This is a guest post by James Church, COO at Robot Mascot. Robot Mascot help founders and entrepreneurs to better explain their business idea and construct a pitch deck that will inform, excite and convince investors.

When attempting to raise investment, many founders and entrepreneurs will jump straight into creating a pitch deck. They’ll run a Google search for what slides to include in a pitch deck, open up Powerpoint and then stare at a blank screen wondering where to start.

The trouble is that the pitch deck is the summary of your business plan. In order to create the perfect pitch, you must first have a perfect plan.

When we started writing and designing pitch decks for founders three years ago, through our perfect pitch service, our expectation was that founders would come to us with a fully formed business plan, ready for us to turn into a concise and articulate 15-20 slide pitch deck. However, we soon realised that that was rarely the case.

More often than not, early-stage founders haven’t properly considered their business plan, thinking the pitch deck and business plan are the same thing. They’re not.

The pitch deck opens the door for further, more meaningful conversations with an investor. You can think of it as your sales brochure; it’s what gets you in a room to discuss the details of your investment opportunity. The business plan provides the full details, and it’s what investors want to see after you’ve pitched in order to review and carefully consider whether or not they invest. 

It’s for this reason; we created PitchPrep, an online tool that guides our clients to formalise their business plan. Getting your business plan right must happen before you even begin considering your pitch deck, or you’re wasting your time.

It’s why properly considering the business plan is the first stage in our winning methodology, The Six Principles of the Perfect Pitch. 

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By following this methodology, our clients are 30x more likely to receive an investment than the average startup (Robot Mascot, 2019). During the following article, I’ll be sharing with you the key areas where we often see mistakes in a business plan that end up reducing credibility and hindering investment.

Missing Information

The top reason for business plans failing to receive investment is due to missing key information that an investor needs to make a decision. Most founders are really great at including information about their product, how it works and their vision and dreams for the future of the business. They’re also pretty good at understanding what’s needed operationally.

But there are at least four key areas that a startup founder is likely to miss in their business plan:

1. Sufficient Market Research

Market research gives the investor an indication as to the size of the market in which you plan to operate. The idea is to demonstrate that your market is big enough to sustain the revenue you predict you’ll generate with a realistic market share. It’s tempting to throw in some large market statistics to show just how vast it is – for example, the robotics market is worth $200B – but throw away figures such as this aren’t what an investor is looking for.

Instead, they want to see considered research that drills down into your market. They want it to be focused on your niche in order to give a realistic expectation of the value of the market share you will command. Will you just be focusing on a niche sector of the UK market, or do you plan to sell your product globally? Over what time period will different markets come online?

You can learn more about how to master your market opportunity here.

2. Customer Validation

It’s vital to evidence to investors that customers or users actually want the solution you’re creating and that there is genuine interest. All too often, we see founders create an idea off the back of personal experience, or a hunch, without properly validating whether or not customers will use, or pay, for what is being created.

It’s typical that you’ll need to conduct some primary research in this area. Your business plan is likely to include results from a pilot, MVP or survey, the size and engagement of a social media community, or focus group feedback. There are lots of different ways to create your own research projects that will demonstrate customer interest cost-effectively, we’ve listed 18 of them here.

The key is understanding what the results of your research are telling you about your idea and being honest with yourself. You may need to change some things to make the concept to make it more attractive to your potential customers. Don’t worry if you do have to change things; it’s often a good thing. Demonstrating that you’ve pivoted in response to customer research will really give investors’ confidence in you as an entrepreneur.

3. Revenue Model

This is how your business is going to make money. It often surprises us how many early-stage startups haven’t considered this prior to seeking investment. While it is possible to raise investment for an idea without any immediate plans for revenue, for the vast majority of the time, an investor is looking for how you plan to monetise your idea.

It can be very simple for a business selling a product, service, or bit of tech either via a one-off transaction or via a monthly subscription fee. However, this can become a little more tricky when you plan to offer something for free (such as a free app).

Ultimately, investors want to see how the business is going to generate more and more income year on year so that the value of the business increases over time.

If you’re planning on giving something for free, you’ll need to consider your long term revenue plan. How will you keep the lights on? How will you make a profit? How will you grow the value of the company so investors can sell their shares for a profit? It may be that you monetise your product by selling the data, generating ad revenue, or creating corporate partnerships. Or, it may be something else entirely. Whatever it is, an investor needs to know. Here’s a starter for 12.

4. Customer Acquisition

This is where founders can get a little lazy. We often see a simple table with a list of marketing activities or potential distribution channels, with no real thought. SEO, Facebook Ads, PR, Social Media etc. Unfortunately, this will not cut it.

You need to make sure you are detailing a full plan for taking your product to market and getting your first customers. What an investor wants to see is a detailed strategy. Whom can you partner with? What activities start when? Who is going to manage it? Will you employ a team, use agencies or a mix of both? Has it been fully costed? And what is your target cost per acquisition?

You’ll need to detail how all the activities link up and support each other to draw a customer down the sales and marketing funnel – from awareness to purchase.

When you say PR, what do you really mean by this? Will you run a press stunt, like TransferWise’s Stop Hidden Fees protest? Or, will you write a press release for a trade magazine?

At the end of the day, investors know that marketing and selling your product is where most startups fail – without customers, there is no business. Use this part of your business plan to prove to investors you’ve got it covered.

Overinflation of Facts and Figures

It’s very typical to see founders over-inflate their facts and figures within their business plan. It’s often unintentional, but it can have a massive impact on your chances of success. 

There is a temptation to make your data seem more impressive than it is, or perhaps suggest incredible growth in order to try and impress and investor – but a seasoned investor can easily see through over-inflated figures.

The facts and figures you use should come from thorough research (either primary or secondary) and be properly considered in the context of your business. Make sure the sources of information are reliable and well referenced. Remember that an investor has probably seen many business plans in a similar sector to yours, so if your figures seem over-inflated, they’ll soon spot it.

When conducting secondary research, a great tip is to see if you can find the same figure or a very similar one from a different source. That way, you can be more confident that the information you have is realistic. It’s also good to check the date in which the research was conducted. You don’t want to be using figures that are years out of date.

With primary research, the key is to make sure you have a large enough sample, and that it’s representative of your customers or users. Don’t do pilots, surveys or focus groups with your friends – even if they are your target audience. Friends and family are the worst when it comes to research; they’ll always tell you what they think you want to hear.

Our PitchPrep tool not only helps our clients to ensure they’ve got all the key information in their business plan, but it also puts the content into a format that makes it easy for our team of experts to scrutinise from an investor’s perspective. We’d recommend that if you’re doing this yourself, you get industry experts to review your data to try and find out whether or not it appears realistic.

Mismatch of Content

The final area where we see founders make mistakes in their startup business plan is the linking of data and information throughout each section of the plan.

It’s easy to take each of the sections of the plan in isolation. Research your market. Validate your idea with customers. Create your customer acquisition strategy. By treating each section in isolation, you risk missing the common thread through your business plan that makes it credible. It’s important to consider every part of the plan in relation to the other parts.

For example, we’ll often see the market research suggest a different market value to the one used to create the financial forecast. Equally, your customer acquisition strategy should be very closely related to the customers you’ve identified during the market validation exercise. If you need to pivot your product or audience based on the validation research, how does that affect your marketing?

Essentially all information should tie together as part of the same story in a logical and coherent manner. If it doesn’t, you risk confusing an investor and losing credibility in your ability to bring your idea to life. If that happens, you’re unlikely to raise the investment you’re after.

Summary

If you get your startup business plan right by taking on board the above tips, you’ll be miles ahead of your peers, and one step closer to receiving investment. It will also form the foundation for creating a perfect pitch.

But you shouldn’t be writing a business plan just for the sake of gaining investment. By writing one, you’ll give you and your team a clear direction and focus, ensure you’re not wasting your time on the wrong things, and you’ll make sure you have a clear long-term plan to get your idea from concept to reality.