Most people starting businesses aren’t business planning experts. In fact, most have never written a business plan before. Many have never even seen one before they set out to write one.

This is why sample business plans are so handy. They can give you a good sense of what you should include in your business plan, how to structure it, even what to write.

The most important thing to remember when looking at sample business plans is that they’re samples (that’s why we call them that). They’re not pre-written plans that you can use as a plan for your business. And anyone who tries to tell you that you can is wrong. Or trying to make a buck off of you.

But that’s not to say that a sample plan isn’t useful. This article will help you understand how to make the most of a sample business plan while avoiding some of the following common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Looking for an ideal match

Let’s say you’re opening a Pakistani restaurant. You’d probably have to look long and hard to find a sample Pakistani restaurant business plan. But right here on Bplans you could find more than three dozen restaurant sample plans. It really doesn’t matter if it’s an exact match in this case. An Italian restaurant plan will still show you the layout and structure of the document. Even specific things, like whether the tables and chairs you buy will be assets or expenses, will translate from one type of restaurant to another.

Mistake 2: Assuming the sample is perfect

On Bplans, and in business planning software like LivePlan, the sample business plans are all real business plans written by real people. But that doesn’t mean they’re all perfect. If you are looking at a business plan and a piece of it doesn’t fit your business model or just doesn’t sound right to you, don’t be afraid to discard it. Too often, people think a sample plan is a model, when really it’s just an example of what one person did. One size doesn’t fit all, so don’t try to cram your business idea into a sample plan just because it seems like it’s close.

Mistake 3: Wholesale cut and paste

As already mentioned in the intro, a sample plan isn’t going to work as a pre-written plan for your business. If you’re planning to open a pet boarding kennel, for instance, you might take one look at the Noah’s Arf sample plan and think your work is done for you. And while Noah’s Arf is a great example of a dog and cat kennel business plan, and even if your business model and Noah’s Arf’s are identical, you can’t just swap out the names and call it a day.

When was the plan written? What’s the market like in the business location compared to where you’re starting your business? How many employees do they have, and how much are they getting paid? For instance, in the Noah’s Arf plan, full-time employees will be making $1,280 a month, which would be $8 an hour. That might have been fine in 2001 when the plan was written, but if you were opening a kennel in Oregon today, you’d get in big trouble with those numbers, since you’d be planning to pay your staff $.50 below the state’s current minimum wage. So be sure to edit thoroughly!

What’s the point of a business plan?

It might seem like turning out a printed document is the sole purpose of writing a business plan. But at Bplans, we believe that the most important part is not the finished product, but the process itself. Whether you’re writing your business plan for your own peace of mind, to present to investors, or because a banker or advisor told you that you have to do it, there is tremendous value in the process of thinking critically about your business. You gain insight into your market, intimately understand your financial forecasts, and get a deeper understanding about the details of running your own business.

So when you find a sample plan that you think you like, don’t cheat your business by taking too many shortcuts. Use the sample for inspiration and guidance. But do your own work, so you can reap your own rewards.

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