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6 Business Plan Fundamentals A downturn is a good time to make sure you've got the fundamentals covered.
By Tim Berry • Mar 31, 2009
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
I've always liked the idea of turning back to fundamentals when you need a special boost--like when times get tough. A downturn is a good time to review fundamentals, keeping in mind that your business plan isn't good or bad because it helps or doesn't help your business grow and prosper.
A better way to gauge the value of your business plan is in the growth it encourages and the decisions it spurs. When writing or revising your business plan, make sure you've got the following six business planning tips covered:
1. Start with a good look at your planning needs in your business. Do you need a printed document to show outsiders?
If you do, then develop the document to serve its readers and meet its purpose. Spelling, editing and page layout matter because they represent you and your company to readers. For example, a plan for investors should show a solid exit strategy and good discussions of defensibility, potential market growth and your management team. Likewise, a plan to support a bank loan should contain financial history and owners' financial information.
If you're just planning your own business and not showing a document to outsiders, simplify it to serve your internal planning process. Don't include business descriptions and supporting information that only outsiders will read. For example, why deal with professional backgrounds of the managers, if outsiders won't be reading it? Why bother with a flowery advertising-oriented product or service description?
2. Cut your outline down to what you'll use. Start with a standard outline, and then delete unnecessary sections. Don't include what doesn't help you and your management team work better. For example:
- The spit and polish. Why sweat over the editing, the wording, or the page formatting when a plan isn't going to be read by outsiders?
- Exit strategy. Vital for investors, but awkwardly out of place for a small bootstrapping startup.
- Backgrounds of managers. Why would you describe yourselves to yourselves? This is only needed when a plan is for outsiders.
3. Write simply and practically. Use simple bullet points to record key concepts so you can refer back to them to track results.
4. Emphasize the kind of metrics--sales, costs of sales, expenses, leads, presentations, calls, units, prospects, whatever--that will lead to useful plan reviews each month. Strive for visibility of performance, so you get accountability and management as a result. Metrics like these--concrete and measurable--help you track progress against the plan later. They also help guard against "blue sky" planning, which is purely conceptual, and lacks specifics to make it real. Ask yourself, point by point in the plan, "and how will we know, later, how we're doing on this?"
5. Keep the plan alive with regular revisions, but keep it short and manageable. It isn't a market research paper or a graduate thesis, it's a plan.
Don't measure it in pages, but in readability. Just to cite a specific example, a 30-page plan with readable fonts and a lot of useful bar charts and tables might be much more readable than a 15-page plan of dense text only. Don't skimp on charts: pies and bars and line charts make numbers easier to understand. And don't skimp on tables: monthly projections of any and all important metrics are very good for following up later.
How big is a good plan? Does it describe strategy well enough to lead to good business decisions? Does it describe the market well enough to generate effective marketing strategies? Then it's big enough. It might not even be a single document; maybe it's a combination of some spreadsheets, some slides, and some bullet point texts.
Remember, things will change. Your real plan belongs on a computer, not on paper. Market assumptions, strategies and metrics have to change. Plan to review them each month, and change them as necessary.
6. Store a business plan on your computer as a starting point for the occasional elevator speech or business pitch. Standardize your talking points and make them serve your long-term strategy.
I hope you see how both fundamentals apply to business planning more than ever. Don't create a business plan that's longer than absolutely necessary. At the same time, don't start, run or grow a business without a plan you can review and revise to keep you on track.
Entrepreneur, Business Planner and Angel Investor
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Write your business plan
Business plans help you run your business.
A good business plan guides you through each stage of starting and managing your business. You’ll use your business plan as a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your new business. It’s a way to think through the key elements of your business.
Business plans can help you get funding or bring on new business partners. Investors want to feel confident they’ll see a return on their investment. Your business plan is the tool you’ll use to convince people that working with you — or investing in your company — is a smart choice.
Pick a business plan format that works for you
There’s no right or wrong way to write a business plan. What’s important is that your plan meets your needs.
Most business plans fall into one of two common categories: traditional or lean startup.
Traditional business plans are more common, use a standard structure, and encourage you to go into detail in each section. They tend to require more work upfront and can be dozens of pages long.
Lean startup business plans are less common but still use a standard structure. They focus on summarizing only the most important points of the key elements of your plan. They can take as little as one hour to make and are typically only one page.
Traditional business plan
Lean startup plan
Traditional business plan format
You might prefer a traditional business plan format if you’re very detail-oriented, want a comprehensive plan, or plan to request financing from traditional sources.
When you write your business plan, you don’t have to stick to the exact business plan outline. Instead, use the sections that make the most sense for your business and your needs. Traditional business plans use some combination of these nine sections.
Briefly tell your reader what your company is and why it will be successful. Include your mission statement, your product or service, and basic information about your company’s leadership team, employees, and location. You should also include financial information and high-level growth plans if you plan to ask for financing.
Use your company description to provide detailed information about your company. Go into detail about the problems your business solves. Be specific, and list out the consumers, organization, or businesses your company plans to serve.
Explain the competitive advantages that will make your business a success. Are there experts on your team? Have you found the perfect location for your store? Your company description is the place to boast about your strengths.
You'll need a good understanding of your industry outlook and target market. Competitive research will show you what other businesses are doing and what their strengths are. In your market research, look for trends and themes. What do successful competitors do? Why does it work? Can you do it better? Now's the time to answer these questions.
Organization and management
Tell your reader how your company will be structured and who will run it.
Describe the legal structure of your business. State whether you have or intend to incorporate your business as a C or an S corporation, form a general or limited partnership, or if you're a sole proprietor or limited liability company (LLC).
Use an organizational chart to lay out who's in charge of what in your company. Show how each person's unique experience will contribute to the success of your venture. Consider including resumes and CVs of key members of your team.
Service or product line
Describe what you sell or what service you offer. Explain how it benefits your customers and what the product lifecycle looks like. Share your plans for intellectual property, like copyright or patent filings. If you're doing research and development for your service or product, explain it in detail.
Marketing and sales
There's no single way to approach a marketing strategy. Your strategy should evolve and change to fit your unique needs.
Your goal in this section is to describe how you'll attract and retain customers. You'll also describe how a sale will actually happen. You'll refer to this section later when you make financial projections, so make sure to thoroughly describe your complete marketing and sales strategies.
If you're asking for funding, this is where you'll outline your funding requirements. Your goal is to clearly explain how much funding you’ll need over the next five years and what you'll use it for.
Specify whether you want debt or equity, the terms you'd like applied, and the length of time your request will cover. Give a detailed description of how you'll use your funds. Specify if you need funds to buy equipment or materials, pay salaries, or cover specific bills until revenue increases. Always include a description of your future strategic financial plans, like paying off debt or selling your business.
Supplement your funding request with financial projections. Your goal is to convince the reader that your business is stable and will be a financial success.
If your business is already established, include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for the last three to five years. If you have other collateral you could put against a loan, make sure to list it now.
Provide a prospective financial outlook for the next five years. Include forecasted income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. For the first year, be even more specific and use quarterly — or even monthly — projections. Make sure to clearly explain your projections, and match them to your funding requests.
This is a great place to use graphs and charts to tell the financial story of your business.
Use your appendix to provide supporting documents or other materials were specially requested. Common items to include are credit histories, resumes, product pictures, letters of reference, licenses, permits, patents, legal documents, and other contracts.
Example traditional business plans
Before you write your business plan, read the following example business plans written by fictional business owners. Rebecca owns a consulting firm, and Andrew owns a toy company.
Lean startup format
You might prefer a lean startup format if you want to explain or start your business quickly, your business is relatively simple, or you plan to regularly change and refine your business plan.
Lean startup formats are charts that use only a handful of elements to describe your company’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. They’re useful for visualizing tradeoffs and fundamental facts about your company.
There are different ways to develop a lean startup template. You can search the web to find free templates to build your business plan. We discuss nine components of a model business plan here:
Note the other businesses or services you’ll work with to run your business. Think about suppliers, manufacturers, subcontractors, and similar strategic partners.
List the ways your business will gain a competitive advantage. Highlight things like selling direct to consumers, or using technology to tap into the sharing economy.
List any resource you’ll leverage to create value for your customer. Your most important assets could include staff, capital, or intellectual property. Don’t forget to leverage business resources that might be available to women , veterans , Native Americans , and HUBZone businesses .
Make a clear and compelling statement about the unique value your company brings to the market.
Describe how customers will interact with your business. Is it automated or personal? In person or online? Think through the customer experience from start to finish.
Be specific when you name your target market. Your business won’t be for everybody, so it’s important to have a clear sense of whom your business will serve.
List the most important ways you’ll talk to your customers. Most businesses use a mix of channels and optimize them over time.
Will your company focus on reducing cost or maximizing value? Define your strategy, then list the most significant costs you’ll face pursuing it.
Explain how your company will actually make money. Some examples are direct sales, memberships fees, and selling advertising space. If your company has multiple revenue streams, list them all.
Example lean business plan
Before you write your business plan, read this example business plan written by a fictional business owner, Andrew, who owns a toy company.
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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.
Start your business with Coursera
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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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 ."
- Business Development: Definition, Strategies, Steps & Skills 1 of 46
- Business Ethics: Definition, Principles, Why They're Important 2 of 46
- Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How to Write One 3 of 46
- Organizational Structure for Companies With Examples and Benefits 4 of 46
- Which Type of Organization Is Best For Your Business? 5 of 46
- What Are the Major Types of Businesses in the Private Sector? 6 of 46
- Corporate Culture Definition, Characteristics, and Importance 7 of 46
- What Is an S Corp? Definition, Taxes, and How to File 8 of 46
- LLC vs. Incorporation: Which Should I Choose? 9 of 46
- Private Company: What It Is, Types, and Pros and Cons 10 of 46
- Sole Proprietorship: What It Is, Pros & Cons, and Differences From an LLC 11 of 46
- Bootstrapping Definition, Strategies, and Pros/Cons 12 of 46
- Crowdfunding: What It Is, How It Works, and Popular Websites 13 of 46
- Seed Capital: What It Is, How It Works, Example 14 of 46
- Venture Capital: What Is VC and How Does It Work? 15 of 46
- Startup Capital Definition, Types, and Risks 16 of 46
- Capital Funding: Definition, How It Works, and 2 Primary Methods 17 of 46
- Series Funding: A, B, and C 18 of 46
- Small Business Administration (SBA): Definition and What It Does 19 of 46
- Upper Management: What it is, How it Works 20 of 46
- What is the C Suite?: Meaning and Positions Defined 21 of 46
- Chief Executive Officer (CEO): What They Do vs. Other Chief Roles 22 of 46
- Operations Management: Understanding and Using It 23 of 46
- Human Resource Planning (HRP) Meaning, Process, and Examples 24 of 46
- Brand: Types of Brands and How to Create a Successful Brand Identity 25 of 46
- What Is Brand Personality? How It Works and Examples 26 of 46
- What Is Brand Management? Requirements, How It Works, and Example 27 of 46
- What Is Brand Awareness? Definition, How It Works, and Strategies 28 of 46
- Brand Loyalty: What It Is, and How to Build It 29 of 46
- Brand Extension: Definition, How It Works, Example, and Criticism 30 of 46
- What Is Social Networking? 31 of 46
- Affiliate Marketer: Definition, Examples, and How to Get Started 32 of 46
- What Is Commercialization, Plus the Product Roll-Out Process 33 of 46
- Digital Marketing Overview: Types, Challenges & Required Skills 34 of 46
- Direct Marketing: What It Is and How It Works 35 of 46
- Marketing in Business: Strategies and Types Explained 36 of 46
- What Are Marketing Campaigns? Definition, Types, and Examples 37 of 46
- How to Do Market Research, Types, and Example 38 of 46
- Micromarketing Explained: Definition, Uses, and Examples 39 of 46
- Network Marketing Meaning and How It Works 40 of 46
- Product Differentiation: What It Is, How Businesses Do It, and the 3 Main Types 41 of 46
- Target Market: Definition, Purpose, Examples, Market Segments 42 of 46
- Outside Sales: What They are, How They Work 43 of 46
- What Is a Sales Lead? How It Works and Factors Affecting Quality 44 of 46
- Indirect Sales: What it is, How it Works 45 of 46
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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.
How Much Do You Need?
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 make a business plan
Table of Contents
How to make a good business plan: step-by-step guide.
A business plan is a strategic roadmap used to navigate the challenging journey of entrepreneurship. It's the foundation upon which you build a successful business.
A well-crafted business plan can help you define your vision, clarify your goals, and identify potential problems before they arise.
But where do you start? How do you create a business plan that sets you up for success?
This article will explore the step-by-step process of creating a comprehensive business plan.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a formal document that outlines a business's objectives, strategies, and operational procedures. It typically includes the following information about a company:
Products or services
Marketing and sales strategies
A business plan serves as a roadmap for a company's success and provides a blueprint for its growth and development. It helps entrepreneurs and business owners organize their ideas, evaluate the feasibility, and identify potential challenges and opportunities.
As well as serving as a guide for business owners, a business plan can attract investors and secure funding. It demonstrates the company's understanding of the market, its ability to generate revenue and profits, and its strategy for managing risks and achieving success.
Business plan vs. business model canvas
A business plan may seem similar to a business model canvas, but each document serves a different purpose.
A business model canvas is a high-level overview that helps entrepreneurs and business owners quickly test and iterate their ideas. It is often a one-page document that briefly outlines the following:
On the other hand, a Business Plan Template provides a more in-depth analysis of a company's strategy and operations. It is typically a lengthy document and requires significant time and effort to develop.
A business model shouldn’t replace a business plan, and vice versa. Business owners should lay the foundations and visually capture the most important information with a Business Model Canvas Template . Because this is a fast and efficient way to communicate a business idea, a business model canvas is a good starting point before developing a more comprehensive business plan.
A business plan can aim to secure funding from investors or lenders, while a business model canvas communicates a business idea to potential customers or partners.
Why is a business plan important?
A business plan is crucial for any entrepreneur or business owner wanting to increase their chances of success.
Here are some of the many benefits of having a thorough business plan.
Helps to define the business goals and objectives
A business plan encourages you to think critically about your goals and objectives. Doing so lets you clearly understand what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there.
A well-defined set of goals, objectives, and key results also provides a sense of direction and purpose, which helps keep business owners focused and motivated.
A business plan requires you to consider different scenarios and potential problems that may arise in your business. This awareness allows you to devise strategies to deal with these issues and avoid pitfalls.
With a clear plan, entrepreneurs can make informed decisions aligning with their overall business goals and objectives. This helps reduce the risk of making costly mistakes and ensures they make decisions with long-term success in mind.
Attracts investors and secures funding
Investors and lenders often require a business plan before considering investing in your business. A document that outlines the company's goals, objectives, and financial forecasts can help instill confidence in potential investors and lenders.
A well-written business plan demonstrates that you have thoroughly thought through your business idea and have a solid plan for success.
Identifies potential challenges and risks
A business plan requires entrepreneurs to consider potential challenges and risks that could impact their business. For example:
Is there enough demand for my product or service?
Will I have enough capital to start my business?
Is the market oversaturated with too many competitors?
What will happen if my marketing strategy is ineffective?
By identifying these potential challenges, entrepreneurs can develop strategies to mitigate risks and overcome challenges. This can reduce the likelihood of costly mistakes and ensure the business is well-positioned to take on any challenges.
Provides a basis for measuring success
A business plan serves as a framework for measuring success by providing clear goals and financial projections . Entrepreneurs can regularly refer to the original business plan as a benchmark to measure progress. By comparing the current business position to initial forecasts, business owners can answer questions such as:
Are we where we want to be at this point?
Did we achieve our goals?
If not, why not, and what do we need to do?
After assessing whether the business is meeting its objectives or falling short, business owners can adjust their strategies as needed.
How to make a business plan step by step
The steps below will guide you through the process of creating a business plan and what key components you need to include.
1. Create an executive summary
Start with a brief overview of your entire plan. The executive summary should cover your business plan's main points and key takeaways.
Keep your executive summary concise and clear with the Executive Summary Template . The simple design helps readers understand the crux of your business plan without reading the entire document.
2. Write your company description
Provide a detailed explanation of your company. Include information on what your company does, the mission statement, and your vision for the future.
Provide additional background information on the history of your company, the founders, and any notable achievements or milestones.
3. Conduct a market analysis
Conduct an in-depth analysis of your industry, competitors, and target market. This is best done with a SWOT analysis to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Next, identify your target market's needs, demographics, and behaviors.
Use the Competitive Analysis Template to brainstorm answers to simple questions like:
What does the current market look like?
Who are your competitors?
What are they offering?
What will give you a competitive advantage?
Who is your target market?
What are they looking for and why?
How will your product or service satisfy a need?
These questions should give you valuable insights into the current market and where your business stands.
4. Describe your products and services
Provide detailed information about your products and services. This includes pricing information, product features, and any unique selling points.
Use the Product/Market Fit Template to explain how your products meet the needs of your target market. Describe what sets them apart from the competition.
5. Design a marketing and sales strategy
Outline how you plan to promote and sell your products. Your marketing strategy and sales strategy should include information about your:
Advertising and promotional tactics
The Go to Market Strategy Template is a great way to visually map how you plan to launch your product or service in a new or existing market.
6. Determine budget and financial projections
Document detailed information on your business’ finances. Describe the current financial position of the company and how you expect the finances to play out.
Some details to include in this section are:
Profit and loss statement
Funding you have received or plan to receive
Strategy for raising funds
7. Set the organization and management structure
Define how your company is structured and who will be responsible for each aspect of the business. Use the Business Organizational Chart Template to visually map the company’s teams, roles, and hierarchy.
As well as the organization and management structure, discuss the legal structure of your business. Clarify whether your business is a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, or LLC.
8. Make an action plan
At this point in your business plan, you’ve described what you’re aiming for. But how are you going to get there? The Action Plan Template describes the following steps to move your business plan forward. Outline the next steps you plan to take to bring your business plan to fruition.
Types of business plans
Several types of business plans cater to different purposes and stages of a company's lifecycle. Here are some of the most common types of business plans.
Startup business plan
A startup business plan is typically an entrepreneur's first business plan. This document helps entrepreneurs articulate their business idea when starting a new business.
Not sure how to make a business plan for a startup? It’s pretty similar to a regular business plan, except the primary purpose of a startup business plan is to convince investors to provide funding for the business. A startup business plan also outlines the potential target market, product/service offering, marketing plan, and financial projections.
Strategic business plan
A strategic business plan is a long-term plan that outlines a company's overall strategy, objectives, and tactics. This type of strategic plan focuses on the big picture and helps business owners set goals and priorities and measure progress.
The primary purpose of a strategic business plan is to provide direction and guidance to the company's management team and stakeholders. The plan typically covers a period of three to five years.
Operational business plan
An operational business plan is a detailed document that outlines the day-to-day operations of a business. It focuses on the specific activities and processes required to run the business, such as:
The primary purpose of an operational business plan is to ensure that the business runs efficiently and effectively. It helps business owners manage their resources, track their performance, and identify areas for improvement.
A growth-business plan is a strategic plan that outlines how a company plans to expand its business. It helps business owners identify new market opportunities and increase revenue and profitability. The primary purpose of a growth-business plan is to provide a roadmap for the company's expansion and growth.
The 3 Horizons of Growth Template is a great tool to identify new areas of growth. This framework categorizes growth opportunities into three categories: Horizon 1 (core business), Horizon 2 (emerging business), and Horizon 3 (potential business).
One-page business plan
A one-page business plan is a condensed version of a full business plan that focuses on the most critical aspects of a business. It’s a great tool for entrepreneurs who want to quickly communicate their business idea to potential investors, partners, or employees.
A one-page business plan typically includes sections such as business concept, value proposition, revenue streams, and cost structure.
Best practices for how to make a good business plan
Here are some additional tips for creating a business plan:
Use a template
A template can help you organize your thoughts and effectively communicate your business ideas and strategies. Starting with a template can also save you time and effort when formatting your plan.
Miro’s extensive library of customizable templates includes all the necessary sections for a comprehensive business plan. With our templates, you can confidently present your business plans to stakeholders and investors.
Avoid overestimating revenue projections or underestimating expenses. Your business plan should be grounded in practical realities like your budget, resources, and capabilities.
Provide as much detail as possible in your business plan. A specific plan is easier to execute because it provides clear guidance on what needs to be done and how. Without specific details, your plan may be too broad or vague, making it difficult to know where to start or how to measure success.
Be thorough with your research
Conduct thorough research to fully understand the market, your competitors, and your target audience . By conducting thorough research, you can identify potential risks and challenges your business may face and develop strategies to mitigate them.
Get input from others
It can be easy to become overly focused on your vision and ideas, leading to tunnel vision and a lack of objectivity. By seeking input from others, you can identify potential opportunities you may have overlooked.
Review and revise regularly
A business plan is a living document. You should update it regularly to reflect market, industry, and business changes. Set aside time for regular reviews and revisions to ensure your plan remains relevant and effective.
Create a winning business plan to chart your path to success
Starting or growing a business can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be. Whether you're a seasoned entrepreneur or just starting, a well-written business plan can make or break your business’ success.
The purpose of a business plan is more than just to secure funding and attract investors. It also serves as a roadmap for achieving your business goals and realizing your vision. With the right mindset, tools, and strategies, you can develop a visually appealing, persuasive business plan.
Ready to make an effective business plan that works for you? Check out our library of ready-made strategy and planning templates and chart your path to success.
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How to Write Your First Business Plan
Planning a business means planning to succeed in business. A business plan helps you define what you do so that you can explain this clearly and succinctly to customers. It helps you see if your plans are going astray so that you can take corrective action. It helps you think about your position in your market and how to be competitive.
It’s worth noting that there are different schools of thought on business planning. Some people argue it’s unnecessary, such as the authors of Rework , Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, who also founded 37 Signals and created Ruby on Rails. Some say that it’s essential such as Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin. Others, such as the Interaction Design Foundation, try to take a middle path like the one we’ve detailed for you here.
We advocate for a simple plan that helps you towards your goals and keeps you on track without getting you bogged down forever in writing that plan.
Not every business has a business plan, but businesses that do tend to do much better than those that don’t have one. Some very good reasons to have a business plan include:
It helps you to define what your business is (and isn’t) about.
It helps you plan how to sell and market your services.
It can define your current objectives and help you evaluate your progress against them.
It can help to raise funding or with a loan application.
It can help to define relationships between business partners (including expectations and how to end such a partnership if things don’t work out).
It can help you value a business if you want to sell it.
Here, we will help you get started creating your business plan whether you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur. You’ll get to know what goes into a business plan for a start-up business. It’s enough to get you started.
Now, this article can’t teach you everything you need to know about business planning. Excellent books that run to hundreds of pages which define everything in detail for a complex business plan await you on a shelf or in a warehouse. Using these, when your business grows bigger and more successful, you’ll have to find more in-depth knowledge and advice. When you’re 6 to 24 months down the road and need to develop your business plan further, that’ll probably be the right time to pick up one of those heavy books and start a more in-depth planning exercise.
Author/Copyright holder: Philip Wilson. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-ND 2.0
Planning a business means planning to succeed in business.
What Should Be In Your First Business Plan?
Your first business plan will be for your own use, so it doesn’t need to be a thing of beauty which has been professionally polished. It shouldn’t be more than a couple of pages. You can save that long, polished business plan for the day that you want to use the plan to secure investment in your business or to help you guide your employees in the right direction. It should take a maximum of one day to create your first business plan.
Your First Business Plan Should Include
1. a brief company description.
The name of your company, the date it was formed, the names of any shareholders, your company registration number, your address, etc. In the future, you’ll add a bit more detail to this section and add important milestones in the development of your business. To start, keep it short and simple.
2. A description of the services you offer
This should also include a description of how they stand out (your unique selling points – USPs) from your competition. For example, it might be that your logo design is proven to increase brand recognition by 40% or that your sales copy delivers increased sales by 25%.
3. A simple market analysis
Who are your customers? Who are your competitors? What’s the size of the market you will serve? How will the market grow in the next few years? You should make a simple SWOT analysis where you define the opportunities and the threats in your market as well as your business’s strengths and weaknesses: nothing too complex—just enough detail to be sure that you understand the market you are working in.
Market analysis is often done using a simple SWOT analysis – where you assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your business and competitors.
4. An implementation strategy
How will you sell your services? How will you put those plans into action? What milestones will you use to show progress in your plan?
5. A personal summary
In essence, this a canned version of your CV—what’s your background? Your key accomplishments? Your overall relevant experience?
6. A financial plan
What are your projected sales? What will your cash flow look like? How much profit do you expect to make? For this exercise, be pessimistic and realistic; do not assume you will be working for forty hours a week, every week, at your maximum rate from the outset. It’s unlikely that you will achieve that—ever. It’s much better to underestimate your financial performance and overachieve than vice versa. Never forget that you’re going to spend a lot of time on unpaid work, from accounting to marketing to administration. And, perhaps, you would like some time for vacation as well?
7. A short summary or executive summary
The summary is often called the “executive summary”, of the whole plan. This will help when you come to selling your services; it’s the basis of your elevator pitch – which is what you’d say to your ideal clients if you were trapped in an elevator with them for five minutes.
Your executive summary should include:
what your core service is
who your main customers are
why they should choose you and your services over your competitors
how you will sell your services
It can’t be clearer than, this can it? You would think that it doesn’t matter if your executive summary sucks if it’s only meant for yourself. But really, the executive summary can be your biggest help and guide in understanding and summarizing what your main services are, what makes your services more attractive than your competitors’, who you sell your services to and how you sell them.
It takes time to develop your elevator pitch and executive summary as it should only sum up the very essence of your business plan. That’s why you should start by defining the rest of your business plan and then, at the very end of your process of making your business plan, you’ll be able to define the essence and the executive summary of your business plan.
You should always place your executive summary in the very beginning of your business plan.
Best practice: Ideally, you’ll be able to explain your executive summary as an elevator pitch in only a few sentences. You should continue working on your executive summary until you are able to explain your perfect pitch in one minute. You should also practice an elaborated version of your pitch which should take approximately five minutes. You’ll find it harder to explain yourself in one minute than in five.
You can start practicing by inserting your answers into this short sentence: “My core service is (xxx) which is essential to (xx customers), because I can help them (in xx ways) compared to my competitors.”
When you think you’ve nailed the two versions of your elevator pitch, you should try saying it out loud, and when you can say it in approximately one- and five-minute versions, you should pitch your executive summaries to your friends, family, and, of course, your peers—and get their feedback before you reach out to your future clients.
You’ll find that you will improve your pitch every time you practice it. Most likely, you will find that for each pitch you make, you can make it shorter and more precise. Your friends’ and peers’ questions and feedback will help you crystallize what your soon-to-be business is all about.
It may feel a bit odd the first few times you try your pitch, but you’ll soon understand that this is the best way to get to the core of what you will be doing as a freelancer or entrepreneur. This way, it will be much easier to move from planning to executing the plan in the near future.
Length of your first business plan
Keep your plan as short as possible. Aim for two pages. A short, simple plan is easy to review and refer to. If you write something resembling a book, it will serve no purpose except to take up a lot of time that could be spent doing something useful when you write it. You’ll never want to read it or see it again if it’s that long. Keep it short, sweet and to the point.
The Take Away
A business plan serves a purpose for a start-up whether you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur. It helps you define what you do so that you can explain this clearly and succinctly to customers. It helps you see if your plans are going astray so that you can take corrective action. It helps you think about your position in your market and how to be competitive.
Writing a business plan for your own use should be a simple, straightforward exercise. You don’t need to worry about presentation, spelling or grammar – no one else will see it. You just need to capture the relevant information.
Later on, when your business is better established, you’ll want to update the plan, and if you then intend to show it to other people, you might want to read up on how to develop a more complex plan.
You might also, at that point, consider using a software tool for writing your business plan. However, to start with—keep it simple. Don’t get bogged down with the process; if you spend more than a day on this, you’re spending too much time and overthinking things. You can always go back and correct your business plan’s course when you’ve started working.
References & Where to Learn More
Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Pixabay. Copyright terms and licence: CC0
You can also find some great example business plans here: 500+ Free business plan examples
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