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How to write a business plan that delivers?

In previous posts I wrote about why traditional business plans are theoretical documents that contribute very little to business growth, if at all.

This raises the question – how can a business plan deliver?

The answer depends on the stage the business is at:

1. Idea to startup: if the business is still only a dream, or at its very early stages a traditional business plan is all there is to be had. With little to no data on the actual (rather than study-based) product-market fit you can’t really make an actionable plan. At this stage it is not a bad idea to write a standard business plan with all its elements:

· An executive summary

· A description of the business

· The market(s) the business will operate in

· A SWOT analysis

· Management team and personnel

· The products or services offered

· Marketing

· 3-5-year financial plan

If for nothing else, it will make you sit down and thoroughly think about the business, rather than starting on a wing and a prayer.

Just remember – with the little information you have this is not a blueprint for success and does not have any practical day-to-day use. You will need to do a lot of experimentation and make a lot of mistakes before you get it right. Best practice is to get a mentor. They may save you a lot of grief.

Do look at the plan occasionally to remind yourself of the basics, and to decide when its time to ditch it and move on.

2. Scale-up: when the business is already running, with actual clients and sales it is time to think about how to make it grow. This is the time to make another plan, this time one that will help you achieve your goals. It has 5 elements:

A. Your Dream Goal – how will the business look when you are happy with it? This may be the same dream you had when you started, or a revised one – it doesn’t matter (and it can change again in the future) but it is important to know where you are going.

B. Culture – what culture is in the business? Are you happy with it? Does it need changing? An organisation with a solid culture will make faster and better decisions than one with nothing concrete.

C. Current position and direction of travel – if you can select one strategic direction to take in the nest 12 months, identify it. Then identify the problems you need to fix and the opportunities before you and select a handful that you can deal with in the next year and will give you the best outcomes.

D. Boosters – find just a few actions you can take in the next 12 months to solve the problems and exploit the opportunities you have. Remember – your time is limited and you have a business to run so don’t put too much on your plate.

E. Action! – define what you want to achieve by the end of the year (yearly goals), break them down to quarterly targets, and finally decide what you are going to do next Monday in terms of weekly tasks that go onto your to-do-list.

To make sure that things don’t slip and that the urgent does not bury the important review the weekly tasks every week and decide on the next week’s. Once a quarter review the entire plan. What you think to be true when you make the plan might turn out to be wrong, and circumstances may change. You don’t want to stick to a plan made 9 months ago when it is evidently no longer relevant.

Note a few characteristics of this version vis-à-vis a traditional business plan:

  • It has none of the elements of one (except SWOT analysis that is replaced with problems/opportunities). You are not trying to “sell” the plan to anyone but yourself and you know all these things.

  • You only focus on the next 12 months. There is little point in planning for longer in the dynamic world we live in.

  • Starts with the dream and the culture.

  • Ends with actions and reviews.


Adhering to these principles will get you the results you look for faster than you think. This will be the time to make a new plan.


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