MythbustersIt’s amazing how long business experts, teachers, coaches, and advisors have swallowed and even spread the idea that a business plan is some sort of standard document, a predictable standard task with a generally accepted set of parameters to define it.

It just isn’t so. Like so many other things in business, the business planning should be appropriate to the needs of the business.

Just about every business needs to build and understand its heart, that core element of strategy that’s about what you’re doing for whom, and who you are and what you want to do.

Beyond that, every business ought to be able to set down some tracks it can then follow and manage, watching progress towards goals. The sales forecast is the most obvious set of tracks. Milestones, like who does what, when, and for how much, are almost always useful. And don’t forget the burn rate.

This isn’t necessarily written down carefully into a formal text. It might be just bullet points, or even pictures; it might even be something you say in a 60-second elevator speech.

And as your company grows, you can grow your plan and your planning. Grow it like an artichoke grows, with leaves — more details, more specifics, more description — surrounding the heart.

Or, if you’re starting your company with a plan for investment or business loans, or if your company is already there and already plans and you want to grow it, then you might go all the way to the more complete formal plan.

What’s important is that you do the planning you need, to run your business better. Not the one-size-fits-all plan, but the just-big-enough plan to give you better planning and management without wasting any time or effort on documentation you won’t use.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

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