iStock_000000093740XSmall.jpg

Before you dedicate your life to crafting a business plan the length of a book, read these two paragraphs from the 1/9/07 edition of the Wall Street Journal in an article called “Enterprise: Do Start-ups Really Need Formal Business Plans

A study recently released by Babson College analyzed 116 businesses started by alumni who graduated between 1985 and 2003. Comparing success measures such as annual revenue, employee numbers and net income, the study found no statistical difference in success between those businesses started with formal written plans and those without them…

“What we really don’t want to do is literally spend a year or more essentially writing a business plan without knowing we have actual customers,” says William Bygrave, an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., who says he generally advocates “just do it.” Entrepreneurs must be nimble, and will be more apt to stick with a flawed concept they spent months drafting, he adds.

I think that Prof. Bygrave’s study is so right. Here is the entire study if you’d like to read it. This is the plan’s abstract:

This study examined whether writing a business plan before launching a new venture affects the subsequent performance of the venture. The data set comprised new ventures started by Babson College alums who graduated between 1985 and 2003. The analysis revealed that there was no difference between the performance of new businesses launched with or without written business plans. The findings suggest that unless a would-be entrepreneur needs to raise substantial startup capital from institutional investors or business angels, there is no compelling reason to write a detailed business plan before opening a new business.

The phrase “unless a would-be entrepreneur needs to raise substantial startup capital from institutional investors or business angels, there is no compelling reason to write a detailed business plan” merits discussion. Most venture capitalists require a business plan as part of due diligence. This doesn’t mean they spend more than ten minutes reading the plan, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they believe it. 🙂 A great plan won’t make a lousy idea successful, and a lousy plan won’t necessarily stop a great idea.

Most of the plans that we see at Garage are too long and too detailed—to the point of reducing credibility. Here is my prior blog posting about business plans that you might find helpful. The gist of it is:

  • Perfect your pitch, then write your plan.

  • Use the business-plan exercise as a way to get your team on the same page.

  • Keep it short: ten to twenty pages.

  • Spend no more than two weeks writing it.

  • Don’t get obsessed with with details in your financial forecast because it should be one page long.

However, don’t draw the wrong conclusion from this study: “Analysis, planning, vision, and communication are unnecessary.” This isn’t true. What is true is that a business plan should not take on a life of its own. It is a tool—one of many that may help you get funded (or, more accurately, hinder you from getting funded if you don’t have one) and may help you get your team working as a team. But it is not an end in itself.