For anyone thinking of starting a business, it’s the best of times and the worst of times. (Apologies to Charles Dickens!) We’re living in an era of great change, which by definition is ripe for entrepreneurial ventures. And yet—thanks to economic pitfalls, shifting markets, and tougher-than-ever competition—the prospect has never been more daunting.

But there is some good news: whether you’re looking to turn your entrepreneurial dreams into reality or re-evaluate or expand a company that’s been in existence for decades, a smart business plan can make all the difference. (Yes, even established businesses need to revisit their plans every six months!)

That’s the word from Dr. Steven D. Peterson, Peter Jaret, and Barbara Findlay Schenck, coauthors of Business Plans Kit For Dummies, 3rd Edition. They say that writing a business plan is the first step in turning an idea into a thriving business, starting a new division of an existing company, or simply breathing new life into one that may need a push to get through a tough time.

It makes perfect sense. Not only does writing out your idea force you to think more clearly about what you want to do, it gives the people you work with a defined road map as well. An effective plan provides the navigation chart that you’ll use to get where you want to go. Without one, businesses tend to find themselves adrift.

Peterson, Jaret, and Schenck’s book and CD-ROM kit provides small business owners with all the ins and outs of constructing a great business plan. It offers a wealth of expert guidance and friendly tips to help you develop and implement a strategic plan to help your business succeed in any economy—from describing and defining your business to marketing strategies that work to clear explanations of business finances.

If you’re ready to get down to business on well, your business, here’s a good starting point. Read on for five helpful hints excerpted from Business Plans Kit For Dummies, 3rd Edition:

Take your time and get it right. Whether you are starting a new business or re-evaluating an existing one, time is of the essence. (And it’s most likely not something that you have in abundance.) It can be tempting to rush through the tedious planning process in your excitement to get to this new phase of your business life. Don’t. The time you spend on planning at the outset will save you far more time later on once you are up and running. And as you will find, your time will be even more precious once your plan is in action.

Don’t skimp on the research phase. When you commit to writing a new business plan, you must remember that it should be based on more than just your great idea. An effective plan depends on a complete and accurate understanding of your market, your customers, your financial situation, and your business environment. You may even find that your research will teach you things you didn’t know, and it may change the course of your plan altogether. If you take the time to do the research, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success.

Involve the right people in the planning process. If you’re a current business owner trying to re-energize your business, then the ultimate success of your plan depends on the dedication and motivation of your team. Remember that you can’t do it all on your own. Involving your team in the planning process will be a great source of insight for you as you decide what will work and what won’t by getting advice from the very people who are the closest to the processes in your business. Good plans should guide and inspire. If your team is involved with the planning, they will feel more invested in the outcome, and that will help to propel your new business plan toward success.

Temper those blue-sky “someday” fantasies with clear goals and solid timelines. Most business plans (or re-plans!) start with an idea: a dream to do something new and exciting and different. During those initial planning stages, you have big ideas, lofty goals, and the possibilities seem endless. It’s easy to get lost in the “someday” and the “in the future” of it all and forget that in the beginning, you have to make actual progress that garners immediate, sustainable results to get your business off the ground.

In other words, make sure your plan includes measurable outcomes and feet-to-the-fire timelines. In addition to making things easier (and much more likely to get done), it will also keep you motivated during tough times. When you see goals being met and things being crossed off your to-do list, it will help you to keep moving forward, even when you hit the rocky patches.

Write a plan that people will read. (Don’t get carried away with big words!) A business plan works only if people use it, so you need to create a plan that is concise, complete, and readable. Don’t weigh it down with big words, unfamiliar terminology, or lofty goals. Inevitably, the only person that will impress is you! In fact, it will be much more impressive if you can construct a plan that people are interested in (bonus points if they read it cover to cover!) and that motivates them to want to be involved.

Just remember, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” It may sound cliché, but it is so true. Take your time with your business plan. Have patience and don’t get ahead of yourself. The time and attention spent on a well-executed plan is a solid investment in your future. We promise you, you’ll thank yourself later.