Ask the cubicle expat: Business plan tips

April 11th, 2007

Your failed business model is not my problemNikki writes: I saw you mentioned that you’re working on an article about business plans. I’m working away on my business plan as we speak, and I’d love to read that article before I wrap up the final draft.

Nikki actually sent me this note last month, and the article is now out, in NAFE Magazine, published by the National Association for Female Executives. Sometimes they put the articles online, but this time they did not. It’s a no-no for me to run the article in its entirety here, but you can find it here. And here are some of the do’s and don’ts that didn’t make it into the online version:


  • Flesh out everything but the executive summary of your plan first: the numbers, the competition, the industry trends. If you write the executive summary first, you wind up with a vaguer, weaker document.
  • Toot your own horn. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. It’s not bragging. Leaders list their achievements — plain and simple. Investors will want to see this.
  • Be clear and concise. Ensure each section of your plan stays on topic. You want to make it easy for an investor or advisor who’s just skimming it to find the information they need.
  • Obliterate all industry jargon from your plan. Likewise, nix all superlatives and adjectives. Prove you’re unique without having to come right out and say so.


  • Say that you have no competition. Customers and investors won’t buy it. If there is nothing else like it out there, there probably isn’t a market for it, say the experts.
  • Fudge the numbers or present only best-case financial scenarios. Use reliable numbers that are as recent as possible. Investors will challenge your numbers anyway, so you need to be able to defend them.
  • Try to hide your weaknesses. Instead, include a “challenges that keep me awake at night” section in your plan to address the bigger hurdles — and your ideas for resolving them.
  • Write a tome. If you’re writing a business plan for yourself (as opposed to investors), it can be as short as 10 pages. If you’re writing a plan for investors, keep it under 35 pages.

Some resources that can help with a business plan:

  • Free or low-cost business classes and one-on-one consulting throughout the U.S.
  • The Planning Shop. All kinds of bestselling business planning books. They’re also the people behind TitleZ, a highly addictive site for us publishing types.
  • Springboard Enterprises. A nonprofit that educates women on landing business funding. Great free resources on their site. (See the Learning Center section.)
  • Venture Architects. A woman-owned consulting firm that helps those seeking financing write better business plans.
  • Are business plans really evil? After you’ve read all the “rules” from the aforementioned experts, check out this take on more fluid, informal business planning from BootstrapMe — especially valuable if you’re not seeking any big fat financing.

[Tangential note: Nikki and I agreed that English majors should really take some business classes in college so we don't have to play catch-up in our twenties and thirties and forties when we decide we want to work for ourselves.]

UPDATE: Since I first wrote this post, the article’s been posted online. You can read it here.

If you have a question you want the Cubicle Expat to answer, send it my way.

Entry Filed under: Ask the Cubicle Expat,Popular articles,She's the boss

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Noah Parsons  |  April 11th, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Sorry for the shameless self promotion, but your forgot to list as one of your business planning sources. We’ve got over 60 free sample business plans on the site as well as tons of articles on business planning and startups.

  • 2. Michelle Goodman  |  April 11th, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    thanks for mentioning it, noah. that’s great to know. i certainly don’t mind a little non-spam shameless self-promo when it’s completely on topic, as your comment is. in fact, i believe i have a section in my book called “shameless self-promotion.” (heh, i guess i just committed a little SSP myself…)

  • 3. Natalie Ferguson  |  May 1st, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Ok, here’s more then…
    We’ve just launched PlanHQ ( which takes business plans away from a static document and into a collaborative, easy way to create, track and update your plan alongside your business. Less writing, more clever ways of presenting areas such as your competition and budgets and it’s really easy to use :)
    We also offer a free trial. It’s a new product but feedback so far has been really positive so I think it really helps take the hassle out of planning…
    Thanks :)

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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