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Make It Visual: The Storyboard Business Plan


So you want to start a business? What’s the business plan?

Can you literally see what it is you want to achieve? How can you get there?

If your vision is a little blurred, then maybe the best approach to clarify your vision is to storyboard your business plan.

First, let’s back up a second and explain why you need a business plan in the first place. It should be obvious that any venture needs a plan. But just having a plan isn’t a guarantee that you have a workable plan. As Smarta points out, “Business planning is one of the most crucial parts of starting a business. Get it right, and you’ll earn the trust of investors, distributors, suppliers and staff. Get it wrong, and your business could face huge problems just getting off the ground.”

Related Article: 9 Helpful Guides and Tools to Develop a Smart Business Plan

Your business plan is a roadmap for your company. What are your goals, how are you going to measure success (revenues, market share, customer growth, etc.), who (employees and partners) is going to doing what, how much this is all going to cost? As Tim Berry notes:

"Don’t swallow the obsolete idea of the business plan must be a long, formal document, as if it were some term paper you have to write. That’s not true anymore. While every business has huge benefits to gain from going through the business planning process, only a small subset needs the formal business plan document required for seeking investors or supporting a commercial loan."

That’s where the idea of storyboarding comes in, particularly for those business owners who were never particularly fond of writing term papers. Your business plan should tell a story: a narrative of where you began, who the characters are, what roles they play and where everyone is going to end up.

What’s Your Story?

A storyboard is a series of graphic illustrations or sketches originally developed by Walt Disney Productions to pre-visualize animated films, a technique subsequently applied to live action motion pictures. It started in the 1930s when instead of using words to describe a cartoon’s plotting, animator Webb Smith drew a series of scenes and pinned them up in sequence to the walls of his office.

Right now you might be thinking, “Wait, I’m not a graphic designer, I can’t even draw, how is this going to help me?” Well for one thing, you don’t have to be a Webb Smith. Your business storyboard can just as easily be a series of bullet points, flow charts and notes. No actual pictures beyond a few arrows and boxes. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown PowerPoint presentation—in fact, it’s better if it isn’t. Remember, it’s a sketch, not a formal presentation. It needn’t be incredibly detailed. All you’re looking to do is map out key phases your company is likely to go through and what the desired results are.

You can do all this the Webb Smith way with pen and paper and just pin up everything to your office wall. But considering that most modern offices these days don’t even have walls, maybe a whiteboard is better (just make sure you write “do not erase” prominently on the board).

What’s great about this method is that it’s an easy way for other people to look at your ideas and sketch in their own thoughts (assuming you are soliciting that kind of feedback). Then the storyboard becomes a kind of touchpoint to reference as your story unfolds. It can also be the foundation to develop a more formal presentation and/or a full-blown business plan.

Tools for Storyboarding

There are also a number of tools and apps you can use to storyboard and share ideas and concepts with your stakeholders.

  • Screenwriting software. Montage for Mac, Final Draft, and similar software may do more than you really need to do. These are designed for writing actual screenplays. They provide storyboard templates that track characters and scenes in a way required for an actual movie shooting script. While many features aren’t things you’d probably use, they do allow for collaboration and provide an easy-to-follow format. And if you’ve always thought of writing a movie, this could help you get started. If you only want to concentrate on your business, there are free versions, such as Celtx, that you can check out to see if they fit your needs.
  • Screenwriting apps. These follow the same idea as the desktop software, except for use on your mobile phone or tablet. Most apps provide integration with their desktop counterparts. These apps include Fade in Mobile and Scripts Pro.
  • Storyboard apps. Assuming you don’t ever intend to write a full-blown movie script, there are a number of apps more geared to what you’ll actually storyboard for your business, along with cool features to integrate stock graphics and photos. These include Storyboard Composer and Storyboard Studio.
  • Do-it-Yourself. For the basic kind of storyboarding we’ve been discussing, however, you really don’t need a dedicated program or app. You can do basic storyboarding in Word or PowerPoint. Even print out the pages and pin them up on a wall if you want.


Image Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images
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