Re-Thinking the Business Plan

Bob Reiss’ article, “Write Your Business Plan in Pencil” from,  has some good points about when and how small businesses might approach business plan development.  Reiss advocates constructing a plan that will be flexible (hence the “in pencil” directive) but explains that “a detailed plan is only required if you want to raise money from a bank or venture capitalist. . . So your energies are wasted writing those long and thick plans.”   I couldn’t agree more.

But for me, the issue is that the definition of a business plan is too restrictive.  It does require certain elements.  It can be too overwhelming to take on.  Small business needs new ways of talking about the end result of planning–as well as new pathways to get there.  I like the suggestion that “For most sole proprietors, that business plan can reside . . . on a napkin,” although it seems to me an altogether different thing.  I am interested in defining that thing, in bringing about a tangible result that is called something other than a business plan but that is just as effective in helping entrepreneurs and start-ups achieve their visions.  (Maybe that’s the marketer in me, pushing for a product name, something to build a brand around.)

I currently have a methodology that I use to help small businesses with their strategic planning. The result is a set of marketing and sales goals with the related tasks and deadlines specific to achieving them.  It’s not the mammoth of a business plan nor the lightness of a napkin, but it is a quick, well-thought-out deliverable that helps small businesses define clear goals and pave the way to achieving them.  While there’s no snazzy name for it yet, this type of strategic planning allows for the flexibility and agility needed without the lengthy time frames usually associated with planning exercises.

I think perhaps regardless of the name of the end reult, the process, which I call strategic planning is important.  And unlike Reiss I would argue that any result of planning should not be only in your head, if for no other reason that managing
your time and progress against your goals in a systematic way can’t be achieved.

What do you think?  Do we need new categories?  Does the business plan need to be reinvented for small businesses, especially those not seeking funding? Is it the same for microbusinesses and solo service providers?  Do you know of branded strategy products being offered currently?