by: Geoff Ficke

Business Plan Mills Turn Out Documents That Are
Expensive--and—Mostly Useless to Entrepreneurs!

The Business Plan, and the process involved in crafting these essential documents, is one of the most maligned areas in all of small business. Many start-up firms and entrepreneurs reflexively believe that a plan of some sort is crucial to developing their project. They proceed to download internet templates and fill in the blanks with half vetted due diligence and guesstimates. Others retain reputed business plan writers to craft their documents from incomplete guidance they provide. In both cases, the plans are useless at best, and often harmful to the project.

In its simplest definition a Business Plan is a series of assumptions that are well qualified, well quantified and well narrated. No more. No less.

Assumptions are the skeleton of the plan. Realistic assumptions that can support revenue and financial projections are mandatory. The only way to verify your assumptions is by doing the best possible job of researching every element of the product category, competition and trends in the space you seek to enter. This can be easily accomplished but not by taking the shortcuts we see in almost every amateur plan new review. The homework, preparation and detail that professionals provide is what makes a quality Business Plan work and drives the reader at investment and funding sources to want to read and learn more about an opportunity.

Well qualified assumptions are supported by hard data that can withstand the harshest scrutiny. How did you support the market penetration for year one, two and three that you project? How did you project annual sales turnover? What schedule are you using to define expenses? These are just a few of the assumptions that must be made, then qualified in order to present an exciting, well supported strategy.

The ability to quantify numerical projections is another chasm that most amateur plan writers cannot overcome. Investors are number skeptics. They will hold the most brutal light to the assumptions used to create the income statements, cash flows and balance sheets provided to support the financial underpinnings of the plan. The key to quantifying a Business Plan starts with knowing (really knowing, not guessing) the dead net cost of the good or service you are seeking to offer. We almost never see this type of specificity in amateur plans and this sinks the whole edifice.

In order to produce a well narrated plan you will need excellent writing and communication skills. There are many excellent copy writers that purport to produce professional Business Plans. Unless they understand the process involved in crafting a series of assumptions that can be well qualified, quantified and narrated, they will most assuredly produce a document that falls short of the needed mark. Good writing as opposed to good Business Plan writing is as similar as Karl Marx and Ayn Rand. Your product story should be brisk, interesting (without gratuitous cheerleading) and make the reader want to learn more.

Just this week I was presented a Business Plan by a very enthusiastic entrepreneur. He had developed a vanity organizer product that almost every woman would find useful. I was keen on the product. Then I read the Business Plan.

The document was 77 pages (before exhibits). Too long! The assumptions seemed shaky. I quizzed the gentleman and he advised that he had paid $3500 to have the plan professionally written. I advised that it was very well written from a grammatical standpoint. It just would not stand investment scrutiny.

For instance, the Cost of Goods number was not realistic. I asked how they had agreed on the stated number. Had the author created a Bill of Materials? The owner did not know what a Bill of Materials was. Had the author organized 3D CAD art? Release Packets? Contacted a number of factories? Gotten mass production costing? Figured freight, customs, duties and local in-country freight? None of these queries could be answered. Their Cost of Goods was a guess.

When Cost of Goods is not known to the fifth decimal point for each penny of materiel involved in producing a product every single number beneath this line is wrong. The Business Plan is of no use. This entrepreneurs $3500 had been wasted.

Do not take shortcuts. Perform more, not less due diligence. If your project has value, and you believe it is worth investment consideration, give it the support it deserves. You would not buy a house with a leaky foundation. Likewise, investors, licensors, venture capital and strategic alliances will not touch leaky Business Plan propositions.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.