Chapter 3: Developing a Business Plan
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How To Write the Perfect Business Plan in 9 Steps (2023)
- by Desirae Odjick
- Dec 3, 2022
- 25 minute read
A great business plan can help you clarify your strategy, identify potential roadblocks, decide what you’ll need in the way of resources, and evaluate the viability of your idea or your growth plans before you start a business .
Not every successful business launches with a formal business plan, but many founders find value in taking time to step back, research their idea and the market they’re looking to enter, and understand the scope and the strategy behind their tactics. That’s where writing a business plan comes in.
Table of Contents
What is a business plan?
Why write a business plan, business plan formats, how to write a business plan in 9 steps, tips for creating a small business plan, common mistakes when writing a business plan, prepare your business plan today, business plan faq.
A business plan is a document describing a business, its products or services, how it earns (or will earn) money, its leadership and staffing, its financing, its operations model, and many other details essential to its success.
We had a marketing background but not much experience in the other functions needed to run a fashion ecommerce business, like operations, finance, production, and tech. Laying out a business plan helped us identify the “unknowns” and made it easier to spot the gaps where we’d need help or, at the very least, to skill up ourselves. Jordan Barnett, Kapow Meggings
Investors rely on business plans to evaluate the feasibility of a business before funding it, which is why business plans are commonly associated with getting a loan. But there are several compelling reasons to consider writing a business plan, even if you don’t need funding.
- Strategic planning: Writing out your plan is an invaluable exercise for clarifying your ideas and can help you understand the scope of your business, as well as the amount of time, money, and resources you’ll need to get started.
- Evaluating ideas: If you’ve got multiple ideas in mind, a rough business plan for each can help you focus your time and energy on the ones with the highest chance of success.
- Research: To write a business plan, you’ll need to research your ideal customer and your competitors—information that will help you make more strategic decisions.
- Recruiting: Your business plan is one of the easiest ways to communicate your vision to potential new hires and can help build their confidence in the venture, especially if you’re in the early stages of growth.
- Partnerships: If you plan to approach other companies to collaborate, having a clear overview of your vision, your audience, and your business strategy will make it much easier for them to identify whether your business is a good fit for theirs—especially if they’re further along than you in their growth trajectory.
- Competitions: There are many business plan competitions offering prizes such as mentorships, grants, or investment capital. To find relevant competitions in your industry and area, try Googling “business plan competition + [your location]” and “business plan competition + [your industry].”
If you’re looking for a structured way to lay out your thoughts and ideas, and to share those ideas with people who can have a big impact on your success, a business plan is an excellent starting point.
Free: Business Plan Template
Business planning is often used to secure funding, but plenty of business owners find writing a plan valuable, even if they never work with an investor. That’s why we put together a free business plan template to help you get started.
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Business plans can span from one page to multiple pages with detailed graphs and reports. There’s no one way to create a business plan. The goal is to convey the most important information about your company for readers.
Common types of business plans we see include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Traditional. These are the most common business plans. Below, we’ll cover the standard elements of a business plan and go into detail for each section. Traditional business plans take longer to write and can be dozens of pages long. Venture capitalist firms and lenders ask for this plan.
- Lean. A lean business plan is a shorter version of a traditional business plan. It follows the same format, but only includes the most important information. Businesses use this plan to onboard new hires or modify existing plans for a specific target market.
- Nonprofit. A nonprofit business plan is for any entity that operates for public or social benefit. It covers everything you’ll find in a traditional business plan, plus a section describing the impact the company plans to make. For example, a speaker and headphone brand that aims to help people with hearing disabilities. Donors often request this plan.
Check out real-world examples of different business plans by reading The Road to Success: Business Plan Examples to Inspire Your Own .
- Draft an executive summary
- Describe your company
- Perform a market analysis
- Outline the management and organization
- List your products and services
- Perform customer segmentation
- Define a marketing plan
- Provide a logistics and operations plan
- Make a financial plan
Few things are more intimidating than a blank page. Starting your business plan with a structured outline and key elements for what you’ll include in each section is the best first step you can take.
Since an outline is such an important step in the process of writing a business plan, we’ve put together a high-level overview you can copy into your blank document to get you started (and avoid the terror of facing a blank page). You can also start with a free business plan template and use it to inform the structure of your plan.
Once you’ve got your business plan outline in place, it’s time to fill it in. We’ve broken it down by section to help you build your plan step by step.
1. Draft an executive summary
A good executive summary is one of the most crucial sections of your plan—it’s also the last section you should write.
The executive summary’s purpose is to distill everything that follows and give time-crunched reviewers (e.g., potential investors and lenders) a high-level overview of your business that persuades them to read further.
Again, it’s a summary, so highlight the key points you’ve uncovered while writing your plan. If you’re writing for your own planning purposes, you can skip the summary altogether—although you might want to give it a try anyway, just for practice.
An executive summary shouldn’t exceed one page. Admittedly, that space constraint can make squeezing in all of the salient information a bit stressful—but it’s not impossible. Here’s what your business plan’s executive summary should include:
- Business concept. What does your business do?
- Business goals and vision. What does your business want to do?
- Product description and differentiation. What do you sell, and why is it different?
- Target market. Who do you sell to?
- Marketing strategy. How do you plan on reaching your customers?
- Current financial state. What do you currently earn in revenue?
- Projected financial state. What do you foresee earning in revenue?
- The ask. How much money are you asking for?
- The team. strong> Who’s involved in the business?
2. Describe your company
This section of your business plan should answer two fundamental questions: who are you, and what do you plan to do? Answering these questions with a company description provides an introduction to why you’re in business, why you’re different, what you have going for you, and why you’re a good investment bet. For example, clean makeup brand Saie shares a letter from its founder on the company’s mission and why it exists.
Clarifying these details is still a useful exercise, even if you’re the only person who’s going to see them. It’s an opportunity to put to paper some of the more intangible facets of your business, like your principles, ideals, and cultural philosophies.
Here are some of the components you should include in your company description:
- Your business structure (Are you a sole proprietorship, general partnership, limited partnership, or incorporated company?)
- Your business model
- Your industry
- Your business’s vision, mission, and value proposition
- Background information on your business or its history
- Business objectives, both short and long term
- Your team, including key personnel and their salaries
Some of these points are statements of fact, but others will require a bit more thought to define, especially when it comes to your business’s vision, mission, and values. This is where you start getting to the core of why your business exists, what you hope to accomplish, and what you stand for.
This is where you start getting to the core of why your business exists, what you hope to accomplish, and what you stand for.
To define your values, think about all the people your company is accountable to, including owners, employees, suppliers, customers, and investors. Now consider how you’d like to conduct business with each of them. As you make a list, your core values should start to emerge.
Once you know your values, you can write a mission statement . Your statement should explain, in a convincing manner, why your business exists, and should be no longer than a single sentence.
As an example, Shopify’s mission statement is “Making commerce better for everyone.” It’s the “why” behind everything we do and clear enough that it needs no further explanation.
What impact do you envision your business having on the world once you’ve achieved your vision?
Next, craft your vision statement: what impact do you envision your business having on the world once you’ve achieved your vision? Phrase this impact as an assertion—begin the statement with “We will” and you’ll be off to a great start. Your vision statement, unlike your mission statement, can be longer than a single sentence, but try to keep it to three at most. The best vision statements are concise.
Finally, your company description should include both short- and long-term goals. Short-term goals, generally, should be achievable within the next year, while one to five years is a good window for long-term goals. Make sure all your goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
3. Perform a market analysis
No matter what type of business you start, it’s no exaggeration to say your market can make or break it. Choose the right market for your products—one with plenty of customers who understand and need your product—and you’ll have a head start on success. If you choose the wrong market, or the right market at the wrong time, you may find yourself struggling for each sale.
Market analysis is a key section of your business plan, whether or not you ever intend for anyone else to read it.
This is why market research and analysis is a key section of your business plan, whether or not you ever intend for anyone else to read it. It should include an overview of how big you estimate the market is for your products, an analysis of your business’s position in the market, and an overview of the competitive landscape. Thorough research supporting your conclusions is important both to persuade investors and to validate your own assumptions as you work through your plan.
How big is your potential market?
The potential market is an estimate of how many people need your product. While it’s exciting to imagine sky-high sales figures, you’ll want to use as much relevant independent data as possible to validate your estimated potential market.
Since this can be a daunting process, here are some general tips to help you begin your research:
- Understand your ideal customer profile . If you’re targeting millennial consumers in the US, you first can look for government data about the size of that group. You also could look at projected changes to the number of people in your target age range over the next few years.
- Research relevant industry trends and trajectory. If your product serves retirees, try to find data about how many people will be retiring in the next five years, as well as any information you can find about consumption patterns among that group. If you’re selling fitness equipment, you could look at trends in gym memberships and overall health and fitness among your target audience or the population at large. Finally, look for information on whether your general industry is projected to grow or decline over the next few years.
- Make informed guesses. You’ll never have perfect, complete information about the size of your total addressable market. Your goal is to base your estimates on as many verifiable data points as necessary for a confident guess.
Some sources to consult for market data include government statistics offices, industry associations, academic research, and respected news outlets covering your industry.
A SWOT analysis looks at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. What are the best things about your company? What are you not so good at? What market or industry shifts can you take advantage of and turn into opportunities? Are there external factors threatening your ability to succeed?
These breakdowns often are presented as a grid, with bullet points in each section breaking down the most relevant information—so you can probably skip writing full paragraphs here. Strengths and weaknesses—both internal company factors—are listed first, with opportunities and threats following in the next row. With this visual presentation, your reader can quickly see the factors that may impact your business and determine your competitive advantage in the market.
Here’s an example:
Free: SWOT Analysis Template
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There are three overarching factors you can use to differentiate your business in the face of competition:
- Cost leadership. You have the capacity to maximize profits by offering lower prices than the majority of your competitors. Examples include companies like Mejuri and Endy .
- Differentiation. Your product or service offers something distinct from the current cost leaders in your industry and banks on standing out based on your uniqueness. Think of companies like Knix and Qalo .
- Segmentation. You focus on a very specific, or niche, target market, and aim to build traction with a smaller audience before moving on to a broader market. Companies like TomboyX and Heyday Footwear are great examples of this strategy.
To understand which is the best fit, you’ll need to understand your business as well as the competitive landscape.
You’ll always have competition in the market, even with an innovative product, so it’s important to include a competitive overview in your business plan. If you’re entering an established market, include a list of a few companies you consider direct competitors and explain how you plan to differentiate your products and business from theirs.
You’ll always have competition in the market, even with an innovative product.
For example, if you’re selling jewelry, your competitive differentiation could be that, unlike many high-end competitors, you donate a percentage of your profits to a notable charity or pass savings on to your customers.
If you’re entering a market where you can’t easily identify direct competitors, consider your indirect competitors—companies offering products that are substitutes for yours. For example, if you’re selling an innovative new piece of kitchen equipment, it’s too easy to say that because your product is new, you have no competition. Consider what your potential customers are doing to solve the same problems your product solves.
4. Outline management and organization
The management and organization section of your business plan should tell readers about who’s running your company. Detail the legal structure of your business. Communicate whether you’ll incorporate your business as an S corporation or create a limited partnership or sole proprietorship.
If you have a management team, use an organizational chart to show your company’s internal structure, including the roles, responsibilities, and relationships between people in your chart. Communicate how each person will contribute to the success of your startup.
5. List your products and services
Your products or services will feature prominently in most areas of your business plan, but it’s important to provide a section that outlines key details about them for interested readers.
If you sell many items, you can include more general information on each of your product lines; if you only sell a few, provide additional information on each. For example, bag shop BAGGU sells a large selection of different types of bags, in addition to home goods and other accessories. Its business plan would list out those bags and key details about each.
Describe new products you’ll launch in the near future and any intellectual property you own. Express how they’ll improve profitability.
It’s also important to note where products are coming from—handmade crafts are sourced differently than trending products for a dropshipping business, for instance.
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6. perform customer segmentation.
Your ideal customer, also known as your target market, is the foundation of your marketing plan , if not your business plan as a whole. You’ll want to keep this person in mind as you make strategic decisions, which is why an overview of who they are is important to understand and include in your plan.
To give a holistic overview of your ideal customer, describe a number of general and specific demographic characteristics. Customer segmentation often includes:
- Where they live
- Their age range
- Their level of education
- Some common behavior patterns
- How they spend their free time
- Where they work
- What technology they use
- How much they earn
- Where they’re commonly employed
- Their values, beliefs, or opinions
This information will vary based on what you’re selling, but you should be specific enough that it’s unquestionably clear who you’re trying to reach—and more importantly, why you’ve made the choices you have based on who your customers are and what they value.
For example, a college student has different interests, shopping habits, and pricing sensitivity than a 50-year-old executive at a Fortune 500 company. Your business plan and decisions would look very different based on which one was your ideal customer.
7. Define a marketing plan
Your marketing efforts are directly informed by your ideal customer. Your marketing plan should outline your current decisions and your future strategy, with a focus on how your ideas are a fit for that ideal customer.
If you’re planning to invest heavily in > Instagram marketing , for example, it might make sense to include whether Instagram is a leading platform for your audience—if it’s not, that might be a sign to rethink your marketing plan.
Most marketing plans include information on four key subjects. How much detail you present on each will depend on both your business and your plan’s audience.
- Price. How much do your products cost, and why have you made that decision?
- Product. What are you selling and how do you differentiate it in the market?
- Promotion. How will you get your products in front of your ideal customer?
- Place. Where will you sell your products?
Promotion may be the bulk of your plan since you can more readily dive into tactical details, but the other three areas should be covered at least briefly—each is an important strategic lever in your marketing mix.
8. Provide a logistics and operations plan
Logistics and operations are the workflows you’ll implement to make your ideas a reality. If you’re writing a business plan for your own planning purposes, this is still an important section to consider, even though you might not need to include the same level of detail as if you were seeking investment.
Cover all parts of your planned operations, including:
- Suppliers. Where do you get the raw materials you need for production, or where are your products produced?
- Production. Will you make, manufacture, wholesale , or dropship your products? How long does it take to produce your products and get them shipped to you? How will you handle a busy season or an unexpected spike in demand?
- Facilities. Where will you and any team members work? Do you plan to have a physical retail space? If yes, where?
- Equipment. What tools and technology do you require to be up and running? This includes everything from computers to lightbulbs and everything in between.
- Shipping and fulfillment. Will you be handling all the fulfillment tasks in-house, or will you use a third-party fulfillment partner?
- Inventory. How much will you keep on hand, and where will it be stored? How will you ship it to partners if required, and how will you approach inventory management ?
This section should signal to your reader that you’ve got a solid understanding of your supply chain and strong contingency plans in place to cover potential uncertainty. If your reader is you, it should give you a basis to make other important decisions, like how to price your products to cover your estimated costs, and at what point you plan to break even on your initial spending.
9. Make a financial plan
No matter how great your idea is, and regardless of the effort, time, and money you invest, a business lives or dies based on its financial health. At the end of the day, people want to work with a business they expect to be viable for the foreseeable future.
The level of detail required in your financial plan will depend on your audience and goals, but typically you’ll want to include three major views of your financials: an income statement, a balance sheet, and a cash-flow statement. It also may be appropriate to include financial data and projections.
Here’s a spreadsheet template that includes everything you’ll need to create an income statement, balance sheet, and cash-flow statement, including some sample numbers. You can edit it to reflect projections if needed.
Your income statement is designed to give readers a look at your revenue sources and expenses over a given time period. With those two pieces of information, they can see the all-important bottom line or the profit or loss your business experienced during that time. If you haven’t launched your business yet, you can project future milestones of the same information.
Your balance sheet offers a look at how much equity you have in your business. On one side, you list all your business assets (what you own), and on the other side, all your liabilities (what you owe). This provides a snapshot of your business’s shareholder equity, which is calculated as:
Assets - Liabilities = Equity
Cash flow statement
Your cash flow statement is similar to your income statement, with one important difference: it takes into account when revenues are collected and when expenses are paid.
When the cash you have coming in is greater than the cash you have going out, your cash flow is positive. When the opposite scenario is true, your cash flow is negative. Ideally, your cash flow statement will help you see when cash is low, when you might have a surplus, and where you might need to have a contingency plan to access funding to keep your business solvent .
It can be especially helpful to forecast your cash-flow statement to identify gaps or negative cash flow and adjust operations as required. Here’s a full guide to working through cash-flow projections for your business.
Download your copy of these templates to build out these financial statements for your business plan.
Know your audience
When you know who will be reading your plan—even if you’re just writing it for yourself to clarify your ideas—you can tailor the language and level of detail to them. This can also help you make sure you’re including the most relevant information and figure out when to omit sections that aren’t as impactful.
Have a clear goal
You’ll need to put in more work and deliver a more thorough plan if your goal is to secure funding for your business versus working through a plan for yourself or even your team.
Invest time in research
Sections of your business plan will primarily be informed by your ideas and vision, but some of the most crucial information you’ll need requires research from independent sources. This is where you can invest time in understanding who you’re selling to, whether there’s demand for your products, and who else is selling similar products or services.
Keep it short and to the point
No matter who you’re writing for, your business plan should be short and readable—generally no longer than 15 to 20 pages. If you do have additional documents you think may be valuable to your audience and your goals, consider adding them as appendices.
Keep the tone, style, and voice consistent
This is best managed by having a single person write the plan or by allowing time for the plan to be properly edited before distributing it.
Use a business plan software
Writing a business plan isn’t the easiest task for business owners. But it’s important for anyone starting or expanding a business. Fortunately, there are tools to help with everything from planning, drafting, creating graphics, syncing financial data, and more. Business plan software also have templates and tutorials to help you finish a comprehensive plan in hours, rather than days.
A few curated picks include:
- LivePlan : the most affordable option with samples and templates
- Bizplan : tailored for startups seeking investment
- GoSmallBiz : budget-friendly option with industry-specific templates
For a more in-depth look at the available options, read Get Guidance: 6 Business Plan Software to Help Write Your Future .
Other articles on business plans would never tell you what we’re about to tell you: your business plan can fail. The last thing you want is for time and effort to go down the drain. Avoid these common mistakes:
- Bad business idea. Not every idea is going to win. Sometimes your idea may be too risky and you won’t be able to get funding for it. Other times it’s too expensive or there’s no market. Aim for small business ideas that require little money and bypass traditional startup costs.
- No exit strategy. Investors reading your business plan want to know one thing: will your venture make them money? If you don’t show an exit strategy, or a plan for them to leave the business with maximum profits, you’ll have little luck finding capital.
- Unbalanced teams. A great product is the cost of entry to starting a business. But an incredible team will take it to the top. Unfortunately, many business owners overlook a balanced team. They assume readers want to see potential profits, without worrying about how you’ll get it done. If you’re pitching a new software idea, it makes sense to have at least one developer or IT specialist on your team.
- Missing financial projections. Your numbers are the most interesting part for readers. Don’t leave out your balance sheet, cash flow statements, P&L statements, and income statements. Include your break-even analysis and return-on-investment calculations to create a successful business plan.
- Spelling and grammar errors. Some businesses think hiring a professional editor is overkill. The reality is, all the best organizations have an editor review their documents. If someone spots typos while reading your business plan, how can they believe you’ll run a successful company?
Read through the following business plan example. You can download a copy in Microsoft Word or Google Docs and use it to inspire your own business planning.
Download sample business plan example (.doc)
A business plan can help you identify clear, deliberate next steps for your business, even if you never plan to pitch investors—and it can help you see gaps in your plan before they become issues. Whether you’ve written a business plan for a new online business idea , a retail storefront, growing your established business, or purchasing an existing business , you now have a comprehensive guide and the information you need to help you start working on the next phase of your own business.
Illustrations by Rachel Tunstall
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How do i write a business plan.
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Market analysis
- Management and organization
- Products and services
- Customer segmentation
- Marketing plan
- Logistics and operations
- Financial plan
What is a good business plan?
What are the 3 main purposes of a business plan, what are the different types of business plans, about the author.
Desirae is a senior product marketing manager at Shopify, and has zero chill when it comes to helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
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Guide to Creating a Business Plan With Template
To make your business idea a reality, you need a business plan. These simple business plan templates will get you started.
- A business plan clearly defines a company’s goals and how it will achieve them.
- You can find templates for simple and traditional business plans online, including a free downloadable one created by Business News Daily.
- LivePlan, Bizplan, GoSmallBiz and Enloop all offer great business plan software that can take your business plan to the next level.
- This article is for entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to know how to write a business plan.
Having a road map helps you reach your journey’s end successfully. Business plans do the same for small businesses. They lay out the milestones you need to reach to build a profitable small business. They are also essential for identifying and overcoming obstacles along the way. Each part of a business plan helps you reach your goals, including the financial aspects, marketing, operations and sales.
Plenty of online business plan templates are available to take some of the pain out of the writing process. You may benefit from simple, easy-to-follow business plan tools so you spend less time writing and more time launching your venture.
What is a business plan?
With most great business ideas , the best way to execute them is to have a plan. A business plan is a written outline that you present to others, such as investors, whom you want to recruit into your venture. It’s your pitch to your investors, sharing with them what the goals of your startup are and how you expect to be profitable.
It also serves as your company’s roadmap, keeping your business on track and ensuring your operations grow and evolve to meet the goals outlined in your plan. As circumstances change, a business plan can serve as a living document – but it should always include the core goals of your business.
Why do I need a business plan?
Starting a new business comes with headaches. Being prepared for those headaches can greatly decrease their impact on your business. One important step in preparing for the challenges your startup may face is writing a solid business plan.
Writing a business plan helps you understand more clearly what you need to do to reach your goals. The finished business plan also serves as a reminder to you of these goals. It’s a valuable tool that you can refer back to, helping you stay focused and on track.
What are the three main purposes of a business plan?
Before you write your business plan, it’s important to understand the purpose of creating it in the first place. These are the three main reasons you should have a business plan:
- Establish a business focus. The primary purpose of a business plan is to establish your plans for the future. These plans should include goals or milestones alongside detailed steps of how your company will reach each step. The process of creating a roadmap to your goals will help you determine your business focus and pursue growth.
- Secure funding. One of the first things private investors , banks or other lenders look for before investing in your business is a well-researched business plan. Investors want to know how you operate your business, what your revenue and expense projections are and, most importantly, how they will receive a return on their investment. [Check out our recommendations for the best business loan options .]
- Attract executives. As your business grows, you’ll likely need to add executives to your team. A business plan helps you attract executive talent and determine whether or not they are a good fit for your company.
Your business plan can be written as a document or designed as a slideshow, such as a PowerPoint presentation. It may be beneficial to create both versions. For example, the PowerPoint can be used to pull people in, and the document version that contains more detail can be given to viewers as a follow-up.
Free downloadable business plan template
Business News Daily put together a simple but high-value business plan template to help you create a business plan. The template is completely customizable and can be used to attract investors, secure board members, and narrow the scope of your company.
Business plans can be overwhelming to new entrepreneurs, but our template makes it easy to provide all of the details required by financial institutions and private investors. The template has eight main sections, with subsections for each topic. For easy navigation, a table of contents is provided with the template. As you customize each section, you’ll receive tips on how to correctly write the required details.
Here is our free business plan template you can use to craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.
Types of business plans
There are two main types of business plans: simple and traditional. Traditional business plans are long, detailed plans that expound on both short-term and long-term objectives. In comparison, a simple business plan focuses on a few key metrics in concise detail so as to quickly share data with investors.
Simple business plan
Business model expert Ash Maurya has developed a simple type of business plan called a lean canvas . The model, which was developed in 2010, is still one of the most popular types of business plans emulated today.
A lean canvas comprises nine sections, with each part of the plan containing high-value information and metrics to attract investors. This lean business plan often consists of a single page of information with the following listed:
- Key metrics
- Unique proposition
- Unfair advantage
- Customer targets
- Cost structures
- Revenue streams
Traditional business plan
Traditional plans are lengthy documents, sometimes as long as 30 or 40 pages. A traditional business plan acts as a blueprint of a new business, detailing its progress from the time it launches to several years in the future when the startup is an established business. The following areas are covered in a traditional business plan:
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Products and services
- Market analysis
- Management team
- Financial plan
- Operational plan
We lay out each area of a traditional business plan in detail below.
1. Executive summary
The executive summary is the most important section of your business plan, because it needs to draw your readers into your plan and entice them to continue reading. If your executive summary doesn’t capture the reader’s attention, they won’t read further, and their interest in your business won’t be piqued.
Even though the executive summary is the first section in your business plan, you should write it last. When you are ready to write this section, we recommend that you summarize the problem (or market need) you aim to solve, your solution for consumers, an overview of the founders and/or owners, and key financial details. The key with this section is to be brief yet engaging.
2. Company description
This section is an overview of your entire business. Make sure you include basic information, such as when your company was founded, the type of business entity it is – limited liability company (LLC), sole proprietorship, partnership , C corporation or S corporation – and the state in which it is registered. Provide a summary of your company’s history to give the readers a solid understanding of its foundation. Learn more about articles of incorporation , and what you need to know to start a business.
3. Products and services
Next, describe the products and/or services your business provides. Focus on your customers’ perspective – and needs – by demonstrating the problem you are trying to solve. The goal with this section is to prove that your business fills a bona fide market need and will remain viable for the foreseeable future.
4. Market analysis
In this section, clearly define who your target audience is, where you will find customers, how you will reach them and, most importantly, how you will deliver your product or service to them. Provide a deep analysis of your ideal customer and how your business provides a solution for them.
You should also include your competitors in this section, and illustrate how your business is uniquely different from the established companies in the industry or market. What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how will you differentiate yourself from the pack?
Follow this step-by-step guide on how to conduct a competitor analysis and what details it should include.
You will also need to write a marketing plan based on the context of your business. For example, if you’re a small local business, you want to analyze your competitors who are located nearby. Franchises need to conduct a large-scale analysis, potentially on a national level. Competitor data helps you know the current trends in your target industry and the growth potential. These details also prove to investors that you’re very familiar with the industry.
For this section, the listed target market paints a picture of what your ideal customer looks like. Data to include may be the age range, gender, income levels, location, marital status and geographical regions of target consumers.
A SWOT analysis is a common tool entrepreneurs use to bring all collected data together in a market analysis. “SWOT” stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.” Strengths and weaknesses analyze the advantages and disadvantages unique to your company, while opportunities and threats analyze the current market risks and rewards.
5. Management team
Before anyone invests in your business, they want a complete understanding of the potential investment. This section should illustrate how your business is organized. It should list key members of the management team, the founders/owners, board members, advisors, etc.
As you list each individual, provide a summary of their experience and their role within your company. Treat this section as a series of mini resumes, and consider appending full-length resumes to your business plan.
6. Financial plan
The financial plan should include a detailed overview of your finances. At the very least, you should include cash flow statements, and profit and loss projections, over the next three to five years. You can also include historical financial data from the past few years, your sales forecast and balance sheet. Consider these items to include:
- Income statement: Investors want detailed information to confirm the viability of your business idea. Expect to provide an income statement for the business plan that includes a complete snapshot of your business. The income statement will list revenue, expenses and profits. Income statements are generated monthly for startups and quarterly for established businesses.
- Cash flow projection: Another element of your financial plan is your projection for cash flow. In this section, you estimate the expected amount of money coming in and going out of your business. There are two benefits to including a cash flow projection. The first is that this forecast demonstrates whether your business is a high or low-risk venture. The second benefit of doing a cash flow projection is that it shows you whether you would benefit most from short-term or long-term financing.
- Analysis of break-even point: Your financial plan should include a break-even analysis. The break-even point is the point at which your company’s sales totals cover all of its expenses. Investors want to see your revenue requirements to assess whether your business is capable of reaching the financial milestones you’ve laid out in your business plan.
Make sure this section is precise and accurate. It’s often best to create this section with a professional accountant. If you’re seeking outside funding for your business , highlight why you’re seeking financing, how you will use that money, and when investors can expect a return on investment .
Struggling for cash flow? Here are eight cash flow strategies for survival.
If you really want to master your financial plan, Jennifer Spaziano, vice president of business development at Accion, offers these helpful tips:
- Follow generally accepted accounting principles . As a rule, the financial part of your plan should follow the accounting principles set by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, especially if you’re creating the plan to obtain a loan or a line of credit.
- Get fluent in spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are the best and most accepted way to present financial information.
- Seek outside assistance. Obtaining advice from your financial planner or accountant can help you put the numbers together and present them properly. If you use an accountant and your financial statements have been audited, state that in the plan.
- Look up templates. If you want to attempt writing the financial section on your own, there are resources.
7. Operational plan
The operational plan section details the physical needs of your business. This section discusses the location of the business , as well as required equipment or critical facilities needed to make your products. Some companies – depending on their business type – may also need to detail their inventory needs, including information about suppliers. For manufacturing companies, all processing details are spelled out in the operational plan section.
For startups, you want to divide the operational plan into two distinct phases: the developmental plan and the production plan.
- Developmental plan: The developmental plan details each step in the process of bringing your product or service to market. You want to outline the risks and the protocols you’re taking to demonstrate to investors that you’ve examined all potential liabilities and that your business is well positioned for success. For instance, if workers (or your products) are exposed to toxic materials during the production process, in your developmental plan, you want to list the safety measures you will follow to minimize the risk of illness and injury to workers and consumers and how you plan to minimize any potential culpability to your business.
- Production plan: The production plan includes the day-to-day operation information, such as your business hours, the work site(s), company assets, equipment pieces, raw materials and any special requirements.
Free vs. paid business plan templates
You have your option of choosing between free and paid business templates. Both come with their own benefits and limitations, so the best one for you will depend on your specific needs and budget. Evaluating the pros and cons of each can help you decide.
The biggest advantage of using a free template is the cost savings it offers to your business. Startups are often strapped for cash, making it a desirable choice for new business owners to access a free template. Although it’s nice to use templates at no cost, there are some drawbacks to free business plan templates – the biggest one being limited customizability.
“The process of writing a business plan lets you personally find the kinks in your business and work them out,” Attiyya Atkins, founder of A+ Editing, told Business News Daily. “Starting with an online template is a good start, but it needs to be reviewed and targeted to your market. Downloadable business plans may have dated market prices, making the budget inaccurate. If you’re looking to get money from investors, you need a customized business plan with zero errors.”
Janil Jean, head of overseas operations at LogoDesign.net, agreed that free templates offer limited customization – such as the company name and some text. She added that they are often used by a ton of people, so if you use one to secure funds, investors might be tired of seeing that business plan format.
The benefit of paying for business plan templates – or paying for an expert to review your business plan – is the accuracy of information and high customization.
“Your audience gets thousands of applications per day. What’s to make your business plan stand out from the crowd when you’re not there in the room when they make the decisions about your enterprise?” Jean said. “Visuals are the best way to impress and get attention. It makes sense to get paid templates that allow you maximum customization through design, images and branding.”
On the contrary, the limitation to using a paid template is the cost. If your startup doesn’t have the funds to pay for a business plan template, it may not be a feasible option.
The best business plan software
In case you take the route of investing money in your business plan, there are several great software programs available. Software takes the legwork out of writing a business plan by simplifying the process and eliminating the need to start from scratch. They often include features like step-by-step wizards, templates, financial projection tools, charts and graphs, third-party application integrations, collaboration tools and video tutorials.
After researching and evaluating dozens of business plan software providers, we narrowed down these four of the best options available:
LivePlan is a cloud-hosted software application that provides many tools to create your business plan, including more than 500 templates, a one-page pitch builder, automatic financial statements, full financial forecasting , industry benchmark data and KPIs . Annual plans start at $15 per month.
Bizplan is cloud-hosted software that features a step-by-step builder to walk you through each section of the business plan. Annual plans start at $20.75 per month.
GoSmallBiz is a cloud-based service that offers industry-specific templates, a step-by-step wizard that makes creating a detailed business plan an easy one, and video tutorials. Monthly plans start at $15 per month.
Enloop focuses on financial projections. It provides you with everything you need to demonstrate how financially viable your business can be, and walks you through the process of generating financial forecasts. Annual plans start at $11 per month.
Common challenges of writing a business plan
The challenges of writing a business plan vary. Do you have all the information about your business that you need? Does your industry have strict guidelines that you must adhere to? To help you prepare, we identified 10 of the most common issues you may face:
- Getting started
- Identifying cash flow and financial projections
- Knowing your target market
- Being concise
- Making it interesting
- Establishing workable goals
- Being realistic about business growth
- Proving that your idea is worth the risk
- Finding the right amount of flexibility
- Creating a strategy that you can implement
Crafting a business plan around these 10 challenges can prepare your business – and anyone who joins it – for a prosperous future.
How to overcome the challenges of writing a business plan
Although you won’t accurately predict everything for your business, you can take preemptive steps to reduce the number of complications that may arise. For example, familiarize yourself with the business plan process by researching business plans and identifying how others successfully executed their plans.
You can use these plans as a basis; however, Rick Cottrell, CEO and founder of BizResults.com, recommends taking it one step further: Talk to small business owners and others who have experience.
“The business owner should talk to an accountant, banker, and those who deal with these plans on a daily basis and learn how others have done it,” Cottrell said. “They can join startup and investment groups, and speak to peers and others who are getting ready to launch a business, and gain insights from them. They can seek out capital innovation clubs in their area and get additional expertise.”
If you research how to write a business plan and still don’t feel comfortable writing one, you can always hire a consultant to help you with the process.
“It is simply a time-consuming process that cannot be rushed,” Cottrell added. “Millions of dollars can be at stake and, in many cases, requires a high level of expertise that either needs to be learned or executed in conjunction with an experienced business consultant.”
Sean Peek, Jennifer Post, Chad Brooks, Howard Wen and Joshua Stowers contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article and related articles.
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Executive Summary of the Business Plan
How to write an executive summary that gets your business plan read.
Susan Ward wrote about small businesses for The Balance for 18 years. She has run an IT consulting firm and designed and presented courses on how to promote small businesses.
CP Cheah / Getty Images
An executive summary of a business plan is an overview. Its purpose is to summarize the key points of a document for its readers, saving them time and preparing them for the upcoming content.
Think of the executive summary as an advance organizer for the reader. Above all else, it must be clear and concise. But it also has to entice the reader to read the rest of the business plan .
This is why the executive summary is often called the most important part of the business plan. If it doesn’t capture the reader's attention, the plan will be set aside unread—a disaster if you've written your business plan as part of an attempt to get money to start your new business . (Getting startup money is not the only reason to write a business plan; there are other just-as-important reasons .)
Because it is an overview of the entire plan, it is common to write the executive summary last (and writing it last can make it much easier).
What Information Goes in an Executive Summary?
The information you need to include varies somewhat depending on whether your business is a startup or an established business.
For a startup business typically one of the main goals of the business plan is to convince banks, angel investors , or venture capitalists to invest in your business by providing startup capital in the form of debt or equity financing .
In order to do so you will have to provide a solid case for your business idea which makes your executive summary all the more important. A typical executive summary for a startup company includes the following sections:
- The business opportunity. Describe the need or the opportunity.
- Taking advantage of the opportunity. Explain how will your business will serve the market.
- The target market . Describe the customer base you will be targeting.
- Business model . Describe your products or services and and what will make them appealing to the target market.
- Marketing and sales strategy . Briefly outline your plans for marketing your products and services.
- The competition. Describe your competition and your strategy for getting market share. What is your competitive advantage, e.g. what will you offer to customers that your competitors cannot?
- Financial analysis. Summarize the financial plan including projections for at least the next three years.
- Owners/Staff. Describe the owners and the key staff members and the expertise they bring to the venture.
- Implementation plan. Outline the schedule for taking your business from the planning stage to opening your doors.
For established businesses the executive summary typically includes information about achievements, growth plans , etc. A typical executive summary outline for an established business includes:
- Mission Statement . Articulates the purpose of your business. In a few sentences describe what your company does and your core values and business philosophy.
- Company Information. Give a brief history of your company —d escribe your products or services, when and where it was formed, who the owners and key employees are, statistics such as the number of employees, business locations, etc.
- Business Highlights. Describe the evolution of the businesshow it has grown, including year-over-year revenue increases, profitability, increases in market share, number of customers, etc.
- Financial Summary. If the purpose of updating the business plan is to seek additional financing for expansion, then give a brief financial summary.
- Future goals. Describe your goals for the business . If you are seeking financing explain how additional funding will be used to expand the business or otherwise increase profits.
How Do I Write an Executive Summary of a Business Plan?
Start by following the list above and writing one to two sentences about each topic (depending on whether your business is a startup or an established business). No more!
The Easy Way of Writing One
Having trouble getting started? The easiest way of writing the executive summary is to review your business plan and take a summary sentence or two from each of the business plan sections you’ve already written.
If you compare the list above to the sections outlined in the Business Plan Outline , you’ll see that this could work very well.
Then finish your business plan’s executive summary with a clinching closing sentence or two that answers the reader’s question, “Why is this a winning business?”
For example, an executive summary for a pet-sitting business might conclude: “The loving on-site professional care that Pet Grandma will provide is sure to appeal to both cat and dog owners throughout the West Vancouver area.”
(You may find it useful to read the entire Pet Grandma executive summary example before you write your own.)
Tips for Writing the Business Plan’s Executive Summary
- Focus on providing a summary. The business plan itself will provide the details and whether bank managers or investors, the readers of your plan don’t want to have their time wasted.
- Keep your language strong and positive. Don’t weaken your executive summary with weak language. Instead of writing, “Dogstar Industries might be in an excellent position to win government contracts,” write “Dogstar Industries will be in an excellent position.”
- Keep it short–no more than two pages long . Resist the temptation to pad your business plan’s executive summary with details (or pleas). The job of the executive summary is to present the facts and entice your reader to read the rest of the business plan, not tell him everything.
- Polish your executive summary. Read it aloud. Does it flow or does it sound choppy? Is it clear and succinct? Once it sounds good to you, have someone else who knows nothing about your business read it and make suggestions for improvement.
- Tailor it to your audience. If the purpose of your business plan is to entice investors , for instance, your executive summary should focus on the opportunity your business provides investors and why the opportunity is special. If the purpose of your business plan is to get a small business loan , focus on highlighting what traditional lenders want to see, such as management's experience in the industry and the fact that you have both collateral and strategies in place to minimize the lender's risk.
- Put yourself in your readers’ place. And read your executive summary again. Does it generate interest or excitement in the reader? If not, why? Also try giving it to a friend or relative to read, who is not engaged in the business. If you've done a good job on the executive summary, an impartial third party should be able to understand it.
Remember, the executive summary will be the first thing your readers read. If it's poorly written, it will also be the last thing they read, as they set the rest of your business plan aside unread.
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. " Business Plan Guidelines ," Page 2.
Corporate Finance Institute. " Executive Summary ."
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. " How to Prepare Your Business Plan ," Page 167.
Iowa State University. " Types and Sources of Financing for Start-up Businesses ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
Clute Institute. " Using Business Plans for Teaching Entrepreneurship ," Page 733.
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T or F: The statement of purpose in a business plan should be no more than two pages. F. T or F: Business plans should
The statement of purpose in a business plan should be no more than two pages. False. Your business plan needs to convince readers
The introduction section of the business plan includes a description of the business and goals, the ownership and legal structure, the skills and experience you
In the first paragraph, the executive summary should include a description of your business and the customer problem being uniquely solved so
Business plans can span from one page to multiple pages with detailed graphs and reports. There's no one way to create a business plan. The goal
T/F: The first three pages of the business plan should be the statement of purpose, executive summary, and the table of contents.
An executive summary should highlight your business plan's essential points in fewer than two pages. Write your business plan before writing
The financial plan should include a detailed overview of your finances. At the very least, you should include cash flow statements, and profit
It's generally two to three pages, although there is no set requirement and may be as short as a single paragraph. The business plan
Start by following the list above and writing one to two sentences about each topic (depending on whether your business is a startup or an