Following 'Here's The Idea'

I’ve spent much of today honing three different types of exec summary for a business plan I’ve helped craft. Inspired to check the web for any extra pointers, I came across the NY Times’ Corner Office. In particular, a 4-page interview with some American chief exec which includes this delightful segment:

Q. Is there a magic number of points for a business plan?

A. I’m not sure there’s a magic number, per se. I’d divide the page in quadrants: Market, Financial, Product and People. And if I can’t simply put what needs to be done on one page, I probably haven’t thought through it very well.

There’s a great saying: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” I find that in business a lot people take the time to write the really long letter, but they don’t take time to write the short one, and it even applies to doing investments.

When one of our guys is presenting an investment, you always kind of know they have it if they can explain it very quickly. And if it takes a really long time and you’re into the square root of the price of oil in Uzbekistan, you probably know that it’s gotten too complicated, and that’s when I start asking questions — when people start having trouble simply saying, “Here’s the idea.”

I often blog about parallels between business plan construction (which along with strategic sales plans is something I occasionally get paid for) and sales proposals. This aforementioned experience seems to suggest a wonderful discipline to employ on your pitch. Yes, you may have a lovingly created tree trunk of a Prop doc, but how quickly can someone not involved in its scripting ‘get it’ once you start explaining it?

As an aside, there’s also a delicious insight into determining how switched on someone is later in the article. If you can work out a key question for them (in sales management for instance it could be ‘how are you going to hit your numbers’, but you could similarly think up a decent one for just about any role) then their reaction is the tell. Three possibilities are discussed here;

  1. ‘I’m going to do one, two, three, four, five’
  2. a blank stare
  3. 30 minutes of buzzword laden waffle

The first is the winner, the other two, in ascending order of scariness, expose those of whom you should worry.

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