Often, a business plan introduces a new technology that requires some explaining.
On one hand, as a reader of business plans for investors, I see way too many business plans that ask a reader to wade neck-deep through technology to get to the business. That’s a great way make your reader run in the other direction! It’s a business plan, not a term paper or thesis. Establish technology as a differentiator, when it is. Tell me about it in relation to its importance to the business. Don’t force me to understand it when I don’t need to.
On the other hand, as a writer, manager, and user of business plans as tools for steering a business, I believe you should discuss your technology in the plan for any business. Even if technology isn’t the driving force of your business or your main differentiator, these days, almost all businesses have to manage technology as part of branding, marketing, and communications.
To the extent that technology matters, I want to see it in the priorities and in specific milestones. Are we developing what we should? Are we using what we should? Are we competitive with tools and process?
Let your business purpose be your guide
The point of my opening paragraphs is that the right way to handle technology in a plan depends on the context of the plan. As always, in business, form follows function.
As you develop technology descriptions, priorities, milestones and such in your own business plan, consider first the business plan’s purpose.
Business plans aren’t all the same. They are used for different things, such as:
- Some business plans are intended for outsiders, as summary and description of the business, to serve the purpose of raising money with investors, backing up a commercial loan document, and so forth. In these cases the purpose of describing your technology is validation, proof of value; you’re making your technology part of the reasons that your business is a good investment or a good risk for a loan.
- Most business plans are intended to optimize management and allow business owners and management teams to better steer the business. For these plans, technology is not describing, but rather planning, setting milestones, dates, priorities, directions, and so forth.
Technology in a plan for outsiders
Investors, bankers, and other outsiders look at technology as part of the secret sauce, the things that make your business better than competitors, defensible, or differentiated. They want to know about the technology for its business impact. But they rarely want to wade through the ins and outs of how that technology works and evaluate it for themselves. They want to know about the technology, not know the technology. The only exception is the technology they know and work with themselves.
To explain the difference, let’s take me as an example:
I’m a software entrepreneur, and, in recent years, a member of an angel investment group. I looked to scientists in the group to evaluate technology when we invested in molecular chemistry that can ease the pain of chemotherapy. I get involved in detail when the group is looking at startups in software, web, mobile apps, or financial forecasting.
When a business plan involves expertise in software, the web, apps, and technologies related to financial forecasting, I’m curious, and I’ll look for an appendix with interesting details. I’ll join in the due diligence for my angel group, test for myself, and develop my informed opinion. In fact, during my consulting years in the 1980s and 1990s, I had multiple consulting engagements with venture capital firms that contracted me to evaluate software as an expert.
When a business plan involves pharmaceuticals, medical electronics, biotechnology, clean energy, and so many other technologies that aren’t within my areas of expertise, I validate as I suggested above, with background checks, patents, and so on. I don’t, however, wade through scientific documentation.
I’m comfortable with what I don’t know. When it involves my specific investment group, I trust other members who do know.
The detailed look at the technology comes during due diligence, not in the plan or during the pitch. For plans and pitches, we look for the patents, customer testimonials, and backgrounds and achievements of the team as validators. We want to see those for sure, and we expect good summaries as part of the business plan discussion of product-market mix, or company background (in either section, whichever seems better to the founders). Technical background and technical details go into appendices, or extra docs used for due diligence, not the main body of the plan.
Technology in business planning for owners and managers
For business owners, I recommend a lean business plan as a dashboard and GPS. It’s just big enough to steer the business. It skips the text summaries and descriptions you won’t need because it’s for your own use only. It’s reviewed and revised frequently. It includes strategy and tactics as summary bullet points to serve as reminders. It includes milestones and schedules too.
Since the lean plan is just for you and the team, not for outsiders, it doesn’t necessarily include or cover your technology. Does your technology differentiate your business from all others? Is it vital to staying competitive? Does it create barriers to entry? Does it create competitive advantage? If you answer yes to any of those questions, then you are probably already managing technology as part of your strategy and tactics. So you include bullet points related to technology in your lean plan, in strategy, tactics, milestones, and schedules.
For example, tech businesses managing product development road maps, research and development teams, extending software features or tech features in hardware would be likely to build strategy and tactics around technology. More traditional businesses, on the other hand, such as real estate, restaurants, or personal training, would be less likely, on average.
But, even within traditional businesses, some innovative leaders set themselves apart for the use of new technology. Maybe the real estate brokerage is working on its app to show houses, or the restaurant is developing new techniques for cold pressed processes. Maybe the personal trainer is offering subscriptions to remote workouts.
The key to where technology goes into your lean plan is the execution and management. You don’t describe for description only. Instead, you list tasks and deadlines and action points. If there are none of those related to technology in your business, then leave it out of the lean plan.
Stick with the business purpose
Remember, a business plan is about business. It’s not a forum for showing off. Even in the case of a show-off business plan for angel investors, keep to the business side of it. The business plan is about what you’re going to do, not what you know.
Give the investors what they need to know, and spare them from the rest. They’ll thank you. For you business owners and managers, how you develop and manage technology is a critical factor for steering the business. Make sure you plan for it, with reinforcement in strategy, tactics, and milestones to develop accountability and keep you on track.