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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.
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...
The following is a general outline of the Order that should be followed in constructing your business plan. With the exception of the Executive Summary and the Marketing Summary, all other summaries should be no more than one  paragraph in length.
The purpose of each summary is to give the reader an overview of the upcoming segments. This is helpful to your reader when reviewing your business plan since almost all readers of your business plan will be looking to read specific details and will use only those segments of interest to them. Any time you help the reader find what they are looking for, then you increase your favor with that person and increase your opportunities for funding or for a successful business presentation.
- EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
- Company Profile
- PRODUCTS and SERVICES SUMMARY
- Products and Services Description Details
- MARKETING SUMMARY
- Marketing Plan and Marketing Strategy
- Target Market or Customers
- Advertising and Promotions
- Sales and Distribution
- OPERATIONS SUMMARY
- Operations & Operational Plan
- Client Account Management and Credit and Policies
- FINANCIAL SUMMARY
- Accounting and Management - Cash Flow Statements and Management Structure
- Financial Planning and Projected Balance Sheet
- SUPPORT SUMMARY
Details, interesting details , and keep it interesting!
Think of what you would tell a potential client in each of the above sections if you were working to persuade them to complete a deal with you that was worth several thousand or hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is the primary way to approach this part of writing your business plan.
Yes, it's true: some of these segments would not be the business of your average client. But stretch your thinking here just a bit, and consider what you would say if the person listening to you were a close friend or confidant and you were trying to persuade them that your business was strong, profitable, and worth taking a look at for financial support. This thought process will reveal to you what to put in and how to approach it.
WHAT TO LEAVE OUT
You will want to leave out everything personal. If it is your personal career change [unless that career change brought you to the creation of your company], leave it out. If your family suffered serious and long term setbacks, leave it out. If you filed a personal bankruptcy, definitely leave that information out of your business plan. If you are desperate for funding to help your ailing and aging mother, leave it out.
Remember the more desperate things in life that sometimes propel us to certain individuals or companies are not usually the more attractive details of our business decisions. People who read your business plan should be reading the most attractive summary of you and your business available anywhere. If you feel it is necessary to discuss any of these personal items with your reader, then wait until they ask you a specific question. Some things should remain personal unless you are asked specifically about them.
SEGMENT BY SEGMENT DETAILS
If you cover each of these details in each of the business plan's segments, then your final plan will be comprehensive and answer any banker's or investor's questions. Ultimately, this should be one of the goals of your business plan since every banker or investor will ask to see your business plan so they can judge your plans, decision making process, strategies, and the bottom line.
- For a more in depth coverage of the details of this portion of your business plan
- You will write this section LAST and place it in front of the entire business plan for a quick review and overview of the entire document. Two to three pages is the maximum for the Executive Summary.
- Mission and Vision statements.
- Product or services marketed [this is a one-liner].
- Target market [again, a one-liner].
- Business form [sole prop, LLC, LLP, LP, corporation, or partnership].
- Company history [what sparked it, recent struggles, and successes, use only one paragraph].
- Company strengths [one paragraph],
- Long term goals [one paragraph, no more].
1. Each Summary should include the high points of the detailed section beneath it. You may want to limit it to a certain number of points in each summary, or you may choose to simply write one or two paragraphs in a summation style to accomplish this goal. Either way, most Summary sections should be less than one page unless otherwise noted.
2. Do not add anything into the Summary that does not exist in the detailed section. Do not bore your reader with the same language as your detailed section or a "copy and paste" of certain sentences, but be sure to keep the essence of the details congruent between the Summary and the detailed sections.
1. Describe your Products or Services in detail in this section. Use common sense here; if you have 300 products, you do not want to list each of them separately. But you may want to group them according to category and explain why this group of products is so important to your target market and to your business.
2. Your description details should include the range of quality (qualities) in the different products or services that your company offers. In this description is the range of pricing as well, along with which segment of the market that product or service is designed to capture.
3. Descriptions should be worded in such a way as to emphasize what it is about your product or service that sets your company apart from its competitors in the market place. Why do your clients want YOUR product or service over the apparently same product or service offered by another company?
4. The Products and Services description details should be limited to no more than one five sentence paragraph per product category for a total of no more than two pages of product descriptions.
- Everything mentioned in the Products and Services Summary section above applies here as well.
- Aside from the Executive Summary this is the largest Summary as it includes information from 5 detailed subsections. Allow yourself up to two (2) full pages for this Summary. Although that is the same layout size as the Executive Summary, bankers and investors will not object to a fat Summary in the section that tells them the most about profitability other than the Financial Summary.
- Bankers and investors want to know exactly what your plan is for marketing your products or services.
- This is a section for specifics. How are you going to reach your market? Advertising? Door to door sales? Retail sales? Direct marketing?
- How many people do you have helping you? How are you compensating them? Is their compensation plan one that will keep them on board or create a revolving door? What do you have in their plan that sows seeds of salesman loyalty to your company?
- What will your company do if your Marketing Plan is thwarted by competition or other circumstances? What is your secondary plan of action with regards to marketing your product or services?
- Marketing Strategy is equally important here. Your Marketing Strategy should be detailed, lengthy, and clearly laid out. Allow up to 1 ½ pages just for this subsection.
- Description of your target market or your clients.
- How will you distribute your product?
- Explain how your company is unique in what it offers. What is it that your company gives the marketplace that the marketplace is starving for, but is otherwise unavailable?
- Will you compete in the market place by means of your pricing or your product's quality? How will you capture your market share? What will cause your clients to remain loyal to your company?
- How will you spend advertising and marketing budgets? Will you purchase television or radio spots? Will you target a niche portion of the market?
- A definition of the company and its market place position. Paint the company's "personality" for the reader so that they have a clear image of the company's place and image in the market.
- Target Market and Customers
1. Demographics [gender, race, income, and education level of potential clients].
1. Name names and list web addresses.
2. Statistics about your competition.
3. Insider's reports about client relations.
4. Are they located near your business? Are they local, regional, or national? How does that directly affect your company?
5. Are they strong in advertising and promotions? Are they stable and reliable in the eyes of the customer?
6. Do they provide variety in their product availability? How is their product quality?
7. What are their sales methods and credit policies?
8. Is their pricing competitive? Or do they price because of a standard of high quality in their product?
- What are your company's strategies for Advertising and Promotions?
- Do you have a regular budget established for promoting your company's products or services? If so, how much?
- Are you frugal in your approach in using staff members or do you have a larger budget for professional promotions using people to give your company a polished public image?
- Do you have planned events strategically executed monthly or quarterly that are designed to continually keep your company and its products or services forever in the front of the minds of your target market? If so, what are those events and how do they work? What are the tangible results that your company regularly realizes from them? Do you envision any changes or needs in your Advertising and Promotions strategy?
1. What size and type of sales staff do you have promoting your company's products?
2. By what percentage has your sales staff outperformed itself over last year or over last month?
3. Are the salesmen directly involved in the distribution of the product or is the distribution handled by a separate handler or department?
4. What is the chain of distribution for your company? Once the order is placed, what route does the product or service take to get to the customer?
- This Summary should cover the details of your day-to-day operations.
- How does your business operate on a day-to-day basis?
- Do you operate from an office, a retail location, a home office, a virtual office, or some other facility? Does your location meet building codes for your area?
- Do you have staff and employees? What is the pecking order in your office? Which employees or staff answers to whom?
- Explain your pay structures, training, and hiring policies. Do you contract or subcontract any of your help?
- What is the management accountability in the company?
- How are you structured legally? Do you have special permits needed to operate without regulatory violations?
- How do you handle quality control issues and customer service?
- What is your method for product development and cost control?
- What are your supplier policies and your credit policies? How do you determine whether to extend credit to a client?
- How do you manage your accounts receivables? Are they tracked internally by an accounting department or some other way?
- Are your company's payables managed within the accounting department of your company or is that payment process outsourced?
- Have you offset your credit risk in the structure of your product pricing? In other words, do you manage your risk or is it pure risk?
- What are your terms for credit accounts? When is payment due? When do you send the client into collection? How do you handle collections?
- Your company's most current annual P&L statement belongs on the Financial Summary page. If you are an upstart and do not have an annual P&L, then have your CPA or accountant prepare a monthly or quarterly version of the P&L. The presence of your P&L in the Financial Summary signals to bankers and investors that you understand what it is, what it entails, and its importance in their decision making process. If it is skeletal because you are a new upstart, do not be concerned about how that will make you look to them. It will only make you look like an upstart. If you don't include it [empty or full], then you are more likely to appear as a clueless upstart owner.
- Are your Cash Flow statements produced monthly or quarterly?
- Does your entire top level management review Cash Flow statements and regular P&L statements? What things do you determine from these reports and how does it affect your management? Do you hold company financial review sessions with your management team?
- How is your management team structured?
- What type of advisory boards or private consultants do you use for your professional advice? Do you have a board of directors, a business consultant, a mentor, or an advisor?
- Have you prepared a personal financial statement in the event a banker or investor requests it for loan guarantee information? [Suggestion: Prepare this statement, but keep it separate and out of the business plan. Bring it out if asked for it, but do not wait until you are asked for it, to prepare it.] This belongs in your collection of Appendices and preferably not listed on anything at the end of the business plan.
- A professionally prepared financial plan for your business [no more than 3 pages].
- Supporting spreadsheets, at least one quarter's worth. If you can provide them, then provide up to one years' worth of balance sheets or three years if they are annual balance sheets.
- Projected balance sheets, a two to four year set of projection balance sheets is fairly normal for financial projections. Do not do less than two year's worth of projections; it makes you look either ignorant or lazy.
- In your financial projections, be sure to include a breakeven analysis whenever possible. The breakeven figure is the number of sales your company will have to make to break even on the expense side. In other words, breakeven is the zero point in a deal where you then sit ready to make a profit. This is vital information to investors and bankers alike since it helps them to gauge the risk of their investment with you. You can calculate your breakeven point from this equation:
1. Appendices are generally speaking documents referred to in the content of your business plan that exist outside of the business plan.
2. When you refer to any of the Appendices in the context of the business plan, you will footnote it with a sequential number. You will then number the Appendix accordingly in the context of your listing at the end of the business plan. For example : If you had 3 Appendices, you would foot note them in the appropriate context of the business plan and on the coordinating page, then number them as 1, 2, and 3. Then, at the end of the business plan, where you list these documents under the subheading "Appendices," you would assign the corresponding document the number which applied to it per the context of the business plan.
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Use This Simple Business Plan Outline to Organize Your Plan
12 min. read
Updated October 27, 2023
When starting a business, having a well-thought-out business plan prepared is necessary for success . It helps guide your strategy and prepares you to overcome the obstacles and risks associated with entrepreneurship. In short, a business plan makes you more likely to succeed.
However, like everything in business, starting is often the hardest part. What information do you need? How in-depth should each section be? How should the plan be structured?
All good questions that you can answer by following this business plan outline.
- What is a business plan outline?
A business plan outline is similar to a template for a business plan . It lists the common sections that all business plans should include.
A traditional business plan typically includes an executive summary, an overview of your products and services, thorough market research, a competitive analysis, a marketing and sales strategy, operational and company details, financial projections, and an appendix.
- Why is a business plan outline important?
Starting with a business plan outline helps ensure that you’re including all of the necessary information for a complete business plan.
But, depending on what you intend to do with your plan, you may not need all of this information right away. If you’re going to speak with investors or pursue funding, then yes, you’ll need to include everything from this outline. But, if you’re using your plan to test an idea or help run your business, you may want to opt for a one-page plan . This is a simpler and faster method that is designed to be updated and used day-to-day.
If you’re unsure of which plan is right for you, check out our guide explaining the differences and use cases for each plan type .
- 10 key sections in a standard business plan outline
No matter the type of business plan you create, these are the ten basic sections you should include. Be sure to download your free business plan template to start drafting your own plan as you work through this outline.
1. Executive summary
While it may appear first, it’s best to write your executive summary last. It’s a brief section that highlights the high-level points you’ve made elsewhere in your business plan.
Summarize the problem you are solving for customers, your solution, the target market, your team that’s building the business, and financial forecast highlights. Keep things as brief as possible and entice your audience to learn more about your company.
What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
Keep in mind, this is the first impression your plan and business will make. After looking over your executive summary, your reader is either going to throw your business plan away or keep reading. So make sure you spend the time to get it just right.
2. Products and services
Start the products and services section of your business plan by describing the problem you are solving for your customer. Next, describe how you solve that problem with your product or service.
If you’ve already made some headway selling your solution, detail that progress here—this is called “traction”. You can also describe any intellectual property or patents that you have if that’s an important part of your business.
3. Market analysis
You need to know your target market —the types of customers you are looking for—and how it’s changing.
Use the market analysis section of your business plan to discuss the size of your market—how many potential customers exist for your business—and if your potential customers can be segmented into different groups, such as age groups or some other demographic.
Describe your competition in this section. If you don’t have any direct competitors, describe what your customers currently do to solve the problem that your product fixes.
If you have direct competition, detail what your strengths and weaknesses are in comparison, and how you’ll differentiate from what is already available.
5. Marketing and sales
Use this business plan section to outline your marketing and sales plan —how you’ll reach your target customers and what the process will be for selling to them.
You’ll want to cover your market position, marketing activities, sales channels, and your pricing strategy. This will likely evolve over time, but it’s best to include anything that clearly details how you will sell and promote your products and services.
What’s included in the operations section really depends on the type of business you are planning for. If your business has a physical location or other facilities, you’ll want to describe them here. If your business relies heavily on technology or specific equipment or tools, you should describe that technology or equipment here.
You can also use this section to describe your supply chain if that’s an important aspect of your business.
7. Milestones and metrics
In a business, milestones are important goals that you are setting for your business. They may be important launch dates, or a timeline of when you’ll get regulatory approval—if that’s something you need for your business. Use this section of your plan to describe those milestones and the roadmap you are planning to follow.
You can also describe important metrics for your business, such as the number of sales leads you expect to get each month or the percentage of leads that will become customers.
8. Company overview and team
The company and team section of your plan is an overview of who you are.
It should describe the organization of your business, and the key members of the management team. It should also provide any historical background about your business. For example, you’ll describe when your company was founded, who the owners are, what state your company is registered in and where you do business, and when/if your company was incorporated.
Be sure to include summaries of your key team members’ backgrounds and experience—these should act like brief resumes—and describe their functions with the company. You should also include any professional gaps you intend to fill with new employees.
9. Financial plan and forecasts
Your financial plan should include a sales forecast, profit and loss, cash flow projections, and balance sheet, along with a brief description of the assumptions you’re making with your projections.
If you are raising money or taking out loans, you should highlight the money you need to launch the business. This part should also include a use of funds report—basically an overview of how the funding will be used in business operations.
And while it’s not required, it may be wise to briefly mention your exit strategy . This doesn’t need to be overly detailed, just a general idea of how you may eventually want to exit your business.
The end of your business plan should include any additional information to back up specific elements of your plan. More detailed financial statements, resumes for your management team, patent documentation, credit histories, marketing examples, etc.
- Detailed business plan outline
If you’re looking for greater insight into what goes into specific planning sections, check out the following outline for a business plan. It can help you develop a detailed business plan or provide guidance as to what may be missing from your current plan.
Keep in mind that every business plan will look a bit different because every business is unique. After all, business planning is to help you be more successful, so focus on the sections that are most beneficial to your business and skip the sections that aren’t useful or don’t apply.
To help, we’ve marked sections that are truly optional with an *.
Company purpose / mission statement.
A very brief description of what your business does and/or what its mission is.
Problem We Solve
A summary of the problem you are solving and an identifiable need in the market you are filling.
A description of the product or service you will provide to solve the problem.
A defined customer base who will most likely purchase the product or service.
Briefly describe who is behind the business.
A short overview of revenue goals and profitability timeline.
If you’ve already started selling your product or service, highlight important initial details here.
If you are raising money for your business, describe how much capital you need.
Products & Services
Problem worth solving.
A thorough description of the problem or pain points you intend to solve for your customer base.
A thorough description of your proposed product or service that alleviates the problem for your customer base.
Describe any initial evidence that your customers are excited to spend money on your solution. Initial sales or signed contracts are good signs.
If this is important for your business, outline it here.
If government approval is required for your business, explain the details and timeline.
Future Products and Services*
What products and services might you offer in the future once your initial products and services are successful?
Market Size & Segments
How many potential customers do you have and what potential groups of customers are separated by specific characteristics?
How consumers in your target market tend to act including purchasing habits, financial trends, and any other relevant factors.
The perceived potential increase or decrease in the size of your target market.
If your industry is changing or adjusting over time, describe those changes.
If your business relies on certain important customers, describe who they are here.
A snapshot of the potential market based on the last few sections and how your business strategy works within it.
A list of potential competitors. Identifying the competition isn’t always obvious and it may take some digging on your part.
The strategic advantage(s) that makes your target market more likely to choose you over the competition.
Barriers to Entry*
If there’s anything that makes it more difficult for other people to start competing with you, describe those barriers.
Marketing & Sales
Where do your products or services fit into the market? Are you the low-price leader or the premium option?
Unique value proposition*
What’s special about your offering that makes your customers want to choose it over the competition.
An outline of your marketing and advertising strategy including costs, advertising channels, and goals.
How do you sell your product or service? Self-serve or with a team of sales representatives?
Describe your pricing and how it compares to alternatives in the market.
Describe how your product gets in front of customers. Are you selling in stores and online? Which retailers?
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Location & Facilities
If you have a physical presence, describe where and what it is.
What technology is crucial for your business success?
Equipment & Tools
If special equipment or tools are needed for your business, describe them here.
Sourcing and fulfillment*
If you purchase your products or parts for your products from somewhere else, describe that sourcing and supply chain.
Partners and Resources*
If you have key partners that you work with to make your business a success, describe who they are and what services or products they provide.
Milestones and metrics
A detailed roadmap of specific goals and objectives you plan to achieve will help you manage and steer your business.
Performance measurements that help you gauge the overall performance and health of your business.
Company overview and team
An overview of the legal structure of your business.
Company history and ownership
A summary of your company’s history and how it relates to planning your business.
The team that is starting or running your business and why they are uniquely qualified to make the business a success.
Management team gaps
Key positions that your business will need to fill to make it successful.
Financial plan and forecast
Projected profit and loss.
How much money you will bring in by selling products and/or services and how much profit you will make or lose after accounting for costs and expenses.
Projected cash flow
How and when cash moves in and out of your business. This also includes your overall cash position.
Projected balance sheet
Expected balances for business assets, liabilities, and equity.
Use of funds
If you are raising money either through loans or investment, explain how funds will be used. This is typically meant to be shared with investors or lenders.
A brief explanation of how you intend to eventually exit from your business. This could include selling the business, going public, transitioning the business to a family member/employee, etc.
A repository for any additional information, including charts and graphs, to support your business plan.
Business plan outline FAQ
How do you organize your business plan?
There’s no real established order to business plans, aside from keeping the Executive Summary at the top. As long as you have all of the main business plan components, then the order should reflect your goals.
If this is meant solely for your personal use, lay it out as a roadmap with similar sections grouped together for easy reference. If you’re pitching this to potential investors, lead with the stronger sections to emphasize the pitch. Then if you’re unsure of what order makes sense, then just stick to the outline in this article.
Should you include tables and charts in your business plan?
Every business plan should include bar charts and pie charts to illustrate the numbers. It’s a simple way for you, your team, and investors to visualize and digest complex financial information.
Cash flow is the single most important numerical analysis in a business plan, and a standard cash flow statement or table should never be missing. Most standard business plans also include a sales forecast and income statement (also called profit and loss), and a balance sheet.
How long should your business plan be?
There’s no perfect length for a business plan. A traditional business plan can be anywhere from 10 to 50 pages long depending on how much detail you include in each section. However, as we said before unless you intend to pursue funding, you likely don’t need a lengthy business plan at first.
See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan
Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.
Table of Contents
8 Min. Read
How to Format a Business Plan in 8 Simple Steps
How to Forecast Personnel Costs in 3 Steps
3 Min. Read
How to Use TAM, SAM, SOM to Determine Market Size
14 Min. Read
How to Write a Five-Year Business Plan
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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
- What Is Inside Sales? Definition, How It Works, and Advantages 46 of 46
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Developing a Business Plan
An important task in starting a new venture is to develop a business plan. As the phrase suggests, a business plan is a "road map" to guide the future of the business or venture. The elements of the business plan will impact the daily decisions of the business and provide direction for expansion, diversification, and future evaluation of the business.
This publication will assist in drafting your own business plan. It includes a discussion of the makeup of the plan and the information needed to develop a business plan. Business plans are traditionally developed and written by the owner with input from family members and the members of the business team. Business plans are "living" documents that should be reviewed and updated every year or if an opportunity for change presents itself. Reviews reinforce the thoughts and plans of the owner and the business and are a key item in the evaluation process. For an established venture, evaluation determines if the business is in need of change or if it is meeting the expectations of the owners.
Using the Proper Format
The format and appearance of the plan should be as professional as possible to portray your business in a positive manner. When dealing with a lender or possible investor, the plan will be reviewed for accuracy and suggestions for changes to the plan may be offered. The decision to recommend a loan for approval will be largely based on your business plan. Often loan officers will not know a great deal about the proposed venture, but they will know the correct structure of a business plan.
Investors will make their decision based on the plan and the integrity of the owner. For this reason, it is necessary to use a professional format. After loan officers complete their evaluations, the loan committee will further review the business plan and make a decision. The committee members often spend limited time reviewing the document, focusing on the message of the executive summary and financial statements to make their determination. They will refer to other sections of the plan for details and clarification. Because of this, these portions need to be the strongest parts of the plan and based on sound in-depth research and analysis.
Sections of the Business Plan
A business plan should be structured like a book with the title or cover page, followed by a table of contents. Following these two pages, the body of the plan normally appears in this order: executive summary, business mission statement, goals and objectives, background information, organizational matters, marketing plan, and financial plan.
The executive summary is placed at the front of the business plan, but it should be the last part written. The summary should identify the type of business and describe the proposed business, or changes to the existing business. Research findings and recommendations should be summarized concisely to provide the reader with the information required to make any decisions. The summary outlines the direction and future plans or goals of the business, as well as the methods that will be used to achieve these goals. The summary should include adequate background information to support these recommendations.
The final financial analysis and the assumptions used are also a part of the executive summary. The analysis should show how proposed changes will ensure the sustainability of the current or proposed business. All challenges facing the existing business or proposed venture should be discussed in this section. Identifying such challenges shows the reader that all possibilities have been explored and taken into account during the research process.
Overview, Mission, and Goals and Objectives
This section has three separate portions. It begins with a brief overview that includes a general description of the existing or planned business. The overview is followed by the mission statement of the business. You should try to limit the mission statement to three sentences if possible and include only the key ideas about why the business exists. An example of a mission statement for a produce farm might be: The mission of XYZ Produce is to provide fresh, healthy produce to our customers, and to provide a safe, friendly working environment for our employees. If you have more than three sentences, you should be as concise as possible.
The final portion sets the business's goals and objectives. There are at least two schools of thought about goals and objectives. Goals and objectives should show the reader what the business wishes to accomplish, and the steps needed to obtain the desired results. Conducting a SWOT analysis will assist your team when developing goals and objectives. SWOT in an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats and is covered more in-depth later in the publication. You may want to include marketing topics in the SWOT or conduct two SWOT analyses, one for the entire business and one for the marketing plan.
Goals should follow the acronym DRIVE, which stands for D irectional, R easonable, I nspiring, V isible, and E ventual. The definitions of DRIVE are:
- Directional: It should guide you to follow your vision.
- Reasonable: You should be able to reach the goal, and it should be related to your business.
- Inspiring: Make sure the goal is positive but should challenge the business to grow into the goal.
- Visible: You and your employees should be able to easily recognize the goal. Goals should be posted where everyone sees them every day.
- Eventual: The goals should focus on the future and be structured to provide motivation to all to strive towards the goals.
Objectives should follow the acronym SMART, which stands for S pecific, M easurable, A ttainable, R ewarding, and T imed. Objectives are the building blocks to achieve the goals and stand for:
- Specific: Each objective should focus on one building block to reach the goal.
- Measurable: You should be able to determine if your progress is going in the right direction.
- Attainable: You should be able to complete the objective with an appropriate amount of work.
- Rewarding: Reaching the objective should be something to celebrate and provide positive reinforcement to the business.
- Timed: You must have a deadline for the objective to be achieved. You do not want to have the objectives linger for too long. Not reaching the objectives delays reaching the goals. Not achieving goals is detrimental to the morale of the business.
Goals and objectives should follow these formats to allow for evaluation of the entire process and provide valuable feedback along the way. The business owner should continually evaluate the outcomes of decisions and practices to determine if the goals or objectives are being met and make modifications when needed.
Background information should come from the research conducted during the writing process. This portion should include information regarding the history of the industry, the current state of the industry, and information from reputable sources concerning the future of the industry.
This portion of the business plan requires the most investment of time by the writer, with information gathered from multiple sources to prevent bias or undue optimism. The writer should take all aspects of the industry (past, present, and future) and business into account. If there are concerns or questions about the viability of the industry or business, these must be addressed. In writing this portion of the plan, information may be obtained from your local public library, periodicals, industry personnel, trusted sources on the Internet, and publications such as the Penn State Extension Agricultural Alternatives series . Industry periodicals are another excellent source of up-to-date information. The more varied the sources, the better the evaluation of the industry and the business, and the greater the opportunity to have a viable plan.
The business owner must first choose an appropriate legal structure for the business. The business structure will have an impact on the future, including potential expansion and exit from the business. If the proper legal structure is not chosen, the business may be negatively impacted down the road. Only after the decision is made about the type of business can the detailed planning begin.
This section of the plan describes the current or planned business structure, the management team, and risk-management strategies. There are several forms of business structure to choose from, including sole proprietorship, partnership, corporations (subchapter S or subchapter C), cooperative, and limited liability corporation or partnership (LLC or LLP). These business structures are discussed in Agricultural Alternatives: Starting or Diversifying an Agricultural Business .
The type of business structure is an important decision and often requires the advice of an attorney (and an accountant). The business structure should fit the management skills and style(s) of the owner(s) and take into account the risk management needs (both liability and financial) of the business. For example, if there is more than one owner (or multiple investors), a sole proprietorship is not an option because more than one person has invested time and/or money into the business. In this case a partnership, cooperative, corporation, LLC, or LLP would be the proper choice.
Another consideration for the type of business structure is the transfer of the business to the next generation or the dissolution of the business. There are benefits and drawbacks for each type of structure covering the transition of ownership. If the business has a high exposure to risk or liability, then an LLC might be preferred over a partnership or sole proprietorship.
If the business is not a sole proprietorship, the management team should be described in the business plan. The management team should consist of all parties involved in the decisions and activities of the business. The strengths and backgrounds of the management team members should be discussed to highlight the positive aspects of the team. Even if the business is a sole proprietorship, usually more than one person (often a spouse, child, relative, or other trusted person) will have input into the decisions, and so should be included as team members.
Regardless of the business structure, all businesses should also have an external management support team. This external management support team should consist of the business's lawyer, accountant, insurance agent or broker, and possibly a mentor. These external members are an integral part of the management team. Many large businesses have these experts on staff or on retainer. For small businesses, the external management team replaces full-time experts; the business owner(s) should consult with this external team on a regular basis (at least once a year) to determine if the business is complying with all rules and regulations. Listing the management team in the business plan allows the reader to know that the business owner has developed a network of experts to provide advice.
The risk-management portion of the business plan provides a description of how the business will handle unexpected or unusual events. For example, if the business engages in agricultural production, will the business purchase crop insurance? Does the business have adequate liability insurance? Is the business diversified to protect against the unexpected, rather than "putting all its eggs in one basket"? If the business has employees, does the business carry adequate workers' compensation insurance? All of these questions should be answered in the risk-management portion of the business plan. More information on how liability can affect your business and on the use of insurance as a risk-management tool can be found in Agricultural Alternatives: Agricultural Business Insurance and Agricultural Alternatives: Understanding Agricultural Liability . The business structure will also determine a portion of the risk-management strategy because the way that a business is structured carries varying levels of risk to the owner and/or owners. All opportunities carry a degree of risk that must be evaluated, and mitigation strategies should be included in this portion of the plan.
Every purchase decision that a consumer makes is influenced by the marketing strategy or plan of the company selling the product or service. Products are usually purchased based on consumer preferences, including brand name, price, and perceived quality attributes. Consumer preferences develop (and change) over time and an effective marketing plan takes these preferences into account. This makes the marketing plan an important part of the overall business plan.
In order to be viable, the marketing plan must coincide with the production activities. The marketing plan must address consumer desires and needs. For example, if a perishable or seasonal crop (such as strawberries) will be produced, the marketing plan should not include sales of locally grown berries in January if the business is in northeastern United States. If the business plans to purchase berries in the off-season from other sources to market, this information needs to be included. In this way, the marketing plan must fit the production capabilities (or the capability to obtain products from other sources).
A complete marketing plan should identify target customers, including where they live, work, and purchase the product or service you are providing. This portion of the plan contains a description of the characteristics and advantages of your product or service. Identifying a "niche" market will be of great value to your business.
Products may be sold directly to the consumer (retail) or through another business (wholesale) or a combination of both. Whichever marketing avenue you choose, if you are starting a new enterprise or expanding an existing one, you will need to decide if the market can bear more of what you plan to produce. Your industry research will assist in this determination. The plan must also address the challenges of the proposed marketing strategy.
Other variables to consider are sales location, market location, promotion, advertising, pricing, staffing, and the costs associated with all of these. All of these aspects of the marketing plan will take time to develop and should not be taken lightly. Further discussion on marketing fruits and vegetables can be found in Agricultural Alternatives: Fruit and Vegetable Marketing for Small-Scale and Part-Time Growers .
An adequate way of determining the answers to business and marketing issues is to conduct a SWOT analysis. The acronym SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths represent internal attributes and may include aspects like previous experience in the business. Experience in sales or marketing would be an area of strength for a retail farm market. Weaknesses are also internal and may include aspects such as the time, cost, and effort needed to introduce a new product or service to the marketplace.
Opportunities are external aspects that will help your business to take off and be sustained. If no one is offering identical products or services in your immediate area, you may have the opportunity to capture the market. Threats are external and may include aspects like other businesses offering the same product in close proximity to your business or government regulations impacting business practices and cost.
The financial plan and assumptions are crucial to the success of the business and should be included in the business plan. One of the foremost reasons new businesses fail is because they do not have enough start-up capital to cover all expenses to make a profit. The scope of your business will be determined by the financial resources you can acquire. Because of this, you will need to develop a financial plan and create the supporting documents to substantiate it.
The financial plan has its basis in historical data (if you are an existing business) or from projections (for a proposed business). The first issue to address is recordkeeping. You should indicate who will keep the necessary records and how these records will be used. Internal controls, such as who will sign checks and handle any funds, should also be addressed. A good rule to follow for businesses that are not sole proprietorships is having at least two people sign all checks.
The next portion of the financial plan should detail where funding will come from. This includes if (and when) the business will need additional capital, how much capital will be needed, and how these funds will be obtained. If start-up capital is needed, this information should be included in this portion. Personal contributions should be included, along with other funding sources. The amount of money and repayment terms should be listed. One common mistake affecting many new businesses is under-funding at start-up. Many start-up businesses do not evaluate all areas of expense and underestimate the amount of capital needed to see a new business through the development stages (including personal living expenses, if off-farm income is not available).
Typically, a balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement, and partial budget or enterprise budgets are included in a business plan. More information on agricultural budgets can be found in Agricultural Alternatives: Budgeting for Agricultural Decision Making . These documents will display the financial information in a form that lending institutions are used to seeing. If these are not prepared by an accountant, having one review them will ensure that the proper format has been used.
Financial projections should be completed for at least two years and, ideally, for five years. In agricultural businesses, five-year projections are sometimes difficult to make because of variability in prices, weather, and other aspects affecting production. One way to illustrate these risks is to develop several projection scenarios covering a range of production assumptions. This attention to detail will often result in a positive experience with lenders because they realize that the plan covers several possible circumstances and provides insight into how the business plans to manage risk. More information on financing agricultural businesses can be found in the publication Agricultural Alternatives: Financing Small-Scale and Part-Time Farms .
To keep personal assets and liabilities separate from business assets and liabilities, it is beneficial to create both business and personal financial statements. A lender will need to see both, but the separation will show how the business will support the family or how the off-farm income will support the business.
Cash Flow Statement
A cash flow statement is the predicted flow of cash into and out of a business over a year. Cash flow statements are prepared by showing the total amounts predicted for each item of income or expense. This total is then broken down by month to show when surpluses and shortfalls in cash will occur. In this way, the cash flow statement can be used to predict when additional cash is needed and when the business will have a surplus to pay back any debt. This monthly prediction allows the owner(s) to better evaluate the cash needs of the business, taking out applicable loans and repaying outstanding debts. The cash flow statement often uses the same categories as the income statement plus additional categories to cover debt payments and borrowing.
After these financial statements are completed, the business plan writer will have an accurate picture of how the business has performed and can project how the business will perform in the coming year(s). With such information, the owner—and any readers of the business plan—will be able to evaluate the viability of the business and will have an accurate understanding of actions and activities that will contribute to its sustainability. This understanding will enable them to make better informed decisions regarding loans or investments in the business.
The income statement is a summary of the income (revenue) and expenses for a given accounting cycle. If the balance sheet is a "snapshot" of the financial health of the business, the income statement is a "motion picture" of the financial health of the business over a specific time period. An income statement is constructed by listing the income (or revenue) at the top of the page and the expenses (and the resulting profit or loss) at the bottom of the page.
Revenue is any income realized by the sale of crops or livestock, government payments, and any other income the business may have (including such items as fuel tax refunds, patronage dividends, and custom work). Other items impacting revenues are changes in inventory and accounts receivable between the start of the time period and the end—even if these changes are negative.
Expenses include any expense the business has incurred from the production of the products sold. Examples of expenses include feed, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel, labor, maintenance, repairs, insurance, taxes, utilities, and any changes in accounts payable. Depreciation, which is the calculated wear and tear on assets (excluding land), is included as an expense for accounting purposes. Interest is considered an expense, but any principal payments related to loans are not an expense. Repayment of principal is recorded on the balance sheet under "Loans Payable."
As the income statement is created, the desired outcome is to have more income than expenses, so the income statement shows a profit. If not, the final number is shown in parentheses (signifying a negative number). Another name for this financial record is a Profit and Loss Statement. Income statements are one way to clearly show how the farm is making progress from one year to the next and may show a much more optimistic view of sustainability than can be seen by looking at a single year's balance sheet.
A balance sheet is a snapshot of a business’s assets, liabilities, and owner’s equity at a specific point in time. A balance sheet can be prepared at any time, but is usually done at the end of the fiscal year (for many businesses, this is the end of the calendar year). Evaluating the business by using the balance sheet requires several years of balance sheets to tell the true story of the business’s progress over time. A balance sheet is typically constructed by listing assets on the left and liabilities and owner’s equity on the right. The difference between the assets and liabilities of the business is called the "owner's equity" and provides an estimate of how much of the business is owned outright.
Assets are anything owned by, or owed to, the business. These include cash (and checking account balances), accounts receivable (money owed to the business), inventory (any crops or supplies that the business has stored on farm), land, equipment, and buildings. This may also include machinery, breeding stock, small-fruit bushes or canes, and fruit trees. Sometimes assets are listed as current (those easily converted to cash) and fixed (those that are required for the business to continue). Assets are basically anything of value to the business. Some valuations of assets are not easily determined for items such as breeding stock, small-fruit bushes or canes, and fruit trees and may require the use of a certified appraiser familiar with the items.
Balance sheets may use a market-basis or a cost-basis to calculate the value of assets. A market-basis balance sheet better reflects the current economic conditions because it relies on current or market value for the assets, rather than what those assets originally cost. Market values are more difficult to obtain because of the difficulty in finding accurate current prices of assets and often results in the inflation of the value of assets. Cost-basis balance sheets are more conservative because the values are often from prior years. For example, a cost-basis balance sheet would use the original purchase price of land, rather than what selling that land would bring today. Because purchase records are easily obtained, constructing a cost-basis balance sheet is easier. Depreciable assets such as buildings, tractors, and equipment are listed on the cost-basis balance sheet at purchase price less accumulated depreciation. Most accountants use the cost-basis balance sheet method. Whether you choose to use market-basis or cost-basis, it is critical that you remain consistent over the years to allow for accurate comparison.
Liabilities are what the business owes on the date the balance sheet is prepared. Liabilities include both current liabilities (accounts payable, any account the business has with a supplier, short-term notes, operating loans, and the current portion of long-term debt), which are payable within the current year, and noncurrent liabilities (mortgages and loans with a term that extends over one year).
Owner's equity is what remains after all liabilities have been subtracted from all assets. It represents money that the owner(s) have invested in the business, profits that are retained in the business, and changes caused by fluctuating market values (on a market-basis balance sheet). Owner’s equity will be affected whenever there are changes in capital contributed to the business or retained earnings, so if your practice is to use all earnings as your "paycheck," rather than reinvesting them in the business, your owner's equity will be impacted. On the balance sheet, owner’s equity plus liabilities equals assets. Or stated another way, all of the assets less the amount owed (liabilities) equals the owner’s equity (sometimes referred to as "net worth"). Owner's equity provides the "balance" in a balance sheet.
Putting It All Together
After the mission, background information, organization, and marketing and financial plans are complete, an executive summary can then be prepared. Armed with the research results and information in the other sections, the business will come alive through this section. Research results can be included in an appendix if desired. The next step is to share this plan with others whose opinions you respect. Have them ask you the hard questions—make you defend an opinion you have expressed or challenge you to describe what you plan to do in more detail. Often, people are hesitant to share what they have written with their families or friends because they fear the plan will not be taken seriously. However, it is much better to receive constructive criticism from family and friends (and gain the opportunity to strengthen your plan) than it is to take it immediately to the lender, only to have any problems pointed out and receive a rejection.
Once all parts of the business plan have been written, you will have a document that will enable you to analyze your business and determine which, if any, changes need to be made. Changes on paper take time and effort but are not as expensive as changing a business practice only to find that the chosen method is not viable. For a proposed venture, if the written plan points to the business not being viable, large sums of money have not been invested and possibly lost. In short, challenges are better faced on paper than with investment capital.
Remember, a business plan is a "road map" that will guide the future of the business. The best business plan is a document in continual change, reacting to the influence of the outside world on the business. Having the basis of a written plan will give you the confidence to consider changes in the business to remain competitive. Once the plan is in place, the business will have a better chance of future success.
For More Information
Abrams, R. The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies (Successful Business Plan Secrets and Strategies) . Palo Alto, Calif.: Planning Shop, 2014.
Becker, J. C., L. F. Kime, J. K. Harper, and R. Pifer. Agricultural Alternatives: Understanding Agricultural Liability . University Park: Penn State Extension, 2011.
Dethomas, A., and L. and S. Derammelaere. Writing a Convincing Business Plan (Barron's Business Library) . Hauppauge, N.Y.: Barron's Educational Series. 2015.
Dunn, J., J. K. Harper, and L. F. Kime. Agricultural Alternatives: Fruit and Vegetable Marketing for Small-scale and Part-time Growers . University Park: Penn State Extension, 2009.
Grant, W. How to Write a Winning Business Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide for Startup Entrepreneurs to Build a Solid Foundation, Attract Investors and Achieve Success with a Bulletproof Business Plan (Business 101). Independently published. 2020.
Harper, J. K., S. Cornelisse, L. F. Kime, and J. Hyde. Agricultural Alternatives: Budgeting for Agricultural Decision Making . University Park: Penn State Extension, 2019.
Kime, L. F., J. A. Adamik, E. E. Gantz, and J. K. Harper. Agricultural Alternatives: Agricultural Business Insurance . University Park: Penn State Extension, 2019.
Kime, L. F., S. Cornelisse, and J. K. Harper. Agricultural Alternatives: Starting or Diversifying an Agricultural Business . University Park: Penn State Extension, 2018.
Lesonsky, R. Start Your Own Business Fifth Edition: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need. Irvine, Calif.: Entrepreneur Media Inc., 2010.
Shelton, H. The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan: A Pro Shares a Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Plan That Gets Results. Rockville, Md.: Summit Valley Press, 2017.
Stokes, J. S., G. D. Hanson, J. K. Harper, and L. F. Kime. Agricultural Alternatives: Financing Small-scale and Part-time Farms . University Park: Penn State Extension, 2005.
Starting a Farm: Business Planning
- American Agriculturist Magazine Farm Progress Companies Inc. 5482 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 260 Los Angeles, CA 90036
- Businessweek Magazine
- Fortune Magazine
- Kiplinger's Personal Finance
- Money Magazine
- BizPlanit - Virtual Business Plan
- PA Business One-Stop Shop
- Small Business Administration
- SCORE—volunteer business assistance
- The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Starting a Business in Pennsylvania—A Guide to Pennsylvania Taxes
- The Pennsylvania State University Agricultural Alternative Tools
- The Pennsylvania State University Conducting a SWOT Analysis
- The Pennsylvania State University Happy Valley Launch Box
Prepared by Lynn F. Kime, senior extension associate; Linda Falcone, extension educator in Wyoming County, Jayson K. Harper, professor of agricultural economics; and Winifred W. McGee, retired extension educator in Dauphin County
Additional financial support for this publication was provided by the Risk Management Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
This publication was developed by the Small-scale and Part-time Farming Project at Penn State with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Extension Service.
- Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education
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Starting or Diversifying an Agricultural Business
Conducting a SWOT Analysis
Choosing a Legal Structure for Your Agriculture Business
Example Business Plan
Obtaining a Loan - The C's of Credit
Opportunities for Veterans in Pennsylvania Agriculture
Retail Farm Market Bus Tour
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