Business Writing Basics: How to Write 4 Common Business Documents

Business Writing Basics: How to Write 4 Common Business Documents

typing an email

It’s one of those things you may not have mastered as you progressed through your career: the basics of business writing. Perhaps you are an entrepreneur who did not take business courses or did not attend college; maybe you majored in a field that is now your business venture, but you never had any training in the types of business writing you now find you need to do regularly.

Whatever the reason, if you find yourself in need of some quick learning, don’t be nervous. There are all kinds of resources available for free, and you can access them easily, including templates for virtually every type of business writing.

Here are the most common types of writing you may encounter as a business owner with a short synopsis of each type. Use this guide to business writing basics as your starting point.

How to write a business plan

A business plan is basically an outline that defines your business and demonstrates that it is a viable one. Who writes one? Anyone who is contemplating a startup or who is looking at a business expansion.

  • Entrepreneurs who are looking for startup funding will go nowhere without a business plan to show potential investors or lenders.
  • Current business owners who are looking for funding for expansion must have a plan to demonstrate to investors and lenders that the expansion is viable.
  • Startup or current businesses need a plan that can keep the business on course and ensure that all partners and employees are informed and “on board.”

Next step is to figure out your content and format. There are a huge number of online resources that provide business plan formats. In fact, you can download them for free, fill in the blanks, and pretty much have your plan written. The challenge becomes providing the content to put into those blanks. Here, then, is a standard 7-step guide for formulating your content:

1. Start with a vision. What is your goal? This does not include specific products or services you intend to offer; it is more general. For example, if you have decided to develop a new, exciting K-12 curriculum for families who want to homeschool their children, your vision or goal is to help families effectively and successfully educate their children through homeschooling.

2. Who are the people? You, of course are one person, but continuing with our homeschooling example, you cannot develop an online K-12 curriculum all by yourself. You need educators in all content areas; you need great programmers and designers. Consider all of the types of people you will need to launch this new venture or expand your existing one.

3. What’s the business profile? Now you can speak to the product and to your market.

4. Assess the current market/competition. Do the research. Is homeschooling a growing trend? How many families are added to this population every year? Who is already doing this? How will your product be better?

5. Develop a cash-flow scenario. No, it will not be set in stone. But, you need to know exactly how much your startup costs will be, how much marketing costs may be, and how much you will need to exist for the first year. Exaggerate your need, and be conservative with projected income.

6. Anticipate potential problems. Think of what could go wrong and have a planned solution for every stumbling block.

7. Put graphics in wherever you can. Visuals allow people to “see” your plan better.

Writing a business proposal

You may be a beginner in your business niche or an established business owner; either way, you are looking for clients who need your products or services. You can find them in a lot of ways, but let’s say you now you have a potential client, and you need to prepare a proposal that will make you competitive and, ultimately, get you the contract/sale. Here are the key steps in preparing that winning proposal:

Do your research. Find out absolutely everything you can about this potential customer/client. Check out the company website and read any news articles that have recently been written about the company. Also learn who the “major players” are. Look for key words, phrases, and concepts in the company mission statement; you will want to include these somewhere in the text while writing business proposal.

Get an appointment with someone in management—anyone! You need to discover the company’s needs, you need to learn about budget parameters, and you need to have your “face” attached to the proposal you eventually submit. You can also use a few minutes to speak to your background and expertise.

Write the proposal. There are all kinds of templates you can use (they’re free) to prepare your proposal, but, in general, you should include the following in your proposal:

  • Describe the current “pain” of the client. What is the need? Suppose your an HR consultant and the client has a personnel problem: high rate of absenteeism, high employee turnover, etc. You need to come in, dig around, and find solutions.
  • How are you going to address this “pain” and alleviate it? Be specific. What is your plan to discover why employees are not happy? Once you discover the causes, how will you develop solutions?
  • Present a timeline for the tasks you will complete, and divide your tasks into specific “chunks” with costs applied. If the client has to make adjustments to budget, he or she has the information to do so.
  • Final section: summarize your expertise and provide references.

A couple of final thoughts: Put the proposal in a nice binder and leave several copies. If you do not have impeccable grammar and composition skills, find someone who does to review and edit the piece.

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Business letters

Writing letters in a business atmosphere is rather fluid because there are so many different types of letters. In general, however, you will be writing both formal and informal letters based upon the recipients:

Informal letters. These letters go to existing clients with whom you have done business for a while and with whom you are on a first-name basis. The salutation, for example will read, “Dear Bill,” and your signature will be your first name. Language will also be informal, but there is no excuse for poor grammar—don’t ever let anything go out that has errors.

Formal letters. Letters to potential clients or to other individuals who you do not know must be formal. If you need a template for this type of letter, go online; you’ll find hundreds of sites with good templates. Language must be more formal, but please, not stilted or in a style and tone of a college professor. Keep your sentence structure simple, and stay on point.

The following are the three sections that should be part of every letter:

Introduction. Pretend you are back in school. Your introduction should be short and immediately engaging. How do you get this person’s attention right away?

Body. Describe your service or product, if this is a potential sale. Why should this person want to know more about it? Another short paragraph might speak to you, your background (if you are offering a service), and who else is using this product or service?

Conclusion. Make it brief. Indicate you’ll call for an appointment; invite the individual to an event you are hosting, etc.