A business plan is much more than just words; it is your business. How you present that business to others has significant impact on its ultimate success.
Perhaps in your research you came across one or more business plans to use as guides. These can also be potential templates for formatting your business plan. Keep in mind that there is not a single correct way to present your business idea.
This is your plan. Allow it to speak for you. You may change the order in which specific sections of your plan are presented, with a few exceptions.
What’s Set in Stone? What’s Flexible?
Always begin your plan with an executive summary and end it with supporting documents.
What appears between these two components is up to you. Add a section, drop a section, or change the section title to better represent your content. Again, your plan is a direct reflection of you and your business idea. Don’t be afraid to adapt the content and its order to fit your idea of coherence and fluidity.
One area where you want to stay consistent, however, is font and formatting. Pick one font and stick with it. Appropriate and professional possibilities include Times New Roman, New Century Schoolbook, Bookman, or Palatino. These are “serif” fonts, which make lengthy sections of type easier to read.
You can select different sizes of your chosen font for titles and for text. Size 11 or 12 for text and something a bit larger for titles is often recommended. Feel free to make important passages bold, but don’t underline them. Italics are also acceptable, but use them sparingly.
Allow for White Space
Be sure to allow for white space. The reader’s eyes need space to rest, and his or her brain needs time to think. Provide for ample margins — top, bottom, left, and right. Pay particular attention to the left margin if you’ll be binding your business plan. Consider including a sizeable right margin, as well. With appropriate but ample margins, readers — including you and your partners during revisions — can make notations.
Don’t double space lines. Do not put two spaces after periods, exclamation points, or question marks. Your computer will know how to properly space sentences. This is the most common mistake made by novice writers and publishers.
Avoid widows and orphans, the single lines of text that appear either at the bottom of a page or the top of a page. You may need to rewrite a sentence to avoid them or set your word processing application options to eliminate them.
Moreover, go easy on the color, especially if you will have to make copies of your plan for additional review. Not all colors copy well into black and white. Test your colored version as a black and white copy before creating a final version.
Hire a Second Pair of Eyes
Don’t rely on your own knowledge of grammar, unless you edit on a regular basis. Consider compensating a professional to check the final version of your business plan. Even if grammar is a strong area for you, have a fresh set of eyes review your document.
Remember to number your pages. Set up a footer at the bottom of your document. You can set the date and, with each subsequent edition, you’ll have the most current date printed directly on your document.
Do not type your document completely in capital letters. This is very hard on the eyes. Use upper- and lowercase letters appropriately.
Perhaps the most important page in your business plan is the first one. The title page sets the stage for what follows. Make it professional in appearance, clean and crisp. Include your logo if you have one already.
Add a confidentiality disclaimer stating in plain English that the content to follow is confidential. Consider preparing a distinct title page for each reader of the business plan. For example:
This business plan has been prepared for review by John A. Smith. All information is confidential and should not be shared without written permission.