I have decided to start a new series here on the blog that will focus on providing tactical tips for entrepreneurs putting together business plans, financial spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations, etc. There are many holy grails of entrepreneurship to be found in your “document set.” My aim here is to help you differentiate yourself “smartly” as it were. In this installment, I’ll share a really cool way to “serialize” your business plan for a particular investor.
One of the fears that most entrepreneurs face sooner or later is the thought of some investor out there floating your plan to your competitors or other entrepreneurs. While some investors will jump up and down and scream that they “don’t have the time for this sort of activity”, it does happen. And it happens more often than you may think. I know. I’ve had current investors drop business plans on my desk with a note that said:
Now, in defense of the investors out there, there is a rational argument for them not floating your plan around. They aren’t going to do it because they are malicious, or because they want to “steal your idea.” However, you can bet your sweet ass that if they’ve invested $5M in a company, and you are perceived as competition (or thinking positively here, a potential partner), your plan will find its way to their portfolio company’s CEO. And why not? They wouldn’t survive long as investors if they didn’t. Whether or not this is something you should be worrying about is completely up to you. But I digress.
So, how can you defend against this sort of thing – assuming there is such a thing, and assuming you want to try. Well, this isn’t foolproof, and won’t stop everyone from emailing your plan around, but if it helps you sleep at night, then great.
What we are going to do is implement a semi-automated way of “serializing” your business plan. What this means is essentially we want to create a custom copy of your business plan for each investor, without having to edit a bunch of stuff everytime you want to create a new copy. Additionally, we are going to send out the business plan document in .PDF format, rather than in an editable format, such as Microsoft Word (so that a person can’t remove their name from the document.)
This little mini-tutorial assumes that you are using Microsoft Word – so if you are using something else, you are on your own.
First, you need to have the ability to print or export from Word to .PDF format. Microsoft Word doesn’t have this ability built-in, so you’ll need some sort of add-on. I recommend the freely available “CutePDF”, which you can download here. Download the latest version, install it, and proceed to the next step.
Open up your business plan document with Word. Click FILE, then PROPERTIES, and pick an unused field (I like to use the “Category” field, as I rarely ever use it for anything else.) Type in the person or company name to whom you wish to send your plan. For example “John Smith” or “John Smith, Acme Investments.”
Now that we’ve done that, we can insert this field wherever you desire within your document. The obvious place is on the title page of your plan. Place your cursor where you want to insert the person’s name, and click INSERT, then FIELD, then select “DocProperty” from the list on the left. Choose “Category” (or whatever field you used) from the list on the right.
Click OK, and you should end up with something like this (note I added a date field as well):
If you are really paranoid, or want to really get your point across, you can put it in the header or footer of every page. Click VIEW, then “HEADER AND FOOTER”, and position your cursor somewhere in the header or footer of your document, and repeat the steps above to actually insert the field.
When you’re done inserting the field wherever you want, and formatting it to the desired appearance, save the document.
To export your business plan into .PDF format, click FILE, then PRINT, and select the “CutePDF Writer” option from your list of available printers. Choose a file name to save to, and voila! Note that with CutePDF, it can take a few seconds to do the conversion before the new file is available.
Here is the beautiful part. Let’s assume that your new startup is really hot, and you have investors clamoring to open their wallets for you. To send out a new version, serialized for someone else, open up the business plan, click FILE, then PROPERTIES, and change the name of the person in the Category field (or whatever field you used).
To update your document with the new person’s name, you have two choices, both are easy. First, you can simply do a CTRL-A and select your entire document, then hit F9. You can also do this by clicking EDIT, then SELECT ALL, then hitting F9. Same thing.
Alternatively, you can click TOOLS, OPTIONS, then the PRINT TAB and click the “update fields” option. This will automatically update your fields whenever your print the document (in your case, when you “print” to a .PDF file using CutePDF).
Now you could just as easily type in the person’s name and/or company on your title page, and just print to .PDF, without having to do all of this mucking around with fields. However, if you place it in your header/footer, or other places within the same document, this approach helps to automate things a bit.
Enjoy, and good luck!