By John Maddocks, CIPFA Policy & Technical Manager Sustainability & 3rd Sector.
When writing social enterprise business plans, it is not the size that matters but the ability to clearly explain what makes your enterprise different in practical terms. A bigger business plan is frequently a poorer business plan.
Some of those tasked with drawing up a business plan make the mistake of cramming in as much as they can and/or resorting to extensive padding of the document with no demonstrable gain in the quality of information contained therein. The end result can be at best something that is very worthy, but far too big to digest, or at the very worst is filled with vague and repetitive narrative that is high on nice-sounding phrases and low on robust evidence and analysis-based content.
Too much detail can make the business plan hard to read and difficult to pick out the significant key messages embedded in there. The solution is to keep the business plan clear and concise.
But that’s not enough. It also needs to be consistent. The different elements of the plan, including the proposed services or products, the research and analysis, the financial and non-financial data, all need to connect with each other and provide a coherent argument supporting the proposed strategic approach.
When it comes to social enterprises the business plan writers have the additional task of:
a) identifying what makes their social enterprise different from other forms of enterprise
b) working out which of those differing features actually matter in terms of shaping the strategy, services or products included in the business plan.
Sometimes a social enterprise will do the first part (“we are different”) but not really tackle the all-important second part (“so what?”). They may point out one or more of their organisation’s distinctive features (for example, that they are ‘non-profit’ or are charitable) without taking the next step of spelling out clearly what this means in terms practical advantages the feature or difference provides and exactly how it translates into improved service or product delivery.
It is easier said than done, but the objective should be a better (not bigger!) business plan that is easy to read, conveys key messages clearly, and provides useful information to support decision making.