The reading level for this article is Novice
Every new business owner knows that a business plan is critical – it is drilled into them by potential investors and every banking officer they meet. So why is something that is so important to the launch of a new venture so difficult to write? Good question! In this article I will try to address when you should go out and hire a business plan writer versus taking on the task yourself. First time entrepreneurs often cringe when sitting down to write their business plan. Some spend 6 months agonizing over each period and comma, and even worse others spend 6 months procrastinating and do nothing. So lets break it down and see where / when a business planning company should be brought in:
Who will read your business plan and why?
First you need to really understand the purpose of your business plan and who your audience (reader) will be. This is an important point as a business plan being written for a $100,000 loan is VERY different than a document needed for a $10 million round of venture capital! Since this article is focused on first-time small business owners, I will focus on preparing business plans raising less then $1 million in capital. For this "startup" or "seed" business plan 30-35 pages are perfect. You are not expected to deliver a thick book (and no one will read it anyway!). Once you have this down, you can honestly assess which sections you are qualified / comfortable writing and which may need consulting help.
Here is what you should write on your own
It is important for you to write a basic draft / outline of your business plan. Without this direction you are probably asking too much of your consultant. Once you have your thoughts organized on paper you can see what you are comfortable completing. Here are a few suggestions:
Executive Summary: Draft the opening of your business plan – then hire a pro to come in and re-write it. Your executive summary will be read first and first impressions are critical!
Marketing: You need to write your own definition of your target customer / audience. For the market research on industry growth and fancy charts go ahead and hire a consultant.
Competitive Analysis: You should put together the first draft of this section, as it is almost as important to understand your competitors, as it is your customers. If you find a consultant that is an expert in your field, then you can work together and add to your initial list.
The Dreaded Financials
This is the most difficult part of a startup business plan, as you are making projections and assumptions on products / services that you have not even produced or sold yet! If you are stuck on this section you can hire a business plan consultant to just assist you with completing your projections (income statement, cash flow, and balance sheet). Figuring out the cost of goods, delivery costs, and return rates can be simplified by breaking them down into a "light" spreadsheet. Next you need to understand your startup and operating costs – items like electricity, travel, phone expenses, etc. Again just organize these and your consultant can make all the fancy charts and graphs. Just make sure you understand all of the assumptions – for example if you are opening a retail business, you should not look towards your consultant to "guess" your rent – go out and meet with a realtor and come back with real data. If you work closely with your consultant, the financials are a great section to bring in professional help.
Now that you know a bit more about when to hire a business plan writer you also need to manage your expectations. You can’t expect a $1,000 business plan to have 20 pages of competitive analysis and a full-blown marketing strategy! If you carefully work through which sections of your business plan need outside help and then manage your consultant closely, your final document will be a success! My next two articles will focus on "How to Find / Hire a Business Plan Consultant" and more importantly "When to Fire your Business Plan Consultant!"