Writing a business case is a very specialised and quite rarefied task but sometimes it’s something that falls to executives, either because they need to get approval for a project or because they need to help a client get agreement to a purchase.
Whilst they may sound daunting at first, there are a few things you can include that will help form the basis of a superb presentation.
A problem statement
What the writer is wanting is for the reader to take action. This won’t happen unless they have a reason and the problem statement is that reason.
Ensure that it is factual and avoids hyperbole, but don’t undersell the seriousness of the problem or your executive will think that they can simply shove the issue onto the back burner.
The problem statement provides the impetus for the rest of the document so it needs to be compelling and beg the question ‘What are we going to do about this?’
This is the meat of the document, but there’s an important point here.
Make sure that you don’t overload the main body with a mass of facts and figures that simply obscure the message.
Use appendices to put your main information and use the body as a method of advancing the discussion. You can include a brief overview of the process you have gone through to identify the solution, what the risks are and what the upside is.
If your organisation has a standard set of tests such as Return on Investment (ROI) then you’ll need to include it but don’t put the calculations in, save them for the appendices instead.
There’s nothing that kills a business case quicker than some duff facts.
Make sure everything you say is factual, true and referenced. Ensure that you can back up everything you say and don’t give way to the urge to oversell.
Also if you are including data then be careful not to fall prey to confirmation bias and include only things that back up your case whilst ignoring evidence to the contrary because you can bet that your mortal enemy will point this out!
Make sure that you get someone to fact check your document before distribution.
A compelling conclusion
So often, poor business cases simply peter out at the end, almost as though the writer has run out of steam. Frankly, if you don’t leave executives with a clear and compelling course of action to take then it’s unlikely that they will take it.
State exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done by and who needs to take action.
Take a tip from the movies for writing a compelling conclusion. Directors rarely film a movie in sequence and you should think about writing your conclusion first, then the body of your report followed by your executive summary. This will give your writing a bit more zip and stop you from becoming jaded.
A tale to tell
A good business case should read like a small but engaging novel. This means that it needs a beginning, middle and an end or in business terms a problem statement, a discussion of the solution and a recommendation.
We’ve seen the individual parts of the business case but it is important that the author ties all of these together to make it a whole.
The document needs to take the reader in easy steps from the position that the firm is in to the place it will be if it takes the course of action recommended.
It’s also important to ‘sell the sizzle and not the steak’. Make sure that the reader is presented with the benefits of the projects rather than a simple list of features. A quick tip here is to force yourself to use the phrase ‘This means that…’ regularly which will naturally focus your writing on benefits.
The executive summary
This should be no longer than one side of A4 and should include all the information but in highly condensed form. Some executives won’t have time to read the detail, some won’t want to! The executive summary needs to be discursive in style, including key killer facts and having a summary that really sells the project.
A superb executive summary will often mean that the rest of the business case becomes superfluous.
Writing a business case can often seem a challenge at first, but with a structured method, it can become less of a chore.
You can be assured of a positive outcome more often by following these simple tips and giving your presentation the added quality to take it over the line.