People usually ask me, “Why can’t I write my own business plan? I have a background in business, and I have written business plans before.” Some clients even add “I have an MBA, so I know perfectly how to prepare a solid business plan.”
My first reaction is: “Perfect! So, based on what you are saying, you will get your visa approved if you present a detailed financial model, including profit and loss, cash flow, and balance sheet. right?
“Yes!” they invariably answer.
“Wrong!” I respond.
Then I tell them “I want you to forget everything you know about business plans.”
Below are three reasons why.
- The key to a successful immigration business plan is understanding the audience.
For U.S. immigration, cases will be reviewed either by immigration officers (USCIS in the U.S.), CBP officers (Canada- U.S. border), or consular officers (U.S. consular offices overseas). In Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Officers are tasked with reviewing cases. In this post, we will focus on U.S. immigration, and we will publish a separate blog on Canadian immigration.
U.S. immigration and consular officers have various backgrounds, including criminal justice, homeland security, and international law. In many cases, they don’t have an educational or professional background in business. Usually, they are not CPAs either. Therefore, they don’t think like investors, bankers, or business people.
- What’s relevant?
For immigration purposes, a business plan is about 85% narrative and 15% basic financial projections. And the narrative is extraordinarily detailed (as in no bullet points). On the contrary, an investor business plan is mainly a detailed financial model accompanied by a succinct narrative that includes some very specific facts in bullet points, such as market size, total addressable market, and go-to-market strategy.
U.S. immigration and consular officers are hired to review cases. Ideally, they should be able to review a business plan quickly and find the information they need to make a decision. Therefore, it’s vital to show them what is relevant for them - and this means including details that most definitely you wouldn’t include in an investor business plan. Some of the things that immigration and consular officers are looking for - which are totally irrelevant for investors - include:
- Impact on the U.S. economy
- Strong direct and indirect job creation
- Projected organizational chart showing hierarchies
- Detailed job duties and responsibilities
- Another element that makes immigration business plans different is that, based on the visa category, certain sections will vary. For example, an E-2 business visa calls for the investment and commitment of funds before the visa is approved, which means that cash sitting idle in a bank account won’t meet the E-2 visa requirements. For L-1A purposes, though, the money can be sitting in a bank.
How about projecting losses? In the business world, it’s reasonable. However, for immigration purposes, it may result in an RFE or denial. An immigration business plan has to show that the business will be financially viable, which means that, if the U.S. company is projected to lose money, the plan must clearly show how the company will cover the losses. Also, the plan should explain and justify the projected losses.
- The process
In the business world, a business plan is a document that will spark communication between companies seeking capital and investors. There will always be face-to-face meetings where investors ask questions.
In the immigration process, there will never be a phone call or meeting with an immigration officer. USCIS officers make decisions sitting behind a desk, with no in-person or video/phone interaction with the applicant and/or attorney. CBP and consular officers, on the other hand, will have face-to-face interaction with the applicant - but most likely it will be a VERY short interaction where the officer will want to address specific questions. There’s no space for lengthy conversations.
With consular processing, you have some facetime with the officer, but the time allotted to each applicant is short. Applicants are asked specific questions, so they don’t have the time to explain things in detail. Clients usually say: “I will explain to the officer how my business works.”
However, this is not how it works. In fact, consular officers make most of the visa decisions BEFORE the interview.
The above has several important implications.
First, immigration and consular officers decide to approve or deny a visa mainly on what’s written, especially in the business plan.
Immigration and consular officers are presented with too much information AND they may be pressured to make a quick decision (they are given a specific time limit to review cases). This may cause them to rely on cognitive shortcuts known as heuristics (rules of thumb). These cognitive shortcuts often result in cognitive biases, which are processes designed to make decisions quickly. They are unconscious, automatic and non-controllable.
For example, an officer will favor a business plan with more complete and detailed information over a more complex, ambiguous, or inconsistent narrative. Also, a business plan that uses simple language and explains things in a way that helps an officer understand the business will always be better - instead of a business plan written with technical language to “impress” the reader.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is people writing business plans with super-technical jargon.
Let’s put it this way: Nobody likes to feel stupid. And nobody likes to be around people who make them feel that way. Making sure immigration and consular officers understand the business plan is critically important for the visa process and approval. We want them to “like” the business plan. We want them to feel that we are respectful of their job and time by helping them understand the business.
Remember: Good communicators make themselves look smart. Great communicators make their audiences feel smart!
Second, immigration and consular officers should quickly find the information they need to make sure that the business plan meets the requirements of the law.
Therefore, a business plan that clearly articulates complex concepts and ideas and easily presents the critical information for each visa category will make the job of the officer much easier.
At Visa Business Plans, we have created the table below which summarizes the main differences between an immigration business plan and other types of business plan. I hope this summary provides sufficient information on why individuals should think twice about writing their own immigration business plans.
Visa Business Plans is led by Marco Scanu, a certified coach from the University of Miami with a globally-based practice coaching Fortune 1000 company executives, entrepreneurs, as well as professionals in 4 different continents. Mr. Scanu advises clients on turnaround strategies and crisis management.
Mr. Scanu received a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Cum Laude) from the University of Florida and an MBA in Management from Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Mr. Scanu was also a Visiting Scholar at Michigan State University under the prestigious H. Humphrey Fellowship (Fulbright program) with a focus on Entrepreneurship, Venture Capital and high-growth enterprises.
At present, Mr. Scanu is the managing partner and CEO at Visa Business Plans, a Miami-based boutique consulting firm providing attorneys and individuals with business planning services in the areas of immigration and SBA loans.