For every industry, there are usually various kinds of documents which are used to facilitate business operations. Entrepreneurs and people who run businesses eventually become familiar with those documents which are most often used in their respective lines of business. However, there are those documents which are common to all types of businesses. These are the basic documents which are often used when establishing businesses, growing those businesses and striking deals. Such kinds of documents should therefore be familiar to every business person who wants to go places.
The business plan
This is a written document created for either improving an existing or setting up a planned business venture. It contains goals, the methods by which those goals will be achieved and the time frame within which these goals must be achieved. It also usually contains other types of information such as the nature of the business, the background of the company, the findings of any market research that was carried out and any of the company’s projected or targeted achievements e.g. those regarding sales, revenue and market share. A business plan also contains the strategies that the business intends to implement as part of efforts to achieve any of the aforementioned goals.
A business plan serves as a guide that provides direction to the business in addition to also acting as a ready source of information about the business for investors, partners, potential financiers, clients, employees and any other relevant stakeholders. Written business plans are often required to obtain financing from formal institutions such as banks.
The business proposal
A business proposal is any document that either kick-off or facilitates the relationships between a company and any outside parties—either organisations or individuals. These documents are used to attempt to initiate relationships in those cases where they are sent to parties which did not solicit (or ask) for them. In those cases where the “proposal” in question is just an invitation for the recipient to buy the sender’s goods or products, they can be considered to be marketing documents.
Business proposals can be grouped into three categories namely unsolicited proposals, formally solicited proposals and informally solicited proposals. Unsolicited proposals are used to do exactly what their name implies—the simplest examples of these are the business letters written to other companies proposing any kind of transaction or relationship. Besides marketing, unsolicited proposals can be used to invite other companies or organisations to form strategic partnerships or alliances with your own business.
Formally solicited proposals are those written in response to published requirements such as those which are contained in the familiar quotations or bid requests. Request for proposals (RFP) request for quotation (RFQ), an invitation for bid (IFB) and request for information (RFI) are all used to call for written proposals of specific nature and format—found out which of these are most common in your industry or line of business and then familiarize yourself with the most appropriate proposals which must be written in response to them.
Informally solicited proposals are usually produced in response to conversations held between a business and any prospective customers. The proposal is sent to the customer after they have expressed interest in the company’s products or services.
A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is a legally binding contract between two or more parties that establishes a confidential relationship between them. By signing the contract, the signatory or signatories agree that they will not disclose to others any confidential information which they may acquire during the course of the relationship.
NDAs are usually used by businesses which are entering into negotiations with other businesses. This allows these businesses to share sensitive information without the fear that it will end up where it shouldn’t—e.g. in the hands of competitors. Since the NDAs used in such situations are meant to protect both parties and are signed by both of them they can be called mutual non-disclosure agreements.
Non-mutual agreements, on the other hand, are used when it is only one party which has sensitive information which needs protecting. These are often used by companies which need to ensure that employees do not disclose any sensitive information to outsiders—institutions such as banks can use these as part of their efforts to maintain customer confidentiality. In these cases, it is only the employees who are required to sign the agreement.
A partnership agreement is a legally binding contract between two or more individuals who wish to start or have established a business enterprise in partnership with each other. These documents are written to explicitly detail the relationship between the partners and their respective contributions and obligations to the partnership. Proper partnership agreements usually have to cover as many as possible of the various situations that could arise during the course of the partnership.
Depending on the type of business and the number of partners, these documents can become quite complicated so legal counsel is recommended in drafting and reviewing them. If a partnership comes to an end (e.g. because of conflict or the death of one partner) and no partnership agreement exists then the various assets and debts will be shared according to the existing laws—which will most probably treat all partners as equal.
Business letters and emails
In professional business settings, you will often be expected to communicate using professional business letters or professional emails. A business letter, particularly a physical one, is a formal document with a defined structure and format. It is often sent from one company to another company or from the company to its customers, employees and various other stakeholders. Although email has become the most common form of professional correspondence, printed-out business letters are still used for many important and serious types of communication.
Well-written business letters and emails which are free from typos and grammatical errors are particularly important in situations where they are supposed to persuade and/or the recipient doesn’t know you. Remember that people in professional settings often receive large volumes of correspondence so you must try to write in a manner which will get you taken seriously right off the bat.