e-Business Plan: Writing a "Read Right" Plan

Before describing the contents of an e-business plan, this lesson helps you understand how to present the plan. Additionally, the content of introductory materials such as the cover letter and title page is reviewed.

The lesson outline is:
The Importance of Business Plan Presentation
Introductory Sections of the e-Business Plan

  • Cover letter
  • Title
  • Table of contents
  • Appendices
  • Formatting an e-Business Plan
  • References
  • Headers and footers
  • Page numbers
  • Fonts, line spacing, and margins
  • Spelling, grammar, and punctuation
  • Binding
  • Resources for Writing a Professional Business Plan

    The Importance of Business Plan Presentation

    As with everything else in the business world, it is not only what your e-business plan says that is important, how you say it is significant too. Why is presentation important?

    The business plan may be the first, and only, introduction to you and your business idea that the potential investor will see. While the investor's decision undoubtedly will be based on the merits of the plan, the appearance of the plan will be considered too. An attractive and professionally presented business plan shows you pay attention to detail and care about the idea you are presenting. A badly presented, incomplete, or carelessly prepared business plan sends the opposite message, with disastrous results.

    As a student, you have written many academic research reports, but you probably have limited experience in creating a professional business document. As mentioned previously, one of the goals of this plan-writing assignment is for you to start to think, and write, like a professional businessperson. This lesson will help you with this transition from academic writing to business writing. The purpose of this lesson is to introduce some fundamentals of business writing in order to produce a plan that "reads right" and makes a positive impression.

    However, because this is not a business communications assignment and we can't tell you everything you should know about business writing in a short lesson, we conclude the lesson with a list of some resources you will find useful in learning to write like a professional.

    Introductory Sections of the e-Business Plan

    Cover letter: Every well-written plan needs a well-written cover letter that introduces the plan to the person who will be reading it.

    It is tempting to leave the cover letter until the very end, but a better approach is to start the cover letter at some point in the middle of the plan's preparation and revise it until you are happy with it at the end.

    Typically a cover letter includes (from top to bottom):

    A cover letter should be no longer than one page.

    Usually the cover letter is enclosed separately from the plan, but for this assignment it should be attached to, or bound within, the front of the business plan. That way it won't get lost among all the other assignments.

    Title page: The title page is the first page of the plan that the reader will see and first impressions count, so the title page should look professional and show some style.

    A simple title page can include just the content listed below, perhaps enclosed in a box border. However the page can make a more positive first impression if you include color and an appropriate graphic, such as the logo of the proposed company. Another suggestion is to print the title page on lightly-colored paper to help your plan stand out in a sea of white paper plans.

    Be careful about getting too carried away with colors and graphics. Even if your proposed business is about selling vividly-colored t-shirts, a bank manager's eyes probably won't appreciate bright, clashing colors on a title page. As with everything else in your plan, consider your target reader.

    The content of the title page, from top to bottom, includes:

    Again, a reminder that not on this page, nor anywhere else in this plan, is there any indication that this is a class assignment. For example, do not include your student identification number or the title of your e-business course unless your instructor specifically requires it.

    Table of contents: Generally, a table of contents is only required if this is a large plan. A guideline to follow is that if the plan exceeds 12 pages, it needs a table of contents.

    Other introductory sections such as a list of tables and acknowledgements are best used in books and other large documents, they should not appear in your e-business plan.

    Appendices: You are producing a concise, non-voluminous, and small-as-possible document, so be very conservative in deciding whether you need an appendix.

    A synonym for appendix is "supplemental text," so anything that is necessary for the reader to know about your business should be in the plan itself, not in an appendix. For example, consider your reaction should a reader rip away and discard an appendix. Would you fear your plan is now incomplete? If so, that material should not be in an appendix. Keep in mind that if the reader really needs supplemental material— detailed financial statements, production or distribution plans, manufacturing schedules— he/she can ask for them.

    Some materials that may be appropriate for an appendix are:

    Formatting an e-Business Plan

    This section explains some of the basic rules of business communication. If you have limited experience in writing business documents and/or you have not taken a business communications course, then you may want to learn more from some of the resources listed at the end of this lesson. Also your course instructor may offer different or additional guidance, especially in areas such as word or page length.

    References: One way in which business writing is different from the academic articles, textbooks, and assignments you read and write as a student is how you reference material you use in writing the plan. Proper referencing of material from other sources is just as important in business writing as in academic writing, for both ethical reasons and the credibility the use of external data can add to the plan. The primary difference is how references are cited.

    A business plan is likely to have fewer references than a university research assignment. Why? This is your plan for a unique business idea. Accordingly almost all of the words in the plan will be your words, not quotes or ideas taken from other sources. Only sections that rely on external data (e.g., market analysis, industry analysis) are likely to require any significant referencing.

    If you do need to cite an outside source, how? Most commonly, business authors integrate the reference into the report itself. For example, if the description of your business model comes from Michael Rappa's taxonomy of Business Models on the Web, then you might say: "According to Professor Michael Rappa, in "Business Models on the Web," the Merchant Model is......" Note that some of the referencing requirements for an academic paper (e.g., URL, date) are missing. It is assumed that if the reader is interested in reading more of what Professor Rappa has to say, he/she will find it or ask you.

    At other times, especially when the plan is to receive widespread external circulation, the source is cited, in full, in a footnote. For example: "This approach is based on the Internet Service Value Chain proposed in eCommerce: Formulation of Strategy(1)." Then footnote #1 includes information such as author, title, publication date, and publisher. Business readers appreciate having this information in a footnote on the same page, rather than buried in a reference section in the back of the plan. And since there are likely to be only a few references, footnotes will not take up valuable page space.

    Headers and footers: Each page should have a header that identifies that page as part of your e-business plan. The best way to do this is to put an abbreviated title (e.g., Purma Top Gifts Business Plan) in the upper left corner. Optionally, use section breaks in your word processor to put section titles (e.g., Executive Summary, Business Description) in the upper right corner of each page.

    Required content in the footer is the page number, preferably centered. If the plan is to be treated confidentially, insert "confidential" or "commercial in confidence" with your name or company in the footer (e.g., Commercial in confidence— Purma Top Gifts). Alternatively, and especially if the plan reveals aspects of intellectual property that need to be protected, insert the copyright symbol , the year, and your name or company in the footer (e.g., 2005 by Purma Top Gifts).

    Page numbers: Page numbers should not begin until the plan begins. A title page never includes a page number. If page numbers are required for a Table of Contents, the Executive Summary, or other introductory material, they should be non-Arabic numbers (e.g., i, ii, iii). Page numbers (e.g., 1, 2, 3) begin at the Business Description page and continue to the end, including any appendices.

    Fonts, line spacing, and margins: An easy-to-read font is essential. Traditional fonts such as Times Roman and Palatino have serifs (the little extensions of the line that are especially prominent on letters such as "s" and "I"). Serifs help guide the reader's eye across the page and a serif font gives a traditional look-and-feel to your plan. A sans serif (without serif) font such as Arial and Helvetica tends to look more modern and contemporary. Because you should not assume the person reading the plan has eyes as good as yours, a 12-point font size is highly recommended.

    Single line spacing should be used for long quotations (if any) and special text. All other text should be in 1.5 line spacing. Margins should be one inch (2.54 centimeters).

    Spelling, grammar, and punctuation: Misspelled words are one of the biggest turn-offs an investor can see in a business plan. Misspelled words indicate a plan that has been hurriedly finished or a lack of care, attention, and education by the plan's author. None of these are good impressions. Avoid misspelled words by using a spell checker, reading your plan carefully, and asking one or more friends to read the plan for you.

    Proper grammar and punctuation are also critical to make a positive impression. If English is not your first language, consider having another student read the plan and make suggestions. A style guide such as one of those suggested at the end of this lesson provides comprehensive help for improving your writing.

    Binding: Seek guidance from your instructor about binding requirements. At the top end, a professional business plan might be spiral bound, with a clear plastic front cover and a hard back cover. However, your instructor may be just as happy with a strong staple in the upper left hand corner.

    Resources for Writing a Professional Business Plan

    The Business Writer's Handbook (6th Edition) is the latest edition of this large, everything-you-want-to-know-about-business-writing book.

    The Elements of Business Writing: A Guide to Writing Clear, Concise Letters, Memos, Reports, Proposals, and Other Business Documents is a shorter business writing guide that attempts to emulate the famous Elements of Style book that remains the most popular writing guide book ever written.

    The Wall Street Journal Guide to Business Style and Usage contains a lot of information (especially terminology) a business plan writer doesn't need to know, but it also offers a modern, business-oriented guide to spelling, punctuation, and grammar from one of the world's best business newspapers.

    The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th edition) is written for an academic audience, but it contains comprehensive advice about grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and reducing bias in written language. Furthermore, it is readily available in all college or university libraries.

    Writing and Presenting Reports by Baden Eunson (John Wiley, 1994) is a highly recommended guide for communicating ideas in written or oral presentations.

    Navigation Guide for the e-Business Plan Tutorial
    Introduction to the E-Business Plan Tutorial
       Top Ten Resources for Writing an e-Business Plan
    Fundamentals of e-Business Planning
    Writing a "Read Right" Plan
    Executive Summary
    Business Description
       Mission Statement
       Business Goals
       Project Objectives
       Business Model
    Market Analysis
    Competitor Analysis
    Financial Statements
    Making an Effective Business Plan Presentation
    Appendix: e-Business Plan Tutorial Assignments

    This e-Business Plan lesson was last updated on June 7, 2005. Questions, comments, and suggestions for improvement can be sent to Dennis Viehland (d.viehland@massey.ac.nz).