How to Use Graphs and Charts in Your Business Plan

Many people ask how many graphs or charts they should have in their business plans. As with most other business planning questions, the answer is "it depends." This article discusses the key factors influencing the number of graphs and charts to include in your business plan.

To begin, the key point to consider in developing your business plan is the time restraints of your audience. If your audience is a retired angel investor, he may have few obligations and can spend an hour reviewing your business plan. However, the more likely scenario is that a venture capitalist, corporate investor or loan officer will review your plan while sitting at a desk topped with fifty other business plans. As such, it is critical that your plan conveys its key points quickly and easily ? this is where graphs or charts come in.

In determining whether to use a graph or chart, consider the old adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words." The point here is that the picture should save a thousand words. That is, the graph or chart should supplement the text; it should not be explained ad naseum in the text, or that defeats its purpose. Likewise, the graph or chart must be relevant and support the text, rather than detract from it.

In addition to respecting the time constraints of the audience, the business plan must respect the audience's energy level. That is, after reading seven business plans, an investor is likely to skip a page with 400 words of straight text. Even if no charts are applicable to support the page, Growthink suggests using appropriate spacing and/or callout boxes (e.g., key text phrases highlighted in boxes) to make the page more readable.

Clearly, technical drawings and operational designs need to be visually presented in the business plan. Without them, huge volumes of text are often needed to explain relatively simple processes. Importantly, when the text references these charts, the charts should be easily accessible. That is, the chart should be on the same page as the text, rather than forcing the audience to continually turn to an appendix. If the chart is referenced on numerous pages, each page should show the piece of the chart that reflects the text, with the full chart appearing only once in the plan.

Finally, if the business plan is being presented to one or few investors, the amount of graphs and charts should reflect the wants, needs and sophistication of those few readers. For instance, if the plan is being presented only to strategic investors who understand the market, more graphs may be appropriate to convey information for which these investors already have background knowledge.

Conversely, always keep in mind that the plan is not a slide presentation, and too many graphs and charts may position the company as one that is too lazy to complete the process of developing a formal business plan.

To summarize, the amount of charts and graphs used in the business plan must reflect the audience for the plan; an audience that is usually time and energy constrained. The charts and graphs must complement the text, enable the audience to quickly and easily digest the information, and as always, interest the audience in taking the next step (e.g., scheduling an in-person meeting) in the investment process.

As President of Growthink Business Plans, Dave Lavinsky has helped the company become one of the premier business plan development firms. Since its inception, Growthink has developed over 200 business plans. Growthink clients have collectively raised over $750 million in financing, launched numerous new product and service lines and gained competitive advantage and market share.

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