We just finished the fifth Unreasonable Institute—another year working with amazing entrepreneurs who are solving the world’s greatest problems. Our job is to provide an Unreasonable advantage, and we do that by introducing them to mentors and funders who can give them wings. This year, we also conducted a business-planning workshop at the end of the institute. This was designed to give a structure to all of their plans and provide a roadmap for the next 18 months.

You might be surprised to know that many entrepreneurs, including our Unreasonable ventures, lack clear business plans. In many cases, they have lots of great goals—and myriad tactics for accomplishing them—but no cohesive plans that they can share.

Creating a business plan can be intimidating, because doing so shows how much work lies ahead. Tweet This Quote

Why? I think it is a bit intimidating to put all the pieces in one place, because doing so shows how much work lies ahead. It also forces prioritization of efforts (and who doesn’t want to do everything!) and exposes gaps in logic. Sometimes it seems easier just to muscle through the work at hand. But developing a business plan is easier and faster than you think, and it will help you see your path much more clearly. You probably have all of the components; they just need to be put together in a way that makes sense to others.

Start with a summary of your entire venture by answering these questions:

  1. What is the mission of your initiative? (e.g. to alleviate sexual harassment in Egypt)
  2. How do you achieve that? (e.g. we have patrols on college campuses and teach self-defense)
  3. What have you accomplished to date? (e.g. we have 600 volunteers at 30 colleges and have taught 50 self-defense courses to 1,000 young women)
  4. What is your goal for the next 18 months? (e.g. to reach 100 campuses and impact 10,000 women)
  5. What gaps are in the way of you achieving this goal? (e.g. need $100,000 in funding for salaries and office space)
  6. What are your strategies (overall approaches), tactics (detailed initiatives) and milestones (markers for staying on schedule and measuring progress)?

The last question can best be addressed in the form of a spreadsheet or Gantt chart. Create a timeline horizontally across the top and tactics vertically down the side. Milestones match each tactic with a date. Go into great detail, week by week, for the first six months, and then just monthly highlights for the last twelve. This will give you a detailed execution plan for the short term and a high-level view of your project for the longer term.

Shoot for something between 10 and 20 pages. Shorter than that, and you’ve probably skipped some essential steps or information; longer, and you’re probably overdoing it. The web abounds with templates for and examples of good business plans, which can be a good way to gauge your own format and tone.

Give it a try. It really is this easy!


About the author

Jane Miller

Jane Miller

Jane Miller is CEO of ProYo Frozen Smoothie, CEO and founder of JaneKnows.com—a career advice website—and author of Sleep Your Way to the Top (and other myths about business success). She has 30 years of executive and management experience at PepsiCo, Rudi's Organic Bakery and other companies.

  • Jane Strode Miller

    One of the best reasons to have this document in hand is this: you never know when the opportunity will arise to pitch your business to an investor or other interested party.

  • zmmarti1

    Article like this will be eye opening to many people. There are a lot of people up there thinking about starting their Business, however they do not think about the importance of planning ahead, what is really inside of the structure of a business and all the things that they should be thinking about internally, not just about the outcome. These 6 questions will help them to act correctly and have a successful business.

  • Spencer SooSeok Kang

    I strongly agree with her because when I keep thinking about my future company, there is no answer for that and it is intimidating. she mentioned in her article that “Creating business plan can be intimidating because doing so shows how much work lies ahead.” it is so true but questions that she gave me was helping me not think of negative side of my future, it just try to focus on positive sides. Great article. I like it.

  • Aarynn Bosshart

    Your article is very inspiring because it proves anyone with a great idea can see it succeed if they are dedicated to the process it takes to get there. I’ve had many big ideas that I think could help make a positive difference in this world, but my problem is I feel like I do not have the time, resources, or support that I need to make it happen. Then my ideas simply vanish away over time. I wonder how many creative world changing ideas are out there that simply have not been written down. I think it would be neat to have a college course designed to write the suggested 10-20 page document you encouraged us to write in this article.

  • Kay

    This article inspired me very mush, because before I read this article, I believed that all entrepreneur and people who success in business have clear plans for their success. I’ll definitely try to answer those questions!

  • sirussteele

    I’m glad this was posted and was clearly understandable on what to talk about and how. The plan does not just involve telling people how to get investors but it shows how to go about creating your business or solution in a effective time line.

  • altruax0

    Awesome, this article is very short but informative. This article does a good job summing up what a business plan is. I like that there is not a template specified because each business will have to answer these questions in their own way instead of following strict guidelines from a template or book.

  • Michael Diaz

    Business plans don’t need to be complicated. Simple business plans can be the most effective.

  • ReneeKirch19

    Though my focus in life is not business, I found this article to be very interesting, thank you for sharing! I think the steps that you mentioned would be quite beneficial to anyone who is interested in designing a plan. It is very important to plan ahead and create a goal regardless of what it is for. Like it was mentioned before, a plan doesn’t need to be complicated, even a simple plan with a clear set goal could be extremely effective. Do you find yourself creating plans and setting goals with most things you do?

  • Jessica White

    Starting a business can be a truly daunting task. This article breaks it down to help a new business owner really focus on their goals. Once these are established, its easier to branch off of these goals to look into the details. The 6 questions will help them stay focused and really look at the task at hand. I’ve been thinking of starting a small business myself. This gave me someplace to start to get my goals down and figure out what pieces of the puzzle I am missing.

  • jmpatridge

    Exactly! Helped me out a lot.

  • Mitch Sween

    Thanks Jane Miller. I agree that any business model should begin with a considerable amount of planning. These 6 questions provide a framework in order to establish if your business model will be successful when launched.

  • CoachDavis24

    Thanks for this article. I believe that this model can be used for more than just business plans. I think this can be used for any project, large or small. It’s really hard to prioritize sometimes, especially when we have so many things going on in our lives. I think students should really use some form of a “business plan” when handling homework and projects. We get so much thrown on our plate and sometimes all at one time. It helps to prioritize and plot out chores, projects, and assignments.

  • Thank you for the great ideas and plan for action! It is difficult to consider all the great possibilities to change the world (or at least make it a better place to live). It is even more difficult to take all of those possibilities that are out there and limit it to just one idea. Better to do one thing and do it right, then go off in several tangents and achieve nothing.
    By taking your advice and focusing on one idea, one plan, we can be organized to do it right and make it a success!

  • Kaylee Raucci

    Thank you for the post! I loved this article! So mant great ideas, I love where your head is at. This will be super helpful for me in the future. I am cuently twenty years old, with a lot of life ahead of me. This article will steer me in the right direction, and give me a little advantage against others who have yet to read it. I feel this model can be used for more than just buisness plans though. It can be useful to life in general, or school work, or how you plan to attain goals.

  • tyler

    Thank you for this post! I thought this article was very well written as well as interesting. I think that the different steps you talked about can really help anyone out who is planning ahead and most of us are going to plan something at some point or another. I think that this article is great because it really does show us that anyone can fulfill their plan if they just take the proper steps to fulfill it! A plan really can go a long way if you allow it to. I learned that the plans that I have can be done if I just plan it more. The model you have talked about can be applied to any kind of plan, it does not have to be business. Do you think it would be intersting to teach a workshop or something about this? Do you think it would be successful?

  • Tracy_Werner

    Jane, it is nice to hear that many entrepreneurs have difficulty creating a business plan that they can stick to and work through, it’s not just me. The questions that you suggest asking about your plan and ultimate goal sound a lot like a rubric for a paper, only it is real life and something that you actually have to work for step-by-step. I think creating this outline is a great way to stay on track. In the last question though–milestones–is there room for error? Do business leaders and entrepreneurs expect hiccups in their plan?

  • Cossioj14

    WHen i took some business classes we talked about a plan to create a mock business and I remember how intimidating it was.YOur six questions/steps realy make more simple than my professor put it.

  • Tawni Meyer

    Thanks I think this was a wonderful article! The questions were clearly presented and you described and excellent format for them as well.

  • MattDennert

    I think to have a proper buisness plan you and your co-workers and buisness partners need to be on the same page because if everybody is not on the same page then nobody knows what’s going on and then nothing will ever get done.

  • graham_e

    I appreciate your focus on the timeline – oftentimes, it can be difficult to concretely define the next steps and goals for a business. It may be useful to have a section dedicated to market analysis where external factors are explored. As important as it is to develop the business, one must know the context (local, national, and international) in which this is done.