If you are looking to hire a business plan consultant or a business plan writer, then beware, most of the time, you get what you pay for…

What do I mean? Well, unfortunately the business planning market is plagued by business plan writers who charge $100-$500 to do a business plan. In order to make any money at all on the plan, they would only spend say 5-10 hours developing a business plan. Others may charge $1,000 and probably spend no more than 20 hours if you are lucky in plan development. Of course a high volume of business plans can make up for the low price point, but with high volume business planning companies, it is a cookie cutter operation, where they are using preformatted and often, sample plans, and then doing only minor changes to the cookie cutter plan. What you get is a business plan that is unoriginal and chances are, been seen by tons of readers and funders over time (major red flag).

Don’t Be Fooled By MBA’s Charging Nominal Fees

Don’t be fooled by those starving MBAs who are doing business plans for $500. They are a dime a dozen unfortunately in this recession economy. They went back to school and got an MBA, now they think they can write a plan. Because they have student loans to pay and are probably unemployed, they offer the deal of a lifetime for a $400-$600 plan, but guess what, the plans they produce stink! They do not have the requisite experience it takes to know how to properly develop a business plan, nor do they have the resources (and a professional planning team) that it takes to create a plan that is going to be useful and effective. Beware of MBA writers in Craig’s List™ and all over the forums and classified ads on the internet. If they are charging less than $1,000 and have little real world experience in business planning, then run away fast. You will waste your valuable time and money, and sadly, your business plan’s objectives will not be met.

Note: There are many good business planners who work on their own (without aide of a team) and produce good, solid plans. These planners are not the subject and focus of my remarks in this blog post. Most of these planners charge fees in the range of $3,000 to $5,000+, indicating their level of expertise.

The Average Fee for a Professional Business Plan is $4,100

So, how do you sort through the business planning industry with price ranges of $100 to $10,000, to find a capable business plan writer or business plan consultant? Well, first understand that you get what you pay for. According to a 2011 survey, the average cost for a professionally developed business plan runs $4,100. Those offering to do plans in the $100-$1,000 should be a red flag indicator. They are simply unprofessional writers pulling together a shoddy, and probably unoriginal plan in short order.

Business Plan Writer or Business Plan Consultant?

If you want a real professional to develop a business plan for you that will actually be effective for you, then you need an experienced Business Plan Consultant, not a business plan writer. And most experienced business plan consultants will bill around $4,000 – $5,000 for a comprehensive plan. For larger, more complex projects, which may also require onsite expertise, expect to pay more.

Really what you need is a business planning team:

1)      Business Plan Consultant: Develops the business planning process and gets the business plan information and research completed. Sets up the business, strategic, operational and financial models.

2)      Business Plan Writer: From the business plan package developed by the business plan consultant, a Professional business plan writer will organize and write the plan so that it is captivating, reads well, and is easy to navigate.

3)      Business Plan Designer: Once the business plan writer is finished with polishing and organizing the plan, a graphic designer makes the plan look very professional with a stunning design. I prefer a magazine type style and image. Professionally designed plans increase and improve utility, comprehension, readership and interest immensely.

Look for a Seamless Team of Business Plan Consultants, Writers and Designers

Unfortunately many planning firms are just writers or just consultants. And most do not have design staff. If you are going to do something, in my opinion, do it right. So to best serve our clients, I have business plan consultants with ample business experience and MBA education; I have professional business plan writers; and I have experienced graphic designers. The consultants, writers and designers work as a seamless team under one umbrella to produce best-in-class business plans for our clients. I do not know of many firms that have all these capabilities in-house (if they do offer all three skillsets, most outsource to other firms on an ad hoc, a la carte basis, which creates a disjointed plan and can create confidentiality issues).

Business Plan Service Pricing

So, understanding what the professional business plan consulting and writing market offers, we price our highest level, comprehensive business plan, at $3,900, which is just below the previously mentioned average professional plan cost of $4,100. As some clients have budgetary constraints or really don’t need a comprehensive plan, we also offer 3 other levels of business plans ranging in price from $1,700 to $3,100.

Market and Industry Research are Key

Make sure when a business planning firm quotes your business plan price that it includes complete Market and Industry Research. All business plans need good, comprehensive market/industry research to lay a realistic foundation for the business plan’s assertions. All 4 levels of our business plans include full research from many different sources. Often, small one or two person business planning companies do not have the resources to have access to the necessary research sources as the larger, professional firms like us do.

For a comprehensive business plan, we often develop market and industry research that totals hundreds of pages and then pick the most important 40-60 pages of research to key on for the business plan. Good business planning firms have a research team that only concentrates on developing research for their plans. Most business plan writers who are on their own do not have access to this expertise.

Work with a Senior Business Plan Consultant

Find out who you are going to work with on your plan. Are you going to work with a senior business plan consultant with years of planning experience, or will you be relegated to a project manager that has little planning expertise? Insist on working one-on-one with the senior consultant(s).

At ABC Business Consulting, we are structured such that I work one-on-one with all clients during business plan development. I am assisted by a team of over a dozen business plan consultants who are tasked to develop certain aspects of the plan with my oversight. I am the one with over 20 years’ experience, so I should be overseeing all plan development. Then I can leverage my time and availability (access) by using my MBA business consultant team to help duplicate myself, enabling us to develop as many plans simultaneously as we need to without giving up any disadvantage to a single client. We are a rare business planning firm as we can do volume and quality work at the same time.

Determine the Strength and Effectiveness of the Business Planning Process

Find out exactly what the business planning process entails. This will quickly tell you if you have a real business plan pro or not. Most inexperienced and poor planners, use fill-in-the-blank templates or cookie cutter question formats, which they do little review of, and then automatically synch with their word processing program to quickly (and automatically) construct a cookie cutter, unoriginal, ineffective plan.

A good business plan process is developed from many years planning and business experience, and it is a process that engages the client thoroughly, as business plan development without high touch client contact is no development at all. Beware of those writers that have a couple hour conference call, fill out a generic information form, and then auto generate a plan for you.

At our business planning firm I customize the planning process on a per client basis, as business plan requirements are different for each client. I then have a written and verbal process that ensures I have close contact with the client while supporting the planning effort with MBA business plan consultants, professional plan writers, financial modeling experts, funding experts, research experts, and professional plan designers.

A sophisticated, yet simple process is necessary for successful business plan development. The business plan process is the single most important factor in developing an effective business plan. So be sure to interview your prospective business planning firm (or person) to ensure they have a quality and proven business planning process.

Make a Checklist

So before you start interviewing business plan consultants, business plan writers, and business planning firms, make a checklist of things to ask and look for. Compare all the firms’ capabilities first, before looking at pricing. Then understanding their capability and experience, determine if it adequately matches their pricing level? And, is the pricing flat fee or contingent? If it is a contingent fee, get a firm understanding of the upper price levels for your project. I personally like flat fee as the client knows exactly what to expect.

Questions?

If you have questions about business planning, feel free to call me at 757-345-0968. My name is Frank, and I answer all calls. No, we don’t have secretaries answering the phone and giving people the run around. A real business plan consultant with over 20 years’ experience answers my phone. Myself! J

Good luck in your search for a business planning firm! Hope this post helps!

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