Key Themes for Developing Effective Business Plans 

Tips from small business expert Hal Shelton

writing a business plan

Whether you're looking to start or grow your business, a business plan is an evolving road map to help evaluate and implement your ideas. Small business expert Hal Shelton shares his insightful strategies for developing a tailored, effective business plan from his experience as a SCORE mentor to more than 1,000 entrepreneurs. SCORE is a nonprofit supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration that provides free business mentoring in person or via email.

Know your audience
It is a myth that all business plans follow a similar 30 page template. Know your audience, and write the business plan in a style and with the information they need for the actions(s) you want them take. Maybe this is your banker, an angel investor, your biggest client, or a board member. Make your case in their language so it is easy for readers to take positive action. 

Demonstrate your unique credibility
A small business is usually a bet on the entrepreneur, so provide a bio that demonstrates you have the technical and leadership experience to drive your idea to success. Either demonstrate you have the experience or you have surrounded yourself with others who have it. Your biography should not be just a resume-type list of your education and previous roles. Instead, make the case for why you are the right person at the right time to own and operate this business. 

Sell your reader in the executive summary 
The executive summary is the most important plan section. It delivers the message and sets the tone. It should be enthusiastic, concise, professional, and no more than two pages long. This is your elevator speech. As a summary, it should be written last; this ensures it represents the full plan. You might have different versions, depending on who the reader is. For example, a banker may be more interested in the stability and reliability of projected cash flows while an angel investor may be more interested in market penetration and sales growth. 

Seek realistic funding for sales-driven purposes
Request funding in the amount you truly need, and support your request with financial projections and statements (cash generation and expenditures). Use of funding proceeds should be primarily for investments, purchases, and marketing activities that will generate the products, services, and sales. A growing sales pattern with positive net margins means you will have the cash flow to pay back loans. 

Gain from the skills and experience of others
No one person can have all the knowledge, experience, or perspective to handle every business situation. Surround yourself with fellow entrepreneurs and talk through your business ideas and roadblocks with them and listen openly. Ask for advice from similar companies in different geographic markets or noncompeting suppliers in your market segment. Seek a dedicated SCORE mentor and utilize other free resources through your local SCORE chapter.


Hal SheltonAbout Hal Shelton
Hal Shelton is the author of the Amazon bestselling book "The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan." His business planning skills were developed as a CFO of a New York Stock Exchange listed company, angel investor in early stage technology companies and board member of for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Hal is a board member and mentor for the SCORE Association – a volunteer organization that provides education and training to small businesses. Visit the SCORE Washington D.C. Chapter website to learn more: washingtondc.score.org.