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Business Plan Writing Can’t Perfume a Pig

I hate to deliver bad news, but sometimes I just can’t help it. Sometimes the only fair and proper response is bad news. Like answering this email:

I have a web business idea that no one believes it would work. I believe if I have a well written business plan that might help my chances of getting it started. Please help.

That’s word-for-word what I received last week, with nothing left out except the “Dear Tim” and “thanks in advance.” I get emails like this often, and I can’t pretend there’s a pleasant answer, except for the please help part of it (see below).

Before I begin, though, let’s make it clear: I’m in favor of business planning, and I’m in favor of well-written business plans. I should be; I read hundreds of business plans every year. I can see how a well-written business plan can communicate a good idea that isn’t being understood. But I’m taking you at your own word: you said you have a business idea that nobody believes would work. And you didn’t say that it actually will work. You said you need a great business plan. So that’s why my reaction is this negative.

What’s wrong with this? Let me count the ways:

  1. If no one believes your idea would work, it probably won’t. Sure, you might have that one-in-a-million exception to the rule. But are you ready to fight those odds? Are you sure this isn’t one of those other 999,999?
  2. Fix the idea, not the plan. A well-written business plan won’t help. Business plans are good or bad based on actual content, what’s going to happen; the quality of writing is way less important. A good business will create a good business plan. Formatting and layout and spelling and editing are nice, but what matters is content. And for that, business planning is a great idea. Doing the business plan can be golden. That’s because the planning sets the opportunities apart from the ideas, focuses on what has to happen. Business plan writing is nice, but you should try business plan thinking.
  3. People don’t invest in business plans; they invest in people, markets, technologies, and opportunities, and so forth. A good business plan communicates well and pushes the process a long, while a poorly written plan gets in the way because it interferes with the communication; but applying artifice to ideas that won’t work doesn’t do anybody any good.  pigA well-designed brochure helps you buy the car, because it communicates features and such. Buy you don’t buy the car because you like the brochure.
  4. Business plan writing can’t perfume a pig.
  5. If you have the time and energy to get outside help, get help with the business idea first, leave the business plan writing for later. Find people you trust who have done web businesses well. Make your idea one that experienced web people believe in. There’s a huge difference between a business idea and a business opportunity.
  6. Once the idea is right, then the business plan process gets pretty easy. Keep the writing in simple bullet points, do the lists and numbers, and if and only if you are showing the plan to some third part outside of the business, then double check spelling and grammar.
  7. If you don’t like planning the business, then that’s another clue.  Maybe you should keep your day job. Do you like planning your next vacation? Planning the business should be fun and exciting. It’s not a doctoral thesis, it’s a business plan. That document is just output, and you can deal with it later.
  8. Thank your lucky stars you have people telling you it’s not going to work before you do it. If that keeps you from jumping into a bad business, you’re way better off. Even businesses that everybody says will work can fail, and failing really hurts.

So you asked for my help. That you can have:, The Plan-as-You-Go Business Plan, and Hurdle: The Book on Business Planning, and all three of those are free content. And here’s a final thought for you, just to finish up. People who take your money to dress up a business that won’t work with a well-written business plan are kidding you, or themselves, or both. That’s like putting a false front on a building that’s going to crumble.

(Image credit: Dirk Ott/Shutterstock)


  • Startup News 10/22/2010 - Start-Up Smart says:

    […] 2. Tim Berry’s Blog Business Plan Writing Can’t Perfume a Pig […]

  • Startup News Roundup 10/22/ « Start Up Smart! says:

    […] 2. Tim Berry’s Blog Business Plan Writing Can’t Perfume a Pig […]

  • Eddie Dillinger says:

    I have encountered a similar situation when marketing a company online. The owner hated his own customers and sold a sub par product. All the search engine optimization and good writing in the world couldn’t cover up the barrage of online complaints about the business. You cannot perfume a pig, no matter how hard you try.

  • Robert Samuel says:

    Great article Tim. You’re so right about people investing in people. 🙂

  • David says:

    In my experience, you hit a number of the issues people encounter when turning their great idea into a business. There is a lot of information gathering and general knowledge that must be gained about your niche/industry before you start looking at the goals and strategy to achieve them.

    I believe it is different for everyone, but definitely do your research first!

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