They keep coming … a steady flow …

  • How do I write a business plan this?
  • …or that?
  • …or the next thing.
  • How do I do a business plan for [type of business]?

We’ve introduced a new question-and-answer feature here at I love the underlying idea: ask what you know, browse the questions, answer what you can when you know the answer. It’s not limited to so-called experts like it used to be; any member can offer an answer, and members vote answers up or down.

But I can’t resist taking this space here to answer all those repeated questions asking how to write a business plan for some specific type of business:

Although every business plan is unique, the development process is about the same for most. Regardless of the content of the plan, the steps you take to develop one, the topics you cover, the outlines, projections, and components of a plan, are similar across all industries and all plans. There’s no set starting or ending point, and no specific sequence either. The end result of a good plan is a series of related components: strategy, milestones, projections, responsibilities, and so forth. It doesn’t really matter what order you go; you start anywhere, and get started. And you’re circle back often, working through the different pieces, as you discover that what you decide for one element affects some of the others. it’s the content that’s unique, not the process.

And there’s also a lot of questions related to finding “the” business plan for a specific type of business. This is usually about sample plans, because many people take the existence of hundreds of sample business plans as an indication that there is “a” business plan for each type of business. Here too, the underlying truth is that every business plan is unique. And sample plans are just for use as examples, to show people what a finished plan looks like; they are not to be re-used as “the” plan for some other business.

Here’s my answer for all of those “where do I find ‘the‘ plan” questions:

I understand what you’re after. You want to do as well as you can, to end up with the best possible business plan. And it’s natural to ask to find a business plan for this business or that business. But the truth is that no two pizza restaurants are alike. No two dry cleaners, or butchers, or bakers, or candlestick makers are alike. What their business plans have in common is likely to be what kind of information is included, and how is it presented. A real business plan from one doesn’t serve the other as anything more than a good example and food for thought. Even if you found an exact match for your business, it would still have a different time and place, resources, owner objectives and preferences, strategy, customer, and resources. You’d still want to develop your own plan. The example would be useful, but as only that: an example. So don’t worry that much about matching the sample plan to your business. Use the sample plan browser, find something in the same general area, get an idea of what was included, and think about why. Then do your own plan.

I hope that helps.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.