I suppose as I’m a business coach it’s inevitable that, from time to time, someone asks me can I help them with developing a business plan.

I know the theory of business plans and have done or helped with more than one or two in my time, so I don’t have a problem with outlining what I think should be in such a plan. However, from studying various models for business plans, I’m aware that there are different approaches. I’ve noticed also that some models seem designed to be overwhelming for the average small business owner.

In the past I’ve gone out and bought books on writing business plans and wondered why they did not seem to help me very much. My hunch is that I wanted a quick, fill-in-the-boxes solution. I no longer think that’s possible.

Some people outsource the process and get someone else to do a business plan for them. That could be a good approach and is probably better than nothing, but even there it is crucial that the business owner is an active participant in the planning process and is able to really sign on to the plan as eventually presented by the external firm or consultant.

That’s because, even though some businesses are similar and there are some general principles that can be applied to the business planning process, each of us comes to a business, or find ourselves running one, with different skillsets and training, different hopes and expectations and in a variety of external circumstances. One kind of business plan will not fit all circumstances.

But even (especially?) if planning does not come naturally to it and we just want to “get on with the job”, some quality time spent planning can save a lot of confusion and heartache down the track.

Some business planning tools I’ve found helpful (three from government – your tax dollars at work!) are:

  • the US Small Business Administration (SBA) Small Business Planner – this is a really valuable document, completely accessible, comprehensive, practical and including an outline of a business plan and sample business plans
  • Canada Business’s Business Plan Guide which includes a link to the Interactive Business Planner (to use which you have to register)
  • the Australian Federal Government’s How Do I Write a Business Plan?, which has excellent guides and downloadable templates
  • the NEBS Business Planning Template – another interactive planner, a very neat, interactive tool, where you enter your details and save the data, section by section (note: you need to save the eventual document separately to your own computer, say as a Word document, as it is not kept on the website) – thanks to Douglas Kersten for the link

From personal experience, I suggest that you read through, choose one of these that seems to speak best to how you think and then work through it, rather than trying to amass a whole lot of information about business planning.

The biggest challenge I’ve found in doing business plans is in being really honest with yourself about what you are proposing to do and what the challenges are. Any of the template systems on offer will give you the framework to do that. Regrettably, none of the templates will do the thinking for us.

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