How to write a brilliant business case

Here, Richard Walker discusses the key things to consider when putting your business plan together.

Clarity is critical to any business case

Clarity is critical to any business case

Creating a brilliant business case means converting an exciting idea in your head into a compelling story on paper. It means applying logic and reasoning to an idea and creating a credible plan of action. Above all, it requires you to write with clarity.

Clarity is the connection of your idea to a coherent set of words and sentences. It details what you wish to achieve – the business benefits – and why and how, and when and where you are going to achieve them. Clarity is critical to any business case.

First thoughts

The first stage is to produce a rough justification for addressing a problem or opportunity. It may start with a belief that you can improve a situation, save cost, make money, or achieve competitive advantage. Whatever it is, you are unlikely to have complete information straight away. Research and analysis take time.

You should, however, have an approximate idea of feasibility factors early on. These may include market size, market reach, competition, potential income, costs, funding, resourcing, and acceptable risk.

What you should be clear about are the drivers for addressing the situation and why your idea, product or service may have commercial traction. Whilst you might not have complete information, you should have sufficient data to list your anticipated business benefits.

At this stage and at every stage of writing your business case, you need to probe and test your ideas. There is no better guide than that of Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.

Great business narrative doesn’t beg questions but answers them, so take care that every one of your statements is supported and credible.

You are now likely to have sufficient data to justify going to the next stage.

Clarification of purpose

Helpful colleagues may have contributed to your idea since inception and encouraged scope creep. You need to get it back under control and tightly defined. Precision is the essential attribute of any business case.

Situation analysis

Now, delve into the detail and analyse the situation which gave rise to your idea in the first place. This is about problem/opportunity definition and analysis.

Identify all sources of information which might contribute towards your proposition. These may include:

Opportunity or problem data
Market data
Product / Service
Competitive analysis
Economic factors
Technological data
Political factors
Industry analysis

You should have sufficient information to proceed. Next, outline your document from start to finish with headings and subheadings.

Executive summary

This is the most important section of your proposal and likely to be read by all stakeholders. But don’t think of it as purely a summary. It is much more. Think of it as your elevator pitch.

Think impact, engagement and appeal. Produce a benefit-focused first sentence as an entrée into an appealing, scene setting, first paragraph.

From your first word to your last, your writing needs high energy. It should detail your purpose, problem and proposal. It needs to mirror your document in the precise order of your document – from proposition, market description, considerations, resources required, return on investment to cashflow. It needs to be well-structured, appealing, and highly credible.

Sketch out your executive summary in rough before starting your document, and then complete it after finishing your document.

Problem/opportunity definition

Detail the problem or opportunity so that it can be understood at a glance. It should be without jargon and easily understood by anyone not associated with your business idea.

Problem/opportunity analysis

Your analysis should be non-contentious and utterly factual of the problem or opportunity. It should provide a background and context to your business case and include research data both favourable and unfavourable to your proposition.

Market analysis

If your business case is opportunity focused, then market analysis, competitor analysis and factors related to the selling environment need to be evaluated.

Show complete understanding of the market, and provide a detailed explanation of how you will reach the market. \

Proposition

This is the main body of your business case, and as ever, clarity is key. Your proposition and your approach to the problem or market should be detailed stage by stage. Start with a description of your offering in terms of benefits, features, buyer advantages and USPs – in that order.

Above all you must explain why your proposition is well-placed to address the situation and precisely how your approach complements your current business strategy.

Three questions your proposition needs to answer at every stage are: How does your idea compare against competitive ideas? How will you reach the market? Where is the proof that you are likely to succeed?

Anticipate reader questions and answer them within your business case. Provide credibility and proof at every stage.

As a conclusion to this section, you should detail your prospects along with their job titles. Readers will be looking for assurance that you really do know your market, can reach it, and are able to generate your forecast financial return.

Financials

The first part within this section should be a cost-benefit analysis detailing the pros and cons of your case. Use facts, figures and charts to get your messages across and use captions to emphasise your messages. Detail the funding requirements, the envisaged return on investment and the cash flow.

How to make it happen

Begin with a powerful summary of benefits. These should relate to all considerations from the financial to the strategic. Specify the critical path of all stages of approval necessary to proceed.
Once you have checked the coherence of your argument and the completeness of your document, it is time to cast a critical eye.

In addition to being complete, your document needs to look highly readable. A logical structure, strong messages, well-written sentences, clear charts, and credible facts, figures and forecasts are vital.

Now, ask colleagues to proofread what will be the first draft of your brilliant business case.

Richard Walker is director of Walkerstone.

Further reading on business planning

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