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For start-up entrepreneurs, writing a business plan is not about fancy tools, software, writing courses or — for those of you desperate enough — hiring someone to do it for you. In fact, I’m often asked for shortcuts to the final business plan (surely there must be an app that will do it for me?!), and every time, I have to shake my head, give my best sympathetic look, and say: no shortcuts.

The business plan is many things at once: wishful thinking, creative writing, a macroanalysis of overall trends and an in-depth look at a local business ecosystem. However, in order for a business plan to be successful, it really only needs to be one thing: a succinct description of an idea, and an analysis of its potential impact.

Because this is YOUR idea, who better to describe it? Nobody else will have the same knowledge, experience and passion.

So, in this article, the first in a series helping out entrepreneurs from idea to expansion, I’d like to focus on resources that can help you get your business plan on paper the right way.

Obviously, as far as format is concerned, it’s always good to be familiar with the basics. A good business plan includes a summary, a description of your product or service, market research (including potential competitors), budget and projections (largely financial), as well as a description of the company’s management team. You should already be comfortable getting most of these on paper — it’s only a matter of the language, which comes later (check these out). The big hurdle at this early stage is usually the financial information and, at this point, I would suggest that you get everything else down. Shopping for a CFO-type business partner is challenging, but ultimately worthwhile, and this can only happen if you’re ready to pitch your ideas effectively.

Now, here’s the key. The one strategy I’ve found that helps entrepreneurs remain focused and accountable during the process is a simple one: a business plan writing group. I adapted this notion from the now-populardissertation writing groups in academia, which help ease students into writing their first piece of major research. Like the dissertation, your business plan is a work of major research (and luckily much shorter). These are the basics:

  • Your group should include 4 to 10 fellow writers.
  • You MUST make at least a weekly commitment for a four-week period: Choose the day and time, and institute big penalties for anyone who misses. With the exception of major emergencies, NOTHING should take precedence (seriously).
  • Meetings should be at least four hours.
  • Create a schedule with specific goals, usually one section per week. Everyone MUST abide by the schedule.
  • Share your work during the process, brainstorm together, and keep each other     accountable.
  • Institute a competition-free space — mutual trust and support are the only way you can work well. This is to the benefit of all group members.

The benefits, of course, are obvious: You come out the other end with a fantastic business plan. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to bond with fellow entrepreneurs who will be your supporters as you embark on your journey.

Certainly, there are pitfalls. I can tell you right now that the level of commitment among participants will vary. However, these can often be mitigated if you collaborate with more experienced organizations: a business incubator in your area will be happy to spearhead the writing group, relieving you of the responsibility (The Hub LA is fantastic at this). Or try a local Business Assistance Program or a meetup group (keyword: entrepreneur).*

In the end, you’ve inspired (forced, coerced) yourself to get your business plan on paper, and when it’s done, you’re well on your way to getting your business off and running. Buena suerte!

* I shouldn’t even have to write this, but do use your better judgment if you go for a meetup group. 

Dave Landry is a small-business development consultant and personal finance counselor. He is currently at work on a working paper focused upon new policy developments in crowdfunding and their potential impact on small businesses, in collaboration with CrowdFunder. Feel free to contact him with any questions on small business and/or finance.

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