The only 5 pages a business plan really needs

business plan

The conventional format of a business plan typically results in an extravagant and largely futile waste of precious time for most new business owners. The fact that most business plans are written for an external authority to rubber stamp, typically the bank manager, seems nonsense to me. More than that, it immediately imposes an overtly optimistic bias onto the business. It is only natural to present the bank manager with a positive vision of the future. Breakeven must be demonstrated within one or two years otherwise he/she will surely reject any request for funding. Consequently, sales are ramped up and costs are minimised. The result is a business plan that looks great, but has little chance of being delivered.

The above is an extract from my book ‘Selling Moose’. It describes what I believe is a trap most new business owners fall into. In the book I provide an alternative approach – a business plan that can be completed in precisely five pages. The abridged version of this I share with you below.

The five page business plan:

  1. A snapshot
  2. USPs (or “Reasons to believe”)
  3. What we must focus on
  4. What might de-rail us
  5. What success looks like

Page 1 provides the essential basic details a newcomer needs to know. How many business plans have you got lost in, sifting through page after page of tedious narrative, when a quick sketch is all that is required?

Page 2 is where the writer justifies why the business should or has been created. Anyone that finds this difficult to complete does not have a solid foundation for starting a business. There should either be one unbelievably good reason to believe or several very good ones.

Page 3 is the platform for the remaining two pages. Quite simply this is the plan part of the plan! It should project 6-12 months into the future, must be clear, concise and each and every item on the page should connect seamlessly with the others.

Page 4 often requires a lot of thought, simply because most business owners are so blinded by the potential that they struggle to see the banana skins. But it is an essential part of the plan. Honesty is required here. Omitting something that is perhaps seen as overtly negative is not the correct approach.

Finally page 5 – a vision of where you need to get to. Often this is best done graphically or numerically, i.e. sales, profit, number of projects won etc. Be realistic. Achievable but challenging is the way forward. Give yourself progression points over the period of analysis in order that you can measure how well you are doing. Don’t look too far into the future – for that you will need a crystal ball.


  1. Good solid advice and thanx for a great article

  2. I like your mix of terms in your five page business plan and the suggestion that this is a combination of traditional business plan topics melded together. So the story on what might derail us could well be a mixture of information from operations, marketing and HR. But, it’s still asking you to do the fundamental things within a business plan. I’ve still not found a substitution for the rigour of business planning as a process although I agree that the business plan is not the answer. I’m wondering to what extent you get the same thing with a business model canvas that has the additional advantage of showing how value can be extracted from the venture.
    Nice article thanks

    • Hi Ian, thanks for your providing your comments. My view is that small business owners need to be encouraged to write business plans for themselves to follow. And update it period upon period. Traditional business plans do not (IMHO) really allow for this. I agree with you completely that if external stakeholders are required then the plan needs more depth. However if the external stakeholder is a bank then they are really still using the CAMPARI type model – focusing upon their own risk rather than the clients, and therefore the ‘traditional’ business plan structure is not really relevant for them either. I would like to see advisers to business start-ups encourage them to write a business case for external support and a plan for themselves and their staff. I know you have a lot of experience in business consultancy yourself so really value your input – thanks again.

  3. Sound advice and business owners should be encouraged to think about where they are going in the form of a more focused plan.

    When it comes to raising finance the ‘all singing and dancing’ plan can be a necessity depending on the size of the deal, so I agree that two plans are a good idea.

    You are right that the writing process needs to be done by the biz owner wherever possible – it promotes ownership. The benefits of going through a planning process though is more about the discoveries made along the way than the final document.

    • Thanks Rob! Would you agree that banks are still looking for CAMPARI? This would surely have a big influence on how small business looking for bank finance construct their outward facing plan?

      • Yes, the CAMPARI model covers all the key areas that banks want to see in order to say ‘yes’. Making sure that a Business Plan covers these aspects ensures you’re one step closer.

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