Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Simple Business Plan
By Joe Weller | October 11, 2021
A business plan is the cornerstone of any successful company, regardless of size or industry. This step-by-step guide provides information on writing a business plan for organizations at any stage, complete with free templates and expert advice.
Included on this page, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan and a chart to identify which type of business plan you should write . Plus, find information on how a business plan can help grow a business and expert tips on writing one .
What Is a Business Plan?
A business plan is a document that communicates a company’s goals and ambitions, along with the timeline, finances, and methods needed to achieve them. Additionally, it may include a mission statement and details about the specific products or services offered.
A business plan can highlight varying time periods, depending on the stage of your company and its goals. That said, a typical business plan will include the following benchmarks:
- Product goals and deadlines for each month
- Monthly financials for the first two years
- Profit and loss statements for the first three to five years
- Balance sheet projections for the first three to five years
Startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses all create business plans to use as a guide as their new company progresses. Larger organizations may also create (and update) a business plan to keep high-level goals, financials, and timelines in check.
While you certainly need to have a formalized outline of your business’s goals and finances, creating a business plan can also help you determine a company’s viability, its profitability (including when it will first turn a profit), and how much money you will need from investors. In turn, a business plan has functional value as well: Not only does outlining goals help keep you accountable on a timeline, it can also attract investors in and of itself and, therefore, act as an effective strategy for growth.
For more information, visit our comprehensive guide to writing a strategic plan or download free strategic plan templates . This page focuses on for-profit business plans, but you can read our article with nonprofit business plan templates .
Business Plan Steps
The specific information in your business plan will vary, depending on the needs and goals of your venture, but a typical plan includes the following ordered elements:
- Executive summary
- Description of business
- Market analysis
- Competitive analysis
- Description of organizational management
- Description of product or services
- Marketing plan
- Sales strategy
- Funding details (or request for funding)
- Financial projections
If your plan is particularly long or complicated, consider adding a table of contents or an appendix for reference. For an in-depth description of each step listed above, read “ How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step ” below.
Broadly speaking, your audience includes anyone with a vested interest in your organization. They can include potential and existing investors, as well as customers, internal team members, suppliers, and vendors.
Do I Need a Simple or Detailed Plan?
Your business’s stage and intended audience dictates the level of detail your plan needs. Corporations require a thorough business plan — up to 100 pages. Small businesses or startups should have a concise plan focusing on financials and strategy.
How to Choose the Right Plan for Your Business
In order to identify which type of business plan you need to create, ask: “What do we want the plan to do?” Identify function first, and form will follow.
Use the chart below as a guide for what type of business plan to create:
Is the Order of Your Business Plan Important?
There is no set order for a business plan, with the exception of the executive summary, which should always come first. Beyond that, simply ensure that you organize the plan in a way that makes sense and flows naturally.
The Difference Between Traditional and Lean Business Plans
A traditional business plan follows the standard structure — because these plans encourage detail, they tend to require more work upfront and can run dozens of pages. A Lean business plan is less common and focuses on summarizing critical points for each section. These plans take much less work and typically run one page in length.
In general, you should use a traditional model for a legacy company, a large company, or any business that does not adhere to Lean (or another Agile method ). Use Lean if you expect the company to pivot quickly or if you already employ a Lean strategy with other business operations. Additionally, a Lean business plan can suffice if the document is for internal use only. Stick to a traditional version for investors, as they may be more sensitive to sudden changes or a high degree of built-in flexibility in the plan.
How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step
Writing a strong business plan requires research and attention to detail for each section. Below, you’ll find a 10-step guide to researching and defining each element in the plan.
Step 1: Executive Summary
The executive summary will always be the first section of your business plan. The goal is to answer the following questions:
- What is the vision and mission of the company?
- What are the company’s short- and long-term goals?
See our roundup of executive summary examples and templates for samples. Read our executive summary guide to learn more about writing one.
Step 2: Description of Business
The goal of this section is to define the realm, scope, and intent of your venture. To do so, answer the following questions as clearly and concisely as possible:
- What business are we in?
- What does our business do?
Step 3: Market Analysis
In this section, provide evidence that you have surveyed and understand the current marketplace, and that your product or service satisfies a niche in the market. To do so, answer these questions:
- Who is our customer?
- What does that customer value?
Step 4: Competitive Analysis
In many cases, a business plan proposes not a brand-new (or even market-disrupting) venture, but a more competitive version — whether via features, pricing, integrations, etc. — than what is currently available. In this section, answer the following questions to show that your product or service stands to outpace competitors:
- Who is the competition?
- What do they do best?
- What is our unique value proposition?
Step 5: Description of Organizational Management
In this section, write an overview of the team members and other key personnel who are integral to success. List roles and responsibilities, and if possible, note the hierarchy or team structure.
Step 6: Description of Products or Services
In this section, clearly define your product or service, as well as all the effort and resources that go into producing it. The strength of your product largely defines the success of your business, so it’s imperative that you take time to test and refine the product before launching into marketing, sales, or funding details.
Questions to answer in this section are as follows:
- What is the product or service?
- How do we produce it, and what resources are necessary for production?
Step 7: Marketing Plan
In this section, define the marketing strategy for your product or service. This doesn’t need to be as fleshed out as a full marketing plan , but it should answer basic questions, such as the following:
- Who is the target market (if different from existing customer base)?
- What channels will you use to reach your target market?
- What resources does your marketing strategy require, and do you have access to them?
- If possible, do you have a rough estimate of timeline and budget?
- How will you measure success?
Step 8: Sales Plan
Write an overview of the sales strategy, including the priorities of each cycle, steps to achieve these goals, and metrics for success. For the purposes of a business plan, this section does not need to be a comprehensive, in-depth sales plan , but can simply outline the high-level objectives and strategies of your sales efforts.
Start by answering the following questions:
- What is the sales strategy?
- What are the tools and tactics you will use to achieve your goals?
- What are the potential obstacles, and how will you overcome them?
- What is the timeline for sales and turning a profit?
- What are the metrics of success?
Step 9: Funding Details (or Request for Funding)
This section is one of the most critical parts of your business plan, particularly if you are sharing it with investors. You do not need to provide a full financial plan, but you should be able to answer the following questions:
- How much capital do you currently have? How much capital do you need?
- How will you grow the team (onboarding, team structure, training and development)?
- What are your physical needs and constraints (space, equipment, etc.)?
Step 10: Financial Projections
Apart from the fundraising analysis, investors like to see thought-out financial projections for the future. As discussed earlier, depending on the scope and stage of your business, this could be anywhere from one to five years.
While these projections won’t be exact — and will need to be somewhat flexible — you should be able to gauge the following:
- How and when will the company first generate a profit?
- How will the company maintain profit thereafter?
Business Plan Template
Download Business Plan Template
Microsoft Excel | Smartsheet
This basic business plan template has space for all the traditional elements: an executive summary, product or service details, target audience, marketing and sales strategies, etc. In the finances sections, input your baseline numbers, and the template will automatically calculate projections for sales forecasting, financial statements, and more.
For templates tailored to more specific needs, visit this business plan template roundup or download a fill-in-the-blank business plan template to make things easy.
If you are looking for a particular template by file type, visit our pages dedicated exclusively to Microsoft Excel , Microsoft Word , and Adobe PDF business plan templates.
How to Write a Simple Business Plan
A simple business plan is a streamlined, lightweight version of the large, traditional model. As opposed to a one-page business plan , which communicates high-level information for quick overviews (such as a stakeholder presentation), a simple business plan can exceed one page.
Below are the steps for creating a generic simple business plan, which are reflected in the template below .
- Write the Executive Summary This section is the same as in the traditional business plan — simply offer an overview of what’s in the business plan, the prospect or core offering, and the short- and long-term goals of the company.
- Add a Company Overview Document the larger company mission and vision.
- Provide the Problem and Solution In straightforward terms, define the problem you are attempting to solve with your product or service and how your company will attempt to do it. Think of this section as the gap in the market you are attempting to close.
- Identify the Target Market Who is your company (and its products or services) attempting to reach? If possible, briefly define your buyer personas .
- Write About the Competition In this section, demonstrate your knowledge of the market by listing the current competitors and outlining your competitive advantage.
- Describe Your Product or Service Offerings Get down to brass tacks and define your product or service. What exactly are you selling?
- Outline Your Marketing Tactics Without getting into too much detail, describe your planned marketing initiatives.
- Add a Timeline and the Metrics You Will Use to Measure Success Offer a rough timeline, including milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to measure your progress.
- Include Your Financial Forecasts Write an overview of your financial plan that demonstrates you have done your research and adequate modeling. You can also list key assumptions that go into this forecasting.
- Identify Your Financing Needs This section is where you will make your funding request. Based on everything in the business plan, list your proposed sources of funding, as well as how you will use it.
Simple Business Plan Template
Download Simple Business Plan Template
Microsoft Excel | Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF | Smartsheet
Use this simple business plan template to outline each aspect of your organization, including information about financing and opportunities to seek out further funding. This template is completely customizable to fit the needs of any business, whether it’s a startup or large company.
Read our article offering free simple business plan templates or free 30-60-90-day business plan templates to find more tailored options. You can also explore our collection of one page business templates .
How to Write a Business Plan for a Lean Startup
A Lean startup business plan is a more Agile approach to a traditional version. The plan focuses more on activities, processes, and relationships (and maintains flexibility in all aspects), rather than on concrete deliverables and timelines.
While there is some overlap between a traditional and a Lean business plan, you can write a Lean plan by following the steps below:
- Add Your Value Proposition Take a streamlined approach to describing your product or service. What is the unique value your startup aims to deliver to customers? Make sure the team is aligned on the core offering and that you can state it in clear, simple language.
- List Your Key Partners List any other businesses you will work with to realize your vision, including external vendors, suppliers, and partners. This section demonstrates that you have thoughtfully considered the resources you can provide internally, identified areas for external assistance, and conducted research to find alternatives.
- Note the Key Activities Describe the key activities of your business, including sourcing, production, marketing, distribution channels, and customer relationships.
- Include Your Key Resources List the critical resources — including personnel, equipment, space, and intellectual property — that will enable you to deliver your unique value.
- Identify Your Customer Relationships and Channels In this section, document how you will reach and build relationships with customers. Provide a high-level map of the customer experience from start to finish, including the spaces in which you will interact with the customer (online, retail, etc.).
- Detail Your Marketing Channels Describe the marketing methods and communication platforms you will use to identify and nurture your relationships with customers. These could be email, advertising, social media, etc.
- Explain the Cost Structure This section is especially necessary in the early stages of a business. Will you prioritize maximizing value or keeping costs low? List the foundational startup costs and how you will move toward profit over time.
- Share Your Revenue Streams Over time, how will the company make money? Include both the direct product or service purchase, as well as secondary sources of revenue, such as subscriptions, selling advertising space, fundraising, etc.
Lean Business Plan Template for Startups
Download Lean Business Plan Template for Startups
Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF
Startup leaders can use this Lean business plan template to relay the most critical information from a traditional plan. You’ll find all the sections listed above, including spaces for industry and product overviews, cost structure and sources of revenue, and key metrics, and a timeline. The template is completely customizable, so you can edit it to suit the objectives of your Lean startups.
See our wide variety of startup business plan templates for more options.
How to Write a Business Plan for a Loan
A business plan for a loan, often called a loan proposal , includes many of the same aspects of a traditional business plan, as well as additional financial documents, such as a credit history, a loan request, and a loan repayment plan.
In addition, you may be asked to include personal and business financial statements, a form of collateral, and equity investment information.
Download free financial templates to support your business plan.
Tips for Writing a Business Plan
Outside of including all the key details in your business plan, you have several options to elevate the document for the highest chance of winning funding and other resources. Follow these tips from experts:.
- Keep It Simple: Avner Brodsky , the Co-Founder and CEO of Lezgo Limited, an online marketing company, uses the acronym KISS (keep it short and simple) as a variation on this idea. “The business plan is not a college thesis,” he says. “Just focus on providing the essential information.”
- Do Adequate Research: Michael Dean, the Co-Founder of Pool Research , encourages business leaders to “invest time in research, both internal and external (market, finance, legal etc.). Avoid being overly ambitious or presumptive. Instead, keep everything objective, balanced, and accurate.” Your plan needs to stand on its own, and you must have the data to back up any claims or forecasting you make. As Brodsky explains, “Your business needs to be grounded on the realities of the market in your chosen location. Get the most recent data from authoritative sources so that the figures are vetted by experts and are reliable.”
- Set Clear Goals: Make sure your plan includes clear, time-based goals. “Short-term goals are key to momentum growth and are especially important to identify for new businesses,” advises Dean.
- Know (and Address) Your Weaknesses: “This awareness sets you up to overcome your weak points much quicker than waiting for them to arise,” shares Dean. Brodsky recommends performing a full SWOT analysis to identify your weaknesses, too. “Your business will fare better with self-knowledge, which will help you better define the mission of your business, as well as the strategies you will choose to achieve your objectives,” he adds.
- Seek Peer or Mentor Review: “Ask for feedback on your drafts and for areas to improve,” advises Brodsky. “When your mind is filled with dreams for your business, sometimes it is an outsider who can tell you what you’re missing and will save your business from being a product of whimsy.”
Outside of these more practical tips, the language you use is also important and may make or break your business plan.
Shaun Heng, VP of Operations at Coin Market Cap , gives the following advice on the writing, “Your business plan is your sales pitch to an investor. And as with any sales pitch, you need to strike the right tone and hit a few emotional chords. This is a little tricky in a business plan, because you also need to be formal and matter-of-fact. But you can still impress by weaving in descriptive language and saying things in a more elegant way.
“A great way to do this is by expanding your vocabulary, avoiding word repetition, and using business language. Instead of saying that something ‘will bring in as many customers as possible,’ try saying ‘will garner the largest possible market segment.’ Elevate your writing with precise descriptive words and you'll impress even the busiest investor.”
Additionally, Dean recommends that you “stay consistent and concise by keeping your tone and style steady throughout, and your language clear and precise. Include only what is 100 percent necessary.”
Resources for Writing a Business Plan
While a template provides a great outline of what to include in a business plan, a live document or more robust program can provide additional functionality, visibility, and real-time updates. The U.S. Small Business Association also curates resources for writing a business plan.
Additionally, you can use business plan software to house data, attach documentation, and share information with stakeholders. Popular options include LivePlan, Enloop, BizPlanner, PlanGuru, and iPlanner.
How a Business Plan Helps to Grow Your Business
A business plan — both the exercise of creating one and the document — can grow your business by helping you to refine your product, target audience, sales plan, identify opportunities, secure funding, and build new partnerships.
Outside of these immediate returns, writing a business plan is a useful exercise in that it forces you to research the market, which prompts you to forge your unique value proposition and identify ways to beat the competition. Doing so will also help you build (and keep you accountable to) attainable financial and product milestones. And down the line, it will serve as a welcome guide as hurdles inevitably arise.
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What Is a Business Plan?
Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, elements of a business plan, special considerations.
- Business Plan FAQs
Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How To Write One
Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Investopedia / Ryan Oakley
A business plan is a document that defines in detail a company's objectives and how it plans to achieve its goals. A business plan lays out a written road map for the firm from marketing , financial, and operational standpoints. Both startups and established companies use business plans.
A business plan is an important document aimed at a company's external and internal audiences. For instance, a business plan is used to attract investment before a company has established a proven track record. It can also help to secure lending from financial institutions.
Furthermore, a business plan can serve to keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and on target for meeting established goals.
Although they're especially useful for new businesses, every company should have a business plan. Ideally, the plan is reviewed and updated periodically to reflect goals that have been met or have changed. Sometimes, a new business plan is created for an established business that has decided to move in a new direction.
- A business plan is a document describing a company's core business activities and how it plans to achieve its goals.
- Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
- A business plan can also be used as an internal guide to keep an executive team focused on and working toward short- and long-term objectives.
- Businesses may create a lengthier traditional business plan or a shorter lean startup business plan.
- Good business plans should include an executive summary and sections on products and services, marketing strategy and analysis, financial planning, and a budget.
Want Funding? You Need a Business Plan
A business plan is a fundamental document that any new business should have in place prior to beginning operations. Indeed, banks and venture capital firms often require a viable business plan before considering whether they'll provide capital to new businesses.
Operating without a business plan usually is not a good idea. In fact, very few companies are able to last very long without one. There are benefits to creating (and sticking to) a good business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and working through potential obstacles to success.
A good business plan should outline all the projected costs and possible pitfalls of each decision a company makes. Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they can have the same basic elements, such as an executive summary of the business and detailed descriptions of its operations, products and services, and financial projections. A plan also states how the business intends to achieve its goals.
While it's a good idea to give as much detail as possible, it's also important that a plan be concise to keep a reader's attention to the end.
A well-considered and well-written business plan can be of enormous value to a company. While there are templates that you can use to write a business plan, try to avoid producing a generic result. The plan should include an overview and, if possible, details of the industry of which the business will be a part. It should explain how the business will distinguish itself from its competitors.
Start with the essential structure: an executive summary, company description, market analysis, product or service description, marketing strategy, financial projections, and appendix (which include documents and data that support the main sections). These sections or elements of a business plan are outlined below.
When you write your business plan, you don’t have to strictly follow a particular business plan outline or template. Use only those sections that make the most sense for your particular business and its needs.
Traditional business plans use some combination of the sections below. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making. Regardless, try to keep the main body of your plan to around 15-25 pages.
The length of a business plan varies greatly from business to business. Consider fitting the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Then, other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and included as appendices.
As mentioned above, no two business plans are the same. Nonetheless, they tend to have the same elements. Below are some of the common and key parts of a business plan.
- Executive summary: This section outlines the company and includes the mission statement along with any information about the company's leadership, employees, operations, and location.
- Products and services: Here, the company can outline the products and services it will offer, and may also include pricing, product lifespan, and benefits to the consumer. Other factors that may go into this section include production and manufacturing processes, any patents the company may have, as well as proprietary technology . Information about research and development (R&D) can also be included here.
- Market analysis: A firm needs a good handle on its industry as well as its target market. This section of the plan will detail a company's competition and how the company fits in the industry, along with its relative strengths and weaknesses. It will also describe the expected consumer demand for a company's products or services and how easy or difficult it may be to grab market share from incumbents.
- Marketing strategy: This section describes how the company will attract and keep its customer base and how it intends to reach the consumer. A clear distribution channel must be outlined. The section also spells out advertising and marketing campaign plans and the types of media those campaigns will use.
- Financial planning: This section should include a company's financial planning and projections. Financial statements, balance sheets, and other financial information may be included for established businesses. New businesses will include targets and estimates for the first few years plus a description of potential investors.
- Budget: Every company needs to have a budget in place. This section should include costs related to staffing, development, manufacturing, marketing, and any other expenses related to the business.
Unique Business Plans Help
The best business plans aren't generic ones created from easily accessed templates. A company should entice readers with a plan that demonstrates its singularity and potential for success.
Types of Business Plans
Business plans help companies identify their objectives and remain on track to meet goals. They can help companies start, manage themselves, and grow once up and running. They also act as a means to attract lenders and investors.
Although there is no right or wrong business plan, they can fall into two different categories—traditional or lean startup. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the most common. It contains a lot of detail in each section. These tend to be longer than the lean startup plan and require more work.
Lean startup business plans, on the other hand, use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans aren't as common in the business world because they're short—as short as one page—and lack detail. If a company uses this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or lender requests it.
A complete business plan must include a set of financial projections for the business. These forward-looking financial statements are often called pro-forma financial statements or simply the " pro-formas ." They include an overall budget, current and projected financing needs, a market analysis, and the company's marketing strategy.
Other Considerations for a Business Plan
A major reason for a business plan is to give owners a clear picture of objectives, goals, resources, potential costs, and drawbacks of certain business decisions. A business plan should help them modify their structures before implementing their ideas. It also allows owners to project the type of financing required to get their businesses up and running.
If there are any especially interesting aspects of the business, they should be highlighted and used to attract financing, if needed. For example, Tesla Motors' electric car business essentially began only as a business plan.
Importantly, a business plan shouldn't be a static document. As a business grows and changes, so too should the business plan. An annual review of the company and its plan allows an entrepreneur or group of owners to update the plan, based on successes, setbacks, and other new information. It provides an opportunity to size up the plan's ability to help the company grow.
Think of the business plan as a living document that evolves with your business.
A business plan is a document created by a company that describes the company's goals, operations, industry standing, marketing objectives, and financial projections. The information it contains can be a helpful guide in running the company. What's more, it can be a valuable tool to attract investors and obtain financing from financial institutions.
Why Do Business Plans Fail?
Even if you have a good business plan, your company can still fail, especially if you do not stick to the plan! Having strong leadership with a focus on the plan is always a good strategy. Even when following the plan, if you had poor assumptions going into your projections, you can be caught with cash flow shortages and out-of-control budgets. Markets and the economy can also change. Without flexibility built into your business plan, you may be unable to pivot to a new course as needed.
What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?
The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers a quick explanation of its business. The company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide since it's just getting started.
Sections can include: a value proposition, a company's major activities and advantages, resources such as staff, intellectual property, and capital, a list of partnerships, customer segments, and revenue sources.
Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
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Business Plan: What It Is + How to Write One
Discover what a business plan includes and how writing one can foster your business’s development.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a written document that defines your business goals and the tactics to achieve those goals. A business plan typically explores the competitive landscape of an industry, analyzes a market and different customer segments within it, describes the products and services, lists business strategies for success, and outlines financial planning.
In your research into business plans, you may come across different formats, and you might be wondering which kind will work best for your purposes.
Let’s define two main types of business plans , the traditional business pla n and the lean start-up business plan . Both types can serve as the basis for developing a thriving business, as well as exploring a competitive market analysis, brand strategy , and content strategy in more depth. There are some significant differences to keep in mind [ 1 ]:
The traditional business plan is a long document that explores each component in depth. You can build a traditional business plan to secure funding from lenders or investors.
The lean start-up business plan focuses on the key elements of a business’s development and is shorter than the traditional format. If you don’t plan to seek funding, the lean start-up plan can serve mainly as a document for making business decisions and carrying out tasks.
Now that you have a clear business plan definition , continue reading to begin writing a detailed plan that will guide your journey as an entrepreneur.
How to write a business plan
In the sections below, you’ll build the following components of your business plan:
Products and services
Marketing plan and sales strategies
Explore each section to bring fresh inspiration to the surface and reveal new possibilities for developing your business. You may choose to adapt the sections, skip over some, or go deeper into others, depending on which format you’re using. Consider your first draft a foundation for your efforts and one that you can revise, as needed, to account for changes in any area of your business.
Read more: What Is a Marketing Plan? And How to Create One
1. Executive summary
This is a short section that introduces the business plan as a whole to the people who will be reading it, including investors, lenders, or other members of your team. Start with a sentence or two about your business, your goals for developing it, and why it will be successful. If you are seeking funding, summarize the basics of the financial plan.
2. Business description
Use this section to provide detailed information about your company and how it will operate in the marketplace.
Mission statement: What drives your desire to start a business? What purpose are you serving? What do you hope to achieve for your business, the team, your customers?
Revenue streams: From what sources will your business generate revenue? Examples include product sales, service fees, subscriptions, rental fees, license fees, and more.
Leadership: Describe the leaders in your business, their roles and responsibilities, and your vision for building teams to perform various functions, such as graphic design, product development, or sales.
Legal structure: If you’ve incorporated your business or registered it with your state as a legal entity such as an S-corp or LLC, include the legal structure here and the rationale behind this choice.
3. Competitor analysis
This section will include an assessment of potential competitors, their offers, and marketing and sales efforts. For each competitor, explore the following:
Value proposition: What outcome or experience does this brand promise?
Products and services: How does each one solve customer pain points and fulfill desires? What are the price points?
Marketing: Which channels do competitors use to promote? What kind of content does this brand publish on these channels? What messaging does this brand use to communicate value to customers?
Sales: What sales process or buyer’s journey does this brand lead customers through?
Read more: What Is Competitor Analysis? And How to Conduct One
4. Products and services
Use this section to describe everything your business offers to its target market . For every product and service, list the following:
The value proposition or promise to customers, in terms of how they will experience it
How the product serves customers, addresses their pain points, satisfies their desires, and improves their lives
The features or outcomes that make the product better than those of competitors
Your price points and how these compare to competitors
5. Marketing plan and sales strategies
In this section, you’ll draw from thorough market research to describe your target market and how you will reach them.
Who are your ideal customers?
How can you describe this segment according to their demographics (age, ethnicity, income, location, etc.) and psychographics (beliefs, values, aspirations, lifestyle, etc.)?
What are their daily lives like?
What problems and challenges do they experience?
What words, phrases, ideas, and concepts do consumers in your target market use to describe these problems when posting on social media or engaging with your competitors?
What messaging will present your products as the best on the market? How will you differentiate messaging from competitors?
On what marketing channels will you position your products and services?
How will you design a customer journey that delivers a positive experience at every touchpoint and leads customers to a purchase decision?
Read more: Market Analysis: What It Is and How to Conduct One
6. Brand strategy
In this section, you will describe your business’s design, personality, values, voice, and other details that go into delivering a consistent brand experience.
What are the values that define your brand?
What visual elements give your brand a distinctive look and feel?
How will your marketing messaging reflect a distinctive brand voice, including the tone, diction, and sentence-level stylistic choices?
How will your brand look and sound throughout the customer journey?
Define your brand positioning statement. What will inspire your audience to choose your brand over others? What experiences and outcomes will your audience associate with your brand?
Read more: What Is a Brand Strategy? And How to Create One
7. Financial planning
In this section, you will explore your business’s financial future. If you are writing a traditional business plan to seek funding, this section is critical for demonstrating to lenders or investors that you have a strategy for turning your business ideas into profit. For a lean start-up business plan, this section can provide a useful exercise for planning how you will invest resources and generate revenue [ 2 ].
Use any past financials and other sections of this business plan, such as your price points or sales strategies, to begin your financial planning.
How many individual products or service packages do you plan to sell over a specific time period?
List your business expenses, such as subscribing to software or other services, hiring contractors or employees, purchasing physical supplies or equipment, etc.
What is your break-even point, or the amount you have to sell to cover all expenses?
Create a sales forecast for the next three to five years: (No. of units to sell X price for each unit) – (cost per unit X No. of units) = sales forecast
Quantify how much capital you have on hand.
When writing a traditional business plan to secure funding, you may choose to append supporting documents, such as licenses, permits, patents, letters of reference, resumes, product blueprints, brand guidelines, the industry awards you’ve received, and media mentions and appearances.
Business plan key takeaways and best practices
Remember: Creating a business plan is crucial when starting a business. You can use this document to guide your decisions and actions and even seek funding from lenders and investors.
Keep these best practices in mind:
Your business plan should evolve as your business grows. Return to it periodically, such as every quarter or year, to update individual sections or explore new directions your business can take.
Make sure everyone on your team has a copy of the business plan and welcome their input as they perform their roles.
Ask fellow entrepreneurs for feedback on your business plan and look for opportunities to strengthen it, from conducting more market and competitor research to implementing new strategies for success.
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Ready to start your business? Watch this video on the lean approach from the Entrepreneurship Specialization :
1. US Small Business Administration. “ Write Your Business Plan , https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/plan-your-business/write-your-business-plan." Accessed April 19, 2022.
2. Inc. " How to Write the Financial Section of a Business Plan , https://www.inc.com/guides/business-plan-financial-section.html." Accessed April 14, 2022.
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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .
1. Write an executive summary
2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. add additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.
A business plan is a document that outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them. A strong, detailed plan will provide a road map for the business’s next three to five years, and you can share it with potential investors, lenders or other important partners.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing your business plan.
» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .
This is the first page of your business plan. Think of it as your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services offered, and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.
Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.
» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps
Next up is your company description, which should contain information like:
Your business’s registered name.
Address of your business location .
Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.
Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.
Lastly, it should cover the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.
» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan
The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out exactly what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the long term.
If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain why you have a clear need for the funds, how the financing will help your business grow, and how you plan to achieve your growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity presented and how the loan or investment will grow your company.
For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch the new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.
In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.
You should include the following:
An explanation of how your product or service works.
The pricing model for your product or service.
The typical customers you serve.
Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.
Your sales strategy.
Your distribution strategy.
You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.
Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.
Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.
» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing
If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.
You may also include metrics such as:
Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.
Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.
Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.
This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.
» NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:
The best business checking accounts .
The best business credit cards .
The best accounting software .
This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.
Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.
Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.
List any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere, such as resumes of key employees, licenses, equipment leases, permits, patents, receipts, bank statements, contracts and personal and business credit history. If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.
Here are some tips to help your business plan stand out:
Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business loan at a local bank, the loan officer likely knows your market pretty well. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of loan approval.
Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors, taking their mind off your business and putting it on the mistakes you made. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.
Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. You can search for a mentor or find a local SCORE chapter for more guidance.
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.
On a similar note...
How to Write a Business Plan in 2023: The Ultimate Guide for Every Entrepreneur
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Are you starting a new business or trying to get a loan for your existing venture? If so, you’re going to need to know how to write a business plan. Business plans give entrepreneurs the opportunity to formally analyze and define every aspect of their business idea .
In this post, you’ll learn how to put together a business plan and find the best resources to help you along the way.
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What is a Business Plan?
A business plan is a formal document that outlines your business’s goals and how you will achieve those goals. Entrepreneurs who start out with business plans are 16 percent more likely to build successful companies , according to the Harvard Business Review. Developing a business plan ensures sustainable success, guiding you as you grow your business, legitimizing your venture, and helping you secure funding (among countless other benefits).
What Are the Main Purposes of a Business Plan?
Most financial institutions and service providers require you to submit a detailed business plan to obtain funding for your business. Online businesses will likely have a low overhead to start, so they may not need funding and therefore may not feel the need to write a business plan. That said, writing a business plan is still a good idea as it can help you secure a drastic increase limit on your credit card as your business grows or open a business account. This varies per bank.
If you’re growing your business, use it to help you raise expansion capital, create a growth strategy, find opportunities, and mitigate risks.Palo Alto software found that companies who make business plans are twice as likely to secure funding . .
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If you’re just starting your business, making a business plan can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, communicate your vision to others, and develop accurate forecasts.
How to Make a Business Plan: The Prerequisites
Here are the prerequisites to creating a solid business plan:
- Establish goals
- Understand your audience
- Determine your business plan format
- Get to writing!
There are two key questions to ask here:
- What are you hoping to accomplish with your business?
- What are you hoping to accomplish with your business plan?
Approaching your business plan through that lens will help you focus on the end goal throughout the writing process. These also provide metrics to measure success against.
Before writing your business plan, gather the content and data needed to inform what goes in it. This includes researching your market and industry – spanning everything from customer research to legalities you’ll need to consider. It’s a lot easier to start with the information already in front of you instead of researching each section individually as you go.
Turn to guides, samples, and small business plan templates to help. Many countries have an official administration or service dedicated to providing information, resources, and tools to help entrepreneurs and store owners plan, launch, manage, and grow their businesses.
The following will take you to online business plan guides and templates for specific countries.
- United States Small Business Administration (SBA) – The “write your business plan page” includes traditional and lean startup business plan formats, three downloadable sample business plans, a template, and a step-by-step build a business plan tool.
- Australian Government – The “business plan template” page includes a downloadable template, guide, and business plan creation app.
- UK Government Business and Self-Employed – The “write a business plan” page includes links to a downloadable business plan template and resources from trusted UK businesses. .
- Canada Business Network – The “writing your business plan” page includes a detailed guide to writing your business plan and links to business plan templates from Canadian business development organizations and banks.
These business resource sites also offer a wealth of valuable information for entrepreneurs including local and regional regulations, structuring, tax obligations, funding programs, market research data, and much more. Visit the sites above or do the following Google searches to find official local business resources in your area:
- your country government business services
- your state/province government business services
- your city government business services
Some Chamber of Commerce websites offer resources for business owners, including business plan guides and templates. Check your local chapter to see if they have any.
Banks that offer business funding also often have a resource section for entrepreneurs. Do a Google search to find banks that offer business funding as well as business plan advice to see the business plans that get funding. If your bank doesn’t offer any advice, search for the largest banks in your area:
- business plan guide bank name
- business plan samples bank name
- business plan template bank name
If you’re looking for more sample business plans, Bplans has over 500 free business plan samples organized by business type as well as a business plan template. Their collection includes 116 business plans for retail and online stores. Shopify also offers business plan templates intended to help small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs identify functional areas of a business they may not have considered.
Understand Your Audience
Because business plans serve different purposes, you’re not always presenting it to the same audience. It’s important to understand who’s going to be reading your business plan, what you’re trying to convince them to do, and what hesitations they might have.
That way, you can adapt your business plan accordingly. As such, your audience also determines which type of business plan format you use. Which brings us to our next point…
Which Business Plan Format Should You Use?
The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) presents two business plan formats:
- The traditional business plan format is for entrepreneurs who want to create a detailed plan for themselves or for business funding.
- The lean startup business plan format, on the other hand, is for business owners that want to create a condensed, single-page business plan.
If the business plan is just for you and internal folks, draft a lean startup business plan or a customized version of the traditional business plan with only the sections you need. If you need it for business funding or other official purposes, choose the formal business plan and thoroughly complete the required sections while paying extra attention to financial projections.
If your business operates outside the U.S., clarify the preferred format with your bank.
How to Create a Business Plan: Questions to Ask Yourself
As you write a business plan, take time to not only analyze your business idea, but yourself as well. Ask the following questions to help you analyze your business idea along the way:
- Why do I want to start or expand my business?
- Do my goals (personal and professional) and values align with my business idea?
- What income do I need to generate for myself?
- What education, experience, and skills do I bring to my business?
How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step
According to the business plan template created by SCORE, Deluxe, and the SBA , a traditional business plan encompasses the following sections.
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Products & services
- Market analysis
- Marketing & sales
- Management & organization
- Funding request
- Financial projections
- SWOT analysis
Since not everyone is aware of the key details to include in each section, we’ve listed information you can copy to fill in your business plan outline. Here’s how to build a business plan step by step.
The Executive Summary is the first part of your business plan, so this is where you need to hook readers in. Every business plan starts this way — even a simple business plan template should kick off with the Executive Summary. Summarize your entire business plan in a single page, highlighting details about your business that will excite potential investors and lenders.
Explain what your business has to offer, your target market , what separates you from the competition, a little bit about yourself and the core people behind your business, and realistic projections about your business’ success.
While this is the first section of your business plan, write it after you’ve completed the rest of your business plan. It’s a lot easier because you can pull from the sections you’ve already written, and it’s easier to identify the best parts of your business plan to include on the first page.
In the Company Description, share 411 about your business. Include basic details like:
- Legal structure (sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, etc.)
- Business and tax ID numbers
- When the business started
- Ownership information
- Number of employees
Your mission statement , philosophy and values, vision, short- and long-term goals, and milestones along with a brief overview of your industry, market, outlook, and competitors should also be in the Company Description.
Pro tip: These are the details you’ll use each time you create a business profile, whether that's on social media, business directories, or other networks. Keep your information consistent to reduce confusion and instill more confidence in potential customers.
Products & Services
The Products & Services section details what you plan to sell to customers. For a dropshipping business , this section should explain which trending products you’re going to sell, the pain points your products solve for customers, how you’ll price your products compared to your competitors, expected profit margin, and production and delivery details.
Remember to include any unique selling points for specific products or product groupings, such as low overhead, exclusive agreements with vendors, the ability to obtain products that are in short supply / high demand based on your connections, personalized customer service, or other advantages.
For dropshipping businesses selling hundreds or even thousands of products, detail the main categories of products and the number of products you plan to offer within each category. By doing this, it’s easier to visualize your business offerings as a whole to determine if you need more products in one category to fully flesh out your online store.
The Market Analysis section of your business plan allows you to share the research you have done to learn about your target audience — the potential buyers of your products. People requesting a business plan will want to know that you have a solid understanding of your industry, the competitive landscape, who’s most likely to become your customers. It’s important to demonstrate that there’s a large enough market for your product to make it profitable and/or to make a strong return on investment .
To complete the Market Analysis component of your business plan, check out the following resources for industry, market, and local economic research:
- U.S. Embassy websites in most countries have a business section with information for people who want to sell abroad. Business sections include a basic “getting started” guide, links to economic and data reports, trade events, and additional useful business links for a particular region.
- IBISWorld is a provider of free and paid industry research and procurement research reports for the United States , United Kingdom , Australia , and New Zealand .
- Statista offers free and paid statistics and studies from over 18,000 sources including industry reports, country reports, market studies, outlook reports, and consumer market reports.
Use these websites and others to learn about the projected growth of your industry and your potential profitability. You can also use social media tools like Facebook Audience Insights to estimate the size of your target market on the largest social network
Another way to research your market and products is through Google Trends . This free tool will allow you to see how often people search for the products your business offers over time. Be sure to explain how your business plans to capitalize on increasing and decreasing search trends accordingly.
Marketing & Sales
Knowing your target market is half the battle. In the Marketing & Sales section, share how you plan to reach and sell products to your target market. Outline the marketing and advertising strategies you intend to use to market your product to potential customers – search marketing , social media marketing , email marketing , and influencer marketing methods .
If you’re unsure how to market your business’ products, analyze your competitors for some inspiration. Discovering your competition’s marketing tactics will help you customize your own strategy for building a customer base and ultimately taking your business to the next level.
Do a Google search for your competitor’s business name to find the websites, social accounts, and content they’ve created to market their products. Look at the ways your competitor uses each online entity to drive new customers to their website and product pages.
Then come up with a plan to convert a similar audience with your marketing and advertising messages. For dropshipping businesses, conversions will typically take place on your website as people purchase your products and/or by phone if you take orders over the phone.
Management & Organization
In the Management & Organization piece of your business plan, describe the structure of your business. In terms of legal structure and incorporation, most businesses are classified as sole proprietorships (one owner), partnerships (two or more owners), corporations, or S corporations.
Draft a condensed resume for each of the key members of your business. If you’re a solopreneur , include how your past education and work experience will help you run each aspect of your business. If you have one or more partner(s) and employee(s), include their relevant education and experience as well.
Think of this as a great way to evaluate the strengths of each individual running your business. When self-evaluating, you’ll be able to identify the aspects of your business that’ll be easier to manage and which ones to delegate to freelancers, contractors, employees, and third-party services. This also makes it easier to find the best way to utilize their strengths for business growth.
Chances are, you don’t have a funding request for a startup dropshipping business since the appeal to dropshipping is the low upfront investment . If you’re looking for a loan, however, this would be the section where you outline the dollar amount you need, what you plan to invest in, and how you see the return on your investment.
Another way to use this section is to analyze the investment you have or plan to make when starting or growing your business. This should include everything from the computer you use to run your website to the monthly fee for business services.
In Financial Projections, share your projected revenue and expenses for the first or next five years of your business. The idea here is to demonstrate that the revenue you’re anticipating will easily lead to a return on any investment, whether from your personal finances or a capital lending service.
If you’re looking for funding, you’ll need to go into detail with projected income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. If you aren’t looking for funding, it won’t hurt to create these types of financial projections so you can realistically plan for the future of your business.
The Appendix of your business plan includes any supplemental documents needed throughout the sections of your business plan. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Credit histories
- Product brochures
- Legal forms
- Supplier contracts
If you’re submitting your business plan for funding, contact the lender to see what documentation they want included with your funding request.
In addition to the above sections, some business plans also include a SWOT Analysis. This is a one-page summary of your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The strengths and weaknesses you include will be internal, whereas opportunities and threats you include will be external.
Depending on the revelations of this section, you may or may not want to make a SWOT analysis when submitting your business plan formally unless it is requested.
Summary: How to Create a Business Plan
As you can see, creating a business plan for your dropshipping business is a great way to validate your business idea , discover your business’s strengths and weaknesses, and make a blueprint for your business's future.
In summary, here are the sections you will need to write for your business plan, step by step:
- SWOT analysis (Optional)
If you haven’t already, take the time to create a business plan to launch or grow your business in 2023!
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How to Write a Business Plan
When how to write a business plan is at the top of the SBA list of the ten steps in how to start a business, it tells you something about how important the experts consider it to be. Planning a business and writing a business plan is more than just having a location picked and a product or service to sell. Financing, marketing strategy, and future growth all require a well-researched and thought out business plan.
- Chapter 1 – Getting Started
- Chapter 2 – The Key Elements of a Business Plan
- Chapter 3 – Executive Summary
- Chapter 4 – Business Description
- Chapter 5 – Business Environment Analysis
- Chapter 6 – Industry Analysis
- Chapter 7 – Competitive Analysis
- Chapter 8 – Market Analysis
- Chapter 9 – Marketing Plan
- Chapter 10 – Operations Plan
- Chapter 11 – Team and Management Plan
- Chapter 12 – Financial Projections
- Chapter 13 – Appendix
There are many articles and resources available on the Internet explaining how to write a business plan, but writing a business plan is more than merely following a business plan template or copying someone’s business plan examples. A business plan can be as simple as a few notes scrawled on a paper napkin. It can be a 40-page document with multiple sections and subsections describing every minute detail of its operations, products, and finances.
Writing an effective business plan is easier if you take time before starting the writing process to conduct your research and gather the information you need to incorporate into it. Business owners of new startups or established companies can benefit from thinking through and researching such success-determining issues as:
- Marketing strategies
- Regulatory environment
- Capitalization requirements
- Financing opportunities
From this list, you quickly realize that a business plan is more than a document a business uses to get financing or to attract investors. It is a roadmap of how your business will operate to succeed. Before you can begin writing your business planning roadmap, you need reliable information about your industry, your competitors, your product, and your customers for inclusion in it. An industry analysis, competitor analysis, product feature comparison, and market research will give you the information you need.
How to Conduct an Industry Analysis
Understanding the market and industry in which your company will do business is accomplished through industry analysis. An industry analysis conducted before you begin to write a business plan will help you to:
- Recognize and analyze ways of reducing business risks
- Identify industry trends including potential problem areas within the industry
- Project capitalization requirements for your business
- Identify product and service trends and opportunities
Industry analysis is specific to the particular industry in which a business is currently operating or plans to venture. It provides information from which a business owner can create a long-term strategy to minimize risks and take advantage of growth opportunities.
Porter’s Industry Analysis Method
A method developed by Michael E. Porter of Harvard University has become the most frequently used method for analyzing any industry to create a strategy to compete within it. According to Porter, five forces influence all markets and industries.
The five forces are:
- Ease of entry: When new companies can enter an industry with relative ease, those companies already in operation will love their competitive advantage. Profits will suffer unless existing companies have a way to block or slow new entries. Government regulation, customer loyalty, and patents and copyrights can be barriers to new businesses entering a market or industry.
- Power held by suppliers: Suppliers of products, services, or materials that a business needs can affect a company’s ability to compete. If there are few alternative products or only a few vendors offering the materials, the suppliers can dictate prices, quantities, and delivery times to businesses that must purchase from them.
- Power of buyers: Strong customer bargaining power, as in industries where there are many competing products from which a buyer can choose, can affect a company’s ability to price its products without fear of losing customers.
- Availability of substitute products or services: If two companies with similar products compete within an industry, they will each benefit as advertising and marketing by the companies will generally increase customer demand. For example, two businesses selling different house paint brands will mutually benefit as customer demand for their products increases due to the competing marketing campaigns. A company that sells and promotes vinyl siding as a substitute for painted surfaces will reduce the market share’s size for paint.
- Competitive rivalry: This factor in the analysis takes into consideration the number of competitors in an industry and their relative strength. An industry with many companies offering similar products will offer a company little opportunity to control consumers’ or suppliers’ ability from going elsewhere.
Porter believed that an analysis of the five forces that exist in every industry could help forecast a company’s ability to compete and remain profitable. You will obtain sufficient information on your industry from the five forces analysis to formulate long- and short-term strategies to incorporate into your business plan.
A business plan for startup companies will benefit from an industry analysis that provides ownership with information to make decisions and formulate policy in certain key areas. You should be able to answer the following key questions about the industry and your company’s ability to successfully compete in it when you have completed the industry analysis:
- What are the primary economic characteristics of the industry?
- How strong are the competitive forces that exist within the industry?
- What trends or changes can be expected in the industry, and from where will they come?
- What response will competitors make to the entry of a new company into the industry?
- What are the factors that will determine your company’s ability to succeed?
- What are the industry prospects for profitability and potential for growth?
- Will the company compete on a local, national, regional, or international basis?
- What modifications or changes must be done to the company’s products or services to make them competitive in this industry?
Industry Analysis Resources and Tools
There are several free industry analysis resources and tools available to entrepreneurs preparing to write a business plan. A few of the more popular sources of industry information include:
- BizStats (www.bizstats.com): It offers statistics and financial data on businesses in a variety of industries as well as tools to calculate business valuation and cost of goods sold.
- Securities and Exchange Commission (www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml): The SEC makes annual reports and other financial filings of publicly traded companies available for review at its website.
- FreeLunch.com: This site from Moody’s Analytics offers data on economic trends and financial data from around the country.
- Hoover’s Online (www.hoovers.com): This is a Dun & Bradstreet offers a searchable database of financial information and profiles of public and private companies.
- U.S. Census Bureau (www.census.gov): Government agencies can offer a treasure-trove of information. The Census Bureau has searchable databases with industry overviews, economic data by region, and population statistics.
- Thomas Register (www.thomasnet.com): Originally published in book form, the Thomas Register is a searchable database of product information and market trends for various industries. It publishes an annual survey it calls its “Industry Market Barometer” that shows where reporting companies are, where they have been and where they are heading.
- Library of Congress Legislative Information (https://beta.congress.gov/): The primary source for information about recently enacted federal legislation that could affect a business or an entire industry.
- Websites of individual companies or trade associations: Most companies have websites that provide information about the business, including products and management structure. Trade associations usually have websites that offer glimpses into what is happening within an industry from those working in it.
Industry analysis is not to be confused with a market analysis or a competitor analysis, both of which are included in a business plan for entrepreneurs. Industry analysis will describe the products offered within a particular industry and the marketplace parameters concerning economic, regulatory, and political issues. An industry analysis establishes the marketplace’s scope; a market analysis tells a business owner if a particular industry’s market will be profitable for a company’s product.
How to do a Competitor Analysis
Competitor analysis is when a business obtains information to identify and learn more about key competitors to predict how the competition will react. Competitive analysis plays a vital role in strategic planning, so writing a great business plan becomes easier if you do your research before writing your business plan.
Unlike the competitive rivalry factor of industry analysis, a competitor analysis focuses attention on each competitor’s strengths and weaknesses instead of focusing on the overall competitive climate within an industry. A competitor analysis offers a detailed profile of each competitor along with an analysis of marketing strategies that can be used to counter position your company to improve market share or profitability.
At the completion of your competitor analysis, you should be able to:
- Identify your primary competition within your industry and marketplace
- Know the company profile of your competitors
- Identify the geographic location in which competitors operate
- Identify competitor’s market share and profitability
- Know and understand your competition’s strategies and objectives
- Identify benefits, such as increased customer awareness, derived from your competitors’ marketing
- How to identify and understand competitor strategies that are successful and those that are not
- How to anticipate your competition’s response to implementation of your strategies and plans
- Learn how to turn your competition’s anticipated response to your benefit
The following steps will guide you through your competitor analysis:
- Create a list of your current and future competitors
- Gather data and information about your competitors, their products, and their marketing and pricing strategies
- Review and analyze the data
- Create a list of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses
- Create strategies to take advantage of competitors’ weaknesses while a minimizing threats posed by their strengths
Sources of Competitor Information
Information for competitor analysis is available from several sources, including news stories and press releases, advertising, company websites, promotional campaigns, patent and copyright applications, price lists, and, in the case of publicly traded companies, annual reports, and SEC filings.
Sometimes, getting information about a competitor might require a bit of sleuthing on your part. If your competitor has a store that is open to the public, no rules are prohibiting you from visiting it and taking a look around. Becoming a member of a competitor’s mailing list to receive promotional material and updates on new products and pricing is a quick and easy source of information.
The information gathered about competitors might not seem like much when looked at separately, but it can be mosaic-like in what it reveals about your competition when viewed as a whole. A random conversation with a supplier might reveal information about a change in a competitor’s product line. The point is to take advantage of every opportunity to acquire data about the marketplace in which your business operates. It might reveal something about your competitors that could be used in developing or refining your marketing strategy.
How to do a Product Feature Comparison
A product feature comparison allows you to compare your company’s product with products produced by competitors. Unlike a competitor analysis that allows you to determine how your business measures up to competing businesses, product feature comparisons limit their focus to the products themselves. When used as part of creating an easy business plan, product features comparison data can provide critical information to making marketing decisions.
1. Conducting the Research
The first thing you should do is purchase or acquire your competitor’s product. This gives you the chance to evaluate your competitor’s sales process while acquiring the product to test. Using the product, you can compare features on the competitor’s product with your own product. If the features of the competing product give it a performance advantage over your own, you can evaluate how important those features are to determine if your product should be redesigned. Another source of information on the product is the internet. What are consumers saying about your product versus the product sold by your competitor? Product reviews by websites that specialize in testing products could also tell you how your product is faring in the marketplace compared to other products.
2. Product Comparison Tables
The information you obtained through your research and product testing is easier to compare if compiled in a simple table format. Each product’s features can be listed under separate columns for each feature, and each product feature can be judged to determine which one was the best. The best feature gets one point while the other product’s feature gets no points. The winning product is the one that ends up with the most points.
Another method of evaluating the features of different products is to assign a score of 1 to 10, with a higher score going to features deemed to be the most important as far as product performance. The winning product is the one that ends up with the highest overall score.
3. Coming to a Conclusion
Comparing a competitor’s product features with those of your own product is only useful if you use the information to make worthwhile improvements to your product. Redesigning your product just to make it look more like your competitor’s product only makes sense if the redesign meets a customer need that your product is not currently meeting.
The conclusions you reach from the data a product feature comparison gives can be incorporated into the market analysis, competitive analysis, and marketing plan sections when writing a business plan. The information will also be useful in guiding decisions made for the future development of new products.
How to Conduct Market Research
Market research provides businesses with information about their customers and the markets in which they do business. By analyzing its data, business owners offer products that consumers want at competitive prices with other sellers. For the new entrepreneur who is learning how to start a business, market research performed before preparing a business plan can help formulate strategies to reduce risks, recognize marketplace and industry trends, and identify opportunities to increase sales.
The marketplace for many businesses is no longer limited to one country. The growth of internet commerce has made it possible for even small businesses to participate in the global economy for many products and services. Market research can help owners of businesses to evaluate the feasibility of expansion into international markets.
The data collected through market research should give a business owner the answers to the following questions:
- Who are the customers for a company’s product or service? What factors influence consumers to purchase this product or service?
- What improvements or changes in current products would encourage customers to purchase more of them?
- What price range will cause customers to switch to other competing products?
- What features of a competitor’s product do customers like or dislike?
- What other uses of the product exist that can be introduced into new markets?
- Marketing research allows you to compile a profile of your current or potential customers to provide answers to the following questions:
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- What is their highest level of education?
- How large is the customer base?
- What are their favorite leisure time activities
- What do they do for a living?
- How much do they earn?
- Where are they employed?
- What technology do they use and prefer?
- What are their beliefs, values or opinions?
- Where do they prefer to shop?
- For whom do they shop?
Market Research Tools
The methods of gathering information about consumers do not have to be complicated. Frequently used methods include: Interviews by telephone or face-to-face Surveys are conducted online, by telephone, or through the mail. Questionnaires are completed online, in person, or through the mail. Focus groups to solicit feedback from people representing a cross-section of potential customers
Steps in Market Research
Any of the tools used to gather information can be employed using a five-step approach.
- Step 1: Identify what you want to learn or find out. Be specific about what you want to learn. Working on a single issue or question is easier than trying to create a survey or interview covering a wide variety of topics. For example, if your company is attempting to develop a new and improved widget to replace widgets currently being sold, you might focus your research on customer experiences with the old widget. Are they satisfied with how it performs? Do they believe there is a need for a new and improved model? Would they buy a new and improved model? How much are they willing to pay?
- Step 2: Draft questions to allow for follow-up questions depending upon the answer given.
- Step 3: Identify the target group for your research. Interviewing people who have never used your product will not generate data to determine how your product users react to its design changes.
- Step 4: Select the most effective tool for obtaining the information you need. If your company is in the telecommunications industry, surveying by telephone might be more effective than one conducted through the mail.
- Step 5: Analyze the results of your research. Market research data is only as good as the use to which you can put it. Go back and review the purpose of your research. Determine if the data you gathered allows you to answer the question or solve the problem. If it does, develop a strategy and implement it. If it does not, then decide what additional data you need and return to step 1.
The Key Elements in Writing a Business Plan
The answer to the question “How do you write a business plan?” depends upon the type of business and the purpose for which you are going to use it. Too many business owners think of a business plan as they need to convince a bank to lend their company a loan or convince a venture capitalist to invest in it.
In fact, business plans come in all shapes and sizes, depending upon the audience for which the plan is intended. For example, a startup company would want a business plan containing all of the bells and whistles to serve as a comprehensive guide for the new owners and management. Should the time come when financing is needed for new equipment or expansion, a revised business plan that focuses on the company’s financial growth and ability to repay, the debt would be needed.
Business plans are written with an audience in mind. Internal business plans are written for a company’s management team to use as an operational guide. It can also be written with a specific project in mind to allow owners and managers to evaluate its feasibility and profitability. These types of plans might include projections about profitability and growth ten or more years into the future.
External plans are written for the benefit of an audience located outside of the company. Prospective investors or venture capitalists and lending institutions are examples of the types of audiences for which external business plans are created. These types of plans are created to answer a question or address a particular problem. For instance, prospective investors want a business plan that demonstrates their future growth and profitability to generate a return on their capital investment.
Too many businesses start with inadequate planning. No one goes into business to lose money. If you start a business, you expect that it will be profitable and succeed. Writing a business plan forces you to focus on the strategies that will make your business a successful one. That is why learning how to write a plan is important for new businesses or established businesses that might be venturing into new markets or launching new products.
Business plans come in all shapes and sizes, so what you choose to include in your business plan will depend upon your audience, the question it seeks to answer or the problem it seeks to resolve, and your personal preferences. The most frequently included elements of a business plan are the following:
- Executive summary
- Business description
- Business environment analysis
- Industry analysis
- Competitive analysis
- Market analysis
- Marketing plan
- Operations plan
- Team and management plan
- Financial projections
The Executive Summary
Regardless of the business plan format chosen, the executive summary always appears first in the document. Its purpose is to educate and inform the reader about the company. It should explain where the company is at present, where it is going, and how it plans to succeed. In a plan prepared for an external audience, such as investors or bankers, the executive summary is the first opportunity the business owner has to engage the reader’s interest.
Even though it appears first in a business plan, the executive summary should be written last. The executive summary is a snapshot of your business plan that a reader can quickly look at to become acquainted with your business. Writing it last allows you to highlight your plan’s strengths in the first section your audience reads.
Your executive summary should include the following information
- Mission Statement: This explains to the reader why your company exists. Its mission statement should guide the activities of your company.
- Company Information: This is a brief statement giving a historical perspective of your company. It should include the date of formation, locations, company founders, and current employees.
- Highlights: This is an opportunity to tell the reader about profit or market milestones achieved by the company since its inception.
- Products and Services: Briefly mention and describe the company’s products or services.
- Financial Information: This section is particularly important for companies seeking financing and should include mention of bank references and investors.
- Future Projections: Explain the direction in which ownership and management plan to take the business.
Remember that even though it might be the last thing you write for your business plan, the executive summary is the first thing people will read. You have to grab the reader’s attention and hold it. Think of the executive summary as a highlight reel showcasing your business. One of the reasons for saving the executive summary until last to write is to give you the chance to include the best parts from each of the sections of your business plan in it.
Write the executive summary with a particular audience in mind. If you are trying to attract investors, you should focus on those sections of your business plan that establish how your company’s product fills a consumer need. Reference the market research and marketing strategies that demonstrate how your company will take advantage of this.
After completing the executive summary, read it aloud. It should convey your intended message is clear, unequivocal terms that flow without sounding like a sales pitch.
A business description tells the reader more than simply, “We sell things.” This section of the business plan is an overview of the company, including its legal structure, its owners and management, a brief company history, information about the products or services it offers, markets the company will serve and other information to demonstrate how the company plans to introduce its product into the marketplace.
The purpose of the business description is to help a reader to quickly grasp the goals the company has set and how it intends to meet those goals. By the time people are finished reading, they should have a clear picture of the nature of the company’s business, its business structure, its goals and objectives, and its strengths and advantages.
Begin the description with a few sentences that give a capsule view of the company, its product, and its position in the industry in which it competes. This is an elevator pitch to get the reader interested in learning more about the company. Let the reader know if this is a new venture or a business for a while.
The business description should continue with a statement about the type of business structure adopted by the company. Explain whether it is a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, or limited liability company, and list the principals’ names along with brief profiles for each one showing how their presence benefits the company.
Part of the business’s description should include information about the company’s products and services, the potential customers, supply and distribution channels, competitive advantages offered by product features, and how the company plans to exploit those advantages. End the business description by explaining the specifics of how the company plans to be profitable.
The business description section of a business plan should not be overly long. Depending upon the company’s size and the number of products offered by it, a description that is one to two pages in length should suffice.
Business Environment Analysis
Business planning is an ongoing process that does not begin and end with writing a business plan. Periodically taking stock of how a company is doing is essential to ensuring that it meets its goals and will become or continue to be successful and profitable. A business plan should be flexible by incorporating tools to analyze company performance compared to other industry businesses.
A business environmental analysis accomplishes section accomplishes this by providing useful information to management and company owners. Analyzing this data allows the management team to identify those plans and strategies that are not.
The environment in which a company operates involves internal and external factors that influence how business is conducted. Internal factors include a company’s business culture, its organizational structure, and the methods by which it is managed. External environmental factors might include government activities such as laws and regulatory actions, economic changes such as recessions, social trends and movements that shift consumer preferences, and innovations in technology that can help or damage a business’s profitability and productivity.
A systematic process of analyzing the environment to identify those environmental factors affecting a company determines its impact on the business and developing strategies to take advantage of them or limit their effects. After a business has implemented a strategy, the process will monitor the business environment to ensure that it is working and does not require modification or change.
Business plan tools that give management a constant source of current and accurate information about the marketplace and the industry and competitive forces at work in both are essential to an effective analysis of the business environment. Three of those tools are the industry analysis, the competitor analysis, and the market analysis that should be included when writing a business plan.
The industry analysis you performed before sitting down to write your business plan can be incorporated into it to provide data on the industry and markets in which your company conducts business. Drawing upon the data you collected using the various industry analysis resources mentioned earlier allows you to identify the risks and opportunities confronting the company as it prepares to enter the marketplace with its products or services. This information permits you to develop strategies to take full advantage of business opportunities while minimizing or avoiding the identified risks.
When written as a section of a company’s business plan, an industry analysis can be presented as a five-step process.
- Step 1: Give a brief overview of the industry. Define the industry in terms of historical background, the geographic area it services, and its products.
- Step 2: Review trends and growth patterns that have existed within the industry.
- Step 3: Identify factors that influence the industry. These might include government regulatory policies and competitive practices of other businesses.
- Step 4: Using data gathered through research, the industry forecast anticipated growth. The predictions should be both long- and short-term.
- Step 5: Describe how your company will position itself within the industry. Focus on how your company can take advantage of opportunities identified within the industry.
You want your business plan to tell you how your company compares to others in the industry. It is difficult to predict how your company’s product or service will perform in the marketplace without knowing what your competitors are doing. A competitive analysis section draws upon the research you did before writing your business plan to offer the data and analysis to support your performance assumptions.
Writing an effective competitive analysis can be accomplished in five steps. Keep in mind that the data you will need about your competitors should have been gathered earlier when you conducted the industry analysis before starting work on creating your business plan.
- Step 1: Identify and list your competitors. You can do this in paragraph format or a spreadsheet. You should include each competitor’s name and location along with the products they offer, sales volume, market share, pricing information, marketing strategy, and other details of their business.
- Step 2: List your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
- Step 3: Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your company. Focus on how your company can exploit its strengths while overcoming or minimizing identifiable weaknesses.
- Step 4: Describe your company’s role in the marketplace. Explain how your company can compete for a market share, given the information you acquired about your competitors. This is where you support marketing decisions and strategies with the data you previously gathered through your marketing research, product feature comparison, competitive analysis, and industry analysis.
- Step 5: Give a detailed description of your company. Use this opportunity to describe how ownership, management, location, business structure, and other resources possessed by your company will allow it to succeed in the marketplace.
You should use this section of your business plan to describe the market into which you intend to introduce your company’s products or services. This is where you draw from the data you collected earlier when you did your preliminary market analysis before getting to work on preparing your company’s plan.
Ideally, the market analysis should offer an overview of the marketplace, the positions held by your competitors, and other facts to support your company’s strategies about marketing, production, and distribution.
Some of the key topics that should be addressed in this section include:
- A description of the industry and the market. This should include information about projected growth, potential changes in consumer demand, and anticipated trends or cycles that could affect product performance.
- Describe your customers. Describe the customer need that the product or service satisfies. Provide demographics about your customers and show how the product your company offers falls within those demographics.
- How big is the market? If your market research shows that the market has been shrinking, a decision to enter or continue in the market should be supported by research supporting a prediction for future growth.
- Describe and explain the pricing structures of your company and its competitors. Describe how your marketing and pricing will give your company an advantage in the market, or describe what changes must be made to give your company an edge.
- The data collected in the competitive analysis can be incorporated into the market analysis to show how your company will compete with other companies offering the same or similar products or services.
The purpose of a company’s marketing plan is to attract customers willing to purchase a particular product or product line. Creating a market for the product or service your company offers began with the business environment analysis and continues by developing a marketing strategy. A marketing strategy must be flexible and should be evaluated periodically to determine if it must be reworked due to changes in the marketplace.
Marketing plans frequently include strategies for four stages.
- Penetration strategies represent the company’s plans for its initial entry into the market.
- Growth strategy builds upon a product’s success by introducing it to different users or into new markets.
- Another strategy analyzes new or alternative methods of distributing a company’s product to increase sales, such as hiring salespeople or developing new retail outlets.
- The fourth strategy controls the communications process between the company and its customers. Methods of advertising and audiences to be targeted are just two of the issues that a communications strategy should address.
The strategies created by a company under its marketing plan are affected by or affect other aspects of the business plan. For instance, a business’s decision to expand into new markets by acquiring a company already selling in the new market might be hampered by a lack of capital to complete the transaction. It might force the company to seek additional capital by adding investors or borrowing money.
The operations plan is closely tied to the team and management plan section of a business plan. An operations plan is the engine that runs the machine you call a business. Without an operations plan, nothing else in your business plan will get done. The operations section of a business plan created to obtain bank financing or some other external purpose does not require the details to go into a plan that will guide ownership and management in running the business.
This section should be crammed with details and instructions to direct people within the business’s day-to-day operations. The personnel covered in the team and management plan section of a business plan should refer to the operations plan to carry out the strategies and tasks needed to run the business.
An effective way of including an operations plan when writing a business plan is to combine it into a single section entitled “Operations and Management Plan.” Writing the section begins with creating an organization chart showing each business member’s title, duties and responsibilities, and supervisory role.
Team and Management Plan
The people who make up your ownership and management team focus on the team and management portion of a business plan for entrepreneurs. Whether intended for internal or external use, readers of this section of a business plan should have a clear understanding of who is in charge. The length and complexity of this section will depend upon the size of the company. The business plan written by a sole proprietor will be much shorter than one prepared for a corporation with multiple management teams, a board of directors, and multiple locations.
The team and management section includes a list of owners and key management personnel and a description of the role each plays in running the organization, the compensation and benefits each one receives, and the criteria used for giving promotions and increasing compensation. Brief biographical information for each of the owners, key personnel, and members of the board of directors offers readers insight into the qualifications each person brings to the organization.
Other information about the company that should be included in this section includes:
- Business structure
- Length of time business has existed
- Mission statement and values
- Background and history of the company
This section of the business plan provides readers with a picture of where your company has been and where it is going from its finances. Established companies should include financial data on past performance. Banks, venture capitalists, and other lenders usually want at least three years of financial data, but some might want to see up to five years of information.
Financial data that should be included in the plan include income and cash flow statements and balance sheets. Some lenders might ask to include accounts receivable statements, accounts payable statements, and documentation of other company debt obligations.
Regardless of how long a company has been in existence, this section must include projections of its future financial picture. These projections must be supported by data the company has compiled through its research and analysis of the industry, competitors, markets, and products.
Financial forecasts should include the following documents:
- Statements of projected income
- Balance sheets
- Cash flow statements
- Capital expenditure budgets
Assumptions that a company makes about future market trends or other factors that could influence the financial projections should be explained. People outside of a company want to see that financial projections in a business plan are supported by accurate data or an analysis based on assumptions having a historical basis.
Financial projections can be supported by graphs, charts, credit history, order history, reference letters, or anything that a business believes will lend credibility and support the plan’s predictions. Such items might work best if they are included in the appendix section of the plan.
The information supporting projections, strategies, and assumptions made in a business plan will be found within the body of each section of it. An appendix usually contains financial information to which company owners and managers might want to limit access. For example, a company that prepares a plan specifically to obtain lender financing could use the appendix to submit tax returns, credit histories, and confidential data such as customer information only to those lenders requesting it. It can also be used for supporting reports, photographs, and other information that takes up more than a couple of pages.
An appendix should begin with a table of contents corresponding to the organization of the business plan sections. Even if it only contains information on some but not all sections of the plan, the appendix should always be located after its last section.
Resources on How to Write a Business Plan:
Business plan examples.
http://www.bplans.com/sample_business_plans.php http://www.score.org/resources/business-planning-financial-statements-template-gallery http://www.businessplans.org/businessplans.html http://www.businessballs.com/freebusinessplansandmarketingtemplates.htm http://www.businessplanarchive.org/
Business Plan Writing Resources
http://www.carnegielibrary.org/research/business/bplansindex.html http://www.hbs.edu/entrepreneurship/resources/businessplan.html http://www.entrepreneur.com/businessplan/index.html http://www.sbdcnet.org/small-business-information-center/business-plans http://www.inc.com/business-plans https://www.sequoiacap.com/grove/posts/6bzx/writing-a-business-plan http://www.sba.gov/tools/business-plan/1 https://business.usa.gov/start-a-business http://www.startupconnection.net/premium-resources/business-plan-disconnect/
Article References on How to Write a Business Plan:
- William A Sahlman. How to Write a Great Business Plan. Harvard Business Press Books 2008. ISBN-1422121429
- Bruce R. Barringer. Preparing Effective Business Plans: An Entrepreneurial Approach. Prentice Hall 2008. ISBN-0132318326
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How to write a business plan
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Every business owner can benefit from writing a business plan, including those in the early stages of launching a business . A well-crafted business plan communicates the business’s strategy for growth to key leaders and investors. It’s also an important step to getting a business loan since many lenders require it.
Let’s walk through the steps and elements of writing your ideal business plan.
- A business plan outlines how you plan to bring products or services to market
- Many lenders require a business plan be included with a loan application
- You can choose to write a lean or traditional business plan
- It covers everything from market research to your marketing and financial plan.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a document that outlines a business’s strategy for bringing a product or service to market. It describes the company, product idea and goals or steps that the business will take to achieve growth. The document includes multiple sections that provide insight into each part of the strategy.
The business plan can be a simple document called a lean business plan or a more detailed traditional business plan. The lean business plan covers the basics of the company, product, target customers and how it will get revenue. It may only be one page with short descriptions for each part.
The traditional business plan includes more depth on the goals, measurements, research and marketing strategies to get the business where it’s going. Here are key differences in the information written for each type of business plan:
Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, follow these steps to create a strong business plan.
Write an executive summary
An executive summary is the introduction to a business plan, giving the key details about your business model and the product or service you’re offering. While there’s no strict formula for writing this section, you should include all the relevant details that you’d want a key partner or investor to know.
It should describe your product or service idea, target market and key objectives for growth within the next few years. It may also summarize your marketing and sources of revenue or funding.
You can adjust what to include based on the exact business you’re starting and its business model. Most business plans keep the executive summary to one to two pages.
Create a company description
The company description should overview important details about your company. It can state your company’s name, location and type of entity as well as describe its history. It should also clearly define the vision that you have for your company’s future in the form of a mission or vision statement.
You may also outline the structure for managing the business, listing key roles and responsibilities and the people filling those roles. Depending on the details you included in the executive summary, you might include information about your product or service.
Describe your value proposition
The value proposition is your chance to pitch what makes your business stand out. It identifies the customer’s problem or gap in the market for the product or service you’re offering. It then goes into detail about how your business will solve the problem.
The value proposition can also explain major barriers that customers have before making a decision and what your business will do to break through those barriers. It shows leaders and investors that you have a thoughtful purpose behind the business you’re creating.
State your business goals
The path to achieving success starts with knowing what success looks like. Many business plans state its main objectives in the company description. Others describe those goals in a separate part of the business plan to dive deeper into the specific goals.
You can also include key measurements you’ll use to gauge whether your business is achieving its goals. You would then use these goals in other business planning documents, further breaking them down into defined short-term steps that ladder up to the larger goals.
Outline your product and service
Next, you want to dive into the main product or service that your business is offering. Explain what the product is, how it works and the benefits that it brings to customers. If you’re planning to make multiple products, you can include a description of each product line. Show how this product or service is set apart from similar products from competitors.
You can also use this section to show how the product or service is produced, including cost of supplies and the price at which you plan to sell. Let the investors and stakeholders know if you have a trademark or patent for the products you’re creating.
Give a summary of market research
Next comes market research, the part of the plan where you do your due diligence to gather information and understand your target customers and competitors. First, you want to understand your target customers’ needs and any barriers they might have to buying your product.
You want to look for information about their demographics and how they might respond to the product you’re offering. This information will help you when designing your product and marketing it in a way that resonates with customers.
Then, you can look at the economy around your product, such as average pricing and sales revenue. This also includes research about your competitors, the market share that they hold and the barriers to entering your market. This section may include data from data research companies, surveys, focus groups and interviews.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration , the questions you’re trying to answer include:
- Market size, or how many people may want to buy your product
- What people are willing to pay for your product
- Similar products already available
- Who your competitors are
- How your industry is doing
- Typical revenue gained by small businesses in your industry
Summarize a marketing strategy
Once you’ve clearly defined your product and who you’re selling to, you can come up with a strategy for how you’ll reach and sell to customers. In this section, you’ll include the different marketing channels you’ll use to promote your products and services.
These may include direct mailers, social media, traditional or online advertising or media events. The exact channels you use will depend on where you can easily find your target customers.
You can also describe the key messaging that you plan to use during marketing, which will pinpoint the value that it offers to customers. The marketing plan should also include the cost of marketing to different channels and your marketing budget. You can then outline the marketing goals and measurements you’ll use to see if you’re meeting those goals.
Create a logistics and operations plan
The logistics and operations section of your business plan is a detailed description of how your business will bring products and services to market. It explains how the business will run on a day-to-day basis. It should highlight your company’s management structure, give an overview of processes and describe the workflow from end to end. It can also include data on how many products you can make or how long it will take to make products or offer services.
Create a financial plan
Now that you’ve laid out the research, goals and planning, you can use that information to forecast revenue and build a financial plan. Use any past revenue or sales history as a starting point. Then, refer to your company’s recent growth and goals to calculate future financial growth.
If you’re a startup , you can use market research to estimate revenue for a startup in your industry. You can either forecast revenue manually or find software that projects revenue for you.
In your financial plan, you also want to create and track your business budget . You’ll track your estimated and actual revenue, updating regularly to keep the revenue forecast accurate and realistic. Next, you’ll list all expenses and their amounts, including one-time, variable, fixed or seasonal expenses. Here are some examples of different business expenses:
- One-time or capital expenses: Equipment, real estate, furniture, commercial vehicles, business licenses
- Variable expenses: Inventory, utilities, fuel, office supplies, shipping services, card processing fees
- Fixed expenses: Employee salaries and benefits, software, web hosting, office or equipment leases, business loan repayments
Business plan resources
Writing your business plan will take more than putting pen to paper. Try these resources to help you gather data, set up your finances and more:
- Business plan templates. Creating a business plan for the first time? Learn by looking up examples of other business plans or templates like these from Smartsheet .
- Software for accounting and financial planning. Many small businesses use Quickbooks, Xero or Netsuite to track revenue and expenses. These may also forecast revenue based on sales history.
- Business loan resources. To cover your funding needs, think through the types of business loans that would best serve your business. Once you’ve landed on a loan, compare features and interest rates to help you make a decision.
- Survey tools. For in-depth market research, you can build a survey and send to your target customers through a data research company like GWI.
Small business mentoring
Experienced mentors can guide you to making effective business decisions and unlock new potential for growth. Where to find small business mentors:
- SBA. You can find resources and free or low-cost mentors through the SBA’s local assistance tool .
- Small Business Development Centers. SBDCs provide specialized training programs in your local area covering specialized topics like marketing, data research and business management.
- Community Development Financial Institutions. CDFIs are financial organizations like banks and credit unions that are built to develop the community. Alongside banking and lending services, CDFIs offer training programs and resources.
- SCORE. SCORE is an organization that partners with the SBA to bring resources to small business owners. Mentorship is at the core of what the organization does, and it can match you with a local mentor through its online locator tool.
- Local Chamber of Commerce. These local organizations are known for supporting business networking. They may help you find a mentorship program, or you may build a relationship with another successful entrepreneur through networking events.
- Nonprofit organizations. Some nonprofit organizations are dedicated to supporting small business owners with funding, trainings and mentorship programs. These are typically local programs. For example, NYPACE is a nonprofit that offers free consulting to underserved entrepreneurs in New York.
Your business plan should outline key information about your company, products and the strategy for getting those products in the hands of your customers. Every business plan looks different, but there is essential information to include in every plan, such as who your target customer is and your expected revenue. The business plan serves to help you get business funding and outline exact goals and steps to growing your company.
Frequently asked questions
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How to write a business plan in seven simple steps
When written effectively, a business plan can help raise capital, inform decisions, and draw new talent.
Companies of all sizes have one thing in common: They all began as small businesses. Starting small is the corner for those just getting off the ground. Learn about how to make that first hire, deal with all things administrative, and set yourself up for success.
Writing a business plan is often the first step in transforming your business from an idea into something tangible . As you write, your thoughts begin to solidify into strategy, and a path forward starts to emerge. But a business plan is not only the realm of startups; established companies can also benefit from revisiting and rewriting theirs. In any case, the formal documentation can provide the clarity needed to motivate staff , woo investors, or inform future decisions.
No matter your industry or the size of your team, the task of writing a business plan—a document filled with so much detail and documentation—can feel daunting. Don’t let that stop you, however; there are easy steps to getting started.
What is a business plan and why does it matter?
A business plan is a formal document outlining the goals, direction, finances, team, and future planning of your business. It can be geared toward investors, in a bid to raise capital, or used as an internal document to align teams and provide direction. It typically includes extensive market research, competitor analysis, financial documentation, and an overview of your business and marketing strategy. When written effectively, a business plan can help prescribe action and keep business owners on track to meeting business goals.
Who needs a business plan?
A business plan can be particularly helpful during a company’s initial growth and serve as a guiding force amid the uncertainty, distractions, and at-times rapid developments involved in starting a business . For enterprise companies, a business plan should be a living, breathing document that guides decision-making and facilitates intentional growth.
“You should have a game plan for every major commitment you’ll have, from early-stage founder agreements to onboarding legal professionals,” says Colin Keogh, CEO of the Rapid Foundation—a company that brings technology and training to communities in need—and a WeWork Labs mentor in the UK . “You can’t go out on funding rounds or take part in accelerators without any planning.”
How to make a business plan and seven components every plan needs
While there is no set format for writing a business plan, there are several elements that are typically included. Here’s what’s important to consider when writing your business plan.
1. Executive summary
No longer than half a page, the executive summary should briefly introduce your business and describe the purpose of the business plan. Are you writing the plan to attract capital? If so, specify how much money you hope to raise, and how you’re going to repay the loan. If you’re writing the plan to align your team and provide direction, explain at a high level what you hope to achieve with this alignment, as well as the size and state of your existing team.
The executive summary should explain what your business does, and provide an introductory overview of your financial health and major achievements to date.
2. Company description
To properly introduce your company, it’s important to also describe the wider industry. What is the financial worth of your market? Are there market trends that will affect the success of your company? What is the state of the industry and its future potential? Use data to support your claims and be sure to include the full gamut of information—both positive and negative—to provide investors and your employees a complete and accurate portrayal of your company’s milieu.
Go on to describe your company and what it provides your customers. Are you a sole proprietor , LLC, partnership, or corporation? Are you an established company or a budding startup? What does your leadership team look like and how many employees do you have? This section should provide both historical and future context around your business, including its founding story, mission statement , and vision for the future.
It’s essential to showcase your point of difference in your company description, as well as any advantages you may have in terms of expert talent or leading technology. This is typically one of the first pieces of the plan to be written.
3. Market analysis and opportunity
Research is key in completing a business plan and, ideally, more time should be spent on research and analysis than writing the plan itself. Understanding the size, growth, history, future potential, and current risks inherent to the wider market is essential for the success of your business, and these considerations should be described here.
In addition to this, it’s important to include research into the target demographic of your product or service. This might be in the form of fictional customer personas, or a broader overview of the income, location, age, gender, and buying habits of your existing and potential customers.
Though the research should be objective, the analysis in this section is a good place to reiterate your point of difference and the ways you plan to capture the market and surpass your competition.
4. Competitive analysis
Beyond explaining the elements that differentiate you from your competition, it’s important to provide an in-depth analysis of your competitors themselves.
This research should delve into the operations, financials, history, leadership, and distribution channels of your direct and indirect competitors. It should explore the value propositions of these competitors, and explain the ways you can compete with, or exploit, their strengths and weaknesses.
5. Execution plan: operations, development, management
This segment provides details around how you’re going to do the work necessary to fulfill this plan. It should include information about your organizational structure and the everyday operations of your team, contractors, and physical and digital assets.
Consider including your company’s organizational chart, as well as more in-depth information on the leadership team: Who are they? What are their backgrounds? What do they bring to the table? Potentially include the résumés of key people on your team.
For startups, your execution plan should include how long it will take to begin operations, and then how much longer to reach profitability. For established companies, it’s a good idea to outline how long it will take to execute your plan, and the ways in which you will change existing operations.
If applicable, it’s also beneficial to include your strategy for hiring new team members and scaling into different markets.
6. Marketing plan
It’s essential to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place as you scale operations or kick off a new strategy—and this should be shared with your stakeholders and employees. This segment of your business plan should show how you’re going to promote your business, attract customers, and retain existing clients.
Include brand messaging, marketing assets, and the timeline and budget for engaging consumers across different channels. Potentially include a marketing SWOT analysis into your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Evaluate the way your competitors market themselves, and how your target audience responds—or doesn’t respond—to these messages.
7. Financial history and projections
It’s essential to disclose all finances involved in running your company within your business plan. This is so your shareholders properly understand how you’re projected to perform going forward, and the progress you’ve made so far.
You should include your income statement, which outlines annual net profits or losses; a cash flow statement, which shows how much money you need to launch or scale operations; and a balance sheet that shows financial liabilities and assets.
“An income statement is the measure of your financial results for a certain period and the most accurate report of business activities during that time, [whereas a balance sheet] presents your assets, liabilities, and equity,” Amit Perry, a corporate finance expert, explained at a WeWork Labs educational session in Israel.
It’s crucial to understand the terms correctly so you know how to present your finances when you’re speaking to investors. Amit Perry, CEO and founder of Perryllion Ltd.
In addition, if you’re asking for funding, you will need to outline exactly how much money you need as well as where this money will go and how you plan to pay it back.
12 quick tips for writing a business plan
Now that you know what components are traditionally included in a business plan, it’s time to consider how you’ll actually construct the document.
Here are 12 key factors to keep in mind when writing a business plan. These overarching principles will help you write a business plan that serves its purpose (whatever that may be) and becomes an easy reference in the years ahead.
1. Don’t be long-winded
Use clear, concise language and avoid jargon. When business plans are too long-winded, they’re less likely to be used as intended and more likely to be forgotten or glazed over by stakeholders.
2. Show why you care
Let your passion for your business shine through; show employees and investors why you care (and why they should too).
3. Provide supporting documents
Don’t be afraid to have an extensive list of appendices, including the CVs of team members, built-out customer personas, product demonstrations, and examples of internal or external messaging.
4. Reference data
All information regarding the market, your competitors, and your customers should reference authoritative and relevant data points.
5. Research, research, research
The research that goes into your business plan should take you longer than the writing itself. Consider tracking your research as supporting documentation.
6. Clearly demonstrate your points of difference
At every opportunity, it’s important to drive home the way your product or service differentiates you from your competition and helps solve a problem for your target audience. Don’t shy away from reiterating these differentiating factors throughout the plan.
7. Be objective in your research
As important as it is to showcase your company and the benefits you provide your customers, it’s also important to be objective in the data and research you reference. Showcase the good and the bad when it comes to market research and your financials; you want your shareholders to know you’ve thought through every possible contingency.
8. Know the purpose of your plan
It’s important you understand the purpose of your plan before you begin researching and writing. Be clear about whether you’re writing this plan to attract investment, align teams, or provide direction.
9. Identify your audience
The same way your business plan must have a clearly defined purpose, you must have a clearly defined audience. To whom are you writing? New investors? Current employees? Potential collaborators? Existing shareholders?
10. Avoid jargon
Avoid using industry-specific jargon, unless completely unavoidable, and try making your business plan as easy to understand as possible—for all potential stakeholders.
11. Don’t be afraid to change it
Your business plan should evolve with your company’s growth, which means your business plan document should evolve as well. Revisit and rework your business plan as needed, and remember the most important factor: having a plan in place, even if it changes.
A business plan shouldn’t just be a line on your to-do list; it should be referenced and used as intended going forward. Keep your business plan close, and use it to inform decisions and guide your team in the years ahead.
Creating a business plan is an important step in growing your company
Whether you’re just starting out or running an existing operation, writing an effective business plan can be a key predictor of future success. It can be a foundational document from which you grow and thrive . It can serve as a constant reminder to employees and clients about what you stand for, and the direction in which you’re moving. Or, it can prove to investors that your business, team, and vision are worth their investment.
No matter the size or stage of your business, WeWork can help you fulfill the objectives outlined in your business plan—and WeWork’s coworking spaces can be a hotbed for finding talent and investors, too. The benefits of coworking spaces include intentionally designed lounges, conference rooms, and private offices that foster connection and bolster creativity, while a global network of professionals allows you to expand your reach and meet new collaborators.
Using these steps to write a business plan will put you in good stead to not only create a document that fulfills a purpose but one that also helps to more clearly understand your market, competition, point of difference, and plan for the future.
For more tips on growing teams and building a business, check out all our articles on Ideas by WeWork.
Caitlin Bishop is a writer for WeWork’s Ideas by WeWork , based in New York City. Previously, she was a journalist and editor at Mamamia in Sydney, Australia, and a contributing reporter at Gotham Gazette .
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How To Write a Business Plan
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Starting a business is a wild ride, and a solid business plan can be the key to keeping you on track. A business plan is essentially a roadmap for your business — outlining your goals, strategies, market analysis and financial projections. Not only will it guide your decision-making, a business plan can help you secure funding with a loan or from investors .
Writing a business plan can seem like a huge task, but taking it one step at a time can break the plan down into manageable milestones. Here is our step-by-step guide on how to write a business plan.
Table of contents
- Write your executive summary
- Do your market research homework
- Set your business goals and objectives
- Plan your business strategy
- Describe your product or service
- Crunch the numbers
- Finalize your business plan
Step 1: Write your executive summary
Though this will be the first page of your business plan , we recommend you actually write the executive summary last. That’s because an executive summary highlights what’s to come in the business plan but in a more condensed fashion.
An executive summary gives stakeholders who are reading your business plan the key points quickly without having to comb through pages and pages. Be sure to cover each successive point in a concise manner, and include as much data as necessary to support your claims.
You’ll cover other things too, but answer these basic questions in your executive summary:
- Idea: What’s your business concept? What problem does your business solve? What are your business goals?
- Product: What’s your product/service and how is it different?
- Market: Who’s your audience? How will you reach customers?
- Finance: How much will your idea cost? And if you’re seeking funding, how much money do you need? How much do you expect to earn? If you’ve already started, where is your revenue at now?
Step 2: Do your market research homework
The next step in writing a business plan is to conduct market research . This involves gathering information about your target market (or customer persona), your competition, and the industry as a whole. You can use a variety of research methods such as surveys, focus groups, and online research to gather this information. Your method may be formal or more casual, just make sure that you’re getting good data back.
This research will help you to understand the needs of your target market and the potential demand for your product or service—essential aspects of starting and growing a successful business.
Step 3: Set your business goals and objectives
Once you’ve completed your market research, you can begin to define your business goals and objectives. What is the problem you want to solve? What’s your vision for the future? Where do you want to be in a year from now?
Use this step to decide what you want to achieve with your business, both in the short and long term. Try to set SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound benchmarks—that will help you to stay focused and motivated as you build your business.
Step 4: Plan your business strategy
Your business strategy is how you plan to reach your goals and objectives. This includes details on positioning your product or service, marketing and sales strategies, operational plans, and the organizational structure of your small business.
Make sure to include key roles and responsibilities for each team member if you’re in a business entity with multiple people.
Step 5: Describe your product or service
In this section, get into the nitty-gritty of your product or service. Go into depth regarding the features, benefits, target market, and any patents or proprietary tech you have. Make sure to paint a clear picture of what sets your product apart from the competition—and don’t forget to highlight any customer benefits.
Step 6: Crunch the numbers
Financial analysis is an essential part of your business plan. If you’re already in business that includes your profit and loss statement , cash flow statement and balance sheet .
These financial projections will give investors and lenders an understanding of the financial health of your business and the potential return on investment.
You may want to work with a financial professional to ensure your financial projections are realistic and accurate.
Step 7: Finalize your business plan
Once you’ve completed everything, it's time to finalize your business plan. This involves reviewing and editing your plan to ensure that it is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
You should also have someone else review your plan to get a fresh perspective and identify any areas that may need improvement. You could even work with a free SCORE mentor on your business plan or use a SCORE business plan template for more detailed guidance.
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Writing a business plan is an essential process for any forward-thinking entrepreneur or business owner. A business plan requires a lot of up-front research, planning, and attention to detail, but it’s worthwhile. Creating a comprehensive business plan can help you achieve your business goals and secure the funding you need.
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How to Write a Business Plan (Plus Examples & Templates)
- 2 years ago
Have you ever wondered how to write a business plan step by step? Mike Andes, told us:
This guide will help you write a business plan to impress investors.
Throughout this process, we’ll get information from Mike Andes, who started Augusta Lawn Care Services when he was 12 and turned it into a franchise with over 90 locations. He has gone on to help others learn how to write business plans and start businesses. He knows a thing or two about writing business plans!
We’ll start by discussing the definition of a business plan. Then we’ll discuss how to come up with the idea, how to do the market research, and then the important elements in the business plan format. Keep reading to start your journey!
What Is a Business Plan?
A business plan is simply a road map of what you are trying to achieve with your business and how you will go about achieving it. It should cover all elements of your business including:
- Finding customers
- Plans for developing a team
- Legal structures
- Key milestones you are pursuing
If you aren’t quite ready to create a business plan, consider starting by reading our business startup guide .
Get a Business Idea
Before you can write a business plan, you have to have a business idea. You may see a problem that needs to be solved and have an idea how to solve it, or you might start by evaluating your interests and skills.
Mike told us, “The three things I suggest asking yourself when thinking about starting a business are:
- What am I good at?
- What would I enjoy doing?
- What can I get paid for?”
If all three of these questions don’t lead to at least one common answer, it will probably be a much harder road to success. Either there is not much market for it, you won’t be good at it, or you won’t enjoy doing it.
As Mike told us, “There’s enough stress starting and running a business that if you don’t like it or aren’t good at it, it’s hard to succeed.”
If you’d like to hear more about Mike’s approach to starting a business, check out our YouTube video
Conduct Market Analysis
Market analysis is focused on establishing if there is a target market for your products and services, how large the target market is, and identifying the demographics of people or businesses that would be interested in the product or service. The goal here is to establish how much money your business concept can make.
Product and Service Demand
A search engine is your best friend when trying to figure out if there is demand for your products and services. Personally, I love using presearch.org because it lets you directly search on a ton of different platforms including Google, Youtube, Twitter, and more. Check out the screenshot for the full list of search options.
With quick web searches, you can find out how many competitors you have, look through their reviews, and see if there are common complaints about the competitors. Bad reviews are a great place to find opportunities to offer better products or services.
If there are no similar products or services, you may have stumbled upon something new, or there may just be no demand for it. To find out, go talk to your most honest friend about the idea and see what they think. If they tell you it’s dumb or stare at you vacantly, there’s probably no market for it.
You can also conduct a survey through social media to get public opinion on your idea. Using Facebook Business Manager , you could get a feel for who would be interested in your product or service.
I ran a quick test of how many people between 18-65 you could reach in the U.S. during a week. It returned an estimated 700-2,000 for the total number of leads, which is enough to do a fairly accurate statistical analysis.
Identify Demographics of Target Market
Depending on what type of business you want to run, your target market will be different. The narrower the demographic, the fewer potential customers you’ll have. If you did a survey, you’ll be able to use that data to help define your target audience. Some considerations you’ll want to consider are:
- Other Interests
- Marital Status
- Do they have kids?
Once you have this information, it can help you narrow down your options for location and help define your marketing further. One resource that Mike recommended using is the Census Bureau’s Quick Facts Map . He told us,
“It helps you quickly evaluate what the best areas are for your business to be located.”
How to Write a Business Plan
Now that you’ve developed your idea a little and established there is a market for it, you can begin writing a business plan. Getting started is easier with the business plan template we created for you to download. I strongly recommend using it as it is updated to make it easier to create an action plan.
Each of the following should be a section of your business plan:
- Business Plan Cover Page
- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Company Description
- Description of Products and Services
- Competitor Data
- Competitive Analysis
- Marketing Expenses Strategy
- Distribution Channel Assessment
- Operational Plan
- Management and Organizational Strategy
- Financial Statements and/or Financial Projections
We’ll look into each of these. Don’t forget to download our free business plan template (mentioned just above) so you can follow along as we go.
How to Write a Business Plan Step 1. Create a Cover Page
The first thing investors will see is the cover page for your business plan. Make sure it looks professional. A great cover page shows that you think about first impressions.
A good business plan should have the following elements on a cover page:
- Professionally designed logo
- Company name
- Mission or Vision Statement
- Contact Info
Basically, think of a cover page for your business plan like a giant business card. It is meant to capture people’s attention but be quickly processed.
How to Write a Business Plan Step 2. Create a Table of Contents
Most people are busy enough that they don’t have a lot of time. Providing a table of contents makes it easy for them to find the pages of your plan that are meaningful to them.
A table of contents will be immediately after the cover page, but you can include it after the executive summary. Including the table of contents immediately after the executive summary will help investors know what section of your business plan they want to review more thoroughly.
Check out Canva’s article about creating a table of contents . It has a ton of great information about creating easy access to each section of your business plan. Just remember that you’ll want to use different strategies for digital and hard copy business plans.
How to Write a Business Plan Step 3. Write an Executive Summary
An executive summary is where your business plan should catch the readers interest. It doesn’t need to be long, but should be quick and easy to read.
Mike told us,
How long should an executive summary bein an informal business plan?
For casual use, an executive summary should be similar to an elevator pitch, no more than 150-160 words, just enough to get them interested and wanting more. Indeed has a great article on elevator pitches . This can also be used for the content of emails to get readers’ attention.
It consists of three basic parts:
- An introduction to you and your business.
- What your business is about.
- A call to action
Example of an informal executive summary
One of the best elevator pitches I’ve used is:
So far that pitch has achieved a 100% success rate in getting partnerships for the business.
What should I include in an executive summary for investors?
Investors are going to need a more detailed executive summary if you want to secure financing or sell equity. The executive summary should be a brief overview of your entire business plan and include:
- Introduction of yourself and company.
- An origin story (Recognition of a problem and how you came to solution)
- An introduction to your products or services.
- Your unique value proposition. Make sure to include intellectual property.
- Where you are in the business life cycle
- Request and why you need it.
Successful business plan examples
The owner of Urbanity told us he spent 2 months writing a 75-page business plan and received a $250,000 loan from the bank when he was 23. Make your business plan as detailed as possible when looking for financing. We’ve provided a template to help you prepare the portions of a business plan that banks expect.
Here’s the interview with the owner of Urbanity:
When to write an executive summary?
Even though the summary is near the beginning of a business plan, you should write it after you complete the rest of a business plan. You can’t talk about revenue, profits, and expected expenditures if you haven’t done the market research and created a financial plan.
What mistakes do people make when writing an executive summary?
Business owners commonly go into too much detail about the following items in an executive summary:
- Marketing and sales processes
- Financial statements
- Organizational structure
- Market analysis
These are things that people will want to know later, but they don’t hook the reader. They won’t spark interest in your small business, but they’ll close the deal.
How to Write a Business Plan Step 4. Company Description
Every business plan should include a company description. A great business plan will include the following elements while describing the company:
- Mission statement
- Philosophy and vision
- Company goals
- Legal structure
Let’s take a look at what each section includes in a good business plan.
A mission statement is a brief explanation of why you started the company and what the company’s main focus is. It should be no more than one or two sentences. Check out HubSpot’s article 27 Inspiring Mission Statement for a great read on informative and inspiring mission and vision statements.
Company Philosophy and Vision
The company philosophy is what drives your company. You’ll normally hear them called core values. These are the building blocks that make your company different. You want to communicate your values to customers, business owners, and investors as often as possible to build a company culture, but make sure to back them up.
What makes your company different?
Each company is different. Your new business should rise above the standard company lines of honesty, integrity, fun, innovation, and community when communicating your business values. The standard answers are corporate jargon and lack authenticity.
Examples of core values
One of my clients decided to add a core values page to their website. As a tech company they emphasized the values:
- Prioritize communication.
- Never stop learning.
- Be transparent.
- Start small and grow incrementally.
These values communicate how the owner and the rest of the company operate. They also show a value proposition and competitive advantage because they specifically focus on delivering business value from the start. These values also genuinely show what the company is about and customers recognize the sincerity. Indeed has a great blog about how to identify your core values .
What is a vision statement?
A vision statement communicate the long lasting change a business pursues. The vision helps investors and customers understand what your company is trying to accomplish. The vision statement goes beyond a mission statement to provide something meaningful to the community, customer’s lives, or even the world.
Example vision statements
The Alzheimer’s Association is a great example of a vision statement:
A world without Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia.
It clearly tells how they want to change the world. A world without Alzheimers might be unachievable, but that means they always have room for improvement.
You have to measure success against goals for a business plan to be meaningful. A business plan helps guide a company similar to how your GPS provides a road map to your favorite travel destination. A goal to make as much money as possible is not inspirational and sounds greedy.
Sure, business owners want to increase their profits and improve customer service, but they need to present an overview of what they consider success. The goals should help everyone prioritize their work.
How far in advance should a business plan?
Business planning should be done at least one year in advance, but many banks and investors prefer three to five year business plans. Longer plans show investors that the management team understands the market and knows the business is operating in a constantly shifting market. In addition, a plan helps businesses to adjust to changes because they have already considered how to handle them.
Example of great business goals
My all time-favorite long-term company goals are included in Tesla’s Master Plan, Part Deux . These goals were written in 2016 and drive the company’s decisions through 2026. They are the reason that investors are so forgiving when Elon Musk continually fails to meet his quarterly and annual goals.
If the progress aligns with the business plan investors are likely to continue to believe in the company. Just make sure the goals are reasonable or you’ll be discredited (unless you’re Elon Musk).
You did target market research before creating a business plan. Now it’s time to add it to the plan so others understand what your ideal customer looks like. As a new business owner, you may not be considered an expert in your field yet, so document everything. Make sure the references you use are from respectable sources.
Use information from the specific lender when you are applying for lending. Most lenders provide industry research reports and using their data can strengthen the position of your business plan.
A small business plan should include a section on the external environment. Understanding the industry is crucial because we don’t plan a business in a vacuum. Make sure to research the industry trends, competitors, and forecasts. I personally prefer IBIS World for my business research. Make sure to answer questions like:
- What is the industry outlook long-term and short-term?
- How will your business take advantage of projected industry changes and trends?
- What might happen to your competitors and how will your business successfully compete?
Some helpful resources to help you establish more about your industry are:
- Trade Associations
- Federal Reserve
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
There are five basic types of legal structures that most people will utilize:
- Sole proprietorships
- Limited Liability Companies (LLC)
Each business structure has their pros and cons. An LLC is the most common legal structure due to its protection of personal assets and ease of setting up. Make sure to specify how ownership is divided and what roles each owner plays when you have more than one business owner.
You’ll have to decide which structure is best for you, but we’ve gathered information on each to make it easier.
A sole proprietorship is the easiest legal structure to set up but doesn’t protect the owner’s personal assets from legal issues. That means if something goes wrong, you could lose both your company and your home.
To start a sole proprietorship, fill out a special tax form called a Schedule C . Sole proprietors can also join the American Independent Business Alliance .
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
An LLC is the most common business structure used in the United States because an LLC protects the owner’s personal assets. It’s similar to partnerships and corporations, but can be a single-member LLC in most states. An LLC requires a document called an operating agreement.
Each state has different requirements. Here’s a link to find your state’s requirements . Delaware and Nevada are common states to file an LLC because they are really business-friendly. Here’s a blog on the top 10 states to get an LLC.
Partnerships are typically for legal firms. If you choose to use a partnership choose a Limited Liability Partnership. Alternatively, you can just use an LLC.
Corporations are typically for massive organizations. Corporations have taxes on both corporate and income tax so unless you plan on selling stock, you are better off considering an LLC with S-Corp status . Investopedia has good information corporations here .
There are several opportunities to purchase successful franchises. TopFranchise.com has a list of companies in a variety of industries that offer franchise opportunities. This makes it where an entrepreneur can benefit from the reputation of an established business that has already worked out many of the kinks of starting from scratch.
How to Write a Business Plan Step 5. Products and Services
This section of the business plan should focus on what you sell, how you source it, and how you sell it. You should include:
- Unique features that differentiate your business products from competitors
- Intellectual property
- Your supply chain
- Cost and pricing structure
Questions to answer about your products and services
Mike gave us a list of the most important questions to answer about your product and services:
- How will you be selling the product? (in person, ecommerce, wholesale, direct to consumer)?
- How do you let them know they need a product?
- How do you communicate the message?
- How will you do transactions?
- How much will you be selling it for?
- How many do you think you’ll sell and why?
Make sure to use the worksheet on our business plan template .
How to Write a Business Plan Step 6. Sales and Marketing Plan
The marketing and sales plan is focused on the strategy to bring awareness to your company and guides how you will get the product to the consumer. It should contain the following sections:
SWOT Analysis stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Not only do you want to identify them, but you also want to document how the business plans to deal with them.
Business owners need to do a thorough job documenting how their service or product stacks up against the competition.
If proper research isn’t done, investors will be able to tell that the owner hasn’t researched the competition and is less likely to believe that the team can protect its service from threats by the more well-established competition. This is one of the most common parts of a presentation that trips up business owners presenting on Shark Tank .
Examples of strengths and weaknesses could be things like the lack of cash flow, intellectual property ownership, high costs of suppliers, and customers’ expectations on shipping times.
Opportunities could be ways to capitalize on your strengths or improve your weaknesses, but may also be gaps in the industry. This includes:
- Adding offerings that fit with your current small business
- Increase sales to current customers
- Reducing costs through bulk ordering
- Finding ways to reduce inventory
- And other areas you can improve
Threats will normally come from outside of the company but could also be things like losing a key member of the team. Threats normally come from competition, regulations, taxes, and unforeseen events.
The management team should use the SWOT analysis to guide other areas of business planning, but it absolutely has to be done before a business owner starts marketing.
Include Competitor Data in Your Business Plan
When you plan a business, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the competition is key to navigating the field. Providing an overview of your competition and where they are headed shows that you are invested in understanding the industry.
For smaller businesses, you’ll want to search both the company and the owners names to see what they are working on. For publicly held corporations, you can find their quarterly and annual reports on the SEC website .
What another business plans to do can impact your business. Make sure to include things that might make it attractive for bigger companies to outsource to a small business.
The marketing and sales part of business plans should be focused on how you are going to make potential customers aware of your business and then sell to them.
If you haven’t already included it, Mike recommends:
“They’ll want to know about Demographics, ages, and wealth of your target market.”
Make sure to include the Total addressable market . The term refers to the value if you captured 100% of the market.
You’ll explain what formats of advertising you’ll be using. Some possibilities are:
- Online: Facebook and Google are the big names to work with here.
- Print : Print can be used to reach broad groups or targeted markets. Check out this for tips .
- Radio : iHeartMedia is one of the best ways to advertise on the radio
- Cable television : High priced, hard to measure ROI, but here’s an explanation of the process
- Billboards: Attracting customers with billboards can be beneficial in high traffic areas.
You’ll want to define how you’ll be using each including frequency, duration, and cost. If you have the materials already created, including pictures or links to the marketing to show creative assets.
Mike told us “Most businesses are marketing digitally now due to Covid, but that’s not always the right answer.”
Make sure the marketing strategy will help team members or external marketing agencies stay within the brand guidelines .
This section of a business plan should be focused on pricing. There are a ton of pricing strategies that may work for different business plans. Which one will work for you depends on what kind of a business you run.
Some common pricing strategies are:
- Value-based pricing – Commonly used with home buying and selling or other products that are status symbols.
- Skimming pricing – Commonly seen in video game consoles, price starts off high to recoup expenses quickly, then reduces over time.
- Competition-based pricing – Pricing based on competitors’ pricing is commonly seen at gas stations.
- Freemium services – Commonly used for software, where there is a free plan, then purchase options for more functionality.
HubSpot has a great calculator and blog on pricing strategies.
Beyond explaining what strategy your business plans to use, you should include references for how you came to this pricing strategy and how it will impact your cash flow.
This part of a business plan is focused on how the product or service is going to go through the supply chain. These may include multiple divisions or multiple companies. Make sure to include any parts of the workflow that are automated so investors can see where cost savings are expected and when.
Supply Chain Examples
For instance, lawn care companies would need to cover aspects such as:
- Suppliers for lawn care equipment and tools
- Any chemicals or treatments needed
- Repair parts for sprinkler systems
- Vehicles to transport equipment and employees
- Insurance to protect the company vehicles and people.
Examples of Supply Chains
These are fairly flat supply chains compared to something like a clothing designer where the clothes would go through multiple vendors. A clothing company might have the following supply chain:
- Raw materials
- Shipping of raw materials
- Converting of raw materials to thread
- Shipping thread to produce garments
- Garment producer
- Shipping to company
- Company storage
- Shipping to retail stores
There have been advances such as print on demand that eliminate many of these steps. If you are designing completely custom clothing, all of this would need to be planned to keep from having business disruptions.
The main thing to include in the business plan is the list of suppliers, the path the supply chain follows, the time from order to the customer’s home, and the costs associated with each step of the process.
According to BizPlanReview , a business plan without this information is likely to get rejected because they have failed to research the key elements necessary to make sales to the customer.
How to Write a Business Plan Step 7. Company Organization and Operational Plan
This part of the business plan is focused on how the business model will function while serving customers. The business plan should provide an overview of how the team will manage the following aspects:
- Legal environment
Let’s look at each for some insight.
Production has already been discussed in previous sections so I won’t go into it much. When writing a business plan for investors, try to avoid repetition as it creates a more simple business plan.
If the organizational plan will be used by the team as an overview of how to perform the best services for the customer, then redundancy makes more sense as it communicates what is important to the business.
Quality control policies help to keep the team focused on how to verify that the company adheres to the business plan and meets or exceeds customer expectations.
Quality control can be anything from a standard that says “all labels on shirts can be no more than 1/16″ off center” to a defined checklist of steps that should be performed and filled out for every customer.
There are a variety of organizations that help define quality control including:
- International Organization for Standardization – Quality standards for energy, technology, food, production environments, and cybersecurity
- AICPA – Standard defined for accounting.
- The Joint Commission – Healthcare
- ASHRAE – HVAC best practices
You can find lists of the organizations that contribute most to the government regulation of industries on Open Secrets . Research what the leaders in your field are doing. Follow their example and implement it in your quality control plan.
For location, you should use information from the market research to establish where the location will be. Make sure to include the following in the location documentation.
- The size of your location
- The type of building (retail, industrial, commercial, etc.)
- Zoning restrictions – Urban Wire has a good map on how zoning works in each state
- Accessibility – Does it meet ADA requirements?
- Costs including rent, maintenance, utilities, insurance and any buildout or remodeling costs
- Utilities – b.e.f. has a good energy calculator .
The legal requirement section is focused on defining how to meet the legal requirements for your industry. A good business plan should include all of the following:
- Any licenses and/or permits that are needed and whether you’ve obtained them
- Any trademarks, copyrights, or patents that you have or are in the process of applying for
- The insurance coverage your business requires and how much it costs
- Any environmental, health, or workplace regulations affecting your business
- Any special regulations affecting your industry
- Bonding requirements, if applicable
Your local SBA office can help you establish requirements in your area. I strongly recommend using them. They are a great resource.
Your business plan should include a plan for company organization and hiring. While you may be the only person with the company right now, down the road you’ll need more people. Make sure to consider and document the answers to the following questions:
- What is the current leadership structure and what will it look like in the future?
- What types of employees will you have? Are there any licensing or educational requirements?
- How many employees will you need?
- Will you ever hire freelancers or independent contractors?
- What is each position’s job description?
- What is the pay structure (hourly, salaried, base plus commission, etc.)?
- How do you plan to find qualified employees and contractors?
One of the most crucial parts of a business plan is the organizational chart. This simply shows the positions the company will need, who is in charge of them and the relationship of each of them. It will look similar to this:
Our small business plan template has a much more in-depth organizational chart you can edit to include when you include the organizational chart in your business plan.
How to Write a Business Plan Step 8. Financial Statements
No business plan is complete without financial statements or financial projections. The business plan format will be different based on whether you are writing a business plan to expand a business or a startup business plan. Let’s dig deeper into each.
Provide All Financial Income from an Existing Business
An existing business should use their past financial documents including the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement to find trends to estimate the next 3-5 years.
You can create easy trendlines in excel to predict future revenue, profit and loss, cash flow, and other changes in year-over-year performance. This will show your expected performance assuming business continues as normal.
If you are seeking an investment, then the business is probably not going to continue as normal. Depending on the financial plan and the purpose of getting financing, adjustments may be needed to the following:
- Higher Revenue if expanding business
- Lower Cost of Goods Sold if purchasing inventory with bulk discounts
- Adding interest if utilizing financing (not equity deal)
- Changes in expenses
- Addition of financing information to the cash flow statement
- Changes in Earnings per Share on the balance sheet
Financial modeling is a challenging subject, but there are plenty of low-cost courses on the subject. If you need help planning your business financial documentation take some time to watch some of them.
Make it a point to document how you calculated all the changes to the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement in your business plan so that key team members or investors can verify your research.
Financial Projections For A Startup Business Plan
Unlike an existing business, a startup doesn’t have previous success to model its future performance. In this scenario, you need to focus on how to make a business plan realistic through the use of industry research and averages.
Mike gave the following advice in his interview:
Financial Forecasting Mistakes
One of the things a lot of inexperienced people use is the argument, “If I get one percent of the market, it is worth $100 million.” If you use this, investors are likely to file the document under bad business plan examples.
Let’s use custom t-shirts as an example.
Credence Research estimated in 2018 there were 11,334,800,000 custom t-shirts sold for a total of $206.12 Billion, with a 6% compound annual growth rate.
With that data, you can calculate that the industry will grow to $270 Billion in 2023 and that the average shirt sold creates $18.18 in revenue.
Combine that with an IBIS World estimate of 11,094 custom screen printers and that means even if you become an average seller, you’ll get .009% of the market.
Here’s a table for easier viewing of that information.
The point here is to make sure your business proposal examples make sense.
You’ll need to know industry averages such as cost of customer acquisition, revenue per customer, the average cost of goods sold, and admin costs to be able to create accurate estimates.
Our simple business plan templates walk you through most of these processes. If you follow them you’ll have a good idea of how to write a business proposal.
How to Write a Business Plan Step 9. Business Plan Example of Funding Requests
What is a business plan without a plan on how to obtain funding?
The Small Business Administration has an example for a pizza restaurant that theoretically needed nearly $20k to make it through their first month.
In our video, How to Start a $500K/Year T-Shirt Business (Pt. 1 ), Sanford Booth told us he needed about $200,000 to start his franchise and broke even after 4 months.
Freshbooks estimates it takes on average 2-3 years for a business to be profitable, which means the fictitious pizza company from the SBA could need up to $330k to make it through that time and still pay their bills for their home and pizza shop.
Not every business needs that much to start, but realistically it’s a good idea to assume that you need a fairly large cushion.
Ways to get funding for a small business
There are a variety of ways to cover this. the most common are:
- Bootstrapping – Using your savings without external funding.
- Taking out debt – loans, credit cards
- Equity, Seed Funding – Ownership of a percentage of the company in exchange for current funds
- Crowdsourcing – Promising a good for funding to create the product
Keep reading for more tips on how to write a business plan.
How funding will be used
When asking for business financing make sure to include:
- How much to get started?
- What is the minimum viable product and how soon can you make money?
- How will the money be spent?
Mike emphasized two aspects that should be included in every plan,
How to Write a Business Plan Resources
Here are some links to a business plan sample and business plan outline.
- Sample plan
It’s also helpful to follow some of the leading influencers in the business plan writing community. Here’s a list:
- Wise Plans – Shares a lot of information on starting businesses and is a business plan writing company.
- Optimus Business Plans – Another business plan writing company.
- Venture Capital – A venture capital thread that can help give you ideas.
How to Write a Business Plan: What’s Next?
We hope this guide about how to write a simple business plan step by step has been helpful. We’ve covered:
- The definition of a business plan
- Coming up with a business idea
- Performing market research
- The critical components of a business plan
- An example business plan
In addition, we provided you with a simple business plan template to assist you in the process of writing your startup business plan. The startup business plan template also includes a business model template that will be the key to your success.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of our business hub .
Have you written a business plan before? How did it impact your ability to achieve your goals?
Sharing is caring!
Brandon Boushy started his company after years of working in customer service, engineering, and project management. After receiving his MBA, he turned his diverse skills into a business helping other small business owners find resources and strategies that further their business objectives. He focuses on assisting businesses with their marketing, communication, and research needs.
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- April 21, 2022
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How to Write a Business Plan
Last Updated: October 30, 2022 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Keila Hill-Trawick, CPA . Keila Hill-Trawick is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and owner at Little Fish Accounting, a CPA firm for small businesses in Washington, District of Columbia. With over 15 years of experience in accounting, Keila specializes in advising freelancers, solopreneurs, and small businesses in reaching their financial goals through tax preparation, financial accounting, bookkeeping, small business tax, financial advisory, and personal tax planning services. Keila spent over a decade in the government and private sector before founding Little Fish Accounting. She holds a BS in Accounting from Georgia State University - J. Mack Robinson College of Business and an MBA from Mercer University - Stetson School of Business and Economics. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 83 testimonials and 93% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 2,299,532 times.
If you’re interested in starting your own business, by now you probably know that writing a business plan is one of the first steps. But what should a business plan include? How detailed should it be? Do you need to do research first? Don’t worry—below we’ll answer all of your questions and walk you through putting together your first business plan from start to finish!
Doing Your Homework
- Is there a viable market for the product or service you want to sell?
- How old are your potential customers?
- What do they do for a living?
- Is your product or service attractive to a particular ethnic or economic population?
- Will only wealthy people be able to afford it?
- Does your ideal customer live in a certain type of neighborhood or area?
- How many car mechanics are in need of soap in any given community?
- How many children in the United States are currently under the age of eight?
- How much soap will they use in a month or a year?
- How many other soap manufacturers already have a share of the market?
- How big are your potential competitors?
- Don't aim for the best of everything at the beginning. You can forgo the expensive trimmings of an office of a more well-established company and stick to the basics at the beginning. Get what is affordable, works and is actually needed and don't buy frills.
- Don't lose heart if you discover some, or even all, of your ideas have been adequately covered by the market. Don't ignore this reality; instead, work with it. Can you still do a better job or provide a better widget than your competitors? In many cases, it's likely that you can provided you know the market well and how to add value in ways your competitors are not doing. In other cases, it may be a case of focusing more narrowly or more broadly than your competitors are doing.
Structuring Your Business
- What will your product or service enable people to do better, more cheaply, more safely, or more efficiently? Will your restaurant make people’s palates delirious with new taste sensations? Will your new mousetrap help people capture mice without feeling sick to their stomachs? Will your new bubblegum scented bubble bath revolutionize the way children agree to take nightly baths?
- Your competitive advantage may include designing special features not found in rival products. It may entail superior service characteristics such as speedier delivery, a lower price, or more attentive sales people––these are never to be sniffed at as possible winning ways, as many companies grow complacent and can be overtaken by giving customers experiences that are better than the average expectations. Even where your product or service is already well established, perhaps you’re establishing an image or brand of exceptional quality or reputation.
- Keep in mind that your initial plans will undoubtedly change as your business grows. You may need to hire more managers to supervise your expanding staff or to set up new departments to meet new customer demands. Projected growth and expansion for your company should be mentioned in your business plan, but it’s not the primary focus. For now, you want to secure help in getting started and convince your funding sources that you will become profitable.
- Investors will want to know if you’re capable of running the business. Do you need to bring in experienced managers right away? Will you keep some of the existing employees or hire all new people? And where do you find these potential employees?
- Funding sources will also want to know if any of your partners expect to work alongside you or if their obligations are only financial. Your plan will need to specify the key management jobs and roles. Positions such as president, vice presidents, chief financial officer, and managers of departments will need to be defined along with stating who reports to whom.
- Consider how will you reach your customers.  X Research source What will you say to persuade and convince customers that your product or service is better value, more timely, more useful, etc. to the consumer than the rival product or service? If it currently has no rival, how will you properly explain the purpose of and the consumer's need for the product?
- What advertising and promotional efforts will you employ? For example, two for the price of one specials or free coupons inside those same kid-oriented cereal boxes? Where can you locate lists of the greatest concentrations of children under the age of eight or whatever group constitutes your market?
- What will your basic sales philosophy be? Building long-term relationships with a few major clients or developing a clientele of many short-term customers?
Writing the Business Plan
- Title Page and Table of Contents
- Executive Summary , in which you summarize your vision for the company
- General Company Description , in which you provide an overview of your company and the service it provides to its market
- Products and Services , in which you describe, in detail, your unique product or service
- Marketing Plan , in which you describe how you'll bring your product to its consumers
- Operational Plan , in which you describe how the business will be operated on a day-to-day basis
- Management and Organization , in which you describe the structure of your organization and the philosophy that governs it
- Financial Plan , in which you illustrate your working model for finances and your need from investors
- Sustainability Plan , in which you consider how your business's operations in the ecological, social, and economic context will create long-term value for society.  X Research source
- At first, do not worry about capitalization, punctuation, and grammar. All you need to worry about is putting your ideas down on paper. Once you have a general form, you can spend time proofreading your plan and correcting mistakes. Have someone else read over it for you and take heed of their comments.
- The accuracy of your financial figures and projections is absolutely critical in convincing investors, loan sources, and partners that your business concept is worthy of support. The data must also be scrupulously honest and extremely clear.
- Since banks and many other funding sources will compare your projections to industry averages in the R.M.A data, in the United States you can use the R.M.A figures to test your projections before the bank does.
Sample Business Plans
- Many sources exist for finding information for your business plan. Your local library and the internet are always helpful sources. If you live near a university, you may be able to schedule an appointment with one of the college's professors. The professor may be able to give helpful insight. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
- There are a few valuable online archives of business plans that feature companies which have successfully penetrated the market based on a well defined and executed business (and marketing) plan. Take the time to study the market through a successful company's eyes and consider what your company will offer that distinguishes your product or service from the rest. Be certain about what gives your business the competitive edge. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
- Make sure you cite your information. This way you will have support for any statistics you put into your business plan. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
- Do not submit your draft business plan to potential investors! However, it is advisable to give the executive summary instead of the whole plan after it is completed. Sometimes, busy investors may not have the time to look at an entire plan, which can sometimes be up to 50 pages. Thanks Helpful 66 Not Helpful 13
You Might Also Like
- ↑ https://extension.psu.edu/developing-a-business-plan
- ↑ https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ec/ec-735.pdf
- ↑ https://sbdc.siu.edu/resources/writing-a-business-plan.php
- ↑ https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/plan-your-business/write-your-business-plan
- ↑ Keila Hill-Trawick, CPA. Certified Public Accountant. Expert Interview. 30 July 2020.
- ↑ https://www.rmahq.org/who-we-are/
- ↑ https://www.scu.edu/mobi/business-plans/
- ↑ https://www.ofm.wa.gov/state-human-resources/workforce-data-planning/workforce-planning/introduction-workforce-planning
- ↑ https://www.ictsd.org/how-should-sustainability-be-considered-in-a-business-plan/
- ↑ https://www.investopedia.com/university/business-plan/business-plan7.asp
About This Article
To write a business plan, start with an executive summary that lays out your grand vision for your business. Follow that with a section that describes what products and services your company will offer. Then, write a marketing section where you detail how you're going to inform people about your business. You'll also want to include a section on your business model and how it will operate. Finally, conclude your business plan by letting investors know what you need from them. For help with doing research for your business plan, read the article! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Microsoft 365 Life Hacks > Writing > Writing and Formatting a Successful Business Plan
Writing and Formatting a Successful Business Plan
Whether you’re an experienced business person or a first-time entrepreneur, a business plan presents an important opportunity to showcase your unique business ideas and make a plan for how it will it function and operate.
Because of its importance, it can sometimes appear to be an overwhelming task. However, with some guidance on business plan formatting and a breakdown of the plan’s most essential components, you can make the task more manageable and more easily get started on your own plan—bringing the possibility of your grand opening ever closer.
What Is a Business Plan?
A business plan usually serves either or both of two purposes: Sometimes it’s used to court potential investors in a business. Other times, it sets out guidelines and a strategy for initial members of a business’s team to follow as they get things up and running. In either case, this formal document maps out the purpose, goals, finances, and future plans of a new or existing business.
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Formatting Your Business Plan
Before you get started on writing your business plan, it’s useful to understand the formatting of a typical business plan. Not only will this help you make sure you ultimately deliver the information that potential investors or teammates are expecting, but it will also help you see where you might need to do more research or spend more time.
Typically, all business plans contain each of the following parts:
Company description, business goals, market and opportunity analysis, competitive analysis, execution plan, marketing plan, financial analysis and projections.
Below, we sum up what these sections entail to help you craft each of them according to your own business’s needs.
Business plans usually open with what’s called an executive summary. Typically taking up no more than about half of a page, this summary should include the most essential information about your business and highlights from the plan that follows, including:
- Your organization’s mission statement
- A description of the products and services your business offers
- The purpose of your business plan
- Any major achievements your business has made so far
- An overview of your business’s financial health
A company description should include both basic information about your organization—its registered name, physical location, and a short history of the company—as well as more detailed info about how your business intends to succeed. In other words, once you’ve touched on the very basics, this is your chance to hook readers of your business plan. To do so, it can be helpful to set the stage for your readers: consider the answers to questions like, “Why did you start this business?”, “What unique problems does your business solve?”, and “What makes your company different from others like it?”
Sometimes referred to as an “objective statement,” this section of your business plan should clearly outline your company’s goals—over both the short and long term. If you’re making an appeal to investors, this is also your chance to include some persuasive writing and describe to them how their investments are critical to helping you meet these goals.
This section requires keen research skills: Bring in all of your knowledge of the market your business is working in to show investors and potential partners where the opportunity lies. Show that you have an understanding of the market’s past, present, and future—and understand the unique risks that businesses in this space face. Additionally, you will want to show what typical types of customers in this market are like with information on key demographics and customer behaviors that your business will market itself to.
Moving past the broad view of the overall market, your business plan should include an analysis of the business models or examples of your closest competitors in the space. Showing how these other organizations operate, how they’ve fared over their histories, and how they market themselves to customers can help you make the case for how your business will do these things both differently and successfully.
The execution plan section should provide a window into how your business will operate behind the scenes: How will you and your employees be organized? Who will handle what tasks? Why are they the right people to do so? Answer these questions by providing thorough details on who will be doing the work and how they will be structured while getting it done.
Every business needs to have a plan on how they position and promote their offerings, as well as attract and retain customers. With this section of your business plan, explain to potential stakeholders and financiers what your initial marketing strategy is and how it will change and scale over time.
Especially for business owners seeking additional financing and investment, the financial portion of your business plan is critical in showing how your business has generated and managed income, plus deliver insight into how it will continue doing so.
This section should include a breakdown of your organization’s sales, expenses, and profits. If you’re applying for a loan or seeking investment, include an overview of what your company’s financials would look like over the next period of years if you were to receive that financial backing. In addition, you should outline a clear plan for how and when you will pay back these creditors.
Crafting a Business Plan That Succeeds
While the particulars of every business plan will be different, there are some aspects that should be common to all business plans:
- Be Concise: The writing in a business plan needs to be persuasive for its intended audience, but it needs to do so efficiently. Use clear and concise writing that communicates your ideas and plans effectively.
- Use Data for Support: Even if your writing is persuasive, it won’t be as effective as it can be without relevant data and hard numbers that back up your insights.
- Get Rid of Errors: In most cases, your audience is only going to read your business plan once. Make sure you present a tidy image of your business through your business plan writing by catching and fixing all of your typos and grammatical errors. Use a digital writing assistant like Microsoft Editor to help spot these mistakes, along with any slips in the formal tone that a business plan requires.
- Keep It Real: Avoid exaggeration, whether it’s in your sales projections, market opportunity, or elsewhere.
Creating a successful business plan requires pulling together a lot of disparate information, which takes a diverse set of skills to pull off. Whether you’re new to new businesses or this is just your latest and greatest project, this can always be a tall order.
Make it easier on yourself by using all of the tools you have at your disposal to help. In addition to the guidelines above, explore a wide range of business plan templates available from Microsoft 365, including everything from complete business plans to individual components like revenue forecasts .
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550+ Free business plan examples
Need help writing your business plan? Explore over 550 free real-world business plan examples from a wide variety of industries to guide you through writing your own plan. If you're looking for an intuitive tool that walks you through the plan writing process, we recommend LivePlan . It includes many of these same SBA-approved business plan examples and is especially useful when applying for a bank loan or outside investment.
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Example business plan format
Before you start exploring our library of business plan examples, it's worth taking the time to understand the traditional business plan format . You'll find that the plans in this library and most investor-approved business plans will include the following sections:
The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally only one to two pages. You should also plan to write this section last after you've written your full business plan.
Your executive summary should include a summary of the problem you are solving, a description of your product or service, an overview of your target market, a brief description of your team, a summary of your financials, and your funding requirements (if you are raising money).
Products & services
The products & services chapter of your business plan is where the real meat of your plan lives. It includes information about the problem that you're solving, your solution, and any traction that proves that it truly meets the need you identified.
This is your chance to explain why you're in business and that people care about what you offer. It needs to go beyond a simple product or service description and get to the heart of why your business works and benefits your customers.
Conducting a market analysis ensures that you fully understand the market that you're entering and who you'll be selling to. This section is where you will showcase all of the information about your potential customers. You'll cover your target market as well as information about the growth of your market and your industry. Focus on outlining why the market you're entering is viable and creating a realistic persona for your ideal customer base.
Part of defining your opportunity is determining what your competitive advantage may be. To do this effectively you need to get to know your competitors just as well as your target customers. Every business will have competition, if you don't then you're either in a very young industry or there's a good reason no one is pursuing this specific venture.
To succeed, you want to be sure you know who your competitors are, how they operate, necessary financial benchmarks, and how you're business will be positioned. Start by identifying who your competitors are or will be during your market research. Then leverage competitive analysis tools like the competitive matrix and positioning map to solidify where your business stands in relation to the competition.
Marketing & sales
The marketing and sales plan section of your business plan details how you plan to reach your target market segments. You'll address how you plan on selling to those target markets, what your pricing plan is, and what types of activities and partnerships you need to make your business a success.
The operations section covers the day-to-day workflows for your business to deliver your product or service. What's included here fully depends on the type of business. Typically you can expect to add details on your business location, sourcing and fulfillment, use of technology, and any partnerships or agreements that are in place.
Milestones & metrics
The milestones section is where you lay out strategic milestones to reach your business goals.
A good milestone clearly lays out the parameters of the task at hand and sets expectations for its execution. You'll want to include a description of the task, a proposed due date, who is responsible, and eventually a budget that's attached. You don't need extensive project planning in this section, just key milestones that you want to hit and when you plan to hit them.
You should also discuss key metrics, which are the numbers you will track to determine your success. Some common data points worth tracking include conversion rates, customer acquisition costs, profit, etc.
Company & team
Use this section to describe your current team and who you need to hire. If you intend to pursue funding, you'll need to highlight the relevant experience of your team members. Basically, this is where you prove that this is the right team to successfully start and grow the business. You will also need to provide a quick overview of your legal structure and history if you're already up and running.
Your financial plan should include a sales and revenue forecast, profit and loss statement, cash flow statement, and a balance sheet. You may not have established financials of any kind at this stage. Not to worry, rather than getting all of the details ironed out, focus on making projections and strategic forecasts for your business. You can always update your financial statements as you begin operations and start bringing in actual accounting data.
Now, if you intend to pitch to investors or submit a loan application, you'll also need a "use of funds" report in this section. This outlines how you intend to leverage any funding for your business and how much you're looking to acquire. Like the rest of your financials, this can always be updated later on.
The appendix isn't a required element of your business plan. However, it is a useful place to add any charts, tables, definitions, legal notes, or other critical information that supports your plan. These are often lengthier or out-of-place information that simply didn't work naturally into the structure of your plan. You'll notice that in these business plan examples, the appendix mainly includes extended financial statements.
Types of business plans explained
While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. To get the most out of your plan, it's best to find a format that suits your needs. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering.
Traditional business plan
The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used for external purposes. Typically this is the type of plan you'll need when applying for funding or pitching to investors. It can also be used when training or hiring employees, working with vendors, or in any other situation where the full details of your business must be understood by another individual.
Business model canvas
The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea.
The structure ditches a linear format in favor of a cell-based template. It encourages you to build connections between every element of your business. It's faster to write out and update, and much easier for you, your team, and anyone else to visualize your business operations.
One-page business plan
The true middle ground between the business model canvas and a traditional business plan is the one-page business plan . This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business.
By starting with a one-page plan , you give yourself a minimal document to build from. You'll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences making it much easier to elaborate or expand sections into a longer-form business plan.
Growth planning is more than a specific type of business plan. It's a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, forecast, review, and refine based on your performance.
It holds all of the benefits of the single-page plan, including the potential to complete it in as little as 27 minutes . However, it's even easier to convert into a more detailed plan thanks to how heavily it's tied to your financials. The overall goal of growth planning isn't to just produce documents that you use once and shelve. Instead, the growth planning process helps you build a healthier company that thrives in times of growth and remain stable through times of crisis.
It's faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.
Download a free sample business plan template
Ready to start writing your own plan but aren't sure where to start? Download our free business plan template that's been updated for 2023.
This simple, modern, investor-approved business plan template is designed to make planning easy. It's a proven format that has helped over 1 million businesses write business plans for bank loans, funding pitches, business expansion, and even business sales. It includes additional instructions for how to write each section and is formatted to be SBA-lender approved. All you need to do is fill in the blanks.
How to use an example business plan to help you write your own
How do you know what elements need to be included in your business plan, especially if you've never written one before? Looking at examples can help you visualize what a full, traditional plan looks like, so you know what you're aiming for before you get started. Here's how to get the most out of a sample business plan.
Choose a business plan example from a similar type of company
You don't need to find an example business plan that's an exact fit for your business. Your business location, target market, and even your particular product or service may not match up exactly with the plans in our gallery. But, you don't need an exact match for it to be helpful. Instead, look for a plan that's related to the type of business you're starting.
For example, if you want to start a vegetarian restaurant, a plan for a steakhouse can be a great match. While the specifics of your actual startup will differ, the elements you'd want to include in your restaurant's business plan are likely to be very similar.
Use a business plan example as a guide
Every startup and small business is unique, so you'll want to avoid copying an example business plan word for word. It just won't be as helpful, since each business is unique. You want your plan to be a useful tool for starting a business —and getting funding if you need it.
One of the key benefits of writing a business plan is simply going through the process. When you sit down to write, you'll naturally think through important pieces, like your startup costs, your target market , and any market analysis or research you'll need to do to be successful.
You'll also look at where you stand among your competition (and everyone has competition), and lay out your goals and the milestones you'll need to meet. Looking at an example business plan's financials section can be helpful because you can see what should be included, but take them with a grain of salt. Don't assume that financial projections for a sample company will fit your own small business.
If you're looking for more resources to help you get started, our business planning guide is a good place to start. You can also download our free business plan template , or get started right away with LivePlan .
Think of business planning as a process, instead of a document
Think about business planning as something you do often , rather than a document you create once and never look at again. If you take the time to write a plan that really fits your own company, it will be a better, more useful tool to grow your business. It should also make it easier to share your vision and strategy so everyone on your team is on the same page.
Adjust your plan regularly to use it as a business management tool
Keep in mind that businesses that use their plan as a management tool to help run their business grow 30 percent faster than those businesses that don't. For that to be true for your company, you'll think of a part of your business planning process as tracking your actual results against your financial forecast on a regular basis.
If things are going well, your plan will help you think about how you can re-invest in your business. If you find that you're not meeting goals, you might need to adjust your budgets or your sales forecast. Either way, tracking your progress compared to your plan can help you adjust quickly when you identify challenges and opportunities—it's one of the most powerful things you can do to grow your business.
Prepare to pitch your business
If you're planning to pitch your business to investors or seek out any funding, you'll need a pitch deck to accompany your business plan. A pitch deck is designed to inform people about your business. You want your pitch deck to be short and easy to follow, so it's best to keep your presentation under 20 slides.
Your pitch deck and pitch presentation are likely some of the first things that an investor will see to learn more about your company. So, you need to be informative and pique their interest. Luckily, just like you can leverage an example business plan template to write your plan, we also have a gallery of over 50 pitch decks for you to reference.
With this gallery, you have the option to view specific industry pitches or get inspired by real-world pitch deck examples. Or for a modern pitch solution that helps you create a business plan and pitch deck side-by-side, you may want to check out LivePlan . It will help you build everything needed for outside investment and to better manage your business.
Get LivePlan in your classroom
Are you an educator looking for real-world business plan examples for your students? With LivePlan, you give your students access to industry-best business plans and help them set goals and track metrics with spreadsheet-free financial forecasts. All of this within a single tool that includes additional instructional resources that work seamlessly alongside your current classroom setup.
With LivePlan, it's not just a classroom project. It's your students planning for their futures. Click here to learn more about business planning for students .
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24 Min Read
Welcome to the journey of entrepreneurship . You are here because you have a great business idea and want to know how to write a business plan to convert that idea into reality.
Before you start writing your business plan, let’s understand What is a business plan? Why do you need one in the first place? And What should you include in your business plan?
What is a business plan?
Why do you need a business plan, what to include in your business plan, business plan outline, key things to remember, how to write a business plan.
Let’s get started with an important question.
What is a Business Plan?
In simple words, a business plan is a document that outlines your business goals and details how you plan to achieve those goals. It is a living document that will prove to you and the rest of the world that your idea is not just a dream but can be a viable reality.
Also, it will help investors learn about your business, and vision , and convince them that your business idea is worth investing in. Your business plan will provide concrete evidence that your business idea is sound and has every chance of success.
Your business plan is the backbone of your business.
What Should You Include in Your Business Plan?
Every business idea and plan is unique in its terms. You should include all the details that explain your business idea in the best possible way. However, there are a few elements that every entrepreneur should include in their business plan.
The following is a full guide for creating a comprehensive business plan. We’ll first list out the sections that must be included in the business plan and in the later part, we’ll explain what should be added to each section:
Business Plan Cover Page
Table of contents.
- Executive Summary
- Company Overview
- Problem Analysis
- Products & Services
- Product Features
- Market Overview
- Market Size
- Target Customers
- Customer Needs
- Direct Competitors
- Indirect Competitors
- Promotions Plan
- Distribution Plan
- Key Operational Processes
- Management Team Gaps
- Board Members
- Revenue Model
- Financial Highlights
- Funding Requirements
- Use of Funds
- Exit Strategy
- Appendix – Supporting Documentation
Now you are ready to write your business plan, let’s understand in detail how you can write your business plan and what you should include in each element of the business plan.
The business plan cover page is the first and most important part of the business plan because it will create the first impact and will set the platform for how investors or readers will engage with your business plan.
Just by looking at the business plan cover page, an investor or reader can get a quick idea about the purpose of your business idea and business plan.
However, many entrepreneurs do not pay enough attention to the cover page, which is their biggest mistake.
In any document, the business plan table of contents provides a quick overview and works as navigation to navigate across the document. The same does for a business plan as well.
A table of contents is important to provide a quick overview of the sections that you have included in your business plan and help readers to navigate to the section that interests them the most. If investors are excited about a particular part of the business plan first, they will find the table of contents extremely useful in finding the relevant sections within the business plan.
Usually, the table of contents needs to be added at the start of the document and just after the business plan cover page.
Here’s a Quick Overview of Each Key Chapter:
1. Executive Summary
The executive summary is the first section of your business plan. However, the executive summary is always written at last as it is a brief introduction to your business plan and a summary of your entire business plan document.
A good executive summary should answer the following basic questions:
- What are you trying to achieve with your business idea?
- Why is your business idea important? and
- How are you going to achieve your business goals?
Generally, a good executive summary should include the following details:
- A brief description of the problems you will be solving
- Summary of your business goals & vision
- Products or services you are going to offer
- A solid description of the market you are targeting
- A quick look at your competition and your competitive advantages
- A basic financial projection of your revenue, expenses, and profits
- Your funding requirements (if any) and how you will be using that funds.
It does seem like lots of details are required to write a good executive summary but at the same time, it is important to get it right because if your summary does not clearly explain how you will solve a customer problem and make a profit, then investors or readers might not find it worth reading.
Most of the investors just read the executive summary and decide if they should read the rest of the business plan or not. So make your efforts count in this part of the business plan.
In short, write your executive summary in such a way that readers would want to turn the page and keep on reading.
Always remember, that a good executive summary should not be more than one or two pages long. However, in some cases, it can be longer if there is an absolute requirement.
2. Company Overview
The company overview section provides a brief history of your company if it already exists. However, if you are starting a new business, here you will need to write about yourself, your achievements, and how you will set up and form your business as a company.
Here you need to answer questions such as how and when your company was formed, what type of legal entity you are, and what are your achievements to date. Your past journey and achievements are the best sign of your possible future success, so make sure to include all the important milestones you or your company have achieved to date.
As a startup, your company overview can be very much short, so focus on your personal history, achievements, and the journey that led you to start your business in the first place. Sharing your original idea is important because it shows how you think and how you were able to craft your idea into a business.
Even if you are just starting, your educational background, professional experience, achievements, and the details of your best business idea can give potential investors a vision of what you are trying to achieve.
Have a look at this company overview example
- Starbucks company profile
- Puma company page
3. Problem Analysis
You have started the business because you have identified the unique problem that customers are facing and in this section, you just need to explain that problem.
The problem statement section can be explained with three simple questions.
- Whom does the problem affect?
- What are the causes of the problem?
- Why is it important to fix it?
When you write your problem statement, just describe how bigger the problem is and why it is most important to fix it. Also, there might be multiple problems you will be solving, but always try to focus on the main problem because you don’t win on the number of problems you solve; you win on how well you solve a specific problem .
While writing the business plan, most entrepreneurs focus on the solution they are going to offer, and in that process, they forget to explain the actual importance of the problem. Remember the more accurately you will explain the problem, the more valuable the solution will be.
Remember to keep the problem statement as simple as possible and should be self-explanatory. Also, it is good to include the key statistics that explain the severity of the problem.
After you explain the problem, it is also important to describe the world once a particular problem will be solved and that will set the stage to introduce the solution you are proposing.
4. The Solution
The solution section is also called the product & services section . In this section, you will need to define your best-proposed solution to the problem you explained in the previous problem analysis section.
Your solution details should be as simple as possible. It is not recommended to use too many technical or industry details while writing about your product details. Keep in mind your readers will not have the same education or technical background as you.
The length of this section will depend on the nature of your business. for example, if your business is product-focused and the product is relatively new in the market, then you should write more about the product, its design, its features, etc. However, if your business is relatively common like selling bicycles or restaurant business and you are planning to compete with better pricing or customer service then you probably don’t need to write more about products.
If your product is hard to explain it’s a good idea to include a picture. Also, if you are planning to expand your business and will come with new products or services in the future, then you can mention those details here as well.
Your product or service pricing should be mentioned here in this section. Apply the right pricing strategy to set the best pricing for your product or services. Also, if you have any product patents, copyrights, licenses, etc then add those details here in this section.
In short, your solution section should answer the following common questions:
- Your products or services are currently under development or already available?
- If not available, what will be the timeline for delivering products and services to the market?
- How are your products or services different from the competition?
- How will you get your products? Are you the manufacturer or do you purchase products from suppliers or wholesalers?
When you write this product and services section, think of your reader as a person who knows little to nothing about your business. so make it as simple as possible.
5. Market Analysis
Before you start your business, it is essential to check if there is a viable market available for the products or services you are planning to offer, and that makes market research the most critical and key to success for any business.
In simple words, market analysis is studying the industry your business will operate in, the size of the industry, and its trend & direction (growing, stable, or in decline).
The market analysis consists of main three parts:
- Market Overview: This is a general overview of the industry. In this part, you will need to describe the current position of the industry, market trends , and where it is heading. Also, you can write about your knowledge and experience in the industry.
- Target Market: In this part, you will need to be more specific about the segment of the market that will use your products or services. Not everyone from the industry will use your product or services, so it is important to find the right audience for your product. (For example, if you are starting a veg restaurant in the town, then all the people from town will not visit your restaurant. The only people who prefer and eat veg food will be your target customers).
- Market Size: Market size is all about finding how many potential customers are there for your product or service. Here you will need to show some statistics about the size of the industry (e.g., total U.S. sales in the last year) and its growth rate over the last few years.
The main objective of the market analysis is to identify the opportunities and risks associated with the business. It will also help you to understand how you should prepare your marketing strategy , where you should invest in terms of marketing efforts, and avoid making the wrong decisions.
With market analysis, you can identify the market entry barrier, and market needs, and estimate the market attractiveness from a financial standpoint.
6. Customer Analysis
Once you complete your market analysis, it’s time to identify the customers and needs of customers who are going to use your product or services, and this process is called customer analysis . Customer analysis is a key element of any successful marketing plan, as well as your overall business plan.
Customer analysis is critical for any business to succeed because if you do not know who is going to your offerings, and what your customers want, no business can succeed.
Now that you know customer analysis is that important, it is time to learn how you can perform strong customer analysis.
Customer analysis consists of main three parts:
- Demographics: Age, Sex, Ethnicity, Income, Family, Occupation, etc.
- Geographic: Location (Neighbourhood, Region, Urban/Rural, Online)
- Psychographic: Lifestyle, Personality, etc
- Interests: Hobbies, Activities, etc
- Growth: Size of the target customers and whether they are growing, shrinking, or stable.
It’s up to you what is the best way to get this information for your business. However, some practical methods include customer surveys, existing customer data analysis, social media listening, or talking with your customer support team.
- Identify your customer’s needs: Once you identify who your customers are, it’s important to understand their needs as well, and the answer to this question should be your offering.
- Explain how your product or services will meet those needs: Now that you know your target customers and what they need, it’s time to explain your products or services’ benefits. In this part, list out the key features of your products or services that will fulfill customers’ needs, explain the benefits of your offerings, and the outcome customers can expect by using your products or services.
Keep in mind, that a strong customer analysis must answer these three key questions:
- Who are your customers?
- What do they need?
- How do your products or services meet those needs?
7. Competitive Analysis
Competitive analysis is all about finding your competitors, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, products and services, pricing, social media presence, marketing & sales strategy, etc.
Your competitors can be categorized into two classes:
- Direct Competitors: Direct competitors are the ones who provide the same solution as you do. For example, if you operate an Italian restaurant, other restaurants that serve Italian food will be your direct competitors. In this section of your business plan, outline who your direct competitors are, and add their strengths and weaknesses.
- Indirect Competitors: Indirect competitors are the ones who do not provide the same solution as you do. However, solve the same customer problem as you do. For example, if you operate an Italian restaurant, a Mexican or Spanish restaurant would be an indirect competitor. In this section of your business plan, outline who your indirect competitors are, and add their strengths and weaknesses.
Once you identify who your competitors are, it’s time to explain how different and superior you are compared to them and that will be the competitive advantage section of your business plan .
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
Her strengths and weaknesses are subjective to your business which you can control and change like business location, pricing, uniqueness, etc. While opportunities and threats are external that are running outside your business, in the larger market. However, you can take advantage of opportunities and defend your business against potential threats, but you can’t change them.
It is always best if the business owners perform a SWOT analysis themselves. This task is not something that you should assign to someone else. A precise SWOT analysis will allow you to measure your strengths and weaknesses against the opportunities and threats in your business environment.
Once your SWOT analysis is ready, it will help you to form a strategy to achieve your business goals .
8. Marketing Plan
Now that you have explained your products or services and identified who is going to use those products or services, it is time to let your customers know about your products or services. And for this, you will have to plan strategy, and that planning you will need to explain in this section.
Your marketing plan can be divided into the following sections:
- Pricing: Explain your product or service pricing here in this section. Mainly, discuss how you finalized your pricing and how your pricing is better than the competition. Also, discuss if it’s low-cost or premium offerings and how your pricing supports it. This will ensure investors also that you have finalized your pricing with proper research.
- Promotional Plan: In this section, talk about your marketing activities and strategies that you will execute to attract your customers. It is always great to have some unique selling propositions (USP). However, Unique selling propositions should be short and self-explanatory. For example, Domino’s Pizza’s USP is “We deliver hot, fresh pizza in 30 minutes or less, or it’s free.” Also, discuss your other marketing or promotional activities that may include discount offers for early customers, media or online advertisements, product launches or social events, radio newspaper or magazine ads, affiliate or referral programs, etc. In this section, you can also write about your customer relation and support team and how they will work to retain your existing customers.
- Distribution Plan: The main purpose of your marketing plan is that customers to buy your products or services. So it is important to explain how they can buy your products or services. Your distribution plan will include all details about your distribution channel, sales channel & strategy, and payment policies.
Once you complete writing your marketing plan , make sure your marketing plan answers these key questions.
- What will be the pricing of your offerings?
- How will you reach out to your target customers?
- How will you retain your customers to buy from you repeatedly?
- How and from where customers can buy your products and services?
Your marketing plan can be 7-8 pages long. However, while writing your business plan, make sure you do not go into details and try to keep it as simple as possible. You can separately write your marketing plan for internal purposes.?
9. Operations Plan
Your operation plan will explain how you will manufacture your product and run your business. It can include a lot of details depending on your business. For example, if you are in the production business, you will want to include all the information about how you will get raw materials, and equipment, build your products and ship them.
However, it is not recommended to include all these details while writing the operations section of your business plan . You should include only major details that you think will give you a competitive advantage or are important for your readers.
An operations plan is useful for internal purposes as it will help your team to understand their roles to achieve your business goals. However, it will help investors also to learn how you will run your business to make your business succeed.
The management team should be the easiest section of your business plan because, in this section, you will need to write about yourself and your core team members who will run the business.
Always remember, that businesses’ success will depend on the team who is running them. So you must write this section carefully and convince your readers or investors that you are the best person to execute and run this business.
Many investors believe it is not the business that succeeds, it is the team that makes the business successful. In fact, in some cases, investors have funded start-ups mainly based on the team who will run the business.
In this section, list out important details of core team members like name, position in the company, contact information, qualifications, past experiences, achievements, etc.
You can also mention any management gaps present in your organization and when you are planning to fill those gaps. You can also mention if there is an advisory team or board of members who might not work in your organization but will advise you from outside.
10. Financial Plan
The financial section of the business plan is the most important component of the business plan. Whatever you will write in the business plan will be conceptual until you do not add some numbers to support it.
Have a financial plan if you want to secure outside funding from investors or bank loans from financial institutes . Even if you do not need funds, it is always helpful to have a financial forecast to achieve your business goals and make your business successful. Financial forecasting will give you a clear idea of whether your business is viable or not.
Your financial plan will include the following sections.
- Revenue Model: The main purpose of this section is to explain the different revenue streams of your business. Do you sell products? Do you provide services? Do you provide third-party advertisements? Or do you sell all of the above? It is equally important to update this revenue model section, once you start generating revenue. Use the revenue model as a living document to improve your plans. Focus on revenue streams that work best, while changing your approach to those that aren’t doing well.
- Financial Highlights: Include financial reports like cash flow, balance sheet, profit & loss, projected revenue, expenses, etc.
- Funds Needed: This section is required if you are looking for funds to run your business operations. Before you directly request funds , it is good to explain your current financial situation, how much you have already invested, and how much funds you already have secured. Once you explain your current financial position, it is time to explain what type of funding you are looking for. What are your preferred options to secure funds? It is important to update this section once you secure funding.
- Use of Funds: Once you explain how many funds you are looking for, it’s time to explain how you will use those funds. You will use it to hire new talents, expand your operations, pay your existing debts, or buy new equipment. If you are going to use funds for multiple things, mention each and also mention how much funds you are going to spend for each thing. Investors or financial institutes usually approve funds if they have a clear idea about how you are going to use your money.
- Exit Strategy: If you are looking for equity funding, it is important to have an exit strategy. A common exit strategy includes selling your company to a larger firm (acquisitions), selling or diluting your ownership, initial public offering (IPO), etc. If you have such plans, provide a detailed explanation of them in this section.
With upmetrics, business financial forecasting is easy and fun. Once you add your data, the system will generate all required reports automatically. Later you can embed those reports into your business plan. learn more about the upmetrics financial planning feature .
11. Supporting Documentation (Appendix)
Adding supporting documents is not a mandatory section in your business plan. However, it is important to add the documents which you think can convince investors that your business will succeed.
These documents can include achievements, product patents, awards, financial statements, resumes of key team members, legal agreements , product or organization pictures, etc. These documents can help readers understand your story clearly and concisely.
Once you write your business plan, it is equally important to update your business plan as your business grows . Keep in mind, that a business plan is not just a document but it is a roadmap of your business.
Things to Consider Before Writing a Business Plan
Now before you start the actual writing of your business plan and learn what to include in each section of the business plan, there are some key concepts that you must keep in mind and rules that you should follow during the entire business planning process .
Keep it short
Don’t you want your business plan to be read by your investors? Remember, many investors do not like to read a long business plan.
In this competitive time, no one has time to go through a 100-page long document. A typical 20-25 pages should be fine for any standard business plan. A well-written business plan ensures to communicate your message to your potential investors effectively.
However, if your business idea is a completely new kind of business or even a new industry, it may need quite a bit of writing to get the message across.
Your business plan writing purpose will decide how long your business plan should be. If you are writing your business plan to seek millions of funding, then you might need a lengthy and detailed business plan. A short business plan would work if you are looking to expand your business.
Be realistic and creative
Do not consider your business idea as your baby. Be realistic and honest with yourself while writing your business plan, and always try to add facts and realistic details of your business idea.
Also, your business plan should grab your reader’s attention quickly. Be creative while designing your business plan cover page and writing any important details in your business plan.
When it comes to the formatting of the business plan, make sure to use bullet points, images, and charts. Also, highlight the key points or metrics that you want readers to focus on. It helps bring your idea to life. Plus, it will keep your readers focused on reading.
You should be able to change it as the business grows
Most businesses start with a business plan, and once written, it’s never revisited. Never make that mistake. Your business plan should be treated as a working document that should be developed as your business grows.
For example, you might want to update your business plan as per the changing trends for a new round of funding or you might want to update it to counter unexpected problems like the COVID crisis. In a nutshell, keep your plan alive!
Why Do You Need a Business Plan?
Some entrepreneurs have achieved tremendous success without writing a business plan with their past experiences, less competition, or maybe by luck.
But the fact is, that many entrepreneurs have failed as well. It is just that we learn more about success stories only.
So, does writing a business plan guarantee success? Of course Not.
But, the business plan is your companion on your entrepreneurship journey. It will help you and your team understand the problems and the competition you will encounter in your journey. It will keep you and your entire team in sync and on the right path to achieving your business goals and success.
Click here to download how to write a business plan pdf
About the Author
Paresh Balar is the co-founder of Upmetrics, the #1 business planning software. His ultimate goal with Upmetrics is to revolutionize how entrepreneurs create, manage, and execute their business plans. He loves sharing his thoughts on business and financial planning and its challenges through his blog posts. Read more
How to Prepare a Financial Plan for Startup Business (w/ example)
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Using ChatGPT to Make Better Decisions
- Thomas Ramge
- Viktor Mayer-Schönberger
While it may be tempting to just ask for answers, LLMs can assist you at every stage of the decision-making process.
A successful decision-making process has three steps: Framing the decision, generating alternatives, and deciding between them. Large language models can help at each stage of the process. But while it may be tempting to merely ask ChatGPT for answers, the real power of LLMs is how they can assist at each stage. Ask for help thinking of considerations you might be missing, or alternatives you might not have considered. LLMs can be a de-biasing tool, helping you frame and make the decision yourself.
Can ChatGPT help executives make better decisions? The large language model everyone has been talking about for months also has an eloquent answer to this question: “Yes, I can support you in management decisions by providing information, facts, analysis, and perspectives that can help you make an informed decision.” ChatGPT immediately follows up with a limitation of its own competence. “However, it is important to note that my advice and recommendations are based on an algorithmic analysis of data and information, and you, as a human being, still have to make the final decision based on your experience, knowledge, and assessment of the situation.”
Fair enough. But despite this dose of modesty — or because of it — large language models like ChatGPT can become powerful decision-making tools for managers and for companies. Their promise isn’t in providing us answers, but in helping us go through a more systematic decision-making process than is often the case today, even with important management decisions.
Three phases characterize well-informed decisions. First, we must define our goals and context. What exactly is the decision about, and based on which goals, values, and preferences? This way, we define the decision-making problem and set the decision-making framework. The second step is to develop choices: What decision-making options are available to us? The goal here is to generate many different alternatives and not, as is all too often the case, to focus just on the obvious options. Only when we have developed sufficient options from the decision-making framework can we evaluate them and make a well-informed decision in a third step.
Used skillfully, ChatGPT can already provide valuable services in all three phases for business decisions in its current training state. In practice, this means we can enter into a dialogue with the system on any of the three phases of a well-informed decision-making system. When evaluating decision-making alternatives, we can ask, for example: What mistakes do managing directors of large, medium-sized companies in mechanical engineering make when they decide to expand into new markets? And what were the success criteria for a successful expansion?
ChatGPT then does not provide us with a template with which we can weigh the options perfectly in our case. But it can help us uncover our own biases and challenge preconceived notions. Using ChatGPT cleverly can be like a de-biasing tool that has seemingly read Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky intensively. It thus offers food for thought to better reflect on how we can evaluate the options in a more well-informed way.
The system is already even more valuable today when it is employed to work out additional options that we can not think of or easily come up with. This way, it broadens our decision-making horizons, and we understand that there are many more and more far-reaching decision-making options than we realize.
How do we reduce our dependence on China and diversify a supply chain? A managing director and his team may never have dealt with this decision-making question before. ChatGPT, however, may be able to offer up many of the strategies documented on the internet by companies in a comparable situation and may come up with more original ideas than simply relocating production to Vietnam. This is because the system has access to a part of the publicly available treasure trove of options in the industry or company class.
Large language models can also help set goals and preferences, evaluate the decision-making circumstances, and select the decision-making framework. Again, dialogue is key. With the right questions, we become the interlocutor to better understand the context of a decision. For example, with ChatGPT, we can quickly see suggestions of what typical goals other companies might have had in mind in a comparable decision-making situation. For example, a prompt might look like this: “Hi ChatGPT, I am the head of a successful, mid-sized tooling manufacturer outside Columbus, Ohio. I am having difficulties attracting new talent, especially engineers. What may be the reasons for this? What strategies are similar manufacturing companies employing to cope with the talent shortage?”
The bottom line is: ChatGPT is becoming an increasingly intelligent conversation and sparring partner. It does not relieve us of defining the decision-making framework, working out a wide range of options, and evaluating them. However — and here, the self-assessment from the beginning of this article is correct — it does provide interesting perspectives. A large language model has several advantages compared to a human sparring partner: It does not pursue its own interests and does not want to please the top decision-maker, for example, to promote its own career. It is not subject to internal group thinking and bureaucratic politics and is also much cheaper than external management consultants or internal strategy departments . This also means that ChatGPT may make the preparation and assistance of decisions for smaller companies cheaper, leveling the playing field.
The future of case studies
Budding managers at business schools are already indirectly learning about decision-making through a large number of case studies. The aim is to acquire a repertoire of decision-making models by developing and evaluating possible options for action within a decision-making framework. Of course, case studies do not contain a solution in the form of a perfect answer to a specific decision-making situation. In case studies, questions are raised, decision-making frameworks are presented, and decision-making options are outlined. Not only can prospective managers learn from and with these case studies, but they can also be used to train large language models. However, this has not yet happened.
ChatGPT’s programmers could only feed their model a fraction of publicly available case studies. The real treasure trove of data is exclusive and stored at the major providers such as Harvard Business Publishing (HBR’s parent company), with over 50,000 case studies or the non-profit Case Center . If the custodians of these business case studies team up with the makers of large language models, a language assistant for programming, copywriting, and customer inquiries could turn into a powerful decision-making assistant for companies.
This will also get easier in the future because the learning algorithms are becoming more and more efficient, and thus “medium-sized language models” will also be possible, in which it is no longer necessary to feed half the Internet and entire libraries, but above all the texts and documents relevant to the specific field. It is only a matter of time before this happens. In any case, the economic incentive for more informed business decisions is excellent and will propel the transition from today’s ChatGPT to an even more powerful future we might dub “DecisionGPT.”
The great strength of ChatGPT and similar systems is to compare and contrast similar situations. This is precisely the most important need in many management decisions. Very few of the decisions managers face are unique. Thousands, sometimes even millions, of managers before them have had to make a similar choice. The better it is described in human language how they set the decision-making framework, weigh the options, and make their decision, the easier it is for DecisionGPT to become a powerful tool for more informed decision-making.
Eventually, many such management decisions could be automated. Robo-managers could be deployed sooner and more often than many executives in their corner offices may believe today.
In the meantime, though, the advantage will go to managers who use currently available tools to improve their decision-making process. Don’t ask models like ChatGPT for answers; probe them to each stage of the decision-making process.
- TR Thomas Ramge has authored more than fifteen books about technology, innovation, and decision-making and has won numerous publishing awards.
- VM Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the University of Oxford.
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Shaq makes his kids write a business plan before he gives them any money. He believes 'respectable nepotism' will help them thrive.
- NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal has earned hundreds of millions of dollars throughout his career.
- He told Insider he uses "respectable nepotism" to help his 6 kids thrive in their careers.
- His kids must present a "business plan" and do their "due diligence" before he'll give them money.
Shaquille O'Neal — one of the greatest and most handsomely compensated basketball players of all time — earned a whopping $300 million during his illustrious NBA career.
Inspired by a technique he learned from Jeff Bezos, the four-time champion, 15-time All-Star, and eight-time All-NBA First Team selection made some shrewd investments that he says "probably quadrupled" his net worth . He's known to be incredibly generous with his money , but he's also careful.
And just because he's amassed generational wealth doesn't mean his money will automatically wind up in the hands of his six children.
"I'm not just gonna give you money for a party," Shaq told Insider, referring to his kids.
Instead, he adheres to a philosophy "called respectable nepotism," the 7-foot-1 Hall of Famer told Insider. If his children — who range from 17 to 27 years old — request money from their dad, he says they need to present a "business plan" and do their "due diligence" before he'll even consider giving them the funds.
"Since you want me to be the bank, I'm gonna do exactly what the bank is going to do to you," Shaq said.
Much like his Bezos investment ideology, his "respectable nepotism" theory has paid off in several instances. When his oldest son, Myles, expressed interest in starting a career as a DJ, Shaq saw considerable potential.
"I said, 'Alright, I'll help you get the equipment,'" the Los Angeles Lakers legend recalled. "And he's killing it."
In the years since, Myles has headlined shows across the United States, toured with some of the biggest stars of electronic music, and even held a residency at Wynn Las Vegas, according to his agency . His dad, who moonlights as a DJ himself , calls Myles "one of the top DJs in the world." And while that may not be the universal sentiment just yet, the budding star is well on his way to stardom.
"And he's done it by himself," Shaq said. "I'm proud of him."
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Myles O'Neal (@mylesoneal)
Shaq's eldest daughter, Taahirah, has already graduated college and embarked on a career in corporate communications, according to People . His son, Shareef, spent several years playing college basketball at UCLA and his father's alma mater, LSU, before taking his talents to the NBA G League.
But Shaq's other three kids — Amirah, Shaqir, and Me'arah — are still in school and "haven't really pitched anything" just yet. He's hopeful that he can "bribe" his daughters to continue their schooling beyond bachelor's degrees.
"I'm like, 'If you go to law school and graduate, you get a big bag,'" Shaq told Insider with a chuckle. "Because out of my six, they're the smartest; they're the ones that are probably gonna run the company."
"So I'm trying to bribe all of them like, 'Hey, just go to law school for me and I'll give you whatever you want,'" he added.
Microsoft Copilot Cheat Sheet: Complete Guide for 2023
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This comprehensive guide about Microsoft Copilot includes details about the AI product's benefits, pricing, functional integrations and alternatives.
The practical application of generative artificial intelligence has gone from an abstract, future concept to a concrete reality in a matter of mere months. Businesses and organizations large and small are scrambling to figure out if and how AI can help their people be more productive and efficient. For organizations using Microsoft software, the application of AI in a business environment is being led by the Microsoft Copilot platform.
Businesses at the enterprise level are also looking for ways AI can leverage the massive amounts of data generated daily by their organizations in increasingly productive ways. Many believe that such a massive undertaking can only be accomplished by a competent AI platform. Microsoft Copilot, with its integration into Microsoft 365, Azure, Windows and enterprise-wide data streams, is purported to be the AI that unlocks the creative and productive potential of an organization’s people and data.
What is Microsoft Copilot?
What are business benefits to using microsoft copilot, how does microsoft plan to integrate copilot into its applications, what are potential problems and caveats with microsoft copilot, what are the alternatives to microsoft copilot, how much does microsoft copilot cost, which businesses should consider microsoft copilot, and which should not, when will microsoft copilot be available.
Microsoft Copilot is a new AI product that combines the power of large language models with in-house enterprise data generated by the Microsoft Graph and Microsoft 365 applications. Using the power of AI and natural language conversations, users can find better answers to their questions and potentially create content from those answers. Copilot was developed on the ChatGPT platform and announced as an in-development platform at the July 2023 Microsoft Inspire conference .
There are two versions of Copilot: Microsoft 365 Copilot and a more general Microsoft Copilot. It is important to note that Microsoft 365 Copilot is different from the consumer and small business-oriented Copilot platform found in Bing Chat or non-enterprise versions of Microsoft 365. These Copilot LLMs are trained on more generalized aggregate data gathered across the internet and therefore tend to have more generalized results. Microsoft 365 Copilot will be dependent on the data generated by a specific, and only a specific, enterprise.
Microsoft 365 Copilot will be dependent on in-house, enterprise-generated data, while the more general Microsoft Copilot will use aggregate data pulled from the internet.
Both Copilot versions will be embedded in the Microsoft 365 apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Teams. This complete Microsoft 365 integration will allow an organization’s workers to be more creative and unlock productivity gains and potentially improve their skills. In addition, Microsoft 365 Copilot will add AI-enabled Business Chat to the productivity suite, which will work across enterprise-specific data like calendars, emails, chats, documents, meetings and contacts to help employees communicate easier and better.
Assuming Microsoft Copilot works as advertised, an employee could jump-start a project (e.g., email, presentation, report, data visualization) with an AI-generated first draft. With that foundation, the employee can quickly move on to refining and iterating a second draft and then a final draft, cutting at least one step from the process. This should make the employee more efficient and productive, and it could allow for the development of new skills.
For Microsoft 365 Copilot, the key to these productivity gains will be the application of enterprise-specific data to the new project from the start. Using data internally generated by the enterprise from emails, documents, calendars, contacts and so on, presumably the project will be jump-started with limited, and more importantly, pertinent assets.
SEE: Hiring kit: Prompt engineer (TechRepublic Premium)
For example, if an enterprise employee at Ford is creating a presentation that needs to show movement, the AI – if properly trained – should use a Ford-related product rather than a similar product from one of its competitors. An AI trained by data culled from the internet may come to a different conclusion and defeat the purpose of deploying enterprise-specific generative AI.
Copilot will be integrated into the fabric of all Microsoft 365 applications. When an employee starts a Word document, reads an email in Outlook, opens an Excel report or updates a PowerPoint presentation, Copilot and its generative AI abilities will be there to assist when called upon.
The specifics of how each Microsoft 365 application will use Copilot are still in development, and many use cases will likely only be discovered when users can actually use the platform. However, Microsoft has outlined some of its basic ideas for Copilot in a business environment .
Below are examples of commands a user might give Microsoft Copilot.
Copilot in Word
- Draft a two-page project proposal based on data gleaned from a Word document (i.e., either the one you are currently working on or one that you specify by name) and an Excel worksheet.
- Make the third paragraph in the current document more concise and change the tone of the document to be more casual.
- Create a one-page draft based on this rough outline.
Copilot in Excel
- Break down this sales data by type and channel and then insert a table.
- Project the impact of a variable change in this data and then generate a chart to help visualize it.
- Model how a change to the growth rate for a variable would impact my gross margin.
Copilot in PowerPoint
- Create a five-slide presentation based on this Word document and include relevant stock photos.
- Consolidate this presentation into a three-slide summary.
- Reformat these three bullets (in a specific PowerPoint presentation) into three columns, each with a picture.
Copilot in Outlook
- Summarize the emails missed while out of the office last week and flag any important items.
- Draft a response thanking the senders of an email and asking for more details about their second and third points.
- Shorten a draft email and make the tone more professional.
- Invite everyone to a lunch-and-learn about new product launches next Thursday at noon. Mention that lunch is provided.
Copilot in Business Chat
- Summarize the chats, emails and documents about the topic being discussed.
- What is the next milestone for a project? What risks were identified? Brainstorm a list of potential mitigations.
- Write a new planning overview in the style of this (specified existing) document that contains the planning timeline from a different document and incorporate the project list in the email from this person (specifying a user’s name).
All AI platforms are only as good as their training; if Microsoft Copilot is modeled after data that is incomplete, biased, wrong or otherwise corrupt, the suggestions it generates, regardless of who is asking, will be incomplete, biased, wrong or otherwise corrupt. The old adage of garbage in equals garbage out still applies.
For Microsoft 365 Copilot, training will be particularly important because all the data used for that Copilot AI platform will be internally generated and gathered. Enterprises looking to properly apply AI will have to carefully monitor the data Copilot can access. For example, a business may not want brainstorming documents and meeting notes to be part of the data stream; rejected ideas may taint the data stream and propagate throughout the organization.
For general versions of Microsoft Copilot, organizations and users will have to be aware that inherent biases, fads, misguided trends and other transitory events will likely color some of the AI-generated output. Not every passing fancy on the internet should make its way into official organizational documents.
In addition to this potential problem, especially for Microsoft 365 Copilot implementations, is the tendency of some departments to silo their data behind firewalls. New products and services developing under non-disclosure agreements, for example, will often be cut off from the normal organizational data stream. Businesses will have to decide whether hiding data from the AI in such cases is more beneficial than allowing AI access.
The most important caveat for Microsoft Copilot is the platform is still in development. The use cases outlined by Microsoft at the 2023 Inspire conference are the company’s visions of how the platform will work. Once Copilot is released to the public, what the AI platform is capable of, good or bad, will be revealed. Until then, we will be dealing with potential and perhaps some wishful marketing.
Generative AI is arguably the hottest trend in technology innovation for 2023, so it stands to reason there are many new and in-development AI platforms ready to compete with Microsoft Copilot.
Even though Copilot is based on ChatGPT, the AI chatbot is available as a standalone platform and therefore should be considered a competitor. AI is already incorporated into Microsoft Edge in the form of Bing Chat, and an AI has recently been released for the Google search engine and Chrome . Technology experts have reported that Apple is developing its own AI platform. It seems that AI will be integrated into just about every digital application we use on a computing device.
Major tech companies including Salesforce , Oracle and Adobe are all working on AI platforms. There are also dozens of smaller independent developers working on their own versions of an AI platform. Plus, there are a multitude of AI competitors working on specialized platforms that will bind LLMs and generative AI principles to specific applications. Businesses will likely spend a lot of time wading through AI platform possibilities.
As revealed during the 2023 Inspire conference, Microsoft 365 Copilot will cost $30/user/month. At first glance, this price point seems expensive, but it is vital to remember this version of the platform is designed for large business enterprises. For a large enterprise with thousands of employees, and assuming the platform delivers what Microsoft promises, that $30 could end up being a bargain. That is a big assumption to make at this early point in development.
The consumer and SMB versions of Microsoft Copilot will likely be priced lower than the enterprise counterpart. Bing Chat , which is also based on ChatGPT, is available now and for free as an integral part of Microsoft Edge. It is also likely that some features restricted or otherwise modified version of Copilot will be available for SMBs too small to have meaningful in-house generated data available to train the AI platform.
The pricing for all the versions of Microsoft Copilot is likely to change as development of the platform continues. With the large number of competitors in the AI platform space, it seems almost certain the cost of these services will change significantly.
At $30/user/month, only certain large enterprises will be able to afford large numbers of employees subscribing to the Microsoft 365 Copilot platform. In addition to the subscription fee, such employers will also have to account for the extra expenses associated with generating, collecting and collating accurate and useful data for the AI and LLMs to train on. This is a major undertaking, and the decision to implement the Copilot platform will take a significant commitment.
Large enterprises will have to decide whether the productivity benefits of using the Microsoft 365 Copilot platform outweigh the initial costs of developing and maintaining the platform – and then paying for it indefinitely.
For individuals and small businesses with little to no LLM-ready data, the consumer level versions of Microsoft Copilot is available for free. Bing Chat is already available in Microsoft Edge for everyone. Some form of low-cost or no-cost version of Copilot will likely be available for certain versions of Microsoft 365.
Only time will tell if the generative AI capabilities of Copilot are worth the time necessary to use them.
As of August 2023, Microsoft Copilot is in the testing phase of development. A limited number of organizations and Microsoft Insiders are testing the AI and providing feedback on what works and what does not work.
There is currently no officially announced release date for any version of Microsoft Copilot. Visit Microsoft Copilot
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- Microsoft Build 2023: Microsoft extends its Copilots with open standard plugins (TechRepublic)
- How to hide the Discover button and Copilot in Microsoft Edge (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft adds Copilot AI productivity bot to 365 suite (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft’s First Generative AI Certificate Is Available for Free (TechRepublic)
- Artificial Intelligence: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)
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