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Frequently Asked Business-Plan Questions

If you’re like most people who get this far into the business-planning process, you have questions. Most frequently asked questions about writing business plans are answered in the following list:

  • Do I really need to include all these sections? Nope. Your business plan should include only what’s important to you and your company. If your plan is short — or written mostly for your own purposes — you can dispose of the executive summary, for example. And if you’re a company of one, you probably don’t need a section describing the organization of your business.

    For most businesses, however, the more complete your business plan is, the better off you are. If yours is a one-person operation, for example, you may figure you can do without the company overview section because you already know what your business is all about, right?

    Well, you may find that by compiling that section — by putting your mission, vision, values, product offering, and unique attributes into words — you uncover new ideas about what you really plan to do with your business. And that exercise can be extremely valuable for any company, no matter how big it is.

  • Do I really need to write it all down? The one-word answer is yes. Creating a written plan forces you to face tough issues that you may otherwise ignore. When you put your thoughts down on paper, you give each question the attention it deserves.

    When you write your business plan, you define your customers and your strategy for reaching them; you also analyze your competition and how your offerings compare to theirs; you uncover market opportunities to seize and threats to buffer yourself against; and you establish a set of goals and objectives — along with your action plan for achieving success. And when you’re done, you have it all in writing for quick reference.

  • How long should my plan be? As long as it needs to be and not a single word longer. A business plan as thick as a Stephen King novel doesn’t impress anyone. In fact, a plan that size is likely to scare people off. What really impresses investors, clients, employees, and anyone else who may read your plan is clear, straightforward, and to-the-point thinking.

    Don’t go overboard in the cutting room or leave anything important out of your plan purely for the sake of keeping it brief, but do condense every section down to its most important points. Even comprehensive plans usually fit on 20 to 30 pages, plus appendixes. And that makes many 100-page business plans about 75 pages too long!

  • Is an economic downturn any time to start a business? The economy has climbed to historic highs and undergone unprecedented slumps. Those ups and downs have created a business environment of great uncertainty. Especially in an economic downturn, a reasonable question to ask is, “Is this a good time to plan a new venture?”

    In fact, it may be one of the best times. Any business that competes on price can expect to fare well during slow economic times. High-end restaurants may suffer, for example, but pizza chains flourish. A downturn is precisely the right time to begin planning for when the economy turns around. Career consulting firms that recruit top-notch talent when the economy is slow expects sizzling business when hiring picks up.

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