My top five tips for a “you’re hired” business plan!


Graeme Bell

Graeme Bell

Business Advisory Senior Manager


This week saw my favourite challenge in The Apprentice - interview week! The five remaining candidates were grilled by business gurus and had their business plans scrutinised. Everything from their experience, financial projections and in some cases, whether their qualifications were genuine - was up for discussion!

Three of the businesses were already established – a head hunting company, a bakery and an online beauty brand while the remaining two were business concept ideas – a networking club and a high-end luxury travel company for the under 30s. All very different businesses with different growth plans and aspirations. Some performed better during the interviews than others but all five candidates definitely had areas they could improve upon in their business plans for next time.

Whatever stage your business is at, whether that’s concept, a high growth start-up or an established company, pitching for investment is a business skill and last night episode got me thinking about my top tips for what to include in a plan. I’ve narrowed these down to my top five – a tip for every candidate!

1. Understand your competition

This would be my top tip for Pamela! She was called out last night with similar competitive products in the market place - products she wasn’t aware existed. Market research is incredibly important – who are your competitors? How big are they? How are they different? An investor wants to know that you know your competitive marketplace inside and out, that you’ve got your finger on the pulse, you clearly know the competitive edge you’re bringing; whether that’s quality, price, or solving a different need. A stage that’s often overlooked, understanding your competitive marketplace is crucial and can make or break your plan for an investor.

2. Know the audience that you're pitching to

We didn’t get to hear a lot of Lewis’ plan as he was often cut-off before he could elaborate further and this just made me think the format and content of the plan was not speaking to his audience. If he’d structured it differently and focused more on providing comprehensive financials, could he have made the final?

It is worth considering making different versions of your business plan for different situations – one for banks and investors, one for individual investors and one for companies that you may be looking to partner with in the future. Tailor your approach to your audience and make sure you’re speaking in their language.

3. Be conservative with estimates!

Carina last night said she planned to expand her wholesale business and open two shops in 12 months. That’s incredibly ambitious and a little risky and Claude had no qualms in highlighting this! Whilst being confident and ambitious is admirable, being conservative and realistic with your estimates is best and makes your case more credible to investors.

4. Be realistic with time and resources available

Scarlett was called out on a couple of points from not including comprehensive cash flow projections, to exaggerating her workforce’s skill base. A common mistake is underestimating the time and budget for resources needed (people and supplies) to make the overall proposition look better and for the return to be made quicker. It’s far safer to overestimate what you need in this respect. Again, it just goes to show your plan is credible and well considered. 

5. Know your numbers

Above all, after watching the latest episode of The Apprentice, I think my biggest tip, which goes without saying, would be….make sure you include the financials in your business plan! Don’t keep the costs in your head like Lottie!

As much as some of the judges seem to like the idea of Lottie’s plan there was nothing to judge without the numbers. This is the most important part of your plan and it needs to be right. Although you may work with an adviser or an accountant to pull the figures together, it’s important you understand the numbers, and what they mean and what your pressure points are – what impact does a change in the price of your raw materials have? What about if you’re unexpectedly under capacity? Knowing and appreciating the difference between gross and net profit is always worth remembering too!

Got a question about your business or growth plan? We're here to help, get in touch to chat about this (or The Apprentice!) graeme.bell@jcca.co.uk.