Writing a Business Plan

How do you write a business plan? Should you write a business plan? What can you do once you’ve written a business plan? Philip Walton and Matt Wainwright, two co-founders of successful African businesses, each found their own answers to these questions.

##Do You Need a Business Plan?

“20 years ago, you’d wite business plans - but they are vague. You would write hundreds of pages and talk about everything from the experience of your founding team to your market analysis and studies, you’d put all your data in there. It was a substantial piece of work. Here I learned that times have changed, investors are looking for different things. For me it was learning that investors are looking for something else… Today it’s executive summary, a pitch deck and a set of financials.”
-Philip Walton, Co-founder of BRCK

In Philip’s experience, you first seriously ask yourself if you need to write a business plan. If you don’t need one, why spend the time to create one? For example, Philip found that for his current business, it wasn’t really necessary. But, it might still be for you.

The real question is: who is your plan for? Are you writing it for yourself, for investors, or for another group? Think about what those audiences need and whether a business plan is the best way to go. But if you do write one, there are smart ways to do it.

##Business Plan Writing Tips

Matt Wainwright found that many of the grants he wanted to apply to required him to have a business plan. First, that obviously told him that he needed a business plan. But how should he write it? He tailored his business plan to the kinds of grants he wanted to apply to. Each version was designed with an audience in mind.

First, that meant not going into too much detail.

“A really good thing to do is develop a solid business plan. I’ve written ours at a higher level point of view. It’s quite detailed but you can’t make it too long, you can’t capture every little aspect of your business. Typically, you have ten pages to say what it is, what it does. Acumen, actually, is a brilliant format which covers a whole lot of aspects because they’re looking for things broader than a typical business plan.”
-Matt Wainwright, Co-founder of Standard Microgrid, Africa Prize shortlist

Once he had his business plan, Matt would make small changes to make sure it was perfectly suited for whichever grant he was applying for.

"I found that a really really helpful format to use and I wrote our business around that. What I do when I’m applying for grants is I copy elements of the business plan into the relevant things for the grant. Or, once you’ve filled in the details, you just submit that business plan.
-Matt Wainwright, Co-founder of Standard Microgrid, Africa Prize shortlist

Matt also adds research reports to his business plans to boost their credibility and make them a bit different.

“The other thing you can do to add validity to your kind of business plan is, use research reports. In the impact space, people spend a huge amount of money just building the knowledge base on what the problem is and what it looks like and doing research in these areas. It’s really really useful like this graph shows you how many people don’t have power in Sub Saharan Africa… I’m using this IFC report to validate my data. You can pull in validation from really well written, well researched credible reports. It’s quite a helpful thing to do.”
-Matt Wainwright, Co-founder of Standard Microgrid, Africa Prize shortlist

Lastly, Matt includes information about the scalability of his business.

“Here’s another thing you don’t typically see in a business plan. Is scalability. What aspects of your business leans itself to being scalable.”
-Matt Wainwright, Co-founder of Standard Microgrid, Africa Prize shortlist

What this all boils down to for both Matt and Philip is knowing why you’re making a business plan. They don’t make them just because they think they should. They write business plans only when there’s a reason to and constantly change the business plan to meet their exact needs.