United StatesFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since November 15, 2016
Aleksey served in CFO roles of public and VC-backed private companies. As an investor, he contributed to 25+ private equity deals that have deployed $500 million. He has advised 50+ clients on raising $1.6 billion in equity in the healthcare, consumer, media, software, energy, and industrial sectors. Aleksey enjoys working with officers of early-stage and mature small-cap firms, and he freelances because it exposes him to a wide range of companies.
United StatesFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since August 31, 2016
Josh is an investment banker turned VC who lives in Denver, CO. At Morgan Stanley, he covered the world's top hedge funds and sold over $5 billion in IPOs for companies like Alibaba, LendingClub, GrubHub, and more. He also has experience in M&A, startup fundraising, and as a founder. Currently, Josh is one of the managing partners of Konvoy Ventures, a VC firm focused on esports and video gaming.
United StatesFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since November 22, 2019
Gary is a serial entrepreneur with CEO and CFO experience. Before co-founding an aerospace startup in 2017, Gary was the director of finance at a $120 million revenue SaaS company, where he was responsible for the financial management of multiple departments and supported three mergers. Gary leverages his unique blend of finance and entrepreneurial experience across early and growth-stage businesses to add value to Toptal clients.
United StatesFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since July 19, 2019
Marc is a Harvard Business School graduate with honors, a former investment banker from Goldman Sachs, and private equity investor at The Carlyle Group. He has helped execute more than $70 billion worth of global M&A and financing transactions in the tech, media, telecom, infrastructure and sports facility finance markets. Marc enjoys freelancing to contribute his knowledge and skills to others while working on his own early-stage ventures.
United StatesFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since September 5, 2017
Travis was part of the founding team at Moelis & Co., a $2.5 billion global investment bank, and has 18 years of experience advising clients on $40+ billion of M&A, capital raising, and restructuring transactions. In 2015, he founded a socially responsible advisory firm, Keene Advisors, named "Best for the World" 2017-2019. Travis joined Toptal to expand his network and share his expertise advising companies from startups to Fortune 500 firms.
United StatesFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since April 13, 2017
Andy was recognized twice as an All-Star Analyst by the Wall Street Journal. He has been a strategist, operating executive, financier, and top-ranked industry analyst. As a freelancer, Andy advises a range of companies—from early-stage and middle-market to large caps—delivering customized solutions including effective investor presentations, dynamic financial models, and project finance structuring.
United StatesFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since January 16, 2019
Bertrand is a 25-year finance veteran with a true 360 experience, honed as an investment banker, venture advisor, project developer, CFO, and expert witness consultant in international arbitrations. He has advised and partnered on over 100 transactions and investment initiatives totaling over $16 billion. Bertrand is a seasoned problem solver and decision-maker with expert facilitation skills. Bertrand advises on M&A, corporate development, venture growth, project development, and financing.
AustriaFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since August 31, 2017
Olivia has over a decade of advisory experience, specializing in valuation, financial and business planning, M&A, capital raising, and due diligence. She has advised business owners globally on financial planning and strategy optimization during the fundraising and exit process. Olivia also works with investors for portfolio valuation work, the development of fund models, and due diligence. She is a Certified Valuation Analyst and is specialized in early-stage valuations.
LatviaFreelance Business Plan Consultant Since June 7, 2019
Andrew ranked fifth at the 2017 Financial Modeling World Championships. He served as CFO for Latvia’s leading retailer for seven years, navigating the firm through the global financial crisis and executing a turnaround that led to profitability and international expansion. He went on to freelance consulting, growing his client base to 250+ in 17 countries. Andrew joined Toptal to work with clients on FP&A, financial modeling, and M&A.
Business plan consultants help define the long- and short-term goals of a business and draw up an action plan to achieve these goals. This guide provides a breakdown of the key skills and attributes you'll want in a business plan consultant.
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Pete Pellizzari, CEO
Erik has been an extremely valuable member of our team who has tremendous breath of experience with start ups in our lifecycle phase. What makes his contribution unique and highly effective is not only his excellent financial modeling skills and knowledge, but also the emotional intelligence with which he manages each relationship at Vault, understands our team dynamics, and helps us tackle start up challenges effectively. It is rare to find a part-time consultant who makes you feel like he/she is genuinely invested in the success of your company.
Romy Parzick, COO
Student Loan Benefits, Inc. dba Vault
Toptal has been an incredible key partner for Sidekick. As an early-stage start-up, we’ve leveraged both design and financial talent. The experience has been incredible, with those professionals bringing creativity, expertise, and advice to ensure Sidekick succeeds. My Toptal financial expert helped steer Sidekick’s business model, which resulted in an initial ROI of 650x! My experience with Toptal has given me great confidence in the future.
Doug MacKay, Founder / CEO
Chris was great to work with and was always available on my schedule. His communication skills and personality were a 10/10. His outputs on the project were top notch and allowed us to develop more efficient forecasting and initiative prioritization frameworks. I would definitely use Chris again.
Chris Pozek, CEO
What really sets Toptal apart is the caliber of finance talent available in their network. I had a very specific and pressing need, and Toptal quickly matched me with the perfect person for the job. The expert produced a thoughtful and robust financial analysis that has ultimately allowed us to forecast and prioritize initiatives much more efficiently.
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How to Hire Business Plan Consultants through Toptal
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Within days, we'll introduce you to the right business plan consultant for your project. Average time to match is under 24 hours.
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How are Toptal business plan consultants different?
At Toptal, we thoroughly screen our business plan consultants to ensure we only match you with talent of the highest caliber. Of the more than 200,000 people who apply to join the Toptal network each year, fewer than 3% make the cut. You’ll work with finance experts (never generalized recruiters or HR reps) to understand your goals, technical needs, and team dynamics. The end result: expert vetted talent from our network, custom matched to fit your business needs.
Can I hire business plan consultants in less than 48 hours through Toptal?
Depending on availability and how fast you can progress, you could start working with a business plan consultant within 48 hours of signing up.
What is the no-risk trial period for Toptal business plan consultants?
We make sure that each engagement between you and your business plan consultant begins with a trial period of up to two weeks. This means that you have time to confirm the engagement will be successful. If you’re completely satisfied with the results, we’ll bill you for the time and continue the engagement for as long as you’d like. If you’re not completely satisfied, you won’t be billed. From there, we can either part ways, or we can provide you with another expert who may be a better fit and with whom we will begin a second, no-risk trial.
How to Hire a Great Business Plan Consultant
A well-conceived business plan, rigorously researched and shared among stakeholders, is a key asset for businesses at any stage in their lifecycle. Effective cash flow management, sustainable growth, and successful strategic exits happen not by chance but through careful adherence to a business plan that’s based on a thorough analysis of the existing business and deep industry expertise.
Of course, a high-quality business plan is only as good as its writer. While business owners, C-level executives, and more senior employees need to provide input, it pays to have a third-party consultant assist in writing the initial plan or pressure test an existing plan. This business plan writer and consultant will serve as a combined industry expert, financial analyst, and senior advisor, drawing on their expertise to collect and analyze data, review the business’ financial model and underlying assumptions, and help the CEO think strategically about the direction of their business in areas of business strategy, marketing strategy, and more over the next three to five years.
In this hiring guide, we will address how to identify the right candidate for the business plan writing role and create the best environment for a successful engagement.
Why Hire a Business Plan Consultant?
Below are some of the most common reasons for retaining a business plan consultant, alongside case studies to provide insight into how they can help your business achieve its goals.
Explore Growth Initiatives
Professional business plan consultants are often brought on to help executives identify the optimal ways to grow their business in the near-term. This shouldn’t simply be a matter of increasing sales or cutting costs, but a discussion of how to best allocate resources according to strategic priority. A next-level business plan consultant will not just evaluate existing options, but draw on their experience to suggest additional pathways to growth.
Case study: Cutting It Close, a B2C startup focused on razor blades, needs help writing their business plan to map out the next five years of major growth initiatives. They have limited bandwidth, and can’t decide how to prioritize between a set of potential initiatives: expanding to new geographies or aggressively renegotiating contracts with key suppliers. How would an expert business plan consultant approach writing the business plan, keeping these growth initiatives in mind?
In this case, an expert business plan consultant should consider these initiatives in the broader context of the business and its goals over the given time horizon. While expanding to new geographies may seem like a good idea, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the business’ ability to pursue growth opportunities with a higher ROI that are more in line with existing operations (i.e., more easily attainable) unless there is a strong strategic reason for doing so. Of course, growth isn’t the sole priority—these ambitions should be scaled down considerably if the solvency of the business is at stake.
A business plan consultant should be able to:
Conduct a comprehensive competitor analysis to determine who major competitors are, which suppliers their competitors use, and which competitors are active in the new target markets and with target audiences.
Conduct customer research to determine demand for their existing products in new target markets and informally survey suppliers (if appropriate) to estimate potential cost reductions.
Think through a go-to-market strategy in the new geographies and suggest potential marketing channels or marketing plans (based on competitor and customer research as well as industry knowledge).
Build a financial model with financial projections that can toggle between different growth scenarios, providing you with the opportunity to see where your business will stand in three to five years if it expands to the new geographies (or if it does not) and if the business can realize a reduction in COGS from the renegotiated contracts (or not).
Propose and assess other growth strategies, such as switching to a subscription model or offering a new product line.
The above types of analysis would benefit from a familiarity with the consumer packaged goods industry. Additionally, the right candidate will likely have experience in conducting primary and secondary market research and in building dynamic financial models and financial plans.
Challenge Your Assumptions
An expert business plan consultant will not only provide solutions to the problem at hand but will help management look past the problem itself and pressure test all major assumptions. There will be times when getting another set of eyes on the problem will change the problem into something else entirely. One example of this is when GE engaged famed business consultant Ram Charan to discuss their plastics division. Charan identified that the Saudi public-private partnership SABIC was moving into the market and, given no strong competitive advantage in GE’s pocket, it was in GE’s best interests to sell the business entirely. While GE engaged a consultant with the goal of optimizing a division of their company, they ended up with a much different outcome.
Case Study: The Time Is Ripe, a startup that offers an app for determining when a given piece of fruit will achieve peak ripeness, as well as an online marketplace for the local sale and purchase of fruit, engages a business plan consultant to review their existing business plan. The business plan consultant quickly realizes that the company’s technology strategy is outdated and a serious liability to the company’s long-term prospects. What types of questions should a discerning business plan consultant focused on technology strategy bring to the conversation?
The types of questions that a skilled consultant should ask, divvied up by category, include:
Who are emerging competitors?
How is technology helping you win against traditional and new competitors?
How can you use technology to enter new markets?
Do you have the capabilities needed to drive full value from existing IT systems?
What are the weakest links in your capabilities? Do you have tech-literate management?
Tech-enabled Customer Experience
How does your customer experience compare with that of leaders in other sectors?
What will your customers expect in the future, and what will it take to give them an optimal experience?
Do you have clear plans for how to meet or exceed customer expectations?
What’s the existing plan for upgrading capabilities?
Does the business plan reflect the full potential of technology to enhance performance?
Is the overarching technology strategy spread out over a multiyear horizon, rather than just part of the annual IT budget?
Does the business plan reflect a portfolio of short-term P&L opportunities (e.g., upgrading digital channels), medium-term platform investments (e.g., customer database), and longer-term bets (e.g., a digitally enabled business model)?
Effective Cash Flow Management
Proper cash flow management is an enormous challenge for businesses of all sizes. Whether or not your business is profitable or poised for enormous growth quickly becomes irrelevant if the business becomes insolvent. The good news is that a recent HBR study showed that companies with formal business plans increase their chances of reaching positive cash flow by 16%. For more established businesses, good cash flow management is essential for reliably paying off debts and even in negotiating repayment terms, especially interest rates.
Case study: Builder Industrials, a U.S. company specializing in parts for heavy machinery used in the construction industry, is gearing up for a sale to private equity investors in the next 3 years. To prepare the business, management wants to rewrite their business plan to optimize for free cash flows going forward. What areas would you look into with this goal in mind?
In this instance, a business plan consultant could look at the following:
Compare the business’ existing cash flows to internal and external benchmarks in the industry. How does Builder Industrials compare on the basis of DSO, DPO, and DIO to other industrials companies in construction? If Builder Industrials is coming up short, these are areas for further analysis.
Review existing billing systems with an eye toward improving the cash conversion cycle. By speeding up billing and collection, the business will benefit from more timely and robust reporting, enabling the business to identify and close delinquent accounts as well as take advantage of supplier discounts.
Assess inventory to identify slow-moving items that are tying up cash, and determine if it is worth continuing to produce these items.
A business plan consultant should be able to take the above analysis and, working in tandem with management, determine where to focus the company’s efforts in order to optimize for free cash flow. In a situation like this, it would be useful to engage a business plan consultant who has experience working in private equity investing, working for a private equity portfolio company, or working in operations at an industrials company.
Explore Strategic Exits
Preparing for the eventual exit of your business broadly depends on the business itself being in good health, finding the right buyer, and favorable market conditions. Business plan consultants are invaluable resources when exploring potential exits due to their ability to forecast the performance of the business under a variety of operating scenarios.
Case study: The founder of Healthy Holdings, a medical device manufacturer, is getting on in age and plans to exit her business within the next 5 years. She has been approached by a few buyers, but is not ready to sell just yet. Prior to bringing investment banks into the process, she engages a business plan consultant to draw up plans to explore different options.
In this case, a business plan consultant will analyze a variety of exit options, including (depending on the business’ size) an IPO, acquisition by major competitor, merger, and family succession. These options can help inform the direction of the business in the near-term. For example, if a major competitor has gone on an acquiring spree, Healthy Holdings could focus on activities that will increase its attractiveness to that competitor.
After talking over which exits are the most appropriate for the business, the business plan consultant could then draw up different roadmaps, showing the founder what it would take to get the business ready for each type of exit. The business plan itself can serve as a document during a fundraise or sale, highlighting the opportunity to incoming investors and increasing the chance of a successful exit to the current owner.
The most effective business plan consultant for this type of engagement would be a high-level strategic thinker with experience selling companies. Deep financial analysis isn’t as important in this case as the ability to think creatively about maximizing the value of the business in a relatively short timeframe.
Skills to Look Out For
Hard Skills to Look Out For
Given the wide variety of functions that a business plan consultant can serve, it’s important to consider what specific experience may be necessary for the job at hand. In many cases, it’s the inability to answer that question that is driving you to hire a business plan consultant in the first place (that is, you’re not sure what area of the business needs the most attention). In these cases, you should look for someone with a broad skill set in financial analysis, financial modeling, data collection, and data analysis. This will ensure that the business plan consultant can build and maintain dynamic financial models as well as dig deeply into areas that need further investigation.
Soft Skills Need Also Apply
The ideal candidate should have experience in running or advising businesses, complementing their analytical skill set with the broad vision of a CEO. In order to conduct customer research and competitor analysis, they should have experience in analyzing and synthesizing research reports as well as in conducting primary research.
Ensuring a Successful Engagement
Once you have found the ideal candidate, make sure to spend the time to adequately onboard the expert to increase the chances of a positive experience and a successful engagement.
Here are a few suggestions about how to make this transition go smoothly:
1. Consider an Introductory Consultation to Establish the Project’s Scope
Prior to digging in with any deep analysis, working with the business plan consultant to determine the scope of the project could unveil areas of opportunity that you hadn’t considered (e.g., exploring different growth initiatives, looking into how an acquisition of a smaller competitor could fit into your business’ five-year roadmap). The purpose of writing a business plan is to explore many different paths for your business, so don’t limit yourself prior to even starting.
2. Ensure the Business Plan Consultant has the Resources They Need
The onboarding process should involve meetings with key employees who may inform the business plan consultant’s work. The consultant may need access to corporate documentation, reports, and financial systems, as well as introductions to key advisors or relationships (e.g., suppliers, customers).
3. Jointly Determine Milestones and Ask for a Project Plan
An expert business plan consultant will provide you with a project plan for the first few weeks of the assignment. If they don’t, make sure to ask for one. This will ensure that you and the consultant have agreement on the deliverables and timing of the project.
The best business plan consultants in the United States or abroad can provide enormous value in a relatively short amount of time, applying years of industry and financial expertise in order to benefit your business at critical inflection points. Given the impact that a carefully followed custom business plan will ultimately have on your business, make sure to do your diligence early and find the right consultant for your business. You should think of them as a numbers whiz and trusted advisor, someone who won’t be afraid to challenge your assumptions when needed, or roll up their sleeves and do the work that needs getting done.