To budding entrepreneurs, I always

To budding entrepreneurs, I always give the same advice: No matter how badly you think you write, write your own business plan. At least get it started. Get something down on paper and read it back to yourself. Try to imagine yourself running an enterprise by following this plan.

Not a week goes by that somebody doesn�t ask me if I write business plans. They read my blog. They figure I�m a writer. They want to outsource this laborious, unfamiliar task to me.

�I do,� I always respond, �but only for myself.�

I don�t think it�s possible for somebody to write someone else�s business plan. To me, that�s almost like taking someone else�s marriage vows, or being on that reality show Trading Places: I mean, how can you vow to love, honor, and obey someone you have never met?

A business is like a lover at the beginning — elusive, attractive and distant. You are enamored by the almost illicit qualities of not �working for the man.� You see your startup as a road to freedom, as a way to lend meaning to your life. You are impulsive, euphoric, even arrogant. Your business idea is better than anyone else�s. It will make you rich. It will make you famous. It�s beautiful.

At that stage, you want to outsource the business plan so you can get started as soon as possible.

But, just as in relationships, the closer you get to a business, the more warts it has. If you have ever acquired a business, bought a franchise, or been part of a merger, you already know this. While your own business might be beautiful, everyone else�s has disfiguring qualities. As you get to know it, you can see all its quirks and characteristics. Some turn out to be pretty unattractive, like climbing around in people�s attics during the summer if you are in the air conditioning business. Or constant employee turnover, as in the fast food business. Or unprotectable intellectual property, as in many technology businesses.

There�s no way to get to know your business without writing a business plan. It�s the dating process. It�s the time when you find out whether you want to spend the rest of your life with this dude.

And there�s no point in hiring me, or anyone else, to date your business idea. When we find out what�s wrong with it, we will just pocket your money and go away. But you will be left with this stranger you have gotten in bed with for the long term � without getting to know. It�s like getting married in India. You might grow to love your wife, or you might not.

Now, I�m not saying write the plan without help. At the other end of the spectrum from the person who wants to outsource the entire process is the guy who gives me a business plan without financials, because he�s an engineer or a hairdresser and can�t create them. His business plan contains all the big ideas, and no way to make them work on a day to day basis.

There is a format for business plans. It�s well-known, and has been automated several times. The Kauffman Foundation includes the software for business planning in the entrepreneurial training programs we offer. Their format is called The Business Mentor. There is also a very popular software tool available on the web: Palo Alto Software�s Biz Plan Pro, which costs $99.99 (of course not $100) at http://www.paloalto.com/ps/. Most bankers and investors can recognize a plan constructed around BizPlan Pro.

The best thing to do is invest in some of this software, and sit down with it. It�s a fill-in-the-blanks exercise. Very soon you will see where you can fill in those blanks, and where you can�t.

That�s when to invite someone else, perhaps an accountant, a business consultant, a marketing consultant, or an attorney into the planning process. In our entrepreneurial training programs, we invite all of those in. Each has a little something to contribute to a good business plan, and if you are writing your plan while coming to these programs, you will inevitably end up with something you can take to the bank or the investors.

Problem is, we (and even the Kauffman Foundation) reach such a small number of would-be entrepreneurs and startup businesses with these programs. Perhaps it�s the entrepreneurial spirit (the misfit mentality that makes Deadwood such an interesting TV series), perhaps it�s poor communication, perhaps it�s just impatience, but most entrepreneurs jump in on their own.

Without a business plan.

Then they decide they need money. And the bank or the angel asks for a business plan. And that�s when they come to me, asking me to write one for them.

And that�s when I tell them I will edit, but not write. I will not jump into bed with your fianc�. It�s against my family values.

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