Business plans

Can there be a financial document more often misunderstood than a business plan? Some entrepreneurs delude themselves into believing that a three-page quickie would satisfy their potential lenders and investors. Others err so far in the other direction that their plans resemble phone books. Below are some resources to steer business owners along a better course. Each item is rated on a scale ranging from five stars (we love it) to no stars (we hate it).

Save It.

Business Plans for Dummies
This guide (IDG Books Worldwide, 800-762-2974, 1997, $19.99) by Paul Tiffany, a management consultant and business-school professor, and Steven D. Peterson, a software designer and entrepreneur, is, quite frankly, the best work that you'll find on this subject. What makes this 354-pager a standout is that it urges business owners to write plans that are not only informative but captivating. *****
It may not be as much fun as Business Plans for Dummies, but this just-the-facts guide has a great deal to recommend it. For starters, it's free and easy to read (and read quickly). Don't miss the admirably comprehensive checklist of the key elements in a business plan. Its breakdown of supporting documents that can enhance a business owner's case includes often overlooked details such as rÉsumÉs of all principals involved in the company and copies of letters of intent from suppliers and other relevant parties. *****

Skim It.

Business Plans That Work for Your Small Business
Authored by six writers who compose the "CCH Business Owner's Toolkit Team," this book (CCH Inc., 800-248-3248, 1998, $19.95) may be the thing for entrepreneurs who need to understand terms like "deviation analysis" and "planning interval." Yes, it's a little on the dull side. But the 86-page Part 1, "Creating a Business Plan That Works," offers a good basic blueprint, particularly when it comes to financial matters. Don't overlook the "Warnings" that are sprinkled throughout, although the book's design is so dull that it's easy to confuse them with the "Work Smart" tips and "Example" boxes that also appear regularly, to less benefit. One "Warning": start-ups are cautioned about the risks of generating sales projections by consulting only potential product vendors, who may be excessively optimistic in the hopes of winning their future business. ***

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Finance and Accounting
This publication (Alpha Books/CWL Publishing Enterprises, 608-273-3710, 1998, $16.95) by Michael Muckian, a financial executive, has only 16 pages worth reading--Chapter 2: "From Strategy to Business Plan." The chapter is far from complete but does offer some useful insights, such as this one: "The best business plans tend to look like a truck ran them over." Why? Because they're being used frequently--not only by prospective lenders and investors but also by a company's executives. **1/2

Skip It.

Launching Your First Small Business: Make the Right Decisions During Your First 90 Days
Another offering from the "Toolkit Team," (CCH Inc., 800-248-3248, 1998, $14.95), this book is typical of what most business owners will find when browsing bookstore or library shelves: a cursory discussion of business plans, jam-packed with exactly as much information as can fit into three pages. Woe to the first-timer who relies on this guide. *
This site (called "The Small Business Adviser," for whatever that's worth) offers complete banalities, as only Internet sites sometimes can. Its nine-step strategy includes such gems as: "#1. Get smart....#8. Visualize success. #9. Don't delay." Get smart--and skip the extensive elaborations that followed. 0 stars.

Published on: Jan 1, 1999