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November 2016
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Tell Your Story

You need investors.  You need a buyer.  You need customers.  
You need management and staff engagement.  You need to get the word out. 

But can you tell your story?  
Most people can verbally at least.  But writing it down is a different matter.  Something seems to happen on the journey to ‘print’ that destroys the passion and simplicity.  Entrepreneurs and CEO’s are fabulous visionaries and great leaders but can be less gifted in front of a keyboard.

Is it joined up?
Also hard to convey is how everything fits together.  Narrative, lists and data are all very well, but nothing beats a picture to show complex inter-relationships.  Visual presentation is also quicker to understand, more impactful and more memorable for the reader.  But requires additional keyboard skills.

Does it say what you want it to say?
Narrative and data arranged under the traditional business planning headings (product, market, competition etc) makes it hard to see if anything has been missed and to understand the stronger and weaker parts of the story (no matter how good you are – there are always stronger and weaker parts).   Using a story-telling approach can deliver more clarity to both the writer and the reader.

Are the big messages clear?
It always surprises me how many people write business plans without actually stating the ‘big messages’ they want to get across.  If we treat these big messages as the headings, and the rest of the page (slide) as the available space to provide justification, then we impose upon the writer the discipline of providing a set of important and joined up ‘big messages’, and concise and convincing justifications for each.

Does the data support what you are saying?
A visual approach allows all the important information to be presented on a single page with the big message.  Visual is an easier to understand, multi-level, more impactful and memorable format.   Putting everything on 1 page forces the reader to have an opinion on both the story we are trying to tell (the big messages) and whether they have enough information to believe those big messages (does the page content deliver or not?).

Are you interesting and exciting?
People don’t want data from business plans – they want to know who you are, what you have built, what the opportunity is, why you will win.   So make the ‘big messages’ into meaningful, impactful, interesting and exciting assertions or commitments.  This is your business.  It is exciting.  And ‘the big messages’ is how you deliver this excitement to your audience.

Getting your story straight needs time!
Even if they have the skills, most entrepreneurs and CEO’s are too busy around funding or exit events to consider taking days out to craft such a communication of their business plan – or the value and potential of their business.  They need support.  And the reality is that without writing it down – nobody truly has their story straight.  It takes a number of iterations to find the right language, to join up the components of the story, and, importantly to reconcile with the financials.  Also the story is always evolving.  Nothing is standing still.

Doing this well requires the right level of support.    
Writing business plans is not an admin task.  Or a marketing task.  This is not a pitch.  The voice needs to be that of a CEO.  It needs to focus on the opportunity, the principal value drivers, the risks and what it will take to deliver.  Not the detail but the big stories in each area.  Investors, the board, customers, and employees know the marketplace usually and want only the headlines and the context.  They can usually work out the rest.

Enabling not advising.
Ownership needs to stay with the CEO.   This process is about getting the CEO’s story down so the CEO can tell it well.  This has to be the CEO’s plan and and the CEO’s voice.   My opinion does not count.  It is for the board to question the CEO.

The process itself has built-in external challenge.
But it does help entrepreneurs and CEO’s a great deal to have someone external challenging them to tell their story well enough so it can be documented.  In addition, the format exposes how well the story they are trying to tell hangs together.  There is no hiding place for gaps, inconsistencies and weak areas.   What works well and what needs more thought or better communication is clear.  My positioning is always that I am there to help them communicate to investors.  That gives me the ‘right to challenge’ – as I am the poor soul who has to write this up.   And “if you can’t make me understand then we will never get that high quality board or investor presentation that you want”.

I provide a low-risk communication challenge before the real challenges of communication to the board, customers, investors, employees or potential buyers.
And people seem to enjoy it!  They rant.  I write.  It works for everyone.

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