- SUGGESTED TOPICS
- The Magazine
- Managing Yourself
- Managing Teams
- Work-life Balance
- The Big Idea
- Data & Visuals
- Reading Lists
- Case Selections
- HBR Learning
- Topic Feeds
- Account Settings
- Email Preferences
When Should Entrepreneurs Write Their Business Plans?
- Francis J. Greene
- Christian Hopp
Don’t write a plan before you understand your customer.
It pays to plan. Entrepreneurs who write business plans are more likely to succeed, according to research. But while this might tempt some entrepreneurs to make writing a plan their very first task, a subsequent study shows that writing a plan first is a really bad idea. It is much better to wait, not to devote too much time to writing the plan, and, crucially, to synchronize the plan with other key startup activities.
It pays to plan. Entrepreneurs who write business plans are more likely to succeed, according to our research, described in an earlier piece for Harvard Business Review . But while this might tempt some entrepreneurs to make writing a plan their very first task, our subsequent study shows that writing a plan first is a really bad idea. It is much better to wait, not to devote too much time to writing the plan, and, crucially, to synchronize the plan with other key startup activities.
- FG Francis J. Greene is Chair in Entrepreneurship in the University of Edinburgh Business School.
- CH Christian Hopp is Chair in Technology Entrepreneurship in the TIME Research Area, the Faculty of Business and Economics, RWTH Aachen University.
- 11.4 The Business Plan
- 1.1 Entrepreneurship Today
- 1.2 Entrepreneurial Vision and Goals
- 1.3 The Entrepreneurial Mindset
- Review Questions
- Discussion Questions
- Case Questions
- Suggested Resources
- 2.1 Overview of the Entrepreneurial Journey
- 2.2 The Process of Becoming an Entrepreneur
- 2.3 Entrepreneurial Pathways
- 2.4 Frameworks to Inform Your Entrepreneurial Path
- 3.1 Ethical and Legal Issues in Entrepreneurship
- 3.2 Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship
- 3.3 Developing a Workplace Culture of Ethical Excellence and Accountability
- 4.1 Tools for Creativity and Innovation
- 4.2 Creativity, Innovation, and Invention: How They Differ
- 4.3 Developing Ideas, Innovations, and Inventions
- 5.1 Entrepreneurial Opportunity
- 5.2 Researching Potential Business Opportunities
- 5.3 Competitive Analysis
- 6.1 Problem Solving to Find Entrepreneurial Solutions
- 6.2 Creative Problem-Solving Process
- 6.3 Design Thinking
- 6.4 Lean Processes
- 7.1 Clarifying Your Vision, Mission, and Goals
- 7.2 Sharing Your Entrepreneurial Story
- 7.3 Developing Pitches for Various Audiences and Goals
- 7.4 Protecting Your Idea and Polishing the Pitch through Feedback
- 7.5 Reality Check: Contests and Competitions
- 8.1 Entrepreneurial Marketing and the Marketing Mix
- 8.2 Market Research, Market Opportunity Recognition, and Target Market
- 8.3 Marketing Techniques and Tools for Entrepreneurs
- 8.4 Entrepreneurial Branding
- 8.5 Marketing Strategy and the Marketing Plan
- 8.6 Sales and Customer Service
- 9.1 Overview of Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting Strategies
- 9.2 Special Funding Strategies
- 9.3 Accounting Basics for Entrepreneurs
- 9.4 Developing Startup Financial Statements and Projections
- 10.1 Launching the Imperfect Business: Lean Startup
- 10.2 Why Early Failure Can Lead to Success Later
- 10.3 The Challenging Truth about Business Ownership
- 10.4 Managing, Following, and Adjusting the Initial Plan
- 10.5 Growth: Signs, Pains, and Cautions
- 11.1 Avoiding the “Field of Dreams” Approach
- 11.2 Designing the Business Model
- 11.3 Conducting a Feasibility Analysis
- 12.1 Building and Connecting to Networks
- 12.2 Building the Entrepreneurial Dream Team
- 12.3 Designing a Startup Operational Plan
- 13.1 Business Structures: Overview of Legal and Tax Considerations
- 13.2 Corporations
- 13.3 Partnerships and Joint Ventures
- 13.4 Limited Liability Companies
- 13.5 Sole Proprietorships
- 13.6 Additional Considerations: Capital Acquisition, Business Domicile, and Technology
- 13.7 Mitigating and Managing Risks
- 14.1 Types of Resources
- 14.2 Using the PEST Framework to Assess Resource Needs
- 14.3 Managing Resources over the Venture Life Cycle
- 15.1 Launching Your Venture
- 15.2 Making Difficult Business Decisions in Response to Challenges
- 15.3 Seeking Help or Support
- 15.4 Now What? Serving as a Mentor, Consultant, or Champion
- 15.5 Reflections: Documenting the Journey
- A | Suggested Resources
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Describe the different purposes of a business plan
- Describe and develop the components of a brief business plan
- Describe and develop the components of a full business plan
Unlike the brief or lean formats introduced so far, the business plan is a formal document used for the long-range planning of a company’s operation. It typically includes background information, financial information, and a summary of the business. Investors nearly always request a formal business plan because it is an integral part of their evaluation of whether to invest in a company. Although nothing in business is permanent, a business plan typically has components that are more “set in stone” than a business model canvas , which is more commonly used as a first step in the planning process and throughout the early stages of a nascent business. A business plan is likely to describe the business and industry, market strategies, sales potential, and competitive analysis, as well as the company’s long-term goals and objectives. An in-depth formal business plan would follow at later stages after various iterations to business model canvases. The business plan usually projects financial data over a three-year period and is typically required by banks or other investors to secure funding. The business plan is a roadmap for the company to follow over multiple years.
Some entrepreneurs prefer to use the canvas process instead of the business plan, whereas others use a shorter version of the business plan, submitting it to investors after several iterations. There are also entrepreneurs who use the business plan earlier in the entrepreneurial process, either preceding or concurrently with a canvas. For instance, Chris Guillebeau has a one-page business plan template in his book The $100 Startup . 48 His version is basically an extension of a napkin sketch without the detail of a full business plan. As you progress, you can also consider a brief business plan (about two pages)—if you want to support a rapid business launch—and/or a standard business plan.
As with many aspects of entrepreneurship, there are no clear hard and fast rules to achieving entrepreneurial success. You may encounter different people who want different things (canvas, summary, full business plan), and you also have flexibility in following whatever tool works best for you. Like the canvas, the various versions of the business plan are tools that will aid you in your entrepreneurial endeavor.
Business Plan Overview
Most business plans have several distinct sections ( Figure 11.16 ). The business plan can range from a few pages to twenty-five pages or more, depending on the purpose and the intended audience. For our discussion, we’ll describe a brief business plan and a standard business plan. If you are able to successfully design a business model canvas, then you will have the structure for developing a clear business plan that you can submit for financial consideration.
Both types of business plans aim at providing a picture and roadmap to follow from conception to creation. If you opt for the brief business plan, you will focus primarily on articulating a big-picture overview of your business concept.
The full business plan is aimed at executing the vision concept, dealing with the proverbial devil in the details. Developing a full business plan will assist those of you who need a more detailed and structured roadmap, or those of you with little to no background in business. The business planning process includes the business model, a feasibility analysis, and a full business plan, which we will discuss later in this section. Next, we explore how a business plan can meet several different needs.
Purposes of a Business Plan
A business plan can serve many different purposes—some internal, others external. As we discussed previously, you can use a business plan as an internal early planning device, an extension of a napkin sketch, and as a follow-up to one of the canvas tools. A business plan can be an organizational roadmap , that is, an internal planning tool and working plan that you can apply to your business in order to reach your desired goals over the course of several years. The business plan should be written by the owners of the venture, since it forces a firsthand examination of the business operations and allows them to focus on areas that need improvement.
Refer to the business venture throughout the document. Generally speaking, a business plan should not be written in the first person.
A major external purpose for the business plan is as an investment tool that outlines financial projections, becoming a document designed to attract investors. In many instances, a business plan can complement a formal investor’s pitch. In this context, the business plan is a presentation plan, intended for an outside audience that may or may not be familiar with your industry, your business, and your competitors.
You can also use your business plan as a contingency plan by outlining some “what-if” scenarios and exploring how you might respond if these scenarios unfold. Pretty Young Professional launched in November 2010 as an online resource to guide an emerging generation of female leaders. The site focused on recent female college graduates and current students searching for professional roles and those in their first professional roles. It was founded by four friends who were coworkers at the global consultancy firm McKinsey. But after positions and equity were decided among them, fundamental differences of opinion about the direction of the business emerged between two factions, according to the cofounder and former CEO Kathryn Minshew . “I think, naively, we assumed that if we kicked the can down the road on some of those things, we’d be able to sort them out,” Minshew said. Minshew went on to found a different professional site, The Muse , and took much of the editorial team of Pretty Young Professional with her. 49 Whereas greater planning potentially could have prevented the early demise of Pretty Young Professional, a change in planning led to overnight success for Joshua Esnard and The Cut Buddy team. Esnard invented and patented the plastic hair template that he was selling online out of his Fort Lauderdale garage while working a full-time job at Broward College and running a side business. Esnard had hundreds of boxes of Cut Buddies sitting in his home when he changed his marketing plan to enlist companies specializing in making videos go viral. It worked so well that a promotional video for the product garnered 8 million views in hours. The Cut Buddy sold over 4,000 products in a few hours when Esnard only had hundreds remaining. Demand greatly exceeded his supply, so Esnard had to scramble to increase manufacturing and offered customers two-for-one deals to make up for delays. This led to selling 55,000 units, generating $700,000 in sales in 2017. 50 After appearing on Shark Tank and landing a deal with Daymond John that gave the “shark” a 20-percent equity stake in return for $300,000, The Cut Buddy has added new distribution channels to include retail sales along with online commerce. Changing one aspect of a business plan—the marketing plan—yielded success for The Cut Buddy.
Link to Learning
Watch this video of Cut Buddy’s founder, Joshua Esnard, telling his company’s story to learn more.
If you opt for the brief business plan, you will focus primarily on articulating a big-picture overview of your business concept. This version is used to interest potential investors, employees, and other stakeholders, and will include a financial summary “box,” but it must have a disclaimer, and the founder/entrepreneur may need to have the people who receive it sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) . The full business plan is aimed at executing the vision concept, providing supporting details, and would be required by financial institutions and others as they formally become stakeholders in the venture. Both are aimed at providing a picture and roadmap to go from conception to creation.
Types of Business Plans
The brief business plan is similar to an extended executive summary from the full business plan. This concise document provides a broad overview of your entrepreneurial concept, your team members, how and why you will execute on your plans, and why you are the ones to do so. You can think of a brief business plan as a scene setter or—since we began this chapter with a film reference—as a trailer to the full movie. The brief business plan is the commercial equivalent to a trailer for Field of Dreams , whereas the full plan is the full-length movie equivalent.
Brief Business Plan or Executive Summary
As the name implies, the brief business plan or executive summary summarizes key elements of the entire business plan, such as the business concept, financial features, and current business position. The executive summary version of the business plan is your opportunity to broadly articulate the overall concept and vision of the company for yourself, for prospective investors, and for current and future employees.
A typical executive summary is generally no longer than a page, but because the brief business plan is essentially an extended executive summary, the executive summary section is vital. This is the “ask” to an investor. You should begin by clearly stating what you are asking for in the summary.
In the business concept phase, you’ll describe the business, its product, and its markets. Describe the customer segment it serves and why your company will hold a competitive advantage. This section may align roughly with the customer segments and value-proposition segments of a canvas.
Next, highlight the important financial features, including sales, profits, cash flows, and return on investment. Like the financial portion of a feasibility analysis, the financial analysis component of a business plan may typically include items like a twelve-month profit and loss projection, a three- or four-year profit and loss projection, a cash-flow projection, a projected balance sheet, and a breakeven calculation. You can explore a feasibility study and financial projections in more depth in the formal business plan. Here, you want to focus on the big picture of your numbers and what they mean.
The current business position section can furnish relevant information about you and your team members and the company at large. This is your opportunity to tell the story of how you formed the company, to describe its legal status (form of operation), and to list the principal players. In one part of the extended executive summary, you can cover your reasons for starting the business: Here is an opportunity to clearly define the needs you think you can meet and perhaps get into the pains and gains of customers. You also can provide a summary of the overall strategic direction in which you intend to take the company. Describe the company’s mission, vision, goals and objectives, overall business model, and value proposition.
Rice University’s Student Business Plan Competition, one of the largest and overall best-regarded graduate school business-plan competitions (see Telling Your Entrepreneurial Story and Pitching the Idea ), requires an executive summary of up to five pages to apply. 51 , 52 Its suggested sections are shown in Table 11.2 .
Are You Ready?
Create a brief business plan.
Fill out a canvas of your choosing for a well-known startup: Uber, Netflix, Dropbox, Etsy, Airbnb, Bird/Lime, Warby Parker, or any of the companies featured throughout this chapter or one of your choice. Then create a brief business plan for that business. See if you can find a version of the company’s actual executive summary, business plan, or canvas. Compare and contrast your vision with what the company has articulated.
- These companies are well established but is there a component of what you charted that you would advise the company to change to ensure future viability?
- Map out a contingency plan for a “what-if” scenario if one key aspect of the company or the environment it operates in were drastically is altered?
Full Business Plan
Even full business plans can vary in length, scale, and scope. Rice University sets a ten-page cap on business plans submitted for the full competition. The IndUS Entrepreneurs , one of the largest global networks of entrepreneurs, also holds business plan competitions for students through its Tie Young Entrepreneurs program. In contrast, business plans submitted for that competition can usually be up to twenty-five pages. These are just two examples. Some components may differ slightly; common elements are typically found in a formal business plan outline. The next section will provide sample components of a full business plan for a fictional business.
The executive summary should provide an overview of your business with key points and issues. Because the summary is intended to summarize the entire document, it is most helpful to write this section last, even though it comes first in sequence. The writing in this section should be especially concise. Readers should be able to understand your needs and capabilities at first glance. The section should tell the reader what you want and your “ask” should be explicitly stated in the summary.
Describe your business, its product or service, and the intended customers. Explain what will be sold, who it will be sold to, and what competitive advantages the business has. Table 11.3 shows a sample executive summary for the fictional company La Vida Lola.
This section describes the industry, your product, and the business and success factors. It should provide a current outlook as well as future trends and developments. You also should address your company’s mission, vision, goals, and objectives. Summarize your overall strategic direction, your reasons for starting the business, a description of your products and services, your business model, and your company’s value proposition. Consider including the Standard Industrial Classification/North American Industry Classification System (SIC/NAICS) code to specify the industry and insure correct identification. The industry extends beyond where the business is located and operates, and should include national and global dynamics. Table 11.4 shows a sample business description for La Vida Lola.
Industry Analysis and Market Strategies
Here you should define your market in terms of size, structure, growth prospects, trends, and sales potential. You’ll want to include your TAM and forecast the SAM . (Both these terms are discussed in Conducting a Feasibility Analysis .) This is a place to address market segmentation strategies by geography, customer attributes, or product orientation. Describe your positioning relative to your competitors’ in terms of pricing, distribution, promotion plan, and sales potential. Table 11.5 shows an example industry analysis and market strategy for La Vida Lola.
The competitive analysis is a statement of the business strategy as it relates to the competition. You want to be able to identify who are your major competitors and assess what are their market shares, markets served, strategies employed, and expected response to entry? You likely want to conduct a classic SWOT analysis (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) and complete a competitive-strength grid or competitive matrix. Outline your company’s competitive strengths relative to those of the competition in regard to product, distribution, pricing, promotion, and advertising. What are your company’s competitive advantages and their likely impacts on its success? The key is to construct it properly for the relevant features/benefits (by weight, according to customers) and how the startup compares to incumbents. The competitive matrix should show clearly how and why the startup has a clear (if not currently measurable) competitive advantage. Some common features in the example include price, benefits, quality, type of features, locations, and distribution/sales. Sample templates are shown in Figure 11.17 and Figure 11.18 . A competitive analysis helps you create a marketing strategy that will identify assets or skills that your competitors are lacking so you can plan to fill those gaps, giving you a distinct competitive advantage. When creating a competitor analysis, it is important to focus on the key features and elements that matter to customers, rather than focusing too heavily on the entrepreneur’s idea and desires.
Operations and Management Plan
In this section, outline how you will manage your company. Describe its organizational structure. Here you can address the form of ownership and, if warranted, include an organizational chart/structure. Highlight the backgrounds, experiences, qualifications, areas of expertise, and roles of members of the management team. This is also the place to mention any other stakeholders, such as a board of directors or advisory board(s), and their relevant relationship to the founder, experience and value to help make the venture successful, and professional service firms providing management support, such as accounting services and legal counsel.
Table 11.6 shows a sample operations and management plan for La Vida Lola.
Here you should outline and describe an effective overall marketing strategy for your venture, providing details regarding pricing, promotion, advertising, distribution, media usage, public relations, and a digital presence. Fully describe your sales management plan and the composition of your sales force, along with a comprehensive and detailed budget for the marketing plan. Table 11.7 shows a sample marketing plan for La Vida Lola.
A financial plan seeks to forecast revenue and expenses; project a financial narrative; and estimate project costs, valuations, and cash flow projections. This section should present an accurate, realistic, and achievable financial plan for your venture (see Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting for detailed discussions about conducting these projections). Include sales forecasts and income projections, pro forma financial statements ( Building the Entrepreneurial Dream Team , a breakeven analysis, and a capital budget. Identify your possible sources of financing (discussed in Conducting a Feasibility Analysis ). Figure 11.19 shows a template of cash-flow needs for La Vida Lola.
Entrepreneur In Action
Laughing man coffee.
Hugh Jackman ( Figure 11.20 ) may best be known for portraying a comic-book superhero who used his mutant abilities to protect the world from villains. But the Wolverine actor is also working to make the planet a better place for real, not through adamantium claws but through social entrepreneurship.
A love of java jolted Jackman into action in 2009, when he traveled to Ethiopia with a Christian humanitarian group to shoot a documentary about the impact of fair-trade certification on coffee growers there. He decided to launch a business and follow in the footsteps of the late Paul Newman, another famous actor turned philanthropist via food ventures.
Jackman launched Laughing Man Coffee two years later; he sold the line to Keurig in 2015. One Laughing Man Coffee café in New York continues to operate independently, investing its proceeds into charitable programs that support better housing, health, and educational initiatives within fair-trade farming communities. 55 Although the New York location is the only café, the coffee brand is still distributed, with Keurig donating an undisclosed portion of Laughing Man proceeds to those causes (whereas Jackman donates all his profits). The company initially donated its profits to World Vision, the Christian humanitarian group Jackman accompanied in 2009. In 2017, it created the Laughing Man Foundation to be more active with its money management and distribution.
- You be the entrepreneur. If you were Jackman, would you have sold the company to Keurig? Why or why not?
- Would you have started the Laughing Man Foundation?
- What else can Jackman do to aid fair-trade practices for coffee growers?
What Can You Do?
Textbooks for change.
Founded in 2014, Textbooks for Change uses a cross-compensation model, in which one customer segment pays for a product or service, and the profit from that revenue is used to provide the same product or service to another, underserved segment. Textbooks for Change partners with student organizations to collect used college textbooks, some of which are re-sold while others are donated to students in need at underserved universities across the globe. The organization has reused or recycled 250,000 textbooks, providing 220,000 students with access through seven campus partners in East Africa. This B-corp social enterprise tackles a problem and offers a solution that is directly relevant to college students like yourself. Have you observed a problem on your college campus or other campuses that is not being served properly? Could it result in a social enterprise?
Work It Out
Franchisee set out.
A franchisee of East Coast Wings, a chain with dozens of restaurants in the United States, has decided to part ways with the chain. The new store will feature the same basic sports-bar-and-restaurant concept and serve the same basic foods: chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, and the like. The new restaurant can’t rely on the same distributors and suppliers. A new business plan is needed.
- What steps should the new restaurant take to create a new business plan?
- Should it attempt to serve the same customers? Why or why not?
This New York Times video, “An Unlikely Business Plan,” describes entrepreneurial resurgence in Detroit, Michigan.
- 48 Chris Guillebeau. The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future . New York: Crown Business/Random House, 2012.
- 49 Jonathan Chan. “What These 4 Startup Case Studies Can Teach You about Failure.” Foundr.com . July 12, 2015. https://foundr.com/4-startup-case-studies-failure/
- 50 Amy Feldman. “Inventor of the Cut Buddy Paid YouTubers to Spark Sales. He Wasn’t Ready for a Video to Go Viral.” Forbes. February 15, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestreptalks/2017/02/15/inventor-of-the-cut-buddy-paid-youtubers-to-spark-sales-he-wasnt-ready-for-a-video-to-go-viral/#3eb540ce798a
- 51 Jennifer Post. “National Business Plan Competitions for Entrepreneurs.” Business News Daily . August 30, 2018. https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6902-business-plan-competitions-entrepreneurs.html
- 52 “Rice Business Plan Competition, Eligibility Criteria and How to Apply.” Rice Business Plan Competition . March 2020. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2020%20RBPC%20Eligibility%20Criteria%20and%20How%20to%20Apply_23Oct19.pdf
- 53 “Rice Business Plan Competition, Eligibility Criteria and How to Apply.” Rice Business Plan Competition. March 2020. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2020%20RBPC%20Eligibility%20Criteria%20and%20How%20to%20Apply_23Oct19.pdf; Based on 2019 RBPC Competition Rules and Format April 4–6, 2019. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2019-RBPC-Competition-Rules%20-Format.pdf
- 54 Foodstart. http://foodstart.com
- 55 “Hugh Jackman Journey to Starting a Social Enterprise Coffee Company.” Giving Compass. April 8, 2018. https://givingcompass.org/article/hugh-jackman-journey-to-starting-a-social-enterprise-coffee-company/
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.
Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/entrepreneurship/pages/1-introduction
- Authors: Michael Laverty, Chris Littel
- Publisher/website: OpenStax
- Book title: Entrepreneurship
- Publication date: Jan 16, 2020
- Location: Houston, Texas
- Book URL: https://openstax.org/books/entrepreneurship/pages/1-introduction
- Section URL: https://openstax.org/books/entrepreneurship/pages/11-4-the-business-plan
© Apr 5, 2023 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.
- Main content
A step-by-step guide to writing a business plan that will boost your startup's chance at success
This story is available exclusively to business insider subscribers. become an insider and start reading now..
- For all of the popularity of pitch decks , business plans still serve an important function for entrepreneurs who are building a business.
- A 2017 study of more than 1,000 entrepreneurs found that those with a business plan were more successful than those without.
- Business Insider asked entrepreneur, business mentor, and former Wall Street bank executive Cate Luzio to distill her decades of experience into a guide.
- Her advice is the basis for these eight essential elements founders should include in a business plan, and why they matter.
- Visit BI Prime for more stories.
A pitch deck is not a plan.
For all of the popularity of pitch decks, business plans still serve an important function for entrepreneurs who are building a business.
A 2017 study of more than 1,000 entrepreneurs found that those with a business plan were more successful than those without. Among pairs of otherwise identical founders, planners were 16% more likely to be profitable for at least 6 months out of the preceding year.
Professor Francis Greene, who co-authored the study with Christian Hopp, told Business Insider the pairs of entrepreneurs were "like twins" in every observable way, and that the results were "fairly definitive."
"It's pretty clear that if you plan, it pays," Greene said.
Of course, a fancy plan won't save a bad business model, but a thoughtful strategy can give a promising idea the winning edge in a competitive market.
And that edge doesn't exclusively apply to startups seeking venture funding. Just ask former Wall Street bank executive Cate Luzio, who left her 17-year corporate career to launch Luminary NYC, a co-working and event hub for professional women.
The importance of time — and timing
Luzio attributes Luminary's success to the business plan she wrote in one week, a feat that Greene says typically takes founders about 2 months to produce.
Greene also stresses that his research shows that much of the value of a plan is tied to when you write it. In an earlier study, he and Hopp found a sort of Goldilocks zone of time — roughly 7-12 months after the initial idea, and usually 1-2 years before launching the product or service — as the optimal time to start writing.
Still, Greene says there can be significant internal value to the practice of writing a plan beyond simply raising funds, and Luzio would agree. As a self-financed bootstrapper, Luzio told Business Insider that she's often asked why she wrote a plan if she's not out raising money.
"I need a business plan to run the business," she said. "Business plans weren't created 50 years ago for founders to sell their companies. Business plans were created to build their business, understand cash flow and, and manage the business."
For first-time founders and seasoned pros
As Managing Director and the Global Head of Multinational Corporate Banking at HSBC, Luzio had a $2 billion portfolio and a team of more than 2,000 people across 72 countries.
"It's important for startups to make sure their product/service produces value and meets needs," Luzon said. "It's not about any method being the preferred way. I think it's important to have a plan with actionable-steps and a mission 'North Star' for your business."
Greene describes a good business plan as a "pre-mortem," or an analysis of everything that could go wrong with the business, from which even serial founders with numerous exits under their belt could benefit.
"A plan is a corrective device for solving for your biases," he said.
A strategic framework for your business' growth
Over the years, Luzio has reviewed countless plans and she regularly helps entrepreneurs write their own. This February, she will lead a business plan bootcamp at Luminary in New York.
Business Insider asked Luzio to distill her decades of experience into a guide, which she emphasizes is exactly that: a guide, not a rubric.
"I don't want to focus on a one size fits all approach. I want to underscore for new entrepreneurs the importance of fully mapping out their vision," she said. "Whatever the plan or the framework you use, you have to be able to execute."
A business plan simply happens to be a very useful framework, and Luzio's advice is the basis for these 8 essential elements founders should include in their plans, and why they matter.
If you have written a plan for your business that you'd like to share with Business Insider, please get in touch via email at dreuter[at]businessinsider.com .
1. Executive Summary
The first section of a business plan is best written last, once you've worked through the questions raised in the other sections.
Here is where you introduce your company's narrative, and define what success will look like. What problem or opportunity will your business address, and who are your target customers?
This is also where you'll introduce your finance strategy. Are you looking for equity investors, taking on debt, or working with existing cash? How much financing will you need from different sources, and when will you be profitable enough to deliver returns?
Boil down the work you've done in the following sections into a few sentences that get straight to the point.
2. Company Overview
If you have an elevator pitch prepared, this is where it belongs. Summarize what your company stands for, and what its guiding principles are. Why does your business do what it does ? Who are the stakeholders that are concerned with your company's success?
Briefly introduce your target market or customer base, how your product or service will meet a demand, and what operational and staffing considerations are necessary for the business to function.
Lastly, Luzio said you should be very upfront about your financial needs and goals, like start-up costs and revenue forecasts. Businesses depend on cash flow, so don't be coy about how you're going to manage that necessity.
3. Business Description
Here is where you start to delve into the details of the market opportunity your company will capitalize on. Consider factors like geographies, demographics, and industries, and demonstrate how your product or service is different.
Identify who the key suppliers or partners are and the extent to which your business will depend on those relationships.
As before, remember to think carefully about the financial picture. Base your revenue and pricing models on thoughtful research and design a structure that can compete in your target market. If you're charging more or less than the competition, provide a solid rationale as to why.
4. Market Research and Analysis
Expand on the market discussion from the previous section, and demonstrate how well you understand your competitive landscape. Who are the dominant players, and what are the growth trends in your industry?
With nearly eight billion people in the world, your odds of success are improved if you can narrow your target to a more specific segment. Depending on your competition, what percentage of that segment do you realistically think your business can address, and how big does your business need to be to handle that percentage?
Round out the section with a good old-fashioned SWOT analysis . Listing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, is a time-honored method of keeping track of the concerns you'll need to manage for your company.
5. Operating Plan
Your company's operations will possibly be the hardest thing to plan in advance. Do your best to spell out how you will generate sales, deliver your product or service to the market, and handle payments from customers.
Think about what you'll need in terms of facilities (like offices, warehouses, storefronts, coworking spaces) and technology (like web services, payment processing, customer resource management), or other capital investments that may be specific to your business.
Review your mission-critical suppliers from earlier, and also identify any key customer relationships that could have a significant impact on your success. Luzio categorizes a key partners as any single customer who delivers more than 10% of your annual revenue.
This is also the beginning of one of the biggest ongoing challenges all business owners face: building your team. Luzio recommends outlining the key roles that need filling in the first two years of operation for your company to succeed. Determine if these must be hires or can be contracted out.
In addition to defining an organizational structure and each position's responsibilities, make a plan for recruiting, retaining, and compensating your team. You may need professional consultation to navigate HR issues, or if you'll be offering equity ownership of the company.
6. Marketing and Sales Plan
Once you've established your target customer segment, you'll need to develop a strategy for crafting the right messaging to reach them.
"How you promote the business is an important element of your success," Luzio said.
With the vast array of available marketing channels, you may need some help from public relations and marketing professionals to choose the right ones for your business and shaping the messaging that's appropriate for each.
This also figures into your hiring plan, since you many need to staff up for sales and support.
7. Financial Plan
Luzio said estimating your startup costs and projected earnings growth "is critical to see when the business becomes profitable or is targeted to be."
Startup costs include one-time and ongoing expenses that are essential to get the business up and running, and should be summarized here and laid out in greater detail in the Appendix.
Your profit-and-loss (P&L) model, also known as a pro forma income statement, is a projection of your expected income and expenses for the first 12 months, and up to a period up to five years. A summary P&L will suffice here, but be based on a more thorough model that is included in the Appendix.
Much as you would love to see the so-called hockey-stick growth curve for your business, few founders will ever see that sort of rapid scale-up. If you've done your diligence in preparing your startup costs and P&L projections, you should have a reasonable idea of when your business will break even and start earning profits.
Equity investors appear to exempt some companies or industries from expectations of foreseeable profitability, but debt investors and lenders are generally less tolerant of cash-burning businesses. They'll want to know when you expect to become EBITDA-positive, since that's when they'll begin seeing repayment on your loans.
The appendix is the home for any other matters you need to include, but may not merit a fully fleshed-out section.
It's also that place for the tables, charts, and analyses that are summarized in earlier sections, such as:
- Estimated start-up costs: A more detailed breakdown of the expenses and investments required to get your business up and running.
- P&L projections: Also known as pro-forma income statements, here's where you'd go into more detail about your revenues and expenses, forecast up to five years out.
- Additional market research: Provide more specific details about the basis for the analysis and assumptions discussed in section four.
- Competitive analysis: Deeper analysis of individual competitors or potential competitors that could challenge your model.
Now that you've completed all the sections, you're ready to return to the top and work on the Executive Summary.
You can use this guide to inform your own original plan, or if you would like more detailed instructions, check out the Startup Business Plan Template from SCORE, the business mentoring organization .
Watch: It's time for iTunes to die, even though it was key to Apple's early success
The road to entrepreneurial success: business plans, lean startup, or both?
New England Journal of Entrepreneurship
ISSN : 2574-8904
Article publication date: 19 February 2021
Issue publication date: 18 June 2021
The goal of this research is to investigate the relationship between two different sets of practices, lean startup and business planning, and their relation to entrepreneurial performance.
The authors collected data from 120 entrepreneurs across the US about a variety of new venture formation activities within the categories of lean startup or business planning. They use hierarchical regression to examine the relationship between these activities and new venture performance using both a subjective and objective measure of performance.
The results show that talking to customers, collecting preorders and pivoting based on customer feedback are lean startup activities correlated with performance; writing a business plan is the sole business planning activity correlated with performance.
This research lays the foundation for understanding the components of both lean startup and business planning. Moreover, these results demonstrate that the separation of lean startup and business planning represents a false dichotomy.
These findings suggest that entrepreneurs should engage in some lean startup activities and still write a business plan.
This article offers the first quantitative, empirical comparison of lean startup activities and business planning. Furthermore, it provides support for the relationship between specific lean startup activities and firm performance.
Welter, C. , Scrimpshire, A. , Tolonen, D. and Obrimah, E. (2021), "The road to entrepreneurial success: business plans, lean startup, or both?", New England Journal of Entrepreneurship , Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 21-42. https://doi.org/10.1108/NEJE-08-2020-0031
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2021, Chris Welter, Alex Scrimpshire, Dawn Tolonen and Eseoghene Obrimah
Published in New England Journal of Entrepreneurship . Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this license may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode
No business plan survives first contact with a customer – Steve Blank
This quote represents the differing perspectives on the value of business planning relative to the value of lean startup methods proposed by Blank and others ( Blank and Dorf, 2012 ). Much of traditional entrepreneurial training centers on the business plan ( Honig, 2004 ). Collective research on business planning's antecedents ( Brinckmann et al. , 2019 ) and its performance outcomes have found nuanced results ( Brinckmann et al. , 2010 ), but there seem to be at least some instances where business planning reliably increases performance ( Welter and Kim, 2018 ). Studies suggest that the majority of prominent business schools offer business planning courses ( Honig, 2004 ; Katz et al. , 2016 ), and bookstores are filled with books detailing how to write a business plan ( Karlsson and Honig, 2007 ). Nonetheless, the research is fragmented at best, and often results in equivocal findings with regard to its relationship with firm performance ( Brinckmann et al. , 2010 , Delmar and Shane, 2003 ; Gruber, 2007 ). This lack of clear indication from researchers opens the door for critique of business planning from proponents of the lean startup ( Ghezzi et al. , 2015 ).
Lean startup methods have drawn increasing attention in entrepreneurial communities ( Ries, 2011 ). In accelerators, incubators and other spaces within startup ecosystems the wisdom of Eric Ries (2011) and Steve Blank ( Blank and Dorf, 2012 ) can be heard in training sessions and everyday conversations. Some entrepreneurial programs have adopted lean startup methods as well ( Bliemel, 2014 ). On one hand, conceptual articles have described how lean startup fits adjacent to current and past academic conversations ( Contigiani and Levinthal, 2019 ). On the other hand, practitioner articles have discussed the benefits and limitations of the models ( Ladd, 2016 ). In both cases, existing literature describes how these processes aim to avoid the pitfall of launching products that no one actually wants ( Blank, 2013 ).
Despite all the popular attention given to lean startup methods, little empirical research has been completed (see Trimi and Berbegal-Mirabent (2012) , Ghezzi et al. (2015) , and Ghezzi (2019) for exceptions). Some researchers (e.g. Frederickson and Brem, 2017 ) have drawn the parallels between lean startup methods and effectuation ( Sarasvathy, 2001 ), but these parallels do not sufficiently support the use of lean startup methods. While practitioners seem to embrace lean startup methods, academics have offered little in terms of direct investigation into those methods ( Shepherd and Gruber, 2020 ). Most of the research on lean startup methods focuses on cognitive processes ( Yang et al. , 2018 ; York and Danes, 2014 ). Recent critique ( Felin et al. , 2019 ) coupled with the dearth of empirical research calls into question the efficacy of lean startup methods. To that end, more research is needed to see how lean startup methods relate to new venture success especially in comparison to business planning. This is particularly important as new venture formation activities are the practices that can legitimize the firm ( De Clercq and Voronov, 2009 ).
As such, we propose the following question: which individual aspects of business planning and lean startup methods are related to success? We study the components of both business planning and lean startup methods as there is some academic support for aspects of lean startup such as experimentation ( Carmuffo et al. , 2019 ), but limited empirical investigation into lean startup more broadly. We specifically focus on the underlying activities that make up the processes of lean startup and business planning since our initial surveying showed that entrepreneurs often employ aspects of each. To examine this question, we created a survey that captured the various activities – both from lean startup and business planning – that entrepreneurs used in pursuing their new venture and compared those with measures of success.
Our findings suggest that certain lean startup activities and the act of writing a business plan are correlated with success. These findings help to undo a false dichotomy of either lean startup or business planning by suggesting that some activities from each side can lead to success. We contribute to business planning research by offering a possible explanation for the existing equivocal findings. Namely, that the act of writing a business plan may be important, but that the uses of a business plan for feedback or financing are not necessarily associated with success. We contribute to research on lean startup by offering the first quantitative support for specific lean startup activities. Taken together, this research lays the foundation for a more nuanced understanding of the value of business planning and lean startup methods.
Theoretical framework and hypotheses
The literature on business planning is vast focusing on both antecedents to business planning ( Brinckmann et al. , 2019 ) and outcomes of it ( Brinckmann et al. , 2010 ). Honig and colleagues have driven much of the research into business planning since the turn of the century ( Honig, 2004 ; Honig and Karlsson, 2004 ; Honig and Samuelsson, 2012 , 2014 ; Karlsson and Honig, 2009 ). They have challenged prior planning-performance paradigms that suggested planning would naturally increase performance ( Ajzen, 1985 ; Mintzberg and Waters, 1985 ; Ansoff, 1991 ). This debate about the value of planning has underscored the recent research into selection effects associated with business planning ( Burke et al. , 2010 ; Greene and Hopp, 2017 ).
Brinckmann et al. (2010) address this debate directly. Their meta-analytic review of business planning literature suggests that three contingencies need to be considered in terms of the effectiveness of business planning: uncertainty, limited prior information, and the lack of business planning structures. The presence of these three suggest that business planning may be less effective. We look at each of these three contingencies in more depth next.
For uncertainty, planning scholars (e.g. Priem et al. , 1995 ) suggest that unstable and uncertain environments would benefit most from planning as planning can reduce uncertainty through facilitating faster decision-making ( Dean and Sharfman, 1996 ). However, emergent strategies seem to be more effective at controlling uncertainty ( Mintzberg, 1994 ; Sarasvathy, 2001 ). Brinckmann et al. (2010) confirms the latter intuition suggesting that uncertainty makes planning efforts less effective. This logic falls in line with research on effectuation ( Sarasvathy, 2001 ), where planning is described as the appropriate strategy for risky environments and effectuation, in contrast, is appropriate for uncertain environments. Recent work has confirmed this logic depending on how accurate the entrepreneur can be when predicting the future ( Welter and Kim, 2018 ).
Turning to the concept of limited prior information, planning proponents suggest that the shorter feedback cycles in new and small firms combined with the positive motivational effects of planning will make it more effective ( Delmar and Shane, 2003 ). In essence, despite the lack of history for de novo firms, short cycle times create history quickly and planning itself serves to motivate these fledgling organizations. However, Brinckmann et al. (2010) find that these firms lack the information necessary to make such plans effective. As firms pursue novel strategies, planning seems to be less effective or firms abandon plans all together as they move forward ( Karlsson and Honig, 2009 ).
Finally, for plans to be effective firms need to have the structures in place to both plan and make use of those plans ( Brinckmann et al. , 2010 ). New firms tend to lack the organizational structures relevant to create and use plans ( Forbes, 2007 ). While Karlsson and Honig (2009) found that firms typically ignore or abandon plans after they have been made, often due to insufficient support structures, Honig and Samuelsson (2012) show that even when firms change their plans over time there is little impact on firm performance. In general, the literature on business planning suggests that planning has more benefits for established firms with data and history to support both the plan and the planning process.
Business planning activities improve the likelihood of success for new ventures.
Typically, business planning has been analyzed as the single act of writing a business plan (e.g. Honig and Karlsson, 2004 ). However, business planning is made up of a variety of activities ( Gruber, 2007 ), which entrepreneurs may utilize as a whole, or simply choose parts of the business planning process. It is worth noting that these specific activities are not mutually exclusive with lean startup activities that we will detail later. One source of the gap between the prevalence of business planning use and research supporting the efficacy of business plans may be this holistic perspective. The constituent parts of business planning may be executed as a whole, or may be chosen a la carte. Examining the various activities that make up business planning offers insight into which aspects of the process are related to firm performance.
Arguably the first step in the business planning process is the work that precedes the actual writing of a business plan. First, entrepreneurs must collect data – typically external data ( Brinckmann et al. , 2010 ). This data collection process may or may not result in an actual business plan being written and, therefore, can be treated as a separate step itself.
Beyond the data collection and writing, the planning process can play a role in routinizing the initial practices of entrepreneurs. While entrepreneurs may engage in social resourcing ( Keating et al. , 2014 ) and collective sense-making ( Wood and McKinley, 2010 ), the act of codifying the results of these activities can objectify these practices. Entrepreneurs engage socially on a number of dimensions in the pursuit of a venture, but physically writing down a business plan that can be shared externally can serve as a commitment mechanism. Entrepreneurs may share this plan with external stakeholders simply for feedback ( Wood and McKinley, 2010 ) or they may use it to seek funding ( Richbell et al. , 2006 ).
Writing a business plan improves the likelihood of success for new ventures.
Gathering secondary data improves the likelihood of success for new ventures.
Sharing a business plan with potential stakeholders in order to get feedback improves the likelihood of success for new ventures.
Sharing a business plan with potential financiers in order to obtain funding improves the likelihood of success for new ventures.
The concept and the phrase “Lean Startup” stem from Eric Ries (2011) and his popular press book by the same name. The phrase borrows from the idea of lean manufacturing in the sense of eliminating waste and pushing production and supply as late in the process as possible to delay purchasing until the last moment. The book draws primarily on Ries's personal experience in founding a company along with some consulting work. Further development of the ideas around lean startup methods comes from Steve Blank ( Blank and Dorf, 2012 ). Blank (2013) described three principles of lean startup: hypothesis creation, customer development, and agile development. Hypothesis creation represents the belief that founders begin with little more than untested hypotheses. Customer development represents the approach of interviewing and interacting with customers in order to verify or discard the aforementioned hypotheses. Finally, agile development conceptualizes that minimally viable products (MVPs) are deployed quickly to verify the hypotheses that are believed to be true.
These concepts are often practiced by entrepreneurs and taught at incubators and accelerators ( Ladd, 2016 ), but there is little academic research to support these practices. Ghezzi et al. (2015) offer one of the only comparative empirical studies between lean startup and business planning. Their findings from a four-case study suggest that lean startup methods lead to superior outcomes. The majority of other papers are conceptual explorations of lean startup methods focusing on the decision-making of entrepreneurs ( Frederickson and Brem, 2017 ; Yang et al. , 2018 ; York and Danes, 2014 ). These conceptual pieces draw parallels between lean startup and effectuation ( Sarasvathy, 2001 ).
The literature on effectuation is much larger than that of lean startup (see recent reviews and retrospectives by Arend et al. (2015) and Reymen et al. (2015) ). Effectuation has been defined as entrepreneurial expertise that utilizes heuristics to make decisions focused on the means available rather than on desired ends ( Sarasvathy, 2001 ). One heuristic, in particular, has driven the comparison between lean startup and effectuation: experimentation ( Camuffo et al. , 2019 ). However, the comparisons may stem from the lack of clear boundaries in effectuation (see Welter et al. , 2016 ). While some researchers might argue that effectuation is a more robust articulation of lean startup ( Frederickson and Brem, 2017 ), there are significant departures. Effectuation makes no mention of MVPs or agile development, but instead focuses on the means at hand ( Sarasvathy and Dew, 2008 ). These means direct the venture as opposed to a focus on a specific end in mind ( Sarasvathy, 2001 ). This is in contrast to lean startup methods that create specific tests in order to verify a predetermined path ( Blank, 2013 ). Thus, researchers have suggested that lean startup intersects with effectuation, as well as other research streams ( Contigiani and Levinthal, 2019 ; Ghezzi, 2019 ).
Utilizing lean startup methods improves the likelihood of success for new business ventures.
Similar to business planning, lean startup is a process with several component parts from which an entrepreneur may select without needing to accomplish each task. Moreover, these component parts may be used in conjunction with business planning activities. Since lean startup has been developed more by practitioners than academics, there is not a clearly-defined, comprehensive list of activities that constitutes lean startup. Bortolini et al. (2018) review the academic and popular press literature on lean startup and describe the process at a more theoretical level than the work of Blank (2013) and Ries (2011) . Between these two perspectives, a specific list of six lean startup activities can be derived.
The lean startup process begins with customer discovery ( Blank and Dorf, 2012 ). In its most basic sense, the process of customer discovery begins with interviewing potential customers to surface their problems. Blank (2013) describes how lean startups “get out of the building” throughout the process to validate customer assumptions regarding all aspects of a potential business model. This validation process involves a variety of different forms of potential customer interviews.
From there, entrepreneurs craft hypotheses and build experiments as Bortolini et al. (2018) describe. This part of the process can be deconstructed into developing prototypes, showing those prototypes to customers, and running experiments. These sub-processes are discrete steps that may depend on each other, but may also occur independently. For instance, entrepreneurs may develop prototypes in their own quest to improve the product without actually showing a given prototype to potential customers. Alternatively, entrepreneurs may run experiments that do not necessarily involve the use of a prototype. These experiments may include observing customers in their daily routine to better understand customer problems. Each of these processes, however, align with the practitioner perspectives and the theoretical perspectives ( Blank and Dorf, 2012 ; Bortolini et al. , 2018) .
Beyond these specific activities, we examine two other activities within lean startup: collecting preorders and pivoting. Collecting preorders for new products has been suggested by Ries (2011) , but also aligns with research on enrolling external stakeholders ( Burns et al. , 2016 ) and the principles of effectuation ( Sarasvathy, 2001 ). By seeking out early stakeholders to make commitments like preorders or input on prototypes, entrepreneurs seek social resources to enable and direct their progress ( Keating et al. , 2014 ).
Interviewing potential customers improves the likelihood of success for new business ventures.
Developing a prototype improves the likelihood of success for new business ventures.
Showing a prototype to potential customers improves the likelihood of success for new business ventures.
Experimenting to test business model assumptions improves the likelihood of success for new business ventures.
Collecting preorders improves the likelihood of success for new business ventures.
Pivoting based on customer feedback improves the likelihood of success for new business ventures.
We began our study by conducting semi-structured interviews with five entrepreneurs to guide the construction of the survey. These entrepreneurs were selected from the authors' personal networks to represent a variety of perspectives and experiences. The group included two female founders and three male founders; two of the founders created high-tech scalable businesses and three represented small businesses. The interviews lasted 75 min on average.
All interviewees were familiar with business plans. All interviewees had heard of “lean startup” but only one entrepreneur had any education on the subject – they had read Eric Ries's book ( Ries, 2011 ). Nonetheless, none of the entrepreneurs could articulate specific aspects of lean startup or how it would be different from or related to writing a business plan.
The data collected from these interviews was used to develop a survey for distribution to a wider group of entrepreneurs. Within the qualitative data we noted how both business planning and lean startup represented groups of activities to the entrepreneurs. In discussing business planning, all of the entrepreneurs discussed more than simply producing a formal business plan. While four of the five entrepreneurs created formal business plans, each discussed a slightly different process. Some included financial planning while others mentioned secondary research. On the lean startup approach, the entrepreneurs did not specifically state which activities they pursued that were in line with lean startup, but multiple entrepreneurs mentioned each of the aspects of lean startup that we included in the survey.
This qualitative investigation altered our survey design to focus more on the activities that entrepreneurs completed rather than focusing on their understanding of the different approaches. Before distributing the survey, we tested it with two entrepreneurs to obtain feedback on its understandability – one from the original interviewees and one unfamiliar with the research project. Based on these tests, minor modifications to word choice were made.
We reached out to the startup ecosystem in a major Midwestern city. The online survey was emailed to incubators, accelerators, individual entrepreneurs, and organizations that reach outside the Midwest. Participation in the study was voluntary. Participants received a $1 USD donation to a non-profit organization of their choice for completing the survey. A total of 41 entrepreneurs responded to the initial survey request. We excluded seven of these cases because they did not adequately describe their business.
To bolster the sample size, we enlisted the Qualtrics panel development team to collect approximately 100 additional survey responses from entrepreneurs. Qualtrics, in addition to providing online survey tools, is a research panel aggregator with the ability to recruit hard-to-reach demographics. Qualtrics utilizes specialized recruitment campaigns to assemble niche survey panels based on pre-specified criteria. To fit in this group, entrepreneurs must own a business that they have started within the last ten years. Respondents in this group were compensated with $25 USD for their participation and were not offered any donation option. A total of 106 completed surveys were returned from this group. We excluded 20 of these cases because they were unable to adequately describe their business. See the Appendix for the complete survey instrument.
Participants and procedures
The participants completed an online questionnaire with thirty-two questions on the details of how they started their business, the success of the business, activities they conducted while starting the business, and demographic variables. The sample was recruited via a snowball sample method as well as through a Qualtrics panel as described above.
The majority of our sample is comprised of Caucasians (81.7%), followed by Black/African Americans (11.7%), then Hispanics (3.3%), then Asians (1.7%). The median age of our sample was 46.5 years old and the sample was 49.2% female. The majority of our dataset is currently married (61.7%) with 55.8% having at least a bachelor's degree. Table 1 shows the means and standard deviations for each of the variables as well as the correlations between them.
There are various difficulties in obtaining concrete objective measures of success from entrepreneurs. Reasons stem from factors such as small business owners not always running their businesses to maximize financial performance ( Jacobs et al. , 2016 ) or running a business because it allows for a preferred lifestyle ( Jennings and Beaver, 1997 ; Walker and Brown, 2004 ). Because of this, there are a few ways researchers can gain acceptable insight into the success of an entrepreneurial venture. One approach is to use subjective measures when other types of information are unavailable ( Dawes, 1999 ). Thus, following previous research ( Besser, 1999 ; Jacobs et al. , 2016 ) which has noted that entrepreneurial success may not always mean optimal financial measures and instead may be more along the lines of maintaining an acceptable level of income for themselves and their employees ( Beaver, 2002 ) or sustaining a lifestyle more aimed at being part of a creative output than being financially successful ( Chaston, 2008 ), we first analyzed the entrepreneurs' perceived organizational success. A second approach is to ask about objective success measures. We strengthened our study by asking entrepreneurs about objective measures of their firm's success via focusing on their firm's growth, specifically, asking about objective growth indicators in terms of increased number of employees, increased number of customers, or increased revenue as previous research has used these measures to indicate success ( Walker and Brown, 2004 ). Therefore, we analyzed the full model for both the subjective and objective dependent variables.
Given that entrepreneurial motivations can vary widely ( Shane et al. , 2003 ), defining success can vary based on the individual. To address this, studies have surveyed entrepreneurs for their subjective perception of their venture's success ( Fisher et al. , 2014 ; Keith et al. , 2016 ). Walker and Brown (2004 , p. 585) find that “Personal satisfaction, pride and a flexible lifestyle were the most important considerations for these business owners.” They argue that objective, financial measures that are often used in research offer objectivity and accessibility, but may not capture the true value of success for many entrepreneurs. These alternative motivations make success difficult to quantify objectively, leading researchers to utilize more subjective measures. Therefore, in line with prior research on entrepreneurial success perceptions ( Jacobs et al. , 2016 ; Besser, 1999 ), we asked respondents “How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement? My business is a success.” Respondents rated their agreement on a five-point Likert scale (1 = Strongly Agree, 5 = Strongly Disagree).
To strengthen the findings from our subjective measure of success we also asked respondents about objective measures of firm growth. By asking respondents about obvious measures of growth we can offer a more objective view on the success of the firm. We asked respondents if their firm had grown by any of the following three metrics: number of employees, number of customers, or total revenue (cf. Jacobs et al. , 2016 ). Given the variety of motivations of entrepreneurs, we chose not to limit the type of growth that would reflect success. In some cases, an entrepreneur may seek to increase the impact of the business by providing services to a greater number of customers, while maintaining a lean staff to control pricing. Alternatively, an entrepreneur may be seeking autonomy, and therefore choose not to hire in order to create greater autonomy. However, it is likely that some firm growth – in revenue, employees, or customers – is likely to occur in successful firms. Therefore, we combined these three types of growth as a dichotomous variable, wherein growth in any one or more of these areas would be coded as a “1” for growth and an answer of no growth in all of these areas would be coded as a “0” for no growth.
We defined business planning using four activities. We asked respondents if they (1) wrote a business plan [ Write BPlan ]; (2) gathered secondary data on industry statistics or trends [ Secondary Data ]; (3) shared your business plan with people outside the company for feedback [ BPlan Feedback ]; and (4) shared your business plan with people outside the company for funding [ BPlan Funding ]. These were not loaded as a factor as these do not represent an underlying factor, but rather are individual activities that all represent a variety of activities pertaining to the use of business plans.
We defined lean startup using six activities. We asked respondents if they (1) interviewed potential customers [ Interview ]; (2) created a prototype [ Prototype ]; (3) showed a prototype to potential customers for feedback [ Show Proto ]; (4) conducted an experiment to better understand some portion of your business [ Experiment ]; (5) used customer feedback to alter the direction of your business (“pivoted”) [ Pivot ]; and (6) accepted money for preorders [ Preorders ]. Similar to business planning activities, these were not loaded as a factor, as these activities do not represent an underlying factor, but rather a collection of potential activities.
For each of the IVs, respondents were first asked which of the above activities they engaged in during their venture startup process. The order of the activities was randomized. For each activity that was selected, respondents were asked to rate “how much did each of those activities positively impact the performance of this venture?” Respondents were given a five-point Likert scale (1 = “Not at all” to 5 = “A great deal”) and if the respondent did not do the activity, the response was coded as a 0. To calculate the IVs, each response was weighted by the level of impact. For example, if the respondent rated Experiment as a 5 for a great deal of impact, then it would be coded 5. If it was rated 3, then it would be coded 3. Any activity not completed was not rated (or effectively coded a 0).
We used the ratings to allow for variance in the impact of any activity. In our preliminary interviews, we heard that entrepreneurs may have performed the same activity, such as interviewing customers, but some placed a greater emphasis on this activity whereas others performed it only cursorily. We also performed a robustness check on the data using non-weighted values for the IVs and found similar results (these are available from the corresponding author upon request).
We controlled for the following variables: (1) the firm's age in years [Firm Age] ; (2) the entrepreneur's prior startup experience [Ent XP] ; (3) the entrepreneur's age in years [Age] ; (4) the entrepreneur's education level [Education] ; (5) the case sample [case Sample]; and (6) if the firm was a high-tech growth firm [Hi-tech growth firms] . Firm age is likely related to perceptions of success in the minds of entrepreneurs. If an entrepreneur perceives themselves as unsuccessful, they are likely to quit pursuing their venture. Thus, entrepreneurs with older businesses are more likely to have higher perceptions of their own success. Ent XP, Age , and Education have all been investigated in the past for their relationship to entrepreneurial firm performance (e.g. Hechavarría and Welter, 2015 ). We also control for the case sample since our sample was collected in two different processes. Finally, we control for Hi-tech growth firms since some firms in our sample are oriented toward accelerated growth and others may be content with stable returns, which may impact the use and effectiveness of business planning ( Brinckmann et al. , 2010 ).
Regression results for success DV
We tested our hypotheses using hierarchical regression [ 3 ]. In Step 1, we entered Firm Age (in years), the entrepreneur's prior startup experience, the entrepreneur's age, the entrepreneur's education level, the case source, and whether the firm was a hi-tech growth firm as controls ( Van Dyne and LePine, 1998 ). In Step 2, we entered our independent variables that relate to the business plan approach: writing a business plan, gathering secondary data on the industry, sharing the business plan to receive feedback, and sharing the business plan to obtain funding. We also included the variables related to the lean startup approach: interviewing potential customers, creating prototypes, showing prototypes to potential customers for feedback, conducting an experiment to better understand a portion of the business, pivoting based on customer feedback, and accepting money for preorders.
Table 1 reports descriptive statistics and correlations, whereas Table 2 presents the hierarchical regression results for the success dependent variable. As can be seen in Table 2 , consistent with H1a , writing a business plan was related to success ( β = 0.09, p = 0.09). However, we do not find support for our other hypotheses: gathering secondary data on the industry, sharing the business plan to receive feedback, and sharing the business plan to obtain funding were all not significantly related to success.
When we looked at the activities that contribute to lean startup methods, we found that interviewing potential customers ( β = 0.09, p = 0.08) and accepting money for preorders ( β = 0.15, p = 0.03) supported H2a and H2e respectively, suggesting these are correlated with success. Similar to the business plan approach there was not sufficient support for all our hypotheses: creating prototypes, showing prototypes to potential customers for feedback, conducting an experiment to better understand a portion of the business, and pivoting were not supported. The findings with regard to each hypothesis are summarized in Table 3 .
Regression results for growth DV
Similar to the subjective success dependent variable, we tested our hypotheses using logistic regression for our objective growth dependent variable [ 4 ]. A logistic regression was performed for each of our approaches, the business plan and lean startup since our growth DV is dichotomous ( Mason et al. , 2018 ).
Table 1 reports descriptive statistics and correlations, whereas Table 4 presents the logistic regression results for the effects of writing a business plan, gathering secondary data on the industry, sharing the business plan to receive feedback, and sharing the business plan to obtain funding had on our growth dependent variable. The logistic regression model was statistically significant, χ 2 (10) = 39.16, p < 0.005. The model explained 39.2% (Nagelkerke R 2 ) of the variance in business growth and correctly classified 69.2% of cases. As can be seen in Table 4 , consistent with H1a , writing a business plan was related to success ( β = 0.30, p = 0.036). As before we did not find support for our other hypotheses: gathering secondary data on the industry, sharing the business plan to receive feedback, and sharing the business plan to obtain funding.
Next, we looked at the actions that constitute lean startup, interviewing potential customers, creating prototypes, showing prototypes to potential customers for feedback, conducting an experiment to better understand a portion of the business, and pivoting based on customer feedback had on our growth dependent variable. The logistic regression model was statistically significant, χ 2 (12) = 53.82, p < 0.005. The model explained 51.0% (Nagelkerke R 2 ) of the variance in business growth and correctly classified 85% of cases. Our logistic regression results found that interviewing potential customers ( β = 0.25, p = 0.08), accepting money for preorders ( β = 0.89, p = 0.04), and pivoting based on customer feedback ( β = 0.34, p = 0.03), provided support for H2a , H2e , and H2f respectively, suggesting these are correlated with success in terms of growth. We did not find support for our other hypotheses about lean startup activities. These were, creating prototypes, showing prototypes to potential customers for feedback, conducting an experiment to better understand a portion of the business, and pivoting. The findings with regard to each hypothesis are summarized in Table 5 .
In this paper, we sought to understand the relationship between lean startup activities and success as well as the relationship between business planning activities and success. To answer this question, we began by gathering qualitative data from entrepreneurs to better understand their perspective and language regarding these two approaches. From there, we created a survey and collected responses from 120 entrepreneurs about their activities and their perception of success and the growth of their firms. Controlling for common influencers of success, we found that the act of writing a business plan ( H1a ), interviewing potential customers ( H2a ), and taking preorders ( H2e ) were all correlated with subjective perceptions of success. For the firm growth dependent variable, we found that the act of writing a business plan ( H1a ), taking preorders ( H2e ), and pivoting based on customer feedback ( H2f ) were all correlated with objective measures of firm growth. Interestingly, these results represent a combination of lean startup and business planning activities. What is more, the two activities that are supported by both dependent variables, represent the most well-researched activities. As mentioned, the literature on business planning is well developed ( Honig and Karlsson, 2004 ), and the use of preorders is most directly tied to research on enrolling stakeholders ( Burns et al. , 2016 ) as well as effectuation ( Sarasvathy, 2001 ).
Our results give some understanding to the prior equivocal findings on business planning ( Brinkmann et al. , 2010 ). The qualitative data we gathered suggests that entrepreneurs complete different activities in their business planning process. In the past, there has not been much discussion about separate aspects of business planning or the impact they may have. Our findings suggest that the act of writing a business plan is related to success, but the other business planning activities – gathering secondary data, sharing the business plan for feedback or funding – are not related. This suggests that the planning process itself may mean more than the uses of a business plan. Even if a business plan is not revised or revisited as an entrepreneur pursues their venture ( Karlsson and Honig, 2009 ), the act of writing the plan is still connected with success. Entrepreneurs going through the exercise of planning are likely to gain a better understanding of the entire endeavor of launching a new business. This would give entrepreneurs a better grasp of what the range of possible outcomes would be and likely temper any overly optimistic and unfounded hopes. Therefore, it is likely that simply writing the business plan helps calibrate entrepreneur expectations, which, in turn, helps entrepreneurs achieve success.
Rather than viewing lean startup as a cohesive whole, our qualitative data suggests that entrepreneurs make use of differing combinations of lean startup activities. This discovery informed our survey which offers some of the first direct quantitative evidence of the efficacy of lean startup methods. What we find, however, is that not all activities are linked to success. Perhaps the most straightforward finding is that taking preorders is correlated with both subjective and objective measures of success. If entrepreneurs are able to complete their first sales prior to actually creating their products or services, then success seems much more likely. Venture success, in this case, is agnostic toward the level of innovation in the firm. As such, the critique of lean startup from Felin et al. (2019) as a method that helps orient entrepreneurs to ideas that can be quickly and transparently tested still requires further investigation.
The other relevant activities are those most aligned with customers. Interviewing customers ensures that entrepreneurs design businesses that serve customers rather than building something that no one wants ( Blank and Dorf, 2012 ). However, it is worth noting that interviewing customers must be done with an awareness of the entrepreneur's own cognitive biases ( Chen et al. , 2015 ). Furthermore, pivoting as a result of these discussions with customers also shows a response to customers' desires.
The most interesting aspect of our findings is likely the combination of activities across business planning and lean startup. While lean startup proponents might argue that “no business plan survives its first contact with customers” ( Blank and Dorf, 2012 , p. 53), the act of writing a business plan is correlated with success. It is worth noting that the separation between lean startup and business planning may be a false dichotomy. The underlying activities are not mutually exclusive and do not seem to be detrimental to each other. It is entirely possible, and based on these results advisable, that an entrepreneur would interview customers throughout the process of creating a business plan and use customer feedback to alter both the plan and the business itself. Furthermore, taking customer preorders serves to solidify the relationship between customers and the firm which would only improve that communication.
In order to create one of the first quantitative, empirical investigations of business planning and lean startup practices, some tradeoffs needed to be made. We believe that while these limitations may restrict the strength of some of our findings, the direct nature of our approach offers a contribution to the ongoing conversations among scholars and practitioners.
Our sample size is 120. Obviously, a larger sample may lead to more robust and generalizable results. Furthermore, we gathered the sample using two different methods and controlling for the sample method was a significant predictor. We leave it to further research to expand upon our findings and investigate various entrepreneurial samples for differences that may arise.
One of our dependent variables was a subjective measure of success, which may be considered a weakness. We used this measure given the variety of preferred outcomes an entrepreneur may be pursuing – financial objectives, personal objectives, or mission-based objectives. Our other dependent variable was an objective measure of growth across three categories and serves to bolster confidence in the subjective measure.
Another area of concern may be common method variance given that we collected both independent variables and dependent variables from the same instrument. To address this concern, we collected data from individual entrepreneurs that all represented different companies and utilized two different samples so as to minimize the issues that may arise from common method variance ( Chang et al. , 2010 ). Lastly, our independent variables are more objective. For example, writing a business plan is a discrete event as is creating a prototype. For these reasons, we do not believe the common method variance is a major concern for this study.
One other potential weakness is the degree to which entrepreneurs actually utilized the activities of lean startup or business planning. The weighting scheme we employed aims to address this issue by weighting the degree to which entrepreneurs found each activity useful. However, we cannot be sure whether or not an entrepreneur executed the given activity well and this variability goes uncaptured in our study. Quantitative studies like this one will typically suffer from this limitation but case studies may be able to overcome these weaknesses (see Ghezzi et al. , 2015 ).
Finally, our design is cross sectional and does not allow us to make causal inferences. We can only imply the relationship between our independent and dependent variables. Our hope is this is a first step to future research which may be better able to test the causality of the various aspects of business planning and lean startup as they relate to entrepreneurial success.
Implications for research and practice
This manuscript has important implications for research and practice. With respect to research, we have demonstrated that aspects of business planning and lean startup both are associated with success. Furthermore, entrepreneurs seem unlikely to enact either business planning or lean startup wholesale but are likely to pursue individual aspects of these concepts. Future research can investigate how entrepreneurs select between activities as well as how training and education regarding these practices impact the entrepreneurs' choice. The training and education surrounding the entrepreneur represent aspects of the organizing context ( Johannisson, 2011 ), which influence how entrepreneurs construct their firms. Therefore, future research could add further institutional aspects or conduct randomized controlled trials to see the impact of these practices in the organizing context.
In terms of implications for practice, this research highlights the use of a variety of activities when it comes to entrepreneurial success. Some of the activities from both lean startup and business planning are useful for entrepreneurs. This also offers insight for educators as they seek to equip the next generation of entrepreneurs. Educators can offer potential entrepreneurs a wide range of activities without prognosticating one aspect of the false dichotomy between lean startup and business planning.
In this paper, we provide one of the first quantitative empirical studies investigating lean startup methods and business planning. In breaking down these areas, we undermine the false dichotomy between these two startup tools. Our findings demonstrate that truly understanding customers through preorders and interviews can lead to better business plans and better pivots. Ultimately, this results in firms with a greater chance of success. Understanding the variety of activities that entrepreneurs can pursue helps entrepreneurs and educators increase the chances of success for new businesses.
Summary regression results for the growth DV
We do not believe that business planning exists as a latent construct necessarily comprised of these activities, but rather each of these activities are potential components of the concept referred to as “business planning” in prior research.
Similar to business planning activities, we believe that lean startup is not a latent construct but rather these activities in some combination is what is meant when practitioners and scholars refer to lean startup. As such we test each of the activities individually rather than as a construct.
Following the extant guidelines on regression assumptions ( Osborne and Waters, 2002 ), we tested our model to ensure the regression assumptions were met. First, to check if our error terms ( Flatt and Jacobs, 2019 ) are normally distributed, the P - P plot suggests normality as the plot is largely linear. Second, to check for a linear relationship between the independent and dependent variable, our residual plot showed a linear relationship. Third, as our variables were not latent, there is no concern for measurement error for this approach. However, we did follow best practices suggested by Flatt and Jacobs (2019) and tested the Durbin–Watson statistic. Our value for this measure is 1.5 and their guidelines are that this statistic should be close to 2. Values between 1.2 and 1.6 represent only a minor violation of the statistical independence of error terms. Finally, to address the assumption of homoscedasticity, inspection of our standardized residuals showed our residuals scattered around the 0 (horizontal line). Therefore, for our dependent variable of success, we can feel comfortable our data meets the assumptions of linear regression.
As this dependent variable was analyzed using logistic regression, we analyzed our data following best practices from Garson (2012) . First, our dependent variable is dichotomous. Second our scatterplot showed no outliers in our data. Third, the correlation table showed no evidence for multicollinearity as no correlations were above 0.9 ( Tabachnick et al. , 2007 ). Hence, we feel our data meets the assumptions for logistic regression.
Appendix Qualtrics Survey
Started (or am starting it) myself
When you first started pursuing the business, how many people were on the founding team (including yourself)?
High Tech Startup (External/Venture funded)
Steady Growth Business (Internally/Self-funded)
Decision to Start a Business
[Lean Start Up, Business Planning Practices]
Interviewed potential customers
Created a prototype
Showed a prototype to potential customers for feedback
Conducted an experiment to better understand some portion of your business
Wrote a business plan
Accepted money for pre-orders
Used customer feedback to alter the direction of your business ("pivoted")
Gathered secondary data on industry statistics or trends
Shared your business plan with people outside the company for feedback
Shared your business plan with people outside the company for funding
How old are you? 0.5
Prefer not to answer
Black or African American
American Indian or Alaska Native
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
Living with a partner
Up to 8th grade
Some High School
High School Diploma
Some Graduate School
More than 1
My business is a success
Increased Annual Revenue
Increased Annual Customers
Increased Number of Employees
Thank you for completing the survey!
Ajzen , I. ( 1985 ), “ From intentions to actions: a theory of planned behavior ”, Action Control , Springer , Berlin, Heidelberg , pp. 11 - 39 .
Ansoff , H.I. ( 1991 ), “ Critique of Henry Mintzberg's ‘The design school: reconsidering the basic premises of strategic management’ ”, Strategic Management Journal , Vol. 12 No. 6 , pp. 449 - 461 .
Arend , R. , Sarooghi , H. and Burkemper , A. ( 2015 ), “ Effectuation as ineffectual? Applying the 3E theory-assessment framework to a proposed new theory of entrepreneurship ”, Academy of Management , Vol. 40 No. 4 , pp. 630 - 651 .
Beaver , G. ( 2002 ), Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development , Pearson Education , Harlow .
Besser , T.L. ( 1999 ), “ Community involvement and the perception of success among small business operators in small towns ”, Journal of Small Business Management , Vol. 37 No. 4 , pp. 16 - 29 .
Blank , S. ( 2013 ), “ Why the lean start-up changes everything ”, Harvard Business Review , Vol. 91 No. 5 , pp. 64 - 72 .
Blank , S. and Dorf , B. ( 2012 ), “ The startup owner's manual ”, The Step-by-step Guide for Building a Great Company , Vol. 1 .
Bliemel , M. ( 2014 ), “ Getting entrepreneurship education out of the classroom and into students’ heads ”, Entrepreneurship Research Journal , Vol. 4 No. 2 , pp. 237 - 260 .
Bortolini , R.F. , Nogueira Cortimiglia , M. , Danilevicz , A.D.M.F. and Ghezzi , A. ( 2018 ), “ Lean startup: a comprehensive historical review ”, Management Decision . doi: 10.1108/MD-07-2017-0663 .
Brinckmann , J. , Grichnik , D. and Kapsa , D. ( 2010 ), “ Should entrepreneurs plan or just storm the castle? A meta-analysis on contextual factors impacting the business planning–performance relationship in small firms ”, Journal of Business Venturing , Vol. 25 No. 1 , pp. 24 - 40 .
Brinckmann , J. , Dew , N. , Read , S. , Mayer-Haug , K. and Grichnik , D. ( 2019 ), “ Of those who plan: a meta-analysis of the relationship between human capital and business planning ”, Long Range Planning , Vol. 52 No. 2 , pp. 173 - 188 .
Burke , A. , Fraser , S. and Greene , F. ( 2010 ), “ The multiple effects of business planning on new venture performance ”, Journal of Management Studies , Vol. 47 No. 3 , pp. 391 - 415 .
Burns , B.L. , Barney , J.B. , Angus , R.W. and Herrick , H.N. ( 2016 ), “ Enrolling stakeholders under conditions of risk and uncertainty ”, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal , Vol. 10 No. 1 , pp. 97 - 106 .
Camuffo , A. , Cordova , A. , Gambardella , A. and Spina , C. ( 2019 ), “ A scientific approach to entrepreneurial decision making: evidence from a randomized control trial ”, Management Science . doi: 10.1287/mnsc.2018.3249 .
Chang , S.J. , Van Witteloostuijn , A. and Eden , L. ( 2010 ), “ From the editors: common method variance in international business research ”, Journal of International Business Studies , Vol. 41 No. 2 , pp. 178 - 184 .
Chaston , I. ( 2008 ), “ Small creative industry firms: a development dilemma? ”, Management Decision , Vol. 46 No. 6 , pp. 819 - 831 .
Chen , T. , Simon , M. , Kim , J. and Poploskie , B. ( 2015 ), “ Out of the building, into the fire: an analysis of cognitive biases during entrepreneurial interviews ”, New England Journal of Entrepreneurship , Vol. 18 No. 1 , pp. 59 - 70 .
Contigiani , A. and Levinthal , D. ( 2019 ), “ Situating the construct of lean startup: adjacent ‘Conversations’ and possible future directions ”, Industrial and Corporate Change , Vol. 28 No. 3 , pp. 551 - 564 .
Dawes , J. ( 1999 ), “ The relationship between subjective and objective company performance measures in market orientation research: further empirical evidence ”, Marketing Bulletin - Department of Marketing Massey University , Vol. 10 , pp. 66 - 75 .
De Clercq , D. and Voronov , M. ( 2009 ), “ Toward a practice perspective of entrepreneurship entrepreneurial legitimacy as habitus ”, International Small Business Journal , Vol. 27 No. 4 , pp. 395 - 419 .
Dean , J. and Sharfman , M. ( 1996 ), “ Does decision process matter? A study of strategic decision-making effectiveness ”, Academy of Management Journal , Vol. 39 No. 2 , pp. 368 - 392 .
Delmar , F. and Shane , S. ( 2003 ), “ Does business planning facilitate the development of new ventures? ”, Strategic Management Journal , Vol. 24 No. 12 , pp. 1165 - 1185 .
Felin , T. , Gambardella , A. , Stern , S. and Zenger , T. ( 2019 ), “ Lean startup and the business model: experimentation revisited ”, Forthcoming in Long Range Planning (Open Access), available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3427084 (accessed 29 June 2019) .
Fisher , R. , Maritz , A. and Lobo , A. ( 2014 ), “ Evaluating entrepreneurs' perception of success: development of a measurement scale ”, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior and Research , Vol. 20 No. 5 , pp. 478 - 492 .
Flatt , C. and Jacobs , R.L. ( 2019 ), “ Principle assumptions of regression analysis: testing, techniques, and statistical reporting of imperfect data sets ”, Advances in Developing Human Resources , Vol. 21 No. 4 , pp. 484 - 502 .
Forbes , D.P. ( 2007 ), “ Reconsidering the strategic implications of decision comprehensiveness ”, Academy of Management Review , Vol. 32 No. 2 , pp. 361 - 376 .
Frederiksen , D. and Brem , A. ( 2017 ), “ How do entrepreneurs think they create value? A scientific reflection of Eric Ries' lean startup approach ”, International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal , Vol. 13 No. 1 , pp. 169 - 189 .
Garson , G.D. ( 2012 ), Logistic Regression: Binomial and Multinomial , Statistical Associates Publishers , Asheboro, NC .
Ghezzi , A. ( 2019 ), “ Digital Startups and the adoption and implementation of Lean Startup approaches: effectuation, bricolage and opportunity creation in practice ”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change , Vol. 146 , pp. 945 - 960 , doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2018.09.017 .
Ghezzi , A. , Cavallaro , A. , Rangone , A. and Balocco , R. ( 2015 ), “ On business models, resources and exogenous (dis) continuous innovation: evidences from the mobile applications industry ”, International Journal of Technology Management , Vol. 68 Nos 1-2 , pp. 21 - 48 .
Greene , F. and Hopp , C. ( 2017 ), “ Are formal planners more likely to achieve new venture viability? A counterfactual model and analysis ”, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal , Vol. 11 No. 1 , pp. 36 - 60 .
Gruber , M. ( 2007 ), “ Uncovering the value of planning in new venture creation: a process and contingency perspective ”, Journal of Business Venturing , Vol. 22 No. 6 , pp. 782 - 807 .
Hechavarría , D.M. and Welter , C. ( 2015 ), “ Opportunity types, social entrepreneurship and innovation: evidence from the panel study of entrepreneurial dynamics ”, The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation , Vol. 16 No. 4 , pp. 237 - 251 .
Honig , B. ( 2004 ), “ Entrepreneurship education: toward a model of contingency-based business planning ”, The Academy of Management Learning and Education , Vol. 3 No. 3 , pp. 258 - 273 .
Honig , B. and Karlsson , T. ( 2004 ), “ Institutional forces and the written business plan ”, Journal of Management , Vol. 30 No. 1 , pp. 29 - 48 .
Honig , B. and Samuelsson , M. ( 2012 ), “ Planning and the entrepreneur: a longitudinal examination of nascent entrepreneurs in Sweden ”, Journal of Small Business Management , Vol. 50 No. 3 , pp. 365 - 388 .
Honig , B. and Samuelsson , M. ( 2014 ), “ Data replication and extension: a study of business planning and venture-level performance ”, Journal of Business Venturing Insights , Vols 1-2 Nos 1-2 , pp. 18 - 25 .
Jacobs , S. , Cambre , B. , Huysentruyt , M. and Schramme , A. ( 2016 ), “ Multiple pathways to success in small creative businesses: the case of Belgian furniture designers ”, Journal of Business Research , Vol. 69 No. 11 , pp. 5461 - 5466 .
Jennings , P. and Beaver , G. ( 1997 ), “ The performance and competitive advantage of small firms: a management perspective ”, International Small Business Journal , Vol. 15 No. 2 , pp. 63 - 75 .
Johannisson , B. ( 2011 ), “ Towards a practice theory of entrepreneuring ”, Small Business Economics , Vol. 36 No. 2 , pp. 135 - 150 .
Karlsson , T. and Honig , B. ( 2007 ), “ Norms surrounding business plans and their effect on entrepreneurial behavior ”, Frontier of Entrepreneurship Research , Vol. 27 No. 22 , pp. 1 - 22 .
Karlsson , T. and Honig , B. ( 2009 ), “ Judging a business by its cover: an institutional perspective on new ventures and the business plan ”, Journal of Business Venturing , Vol. 24 No. 1 , pp. 27 - 45 .
Katz , J.A. , Hanke , R. , Maidment , F. , Weaver , K.M. and Alpi , S. ( 2016 ), “ Proposal for two model undergraduate curricula in entrepreneurship ”, International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal , Vol. 12 No. 2 , pp. 487 - 506 .
Keating , A. , Geiger , S. and McLoughlin , D. ( 2014 ), “ Riding the practice waves: social resourcing practices during new venture development ”, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice , Vol. 38 , pp. 1207 - 1235 .
Keith , N. , Unger , J.M. , Rauch , A. and Frese , M. ( 2016 ), “ Informal learning and entrepreneurial success: a longitudinal study of deliberate practice among small business owners ”, Applied Psychology , Vol. 65 No. 3 , pp. 515 - 540 .
Ladd , T. ( 2016 ), “ The limits of the lean startup method ”, Harvard Business Review , Vol. 94 No. 3 , pp. 2 - 3 .
Mason , C. , Twomey , J. , Wright , D. and Whitman , L. ( 2018 ), “ Predicting engineering student attrition risk using a probabilistic neural network and comparing results with a backpropagation neural network and logistic regression ”, Research in Higher Education , Vol. 59 No. 3 , pp. 382 - 400 .
Mintzberg , H. ( 1994 ), “ The fall and rise of strategic planning ”, Harvard Business Review , Vol. 72 No. 1 , pp. 107 - 114 .
Mintzberg , H. and Waters , J.A. ( 1985 ), “ Of strategies, deliberate and emergent ”, Strategic Management Journal , Vol. 6 No. 3 , pp. 257 - 272 .
Osborne , J.W. and Waters , E. ( 2002 ), “ Four assumptions of multiple regression that researchers should always test ”, Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation , Vol. 8 No. 1 , pp. 1 - 5, 2 , doi: 10.7275/r222-hv23 .
Priem , R.L. , Rasheed , A.M.A. and Kotulic , A.G. ( 1995 ), “ Rationality in strategic decision processes, environmental dynamism and firm performance ”, Journal of Management , Vol. 21 No. 5 , pp. 913 - 929 .
Reymen , I.M.M.J. , Andries , P. , Berends , H. , Mauer , R. , Stephan , U. and Burg , E. ( 2015 ), “ Understanding dynamics of strategic decision making in venture creation: a process study of effectuation and causation ”, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal , Vol. 9 No. 4 , pp. 351 - 379 .
Richbell , S.M. , Watts , H.D. and Wardle , P. ( 2006 ), “ Owner-managers and business planning in the small firm ”, International Small Business Journal , Vol. 24 No. 5 , pp. 496 - 514 .
Ries , E. ( 2011 ), The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses , Crown Business , New York: New York .
Sarasvathy , S.D. ( 2001 ), “ Causation and effectuation: toward a theoretical shift from economic inevitability to entrepreneurial contingency ”, The Academy of Management Review , Vol. 26 No. 2 , pp. 243 - 263 .
Sarasvathy , S.D. and Dew , N. ( 2008 ), “ Effectuation and over-trust: debating goel and karri ”, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice , Vol. 32 No. 4 , pp. 727 - 737 .
Shane , S. , Locke , E.A. and Collins , C.J. ( 2003 ), “ Entrepreneurial motivation ”, Human Resource Management Review , Vol. 13 No. 2 , pp. 257 - 279 .
Shepherd , D. and Gruber , M. ( 2020 ), “ The lean startup framework: closing the academic-practitioner divide ”, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice . doi: 10.1177/1042258719899415 .
Tabachnick , B.G. , Fidell , L.S. and Ullman , J.B. ( 2007 ), Using Multivariate Statistics , Pearson , Boston, MA , Vol. 5 , pp. 481 - 498 .
Trimi , S. and Berbegal-Mirabent , J. ( 2012 ), “ Business model innovation in entrepreneurship ”, International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal , Vol. 8 No. 4 , pp. 449 - 465 .
Van Dyne , L. and LePine , J.A. ( 1998 ), “ Helping and voice extra-role behaviors: evidence of construct and predictive validity ”, Academy of Management Journal , Vol. 41 No. 1 , pp. 108 - 119 .
Walker , E. and Brown , A. ( 2004 ), “ What success factors are important to small business owners? ”, International Small Business Journal , Vol. 22 No. 6 , pp. 577 - 594 .
Welter , C. and Kim , S. ( 2018 ), “ Effectuation under risk and uncertainty: a simulation model ”, Journal of Business Venturing , Vol. 33 No. 1 , pp. 100 - 116 .
Welter , C. , Mauer , R. and Wuebker , R.J. ( 2016 ), “ Bridging behavioral models and theoretical concepts: effectuation and bricolage in the opportunity creation framework ”, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal , Vol. 10 No. 1 , pp. 5 - 20 .
Wood , M.S. and McKinley , W. ( 2010 ), “ The production of entrepreneurial opportunity: a constructivist perspective ”, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal , Vol. 4 No. 1 , pp. 66 - 84 .
Wood , M.S. , Palich , L.E. and Browder , R.E. ( 2018 ), “ Full steam ahead or abandon ship? An empirical investigation of complete pivot decisions ”, Journal of Small Business Management , Vol. 17 No. 4 , pp. 351 - 24 .
Yang , X. , Sun , S.L. and Zhao , X. ( 2018 ), “ Search and execution: examining the entrepreneurial cognitions behind the lean startup model ”, Small Business Economics , pp. 1 - 13 .
York , J. and Danes , J. ( 2014 ), “ Customer development, innovation, and decision-making biases in the lean startup ”, Journal of Small Business Strategy , Vol. 24 No. 2 , pp. 21 - 39 .
A portion of this research was funded by the Downing Scholars research grant at Xavier University.
Related articles, we’re listening — tell us what you think, something didn’t work….
Report bugs here
All feedback is valuable
Please share your general feedback
Join us on our journey
Platform update page.
Visit emeraldpublishing.com/platformupdate to discover the latest news and updates
Questions & More Information
Answers to the most commonly asked questions here
How to Write a Business Plan for an Early Stage Startup?
A Definitive mini-guide on How to Write a Business Plan for an early stage startup with a set of advice and useful resources which will help startup founders to write a great business plan without any headache.
SMM at InnMind
More posts by Irina Ionova.
Helping ideas to grow into measurable success. InnMind Expert in Metaverse, Crypto, Marketing Growth.
More posts by Val Baev.
Irina Ionova , Val Baev
Writing a business plan is definitely one of the main pain points for many startup founders, especially at the early stage. And this is not surprising: it is quite a challenge to establish a solid business plan, when there is very approximate understanding of marketing strategy, no real prove of the business model and no numbers or statistics to make financial forecasts (as it is usually demanded for 3-5 years). That's a headache, no one will doubt!
Every month InnMind team receives tons of requests from startup founders to help them in writing a business plan. They ask us advice about what template it is better to use, what items should be underlined as priority, which chapters must be included and which may be omitted in the business plan for a startup. And in most cases we say: hey guys, listen, there are tons of useful materials on this issue, great advices, books and articles on how to write business plan, just take your time to do some Internet search and find the most relevant and useful of them!
But... the number of questions and requests never decreases. For those who don’t want to waste time for searching for relevant information through Internet we prepared this definitive guide on how to write a business plan for a startup.
Should I Write a Detailed And Solid Business Plan?
I would rather say - NO, you shouldn’t. Why should you mark tons of pages, pretending to have a business plan for a startup which is similar to the one for multinational corporations? It’s ridiculous and obviously will be a waste of your time.
Business plan for a startup doesn’t have to be ideal, solid and comprehensive document. It has to explain clearly your idea, value proposition and business model - that’s it. In other words, business plan for startup includes your vision of your business goals and opportunities, combining risks & challenges, and the ways how to achieve the former and overcome the later.
Here is a great insight from serial entrepreneur and investor Patrick Hull , who answered this question in his post 5 Tips for a Great Business Plan in Forbes :
I once wrote an entire business plan with a business partner on paper towels. We recognized an opportunity, but had to write it down and test the idea to make sure it would work (we didn’t have any paper handy, although that didn’t stop us). The plan was just for us, but we still had to see if the vision, the financials, and the strategy were sound. We created that company and it went on to gross millions of dollars a month. In other words, your business plan doesn’t have to be some manicured document in order to make it successful.
What To Start My Business Plan With?
Sit down with your partners and team, have a drink, hold a brainstorming session and answer the following questions:
- What is my business about?
- What value does it bring to the customers? Why would customers buy my product or service?
- Are there competitors in my niche? What are their strong and weak points? Why would I be better?
- What is my potential market size?
- What goals do I want to reach and how?
- What do I need to execute your plan?
After answering these questions to yourself, start simply putting them on paper.
For the beginners it would be also useful to learn some basis. Chris Bowles ( @chrisbowlesinc ) in his blog made a very good presentation - Business Plan Writing: 4 Lesson Guide To Business Plans - which covers all the basic points of the business plan. What I like here is the creative way in which Chris delivers information: you don't need to read a book on how to write a business plan, it's enough just to view the short presentation where author visualised all the basic aspects of business plan writing.
Are There Any Business Plan Templates or Examples?
Sure, you can find plenty of them just googling. Let me mention some of the most interesting:
Free Business Plan T emplates From Entrepreneur
Entrepreneur, in collaboration with with SeamlessDocs, provides some free templates. Regarding business planning they have Business Plan non disclosure agreement, Business Plan Overview Template, Executive Summary Template and Marketing Plan Overview Template. You may download them free of charge directly by clicking the link above.
SCORE Business Plan Template for a Startup Business
SCORE is a nonprofit association that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners. They have a well-structured template of a business plan for a startup, so you can download it for free to draft your own plan.
Samples of Business Plan Executive Summaries on Businessplans.org
Here you can find free samples of executive summaries of the best business plans, which were presented at MOOT CORP® Competition, in which MBAs from the best business schools in the world present their business plans to panels of investors. They have a really huge list of business plans samples for variety of industries and cases, you just select the samples from your specific topic.
Mint.com: Business Plan In Elevator Pitch
As it was already mentioned before, you don’t need to have a solid multiple-page business plan for an early stage startup. Of course, it is not very convenient to write it on paper towels, but you can simply make it in the format of a presentation. As an example, I really recommend you looking at the Mint’s elevator pitch presentation, which actually has their business plan explained in 16 short slides. Why not make the same for your startup?
Business Plans Samples From bplans.com
Actually, Bplans.com provides software for business planning, which PRO edition starts from $19,95 per month. But on their website you can find some set of pretty good samples of business plans for different industries. Just dig through the website and ignore annoying popups ;)
We can continue this list with tons of resources, but I think that it makes no sense: if you’re not satisfied with those which are provided above - simply ask your search engine for other variants. But keep in mind: templates, samples and software can help you with structuring and formulating information, nothing more. Your real business plan should be the product of your own research and understanding of your future business!
Where to Start Creating Business Plan?
Most of the advisors will tell you that before answering your business plan questions, you need to investigate your market, customers, competitors, etc. I would say the following: it’s evident that before even thinking about writing a business plan while developing your startup idea, you should already think about value, customers, market and opportunities, so I presume you already have some understanding of the answers to all these questions. And I advise you to note down answers to these questions before the detailed analysis.
Support Your Business Plan With Marketing Research
And after having the first draft on paper, start the real detailed investigations. Surf the Internet to learn more about your market, speak directly with potential customers to understand their needs better, learn your competitors and their weaknesses, calculate precisely your expenses for execution and potential incomes for the first year.
And then, after doing all this homework, compare your first (partly intuitive) answers with the results of your investigations.
Do you have an impressive difference between the first and the second time answers? That’s normal, believe me ;)
For many newbies-entrepreneurs this is a rubicon where they give up and start seeking for a job (or a new business idea).
But if you are not one of them, if you are not scared of the revenues decrease (they were definitely overestimated in the first version), by competition (oh, you didn’t realize how tight it may be), by the volume of work to be done (yeah, billions will not appear in few months of work 8 hours per day), if you still see the great opportunities behind the details and numbers and want to reach them whatever it takes - congrats, you are probably one of those lucky entrepreneurial spirits who can handle the founder’s challenges.
Then you should update your business plan with new details after research, determine the first steps to be done for execution and come on - just do it! And I’ll cross all my fingers for your success.
Subscribe to InnMind
Subscribe to InnMind using the links below to stay up to date with upcoming events, releases, and news from the Web3/Cryptocurrency/NFT/Metaverse world of startups and investment funds:
Website | Twitter | Telegram | VC Pitching Sessions | Youtube | LinkedIn
Subscribe to InnMind: Blog for Web3 Startup Founders
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox
Stay up to date! Get all the latest & greatest posts delivered straight to your inbox
Do You Need a Business Plan? Scientific Research Says Yes
12 min. read
Updated November 20, 2023
Should you spend some time developing a plan for your business, or just dive in and start, figuring things out as you go? There has been plenty of debate on this topic, but no one has pulled together the scientific evidence to determine if planning is worthwhile—until now .
With the help of my friend Jeff, from the University of Oregon, I’ve been looking at academic research on business planning—the actual science around planning and how it impacts both startups and existing businesses.
But, before we dive into the data, why do we even need to look at research on business planning? It seems like most advice on starting a business includes writing a business plan as a necessary step in the startup process. If so many people encourage you to write one, business plans must add value, right?
Well, over the past few years, there’s been a lot of controversy about the value of business plans. People look at certain companies that have been very successful but haven’t written business plans and conclude that planning is a waste of time.
After all, taking the time to plan is a bit of a trade-off. The time you spend planning could be time spent building your company. Why not just “get going” and learn as you build your company, instead of taking the time to formulate a strategy and understand your assumptions about how your business might grow?
Well, the research shows that it’s really not a “write a plan” or “don’t write a plan” conversation. What really matters is what kind of planning you do and how much time you spend doing it.
- Planning can help companies grow 30 percent faster
One study (1) published in 2010 aggregated research on the business growth of 11,046 companies and found that planning improved business performance . Interestingly, this same study found that planning benefited existing companies even more than it benefited startups.
But, this study still doesn’t answer the question it raises:
Why would planning help a business that has a few years of history more than one that is just starting up?
The answer most likely lies in the fact that existing businesses know a bit more about their customers and what their needs are than a new startup does. For an existing business, planning involves fewer guesses or assumptions that need to be proven, so the strategies they develop are based on more information.
Another study (2) found that companies that plan grow 30 percent faster than those that don’t plan. This study found that plenty of businesses can find success without planning, but that businesses with a plan grew faster and were more successful than those that didn’t plan.
To reinforce the connection between planning and fast growth, yet another study (3) found that fast-growing companies—companies that had over 92 percent growth in sales from one year to the next—usually have business plans. In fact, 71 percent of fast-growing companies have plans . They create budgets, set sales goals, and document their marketing and sales strategies. These companies don’t always call their plans “business plans” but instead often refer to things like strategic plans, growth plans, and operational plans. Regardless of the name, it’s all forward-looking planning.
Action: Carve out some time to set goals and build a plan for your business. More importantly, re-visit your plan as you grow and revise it as you learn more about your business and your customers.
Business planning is not an activity you undertake only when you’re getting your business up and running. It should be something you return to, time and time again, to revise and improve upon based on new knowledge.
- The quality of the plan matters
But, it’s not as simple as it might appear. Just having a plan doesn’t guarantee faster growth. It’s the kind of plan you have and how you use it that really matters .
What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
It turns out that startups, especially ones building highly innovative businesses, should create shorter, less detailed plans (4). That’s because these innovative startups are learning new things about their product and customers at a very fast pace and their strategies change more frequently. Simpler plans get updated more frequently and are more helpful to these companies because they can review their strategy at a glance.
Meanwhile, more established companies know a lot more about their products and customers and can craft more detailed strategies that are less likely to change as quickly. For these companies, more detailed planning is generally more helpful.
And it’s not just the size of the plan that matters. What you include in your plan is important as well.
The same study we talked about above—the one that found that businesses grow faster with a plan—also found that companies that did a good job defining their value proposition do even better than companies that have a hard time defining their customers’ needs.
These researchers also found that having a plan is less about accurately predicting the future, and more about setting regular goals, tracking your actual progress toward those goals and making changes to your business as you learn more about your customers. Silicon Valley businesses like to call the act of changing strategic direction “pivoting.” All it really means is that you need to stay nimble, keep your eyes open, and be willing to make changes in your business as you compare your actual results to your goals and gather additional feedback from your customers.
Action: Skip the 40-page business plan and instead focus on simpler planning that defines your goals and documents your customers’ needs. Adjust your plan frequently as you learn more about your business.
- Being prepared matters when you’re seeking funding
Over and over again, you hear venture capitalists talk about how much the team matters in a funding decision. Beyond just the team, you also hear them talk about passion—how much the entrepreneur believes in the idea.
But, it turns out that there is something that trumps passion when VCs make their decisions. Research shows (5) that how well an entrepreneur is prepared is much more important than how much passion they have.
This doesn’t mean that VCs will ask for a business plan. In fact, they probably won’t ask for one.
What it means is that entrepreneurs need to have done some planning, in some form, so that they can be prepared to talk intelligently about their idea, their target market, their sales and marketing strategies, and so on.
So, the formal 40-page business plan document may not be useful when you’re pitching VCs. But, you’d better have done some planning, so that you can communicate verbally or through a pitch deck what would normally have been found in that written document.
And, not only will business planning help you be more prepared, it will actually improve your chances of getting funded. A study at the University of Oregon (6) found that businesses with a plan were far more likely to get funding than those that didn’t have a plan .
Action: Know your business inside and out. Document your strategy in an internal document, but skip all the time and effort creating a well-crafted business plan document.
- When you start planning is important—the earlier the better
So, if business planning increases your likelihood of success, and in fact helps you grow faster, when should you start working on a business plan?
Research shows (7) that entrepreneurs who started the business planning process early were better at what the scientists call “establishing legitimacy.” That’s a fancy way of saying that these entrepreneurs used business planning to start the process of talking with potential customers, working with business partners, starting to look for funding, and gathering other information they needed to start their business.
Entrepreneurs that did a good job of using their business plan to “establish legitimacy” early were more likely to succeed and their businesses tended to last longer.
Not only that, starting the planning process before starting marketing efforts and before talking to customers reduces the likelihood that a business will fail ( 8).
That said, planning should never take the place of talking to customers. An ongoing planning process—one in which the plan is constantly revised as new information is gathered—requires that you talk to your potential customers so that you can learn more about what they need, what they are willing to pay, and how you can best reach them.
Action: Start the planning process early. Even if all you do is build out a simple elevator pitch to try your idea on for size, it will help you begin the conversation with potential customers and kick-start your business.
- Planning makes you more likely to start your business
If you’re like me, and like most entrepreneurs, you like to dream up new business ideas. You constantly think of new ways to improve existing businesses and solve new problems.
But, most of those dreams never become a reality. They live on as ideas in your head while other entrepreneurs see the same opportunity and find a way to make it happen.
It turns out that there’s a way to turn more of your ideas into a viable business. A study published in Small Business Economics found that entrepreneurs that take the time to create a plan for their business idea are 152 percent more likely to start their business ( 9). Not only that, those entrepreneurs with a plan are 129 percent more likely to push forward with their business beyond the initial startup phase and grow it. These findings are confirmed by another study that found that entrepreneurs with a plan are 260 percent more likely to start their businesses (10).
Interestingly, these same entrepreneurs who build plans are 271 percent more likely to close down a business . This seems counterintuitive to the stats above, but when you think about it a bit more, it makes a lot of sense.
Entrepreneurs with plans are tracking their performance on a regular basis. They know when things aren’t going to plan—when sales aren’t meeting projections and when marketing strategies are failing. They know when it’s time to walk away and try a different idea instead of riding the business into the ground, which could have disastrous results.
Action: If you really want to start a business, start committing your goals and strategy to paper. Even if it’s just a simple one-page business plan, that will help you get started faster. And, once you do start, track your performance so you know when to change direction and try something different.
- You’re less likely to fail if you have a plan
Nothing can absolutely prevent your company from failing, but it turns out that having a plan can help reduce your risks.
Yet another study of 223 companies found that having a plan reduced the likelihood that a business would fail. Having a plan didn’t guarantee success, unfortunately. But, those companies with a plan had better chances of success than those that skipped the planning process.
Having a plan and updating it regularly means that you are tracking your performance and making adjustments as you go. If things aren’t working, you know it. And, if things are going well, you know what to do more of.
Action: Build a plan, but don’t just stick it in a drawer. Track your performance as you go so you can see if you’re reaching your goals. Your plan will help you discover what’s working so you can build your business.
- Your success depends on the type of planning you do
In the end, creating a business plan seems like common sense. You wouldn’t set out on a trip without a destination and a map, would you?
It’s great to see research back up these common-sense assumptions. The research also validates the idea that the value of business planning really depends on how you approach it.
It’s not a question of whether you should plan or not plan—it’s what kind of planning you do. The best planning is iterative; it’s kept alive and it adapts.
It’s not about predicting the future as if you’re a fortune teller at a carnival. Instead, it’s a tool that you use to refine and adapt your strategy as you go, continuing to understand your market as it changes and refining your business to the ever-changing needs of your customers.
I recommend starting with a one-page plan. It’s a simpler form of planning where you can start by documenting your business concept on a single page. From there, iterate, gather feedback, and adjust your plan as needed. If you need some inspiration, check out our gallery of over 550 free sample business plans .
Finally, a big “thank you” to Jeff Gish at the University of Oregon , who was immensely helpful in gathering and analyzing the research mentioned in this article.
What has your experience with business planning been like? Will you approach the planning process differently in the future? Tell me on Twitter @noahparsons.
1 Brinckmann, J., Grichnik, D., & Kapsa, D. (2010). Should entrepreneurs plan or just storm the castle? A meta-analysis on contextual factors impacting the business planning–performance relationship in small firms. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(1), 24-40. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusvent.2008.10.007
2 Burke, A., Fraser, S., & Greene, F. J. (2010). The multiple effects of business planning on new venture performance. Journal of Management Studies, 47(3), 391-415.
3 Upton, N., Teal, E. J., & Felan, J. T. (2001). Strategic and business planning practices of fast growth family firms. Journal of Small Business Management, 39(1), 60-72.
4 Gruber, M. (2007). Uncovering the value of planning in new venture creation: A process and contingency perspective. Journal of Business Venturing, 22(6), 782-807. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusvent.2006.07.001
5 Chen, X.-P., Yao, X., & Kotha, S. (2009). Entrepreneur passion and preparedness in business plan presentations: A persuasion analysis of venture capitalists’ funding decisions. Academy of Management Journal, 52(1), 199-214.
6 Ding, E., & Hursey, T. (2010). Evaluation of the effectiveness of business planning using Palo Alto’s Business Plan Pro. Department of Economics. University of Oregon.
7 Delmar, F., & Shane, S. (2004). Legitimating first: Organizing activities and the survival of new ventures. Journal of Business Venturing, 19(3), 385-410. doi: 10.1016/s0883-9026(03)00037-5
8 Shane, S., & Delmar, F. (2004). Planning for the market: Business planning before marketing and the continuation of organizing efforts. Journal of Business Venturing, 19(6), 767-785. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusvent.2003.11.001
9 Hechavarria, D. M., Renko, M., & Matthews, C. H. (2011). The nascent entrepreneurship hub: Goals, entrepreneurial self-efficacy and start-up outcomes. Small Business Economics, 39(3), 685-701. doi: 10.1007/s11187-011-9355-2
10 Liao, J., & Gartner, W. B. (2006). The effects of pre-venture plan timing and perceived environmental uncertainty on the persistence of emerging firms. Small Business Economics, 27(1), 23-40. doi: 10.1007/s11187-006-0020-0
See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan
Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan.
Table of Contents
10 Min. Read
When Should You Write a Business Plan?
2 Min. Read
Business Plan vs Business Model Explained
12 Min. Read
Free Amazon FBA Business Plan PDF [2023 Template + Sample Plan]
How to Create a Cash Flow Forecast
The LivePlan Newsletter
Become a smarter, more strategic entrepreneur.
Your first monthly newsetter will be delivered soon..
The quickest way to turn a business idea into a business plan
Fill-in-the-blanks and automatic financials make it easy.
No thanks, I prefer writing 40-page documents.
Our biggest savings of the year
Black Friday Save 60%
for life on the #1 rated business plan software
How Entrepreneurs Write A Business Plan: 10 Simple Steps
by Denise Dales May 13, 2023
Entrepreneurs can write a business plan in just 10 simple steps. This critical step doesn’t need to be complicated, but it is worth your time. No matter what type of business you are starting, each section of your business plan ensures you are aligned and productive, and planning to achieve your new business goals!
Your business plan is your blueprint for success. No matter how small your business is or how detailed your concept is, if you are starting a business, create the plan. How Entrepreneurs Write A Business Plan walks you through how to create your plan in just 10 simple steps, covering these areas of your business:
Elements of a Business Plan
· preplan, · executive summary, · opportunity, · target market, · competition, · sales & marketing, · operations, · milestones, · company, · financial plan.
The business planning process is necessary but should not be stressful or overwhelming. Use our template, someone else’s or create your own. You do not need a complicated form. You do not need to spend money. You need 30 minutes of your time.
You can jump right in and capture details, or start with a simple list, but create your plan. Ensure your priorities, your productivity, and your personal development are all in alignment. Your daily priorities – your reason to get up and go to work – all stem from your plan.
The definition of business plan : A business plan is a document defining a company’s objectives, and how it will achieve them. In your case, it’s Your company’s objectives and how YOU will achieve them.
How? We’ll get to that. But know right off the bat: A failure to plan is planning to fail.
DO NOT accept this fact when it’s too late. You’ve heard the sayings, “you don’t know what you didn’t know,” and “hindsight is 20/20.” Old sayings are sayings for a reason. Learning the hard way wastes a lot of time.
How much detail and fact you have to work with depends upon where you are in the development of your product or service. An entrepreneur just starting out may have some details to work with, though much of the plan will be expected – or predicted. A good business plan changes over time. You don’t need to have an existing business or cash flow in order to write your plan.
You will make some assumptions. It’s fine. You need to.
It’s your dream business. Your products and services are needed by consumers, right?
Consider the type of business, your business description, business goals, your projections,, and write a business plan. .
“Today is your opportunity to build the tomorrow you want.”
– Ken Poirot
STEP 1: PREPLAN
Preplanning is an actual step where you, as the business owner, take the time to consider and think! You need to understand the necessity of having a plan. Know what you want to include. Gather your thoughts, gather your details, and buy in. Know where you are going.
As you write your business plan, you’ll notice how the sections relate and intertwine. You can change it up however you want, whenever you want.
- Steps 2-10 are suggested. However, if you prefer to add a summary of who makes up your company as step 3, as part of the executive summary, or as part of the opportunity and eliminate step 9, do it!
This is YOUR company. This is YOUR plan.
As a successful entrepreneur, your business plan captures your reality and your expectations. It’s what your small business structure, but also developing elements including your marketing plan and growth plans.
STEP 2: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Your executive summary briefly captures the opportunity at hand, your target market, the competitive landscape, and how you will approach sales & marketing and operations. It also captures expected milestones, as well as your management plan and your financial plan.
Again – as an entrepreneur just starting out, much of this will be expected or predicted. You will make some assumptions. We all know the old saying about making assumptions, but in this case, it’s necessary in order to build a plan of action. No worries!
STEP 3: OPPORTUNITY
Describe your opportunity in terms of a mission statement which shares the need have you identified and the solution you offer. This section is an overview of your business opportunity. Your opportunity section captures the purpose of your company, your point of difference, and answers why consumers need or want your product and why now. Step 3 is completed by your vision statement which tells us how the world will look like after your product has changed it.
STEP 4: TARGET MARKET
Share your market analysis and include who needs your product, and who is actually purchasing your product, and when.
For example, A newborn baby may need diapers, but a parent or caregiver will make the purchase decision and the actual purchase. Defining your target market is the beginning of your strategy. You’ll want to include your findings on how you expect your target audience to change, expand, develop further and why.
STEP 5: COMPETITION
Identify your competitive landscape. Knowing your competition sets the stage for how you will market and sell your product. A successful business is Not without competition! ‘And don’t forget – competition may also come from unexpected sources.
For example: Perhaps there is no direct competitor. Perhaps no one sells your exact product and meets the exact need. But suppose it’s expensive and there’s a downturn in the economy. Basic necessities of shelter, water and food will scoop up that share of your consumer’s wallet.
Describe your competition today, and if you expect your competition to remain the same as time goes on. An effective business plan allows for change and contingency plans. Share whether your conclusions are due to expected economic influences, seasonality, a result of your planned growth into additional sales channels, or other contributing factors.
STEP 6: SALES & MARKETING
Describe your business plan in terms of how you will market your product and how you will sell it. Develop your business strategy , starting with your initial reach, progress with how you will engage your target market, and how they will actually make the purchase and receive it. Include whether it’s an impulse purchase, a long-term complicated decision, and if you expect repeat purchases. Part of selling your product involves their ability to actually purchase and receive it, right? It also involves feedback and possible returns. Consider these factors, especially as you move onto step 7.
You do not need creative assets in this section. You will also develop a sales plan and a marketing plan at some point. This section of your business plan should outline and summarize the overall strategy.
STEP 7: OPERATIONS
This part of your new business plan will outline how your product is created, costs involved, how long it takes to create, and how it will reach the end consumer. Share expectations on shipping, if returns/refunds are expected, what %, why, and how the customer service process will be managed. Your operations plan and the process itself will relate back to consumer engagement as well as future sales and marketing decisions and tactics.
STEP 8: MILESTONES
A well thought-out business plan will lessen anxiety and unreasonable expectations by defining short-term and longer-term goals.
Short-term goals may be 3-6 months or 1 year, which can then determine the timing of longer-term goals. You need to determine the actual timing based on your business needs. If your business concept involves long-range planning needs, the goal timing will obviously be adjusted. Use what you currently know as facts and the current business environment and build in assumptions. Again, as your business grows and changes, you will update your plan.
For now though, know t his section contains your business goals – the when and the how. Provide an overview or include a deep dive into your SMART goals with specific objectives and steps….. Again – this is YOUR document .
· When you will start selling
· When you expect to reach a certain sales goal in dollars or units
· When you will kick of your first marketing campaign with a brief description
· When you expect your sales will pay back for your investment and generate a profit
· Any pertinent milestones
STEP 9: COMPANY
Describe who is part of your company and where you are located. Include an organizational chart if you have one and your leadership structure. At this earlier stage in your business venture you may have a number of employees and/or have formal and informal advisors. Early on, this section will be light and can be included simply as part of your executive summary. If you are expecting immediate growth and/or seeking funding, share your expected framework.
STEP 10: FINANCIAL PLAN
Write this section last, but by no means is it the least important! Your financial plan is a high-level overview of how you are currently funding the business and how further support will move your business forward. You, as the business owner, and potential investors absolutely want to know where your funds are coming from, what is coming in from expected sales, and what is going out as your cost of doing business.
Achieving a return on investment is critical – obviously!
Your business plan gets you through the early stages of prioritizing and figuring out what to do next. Your business plan can serve as a guide through mid-stages of development and growth when you are overwhelmed. It also leads you to determine the legal structure of your business, and helps you plan for investments such as additional staff.
Your plan is a basic 1st step. Your plan will guide your next steps.
It’s a living document helps guide you today and in making sound decisions about your future. So d ownload a form, use ours, or make your own.
There are many beautiful options, lots of fancy words, and you can pay for them and pay for assistance in creating your plan. You can. ‘But you do not have to or need to.
Again – no mystery here. No magic. Nothing to buy. No special way to do anything.
JUST DO IT.
As time goes on – as soon as it’s written actually – your plan will help uncover the holes in your assumptions. You will then fill them. You will then hit additional, unforeseen hurdles. However, you will be backed by a solid sense of who you are and what this business is about – so you will objectively prioritize and get over the hurdles – thanks to your plan. The time spent planning is worth it. YOU are worth that investment.
Get moving. You have a business to build!
Signup for the newsletter
And recieve notifications when I post New videos and articles.
Leave a comment.
- Meet our students
- SSE Community
- Other places to look for support
Writing your first business plan
Wh y do you need a business plan .
A business plan will help you to clarify your idea, identify challenges and allow you to monitor the progress you’re making. Your business plan is not a static document, it is something you should revisit and update as your organisation grows.
” A goal without a plan is just a wish” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Putting pen to paper
Writing a business plan may seem daunting, but you’ll probably find that writing down your idea will bring clarity and focus to what you are looking to achieve as a social entrepreneur.
Your business plan should demonstrate that your idea is well thought through and sustainable in the long-term. As a start-up you will find that funders, investors and stakeholders will request to see your business plan. Once you have your plan on paper it will be quick for you to pull together the information requested by funders or investors.
“The best business plans are straightforward documents that spell out the who, what, where, why, and how much.” Paula Nelson
What to include in your business plan
When you are writing your first business plan you should aim to answer the following questions:
- What is your idea?
What are you offering to your beneficiaries and customers? This is sometimes referred to as ‘value proposition.’
- Who are your customers?
Who is going to buy your product or service?
- Who are your beneficiaries?
Who will benefit from what you’re doing? For a social organisation your beneficiaries and customers may be different groups, so it’s important to think about what you are offering to each of them.
- How will you promote your organisation?
How will you market yourself to customers and beneficiaries? Now you know who they are, how do you plan to reach them?
- Who else is doing something similar?
Who are your competitors? How does your organisation differ? Take time to think about what they do well and learn from them, it’s unlikely your idea has never been done before so use others experience as a tool for learning.
- Steps to achieve your goals.
What do you need to do to achieve your objectives? Breaking down things into step by step actions will make your idea seem more achievable, it will also prevent you from getting distracted.
- What resources do you need?
What resources you will need to make this happen – people, premises, materials? Try to be realistic. When you are first starting out you might be able to beg, steal and borrow but if you want to become sustainable you need to be realistic about the resources you need.
- How much money will you have coming in?
What are people willing to pay for your services? Be realistic with how many sales you are likely to make and try to base this on evidence where possible.
- How much money will you have going out?
Once you know what resources you require, you need to work out how much will they cost you. The cost of people, equipment and premises all need to be accounted for.
- How much money will you have left over?
Will you break-even or have a profit? If you have a profit what you will do with it? You might not make a profit in your first year but you need to have an idea of when and how you will become financially sustainable.
How to structure your business plan
Once you’ve written your first business plan ask for feedback, then listen to the feedback you’ve receive. Be open to constructive comments and willing to add detail where it is needed.
Don’t forget to review your business plan regularly (don’t lock it away in a drawer!) Use your business plan to monitor your progress and keep you working towards your goals:
- Learn to Build a Better Business Plan
- The Social Business Model Canvas
Back to Resources
Sign up to our weekly newsletter for latest course offers and social enterprise news
- Starting a Business
- Growing a Business
- Business News
- Science & Technology
- Money & Finance
- Green Entrepreneur
- Subscribers For Subscribers
- Store Entrepreneur Store
- Spotlight Spotlight
- United States
- Asia Pacific
- Middle East
- South Africa
Copyright © 2023 Entrepreneur Media, LLC All rights reserved. Entrepreneur® and its related marks are registered trademarks of Entrepreneur Media LLC
Success Starts When You Let Go of These Entrepreneurial Myths Whether you're preparing to launch your first business or you've been an entrepreneur for a while, don't fall for the following founder fables.
By Chrystal L. • Nov 22, 2023
- Debunking four common myths about entrepreneurship
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Two things are certain when you embark on an entrepreneurial venture. The first? You'll get plenty of advice. The second? You'll get loads of well-intentioned warnings.
Sometimes, the two will overlap, as in the case of a cautionary comment disguised as, "I'm just being real with you." Your job is to figure out how to filter out all the myths you're hearing to get to the truth so you can avoid being one of the approximately 20% of companies that fail within 12 months .
Unfortunately, you will run into myths about entrepreneurship (and tech entrepreneurship) everywhere you go. As a successful startup leader who's moved from a non-tech industry (beauty) into a tech one (app development), I've come face to face with tons of false notions and misplaced concerns. Along the way, I've been fortunate to navigate the journey with wit and tenacity to avoid the many misconceptions that can trap many modern entrepreneurs.
Whether you're preparing to launch your first business or you've been an entrepreneur for a while, I encourage you not to fall for the following founder fables.
Related: Don't Let These Myths About Entrepreneurship Hold You Back
Myth: Leadership requires traveling a lonely road
Call it Hollywood mystique, if you will, but the overarching idea of entrepreneurs frequently includes a loneliness factor. Certainly, entrepreneurship can be a lonely place, but only if you choose to not step out of your comfort zone and network.
There are so many resources and places to turn to for help. You just have to be intentional and seek out people and tools to support and guide you. For instance, I'm fortunate to work in the St. Louis, Missouri area, where I've actively connected with other founders who are people of color like me.
What I've discovered is that people are eager to help you when you put yourself out there, are vulnerable about what you need and set your ego aside . As long as you are able to embrace your naivete (we're all naive about something), you'll find that others will share everything from their best insights to their top connections. All you have to do is soak everything up and use what you hear to move forward, always backed up by a growing team of supportive peers.
Myth: You need a fearless mindset to move mountains
Want to know another misconception about entrepreneurship? The idea of the Fearless Founder. I wonder about people who truly have no fear about setting up a business, particularly if they're entering into an untested industry. Being afraid makes sense. The entrepreneurs I know have all been afraid at some point. The key is not that they're fearless but that they're willing to "do it while they're scared."
When asked by Seek Capital, 15 founders talked about their most pressing fears . Those fears included making errors, wasting money, losing money and ending up with nothing to show for their efforts. Not one of those entrepreneurs was truly fearless. You don't have to be, either.
What you DO have to do is release yourself from thinking you have to be perfect and know everything. Lean into the fact that small and large failures will happen. Your role is to learn from them, talk about them and allow yourself to fail forward again and again. It's scary, but it's the right way to keep growing.
Related: 5 Fears All Entrepreneurs Face (and How to Conquer Them)
Myth: Your innovations have to be groundbreaking
Reinventing wheels may sound exciting, but it's not necessary to have a successful startup . You've heard the saying, "There is nothing new under the sun." It's true in most cases. Stop thinking you have to innovate from the ground up. You don't. You just need to do something better.
Of course, when you hit upon your gold mine idea, you need to present it so that people see why it's different (it's not always obvious to outsiders why your innovation is an improvement). I'll use my experience. I'm in a competitive market, and most investors don't look like me. They don't share my knowledge of the beauty industry because they didn't work in it for 14 years like I did. In their minds, every beauty-related SaaS platform is the same.
As a founder, I have to explain why that's untrue and why there are actually five different beauty industry business models, as well as where my company's platform fits in. I'm using proven and emerging technologies in new ways to improve digital user experiences in a very niche sector, not reinventing every part that I'm bringing to the table.
Myth: You need to grow your network as fast as possible
You'll need a solid network as an entrepreneur, but you have to be exceedingly strategic. I used to attend conferences and talk to everyone. Now, I have a systematic networking process that I use to not just meet people but thoughtfully build connections. Rather than being organic, which is what I was used to, it's all planned based on solid networking strategies for entrepreneurs.
For example, when I attend an event, I look at every speaker who will be in attendance. I learn about them and decide which ones I want to connect with. Then, I introduce myself to those key players on LinkedIn. That way, when I meet them in person, they recognize my name and maybe my face. We have some instant rapport to start a genuine discussion.
After the event, I write posts on social media that include "nuggets" I learned from those people and tag them. Those actions have helped me build personal relationships that have allowed me to get to the next phase. Interestingly, someone did that with me now that I'm gaining traction and visibility. He's a developer with a wide range of expertise. We've been looking for someone with his qualifications for our open CTO position. If he hadn't connected with me through a cold DM, I'd never have considered him for the position. He was very intentional in his approach to me, which I respect and value.
You'll need to handle quite a bit as an entrepreneur. Just don't make things harder than they need to be by believing all the myths and hype. Rather, hold tight to a truth that one of my dear mentors said to me: "You're built for this."
Related: How Strategic Networking Can Deliver Big Results at Your Next Conference
Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor
Founder of Liquid Hair Institute
Editor's Pick Red Arrow
- Lock A Simple, Leisure-Focused Side Hustle Earns This Couple a Lucrative Extra Income Stream : 'Our First Year We Made $84,000.'
- Thanksgiving Is One of Few Paid Holidays U.S. Workers Have Off. They're Not Grateful for Stingy Vacation Policies — and the Breaking Point Is Near .
- Lock How I Trained My Intuition to Make Decisions Quickly — and Raised $70 Million
- Is Your Relentless Pursuit of Efficiency Actually Hurting Your Business? Here's How to Tell When You're Taking Productivity Too Far.
- Lock Here's Why You Should Drink Coffee Before You Nap
- He Grew Up in a McDonald's Dynasty Then Swapped Big Macs for Lash Extensions . Here's How He's Bringing the 'McDonald's Framework' to the $1.6 Billion Lash Industry.
Related Topics Red Arrow
Most popular red arrow, this electric toothbrush is on sale for black friday, just $20.97.
Get a sleek, top-selling toothbrush in an array of colors for an affordable rate.
How to Prepare Your Business to Win Big on Black Friday
The Thanksgiving shopping experience is all about maximizing profit by selling as many discounted items as possible.
Enjoy No Monthly Fees with This Easy Cloud Storage Backup, Now $99.99 for 10TB
You won't want to miss this Black Friday steal.
Why Gratitude Makes Leaders More Effective
Here are nine effective ways to show your genuine gratitude on a daily basis.
Woman Accidentally Tipped $7,000 on Subway Sandwich — And Had to Fight the Bank to Get Her Money Back
Vera Conner thought she was being prompted to enter her phone number on the Subway pay screen — but she quickly realized she made a grave mistake.
Success Starts When You Let Go of These Entrepreneurial Myths
Whether you're preparing to launch your first business or you've been an entrepreneur for a while, don't fall for the following founder fables.
Successfully copied link