Using data and visualizations in your business plan

“Vision without action is a daydream.  Action without vision is a nightmare.” One of my favorite Japanese proverbs.  A statement epitomizing the challenge for any entrepreneur. A business plan can set the foundation for a passionate vision becoming a successful reality. So in today’s high-tech data driven world, what role can data and visualizations play in your business plan?

Start working with data at the inception of your idea, before a plan is created or a single item is sold.  Leveraging data will be important to external audiences like investors, and partners, so start early.  Data shows them you are an analytical leader.  Someone able to generate the type of reports that they will want.   It also demonstrates that you can understand the fundamentals of the business, and the category.

External audiences aside, using data will forge good habits that will help you down the road. Setting-up early stage (data driven) benchmarks for the business can help you identify how you will track performance.  Too many business owners fail to think thru the instrumentation of their data and reporting.  Subsequently, they do not have the data capture and analysis tools in place when they become busy managing the business.  This post from Quickbooks. Top 5 metrics – has five interesting metrics to consider beyond the common financial statements.

Data visualizations are great for communicating information more clearly and efficiently.  Identify the most important points in your business plan.  These are opportunities to invest in data visualizations.  There are numerous free tools on the market to help you create visualizations.  An online search will quickly yield many.   The following examples were both created using free software, and they demonstrate the varying level of sophistication that you can implement with your visualizations.

This first visualization is a simple and easy one to create.  We took forecasted sales segments and turned them into a simple chart. Using a few simple charts throughout the business plan can ease readers through your story.

This second visualization is more complex and demonstrates the sophistication that free tools can provide. As part of creating a plan for a new product launch, we tested messaging and product offers via email. Using the data collected from the test, we were able to run various correlation and forecasts through an analytics application. The resulting visualization (shown here) was then used in the plan to make a data driven case for certain decisions.

Don’t be intimidated by the exercise of creating a plan. And don’t shy away from stretching your knowledge of data capture, measurement and visualizations.  You and your business plan can benefit tremendously from a little effort, and a marketplace full of free tools.

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