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Writing a Business Plan
While it may be tempting to put off, creating a business plan is an essential part of starting your own business. Plans and proposals should be put in a clear format making it easy for potential investors to understand. Because every company has a different goal and product or service to offer, there are business plan templates readily available to help you get on the right track. Many of these templates can be adapted for any company. In general, a business plan writing guide will recommend that the following sections be incorporated into your plan.
The executive summary is the first section that business plans open with, but is often the last section to actually be written as it’s the most difficult to write. The executive summary is a summary of the overall plan that highlights the key points and gives the reader an idea of what lies ahead in the document. It should include areas such as the business opportunity, target market, marketing and sales strategy, competition, the summary of the financial plan, staff members and a summary of how the plan will be implemented. This section needs to be extremely clear, concise and engaging as you don’t want the reader to push your hard work aside.
The company description follows the executive summary and should cover all the details about the company itself. For example, if you are writing a business plan for an internet café, you would want to include the name of the company, where the café would be located, who the main team members involved are and why, how large the company is, who the target market for the internet cafe is, what type of business structure the café is, such as LLC, sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation, what the internet café business mission and vision statements are, and what the business’s short-term objectives are.
Services and Products
This is the exciting part of the plan where you get to explain what new and improved services or products you are offering. On top of describing the product or service itself, include in the plan what is currently in the market in this area, what problems there are in this area and how your product is the solution. For example, in a business plan for a food truck, perhaps there are numerous other food trucks in the area, but they are all fast –food style and unhealthy so, you want to introduce fast food that serves only organic and fresh ingredients every day. This is where you can also list your price points and future products or services you anticipate.
The market analysis section will take time to write and research as a lot of effort and research need to go into it. Here is where you have the opportunity to describe what trends are showing up, what the growth rate in this sector looks like, what the current size of this industry is and who your target audience is. A cleaning business plan, for example, may include how this sector has been growing by 10% every year due to an increase in large businesses being built in the city.
Organization and Management
Marketing and sales are the part of the business plan where you explain how you will attract and retain clients. How are you reaching your target customers and what incentives do you offer that will keep them coming back? For a dry cleaner business plan, perhaps if they refer customers, they will get 10% off their next visit. In addition, you may want to explain what needs to be done in order for the business to be profitable. This is a great way of showing that you are conscious about what clear steps need to be taken to make a business successful.
Financial Projections & Appendix
The financial business plan section can be a tricky one to write as it is based on projections. Usually what is included is the short-term projection, which is a year broken down by month and should include start-up permits, equipment, and licenses that are required. This is followed by a three-year projection broken down by year and many often write a five-year projection, but this does not need to be included in the business plan.
The appendix is the last section and contains all the supporting documents and/or required material. This often includes resumes of those involved in the company, letters of reference, product pictures and credit histories. Keep in mind that your business plan is always in development and should be adjusted regularly as your business grows and changes.
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How to Choose a Phone Plan for Your Business
Every company needs an effective phone plan for their business. It’s important for all your employees to be able to communicate with each other. You also need to ensure that you can take phone calls from clients when they need to reach you. There are many office, VoIP and cell plans available, and your choice depends on what’s best for you. Here’s how to choose the best phone plan for your business.
The Types of Business Plan
If you’re looking for the perfect business phone plan, you need to think about which will benefit your organization most. There are loads to choose from and each have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s essential for businesses to have the best communications systems, because without this you’ll lose potential customers. Many people choose systems based on their convenience, but also look at how effective they are, the costs and if the system is up to date.
With so many options, businesses rarely know where to start. However, your primary goals will enable you to find the best phone plan for your business. Do you have a large team and need a strong internal communications system? Is saving money your primary goal? Here are some business phone plans, and their benefits.
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
VoIP is taking over the business world, and many companies are ditching their landline service for the internet-based phone solutions. While making international calls on landlines is expensive, VoIP enables you to call anywhere in the world for no extra cost. Phone calls take place over the internet, and you can reach your employees wherever they are.
There are many VoIP solutions, including basic packages, options for mid-sized businesses and high-end solutions. It’s important to think about which solution is best for your business and avoid any hidden costs associated with high-end solutions. VoIP is great for companies and there is a range of technological benefits you won’t find with other providers. Search online to find the best VoIP providers.
Private Branch Exchange (PBX)
PBX uses hardware to route all calls through the office to and from a central connection. It connects all employees and enables easy transfers. PBX has many benefits, including its cost-effective solutions. Employees can make internal calls without the needs of connecting to an external network. This means that businesses can save money on phone calls, which is especially useful for small companies.
There are automatic capabilities, meaning PBX systems can automatically route calls. Basically, PBX offers an all-in-one solution, but it isn’t as technologically convenient as VoIP solutions. It depends on your needs, but remember PBX systems are best if you use over 12 phone lines. Smaller businesses might find that installing and maintaining a PBX system is too expensive.
Small businesses have one thing on their mind; money. They need to find cost-effective solutions to grow their business, but not bankrupt them. Most small companies use manual key-systems to route phone calls. As you add more lines, you’ll find a manual system less convenient and harder to manage.
Key systems are great when businesses are starting out, but if your business is growing then it’s best to choose between a PBX or VoIP solution. There are many positives to manual key systems, and providers are combining technology with the systems to make them better for small business owners to maximize their internal and external communications.
Is the price right? That’s what you should be considering. Many phone providers will offer comprehensive packages for both office and cell use. Combining these will save you money in the long-term and enable you to streamline your communication procedure. The more technology you want, the higher the price. You should weigh up the benefits of cost and convenience when making your decision.
Speak to providers and ask them what bundles they offer. You’ll want to supply your employees with cell phones if they travel out of the office regularly. Choosing a phone system doesn’t have to be complicated if you know what you’re looking for and consider your price limits.
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Making a Risk Management Plan for Your Business
It’s impossible to eliminate all business risk. Therefore, it’s essential for having a plan for its management. You’ll be developing one covering compliance, environmental, financial, operational and reputation risk management. These guidelines are for making a risk management plan for your business.
Developing Your Executive Summary
When you start the risk management plan with an executive summary, you’re breaking apart what it will be compromised of into easy to understand chunks. Even though this summary is the project’s high-level overview, the goal is describing the risk management plan’s approach and scope. In doing so, you’re informing all stakeholders regarding what to expect when they’re reviewing these plans so that they can set their expectations appropriately.
Who Are the Stakeholders and What Potential Problems Need Identifying?
During this phase of making the risk management plan, you’re going to need to have a team meeting. Every member of the team must be vocal regarding what they believe could be potential problems or risks. Stakeholders should also be involved in this meeting as well to help you collect ideas regarding what could become a potential risk. All who are participating should look at past projects, what went wrong, what is going wrong in current projects and what everyone hopes to achieve from what they learned from these experiences. During this session, you’ll be creating a sample risk management plan that begins to outline risk management standards and risk management strategies.
Evaluate the Potential Risks Identified
A myriad of internal and external sources can pose as risks including commercial, management and technical, for example. When you’re identifying what these potential risks are and have your list complete, the next step is organizing it according to importance and likelihood. Categorize each risk according to how it could impact your project. For example, does the risk threaten to throw off timelines or budgets? Using a risk breakdown structure is an effective way to help ensure all potential risks are effectively categorized and considered. Use of this risk management plan template keeps everything organized and paints a clear picture of everything you’re identifying.
Assign Ownership and Create Responses
It’s essential to ensure a team member is overseeing each potential risk. That way, they can jump into action should an issue occur. Those who are assigned a risk, as well as the project manager, should work as a team to develop responses before problems arise. That way, if there are issues, the person overseeing the risk can refer to the response that was predetermined.
Have a System for Monitoring
Having effective risk management companies plans includes having a system for monitoring. It’s not wise to develop a security risk management or compliance risk management plan, for example, without having a system for monitoring. What this means is there’s a system for monitoring in place to ensure risk doesn’t occur until the project is finished. In doing so, you’re ensuring no new risks will potentially surface. If one does, like during the IT risk management process, for example, your team will know how to react.
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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step
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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.
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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.
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Start » startup, writing a business plan here’s how to do it, step by step.
At the foundation of every strong business is a solid business plan. Looking to develop a business plan for your new venture? Here’s what to include in each step.
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At the foundation of every strong business is a solid business plan. A business plan outlines important information regarding a company’s operations and goals, and serves as a blueprint for how to achieve those goals. This document not only helps entrepreneurs think through and research their venture thoroughly, it also demonstrates to investors the viability of the business idea.
If you’re looking to develop a business plan for your new venture, it’s important to include all the necessary information. Here are the nine sections to include in a strong business plan, step by step.
1. Executive summary.
Your business plan should begin with an executive summary, which outlines what your company is about and why it will succeed. This section includes your mission statement, a brief description of the product or service you are offering, a summary of your plans and basic logistical details about your team.
2. Company description.
Your company description should further detail the logistics of your business, such as its registered name, address and key people involved. Here, you should also provide specific information about your product or service, including who your business serves and what problem you solve for that population.
3. Market analysis.
Conducting thorough market research can help you understand the nature of your industry, as well as how to stand out from competitors. Include a summary of your research findings in this section. Consider any trends or themes that emerge, what other successful businesses in the field are doing (or failing to do) and how your business can do better.
[Read: How to Conduct a Market Analysis ]
4. Organization and management.
This section should include your business’s legal structure — for example, whether you are incorporating as an S or C corporation, forming a partnership or operating as an LLC or sole proprietor. Provide pertinent information on your leadership team and other key employees, including each relevant individual’s percent of ownership and extent of involvement.
Describe how you will attract and retain your customer base, including what makes you stand out from competitors, and detail the actual sales process.
Your product or service is the crux of your business idea, so you’ll want to ensure you make a strong case for it being on the market. Use this section to elaborate on your product or service throughout its life cycle, including how it works, who it serves, what it costs and why it is better than the competition. If you have any pending or current intellectual property, include this information here. You can also detail any research and development for your product or service in this section.
6. Marketing and sales.
In this section, you should explain what your marketing and sales strategies are, and how you will execute them. (Note that these strategies will likely evolve over time, and you can always make adjustments as needed.) Describe how you will attract and retain your customer base, including what makes you stand out from competitors, and detail the actual sales process.
[Read: 5 KPIs to Measure Your Business’s Marketing Success ]
7. Funding request.
If you’re seeking funding, this section is critical for investors to understand the level of funding you need. Specify what type of funding you need (debt or equity) and how much, as well as how that capital will be used. You should also include information on any future financial plans, such as selling your business or paying off debts.
8. Financial projections.
The goal of your financial projections section is to show that your business is viable and worth the investment. Offer a financial forecast for the next five years, using information from current or projected income statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements to support it. Graphs and charts can be an especially helpful tool in visualizing your business’s finances.
Finally, use the appendix for any information that could not fit or did not apply to other sections of the document. Information such as employee resumes, permits, credit history and receipts are often included in this section. If you have a long appendix, consider adding a table of contents to make it easier for the reader.
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What Is a Business Plan?
Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, common elements of a business plan, how often should a business plan be updated, the bottom line, 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.
A business plan is a document that details a company's goals and how it intends to achieve them. Business plans can be of benefit to both startups and well-established companies. For startups, a business plan can be essential for winning over potential lenders and investors. Established businesses can find one useful for staying on track and not losing sight of their goals. This article explains what an effective business plan needs to include and how to write one.
- A business plan is a document describing a company's business activities and how it plans to achieve its goals.
- Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
- For established companies, a business plan can help keep the executive team focused on and working toward the company's short- and long-term objectives.
- There is no single format that a business plan must follow, but there are certain key elements that most companies will want to include.
Investopedia / Ryan Oakley
Any new business should have a business plan in place prior to beginning operations. In fact, banks and venture capital firms often want to see a business plan before they'll consider making a loan or providing capital to new businesses.
Even if a business isn't looking to raise additional money, a business plan can help it focus on its goals. A 2017 Harvard Business Review article reported that, "Entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than the otherwise identical nonplanning entrepreneurs."
Ideally, a business plan should be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect any goals that have been achieved or that may have changed. An established business that has decided to move in a new direction might create an entirely new business plan for itself.
There are numerous benefits to creating (and sticking to) a well-conceived business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and highlighting any potential obstacles to success. A company might also share its business plan with trusted outsiders to get their objective feedback. In addition, a business plan can help keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and priorities.
Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they often have some of the same basic elements, as we describe below.
While it's a good idea to provide as much detail as necessary, it's also important that a business plan be concise enough to hold a reader's attention to the end.
While there are any number of templates that you can use to write a business plan, it's best to try to avoid producing a generic-looking one. Let your plan reflect the unique personality of your business.
Many business plans use some combination of the sections below, with varying levels of detail, depending on the company.
The length of a business plan can vary greatly from business to business. Regardless, it's best to fit the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and attached as appendices.
These are some of the most common elements in many business plans:
- Executive summary: This section introduces the company and includes its mission statement along with relevant information about the company's leadership, employees, operations, and locations.
- Products and services: Here, the company should describe the products and services it offers or plans to introduce. That might include details on pricing, product lifespan, and unique benefits to the consumer. Other factors that could go into this section include production and manufacturing processes, any relevant 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 company needs to have a good handle on the current state of its industry and the existing competition. This section should explain where the company fits in, what types of customers it plans to target, and how easy or difficult it may be to take market share from incumbents.
- Marketing strategy: This section can describe how the company plans to attract and keep customers, including any anticipated advertising and marketing campaigns. It should also describe the distribution channel or channels it will use to get its products or services to consumers.
- Financial plans and projections: Established businesses can include financial statements, balance sheets, and other relevant financial information. New businesses can provide financial targets and estimates for the first few years. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making.
The best business plans aren't generic ones created from easily accessed templates. A company should aim to entice readers with a plan that demonstrates its uniqueness and potential for success.
2 Types of Business Plans
Business plans can take many forms, but they are sometimes divided into two basic categories: traditional and lean startup. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the more common of the two.
- Traditional business plans : These plans tend to be much longer than lean startup plans and contain considerably more detail. As a result they require more work on the part of the business, but they can also be more persuasive (and reassuring) to potential investors.
- Lean startup business plans : These use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans are short—as short as one page—and provide only the most basic detail. If a company wants to use this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or a lender requests it.
Why Do Business Plans Fail?
A business plan is not a surefire recipe for success. The plan may have been unrealistic in its assumptions and projections to begin with. Markets and the overall economy might change in ways that couldn't have been foreseen. A competitor might introduce a revolutionary new product or service. All of this calls for building some flexibility into your plan, so you can pivot to a new course if needed.
How frequently a business plan needs to be revised will depend on the nature of the business. A well-established business might want to review its plan once a year and make changes if necessary. A new or fast-growing business in a fiercely competitive market might want to revise it more often, such as quarterly.
What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?
The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers to give a quick explanation of its business. For example, a brand-new company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide yet.
Sections can include: a value proposition ; the company's major activities and advantages; resources such as staff, intellectual property, and capital; a list of partnerships; customer segments; and revenue sources.
A business plan can be useful to companies of all kinds. But as a company grows and the world around it changes, so too should its business plan. So don't think of your business plan as carved in granite but as a living document designed to evolve with your business.
Harvard Business Review. " Research: Writing a Business Plan Makes Your Startup More Likely to Succeed ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
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How to Write a Winning Business Plan
- Stanley R. Rich
- David E. Gumpert
The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won’t even grant an interview. And the plan must be outstanding if it is to win investment funds. Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat […]
The Idea in Brief
You’ve got a great idea for a new product or service—how can you persuade investors to support it? Flashy PowerPoint slides aren’t enough; you need a winning business plan. A compelling plan accurately reflects the viewpoints of your three key constituencies: the market , potential investors , and the producer (the entrepreneur or inventor of the new offering).
But too many plans are written solely from the perspective of the producer. The problem is that, unless you’ve got your own capital to finance your venture, the only way you’ll get the funding you need is to satisfy the market’s and investors’ needs.
Here’s how to grab their attention.
The Idea in Practice
Emphasize Market Needs
To make a convincing case that a substantial market exists, establish market interest and document your claims.
Establish market interest. Provide evidence that customers are intrigued by your claims about the benefits of the new product or service:
- Let some customers use a product prototype; then get written evaluations.
- Offer the product to a few potential customers at a deep discount if they pay part of the production cost. This lets you determine whether potential buyers even exist.
- Use “reference installations”—statements from initial users, sales reps, distributors, and would-be customers who have seen the product demonstrated.
Document your claims. You’ve established market interest. Now use data to support your assertions about potential growth rates of sales and profits.
- Specify the number of potential customers, the size of their businesses, and the size that is most appropriate to your offering. Remember: Bigger isn’t necessarily better; e.g., saving $10,000 per year in chemical use may mean a lot to a modest company but not to a Du Pont.
- Show the nature of the industry; e.g., franchised weight-loss clinics might grow fast, but they can decline rapidly when competition stiffens. State how you will continually innovate to survive.
- Project realistic growth rates at which customers will accept—and buy—your offering. From there, assemble a credible sales plan and project plant and staffing needs.
Address Investor Needs
Cashing out. Show when and how investors may liquidate their holdings. Venture capital firms usually want to cash out in three to seven years; professional investors look for a large capital appreciation.
Making sound projections. Give realistic, five-year forecasts of profitability. Don’t skimp on the numbers, get overly optimistic about them, or blanket your plan with a smog of figures covering every possible variation.
The price. To figure out how much to invest in your offering, investors calculate your company’s value on the basis of results expected five years after they invest. They’ll want a 35 to 40% return for mature companies—up to 60% for less mature ventures. To make a convincing case for a rich return, get a product in the hands of representative customers—and demonstrate substantial market interest.
A comprehensive, carefully thought-out business plan is essential to the success of entrepreneurs and corporate managers. Whether you are starting up a new business, seeking additional capital for existing product lines, or proposing a new activity in a corporate division, you will never face a more challenging writing assignment than the preparation of a business plan.
- SR Mr. Rich has helped found seven technologically based businesses, the most recent being Advanced Energy Dynamics Inc. of Natick, Massachusetts. He is also a cofounder and has been chairman of the MIT Enterprise forum, which assists emerging growth companies.
- DG Mr. Gumpert is an associate editor of HBR, where he specializes in small business and marketing. He has written several HBR articles, the most recent of which was “The Heart of Entrepreneurship,” coauthored by Howard. H. Stevenson (March–April 1985). This article is adapted from Business Plans That Win $$$ : Lessons from the MIT Enterprise Forum, by Messrs. Rich and Gumpert (Harper & Row, 1985). The authors are also founders of Venture Resource Associates of Grantham, New Hampshire, which provides planning and strategic services to growing enterprises.
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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