The short answer is “as long as it needs to be”. The length of your business plan depends on several factors such as who your audience is, the complexity of your product or service, and how long it takes to prove your mastery of the market.
In similar articles, you’ll hear things like this: “Your business plan should be as long as it takes to convince the reader that your company is worth investing in.” This is true if your only objective is to secure an investment, but research shows that people use business plans for so much more than that.
In this article, I’ll answer the general question of, “How long should a business plan be?” based on who your audience is, and what their requirements are.
An internal audience like yourself, a small team, or even a medium to a large group can benefit from a lean business plan, standard business plan or a comprehensive business plan.
A lean business plan may only be a page or two in length but can be incredibly helpful in developing the leadership qualities of your management team.
Business Plan, not an Operations Manual
It’s fascinating when it comes to standard or comprehensive business plans. Most people believe that startups only write long business plans when they’re writing for an outside audience. This is completely inaccurate, especially for startups with a complex product, or service.
What happens is the founders write word for word how their technology or intellectual property works. Remember, a business plan requires a summarization of operations, not a focus on the actual operational plan.
Your business plan should dial in on the strategic direction of the company. Any detailed explanations of IP, or specific processes should be done separately.
External Audience With Criteria
Some audiences will require your business plan to be a certain length. It’s important to review these criteria to ensure you’re meeting all of their requirements. Here are a few examples:
- The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) requests basic business plans to be 38 to 50 pages in length, and complex plans to be 80 to 100 pages.
- The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs requires a business plan to be 10-30 pages in length, typed and double spaced, with adequate margins for adding notes or questions
- The DECA International Business Plan requirements are that the body of the written entry must be limited to 30 numbered pages, including the appendix
- Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program encourages candidates to provide business plans not exceeding 10 pages plus required appendices.
● Yahoo Small Business suggests a business plan can range from 20 to 50 pages in total.
As you can see every audience is drastically different. That is why your business plan’s length should mirror the audience it’s going in front of.
External Audience With No Criteria
In the situation that your business plan is for an external audience that hasn’t set forth any criteria, simply follow this procedure:
- Do all the research you can to ensure that your business plan answers every question it should. Ensure your content is based on evidence.
- Once completed, revise your business plan for readability. Is your business plan easy to read?
- Get your business plan in front of people you know: small business owners, friends, family, people with English degrees. Get the advice you need, not just what you want to hear.
- Next, you can contact our team. We’ll peer-review your business plan and offer our thoughts based on your goals and objectives.
Every business plan should be written with a consideration of who the audience is. A bank may focus on financial projections, while an investor might be more focused on the life-cycle of the market. A great business plan starts with a clear understanding of the audience, their requirements and criteria.
Use Charts and Graphs
That’s right. Business plans with strictly text are boring, and rarely ever get the point across. By using charts, graphs, and other visuals you can illustrate your concept while keeping your audience engaged.
The Average Length of a Business Plan
A standard business plan is usually 2,600 to 4,000 words in length, which is around 10-15 pages of text.
A comprehensive business plan can be anywhere from 4,000 to 26,000 words, which is equivalent to anywhere from 15-100 words in length.
“Our best approximation of the average length of a business plan is 3,200 words throughout 12-15 pages.”
Our main takeaways are to:
Excite your readers, and keep them focused on your idea. Speak to your audience. Figure out what will be most compelling to them, while ensuring your content is evidence-based.
More important to length is the content inside your business plan. Some long plans may communicate very little, while some short plans will communicate the essence of the business more effectively and with fewer words.
Most audiences skim business plans. This means you never know where your audience’s eyes will land; therefore, every sentence must be your best sentence. To help your audience with their skim you should:
Use Headers To Help Them Navigate
Headers will give your audience an idea of the business plan’s structure, so they can dial in on their areas of interest.
One option is to write your plan at a length you’re confident with, provide it to your audience, and allow them to suggest areas that can be expanded upon.
So, how long should a business plan really be? A winning business plan is not based on its length, but rather on what’s inside. A good rule is do not make your business plan longer than it needs to be.