Fall In Love With Your Business, Not Your Business Plan

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Fall In Love With Your Business, Not Your Business Plan

 

That business plan, that business plan,

I do not like that business plan.

I do not like the writing part,

I do not even like to start.

I do not like them at a bar,

I do not like them from afar.

~Dharmesh (with h/t to Dr. Seuss, who I read every day to my son)

My feelings on business plans varies: from extreme dislike to just mild irritation.

I don't think business plans are completely useless, just mostly so. And sometimes, they're even dangerous.

Here's why…

1. Business plans are energy-depleting exercises. When I went to MIT Sloan for business school, I took what was (and is) one of the “definitive” classes for entrepreneurs “New Enterprises”. The class was oriented around coming up with ideas, forging a team of classmates around that idea (you had to actually sell them) and then having that team write a business plan during the course. All of this was intermingled with some presentations and some guest lectures. All around, I loved the class but hated the writing of the business plan. It was painful. I had a great team — and it was still painful. We had a real business (what later morphed into my current company, HubSpot) — but it was still painful. And, took a lot of time. I'd much rather have been talking to potential customers or building product prototypes — both of those activities, unlike writing business plans, are energizing.

2. You should be committed to your business, not your business plan. As a way to capture your current plan and thinking about the business, business plans are inefficient. Shortly after you're done writing it (or editing it), you will realize that the plan is a little out-dated and does not reflect your current reality. Startups change constantly, especially in the early days when you're trying to find product market fit. The market changes, you get more feedback from your customers, and your understanding of the opportunity changes. Even more simply, you might just change your mind. In the early days, your startup is likely changing so frequently that going through the effort of making sure your business plan keeps up with your latest thinking is frustrating and futile. You're much, much better off spending that time and energy talking to customers and making the product better. Business plans are often dangerous, because you become overly committed to what you've written down. The risk is that you revise the plan so much, have toiled so many nights getting it just right that you actually start becoming emotionally attached to the plan. It becomes your baby — not the business itself. This can be fatal. You want to stay pragmatic and willing to change. If you have a 100 page tome that you've poured your heart and soul into late into the night, you'll have this small piece of you that begins resisting the change to the plan. That's a Very Bad Thing.

3. Business plans are written in the waterfall method, and you need to be agile. Some entrepreneurs take the “classic” approach to a startup. Have idea. Write business plan. Rewrite business plan. Rewrite busines plan. Pitch plan to investors, team maters, etc. Keep pitching until you get money or fall into the dark abyss. If you raise money, go out and start “executing” on the plan. Later discover that some of the core elements of the plan were flat out wrong. Does those sequence of things sound familiar? If you're a developer, it will sound to you an awful lot like the “waterfall method” of software development. And, in that case, you just listen to your instincts to run screaming in the other direction. Agile is not just for software development, it's for startup development too.

4. Nobody will read your business plan. If you enjoy the act of writing a business plan and like having it, that's fine. Perhaps you like sleeping with it under your pillow because it gives you comfort. That's cool. As long as you don't have some delusional idea that anyone is going to actually read it, you're fine. It's when you expect potential investors, team members and other unsuspecting victims to read your masterful work of brilliance that you have a problem. Once you get through the first few iterations, it's likely that even you won't want to read the plan anymore. You'll become sick of it.

5. It's a work of fiction. The executive summary can be useful (but can be manifested in much better ways), but a lot of the marketing sizing, financial projections and long narratives around go-to-market strategy are usually complete works of fiction. Some plans have more reliable market data than others. Some include more realistic projections than others. But, they're all works of fiction. All that varies is the degree to which the business plan resembles the truth and the degree to which the entrepreneur believes the fiction.

blog onstartups

6. Write a blog, not a business plan. Although I advise against writing the classic business plan, I'm not against writing down your ideas and describing them in a way that is consumable by other humans. In fact, I'm a big fan of that. Just not in the form of a business plan. Instead of writing a business plan, which nobody will read, write a blog instead. Unlike a business plan, a few people will actually read your blog. The blog has the added value of being interactive. People can leave comments on your blog. They can poke at your ideas, tell you about these other 3 startups that sound like they're working on something similar. They can call you an idiot. All of that is useful. The earlier in the process you can get feedback from places other than the voices inside your head that talk to you at 1am in the morning after a long day of work, the better off you are. Unlike a business plan, a blog is useful forever. It pulls people into your business (through things like Google search). It helps people visiting your website to get a better understanding of what's going on in your head. It serves as both a vehicle for crystallizing your thinking and as a tool for marketing. In fact, it's one of the most important inbound marketing tools at your disposal. Every startup should have a blog.  

What do you think?  Have you tried writing a business plan? Do you know of a "friend" that tried to write one, because they thought they needed one for some reason?What's your take?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Fri, Mar 30, 2012

COMMENTS

Oh no,no, BP is verything to start new business, otherwise you roaping in dark

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:01 AM by krishan sharma


100% interesting (as always). I've written "classic" business plans, as well as 8-slide decks as a business plan. I think the advice needs to be "You shouldn't do a business without a plan, but you shouldn't spend more time on the plan than the business."

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:05 AM by Peter Alberti


How about being asked to write a business plan only to realize that the people who asked you to write it never actually took the time to read it? Oh, wait. You address that in point #4.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:09 AM by Michelle Leder


But what if you write a blog and some reader actually steals the idea? How do you avoid that?

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:15 AM by Ronnie


I go back to the comment attributed to Gen. Eisenhower (though I am sure there are multiple sources): "Plans are useless, planning is essential." The purpose of a business plan is to force the entrepreneur to go through the process of planning, i.e. of thinking through the big issues and opportunities for the business.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:17 AM by Simon Clark


Krishan, trust me you are roaming in the dark until the first version of your product actually gets in users hands. BP's really are for fundraising only. Dharmesh is spot on here.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:18 AM by Karl Treier


Thanks for the comments everyone. 
 
A couple of quick points as follow-up: 
 
1. Like the Eisenhower quote: "Plans are useless, planning is essential".  
 
2. Karl: Even for fund-raising, business plans are pretty much useless. In the tech world, I've never met an investor that actually reads a business plan. In fact, if a VC asks to see a business plan, I worry.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:23 AM by Dharmesh Shah


I am a business plan expert and I discourage people from writing the traditional business plan. Instead I encourage the business person to "prove" his or her concept.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:27 AM by Paul Morgan


I have tried writing my business plan but always find myself changing it a billion times. I'm lost in my business plan, however, afraid of doing it any other way....

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:29 AM by Carolina Rayo


I'm in a business plan class right now and our professor admits that the ultimate plan will be relatively useless, but the planning will be essential. I love the reference to agile development--using the Business Model Canvas + customer development is much leaner than composing a 40-page plan that is outdated (or already fatally flawed) before you finish writing it.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:29 AM by Joseph Draschil


Dharmesh 
 
 
 
1. ABP (Always be Planning) 
 
ABM (Always be Measuring) and 
 
(Always be Marketing) 
 
 
 
 
 
2. Agreed, but Cincinnati VC's are a bit different than the one's your use to.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:31 AM by Karl Treier


It indeed sounds too familiar ;-) 
 
After experiencing almost everything you've said (and I suspect you have as well), I have to agree with you in almost everything. 
 
The one thing business plans are not useless at is that they help you consider things you hadn't though of before writing it. 
 
So my advice would be write it and move on...

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:32 AM by Julian Molina


This article outlines everything that I have thought about for the past nine months. I've recently hit upon an idea for a startup and have gotten more traction by NOT WRITING A B-PLAN than by actually trying to write one. And I'm having more fun connecting with people who are interested in the idea and want to help. Your business plan can't build the business. ONLY YOU CAN!

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:32 AM by Stefan Pagacik


Some form of planning is essential - what's critical is the action plan that sits 'behind' the business plan this becomes the working document and can be monitored, measured,tracked and when relevant changed.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:33 AM by Jackie Houston


Au contraire! A business plan begins as your dream for the future and is a living document; it is malleable and should adapt to the responses you get as you implement it. Like a road map, you can’t determine where you are going unless you know where you are at and you don’t know where you are at unless you know where you have been. Maybe you would feel more comfortable calling it a business diary or in your case a blog, but as with most things in life, before you embark on them, it will be best if you have a plan.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:33 AM by George M Vodin


Some form of planning is essential - what's critical is the action plan that sits 'behind' the business plan this becomes the working document and can be monitored, measured,tracked and when relevant changed.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:34 AM by Jackie Houston


As a person who has done it both ways, I have to say I find Dharmesh to be exactly right- the process of writing a formal BP is so time consuming and energy draining that you just end up frustrated and out of touch/date with your market and consumer. They don't function at the speed of business and development, although I must say that for the beginner, it is beneficial for making you think pragmatically about the minute details that you would otherwise overlook. This is important in start up mode to avoid the classic OOPS, I ran out of money or OOPS I didn't think of that scenario. I also like the alternative of real-time feedback from a blog. Probably a balance of both is best, as always! Thanks for writing!

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:36 AM by Meredith


Ha! I had to laugh reading this post. I know exactly how this vicious cycle goes. I agree - you get sick of your business plan and it takes valuable time away from "doing". 
 
I do feel that planning is important. Our team just had a 2 day strategic planning session to pivot our product - it was immensely valuable & we really focussed on our product vision, customer & things we "need"for launch.  
 
But to get the most out of those two days I spent the two days prior working on the structure, topics to cover & provide high level background docs that everyone could read before the session. Planning for planning is critical :) 
 
But back to the *ick* business plan...my questions is how do I convince my board that we don't need to focus so much on a business plan for a pitch to VC's in the coming months. Is the 8-slide deck the key? 
 
Thanks for your blog - I love your posts.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:37 AM by ayouens


Seems to me that "to plan or not to plan" has a lot to do with the context, situation, setting, objectives, needs, etc... 
 
Analysis paralysis accomplishes nothing. Connecting to customers early on is most everything. But, measuring progress is very useful. How is that done without at least some sort of framework to measure against? 
 
Check out the One Page Business Plan series (Jim Horan) for a simple, quick, low overhead approach to framing out a plan.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:42 AM by John


You are 110% right, write a blog/website instead and interact with people to improve it is the way to do now

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:43 AM by Steven


Plans Vs Planning. Very important difference. I agree with the idea of planning. It forces you to think along specific routes like finances, marketing and so on. And, it forces you to learn more in order to do it.  
 
That planning process is, unfortunately, called a plan and its very important to realise that it's just that, a plan.  
 
A business has to be flexible, responsive to changing economics and be constantly innovative. in my experience, an entrepreneur, in general, will not stick rigidly to the plan, they will refer to it and remind themselves how they thought a few months previously. Ideas thaet they may have forgotton about.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:43 AM by Bob Tallent


Hey Dharmesh, 
Thanks for your creative insights. I agree that they day of the "old fashioned" plan are long gone. But we still need a plan, and not all of it should be exposed in the public eye. We need to do competitive analysis, marketing plans and certainly social media plans. But yes, keeping it short and very visual will make your plan a working document rather than a defunct effort. Business planning can be fun and creative!!

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:43 AM by Marla Tabaka


Business plans are largely evil for the reasons Dharmesh listed and more. However writing down a plan can help in getting an opportunity to chat with investors. Blogging some of this stuff is a great idea, but often business plans include information not meant for a public forum but needed to get people interested. Either way I love seeing anything anti-Bplan. Man are they dangerous!

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:46 AM by Mike Somers


This is right on. I am all for the blogs because you build an audience, so that when you have something to sell, they can find you easily.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:51 AM by Cheval John


Yea, the planning part is great, but writing (and re-writing x100) it into a "perfect" piece is quite a pain. When I reach out to people to get me in touch with investors, the first thing they ask is, do you have a business plan?... In a way, I feel that the business plan is somewhat disconnected from the actual company/product/service; it loses the personality. Can we just meet and talk? :)

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:53 AM by Anita Fong


Great post - 
 
No battle plan survives the first bullet being fired - an old saying but just as true today for business plans. Startup Day +1 you will find all those things you sweated blood over in the plan are not quite as expected! 
 
Don't write a business plan for investment (it won’t get you in the door), but have the data handy for when you might be asked. They can be useful for your internal thought process on ‘what if’s’ – better to spend time on communicating your business, team, market, business model, barriers to adoption, exit strategy, use of funds etc... in a simple, non clichéd presentation – oh and don’t make the financials look like the usual hockey stick  
 

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:58 AM by Ben


Different thought. Classic Dharmesh post. Reminds me of "writing something that is at times radical"... from inbound mktg. 
 
I am yet to meet a VC who does not ask for a business plan... or else I would have been funded by now ;)

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:01 PM by Abhishek


This article is kind of what I've been wanting to hear or read for the past couple weeks. I am founding a web startup, I did go to a fancy US business school and learned how to draft the perfect biz plan, but now that im actually executing my biz ideas according to my vision and not a piece of paper, i am more proactive and efficient than ever, just like your lovely reference to agile development, i am able to respond quickly to change and shape my project facing reality not obsolete notes and research. Do plan, do stay organized, do set deadlines, do write down your ideas, plan of action, strategies and all but please let go of that irrelevant fantasy business plan !

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:02 PM by Sebastien


Sometimes writing your ideas down can help you distill and refine them. Same goes for Business Plans.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:07 PM by AS


I agree that writing a full buz plan is time consuming and is usually not looked at by the investment community, however, an Executivve Summary is a must do so you do have something that sttes the purpose of yoour busniess model and it potential value. 
 
 
 
We all know that no start up has there initial plan cast in concrete. 
 
The "plan" will constantly change depending on many factors, market, and changing customer needs to name a couple. 
 
In my book "What IF? The Entrepreneurial Answer" I recommend an Exec Summary and power point presentation as the minimal tools to express the business model and to use a s a basis for the start plan. 
 
Beyound that you have the constantly changing landscape to work aorund as you move forward and the "plan" changes accoringly.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:07 PM by ted stokes


Dharmesh, 
 
I totally agree with you. We found it more valuable to develop the product, put it in front of customers and get feedback than writing business plans. 
 
Thx, 
Mads 
Neemware

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:17 PM by Mads


Dharmesh, good job of writing an article that stirs folks to dialogue, kudos for that. But shame on you, with all your knowledge, for offering validity to all the potential start-ups out there who seek reasons to avoid the effort it takes to research and write a business plan. Will you be there to pick up the pieces when they lose everything they own?  
Jumping into business today without some sort of plan is suicide, and you know it. Business planning is a process by which a start-up can get a whole lot smarter about his or her business—a wiser approach than winging it. For the many people who hate their jobs and trade their time for paltry wages, a small business is often the only light at the end of the tunnel, and doing a business plan is the smartest and safest way to begin digging their way out.  
Are you saying you don’t have a plan for your business? Good eye-catching article, potentially damaging message for newbies. 

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:21 PM by Dan Boudreau


The mistake many people is to proceed direct to a business plan without first testing the feasibility of the idea. The feasibility process gets you in front of customers, vendors, advisors and the like to help inform the future business plan. The plan itself can be concise, and at a high enough level so that it can rapidly morph as you move forward.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:27 PM by Dave Skibinski


No, do not fall in love with your business. Fall in love with adding value. A business is neutral, and too often a business is design to take a piece of action from the system but add nothing bad. This is never sustainable. Instead, fall for adding value within a visionary approach and do not look back.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:27 PM by Keith


Uf BP is just a nightmare, and it is so rigt that once you get trough it most of the scenario has change! 
In my bussines (education in music business, recording, bands, production) the most important and difficult i think is to teach the musicians an persons related to, the importance of learn business topics that they don't like but need. 
So I think a sales plan is the key for the business. 
 
Forgive my english (I'm from Chile) and thanks for the article!!

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:28 PM by Bernie Ramos


The world it full of new products that can't be sold, new services that people don't want, new ideas that can't make money....I see them every day. Until you think past your initial love of the product/service/idea to contemplate the "business", you have no idea if it will be only a hobby or a money making venture....and you can't explain the difference to anyone else. The biggest value of a business plan is to make you think past your emotions.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:32 PM by Sven Hanson


Very important things... described in very interested way... Hats off to u.. Keep blogging

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:36 PM by Ridham


Thanks for writing this article. I am a Start-Up guy but I don't like to write business plans :-)

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:43 PM by Robert Reiz


Sven love your last line. I agree. - 
 
I think any idea can benefit from the diligence its exposed to under a business plan, I just dont think it should become the vision. A majority of the content in the kind of business plans you come across in our days is complete fantasy and rarely ends up being what drives the business in one direction or another.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:43 PM by Sebastien


I agree that the business will likley never get read. However, I have never treated a business plan like its a novel. Instead I see the business plan as an act of planning more for the benefit of the entreprenuer than an external reader. In order for a business plan to be effective a great deal of time has to go into researching your ideas and strategies. That research is invaluable to the insights you will gain that ultimately form the basis of the changes that eventually become your business. Also, even if you never write a plan you are foolish to not at least do a financial analysis on your idea. Better to learn your lessons before you start creating expenditures than afterwards.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:56 PM by Scott Lange


I cannot agree although there may be a small population of people who might relate to his points. After counseling over 1000 people seeking to start a business or struggling I have concluded the vast majority need to be forced to write a plan (12 pages is fine) as they have not considered many vital details (to name a few, cash flow, forecasted bookings, exit plans, target customers with greatest need, strategy to reach them and etc.) Arguments can be made if it is the plan that is the primary objective or the "thinking" and planning that is needed to produce the plan but I think all should be exposed to writing a plan.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 1:15 PM by Bob Goedjen


Thank you for the article. I agree with you observations. I believe that an active strategic planning process with "nested strategies" is much more relevant for capturing the writer's daily insights and strategies.  

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 1:19 PM by David Eller


Writing a business plan is a step that can end up in futility when we lack the ability of converting the plan into reality. Being negative is like a still birth to progress. I Dare you to write, convert and move on.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 1:22 PM by Femi Ikutiyinu


Interesting perspective, as always. Agree the traditional business plan is obsolete before the ink dries. However, I love the innovative approach presented in the book Business Model Generation. Having a clear picture of your business and understanding the major components of your business model - not as a snap shot but as it evolves - is a timeless strategy worthy of a second look. http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 1:31 PM by Lori Petrone


The blog sounds like a good idea for that reason. My first two businesses didn't have a traditional business plan. Just jotted down some goals on a piece of paper. Ran and did fine. Now on my third go around in a different market, started out with a business plan and got as far as the template. Nope off and running again and just happy.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 1:37 PM by John


I love the point about writing a business plan being an energy drain because it helps us take the perspective on what is fueling us as entrepreneurs and what is draining us.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 1:43 PM by Michael


Even though b-pans are futile in actual use, they are none the less a prerequisite of most investors, as well as an added layer of protection for a company that takes investment.  
 
It is a hard sell to simply tell someone (or blog about) your idea and expect an investor to fork over their money. It just doesn’t work that way – except if it is your uncle Bob that always liked you, or your mom!  
 
The problem is the traditional paper business plan. New electronic business plans that resemble a web site gives an investor or team member the ability to get to the information they want quickly. This is also a good way to share the process of building the plan with team members. An interactive electronic business plan is a flexible, living tool that can also provide understanding to everyone from the investors to the customers (if they are allowed to see it of course).  
 
No business plan is perfect, but not having some type of plan in writing and then taking money from someone can be viewed, especially if things go bad, as fraud.  
On the other hand, if your business doesn’t need outside investment and it is a small group of people involved… heck with the b-plan! Just get it done… 

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM by Peter Oakes


An entrepreneur or business owner better spend extensive lots of time thinking about their business, prospective customers, offerings and strategy. Its makes the difference between working IN your business or ON your business.  
 
Devising a plan should consume time. Otherwise, what is the point? Does the initial plan need to be a formal business plan? I think it is best to commit plans to writing, in some fashion, but it need not be lengthy, just specific with verifiable assumptions. 
 
To use effective business and marketing strategies, consider reading: 
Should a New Business Idea be Kept Secret?.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM by Mary Brophy


The traditional business plan format was invented on a type writer so i completely understand why you don't like business plans and that's why we reinvented it into the http://fundingroadmap.com to solve all of these problems and make a tool that was relevant for a 21st century digital world.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 2:45 PM by Ruth Hedges


you mention the vc is theoneyouwrite thr bp for,yothinkinterms of the vc now is your boardof directors who expect to see bp's for your nrxt three yearsof planning pl youwrwrite the first draft of the plan from the heart,then all that follow from the mind

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 2:45 PM by


After counseling over 50 clients on start-up's, the main issues is that they don't like to write anything down. A BP is a thinking and defining process that all0ws ideas to become clear in a persons mind to allow focus on whats important. I found that the cash flow plan is the one of the most critical portion of the BP, so the founder can see what the cash needs are and when starting where the cash is going. Without this there is no measure of what your performance and chance of success will be. If you need financing the minimum requirement is a short comprehensive BP. This BP is the start and if you are successful becomes the short term guide. It will change over time and that is the key planning ingredient for comtnuing focus and likely success.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 3:01 PM by James Cogan


We do not read business plans. We do read slide decks, exec summaries (occasionally), and detailed excel business models. An excel (or google docs, or calc) model is good for showing assumptions the entrepreneur makes, and it's also something that can be monitored to some extent as live data rolls in, which can help adjust the direction of the business.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 3:24 PM by Steve


Planning is everything. It should be instantiated in a 15-20 slide presentation. Keeping it succinct forces one to clearly think and question. Writing a 50 page business plan is useless (except if the B-School requires it for the grade. I've lead turn-arounds and startups to success events over the past 20 years, and never was asked for more than the slide presentation.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 3:44 PM by Barry Soloway


Startups must author customers not business plans. -j 
 

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 4:03 PM by John Maloney


I just finished judging 8 Business Plans for a contest. In order to be effective they must be short not 32 52 pages. However, describing your part of how to start your business is essential for the writer and possible funding. The Executive Summary should be a concise factual summary, 1-2 pages. It can be painful but doing without can create real pain!

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 4:07 PM by Wolfgang Kurpiers


Couldn't agree more! It's been said that a business plan tells you where you're going but not how you are going to get there. I tell my clients that I'll help them plan their business but I won't help them write a business plan.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 4:47 PM by Diane Helbig


I've been writing business plans for start-ups for 17 years and am the author of a book on business planning called "Planning With A Heart." I agree - most business plans written the "traditional" way are pretty useless.  
 
However, there are several essential reasons for writing a business plan. (1) It helps translate an entrepreneur's passion into practical steps; (2) written correctly, with financial sensitivity analysis, it gives a reality check on what's real, not just what's possible; (3) finally, it focuses on all the essentials - not just the "widget" but the operational aspects, profit margins, and financial management.  
 
A business plan is a "snap shot" of a moving target; but, if it captures the core concept and identifies the business model clearly, then both the investor and the entrepreneur have a "benchmark" to adjust from. 
 
Entrepreneurs should not be in the business of writing business plans. They should be in the business of doing what they do -- getting the goods to market and evaluating the results.  
 
I still think the exercise of planning can instill a sense of responsibility and discipline that can serve the business owner well.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 6:17 PM by Barbara Leuin, Business Planning Expert


I love bullet 6, "Write a Blog, not a Business Plan". I'd love to see a whole article around that idea. 
 
That's a great idea and a catchy title.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 6:22 PM by Paul Sutter


How about this? Your plan can fail, but you should never fail to plan.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 8:20 PM by CompactSystems


Dahrmesh, I love your reasoning, I have always been the antithesis of the norm when it comes to a business plan. I write Ideas, and then research and develop the ideas into something I can sell to others. I have begun about 16 businesses for others, and the all started with outlines, not plans.  
I have only just recently begun to explore blogs and the reach they can have. thank you for giving my beliefs credence.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 8:40 PM by Richard Viers


Dharmesh, I'm curious if you opinion regarding the value of writing a business plan differs based on the type of startup. It appears most references are to tech startups. We require a business plan from prospective clients in order to determine if they are "worth" working with. Plans are typically pretty short...and I would agree that there is danger in getting lost in the writing of them...but I haven't found a better way by which to quickly understand a startup than looking at something structured like a business plan. I love the idea of leaning on the executive summary. But it has been my experience that the best executive summaries are the result of (at minimum) thinking through a business plan.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 9:33 PM by Ocie


I'm glad Dan Boudreau called you out, Dharmesh. Web startups and agile software developers are one of a kind in the entrepreneurial/technology world. Some projects are successful but most are just endless iterations of poorly planned businesses/projects. It's best to stay away from individuals too lazy to plan and/or think through the planning process and capture it in written form. I would like to see how smoothly you could drive from California to New York without a plan under constraints. You can be as agile as you want but a plan will certainly increase your chances of success. Nevertheless, flexibility is a plus and feedback (and the ability to re-think your plan quickly and incorporate such feedback) is of great value. Scanning the environment constantly and revisiting your assumptions and constraints are also a must.

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 9:51 PM by James Leveille


I was hoping people would accept Dharmesh's incisive and compelling thesis and sage advice. Disturbing to see the push back... 
 
A point needs to be made clear. Business planning is not bad or wrong per se or universally. On the contrary, for established firms, going concerns and the enterprise, for example, business plans and planning is positively essential. Personally, while working for very large firms like HP, a robust business planning activity is simply required.  
 
However, the point here, the principle, is that startups are NOT small versions of big companies. This is where the warped notion of startup business planning goes off the rails, falls down.  
 
The purpose of a startup is to create a customer, to create many customers. Period. It is not to plan. Startup business planning distracts from creating customers. It is why 90% of startups fail. It is a shameful statistic. 
 
Since many investors and startup people often start life in an established firm, the notion of business planning is inbred, de facto, a motor response. Many university professors suffer the same mindset. The notion of a 35-page business plan for a startup is a laughable disgrace. Many spend a year or more on this farce before ever talking to a customer. It’s pathetic (and expensive).  
 
Heed the sensible, valuable advice offered. Investors and stakeholders want to hear about delighted customers. That’s all.  
 
END 
 
-j  
 

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 10:32 PM by John Maloney


This makes way too much common sense... The concept of Business Plan is part of the formulaic methodology taught in Business Schools... Has anybody really learned more in any level of school than they did "on the job"? The key word you use here is "Agile"... Business Plans are not Agile and, quite frankly, the whole Startup Funding process works against Agility big time...

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 10:44 PM by Tony Sukiennik


Peter Alberti, Karl Treier, Ben, Sebastien and Bob Goedjen all make great comments. ayouens the preparation for your "2 Day" strategic work allows you to focus and action which you experienced. 
 
Starting with a strategic plan will deliver you: 
 
 
 
- Your business vision and mission statement 
 
- Your strategic objectives to help you achieve your vision and mission 
 
- A detailed action plan to help you achieve your objectives 
 
- A results measurement, review, and control plan 
 
 
 
If you are raising capital, sure a dozen slide presentation is good, particularly if you are convincing and speak well. But an excited investor needs somewhere to hang their hat on, the same way a purchaser needs "the facts on WHY they bought" so they can communicate to others about the "good investment decision" they just made (otherwise buyers remorse/regret). 
 
 
 
The only way anyone really knows what's in your heart and head is from the written detail that they can question on. It provides evidence to investors (and your team and yourself). 
 
 
 
Best evidence is doing it. Investment may be the impediment (chicken and egg), but what can you do and what can you prove and who can you work with to bring the dream alive. 
 
 
 
If you need a hand, feel free to drop me a line - happy to "chat". 
 
drdmann [at] basecamp101.com 
 
 
 
Regards 
 
 
 
David

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:23 PM by drdmann


Hello Dharmesh,  
 
Wouldn't it be useful to have a basic business plan for the business. I do understand that things don't happen as per the plan, but you need some basic stuff to check if you are moving in the right direction ..

posted on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11:29 PM by Chaitannya Mahatme


I totally agree. In our business, which relies heavily on changing ways of working, this is especially relevant. We use our blog (blog.clinicyou.com) to illustrate this.

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 2:20 AM by Ken Laji


I recently considered going into business with someone who wanted to "wing it" as far as a business plan. Even though I had never written a business plan I began it simply to see how far the capital would take us especially since I was the one investing real dollars and they were investing sweat equity. 
 
The business plan helped me to see we had totally different communication styles as I tried to get relevant cost information from her in order to finish the business plan. I also saw that she had a totally different concept of how to run a business than I did.  
 
I finally came to the difficult conclusion that these differences in style would only get worse causing big potential problems for the future. It also helped me to see the money wouldn't last long. I withdrew before any papers were signed and money was invested. Whew! What a relief!  
 
I'm glad I wrote the business plan!

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 6:42 AM by sharon kane


The traditional business plan is a document meant for someone else like investors or bankers. As an entrepreneur it is far more important to plan over writing a plan. A living document that you use and update as you build your business is critical.

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 7:54 AM by Michael Bowers


I don't care if your business plan is written on yellow sheets of paper with #2 pencils or the most modern software. If you are a start-up, use a "plan" to test that you have a commercial opportunity - a product or service that has value to someone who will buy it from you, it has the potential to make a profit for the owner(s) of the company, it is a good use of your skills/resources and is amenable to financing (friends, family, fools...). Use the plan to determine who is your market, where are they, what "pain" they have and how you will seduce them to buy from you. Here is where social media is an excellent tool to incorporate. (I don't care about your mission or vision) 
 
If you are looking for angel or VC investments, use your plan to tell me how you make money with you product/service (again I don't care much about your mission or vision) . 
 
If you are in a growth mode, use your plan to determine if you want a bigger piece of the pie or a bigger pie. 
 
The half-life of a business plan is very short.  
 
My 2 cents (well actually just a penny!)

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 8:53 AM by His Bad Self


I love this article and the point i enjoyed most was point 6. Write a blog, not a business plan.

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 9:07 AM by Kena


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posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 9:37 AM by Ruth E Hedges


I think a business plan can be useful in painting broad strokes for people outside the start up. However once established the business plan is not really worth the paper it's written on. The passion and vision needs to be communicated by the people involved. Tech or traditional start up, the fact is it always comes back to people. You need to sell your message and that cannot be done by putting a two dimensional plan written on a piece of paper in front of a person. It can only be done by putting yourself in front of a person. A business plan can only be a very small part of the process (usually it's useful to have as it allows you to answer yes when asked if you have a business plan and then move on).

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 10:15 AM by Mark Flanagan


I beg to differ. A biz plan put things into "written" perspective. It covers all angles (if done right). It labels starting points. During the grueling process of putting in formal writing a biz plan, founders "find" their weak spots. It is a great way to see where you are standing. I personally love the projections and the barrier of entry sections. When checking out a new or old venture,after briefly reading the summary and researching about the team, this is my next favorite sections to skim through. It lets me know how much "homework" has been done and how "far off" they dare to go. Flexibility is a needed reality. A good biz plan allows room for it.

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 10:15 AM by Ilia Muriente


This is a great article and if we didn't live in the real world it maybe true. I am a specialist helping small businesses and start ups secure financing for their business. YOU HAVE TO HAVE A BIZ PLAN to get financing. 
 
A blog is great and the points in this article are correct. However, you will need money(unless you are filthy rich and want to use yur own money)to have a business to blog about. Perhaps, the author should add a comment that you could hire someone to write your business plan but you need one.

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 10:49 AM by Pamela Hewett


In my opinion, the only two elements of a BP that are of any lasting value are the starting point, and the arrival. This is the compass. This is how we keep focus. We have to know where we've been, and where we are going.

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 12:57 PM by Ben Leybovich


Dharmesh, if you're willing to invest in my business, I'll be happy to not write a business plan. Unfortunately, most of the VCs I've talked to look at you funny if you don't have one. It's kind of like having a fax number or any other business affectation -- It's completely useless, but if you don't have one, you seem out of touch and (therefore) more of a risk. 

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 1:14 PM by Bill Horvath II


Maybe I'm way off the mark, but I think that to be successful you need to have BOTH a business plan AND a blog. Here is why: A business plan is an organized document with your goals for what you want to achieve with your business. Starting a company without one is blindly throwing out your work with no real goal. Ok for brainstorming, but not going to get you somewhere long term. A business plan can be edited over time to adapt for your companies changes. And a blog is a goldmine to get found. If you don't have one you are missing out on a major opportunity. So I agree with you on the blog point.

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 7:41 PM by Jessica


Essentially, if you have a good team, you can devise a BP on a napkin with the basics; however, it depends on the industry you plan to compete in. A good SWOT Analysis is always a good idea just so you know where you stand with competitors. I like Mark Cuban's statement: "When I am beginning stages of a start up, I try and figure out how to kick my own ass, then I know I am ready to go to market." 
 
With experience in a certain industry, you can do what Mark does to see quickly what your weaknesses are. 
 
More important than a BP would having proper signed contracts in place with every potential contractual situation or you will be open for all kinds of problems. A biz lawyer told me, "a business is only as good as its contracts". Protect yourself no matter what your start-up is in!

posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 7:55 PM by Sean Cook


If you have plan with great strategy with good procedures and communication that all meet some condition..your plan will never fail. 
 
 
 

posted on Sunday, April 01, 2012 at 7:05 AM by Ajay


Startups need to plan. A business plan is one way of planning. 
 
Like the Eisenhower quote, the problem is when people confuse the process with the output, and focus on perfecting the output. 
 
The goal of writing a business plan shouldn't be to get the details right; it should be to document the macro-level assumptions and make sure they're no glaring holes. 
 
Other ways of planning like Business Model Canvas can achieve the same thing. Writing a business plan, per se, isn't necessary. 
 
But planning is necessary.  
 
Waterfall vs. agile often get interpreted as planning vs. no planning; instead it's heavyweight vs lightweight planning.  
 
Business plans can be lightweight planning, but most aren't. For those who want to write a business plan, focus on the executive summary first; then elaborate only when an experienced entrepreneur reads it and sees gaps.  
 
Finally, experienced entrepreneurs need less planning than beginning entrepreneurs. This makes it hard for me to advise whether to write a business plan or not to a beginner entrepreneur. I agree with Dharmesh that I wouldn't write one for a new business; but the process of writing them in the past taught me a lot, so I'd be hesitant to completely advise against them. 

posted on Sunday, April 01, 2012 at 9:22 AM by Trevor Lohrbeer


Great piece. I also did TONS of business plans while in biz school. Don't teach that, now, though. Planning IS essential, though. It's how we make our dreams come true. But we also have to ACT!

posted on Sunday, April 01, 2012 at 11:03 AM by Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD


As Yussi Vardi, investor and entrepreneur once said, "Business plans are a great section in the science fiction genre. They are made for people who dislike sausages and don't know how they are made".

posted on Sunday, April 01, 2012 at 1:36 PM by his bad self


I do not agree with not writing a business plan, as to my mind, a business plan to a person about to start business does the following: 
Helps them to understand the various aspects of their business; 
gives them more confidence to talk about their business to an investor; 
tells the investor that they are serious if they have a well written plan; 
the executive summary tells it all in a concise way; 
provides a familiar guide book. 
 
I always encourage my clients to be involved in writing their business plan so they can realize the above benefits

posted on Sunday, April 01, 2012 at 6:25 PM by Emmenette Mason


Without a doubt, when a start-up is looking for funding, a business plan is essential. However, over 99% of all businesses are bootstrapped.

posted on Sunday, April 01, 2012 at 6:54 PM by Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD


I feel it's always dangerous to share your business plan, as anyone can steal it and use it before you do.

posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 at 12:33 AM by PhD Thesis Writing Help


I've seen hundreds of business plans, and I've scarcely read any of them right through. Life is too short to waste it on reading page after page of empty, unsupported assertions that illustrate all too vividly both the lack of hard-edged experience and the arrogance (i.e. unwarranted over-confidence) of the author. You have no automatic RIGHT to expect anyone to give up several hours of their lives on something you've sent them - you have to EARN their interest and attention. Sorry, but that's life! 
 
As an entrepreneur, you need an operating plan that you can flex when you need to - hopefully there shouldn't be so many unforseen events (didn't you see ANY of them coming?) that you finish up changing the fundamentals every week!  
 
Most people are too lazy to write simple business plans - it's easier to dump all the rubbish on the page and let the reader make some sense out of it, but unfortunately few readers will do the job for you - they just move onto someone else. If it's a complicated business, all the more need for a simple business plan (sorry, "simple" doesn't mean leaving stuff out - it means making it intelligible). The writer needs to remember that he/she is writing the plan for the reader, and the reader might not be as deeply fascinated by the same things as the author is! 
 
An external investor (cash, sweat equity, banker, supplier, angel, VC or whatever) will get far more out of your business plan than you'll ever consciously write - they are looking to see if the person/people behind it actually KNOW what they're writing about, whether they have actually done some meaningful work on the project, and whether he/she/they are credible managers of a successful business. Basicly they want to know what YOU intend to do with THEIR money/support, and what the chances are of them ever seeing it again, let alone the chances of seeing it multiplied several time over. 
 
Doing a business plan is NOT essential, particularly for a VERY small business, but building a potentially worthwhile (to someone other than yourself) business without an APPROPRIATE plan is as stupid as starting a journey without any idea of the what the best route might be. However there is a big advantage in NOT having a business plan - when failure comes it will come as a complete surprise and you will have avoided spending weeks worrying about it. 
 
Maybe you know more about all of this than I do, because you might know everything whereas I don't. But if you'd like a tip here it is: the most important single factor in getting your plan read is to get the first para of the Exec Summary right. If I read that right through, there's a good chance I'll think you might be onto something so then I'll read the rest of the Exec Summary right through as well. By the end of that, I COULD be persuaded to read the rest of it, and THEN I might ask to meet you, and so it goes on. But if it's all too difficult, that's OK - I'll just offer you my best wishes, and move politely away to something else.

posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 at 4:20 AM by Barry Scott


Never trusted in BPs.  
Never written a BP.  
After reading this article I'm sure I'll never (say never) write one. 
We only develop agile(?) software (sometimes documented, but after the development). 
Most of our software is in customer's hands.  
Most of our customers are VCs. 
 
Thank you Dharmesh. 

posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 at 5:10 AM by Fabrizio Miglior


Provocative though ultimately personal view on business plans and probably not terribly good advice for scores of individuals with zero biz experience -- who don't even know what questions to ask let alone know what actions to take.

posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 at 6:47 AM by brendan


Planning is the opposite of floundering, winging it and delusional thinking. Traits that are rife in the entrepreneurial community. 
 
Advising people not to plan is misleading new age propaganda. Of course there is a difference between planning and the business plan but the distinction is largely semantic. The real distinction is between poor planning, which granted is largely a waste of time, and quality planning which reduces the need for pointless trial & error (often referred to as prototyping because this is the sexy new fad). 
 
The Dot.Com bust was largely a result of poor quality thinking, people who believe they are bigger & better than best practice. People who believe they don't need to plan because their ideas are sooo brilliant. I worked for several of them.  
 
The rules have not changed and neither has human nature. Planning reduces the inherent flaws that trip up most human beings. 
 
What are we going to throw out next? Discipline? How about control, let's get rid of these too and burn some juniper bushes instead.  
 
Come on people, let's stay grounded and try to keep reality a little real.

posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 at 11:27 AM by Dave Roberts


So what is your advice for someone who has an idea - only in its infantry stage and has not been completely developed, where would he/she starts?

posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 at 5:37 PM by marcelle


What a change from the norm. I have always read that a business plan is a major step in starting a business. Most entrepreneurial books and articles say that business plans are an excellent way to organize ideas and lay a foundation to present to banks and other lenders for loans. Blogs sound like an excellent idea for start-ups looking to generate an audience, leave comments, and leave discussions open for interaction between people.

posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 at 5:39 PM by Business Solutions


I love your thoughts; they are definitely right in line with mine... now if only I can get the University here to understand that better in developing a "Entrepreneurship Program." I keep talking to them about writing a blog about real life stories, but they aren't exactly on board. I think I should just start it anyway. 
 
-Dan

posted on Tuesday, April 03, 2012 at 1:40 AM by Daniel Herr


Goood post for my ı am not good english. Dear onstartups.com

posted on Tuesday, April 03, 2012 at 9:00 AM by mmo


Love the post - and the direction. Most of the work I do know is small business looking for bank loans - and a traditional business plan is required. I like turning the plan "inside out" - use sales projections, and how you explain them as the first part of the plan. We work down the P&L and up the balance sheet, making notes along the way. 
 
I will forever be a fan of business planning - never a fan of the business plan. 
 
Side note - time to switch to Discuss for comment?

posted on Tuesday, April 03, 2012 at 3:25 PM by Michael Nolan


I started my company about 15 months ago. Did not have a business plan but did have a business strategy. Working with that in mind did not waste my time trying to defend my plans but gave me focus on what we needed to do. 
Strategy is very important to run a small business. A business plan may be useful if you are looking for funding or reporting to investors.  
Good article and agree with your comments as previously I was part of a plc and we spent a lot of time on plans :-) 
Inder

posted on Wednesday, April 04, 2012 at 12:26 PM by Inder Panesar


It's HOW you write the business plan that matters. What are you discovering about your business idea? Are there areas that if you didn't really dig you'd get blindsided? What are the keys to success?  
 
I don't care what you call it or if you write it on a paper napkin. If you write a hands-on, grass -roots, where-will-I-get-my-next three-customers type of business plan (short and to the point) you're far better off then if you didn't.

posted on Thursday, April 05, 2012 at 8:13 AM by Dominik Loncar


What do you think? Have you tried writing a business plan? Do you know of a "friend" that tried to write one, because they thought they needed one for some reason?What's your take? 
 
No. Not really.But I understand that having a Business Plan is essential for getting loan from a bank.Very interesting observation coming from such a big company founder. I agree that it is better to spend that time in client acquisition and marketing

posted on Thursday, April 05, 2012 at 8:15 PM by Lalitha Brahma


I have been wondering for years if business plans ever was worth the time or effort spent, I completely agree with this article. If your business isnt that complicated, a few rough sketches would do I suppose.  
 
But then again, investors want your plan in writing and not in your head. You should be able to convey your thoughts to them and thats where business plans are useful.

posted on Saturday, April 07, 2012 at 3:26 AM by Unique Wedding Invitations


I am in early stage startup and found our pitch deck much more realistic and useful for communicating what problem were solving, how we'll do it and what we still need support wise to accomplish our mission. 
I did write a business plan just to raise a small amount of capital from a family member, but yes...the projections were mostly fictional.

posted on Saturday, April 07, 2012 at 9:30 AM by Sean Evangelista


Totally agree. I attended one of these entrepreneurship clases at college and had to develop a fully featured business plan for an idea. The idea was cool but I spent sooo much time filling all the ficticious sections for it to be called a business plan that I ended up with a completely unvalidated 60 pages idea that was absolutely worthless. Unless you are some really branded entrepreneur, investors only care about your projections if they're based on real validation numbers so don't waste your time decorating unvalidated ideas.

posted on Sunday, April 08, 2012 at 2:40 AM by Mauricio


going through the motions of raising the questions in your head that a business plan answers is important to vetting your idea. But you won't have all the answers right away and you shouldn't wait until you do to move ahead. you need a plan when you need to ask for money. if you start of bootstrapping then you can hold off on the formal plan.

posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 6:19 AM by eileen


I have always though this, good to see someone else sees it the same way. Also the amount of time that goes into a well written business plan is tremendous !

posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 10:06 PM by Andrew Gale


Spot on again. I decided long ago that biz plans are largely a waste of time but the experience revealed something interesting. The VCs I talked to and the mentor who helped us put together the plan kept pointing at one thing - the marketing plan. In the end, it is all they cared about. I came to the conclusion that a marketing plan is far more valuable than a full blown biz plan. Especially, as you say, the biz plan is mostly fiction anyway. VCs just want to know that you at least made the effort to write a biz plan but they know most of it is crap. It does give them insight into the entrepreneur's thinking however. The only other people who care are banks but they only give you money when they think you don't need it.

posted on Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 8:14 AM by Derrick Jones


Well said again, Dharmesh ;-)

posted on Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 1:35 AM by Printing Companies in Gauteng


Right on. I do love my product,my app and vision ( which changes but sort of stays along the same line. my business plan is outdated in 2-days.. but I do keep a running journal in google.. when I investigate VC money..

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 1:17 PM by Cindy Coughlin


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posted on Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 2:19 AM by gcbzcv


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