Yes and no. Perhaps the best answer ever, right?

Tradition, university classes, and most experts will tell you that it is a necessity to have a complete business plan before you start a business. I’ve been asked this many times as well and it is indeed a good question.

Having a goal in mind is a must. You need to be able to answers these questions before you start: “What need am I filling?” or “How am I going to create sales from this business?” I’m a big fan of Bobb Biehl’s “Masterplanning Arrow.” Bobb has created a entire business out of advising organizations on how to be strategic and fulfill a goal. His books and materials are worth the read, and the Master Planning arrow is a simple but profound concept.

On the right hand side of the arrow in the direction where the arrow is pointing, answer the questions above: What need am I filling? What am I deeply burdened by and uniquely qualified to do? On the left hand side of the arrow, you list ideas. In-between you fill in, from left to right, your milestones, roadblocks, 1 month goals, 1 year goals, 5 year goals, 20 year goals until you get to your ultimate need. You should always start filling in the arrow from right to left and work backwards from the big picture to the practical action items and then ideas.

When do you need a full business plan? When you need someone to read it: An investor, a colleague, a bank, a partner. I’ve wasted many hours on writing 30 page business plans at the start of an idea only to find a flaw in my own plan, or the inability to sell or materialize the first stage of the plan. I quickly learned that a lot of the leg work should be done at the strategic level before zeroing in on the details. That said, there are many times when a comprehensive plan is necessary.

As an entrepreneur, I would recommend starting with a Master planning arrow or something of that nature in order to get the concept for your business in writing. Different methodologies include a pyramid, mind mapping, etc. Do whatever works best for you. Figure out the need, the solution, the moving parts, and how you need to get there. Spend the time researching, talking, thinking and perhaps even testing or pre-selling the plan before you go very far with it. Once you have the overall plan in mind, then build the “business plan”. There are lot of great templates available for free or for cheap online that will give your business plan a professional look and feel as well as walk you through the details of how to flush it out.