Planning, Startups, Stories


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

The Ideal Length of a Business Plan 3

Interesting question, which came to me via Twitter: “Does a business plan have an ideal length?”

It reminds me: I was about five years old when my granddad first asked me how long a person’s legs should be. His answer was “long enough to reach the ground.” He liked that.

And I borrow from him when I say a business plan should be long enough to set strategy, list assumptions, establish concrete metrics, list specific steps including dates and task responsibilities, and project basic numbers such as sales and cost of sales, expenses, funding, and cash flow.

It should have enough detail to establish useful and realistic tracking of results.

And that doesn’t get measured in pages. I myself hate measuring business plans by page length. I like to think of the plan as a plan on a computer, linking topics with hypertext, jumping from topic to table to chart to topic and back again, without being printed out into pages.

Still, people ask that question, so I’d like to answer.

  • The classic business plan document that prints to show to outsiders, as output of the real live plan on the computer, shouldn’t take up more than 25 pages.
  • Not that MBA-level business plan contests lead this area, but still, for what it’s worth, the topic has been in my emails lately. A group of organizers of major intercollegiate MBA-level business plan contests last week agreed to limit plan length to 15 pages. Randy Swangard, who has run the University of Oregon New Venture Competition for several years, set that limit for this year’s contest and told me the group agreed to approve it.

The shorter, the better; but only as long as you cover the information you need.

Form follows function. All business plans should cover the main points, but it’s about business, not writing. So your business plan has to adjust to the actual specific use.

  • http://www.pikcam.com donnie

    nice post Tim
    i like that saying your granddad siad “long enough to reach the ground” i had the same problem i would always think my business plan was to short but now that you said business should be about 25 pages i feel my business is long enough thank for the great blog post

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  • http://www.masterplans.com Bryan

    Good post Tim. We get asked this every day.

    I like- “as short as it can be, as long as it needs to be.”

    That pretty much sums it up.

  • http://www.ipanemacoffees.com.br marcio Paoliello

    Hello Tim,

    Could you please explain further the following idea:

    “I like to think of the plan as a plan on a computer, linking topics with hypertext, jumping from topic to table to chart to topic and back again, without being printed out into pages.”

    Thank so much!!!

    have a wonderful day!!!!

    Marcio Paoliello