Planning Fundamentals 1: Form Follows Function

(Author note: I’ve been asked to go over some business planning fundamentals, and maybe collect those into a series. Consider this a first installment.)

Your business plan isn’t necessarily a document; it’s what you want to do in your business or organization, what’s supposed to happen, and why. It’s a combination of goals, directions, long-term strategy, and, more important, dates, deadlines, steps, tasks, responsibilities, and basic numbers.

Don’t confuse output with plan. That business plan document is just output. So too are the elevator speech, the summary presentation, the pitch, and the summary memo. They’re just the latest output.

So how long is a business plan? Long enough to serve your business needs. How well edited, formatted, and presented? Enough to serve your business’ needs.

Think about the difference between the business plan document requested by a potential investor and the business plan document requested by a banker, and the business plan you create because you want to manage your company better. Who’s the audience? What’s the business purpose?

I like this (and you can quote me on this, because if I heard it from somebody else, or read it somewhere, I’m sorry; I’ve forgotten. I think it’s original) because it is important:

You don’t measure a business plan in pages. You measure it in business results.

I don’t believe in the business plan in your head, or the one-page business plan, because neither of these serves the management purpose of setting things down as specifics which you can then track and follow up with course corrections.

Keeping it in your head won’t work as soon as you have someone else you need to share it with. And it won’t work for management purposes because you won’t be able to track results and manage the difference between what you planned and what actually happened. You lose the value.

So forget your preconceived notions about a business plan. Think of it as a first step in a process. Ask yourself what you need, in your unique situation, to be able to organize and prioritize and look at the steps and the metrics, and follow up on a regular basis. Is your strategy clear? Can you set it down so others can join it? Are dates and deadlines and steps along the way set down clearly? Have you done basic numbers, like sales, costs of sales, and expense budgets? Can you track those regularly and manage for course corrections? That then, is the right business plan for you.


  • How to use your business plan says:

    […] more on this, you could find a lot of the same kind of thinking in my form follows function post on my Planning Startups Stories blog, part of a series on business planning fundamentals. The […]

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    […] the fundamentals of planning, with an eye for how they’re changing over time. Part one was Form Follows Function. Part 2 was All Business Plans are Wrong. Part 3 was Cash Not […]

  • Jordan Bryant says:

    Hi Tim,

    I’m in the process of writing my first business plan, and your blog posts have helped me tremendously.

    Thanks for all the help,

  • Planning Fundamentals 3: You Think in Profits, but You Live on Cash says:

    […] Fundamentals (Note: This is part 3 of my planning fundamentals review. Here are the links to Part 1: Form Follows Function and Part 2: All Business Plans are […]

  • Steve Borowski says:

    That is a timely question on Mind Mapping Yusuf as I have been reviewing several this week. I have it down to NovaMind or Mindmeister. Leaning toward Mindmeister since it is a web based application that you can access anywhere. Thanks for the all the great content on your site Tim. New to blogging so I am like a sponge right now. Found you through a tweet by Starr Hall.

  • Yusuf Clack says:


    What do you think of mind mapping software? Do you use it in creating a biz plan?

    • Tim Berry says:

      Yusuf. I’ve had some good experience with mind mapping software. It’s not my particular habit, but different people have different ways of working. It can be fun and productive. I can also work without it, though.

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