Don’t buy a business plan. Develop your plan, write your plan, but don’t buy one. Buy business plan software, or books, or blank templates, if you insist. Take a course at the local college, university, or SBDC (Small Business Development Center). If you have more money than time, hire somebody to help you — but make sure he or she just helps you, not develops the plan for you. Just don’t buy a business plan. That’s as bad for your business as buying a term paper is for your teenage children. It might be worse, in fact, because it replaces planning with illusion.
This should be obvious, but I see ads all over the Internet selling “sample business plans” or business plans for one kind of business or another. I understand why the idea is attractive, but it just doesn’t work.
The problem is that business plans aren’t just based on the type of business. There isn’t some standard plan for a restaurant or an Internet cafe or a beauty salon. Everybody’s business is different. Each restaurant, for example, has a different location, a different menu, different specialties, a different management team, different long-term objectives, a different market segment, a different market strategy, different resources, and different priorities. What somebody does for a pizza restaurant in one town doesn’t work for another pizza parlor in that same town, let alone some other place.
People seem to mistake a business plan for a recipe for how to do a kind of business. I understand why someone would want such information, but a business plan, when done well, is not that. There are books on how to start some of the common types of businesses — restaurants, day care, consulting, and so on — but that’s not what a business plan does. A business plan is for somebody who knows how to do it but wants to plan exactly what to do, in what order, and what the implications and interrelationships might be. Every business’s history, resources, strategy, management, and markets are different from all others, even if they are operating in the same type of industry.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not against business plan software (in fact, I have a bias in favor of it because I’m the intellectual author of a business plan software product). I can see why people want sample plans — but as examples, as idea generators, not as plans they can actually use instead of their own plan.
For more on this, and some of the history of the commercial use of sample plans, see Sample Business Plans Suck, a post I wrote on the Bplans Blog about a year and a half ago. I did admit as well that my company, Palo Alto Software, may have played a role in the proliferation of sample plans because our software program Business Plan Pro contains 500 sample business plans. Really, though, I promise, we never meant to imply that you are supposed to just buy a plan, only that people wanted examples.
Nowadays, to help make the point that sample plans have no value, we’ve posted 100 of them for free on www.bplans.com. Still, the business of buying and selling plans as prewritten documents continues. This article probably has ads around it offering business plans for sale.
Trying to buy a business plan means you really aren’t going to benefit from planning your business. You just want some collection of papers that you hope nobody will read.