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Why you need to be able to write a good business case

Tuesday 25 April 2017
This article has been republished from the Financial Crime Edition. Click here to download or scroll down. 

by Vivienne Begg

As an experienced facilitator of a range of writing courses, I’m getting more and more requests from organisations and individuals looking for courses on writing business cases.

So, what is a business case? Typically, a business case is a document whose purpose is to support or influence decision-making by proving that a particular course of action makes good business sense.

In the past, individuals might have gone to their head of department asking for resources to implement a particular idea or project, and been provided with those resources. These days, resources are more tightly managed and so organisations expect a well-thought through business case to support a change.

So if you’re looking for resources or support to implement something new, you need to be able to convince others in your organisation to agree to this, and this will typically be based on a written business case.

Why are business cases important to GRC professionals?

Being able to write a good business case is particularly important to GRC professionals. You perform a specialised function within your organisation, and its importance may not be well understood or recognised. So if you are asking for approval for additional resources for your area, you need to demonstrate the value of your expertise to the overall business. You need to be able to translate your passion for your special subject to others in the business so that you can achieve what you want to.

The importance of considering your audience

The key issue when you’re writing a business case – or any type of business document for that matter – is to focus on your audience.

The biggest mistake I see writers make is to write for themselves, when in fact their audience is very different from them. People tell me “this is the information I’d like to see, organised and sequenced in the way I’d like to see it.” But the reality is that the readers of your business case are likely to be very different from you.

What do they know – and not know

Think about who they are and the roles they perform in the business. What do they know – and not know – about the subject you are writing about? You may feel that if you are writing to senior people - the CEO, the board, a General Manager - that they should be familiar with the work that the Compliance function does and that you don’t need to explain much. Whilst you can expect them to have some understanding of your role, they will not understand it the way you do, at an operational level, and so you may need to explain more than you think.

What do they care about?

What does your audience care about? What’s important to them and what’s important to you are likely to be different things. Often when writers write business cases, they focus on the aspects that they care about, and fail to address the issues that the audience care about. For example, while you may be focused on ensuring that the business complies with industry regulations, and avoids any breach of regulations, your CEO will be focused on their own objectives – which might relate to financial results, productivity, increasing market share, or introducing new products or services. For your business case to be successful, you need to link your request to something that’s important to your reader. How does your proposal fit in with the corporate strategy, or business objectives, or goals?

How will they react?

And how do you expect your audience to react to your business case? Will they be enthusiastic about the idea you’re presenting, or are they likely to have objections? You need to have a sense of their likely response so that you can counter any concerns or objections they may have.
Often in a business case I find that writers are anxious about raising their audience’s concerns or objections about the issue, thinking that they may be opening a can of worms. In fact, by identifying these concerns and objections and addressing them, it clearly demonstrates to the audience that their perspective has been considered.

The importance of audience analysis

Failing to focus on aspects that the audience cares about, and failing to address your audience’s concerns or objections are some of the typical reasons that business cases fail. When writers fail to look at the issue they’re addressing from their audience’s perspective, it gives the audience the impression that the writer doesn’t understand their needs.

So, you need to do an audience analysis before you start writing your document, to consider the characteristics that are going to impact what you need to write and how you need to write it. And if you don’t know your audience well, you need to find out about them.

What’s the point?

At the same time as you’re thinking about your audience, you need to get clarity about the purpose of your document, and the outcome you’re looking for.

This sounds simple, and obvious, but often writers don’t have a clear focus for their document. Exactly why are you writing? And what do you want to happen if your document is successful?
I find when I ask people these questions that they’re often not as clear as they need to be. If you’re not clear about your document’s purpose, your audience won’t be clear either. And many of the decisions you make about your document – what content to include, how much detail, how to organise your content – should be focused on the purpose of your document.

Keep in mind too, that you may also have a secondary agenda for your document. A strong business case can effectively promote the importance of your area to senior management, and demonstrate your understanding of how your area contributes to the business’s objectives. And that’s got to be a good thing.


Vivienne is the Structured Writing Product Manager at training and documentation consultancy, TP3. She has over 20 years’ experience teaching structured writing for a wide variety of private and public sector clients in Australia, as well as New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.

She presented a workshop at the 2016 GRC conference: “Using Structured Writing to get the outcomes you want.”

Vivienne is running a workshop on Writing Business Cases and Proposals at the GRCI in Sydney on 4th May. This writing course is ideal for anyone needing to learn how to write business cases and proposals. You will be introduced to tried and tested structured writing techniques that will help you plan and write business cases and proposals with the power to influence. Clearer, more persuasive documents mean you're more likely to get the approvals you want.
Writing Business Case Proposals