How to Write a Business Case in 4 Easy Steps | Toggl Blog
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How to Write a Business Case in 4 Easy Steps

Jacob Thomas Jacob Thomas Last Updated:
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Want to know how to write a business case? Wondering what the heck a business case even is? You’ve come to the right place, friend!

Your BC ignorance will soon dissolve into an ocean of clarity. Your mind will swell with knowledge and your future will seem so much brighter after reading this post. Does that sound too good to be true? Maybe it is…

But we guarantee you’ll have a complete and solid understanding of business cases by the end of this article.

Let’s dive in!

The “What” and “Why” of Business Cases

What’s a business case?

In the most simple terms, a business case is a document that justifies a decision to start or continue a project. It shows the potential business value a project has.

When it’s properly written, management will be able to clearly see the pros and cons of any proposed initiative and come to a sound conclusion regarding its future.

It will illuminate the need (or not) for a specific project; outline its benefits, risks and inherent costs; detail the projected timetable; and more.

The 6 Elements of an Effective Business Case

A bangin’ business case will have six elements. Use this template when writing your next one and you’ll have a leg up on the process:

The Executive Summary

This section is exactly what it sounds like: a summary of the entire document. But it’s very important!

If you’re presenting your business case to busy c-suite executives, they may not even take the time to read the entire thing.

Your executive summary must quickly (1 page or less) inform the reader what the project you’re proposing is, the benefits of it, how much it will cost, and which personnel will be required to complete it.

The Project Definition

This is generally the “meat” of the business case. It should explain what the project is, why it’s necessary, and the goals you hope to achieve by completing it.

It should also speak to the benefits your company will enjoy by embarking on this project, a basic outline of the entire process, and other potential solutions you considered before deciding on the one presented in the business case.

Market and Marketing

For projects regarding the development of new products or services, a comprehensive business case will include an analysis of the current market — customer interest, competition, etc. — and at least a rough idea of how the new offering will be marketed.

Explain the validity of this new product or service and show its market potential.

Make a “business case” for your idea in your business case. Make sense?

Strengths and Risk Assessment

SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It may be helpful to include in your business case the things your company does well, areas that are lacking or that threaten the organization, and new potential avenues for growth.

This section can help fortify your position and help upper management see the need for your proposed project.

The Project Timeline

Use this section of your business case to put a time frame on the whole operation.

When do you expect each phase of the project to be completed? Also, who will be included (personnel) in bringing this project to life, how will decisions be made and who will make them, and how will progress be reported? This is important information to include.

The Financials

Finally, your business case must address the financials. Namely, you must show that your proposed project is feasible and the perceived benefits will be worth the expenses accrued.

We recommend putting this section towards the end. That way you can explain the benefits of the project before diving into what it will cost. You know, get readers excited and onboard so the out of pocket expenses won’t hurt as much.

Want to Know How to Write a Business Case? Follow These 4 Steps

Now that we understand the importance of a business case and the elements that go into making one, let’s cover the four steps you’ll need to take to get it written:

Step 1: Study Up, Young Buck

The first step is research. Once you’ve identified a problem or a potential opportunity, you need to study the landscape.

If you’re hoping to build a new product, identify the potential audience and assess whether there’s a need for something new. Look at the competition. Is there an opening that your new product could fill?

Don’t start a project for the sake of it. Research your idea to make sure that it aligns with company goals and values, that there really is a need that your organization can fill, and that there’s an audience (internal or external) that will appreciate your new initiative.

It should be noted that this doesn’t have to be a solo venture. If you have the means, bring in other team members.

Research and brainstorm ideas together.

Get creative, collaborate. It will make the research process more enjoyable and help to build a stronger foundation for your project.

By the end of this step, you should have a problem identified and have conducted enough research into the background of the issue to confidently move forward. If that isn’t the case, either keep researching or brainstorm new ideas.

Step 2: List Every Option and Alternative

You’ve been able to pinpoint a problem and have enough research to back up its need for a solution. Great, now what? It’s time to become a problem solver. You need to list every possible course of action for overcoming this specific challenge.

Do you need to invest in new software, create a new product, develop an alternative workflow?

Maybe you need to do a little of each. Every project will require a different process to complete. Your job is to identify and choose the right one.

Again, don’t do this alone. Bring other team members in and get their input. When you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, run each through a pros and cons test. It’s not fancy, but it works.

  • What are the benefits and pitfalls of each option?
  • What about cost — are your solutions even feasible? If not, eliminate them.

After completing this step, you should have decided on one solution.

And since you took detailed notes during the brainstorming process, you should have documented reasons for choosing this approach over every other. This will come in handy when you actually sit down to write your business case.

Step 3: Decide How The Project Will Progress

If your problem or potential opportunity has been thoroughly researched and a solution painstakingly decided upon, congrats!

You’re halfway there.

The next step is deciding how the project will progress. 

Upper management may love your idea, but they’ll never give you the green light to pursue it unless you provide them with a plan. A course of action for achieving project success.

If you’re hoping to develop a new product, list the steps that need to be taken to go from initial idea to the hands of customers. If you want to design a new internal process to improve productivity, lay out your approach, step by step, for implementing it.

The more detail you can provide (without going overboard) the better. Try to think of every single roadblock and how you can get around it.

And don’t forget to factor in the financials! You may have the perfect progression plan, but if it costs an arm and a leg, you’ll never get approval.

Step 4: Write Your Business Case

The moment of truth is here. It’s time to write your business case! Remember to use the format we outlined above, starting with the executive summary. This will give you a solid, proven template to follow and allow you to convey your project idea in a logical manner.

Here are a few tips to help you write a more persuasive business case:

1. Use the Right Tone

The right tone will vary depending on your target audience, AKA the decision makers you hope will sign off on your project. But it’s normally best to write your business case in a formal, professional way. Don’t use slang.

It’s also important not to overdo it and write in a way that’s difficult to read. The overuse of business jargon is more likely to irritate readers than impress them. Use keywords when appropriate, but don’t force it.

2. Use Numbers

Why? They’re persuasive! Would you rather hear that my idea will save you “a boatload of money” every month or that I can “reduce company expenses by 32%”? Simple answer, right? The second is much more intriguing.

Do the same in your business case whenever possible. Upper management wants something they can count on, not pie in the sky promises. Give them the cold hard facts and you’ll be much more likely to get the go ahead on your project.

3. Brevity Is Your Friend

Senior management typically has a lot going on. They’re busy. The last thing you want to do in your business case is waste their valuable time. So keep your document as concise as possible.

We’re not suggesting you cut corners. If the information truly needs to be there, absolutely add it in. Just make sure to eliminate anything irrelevant. The template outlined above will help you include only what’s necessary.

4. Don’t Forget About Design:

The way your business case looks is important. No, you don’t need to hire a professional designer or spend hours choosing colors and fonts. But your document needs to look professional and be easy to read.

Choose a standard template in your word processor of choice and a traditional font. Also, make sure your type is large enough to be easily read. That’s really it. Don’t let design bog you down, but make sure your business case looks presentable.

5. Proofread Your Document:

Remember, we’re going after professional and easy to read here. Spelling and grammatical errors will make your document look sloppy and distract from the points you’re attempting to make.

So read through and correct mistakes. When you’re absolutely sure that it’s perfect, get someone else’s eyes on it. Ask them to read for clarity — are the points you’re trying to make connecting?

Have them read for spelling and grammatical errors as well. There’s bound to be a mistake or two that you missed. Don’t feel bad, it happens to all of us.

That’s A Wrap

Congratulations, you now know how to write a business case! If you use our template and follow the four steps we outlined in this post, we’re confident your next project proposal will get approved.

So put the necessary work in. It will all be worth it when you’re managing your very own project and showing the world what you’re capable of. We promise!

Have you ever written a business case before? Do you have any additional tips to add to the conversation? Let us know in the comments below.

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