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Creating a Business Plan That's You

Your business plan is your business plan--so make sure it doesn't read like a template.

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Q: Can you send me a plan for my kind of business?

A: The short answer is no. Plans are given to me under nondisclosure, and the writers probably don't want me sharing them with a potential competitor. But you can find dozens of real plans at, a site run by Palo Alto Software, makers of the excellent Business Plan Prosoftware package. But before you rush there, read on.

Your question assumes that plans vary from industry to industry. In fact, your plan should be different even from other plans for the same type of business. A business plan doesn't just outline the financials of the business; it reveals something much more important--the relationship between the business and the entrepreneur.

Your plan should lay out the assumptions that you are making, not a set of generic financials for your industry. Craft your financials to correspond to your specific conception of your business. If you're opening a Laundromat in Boston, your costs and revenue will be very different from a Laundromat in Skokie, Illinois. Most Skokie residents may own their own washers, which means your customer volume would be different than that at the Boston location. And while Skokie may demand perfect cleanliness and someone to help with problems, you may not need a customer service person in Boston. Still, utility costs may be lower in Skokie than in Boston, affecting your expense structure. And the competitive analysis for a geographically based business like a Laundromat will certainly be different from city to city.

A Skokie plan won't help you with specific financial projections for Boston, but a sample plan can still be very useful. A well-written plan can teach valuable things. Check out the writing style and formatting of plans that have received funding. How did the author present their point? How much detail did they go into? How much knowledge did they assume their readers had about the business? You can learn a lot about the way investors in a certain industry expect to receive information.

Sample plans will also suggest categories of things to think about. You may be reading a sample plan and notice it has a section titled "Risk factors," spurring you to write a risk factors section. Within the section, you may even find risk factors that apply to your situation.

The logic behind a sample plan can also help you structure your own thinking. If you read three plans for companies in your industry and notice all three imply that regulation is an especially important determiner of profits for your kind of business, it might lead you to double-check your own logic to ensure that regulation is adequately reflected in your business model. Or if it isn't, that may be a clue that you have an advantage over others in your space that lets you bypass regulation. If you have that advantage, highlight it.

Use sample plans mainly to stimulate your thinking. The goal isn't to have a 100-page tome that covers everything possible for a company and industry. The most effective plans pick and choose just the information that makes a compelling case.

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