Small Business

Presentations: The Writing on the Wall


By Karen E. Klein Q: I will be presenting a business plan to investors and wonder if I should do a PowerPoint presentation, or if a presentation board with handouts would be preferable? -- J.N. Oakland, Calif.

A: When pitching a business plan to investors, use the same commonsense guidelines that apply to any group presentation because, no matter what your subject matter, you want the message to be clearly understood, informative, and exciting. No one -- and it doesn't matter if the audience is investors, students, or your employees -- wants to sit through a 30-slide presentation that is overly detailed and extremely dull.

What investors really want to know are the answers to a pair of vital questions: When will they will get their money back, and what return will they receive? Secondly, investors want to meet the people behind the plan, so put a particular focus on the achievements and abilities of the executives who will be responsible for making your business succeed.

ESSENTIAL EXPLANATIONS. Kylon Gustin, marketing director for Austin (Tex.)-based Business Resource Software, suggests preparing a handout containing your executive summary and giving a copy to each investor. Keep it to no more than a couple of pages -- and make sure it includes the primary objectives of your firm, an introduction to your key personnel, and a description of the market you are targeting.

There should be an explanation of why the product or service you are offering will be more effective than those of your competitors. Also, don't forget to include financial projections for five years, including a break-even point, a profit point, and an estimate of the return on investment your prospective backers can expect.

You should also have the complete business plan available as a separate document, with a copy for each investor, Gustin says. "The PowerPoint presentation should be short -- five slides max -- and it should only be a visual enhancement of the verbal presentation," he cautions. "For example, if you are discussing total available market, you could display a chart. However, the discussion should focus on the actual market research you have done to back up the claims shown on the chart."

STEP BY STEP. Make sure you've thoroughly prepared yourself by reviewing your entire business plan. "By doing that," says Gustin, "you will have thought through all of the issues that an investor considers when judging the viability of your business.

"Even if they don't look at your entire business plan on the first pass," Gusti adds, "you'll be prepared to discuss and inform regarding the important issues." Look for business-plan guidelines or software that will walk you through the plan-creation process and break it down into manageable segments. This step-by-step approach will allow you to customize a generic plan to meet your specific needs.

Good luck! Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.


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