Why you should burn your business plan

A couple of years ago Antonio, a good friend of mine, decided to open a bar in Pantelleria, a small island 70 miles off the coast of Sicily. Its turquoise lakes and volcanic landscapes are persuasive enough for Giorgio Armani to split his time between Milan and the island. Madonna and Sting are regular visitors too. But if you go to Pantelleria today you won’t find Antonio’s bar anywhere, and it’s not for the reasons you might expect.

Antonio had the foresight to produce a business plan. He used the structure of the plan to feel his way around the opportunity. Who were his customers going to be? He spent time on the island chatting to the locals and to the tourists. What was the competition like? Dedicated, late night partying in the handful of bars already on the island was the only way to answer that question. How much would it cost? He found an old villa, produced plans to convert it to a bar and worked out what the running costs would be. Once he’d been through the process he could see that his head clearly contradicted his heart. There was no way he could make it work.

I count this a success. The process of creating the plan helped Antonio make the right decision. Planning saved him months, if not years, of disappointment and misery.

It’s not the powerpoint slides or the twenty page document that counts. The colourful hockey stick graphs, quadrants and pie charts do not matter. It’s the act of production that is critical. A business plan provides a framework for thought. You’re standing on the edge of a chasm, in the dark, ready to leap. You need to know that a better place lies across the gap, and that you’ve remembered to tie your shoelaces.

Here are some more reasons why it’s the process that counts:

  • Helmuthe von Moltk, the chief of staff for the Prussian army said no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. You need to think about different outcomes, and understand the lay of the land.
  • If you’re setting up in business with somebody else – and I recommend that you do – then a plan has another advantage too. It’s a way of reaching a shared understanding about what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it. It will force you to check that you share common assumptions and goals, and that they hold true.
  • Writing can be a good way to think. Putting your thoughts down on paper forces you to crystallize them.

Once you’ve written your plan, you’ll put it in a drawer and leave it there for twelve months. The next time you read it, it will be to have a good laugh about how wrong you were.

So write your plan – that’s important – and then burn it.

16 responses to “Why you should burn your business plan”

  1. Bob Cramblitt says:

    Agree fully. Many years ago I was in between jobs and read “What Color is My Parachute.” One of the exercises was to write an autobiography. Time-consuming, yes, but time is a luxury one has in between jobs, and what better time to define who you are and where you want to go. It worked, and led me to a satisfying job and eventually starting my own business. Recently, I’ve used free-form, spontaneous writing to work through problems and reveal some previously subliminal thoughts that provided clarity.

  2. Flint's Blog says:

    Planning a Business, Product, Idea, etc.

    There was a great post recently at The Business of Software blog entitled Why you should burn your business plan. The gist of the article is that it’s not so much what is in your business plan, it’s that sitting

  3. Tim Haughton says:

    I’m with Eisenhower:
    “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
    Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 – 1969)

  4. Tim Johnson says:

    For sure, “plans are nothing – planning is everything”.
    But wouldn’t you say that business targets are ever moving, changing? Instead of burning your business plan, why not re-write it (or just review it) every 2 months?
    Burning your business plan suggests that a business plan is a one off task… Planning is one of the few constants in business – you always need it!

  5. ginger says:

    I agreed with everything appart from the last comment ‘Once you’ve written your plan, you’ll put it in a drawer and leave it there for twelve months. The next time you read it, it will be to have a good laugh about how wrong you were.’ Not always the case.
    In fact, often if you really want to achive something and you write it down on paper and then put it in the drawer. You’ll find that it actually happens! Whilst – if you dont ever plan or write things down – nothing happens.

  6. Amen my friend! While I still think that it’s important to have an actual business plan to refer back to (or amend as needed, or as you say, to give yourself a good laugh down the road), I agree that the overriding and more important purpose is to Get Something Started! “The process of creating a plan helped him make a decision” is key-here, especially making an informed decision. When seeking to empower women in business (or anybody in business), the most important part of that “journey of a 1000 miles” is to take that first step. Oh yeah- it’s also a good idea if you’re taking a step in the right direction (which you’ll know if you do a little research, ahem, which is part of the “business planning” process. Great Post!

  7. Talha says:

    I agree with Neil on highlighting importance of business planning, but the question is; do the owners have that much time available for writing a business plan? They have a burden of taking a lot of business decisions. In my opinion, best solution is to hire a professional or a service provider who can write a custom business plan, according to the needs and requirement of business. A professional writer or a service provider is better option then writing a plan on your own because they posses expertise in the field, takes less time, and are more productive then any other. One of few expert business plan service provider is iSource Biz, we provide all kind of business writing services such as Business Plan, Marketing Plan, Financial Plan, Business Reports, and Business Presentations.

  8. Very engaging! I like this post very much:)

  9. Hi,
    Nice post! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Ed Martin says:

    You can keep your business plan valid by recognizing that it is almost certainly wrong when you start. If you know that, then you can plan for change. You can see where it goes wrong and start to correct it or change what you are doing. The market will give you good clues as to where you messed up and what they really want.

  11. Nowadays the business plan increasingly appears to be a document for allowing an individual to articulate and capture personal vision, where its main use and value is to a founder. Externally, that is, to investors, venture capitalists, and other parties, its best use is probably to level unbalanced desks. The business plan is dying.

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  14. David Brown says:

    Meticulous business planning may not be as popular as it was a decade ago, but all the same with a clear vision and definite plans you get immense confidence – a must for all times!

  15. Shaun says:

    I think this article has an interesting insight into the relevance of a business plan nowadays and it can influence heavily whether or not someone will go and set up their own business or not. It can be the best document you ever write, particularly as this story shows the idea of the business sounded great but the reality can be very different. The Business For Sale market has always been highly competitive, which shows the increasing demand to buy and sell businesses.