Writing a Business Plan: The Company Overview

This is the 3rd blog post in our “Writing a Business Plan” series.

The first section after the Executive Summary is traditionally the “Company Overview,” or sometimes it’s called “Business Description” or “Corporate Overview.”  The naming doesn’t matter so much as the content. The overview is similar in content to the executive summary, except you don’t need to be as concise. You can include more details and more information; but it’s important not to get too wordy.  Get your point across without wasting time or expounding on things that don’t directly relate to the company.

What You Get

I like to think writing this section gives you a solid base for the rest of the plan.  Where the summary forced you to edit everything non-essential, this section allows you to get all the details of your entire business in two to four pages. It also gives you a good reference for more of your plan’s data and business decisions.  You can also use this as a base for any pitch decks that you’re creating.

In some cases, if your company overview is very well written, you can include it as an additional attachment when contacting investors.  Throw it on emails when you’re asked to send the summary or your pitch deck–but be sure to mention that you’re including it in case they’d like to read more.

What To Include

Don’t start with the driest material first. I can’t count the number of overviews that start with “XYZ Corp is an S-Corp, incorporated in…” There’s no reason to put your reader to sleep right off the bat. You do need to include the details of your corporation/partnership, but do it in a way that won’t be so boring. Don’t be afraid to spice it up a bit with unambiguous wording;  just make sure the details are correct and clear.

I like to start with a longer (1/2 page max.) “elevator pitch.”  It grabs the reader’s interest while going over all the important highlights you just touched on with the summary.  You can use more adjectives than you could in the summary, so make your passion and your idea shine through.

Once that initial pitch is done, you can go into the legal description of the company. You need to include the corporation status, legal entity, and anything else relating to your business structure.  This is necessary for most readers, so you want to make it obvious and clear. You’ll also want to include company locations (and don’t be afraid to mention that you are still “virtual,” if that’s the case), and a brief history of the company.  The history should include founding dates, filing dates, investment details, ownership, and things that matter to anyone looking over the businesses.

Another topic for this section is a more detailed version of the management team. This topic will also get its own section later in the plan, but for now, it helps to include the highlights of the entire team.  Instead of giving detailed resumes here (that goes in the other section), include enough experience to boast about high points specifically related to creating and expanding this company.

If you’re not including a “Products” section, then you should include your products in this section.  It would contain the same information, but in a slightly less detailed format.  You should include enough of the problems, features, and intellectual property for all of your products.

And finally, you must include your short term and long term objectives for the company.  Instead of just a quick “Exit Strategy” statement, include some details about your overall strategy and a few major tactics that you’ll use. Make the objectives seem real and possible.

Sometimes people put a “Mission Statement” or “Corporate Vision” in the overview.  I tend to think this isn’t helpful, and in some cases detrimental. If you’re writing this for an investor, they want to know that making a huge profit and getting acquired is your one and only mission.  This, of course, for us entrepreneurs, is a horrible thought. We want to create an empowering and successful business that help others and make the world a better place. By including this in your written mission statement, you run the risk of alienating an investor that probably agrees with you, but is more concerned about the perception that you’re not interested in turning a profit or won’t want to sell the business if there’s a valid offer.

What the Reader Wants

SCcartoonIf your reader made it past the summary, they’re at least interested and want to know more. To go with a fishing analogy, you’ve baited and cast your hook, and your fish is smelling around.  You want to hook its attention and keep it, while the reader will want to get to the details as quickly as possible.  If the legal structure doesn’t match their preferences, they want to see it right away.  They’re looking for additional top-level information that will help them decide to look further.

They’ll want to know if you know what you’re doing. If this section is a “cookie cutter” form, they’re going to stop reading.  They want to see that your ideas, products, and company all line-up.  They want to see that you have a passion for this industry and your business, and it should show in this section.

Steve Cook

Coming up next:  The Product