Taking The Pain Out Of Creating A Longform Business Plan

SIBP-Blog-NEW-B-2Creating a successful business sometimes means doing things that aren’t the most efficient or effective use of your time. If you’re working with commercial lenders, old-school angel investors or partners who prefer traditional approaches, it’s entirely possible that they will ask you to write up a business plan before moving forward with them. As I mentioned in my last post, while I’m a huge believer in business planning, I’m not a fan of longform business plans.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s usually easiest to just bite the bullet and create one. The more business planning you’ve already done — perhaps using something like the business model canvas — you should already have most of the building blocks in hand to create a narrative business plan.

In fact, there are many great resources for creating a traditional business plan. Many of the best ones are free, like this online guide fron the U.S. Small Business Administration. Simply by following this step-by-step process, you should be able to create a reasonably compelling business plan.

Where many entrepreneurs get hung up is in the writing. The good news is that a traditional business plan isn’t being judged on its creative use of language. It’s simply a description of what your business is, and a roadmap for where it’s headed in the next 3-5 years. It’s not a difficult format to master by any means, but getting a handle on the structure for the first time can be a pain. If you still have flashbacks of red ink and angry notes in the margins from your 11th grade English classes, or if you don’t speak English natively, writing out a narrative business plan can certainly be stressful.

The bigger concern is that the time it takes to create a decent-looking business plan. Between writing the first draft, getting a few fresh pair of eyes to look it over and make notes, and then making revisions, even a simple business plan can easily take days to create. There’s also a learning curve to consider. A business plan takes the reader through a step-by-step process, explaining things in a specific order. Like most kinds of writing, there’s a format and a flow that experienced readers — those investors, lenders and partners who insisted on it — will expect to see.

One of the best solutions is simply to hire the writing out. There are great resources out there, including sites like UpWork (formerly Elance and Odesk), where you can find a great freelance writer. It might cost you a few bucks, but it will also save you a ton of time. As an entrepreneur, one of the first lessons you learn is that your time is worth a surprising amount of money.

Is a business plan going to actually be helpful and valuable? Sure. If nothing else, creating a business plan can be an informative exercise to see the process from another point of view. On the other hand, once you hand the business plan over to the person who asked for it, you may never have a need for that specific document ever again.

That’s a significant investment of time for something that is only slightly more informative than creating a business model canvas. It’s not that those old-school business plans can’t be useful, but we have better business-planning tools available today.