Design Your Business Plan

by Doug Powell

Most entrepreneurial designers and creative thinkers shudder at the thought of interrupting the energy, momentum, and excitement of the creative process to write a formal business plan, horrified by visions of spreadsheets and plastic comb binding.

However, few successful entrepreneurs will argue with the notion that the business plan is one of the most critical elements of their success. Herein lies the tension at the heart of the debate around the planning process.

Historically, many experts have preached that the business planning process should happen before any real work has gone into developing a new venture, insisting that without a solid plan, any activity will be misguided and inefficient. But many contemporary business gurus have challenged this long-standing assumption, recognizing that what was once deemed “misguided and inefficient” is actually vital creative activity that can expand the possibilities of a great idea. This new thinking proposes that entrepreneurs should engage in a formal planning process only when it is absolutely needed—but that they should be continually collecting valuable data for that eventual plan. All experts will agree that one thing will signal that it is time to write a business plan: the need for funding.

The purpose of a business plan is very basic: first, to identify the objectives of your business idea; second, to determine if these objectives are viable; and finally to map out how you are going to achieve the objectives. All of these will be important when you take your business idea outward and present it to potential partners. A secondary purpose for a business plan is to serve as a tool to organize and document your internal thinking.

Ironically the questions we ask and the information we seek in a thorough design process is very similar to the questions and data required for a sound business plan. It’s all about understanding the audience and environment, and creating a solution that will thrive in those conditions. Here is a sample “table of contents” for a business plan:

1. Executive Summary
What’s your business idea and vision in a one-page nutshell?

2. Customer or Audience
Who are they? Where are they? How much are they willing to spend?

3. Competition
Who else is doing what you propose to do? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What makes your idea distinctive from theirs?

4. Suppliers
What external resources will you need in order to bring my idea to market?

5. Human Resources
What internal staff and support will be needed?

6. Marketing Plan
How will you get the message to your key audiences and influencers?

7. Operations
How will you produce, distribute and deliver your product or service?

8. Financial Plan
How much will all of this cost? How will you pay for it?

While these basic elements will form the content of any business plan, it is important for designers to remember that the form, voice, and presentation of this content is wide open. In fact, one of the distinctive advantages we have as designers is that we can bring our creative vision and storytelling skills to the planning process and to the plan itself. These skills can elevate an otherwise stale, flat document to an engaging, dynamic experience.


chicken and egg illustration

New thinking proposes that entrepreneurs should engage in a formal planning process only when it is absolutely needed—but that they should be continually collecting valuable data for that eventual plan.


Quick Tips
1. Don’t be influenced by preconceived notions of what a business plan should be. Instead, bring your design vision to the process. Perhaps it’s a short video, an animated motion graphics piece, or a hand-bound letterpressed book. This reinvention of the form will instantly signal to your potential partners that you think differently and bring a unique set of skills.

2. Leading entrepreneurship advisors agree that the business plan must be an organic document that evolves as the vision for the business unfolds and materializes.


Dig Deeper!
1. One of the leading gurus of business start-ups is former Apple exec, Guy Kawasaki, whose book The Art of The Start is a well-written bible on the topic. One of Kawasaki’s key themes is “good enough is good enough.” In other words, don’t sweat the details—and don’t get hung up in lengthy planning—in the early stages; instead, work fast, and continually refine your ideas.

2. Business Week’s list of the Top 20 Entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter is an excellent resource for some of the leading commentators on start-up planning.

3. Tim Berry is one of the most prolific and visible experts on business planning, having founded bplans.com, a how-to planning application and tutorial. Check out this article he contributed to Entrepreneur.com.


2 thoughts on “Design Your Business Plan

  1. Scott Herbert

    Thanks for the article. Excellent to remember that your plans can be organically germinating while your are working on other projects, especially as you plan, test, revise, repeat. Though you may get discouraged by a lack of a plan at times, its really not that hard to start your own, since you do that every day for your own clients.

  2. armeen

    “Good enough is good enough” is very true in the initial stages. A lot gets learnt/accomplished by plunging right it. It does help a lot to have a business plan that acts as a broad guide at least. “A short video, an animated motion graphics piece, or a hand-bound letterpressed book” are nice ideas too. It doesn’t have to be boring spiral bound sheets every time.

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