Planning, Startups, Stories

Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

10 Questions Before Hiring a Business Plan Writer 11

No, it’s not that I have anything against business plan writers for hire. I spent some years doing that, although I never just wrote the plan; I always facilitated and translated and coached planning. (Unless, of course, you’ve read my post on my worst business plan engagement, in which case you’ll know I’ve used “never” and “always” wrong in the above).

  1. If you wanted to get your body in shape, would you hire somebody else to eat better and exercise regularly?
  2. How would you feel about sending somebody else to the doctor to be examined to determine your health?
  3. How do you feel about pre-packaged vacations?
  4. What would you tell your ghost writer? How long would that take you? Could you type that out, maybe? Could you do it in YouTube?
  5. How will you deal with questions that come up, after the plan is done?
  6. How much good will a single one-time plan document do you?
  7. What will you do about revisions later on? Will you just accept a plan done once, and never revise?
  8. How long would you estimate is the average shelf life of a written business plan, before it begs for revisions?
  9. What would you do about regularly reviewing and revising a business plan that some outside business plan writer had written?
  10. How would you get a team of people committed to a business plan that an outsider wrote?

(Photo credit: Linn Currie/Shutterstock)

  • Marc Wilaby

    I write business plans for people and I agree with maybe 50% of what this article suggests.

    First if the need for a business plan is to obtain funding, then the quick way to get there is to have a plan writer do the work they have experience with while you do the work you have experience with. Get it done fast and get the cash you need.

    After that if you need a plan to follow and to help direct the management, you can take what was written and edit it frequently to keep it current and relevant. It’s easier to change it because the framework has been established.


    • Marc, thanks for the comment. In regards to your second paragraph, I’m a member of an angel investment group now, and what I’ve seen, repeatedly, is that the relationship of the business plan to getting funding just isn’t what you suggest, that you submit a business plan that you got done fast and get the cash you need. Investors don’t evaluate a business plan as a document. First, they familiarize themselves with the people, and the business, and then, only if they are still interested, they want a business plan to go into detail. What matters much more than the quality of presentation of the business plan as document is the relationship between the startup founders and their business plan, including what assumptions drive it, how they plan to change it, how they respond to questions, and what the business plan tells the investors about the underlying management. When a business plan is done by an outsider that shows up immediately, and it’s not a good thing. It means farming out a core task.

    • Marc, thanks for the comment, and I understand your point of view. It’s about division of labor, I suppose, having expertise for the tax. But in my experience, what you suggest is still a problem. You’re still thinking of a plan as a document, separate from the entrepreneur, that stands alone. My angel investor group – and I believe this is typical – doesn’t respect a business plan prepared by an outsider as much as a ‘real’ business plan that an entrepreneur does; we’d rather have it less polished and more directly reflecting the plans of the founders.

      • Marc Wilaby


        Sure I get that point of view.

        I help others launch small businesses in a niche market and have completed 105 new companies for others in about 19 or 20 years. My projects range from $175K to $350K and my clients are average people with the hope for a better life.

        Earlier on in my company’s history we did not offer business plan writing as a service and sent clients off to write their own plan following a road map we provided. They were to get the money using the plan they prepared then call us for the final step. Guess how many called us…zero!

        Then we offered to write a basic plan for free. Guess what percentage of new leads from our website needed or wanted a business plan…100%! Some never called back to complete the project so we wasted our time on the ones who didn’t and others were denied their funding requests. Perhaps this was because this basic plan did not tell enough of the story, maybe it wasn’t on point, and maybe we didn’t explore the credit worthiness of these clients well enough…or maybe all of the above. We did get some approvals and launched some new projects so we thought we might be on to something.
        Then we started charging for our services. We improved the content of our plan, we did the market research ourselves which enabled us to provide our clients with better guidance having obtained greater knowledge of the demographics, the market, and the competition, etc. Guess what percentage of the clients actually launched their business with our help and the help of our business plan…about 80% maybe a little more or a little less. We received very favorable comments about our format and the content and banks liked the fact that we were involved as deeply as it seemed we were. They felt we could keep the client out of the weeds more than if they tried it on their own.

        We assembled a training manual for this niche sector so our clients had tasks to accomplish, time lines to follow, evaluations to complete, and benchmarks to strive for. We provided them guideposts covering the next 2 years. At the end of each task, they were on to the next and the next.
        Many went on to open 1, 2 or 3 other locations and many of these are still doing well today. One has grown into his own franchise with 135 locations. None of these would have ever interested an Angel Investor group since the concept is too small and this market supports very few big players.

        My clients are average people wanting to start a small business to help improve their lifestyle. Some are satisfied with an additional $50K a year..some even less. My clients and yours are miles apart and many, most, or all of my clients feel they do not possess the skills to organize, write, and deliver a suitable business plan. This is the crack we fill.
        Now I do not have your impressive credentials and never will….and I mean this as a compliment in the truest sense. I’ve read your bio and your writing skills are suburb, your education and experience are extensive, and you cast a wide net. You also serve larger clients and help raise larger sums of money for more sophisticated projects.

        Your method works for you and seems quite successful. My method works for me and helps the small guys enjoy life a little better and at the same time it gives them a business they can manage and call their own. Likely few if any would have worked diligently enough to complete their own business plan because many, most, or all of the clients I can remember had jobs in sales, manufacturing, construction, bar tending, teaching, or management positions.
        Thanks for the reply. I appreciate the fact that my post was not lost somewhere or ignored.

        I enjoy your blog and the regular emails. Thanks for that too.


  • I’ve been humming and hawing for some time now about the merits of writing my own business plan vs having it written for me. Even though it’s something I really don’t want to do and keep putting aside… I know it’s very important to my success and I just haven’t been able to justify having someone else do it. After reading your post here, it really strikes a clear chord with me that yes, it is MY business, therefore it is I who should be making the plan. Thanks for helping make the decision! I’ll definitely be checking your site back for more information as I go!

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  • Mr. Berry,
    I manufacture camera bags, gear bags,etc. just “no clothing”.
    I have been in business about 17 years & have struggled for all 17. I know my strength is in manufacturing a great product, but my weakness is business itself. I am lousy at it. I have tried a partner, but it just put me in a deep financial hole. I dug out of that one, and put myself in another. I own almost all of your software programs from the mid 90’s till 07?. In every case I stop because i cannot comprehend what you are asking. I have asked some people for help, but It just doesn’t register especially when it comes to numbers.
    I have had business coaches (2) with no luck. went to the “Executive Stratagies Course” in Cleveland.( it was an expensive multi week joke session). My accountant wants $1500.00 to write one, all I want is to be able to understand one. I am 53, and maybe I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, I don’t think I am the dullest. any Suggs?

    Larry Nolan

    • Larry,

      My planning advice is simplify. Focus on planning as a process, to steer the business, not as a document. Take a look at to get the idea. Don’t worry about the great big full formal plan, but what you need to run the business better. Strategy is as much what you don’t do as what you do, and look at milestones as dates and deadlines, and for financials, if that’s not your strong point, try to do a sales forecast and expense budget and then start tracking month by month how you’re doing with those two elements. Don’t even print it unless you have to.

      My business advice is to contact a nearby Small Business Development Center (SBDC). There are about 1,000 SBDCs in the U.S., and they are in general good people, well trained, and supported by government funding so they don’t have to charge that much to offer courses, one-on-one counseling, and a lot of help. Our local SBDC in Eugene (OR) is great, and I know a lot of them throughout the country.

      Also, consider building a team. No one person has to be good at all phases of the business. You have to be good at something — really good — to last 17 years. I do see here that you tried a partner and that didn’t work, but if I never tried anything again after it didn’t work the first time, I would have been out of business a long time ago.

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  • No doubt the Irish will need it!

  • Jim, thanks for that comment, and delighted to see that BPP is still working for you. And go Irish for this weekend against USC.

  • Tim:

    Very good points. What I’ve found since I first used BPP at the University of Notre Dame (thanks again for your graciousness) and subsequently with my own businesses is that there are many entrepreneurs amongst us who lack the confidence to take the next step — writing their business plan. Often, whether real or simply an excuse, these people lack the time and/or confidence to undertake the writing portion of the plan or the learning of the BPP software.

    And to a degree I can sympathize. My analogy is: I’m a great guitarist who never could quite master the instrument, so the song stays stuck in my head! My point being that I have always been fairly adept at writing lucidly and succinctly, but not everyone can do that. Sometimes all that is needed to get my clients to move off the mark is their trust that they can convey their thoughts to me and I then can document for them.

    So the value that I provide is the coaching ability to motivate, or at least instill the confidence in, my clients to get their ideas — even if in outline form — on paper. From there I use BPP to form the first and ultimately final draft of the initial business plan. But initially and ultimately I make it clear that it is ‘Their’ business plan. And I use your wisdom and let them know that the “business plan is wrong as soon as it is written!” And with that (this will keep the Palo Alto shareholders happy) I also am very insistent that my clients purchase a copy of BPP to maintain and alter the plan over time — it is after all never a static document, yet an organic and living plan.

  • Direct, frank and purposeful — yet delivered in such a way that makes the reader want to finish the whole list. Thanks, Tim. I got reeled in after reading item number 2. Man, that’s quite funny AND logical.