The need for good business planning is as strong as ever, and the potential benefits are as important as ever. Every business owner ought to have a business plan. But the best strategies for business planning are different than they used to be. And these 10 pervasive business plan myths get in the way, much too often.
This post includes the 8 business plan myths that I listed on my March 2 post on the SBA Industry Word blog, plus two others that weren’t included.
Why does it matter? Because business planning, done right, is a management tool that can help you steer your business.
1. A business plan has to be long (false)
Not necessarily so. A business plan can take whatever form is most useful, even if that’s just a few lists and tables.
2. A business plan is hard to make (false)
It doesn’t have to be. List your key strategy points and key tactics, and a few important major milestones (like deadlines, tasks, the new launch or new website, and necessary hires). Include projected sales, costs, expenses, and cash flow. Voila! You have a business plan.
3. Nobody creates business plans anymore (false)
Well-run businesses use business planning the right way. They keep a simple, lean plan up-to-date and refreshed. The review and revise it monthly. In straw polls I’ve taken for years at management workshops, the best 20% or 30% of the companies represented have a management process that includes a lean business plan as well as regular reviews and revisions.
Smart startups use basic business planning to help them see starting costs, projected early sales and spending, cash flow, and key strategy points and milestones before they launch. Then, they review these monthly.
4. Business plans are for only startups (false)
True, well-run startups generally use business planning to help figure out which steps they need to take, and which resources they need. But that doesn’t mean mature businesses can’t use business planning to constantly set milestones, strategy reminders, and forecasts. Mature businesses keep a business plan up-to-date, and review and refresh it often. The more a business grows, the more it can benefit from good business planning.
5. You can’t plan because change comes too fast (false)
In the real world, a good business plan manages change. It isn’t voided by change. You keep the plan current by making revisions as real events unfold.
It’s like dribbling in basketball: if you plan to go a certain direction, and the other team blocks you, then you go a different way. Having a plan means that you’ll have the information you need to make quicker, easier, and more natural revisions.
6. Forecasts are useless (false)
Forecasts are almost never accurate. But having a forecast gives you a tool to instantly compare what you expected to what actually happened (we call that plan vs. actual analysis, or variance analysis). Then you make business decisions to adopt to change.
Are sales better than expected? Then you look at the causes, and adjust marketing and other expenses to take advantage. Not what you expected? Use your plan vs. actual analysis to make the best changes.
7. Having a plan means you have to follow it (false)
There is no virtue whatsoever in just sticking to a plan because you have a plan. It has to make business sense. Good business planning is about a bare-bones plan and tracking with review and revision to make it useful.
When things change, your plan changes. The benefit is in the tracking and information that serves like a dashboard, helping you manage the change and make adjustments.
8. All business plans need market research (false)
I read and review lots of business plans from mature businesses that don’t include fancy market research. Business owners have to know their market, and taking a step back to review your market is a good idea. But with good planning process in a business, you can stay on top of your market. You don’t need to include market research in every version of your business plan.
Only in special cases will you need market research to prove your market to outsiders. For example, startups looking for investment, or businesses applying for loans, might need market research. Mature businesses know their market and plan without the research requirement.
9. Investors don’t read business plans (only half true)
I was in an angel investment group for eight years. We didn’t read business plans for all the proposals that came in. We rejected many on the basis of summaries alone. For those that interested us, we invited them to present their pitch decks. From there, we narrowed the list down further.
For those that remained, the business plan was a vital part of due diligence. And for all of them, they should have had their bare-bones business plans made before they wrote their summaries and pitch decks. Without the business plan, the pitch and the summary are like movies made without scripts. Ultimately, seeking investors without a plan doesn’t work.
10. Nobody needs a business plan
Does every business need a plan, strictly speaking? No. But every business would benefit from good business planning.
People, even experts, still say nobody needs a business plan, but only because they are locked into the decades-old mentality of the big business plan document. If we redefine the business plan the way it should be, as a flexible record of key strategy points, tactics, milestones, and essential numbers, then all those experts would agree with me – that every business deserves a business plan.
Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning.
He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.