I write a lot. During any given week I can have upwards of three to four business plans in flight between my day job and working with entrepreneurs on their pitch decks and business plans. In the past, I have written a business plan, for my own business, in as little as two days. But it wasn't my best work. In other instances, for enormous projects, it took me and another author months to come to a finalized version. Which got me thinking, how long does it take to write a business plan? Or, better yet, how long should it take?
What takes up the most time?
There are two things that take up the most time when it comes to writing a business plan. Neither of which is the writing itself. At least, not if you have experience writing plans. When you have done as many as I have, the act of writing the plan usually goes really quickly. If you have done your legwork.
By legwork, I mean your research. That is the first item that takes up the most time in the process. Gathering together all of the data that you intend to use in the document. The good news is, as I eluded to earlier if you do your research the document will essentially write itself.
The other piece that takes up a lot of time is the editing process. This is certainly true if you are editing your own document. But, it is even more true if you have others, such as clients, who are editing the document and providing feedback.
Multiple editors can be tough
One of the biggest challenges with writing a business plan is when you have multiple stakeholders involved. I've worked on business plans and pitch decks before where I thought the only person who I needed approval from was the founder, only to find out, later, that they had co-founders who wanted to weigh in after I was a long way down the road with the work.
Those circumstances can be counter-productive. By all means, I recommend having other people edit or make suggestions about what you put in your plan. Even if that means having your spouse take a look at your document. But, I also recommend only having one main editor. If others want to get their opinions heard I suggest having all that feedback flow through one main contact.
The more people you add to the process the longer it will take to complete your business plan. Sure, there are instances where the more feedback you get the better the document becomes. But, there are also instances where you will hit a point of diminishing returns by trying to assuage too many stakeholders.
How long should it take?
There are no perfect worlds. But, based on my experience, the best case cadence seems to be around two weeks for pitch decks/business plans for early-stage startups. If the business is more established, such as in my day job, the process can take a lot longer.
I generally tell clients to expect a three-week process. That assumes that they will be quick with their review/edits and that there is one main contact funneling all feedback in our direction.
The truth is that I and my team can knock out a business plan in less than three weeks. Sometimes in as fast as two weeks. Here is how that process breaks down.
My team's business plan timeline
2 days of research; 1 day of outlining; three days of writing; 1 day of internal review
Note that a full week has gone by
3 days of client review; 1 day of meetings with clients to discuss their feedback; 2 days of making final adjustments; 1 day of final review with the client
Keep in mind, the above process requires that everyone, including the client, is timely with their reviews, suggestions, and availability for meetings.
I have seen other companies promoting a one-week process. Is it possible? Sure. But, I question the quality and thoroughness of the work.
Most of the business plans I write are used for obtaining funding (e.g. investors or loans). I've always told entrepreneurs that you are always fundraising. Even when you "don't need it yet".
Don't wait until you need a business plan to get started on having one prepared. Part of being a good business owner is planning ahead. The more time you give yourself the better quality product you can expect.