How to Build a Case for Your Business Plan


When you begin to build your business plan, you probably ask yourself, "What should I write about? What key points should I bring out in my business plan that are important to potential investors?"

The best way to answer these questions is to put your business plan on trial. That’s right. Think of your potential investors as the jury and yourself as the defense attorney. You must build a case for your business plan that proves to the jury – beyond a reasonable doubt – why they should invest it. At stake is a life or death sentence for your business venture. Your job is to come up with all the evidence and present it in a way the jury believes you.

Yet, if you look at the way most business owners and entrepreneurs prepare their business plans, they build no case at all. Instead, they mindlessly throw information down on paper, most of which is the same stuff all of their competitors are saying, just to say they have a business plan.

The typical business plan doesn't build a case

Take for example a business plan for a franchised auto repair facility. A typical business plan for this business would include claims like: nobody does what we do, we offer convenient hours to our customers, we use high quality parts, we have friendly professional technicians, we are experienced, and we'll make investors lots of money.

Does this build a case?

Let me ask this question differently. If you were interested in investing in a business would these types of claims convince you that this business is the obvious investment choice for you? I don't think so. There are no real claims. No proof that this business is any different or any better than any other business. There are no compelling reasons for investors to believe that they'll earn more money investing in this business than through other investment alternatives. The only hope a business plan with such weak arguments has to attract investors is pure luck.

Imagine what it would be like if an attorney did as poor a job arguing a court case as most business plans do.

Let’s take the Martha Stewart obstruction of justice trial. Stewart and her stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors that she sold her shares of ImClone on December 27, 2001. They claimed they sold the shares because the two had previously agreed to sell the stock when the price fell below $60 a share. Prosecutors argued the story was a lie. In the end, the jury agreed with the prosecution. But why?

Martha’s attorneys failed to build a strong enough case for her innocence. They were saying "Come on...Martha wouldn't have done this! She's the domestic diva! She'd never risk her fortune for such a small amount...there's no way she did it!"

As simplified and ridiculous as this may sound, it’s about as good of a case as most business owners ever present to attract investors to their business. They tell investors: invest in us our business is better, we're the low cost producer, we're more professional, we provide better service, we'll make you, our investors, a ton of money, and so forth.

Now, look at what the prosecution’s attorneys in the Stewart case DID do. They researched and gathered all the evidence they needed to prove that Martha did obstruct justice.

Evidence that included the testimony of Bacanovic’s assistant. A phone call from Stewart to Sam Waksal, the president of ImClone, just minutes after she ordered the sale. Documents showing Bacanovic, a constant cell phone user, did not use his cell phone for nearly two hours on the afternoon in question. The absence of notes, e-mails, or phone records to prove the $60 agreement was in place. Evidence that the sole document suggesting an agreement existed was a forgery. The admission by Stewart, testified to by her best friend and travel companion Mariana Pasternak that Stewart knew the Waksals were selling when that information was non-public.

See how powerful and persuasive evidence is?

Three steps to building a case for your business plan

Step 1: find out what prospective investors want. Step 2: give it to them. Step 3: explain your plan to them in a believable way.

You can easily find out what investors want and need to know in my article titled “Understanding the Mind of an Investor” (

Here's how to find out what you need to tell investors about your particular business for them to decide whether investing in your business is right for them. These are the talking points to build your case around.

To start, I'm going to assume that you have researched your plan and already know a bit about your business, your industry, your targeted customers, and so on. Now let's say that one of your best friends is considering investing in a business just like yours and comes to you for advice on how best to evaluate the business and its prospects. What would you tell your friend to find out to make the best possible investment decision? What would you tell your friend to look out for? What specific pieces of information would your friend need to have to decide whether this is a wise investment decision?

Whatever these things are, those are the key points to build your case around. For instance, when I first started working with a start-up company to raise money for a revolutionary aircraft landing light, the company was passing out a two-inch thick business plan to potential investors for their review.

Our first steps were to shrink the plan down to twenty-five pages. We decided to focus on showing investors how the company’s new lighting system would help airlines make more money. How big the opportunity is. How the company’s business model differed from larger, more established competitors. And, how much money potential investors stood to make subject to certain risks. In other words, we identified the talking points of our case.

Next, we gathered the evidence to support the talking points. We gather data on the inventories of worldwide fleets by aircraft platform to show the number of lighting units per aircraft to support our claims of market size. Special reports from the Department of Transportation spelled out maintenance costs and delay costs and showed how much airlines were spending to maintain outdated lighting systems.

We used testimonials and surveys from top purchasing agents and engineers to confirm their interest in our lighting system. Background write-ups of the management team and what each manager would bring to the venture in terms of skills and industry contacts showed why this management team would get the job done. Engineering drawings served as the basis for detailed bills of materials that outlined the costs of each unit. Market studies and surveys provided support for unit pricing.

All this information provided the basis to create projected financial statements – income statement, balance sheet, and cash flows. Finally, we gave investors a valuation model with all our assumptions outlined for them to review, challenge, or change. This allowed serious investors to decide quickly whether this particular investment fit their investment criteria.

Within in weeks of passing out our “case”, our potential investor network began to spread like a spider’s web that led to new contacts, management meetings, and eventually two offers for financing.

So, build your case with passion. Uncover what's important for your investors to know about your business plan. Then, present your points clearly. When you do, you'll be on your way to building an enabling investor network and becoming the most desirable investment choice in your particular investment space.

Mike Elia is a chief financial officer and an advisor to venture capitalists and leverage buyout specialists. His business plan ebook "Business Plan Secrets Revealed” shows how to make your business the most appealing investment choice to venture capitalist, bankers, and other business investors. Click here to learn more about how to build a case for your business plan.

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