There are a number of things to consider when either engaging a consultant to build your business plan, or purchasing a business planning template.  A primary reason for looking online for assistance is to reduce the cost associated with the development of a business plan.

Sites such as Elance offer the ability to post your specific business planning requirements online.  Interested consultants then respond to your business plan enquiry, often providing a quotation for business planning services.

Selecting a consultant online

Consider the end objective of your business plan.  Business plans are usually developed for a specific purpose, such as finding an investor, partner, loan provider or obtaining compliance certificates or government grants.

Ensure that your consultant is familiar with your specific target audience, and have experience in delivering successful outcomes to this audience.  With the internet, it is possible to hire a consultant from anywhere in the world for your business plan.  For some plans this can substantially reduce the cost of planning, without compromising your intended outcomes.

For specific purposes such as grant funding, a local business planning consultant may be able to better target your plan to the requirements, thereby improving the rate of success.  However not all business planning requirements call on the need for a consultant.  For some applications sophisticated and standardised templates can provide some structure and guidance to your planning process.

Selecting a template online

There are a variety of business planning templates available online.  Both free templates and paid templates can offer some level of assistance with your business planning process.   Whilst templates are often criticised for being overly simple, and too generic, for some business plans they can offer the appropriate level of assistance at an affordable price.  If possible try to find a template that has been developed specifically for your purpose.  Often banks will provide business planning templates for free to assist clients in structuring their plans to meet the core requirements of the loan.

The key issue iwth templates is that they are often quite general and do not assist you in clearly developing and structuring your business.    They work to help you put words to your current strategy which may incorporate inconsistencies.  They do not help with the business design process which is, in our view a core element of the business planning process.

Other approaches

Business Planning HQ.com has created a unique approach called “Question Led” business planning that offers you the benefits of using an expensive consultant for not much more than the cost of purchasing a template.  To create this proven approach we have built hundreds of different business plans for clients in a wide range of industries.  The audience for the business plan generally has a fixed series of questions about the business.  Through experience we have managed to boil down hundreds of business plans and identify their key success criteria.  Our clients are able to leverage this experience and simply build their plan by answering a simple series of questions in their own time.