Your business plan is the blueprint for your organisation’s future. It communicates and shares your goals and values, and helps potential funders and supporters to understand how you will deliver on their goals and priorities, as well as your own. It is a critically important document and for that reason it needs to be a communication tool in its own right. I hope the following tips are useful to anyone preparing their plan and beginning to think about how they’re going to win hearts and minds.
Think of your business plan as a communication tool
Your vision and your ideas come alive and are shared through your words, so make sure you’re giving them the best start. Neil Taylor of The Writer, tells a story from his work with BP. The company designated one year the ‘year of operational excellence’, and measured and monitored their outcomes to death, but nothing had changed from the previous year. All except for the work of one team. It was the team where the manager had a meeting every week with staff that he called ‘Doing everyday things better’. It worked because the language was more resonant, less corporate and more meaningful. Language can affect the culture of your organisation because it shapes people’s thoughts.
Think of schools, young people, parents, and commissioners/purchasers as your customers
It sounds obvious, but this will immediately change the way you communicate. Changing from an education delivery or supplier-led culture, to one that’s focused on needs and wants of market segments is an integral part of the hub process.
Write about what your customers need rather than what you will provide
It’s more effective and convincing if you write from the perspective of your customers and what they’ll gain. E.g. instead of: ‘standard termly packages of instrumental tuition will be provided for a term in each school’, you might say: ‘every child in each school will be able to learn an instrument for a term, through lessons we’ll provide …’.
Focus on benefits, not just features
As well as describing particular services/activities, make sure to balance that with the benefits this will bring to schools, children and young people. This will reinforce your position as a customer-led service. E.g ‘We will provide whole class tuition for one year. This means young people will gain … and schools will benefit from ….’
Wherever you can, show rather than tell
Back up any claims you make with evidence, examples, cases studies, testimonials and anecdotes. Tell stories to show your value in real situations. Create a story or individual journey to show how your strategy will work in reality for an individual child/children, from first access to leaving school and beyond. Use diagrams to give an overview of different parts of your plan, as well as individual journeys. Focus on specifics, not just aspirations: real people, real situations, and results.
Use simple, direct, language
It sounds obvious, but we all fall into the trap of formal writing, and over-use of jargon – particularly when writing for people in education, like headteachers. Like all of us, they’re time-starved and are drowning in information. Using simple, direct language could mean the difference between someone bothering to read on, or ‘filing’ your communication – and that could mean in the bin/electronic trash. Six ways to do this are to:
1) Use the first person tense – e.g. instead of: ‘the strategy was presented at the meeting of headteachers’, say: ‘we presented the strategy at the meeting of headteachers’. Wherever possible use ‘our’ and ‘we’.
2) Use simple language – e.g. replace ‘commence’ with begin.
3) Replace abstract nouns with verbs – e.g. instead of: ‘the hub will lead to improved provision for young people’, say: ‘the hub will provide better services for young people’.
4) Where possible, replace jargon, abstract nouns, or ‘weasel words’ (those that aren’t really necessary and detract from what you really mean) with specifics, e.g: instead of ‘provision’, use music-making activities; lessons; workshops.
5) Be definite, not hopeful, e.g. take out words like ‘aim to’, ‘strive to’, ‘seek to’, except where they’re really unavoidable.
6) Use active not passive verbs, e.g. instead of headteachers will be visited by our management team; our management team will visit heads.
All of this comes instinctively when we talk: so it helps to read what you’ve written out loud. If you stumble over your words, or don’t feel you’d say things in quite that way when face-to-face – rewrite.
And finally, consider giving your hub an appealing, perhaps even surprising name
As long as it really does tie in with your vision and values, a name that has impact and is ‘unexpected’ will get you noticed. Cheshire East’s hub is to be called ‘Love Music’ (thanks to Jonathan Savage for sharing this information on his blog).
Coming soon: Marketing strategy and planning for hubs
See also: Seven tips for advocating what music means for your school