Writing a business plan is one of the most demanding and tedious challenges facing entrepreneurs, invariably taking dozens or even hundreds of hours of executive time. And as your business grows the task becomes ever more daunting, simply because the business becomes more complex; there are more details to cover in terms of planning operations, marketing, and financing. And there are invariably more people who need to be involved in writing the plan.
Fortunately, there are techniques and tools—including software and the power of networks—that can make the writing process easier and more productive than ever. These tools enable key people in a growing company to actively collaborate in writing and revising the plan so the final document is one everyone has a stake in fulfilling.
The challenge is to “plan the plan.” In other words, to organize the writing process so it’s easy to involve the necessary people, while at the same time ensuring the existence of control mechanisms to preserve confidentiality as needed and keep the process from breaking down.
Why even worry about writing a small business plan when things so rapidly and the planning quickly becomes out of date? Many entrepreneurs are asking that question, but the fact is that rapid change makes planning ever more necessary as a means to keep an organization focused and coordinated. A business plan helps ensure that key players in a growing company are “singing from the same songbook” in terms of understanding the company’s strategy and working to fulfill specific marketing, sales, and other goals.
Here are techniques to take the pain out of the writing process and advance the completion of your company’s business plan:
Put one person in charge.
This person—ideally a senior executive with good writing and editing skills—should establish the overall organization and be the leader. He or she should determine who writes what and who has access to the plan at various stages. This person should also set deadlines and review inputs.
For example, this individual might ask key executives to write sections of the plan according to the areas they lead. Thus, the vice president of marketing would put together an initial version of the marketing section of the plan. Or the editor might decide that he or she should write an initial draft of the entire plan and then submit it to other key executives for input.
Establish an editing process.
Today’s word processing programs make it easy for a number of individuals to provide suggested editing changes and/or comments that can be viewed easily by everyone involved in the preparation process. The person in charge should clarify the input and revision process for everyone on the team.
Involve as many people as possible.
This might mean making sections available to individuals who can provide useful input. For example, the vice president of sales might make the sales section of the plan available to regional sales managers for their comments and edits.
Make the plan available.
Determine how to make the final version of the plan available to the organization. One excellent way is via an intranet or extranet. Using passwords, you can make certain versions or parts of the plan available to certain company levels on a need-to-know basis. For example, you might want to limit to senior executives the availability of new product plans or detailed cash flow and other financials.
Meet as a group at certain points.
Online collaboration is great, but there should be opportunities for people to get together and talk about the process. Remember that technology can totally substitute for real-life brainstorming.
Completing a business plan will probably always be a tedious affair, but new technology can take some of the sting out of the process and allow for more group collaboration than ever before. Group collaboration provides a sense of ownership, thus greatly increasing the odds for the plan’s success.