Business Plan

I write several business plans for clients every year and I also regularly create tender documents for my own business, with partners and for customers. I review many more business plans to include InterTrade Ireland’s Seedcorn competition and tender submissions. Having a professional-looking document is a great start. Here are some of my top tips to achieve that professional look for your business plan or tender:

Starting Point : Content

This post is not necessarily about what to write in your plan section by section but it is critically important that each section is well written and validated i.e. that key business points are addressed properly to include: Burning Problem faced by customers; Target Market Identified; Investment required; and Domain Knowledge of the Team etc. I have created an online training programme entitled, ‘Creating a superb business plan’ and I have also written a case study on how I worked with a client to write a business plan – outlines the process followed.

Equally for tenders, the content is paramount as per this blogpost which includes six key tips for tendering.

If you have not addressed these fundamental points in your business plan or tender, having a professional-looking document is not going to help. But if you have a good story to tell your document must be a help, not a hindrance.

#.1 Add a Contents Page using Word

It is very important to use a business plan template so that your document is well structured and follows a recognised format. Using a Contents page generated in MS Word ensures that all page numbers are correct (it is important to number your headings and of course to add page numbers).

Contents Page

To figure out how to add this contents page I suggest that you search YouTube for a video relating to your version of Word as the exact steps different if you have Word 2010 versus earlier versions. The key principle is that any Heading 1 text in the document like Section 1: Introduction in the figure above is presented as a top level contents item while Heading 2 text in your document like 1.1 Background is presented as a sub-item. Please note that you have to be consistent with how you use TAB function when you write your headings so that the contents page lines up properly.      In essence the steps are:

a. Add all the headings to your document as either Heading 1 or Heading 2 for subheadings

Adding contents page to Word

b. In Word 2010 and 2016, click on REFERENCES in the menu tab and select Table of Contents

c. From the pop up menu, you can select one of the Automatic Table of Content Formats or configure our own one. I like one page table of contents so for a business plan or tender submission, I prefer to configure my own contents table using only Heading 1 and 2.

d. The primary reason for doing all this is that if you change your document by adding a new heading you can simply Right-Click on your Contents page in Content and select Update Field to update both the Headings and the page numbers.

e. Finally, on contents and headings, I would also suggest that headings can be any dark colour such as navy or red to give the document some colour – dark colours look good on screen if viewing a pdf and also print out well.

f. On a related point, I strongly suggest using appropriate graphs, tables and images (to include logos) to complement your content. All such figures must be explained with the context given so that the visuals make sense. Use of bullet points is also good from a visual point of view and to help the read grasp the message (keep the text concise).

#.2 Adding financial projections to your document

As part of my online training programme ‘Creating Financial Projections for a Local Business’ I created a short pdf to illustrate the output of financial projections – how the P&L, Balance Sheet and Cashflow are presented after being copied into the business plan

Financial projections must be added to your business plan in the appendices – I recommend the following financial schedules be added: monthly Cashflow for 3 years, annual P&L and Balance Sheets (Statement of Affairs) for 3 years. These will be created in Excel and can easily be copied into Word into a page that is set up as Landscape for the cashflows.

Add section break

To change the orientation in an existing document you must firstly add TWO Section Breaks.

>>> Page Layout >>> Breaks >>> Section Breaks

You can then change the orientation of the page that fits in between these two section breaks

>>> Page Layout >>> Orientation

This is what your Cashflow Sheet should look like in your plan…

Cashflow year 1

To achieve this you have to copy the Excel cells and paste them as a Picture which you can then resize. You won’t be able to edit in Word afterwards but you won’t need to as that is what Excel is for.

Paste as Image

When you complete your business plan it will now contain the contents; each relevant section and the financial projections all in one document which can be saved as a PDF via the Save As option in Word. BTW, if you have other pdfs such as a brochure that you want to include as appendices I recommend the website PDFJoin! as a handy free tool.

As always, I hope you found this post of benefit. Comments and shares on social media welcome!


donncha (@donnchadhh)

Online Training

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  1. Great really useful post for people not familiar with the built in document formatting possibilities of Word. Found the advice on the section break for changing page orientation for cash flows fantastic as it saved me doing a help search!

    Also, by the way, enjoyed the post on executive summaries!

    Keep it coming!

  2. Hi Donncha,

    Great article. I think some other ways to make a tender document look better is to use images and infographics as much as possible. We generally use powerpoint to create designs, particularly for complex problems or solutions. It can make it easier on the eye for the reader and really make a document stand out from the crowd.

    I personally love landscape as most people use portrait so when it lands on someone’s desk to review it can be a real differentiator.

    I’m based down in Australia and run a tender writing consultancy – – it seems tenders and tender strategies are the same worldwide.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jason. I would agree with your point about images and visuals. I have not used Infographics but find the workflow charts and process diagrams are really useful in outlining solutions from the customer perspective. I am not familiar with tenders in Australia but yes indeed the template for tender management seems to have found worldwide traction. Nice website! Best regards. Donncha

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