule of someone who can provide the money, the expertise, or the markets you seek. In such cases, the written plan is followed by a chance for you to make a formal presentation of your plan and answer questions about it.
The business plan presentation, like the plan itself, has a very clear tradition about how it is supposed to be done. Knowing this tradition can help you quickly learn what is expected when presenting a plan to others.
A business plan presentation usually lasts 10-15 minutes, followed by 15 or more minutes for questions. Usually the presentation provides an overview of key points of the business plan – a chance to sell your ideas and, most of all, a chance to sell yourself.
A major part of any business plan presentation is a chance for the listener to form an opinion about you as an entrepreneur. The key things an influential person looks for in you are: (1) your passion for the business, (2) your expertise about the business and the plan, (3) how professional you are in your work, and (4) how easy it would be to work with you. How do you show all these?
When presenting, do not read. Think of yourself as telling a story, a fascinating story about your business. Help listeners understand why you are excited about the business, proud of it, and ready to stake your reputation and assets on it.
Learn your presentation so well that it comes out as an often-repeated, beloved story, not as a prepared statement.
Practice answering questions about the plan. Expect really tough questions. Assume people do not trust your assumptions when they first read them. Be ready to explain where you get your assumptions, your numbers, and your ideas.
Be ready to mention sources. Be ready with comparisons to competitors and their offerings. Know how every number in the plan came about and what it means. For example, it is not uncommon for a banker to ask, "In your cash flow statement for April in the first year, you say you will be spending N161,500 on sales promotion expenses.
How did you get that number and does it not look a bit high?" It is better to have less material and know it backwards and forwards than to have materials in the plan you do not totally understand.
Your business plan should look professionally done. It should be neat and orderly, with perfect spelling and grammar. When you present it, you should be in business suit or dress, clean and pressed.
Carry copies of your presentation slides to give the listeners. And have copies of your slides on acetates and on disk so that you can present no matter what technology is available.
Have business cards ready, and bring a couple extra copies of the plan in case someone unexpected comes to the presentation. Meet all those attending the presentation with a smile and a firm handshake.
Give them your card and take theirs if they offer one in return. Make sure you know the names of all the people in the room, and their position, so if there is a part of the plan you think might be of interest to them, you can mention it.
Typically when you are presenting a business plan, you are doing it with the goal of establishing an ongoing relationship with the listener.
All relationships carry an element of liking. It is easier to see yourself establishing a relationship with someone you like than with someone you do not like.
Part of the goal in the presentation is to get the listeners to like you. How? The techniques are simple, use eye contact, use peoples' names, remember what they might be interested in or in what they have shown an interest before, smile, and above all, be honest.
When they ask tough questions, try not to get nervous, upset, angry, or defensive. If you do not have the answer, tell them so honestly, make a note about their question and name, and tell the person you will get back to him or her with the answer.
Recognize that tough questions are the listeners' way of making sure they and you are protected from risks.
The understanding of your business that you get from business plan writing, changes. Sometimes it changes quickly as you achieve new things or learn new things (including errors that crept into the plan you just finished).
This means that parts of your plan may change from week to week. You handle this by creating handouts with the new information. These can be mailed to people reading your plan, or handed to them at the presentation.
Both approaches are common. If there are detailed parts of your plan that you have been left out, such as a market survey or a detailed cost breakdown, it makes a lot of sense to make copies to use as handouts during a presentation or question-and-answer period.
Dwight Eisenhower was not only the 34th U.S. President, but he was the general who planned the most daring effort in all of World War II, that is – the D-Day landing. A master planner, Eisenhower said, "I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."
The best way to think about the business plan is as a way to get yourself to think through your entire business. Some parts will be so easy that you can instantly know how everything works.
Things in the business you imitate from others are classic examples. For other aspects of the business, planning may become the way you get a handle on the complexities and risks you face.
Some results of the planning process you will need to write down. Other parts will be kept in your head, ready to be used or amended as circumstances require. Many of the parts of the plan will quickly become outdated or need to be changed or adapted as the business is in operation.
In fact, the Eisenhower quote makes sense in another way too – business planning is a process you continue throughout your firm's life. Plans, once done, get revisited. Sometimes this is done formally, but more often you informally compare reality with the plan.