Writing a business plan: The five things that matter

When it comes to writing a business plan, I believe there are only five things that really matter. All of them have as much to do with business as business planning, which brings us to the first point:

1. Your business is your business plan

You might write page after page containing mission statements, value propositions, and marketing plans. You might manipulate financial spreadsheets for hours. You might expound upon the enormous market and endless opportunity for financial reward. You might even describe exactly how you’re going to make money.

The truth is, none of it is true. It’s all fluff.

The chances that anything in your business plan happens exactly the way you envision it are essentially nil. But it doesn’t matter. No one will expect you to be right. The only business plan that will come true is the one you make each morning when you show up at work, and even that one is shaky.

2. Appreciate the journey

The value of the business plan is the process of creating it. It’s the journey that’s meaningful – not the destination. The same goes for your business. You have to value the experience. If the only reason you’re starting a business is so you can go public and retire early, you’re playing the wrong game. Start buying lottery tickets — it’s a lot easier, and your chances for success are about as good.

3. Business plan criticism is totally subjective

Everyone wants something different: different formats, different look and feel, different focus, different length. It’s nearly impossible to get consistent feedback from multiple people. If someone doesn’t like your plan, don’t worry about it. If everyone doesn’t like your plan, you’ve obviously got some more work to do.

4. People are what really matter

No matter how good or how bad your business plan is, investors invest in people. They have to believe that the people founding the company can make it happen. The first investors in my company invested because they liked us and they believed we were capable. They didn’t really understand our business, and frankly, I don’t think they really cared.

5. Don’t ever do what you’re “supposed” to do

By giving this advice, I’m completely contradicting myself. Yet, it’s the only way I can communicate the point. I’ve not only experienced, but watched countless others experience the terrible results of accepting advice and acting on it. If someone ever gives you a set of guidelines, a formula for success or even just a suggestion — QUESTION IT. Question it again and again, especially when it comes to money. Don’t spend a dime until you’re absolutely sure it’s the right way to spend it (however, you’ll never be absolutely sure).

Never trust anyone who has something to gain — especially in today’s economy. If someone tells you it’s going to cost $10,000, odds are you can figure out a way to do it yourself for a $100. If a consultant costs $200 an hour, odds are you can find the same expertise online in 20 minutes.

Don’t ever get caught up in the way business is “supposed” to be done.

A business plan will generally not pan out how you wanted it to. However, these are the five steps I have learned through trying and these have helped me be successful. Try them for yourself or come up with your own. This is your business.

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