BEST BUSINESS PLANS  
Tempting fate and fortune Venture capitalists, or VCs, receive thousands of business plans a month, so they only have time and inclination to consider the most convincing proposals. Make sure yours gets to the top of the pile.
Get to the point Keep things short. A business plan should be no longer than 20 pages. And grab attention straight away. VCs will pretty much scan the plans on their desk, so cut to the chase quickly, giving all the main facts right at the start.
Your executive summary should tell six chief points in as little space as possible: your venture plan, your proposed market’s size and growth, your strategy to resist competition, your team, your unique selling points and – the reason you’re here – your required funding.
You’ve got to convince VCs that you are the right people in the right market at the right time. The rest of your business plan will then back up these assertions.
A sense of direction Whatever you do, don’t ask for a preliminary meeting to chat about ideas. VCs expect you to have a firm picture of where you are taking your company and what you need. Make sure you have done every last piece of your homework.
A decent business proposal To begin the main body of your plan, give a clear outline of what your company intends to do: the short, medium and long term direction. Long term plans should be ambitious. Venture capitalists like to see large potential markets. So consider expansion, be it into other countries or into other products and services. And show commitment to the company. Leaving your job and putting your own money into the project are significant gestures. VCs like to see 100 per cent dedication and they can spot business planners who are merely out to make a quick buck.
Keep the money rolling in Explain exactly how the company intends to generate revenue. It may sound obvious, but ensure that your model is not based on weak streams such as banner ads on your site. And don’t rely on just one avenue. Consider as many different revenue-generating models as possible. If you have any guaranteed revenue streams already in place, then mention them. Keep this section basic. Forecasts and assumptions can wait until your financial projections.
Suss out the competition Examine both existing and potential competition, bearing in mind real barriers to market entry. Show detailed research and statistics to indicate expected levels of demand. And explain your route to market including a marketing strategy. If VCs decide to invest in your project, they will do their own research of the competition, so give a full and candid disclosure from the outset.
Pick your teammates Include brief CVs for your proposed management personnel. Also state which further team members are needed, although saying this, your main board positions should all be filled. VCs will not be impressed if you have to go shopping for crucial executives. They may decide to put one of their own nominated directors on the board but they won’t want to half fill it for you. Also, if you’re an essentially young team, try to get some older contingent on the board as non-executive directors, one or two people with wide business and IPO experience.
Make connections Where possible, link up with other companies that can add value to your business. Large blue chip companies will look good in your plan, although alliances can range from mutual click-throughs on another company’s website to free advertising in exchange for equity.
Know your worth If similar companies have recently floated or been bought out by trade buyers, include figures to show the potential valuation of your business.
It’s okay to gamble Be frank with VCs from the start. Pinpoint all possible risks, pitfalls and weaknesses. As long as you demonstrate ways to combat or minimise them, you will be given credit for your realism and determination. All ventures have risks and VCs are in the business of taking them. They will not only appreciate your honesty but, if you say that there are no risks, they’ll think you’re being naive.
Show your workings out Present a financial forecast as a projected profit and loss and cash flow account. Give anything between a three and five-year period that’s sufficient to show a profit, with justification for each assumption made in notes to the accounts. Use evidence, such as independent market research, where possible. If no profit is forecast for longer than five years, you are unlikely to receive finance.
Time it right Be realistic with timing. Don’t ask VCs to sign a cheque at your first meeting. Although interested VCs move quickly, the legals will take at least a month. And if you do get an offer of investment, don’t spend too much time wrangling over the equity. By all means be greedy but don’t waste time. Some companies can increase in value 30 per cent month on month so it is not worth standing still for the sake of 1 or 2 per cent.