Does it matter how long your business plan is? If you are writing a formal plan to present to investors or business partners, a standard plan runs 20-40 pages.
But – if you create a business plan for internal use, it can – and should – be much shorter.
Let’s be frank. Page counts and word counts are not a good way to measure the quality of your plan. It should be as long as it needs to be to cover everything. If that’s one page of bullet points, so be it.
Focus on Quality Not Length
Instead of worrying about how long your plan should be, worry about:
- Is it useful? In other words, will the intended reader benefit from its contents? If that’s you, do you know what your next steps are, when you have to complete them, and what resources are required to move things forward?
- Is it readable? Have you formatted the document so you can easily find content? Did you use pictures, bullets, and headlines instead of long paragraphs of text?
- Is it clear? Can you skim through the key points and grasp the message?
Your plan will only be useful if it’s focused on action steps and practical application.
What Does Your Reader Want To Know?
The purpose of your business plan will depend on your situation and intended reader.
If you are writing for an external audience, your plan will be longer because you will need to clearly explain your company’s background and market.
You may also need to include detailed research and realistic financial projections, especially if you plan to sell the business or subject your plan to legal scrutiny.
If you write for yourself, you already know much of that information, so keep it simple.
How To Cope With Uncertainty
Your business plan is not a long-winded exercise in impressing your readers with your extensive knowledge about your business, market place or competitors. It’s purpose is to clearly communicate where your business is right now and where you foresee it to be based on concrete actions you plan to take.
That said, there will be an element of uncertainty with any plan you create. You may wonder how to forecast sales data that currently doesn’t exist without pulling numbers out of thin air. Instead of including everything you know and hoping your reader will pick out the details he’s most interested in, focus on what is most relevant to your business case.
- Start with what you know What data do you have? Do you have a current client base? Website traffic? People in your network likely to do business with you? What are you offering? How much does it cost? How many of those will you sell each week? Each month?
- Accept your numbers will be off You have to start somewhere, but just because you can make the numbers work in Excel doesn’t mean that’s how they will play out in real life. Be prepared to revise your projections weekly at first, then monthly.
- Fail quickly and learn from it – Few things in life are instant successes – including most things you will try in your business. For each project you take on, give yourself a benchmark goal and a time frame to achieve it. If you don’t come close to hitting that goal within the allotted time, it may be more beneficial to allocate your resources elsewhere. All the planning in the world can’t salvage an unworkable idea, so give it a try, see what happens, and if it doesn’t work, alter your course.
All new start ups are risky by nature. You will face uncertainty. The best business plans address what could go wrong along with how they might handle those situations – but don’t go overboard with a lengthy diatribe. Keep it simple, actionable, and start executing.