Business plan authoring services?
April 26, 2007 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Business plan authoring services?

I have a small company in operation for two years. We're three people with families and full-time jobs doing this whenever we can. We've had great success thus far, with promising results on the horizon even if it were to remain a side thing for us.

We can make this huge if we could do it full-time, and through personal contacts we've hit upon a few very interested sources of financing.

They want to see a business plan. The one we have is god awful. We don't want to screw this up so we're looking for a service to create a plan for us, something like Master Plans.

Does anyone have any advice/past experience/warnings on finding or using one of these services?
posted by jma to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would warn that a business plan service will not be as personal and passionate as something you have done yourself. The beauty of small business is that it encapsulates the passion and entrepreneurship of the owners - something that won't come across in a plan written by a third party.

The other thing to consider is that most sources of funding will want a presentation of your plan - this will be much easier and more natural if you write the plan yourself.
posted by TheAspiringCatapult at 3:56 PM on April 26, 2007

Find out if there is a business incubator near you. A good place to start looking or asking would be an MBA program at a local university.

Another good resource: SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
posted by enrevanche at 4:37 PM on April 26, 2007

Whoops, just checked your location and you're a neighbor of mine. :-) The New York Public Library's Science, Business and Industry Library is an amazing resource. Check out the programs they run for entrepreneurs.
posted by enrevanche at 4:41 PM on April 26, 2007

You can hire a writer, but I would start with enrevanche's suggestions, for sure. Even if you do end up hiring a writer to help out, you will have a much better idea of what to look for, and what to expect from them.

You can also learn more about getting financing at the SBA -- another thing that, even if you don't go that way, the knowledge can be valuable in getting the best deal available to you.
posted by mattpfeff at 4:50 PM on April 26, 2007

Scribd to the rescue. See the Business Plan Template posted there.
posted by yclipse at 4:39 AM on April 27, 2007

Best answer: I've written several business plans, and contributed to dozens more. And I nth the recommendation that you do this, as much as possible, yourselves, even if it means revisiting what you've got now as a starting point, and extensively revamping it with the knowledge you've gained in your two years of operating the enterprise. There's a certian gravity lent to any meeting with potential investors when you open your briefcase and say "Here's our original plan, and here's our most recent annual update, which discusses our learnings from operations and market development efforts in the last operating periods." Investors like to see people who are able to learn from business, adapt to changing conditions, and remain focused on strategic goals.

That said, there may be valid reasons beyond minimizing effort, to consider engaging a consultant firm like Master Plans to create a plan for an early stage venture, where the founding group does not have significant management experience, recognizes that, intends to hire professional management as part of its venture development, and needs professional services in lieu of management experience to initially package the concept for discussion. I've seen this work for small groups of engineers forming manufacturing companies, for programmers launching software ventures, and for a group of sales executives launching an aircraft leasing operation. It's a less successful approach if your business is very unique, such that your understanding of the niche opportunity is key to success.

One important goal of a business plan is to provide a framework for organizing your research and strategic thinking about your markets, capital needs, and operational plans. These things typically change constantly, and so a business plan should be regularly reviewed, and updated in light of history. Ideally, a business plan should be something of a "strategic budget," and like a financial budget, it only repays the effort of creating and maintaining it, if it is regularly compared to actual results, and periodically refined to be a better predictor of future performance, and perhaps, opportunities.

No one you can hire can internalize the effort of doing the research and distilling strategic wisdom, that potential investors will want to see, that you, as founders, can. Firms like Master Plan can provide people with management training and experience which can guide your efforts, but so can resources like SCORE and some of the other resources previously suggested. The choice of which has greater utility to your business could be influenced by several factors, but financial considerations do seem important here, as you are looking for money. Would the 4 to 5 figure expense of a week long Master Plan team effort be worth its cost to your future? Have you seen samples from them of the kinds of plans they produce? Have you read enough other business plans to judge whether their efforts are likely to be persuasive for your company, should you choose to engage them? If not, you might want to solicit sample and cost estimates for such a plan, and seek comment on the cost/benefit balance for your operation from other, more experienced people.

From a business plan for a 2 year old enterprise, unless your efforts to date have so far just been developmental, potential investors will also want to see a credible narrative built. If you do have operating results, even if they are all startup red ink, but dread disclosing this and are unsure how to do so, it may be worth hiring a ghost writer or editor to ensure that your narrative is credibly developed, and that your plan is crisp and strikes a good balance between current detail and future vision. But a writer is typically going to be relying on your representations as current management and ownership. So, you'll still have to present and discuss your 2 year history to at least your writer(s)/editor(s), and only you know that, at this point. Ideally, you'd also find design assistance to ensure that your presentation is visually appealing and consistent, but frankly, looking slicker on paper than you are in the flesh isn't a good idea, either. After all, it's the three of you, ultimately, that investors are going to want to meet, not any plan service providers you hire.

You should discuss any operational mistakes to date, and what you've learned from them. You should demonstrate realistic scope and goals for expansion, in reasonable time frames. Beyond the business plan itself, you'll need to supply standard financial reports and possibly an accountant's opinion letter of recent vintage, for subsequent rounds of meetings, so you may want to organize things to include space for those things as proposal exhibits. You may need to bolster your plan with opinions from senior advisors, or statements from your advisory board, if you have one (and if you haven't, explain why you've not yet assembled one). If yours is a business where key customer relationships are vital indicators, providing comments from them may be warranted. If you've been covered in the press, you may want to assemble tear sheets, while you're at it. You may want to give consideration to copy control and non-disclosure agreements, if you have trade secrets at stake.

So, at this stage of your company's development, there is probably nothing you can do for it that is more important, presuming that your goal is to "make it go" in a serious way. If you, as founders, have good reasons beyond time and convenience to engage a firm like Master Plans, enumerate them in writing to one another, and be prepared for the fees involved. Otherwise, dig in, seek the advice of the good folks at SCORE, and assemble all the numerical evidence regarding your market opportunities and financial needs that you can. The excercise of writing and updating a business plan may be at first daunting, but it should also be stimulating and productive, and something that becomes a regular part of your management routine, as your venture is successful.
posted by paulsc at 7:00 AM on April 27, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I'm reading through the links today.

Great advice, paulsc. We will definitely look again at doing this ourselves with consideration towards all you mentioned.
posted by jma at 10:35 AM on April 27, 2007

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