I was part of the jury at Conquest 2015, the annual startup fest and B-Plan competition of BITS Pilani. Conquest is perhaps, one of the most meaningful Business Plan competitions in the country. The Conquest team makes efforts to provide mentoring support to shortlisted teams, so that their plans are refined by the time they get to the finals. The program is designed and executed entirely by students.
A business plan is nothing but a plan for your business. It is an articulation of your vision on how the future will play out.
A business plan also articulates how the startup proposes to go from point A to point B, and by when. It also outlines the milestones and other dynamics (costs, resources, revenues, etc.) on the way from point A to point B. I.e. It is a plan of how the concept of your startup will alter the market, and how you intend to implement that disruption.
But at startup stage, there is no past data that can be used to make reasonably dependable predictions. Hence the vision of what might happen in the market with your concept is based on assumptions that you have made based on your conviction and your insights. Even in more established companies, there is only so much predictability you can bring into a business plan based on past data. How in-market dynamics may change is an unknown, and business plans even of larger, established companies can and often do get disrupted.
Some of the assumptions you have made will play out as assumed, others will not. Nothing surprising about that. Why then is it important to make a business plan knowing that what happens in the market is most likely to be very different from what you planned for?
How well you are doing as a company is really not dependent on benchmarking versus how others in the same space/stage are doing. Each company may have chosen a different path towards similar goals, or it is also quite possible that the goals and aspirations of the companies could be very different.
Hence, how well you are doing or not doing, is to be evaluated against what your own plans, goals and milestones were when you started the journey.
Not for one moment am I suggesting that you need to look at your original business plans as THE only road to follow. I have rarely seen any startup or early-stage company come even close to what their original milestones were in their business plans. Your original plans are merely a roadmap that you define to think through the different aspects of your startups journey. Once you hit the road, you have to make adjustments according to the weather conditions i.e. market realities. In some cases, the direction itself may have to be altered or changed all together. And it is perfectly all right to do that as long as it is a well-thought out plan, after taking into consideration all factors that may help you take a good and informed decision.
Therefore, if you have a well-defined business plan with your goals and milestones towards those goals well laid out, it should give you an indication of whether you are going in the right direction and at the right pace.
For your business, you need to identify what the key drivers are and that will give you leads on what you should measure your progress or success against. Each business will have its own set of key drivers or aspects on which success or failure will depend. Sales/revenues is usually just one of the indicators to measure the progress of a success of a startup. Other factors could be things like gross margins, employee efficiency, brand equity & brand familiarity within the relevant audiences, cost of customer acquisition, maturity of processes, proving of the business model, organization structure in place (or getting into place), key people on board, attrition rate, quality of contracts and respect of partners/vendors, etc. are all examples of indicators of what can be tracked to check if you are doing well as a business.