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An Introduction to Business Plans
Why is a business plan so vital to the health of your business? Read the first section of our tutorial on How to Build a Business Plan to find out.
Mar 20, 2010
A business plan is a written description of your business's future. That's all there is to it--a document that desribes what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. If you jot down a paragraph on the back of an envelope describing your business strategy, you've written a plan, or at least the germ of a plan.
Business plans can help perform a number of tasks for those who write and read them. They're used by investment-seeking entrepreneurs to convey their vision to potential investors. They may also be used by firms that are trying to attract key employees, prospect for new business, deal with suppliers or simply to understand how to manage their companies better.
So what's included in a business plan, and how do you put one together? Simply stated, a business plan conveys your business goals, the strategies you'll use to meet them, potential problems that may confront your business and ways to solve them, the organizational structure of your business (including titles and responsibilities), and finally, the amount of capital required to finance your venture and keep it going until it breaks even.
Sound impressive? It can be, if put together properly. A good business plan follows generally accepted guidelines for both form and content. There are three primary parts to a business plan:
- The first is the business concept , where you discuss the industry, your business structure, your particular product or service, and how you plan to make your business a success.
- The second is the marketplace section , in which you describe and analyze potential customers: who and where they are, what makes them buy and so on. Here, you also describe the competition and how you'll position yourself to beat it.
- Finally, the financial section contains your income and cash flow statement, balance sheet and other financial ratios, such as break-even analyses. This part may require help from your accountant and a good spreadsheet software program.
Breaking these three major sections down even further, a business plan consists of seven key components:
- Executive summary
- Business description
- Market strategies
- Competitive analysis
- Design and development plan
- Operations and management plan
- Financial factors
In addition to these sections, a business plan should also have a cover, title page and table of contents.
How Long Should Your Business Plan Be? Depending on what you're using it for, a useful business plan can be any length, from a scrawl on the back of an envelope to, in the case of an especially detailed plan describing a complex enterprise, more than 100 pages. A typical business plan runs 15 to 20 pages, but there's room for wide variation from that norm. Much will depend on the nature of your business. If you have a simple concept, you may be able to express it in very few words. On the other hand, if you're proposing a new kind of business or even a new industry, it may require quite a bit of explanation to get the message across.
The purpose of your plan also determines its length. If you want to use your plan to seek millions of dollars in seed capital to start a risky venture, you may have to do a lot of explaining and convincing. If you're just going to use your plan for internal purposes to manage an ongoing business, a much more abbreviated version should be fine.
Who Needs a Business Plan?
About the only person who doesn't need a business plan is one who's not going into business. You don't need a plan to start a hobby or to moonlight from your regular job. But anybody beginning or extending a venture that will consume significant resources of money, energy or time, and that is expected to return a profit, should take the time to draft some kind of plan.
Startups. The classic business plan writer is an entrepreneur seeking funds to help start a new venture. Many, many great companies had their starts on paper, in the form of a plan that was used to convince investors to put up the capital necessary to get them under way.
Most books on business planning seem to be aimed at these startup business owners. There's one good reason for that: As the least experienced of the potential plan writers, they're probably most appreciative of the guidance. However, it's a mistake to think that only cash-starved startups need business plans. Business owners find plans useful at all stages of their companies' existence, whether they're seeking financing or trying to figure out how to invest a surplus.
Established firms seeking help. Not all business plans are written by starry-eyed entrepreneurs. Many are written by and for companies that are long past the startup stage. WalkerGroup/Designs, for instance, was already well-established as a designer of stores for major retailers when founder Ken Walker got the idea of trademarking and licensing to apparel makers and others the symbols 01-01-00 as a sort of numeric shorthand for the approaching millennium. Before beginning the arduous and costly task of trademarking it worldwide, Walker used a business plan complete with sales forecasts to convince big retailers it would be a good idea to promise to carry the 01-01-00 goods. It helped make the new venture a winner long before the big day arrived. "As a result of the retail support up front," Walker says, "we had over 45 licensees running the gamut of product lines almost from the beginning."
These middle-stage enterprises may draft plans to help them find funding for growth just as the startups do, although the amounts they seek may be larger and the investors more willing. They may feel the need for a written plan to help manage an already rapidly growing business. Or a plan may be seen as a valuable tool to be used to convey the mission and prospects of the business to customers, suppliers or others.
Plan an Updating Checklist Here are seven reasons to think about updating your business plan. If even just one applies to you, it's time for an update.
- A new financial period is about to begin. You may update your plan annually, quarterly or even monthly if your industry is a fast-changing one.
- You need financing , or additional financing. Lenders and other financiers need an updated plan to help them make financing decisions.
- There's been a significant market change . Shifting client tastes, consolidation trends among customers and altered regulatory climates can trigger a need for plan updates.
- Your firm develops or is about to develop a new product , technology , service or skill. If your business has changed a lot since you wrote your plan the first time around, it's time for an update.
- You have had a change in management . New managers should get fresh information about your business and your goals.
- Your company has crossed a threshold, such as moving out of your home office, crossing the $1 million sales mark or employing your 100th employee .
- Your old plan doesn't seem to reflect reality any more. Maybe you did a poor job last time; maybe things have just changed faster than you expected. But if your plan seems irrelevant, redo it.
Finding the Right Plan for You
Business plans tend to have a lot of elements in common, like cash flow projections and marketing plans. And many of them share certain objectives as well, such as raising money or persuading a partner to join the firm. But business plans are not all the same any more than all businesses are.
Depending on your business and what you intend to use your plan for, you may need a very different type of business plan from another entrepreneur. Plans differ widely in their length, their appearance, the detail of their contents, and the varying emphases they place on different aspects of the business.
The reason that plan selection is so important is that it has a powerful effect on the overall impact of your plan. You want your plan to present you and your business in the best, most accurate light. That's true no matter what you intend to use your plan for, whether it's destined for presentation at a venture capital conference, or will never leave your own office or be seen outside internal strategy sessions.
When you select clothing for an important occasion, odds are you try to pick items that will play up your best features. Think about your plan the same way. You want to reveal any positives that your business may have and make sure they receive due consideration.
Types of Plans Business plans can be divided roughly into four separate types. There are very short plans, or miniplans. There are working plans, presentation plans and even electronic plans. They require very different amounts of labor and not always with proportionately different results. That is to say, a more elaborate plan is not guaranteed to be superior to an abbreviated one, depending on what you want to use it for.
- The Miniplan. A miniplan may consist of one to 10 pages and should include at least cursory attention to such key matters as business concept, financing needs, marketing plan and financial statements, especially cash flow, income projection and balance sheet. It's a great way to quickly test a business concept or measure the interest of a potential partner or minor investor. It can also serve as a valuable prelude to a full-length plan later on.
Be careful about misusing a miniplan. It's not intended to substitute for a full-length plan. If you send a miniplan to an investor who's looking for a comprehensive one, you're only going to look foolish.
- The Working Plan. A working plan is a tool to be used to operate your business. It has to be long on detail but may be short on presentation. As with a miniplan, you can probably afford a somewhat higher degree of candor and informality when preparing a working plan.
A plan intended strictly for internal use may also omit some elements that would be important in one aimed at someone outside the firm. You probably don't need to include an appendix with resumes of key executives, for example. Nor would a working plan especially benefit from, say, product photos.
Fit and finish are liable to be quite different in a working plan. It's not essential that a working plan be printed on high-quality paper and enclosed in a fancy binder. An old three-ring binder with "Plan" scrawled across it with a felt-tip marker will serve quite well.
Internal consistency of facts and figures is just as crucial with a working plan as with one aimed at outsiders. You don't have to be as careful, however, about such things as typos in the text, perfectly conforming to business style, being consistent with date formats and so on. This document is like an old pair of khakis you wear into the office on Saturdays or that one ancient delivery truck that never seems to break down. It's there to be used, not admired.
- The Presentation Plan. If you take a working plan, with its low stress on cosmetics and impression, and twist the knob to boost the amount of attention paid to its looks, you'll wind up with a presentation plan. This plan is suitable for showing to bankers, investors and others outside the company.
Almost all the information in a presentation plan is going to be the same as your working plan, although it may be styled somewhat differently. For instance, you should use standard business vocabulary, omitting the informal jargon, slang and shorthand that's so useful in the workplace and is appropriate in a working plan. Remember, these readers won't be familiar with your operation. Unlike the working plan, this plan isn't being used as a reminder but as an introduction.
You'll also have to include some added elements. Among investors' requirements for due diligence is information on all competitive threats and risks. Even if you consider some of only peripheral significance, you need to address these concerns by providing the information.
The big difference between the presentation and working plans is in the details of appearance and polish. A working plan may be run off on the office printer and stapled together at one corner. A presentation plan should be printed by a high-quality printer, probably using color. It must be bound expertly into a booklet that is durable and easy to read. It should include graphics such as charts, graphs, tables and illustrations.
It's essential that a presentation plan be accurate and internally consistent. A mistake here could be construed as a misrepresentation by an unsympathetic outsider. At best, it will make you look less than careful. If the plan's summary describes a need for $40,000 in financing, but the cash flow projection shows $50,000 in financing coming in during the first year, you might think, "Oops! Forgot to update that summary to show the new numbers." The investor you're asking to pony up the cash, however, is unlikely to be so charitable.
- The Electronic Plan. The majority of business plans are composed on a computer of some kind, then printed out and presented in hard copy. But more and more business information that once was transferred between parties only on paper is now sent electronically. So you may find it appropriate to have an electronic version of your plan available. An electronic plan can be handy for presentations to a group using a computer-driven overhead projector, for example, or for satisfying the demands of a discriminating investor who wants to be able to delve deeply into the underpinnings of complex spreadsheets.
Source: The Small Business Encyclopedia , Business Plans Made Easy , Start Your Own Business and Entrepreneur magazine .
Continue on to the next section of our Business Plan How-To >> Plan Your Plan
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Business Plan Introduction Example – Introduction of a Business Plan
Your business plan introduction provides a general overview, the “bird’s eye view,” of your plan. It is written at a high level without going into details. (That’s what the rest of the plan should do.) The introduction of a business plan sets the tone right after your executive summary. Here’s how to make your words count.
Table of Contents
Introduction of a Business Plan
Your business plan introduction is different than your executive summary. The introduction should contain a two or three page management overview of the business. It covers the description of the business, the goals and why the business is a good venture to start.
The other parts of a business plan , like the management team outline, the financial plan, the marketing plan, etc., are all going to provide the reader with an intense look at the business: the “ground floor view” of how the business will succeed.
The introduction in a business plan should take all the parts of the business plan and summarize them quickly. Do this section of your business plan first, and last!
See free sample business plans on MoreBusiness.com’s Business Plan Template section.
Do it first to capture a general overview. This way, you know what you will write about in greater detail as you complete all of the other parts of the business plan.
Then, when you finish writing your business plan, do it last to make sure that you have covered all the critical points you need to convey.
Business Plan Introduction Template
Use the following questions as a template to write your business plan introduction. With this section of the plan you are trying answer a few things:
- Why this business?
- Who’s going to buy?
- How will they buy? What’s the buying and selling process look like?
- How will my business be different than the competitor’s?
- What’s my path to profitability?
- When will I become profitable?
- How much will I make and by when?
Again, you will answer these items in detail later in the full plan. The introduction of a business plan gives a general overview and excite the reader to keep them interested.
Business Plan Introduction Example
Your business plan introduction should briefly talk about what you want to accomplish in the business and how you see it working.
For example, coffee shop business plan might talk about how the market has made specialty coffee shops very popular right now. Provide data on how the location you’ve selected is perfect for a new shop.
You don’t have to give details here (that’s taken care of in the individual analysis sections that will come later). Rather, you simply provide an overview that is meant to get the reader excited.
Download a free sample marketing plan to use as a template to create your own strategy.
So a coffee business can talk about the high profit margin of coffee and how the shop will be run by a coffee expert and an expert marketer and will serve the people in the area.
A professional services or technology business plan introduction should address the unique approach you will take to secure customers because you may have a lot of competition. Perhaps you will specialize in a specific target market or demographic. Talk about your niche marketing strategy in the introduction to keep readers tuned in.
In a clothing line business plan , for example, your business plan introduction should discuss what makes your brand unique and how you will generate buzz.
Address the Big Question: Profitability
Readers of your business plan – whether you are looking for investors or money from a bank – will be able to tell very quickly whether you have done your homework and actually researched the business or whether this is just a whim.
Your investors, or even you alone if you don’t have any investors, want to make sure your business doesn’t fail . You don’t have to give all the facts in the introduction of a business plan, but you should be clear and correct in your overview.
Remember, this is the second thing your potential investor will read (the first being the business plan executive summary). They may not be as convinced about the business opportunity as you are. Ultimately, the introduction of a business plan should answer the bottom line question that the reader is asking: will this business be profitable and make money from my investment?
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Business Plan Introduction
A business plan is an essential roadmap for business success. It describes the direction the company is taking, what its goals are, where it wants to be, and how it is going to get there. Thereby it holds great value as an internal tool for the company but moreover as a communication tool to potential investors and partners. A business plan has to be edited under consideration of its target audience, with clarity and conciseness, in an understandable and consistent way and should be revised by externals. Content-wise it should cover details on the company and its products, its market environment, its marketing strategy, organisational setup, financial and capital planning.
A business plan is an essential roadmap for business success. It describes the direction, the company is taking, what its goals are, where it wants to be, and how it is going to get there. A business plan is also a written summary of an entrepreneur’s proposed business venture, its operational and financial details, its marketing opportunity and strategies, and its managers’ skills and abilities.
The business plan holds great value for the entrepreneur and the company as an internal tool for structuring and streamlining the venture’s activities. Furthermore, it is the most important tool to communicate to externals what the company is all about. It is a mandatory document that needs to be in shape when communicating to potential investors and partners. They are the most commonly the target audience of a venture’s business plan.
A business plan has to convince its recipients. Source: HOWLETT'S CHARTERED ACCOUNTANTS (NO YEAR)
Before structuring and editing a business plan, a number of rules should be kept in mind. As a starting point, it should always be considered who the audience for the business plan is. A potential investor might be addressed differently than a potential joint-venture partner. The target audience should influence the level of detail, disclosure and technical sophistication.
A business plan should stand out with clarity and conciseness . This means that the business plan’s contents should be cut right to the chase. An entrepreneur usually possesses wide knowledge about the business, its environment and its products and might have difficulties to bring the essential messages to the point. It is essential to master the art of editing a concise business plan without losing essential information.
Moreover, a business plan must be understandable for everyone inside and outside the respective industry. In addition to the width of knowledge an entrepreneur has on the business, he or she commonly possesses great in-depth knowledge on products and processes. Very technical, complex, scientific or industry-specific terminology and explanations are hard to understand for “ordinary people”.
As a business plan includes a variety of topics and might be edited by several people of an organisation, it should be made sure that it is a consistent document. This refers to the layout as well as contents and writing style. Figures have to match throughout the document and the level of detail should be streamlined. For example, if in the marketing section a series of customer events is planned for, this has to be reflected as costs in the financial management section. In addition, a business plan evolves when editing the different sections and therefore needs to be kept dynamic. Consistency checks with the former sections should be made whenever a new section is added.
Besides internal checks of the business plan, external reviewers should be engaged in the process as well. These can be experts in the specific industry but also non-experts that review the draft business plan on for example the issues mentioned above. In any case, these should be trusted people since the business plan might include sensitive data on the venture.
A business plan always comprises a variety of components and might be structured in a variety of ways. However, certain elements should always be part of a business plan:
- Executive summary: A brief summary of the complete business plan to provide readers with a quick overview of what the venture is all about.
- Company and product/service description: A description of what the company does, for this refer to Company Description
- Market and competitor analysis: An analysis of the market environment including trends, customer segments and competitors. For this refer to Market Analysis and Competitors Analysis
- Marketing plan: A description on how the company is planning to tackle its target market. For this refer to Marketing
- Enterprise management: A description of what qualifications and experiences the entrepreneurs bring into the company, what additional staff profiles are planned to be hired, how the company will be organised and which legal form it will adopt. For this refer to invalid link .
- Risk assessment: A description and evaluation of risks, their probability of occurrence and possible impact. For this refer to Risk Management .
- Implementation or action plan: A time schedule for the company’s activities outlined in the business plan. For this refer to Action Plan .
- Financial management: An outline of the company’s planned profit & loss, balance sheet and liquidity planning. For this refer to Financial Management
- Financing and capital planning: A plan for the required capital and how the company intends to raise it. For this refer to invalid link .
Writing a Successful Business Plan
This document provides guidance on how to write a business plan, including all major chapters.
Example Sandwich Co
An example business plan for the fictitious Example Sandwich Co.
How to Prepare Your Business Plan
An extensive guideline on how to write a business plan. It includes general information on business plans and detailed chapters on the components of business plans.
An understandable guideline on how to write a business plan.
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What Is a Business Plan?
Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, elements of a business plan, special considerations.
- Business Plan FAQs
Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How To Write One
Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Investopedia / Ryan Oakley
A business plan is a document that defines in detail a company's objectives and how it plans to achieve its goals. A business plan lays out a written road map for the firm from marketing , financial, and operational standpoints. Both startups and established companies use business plans.
A business plan is an important document aimed at a company's external and internal audiences. For instance, a business plan is used to attract investment before a company has established a proven track record. It can also help to secure lending from financial institutions.
Furthermore, a business plan can serve to keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and on target for meeting established goals.
Although they're especially useful for new businesses, every company should have a business plan. Ideally, the plan is reviewed and updated periodically to reflect goals that have been met or have changed. Sometimes, a new business plan is created for an established business that has decided to move in a new direction.
- A business plan is a document describing a company's core business activities and how it plans to achieve its goals.
- Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
- A business plan can also be used as an internal guide to keep an executive team focused on and working toward short- and long-term objectives.
- Businesses may create a lengthier traditional business plan or a shorter lean startup business plan.
- Good business plans should include an executive summary and sections on products and services, marketing strategy and analysis, financial planning, and a budget.
Want Funding? You Need a Business Plan
A business plan is a fundamental document that any new business should have in place prior to beginning operations. Indeed, banks and venture capital firms often require a viable business plan before considering whether they'll provide capital to new businesses.
Operating without a business plan usually is not a good idea. In fact, very few companies are able to last very long without one. There are benefits to creating (and sticking to) a good business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and working through potential obstacles to success.
A good business plan should outline all the projected costs and possible pitfalls of each decision a company makes. Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they can have the same basic elements, such as an executive summary of the business and detailed descriptions of its operations, products and services, and financial projections. A plan also states how the business intends to achieve its goals.
While it's a good idea to give as much detail as possible, it's also important that a plan be concise to keep a reader's attention to the end.
A well-considered and well-written business plan can be of enormous value to a company. While there are templates that you can use to write a business plan, try to avoid producing a generic result. The plan should include an overview and, if possible, details of the industry of which the business will be a part. It should explain how the business will distinguish itself from its competitors.
Start with the essential structure: an executive summary, company description, market analysis, product or service description, marketing strategy, financial projections, and appendix (which include documents and data that support the main sections). These sections or elements of a business plan are outlined below.
When you write your business plan, you don’t have to strictly follow a particular business plan outline or template. Use only those sections that make the most sense for your particular business and its needs.
Traditional business plans use some combination of the sections below. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making. Regardless, try to keep the main body of your plan to around 15-25 pages.
The length of a business plan varies greatly from business to business. Consider fitting the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Then, other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and included as appendices.
As mentioned above, no two business plans are the same. Nonetheless, they tend to have the same elements. Below are some of the common and key parts of a business plan.
- Executive summary: This section outlines the company and includes the mission statement along with any information about the company's leadership, employees, operations, and location.
- Products and services: Here, the company can outline the products and services it will offer, and may also include pricing, product lifespan, and benefits to the consumer. Other factors that may go into this section include production and manufacturing processes, any patents the company may have, as well as proprietary technology . Information about research and development (R&D) can also be included here.
- Market analysis: A firm needs a good handle on its industry as well as its target market. This section of the plan will detail a company's competition and how the company fits in the industry, along with its relative strengths and weaknesses. It will also describe the expected consumer demand for a company's products or services and how easy or difficult it may be to grab market share from incumbents.
- Marketing strategy: This section describes how the company will attract and keep its customer base and how it intends to reach the consumer. A clear distribution channel must be outlined. The section also spells out advertising and marketing campaign plans and the types of media those campaigns will use.
- Financial planning: This section should include a company's financial planning and projections. Financial statements, balance sheets, and other financial information may be included for established businesses. New businesses will include targets and estimates for the first few years plus a description of potential investors.
- Budget: Every company needs to have a budget in place. This section should include costs related to staffing, development, manufacturing, marketing, and any other expenses related to the business.
Unique Business Plans Help
The best business plans aren't generic ones created from easily accessed templates. A company should entice readers with a plan that demonstrates its singularity and potential for success.
Types of Business Plans
Business plans help companies identify their objectives and remain on track to meet goals. They can help companies start, manage themselves, and grow once up and running. They also act as a means to attract lenders and investors.
Although there is no right or wrong business plan, they can fall into two different categories—traditional or lean startup. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the most common. It contains a lot of detail in each section. These tend to be longer than the lean startup plan and require more work.
Lean startup business plans, on the other hand, use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans aren't as common in the business world because they're short—as short as one page—and lack detail. If a company uses this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or lender requests it.
A complete business plan must include a set of financial projections for the business. These forward-looking financial statements are often called pro-forma financial statements or simply the " pro-formas ." They include an overall budget, current and projected financing needs, a market analysis, and the company's marketing strategy.
Other Considerations for a Business Plan
A major reason for a business plan is to give owners a clear picture of objectives, goals, resources, potential costs, and drawbacks of certain business decisions. A business plan should help them modify their structures before implementing their ideas. It also allows owners to project the type of financing required to get their businesses up and running.
If there are any especially interesting aspects of the business, they should be highlighted and used to attract financing, if needed. For example, Tesla Motors' electric car business essentially began only as a business plan.
Importantly, a business plan shouldn't be a static document. As a business grows and changes, so too should the business plan. An annual review of the company and its plan allows an entrepreneur or group of owners to update the plan, based on successes, setbacks, and other new information. It provides an opportunity to size up the plan's ability to help the company grow.
Think of the business plan as a living document that evolves with your business.
A business plan is a document created by a company that describes the company's goals, operations, industry standing, marketing objectives, and financial projections. The information it contains can be a helpful guide in running the company. What's more, it can be a valuable tool to attract investors and obtain financing from financial institutions.
Why Do Business Plans Fail?
Even if you have a good business plan, your company can still fail, especially if you do not stick to the plan! Having strong leadership with focus on the plan is always a good strategy. Even when following the plan, if you had poor assumptions going into your projections, you can be caught with cash flow shortages and out of control budgets. Markets and the economy can also change. Without flexibility built in to your business plan, you may be unable to pivot to a new course as needed.
What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?
The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers a quick explanation of its business. The company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide since it's just getting started.
Sections can include: a value proposition, a company's major activities and advantages, resources such as staff, intellectual property, and capital, a list of partnerships, customer segments, and revenue sources.
Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
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Business Proposal Introduction: Everything You Need to Know
A business proposal introduction is an important part of your business plan. 3 min read
A business proposal introduction is an important part of your business plan. It gives potential investors an overview with enough information about your prospective business to, hopefully, get their interest. Without going into the full details, you can talk about the business structure and its objectives, your target market, the unique selling point, profit forecast, and when you expect to reach profitability.
Introduction of a Business Plan
The introduction to your business plan differs from the executive summary in that, without going into detail, it gives a general overview of your proposal. Coming right after your executive summary , it sets the tone of your plan.
Your introduction should consist of two or three pages outlining the business from a management perspective. It describes the business, its objectives, and why the venture is a good one to start. Along with other parts of your business proposal, such as an overview of the management team, your financial plan, and your marketing strategy , this will give the reader a close-up look at the prospective business and how it will be a success.
You should write the introduction to your proposal first, quickly summarizing all sections of the business plan. It should also be the last part of the plan you work on. The overview in the introduction will help you to know what to cover as you write all parts of the business plan in greater detail. When you have finished writing the proposal, go to the introduction again to ensure that you have covered every crucial point that you need to put across.
In the introduction, you are trying to answer a series of questions, and you can use the following as a template:
- Why is this a good business?
- Why is this a good time to start the business?
- What is the target market?
- How will they make the purchase? What is the model for the transaction process?
- How is my business going to differ from my competitor's?
- What is my route to profitability?
- How soon will my business be profitable?
- What is my profit forecast and the timescale to reach it?
Business Plan Introduction Example
Your business proposal introduction should briefly cover what you hope to achieve with your business and your vision of how it will work.
For example, the business plan for a coffee shop could discuss how market forces have currently made specialty coffee outlets extremely popular. Provide information on why your chosen location is ideal for your business. You don't need to go into the details here as that will be covered later in the individual analysis parts of your plan. Instead, you want to simply give an overview to excite the reader.
So, for the coffee shop, the introduction can say how high the profit margins are for coffee, that a coffee expert and a marketing expert will be running the business, and how it will cater to local people.
The business plan introduction for a business providing technology or professional services should cover the unique selling proposition (USP) you will use to attract customers in a competitive market. You might target a specific market or demographic.
In the introduction, discuss the marketing strategy for your niche business to keep the interest of the reader. As an example, the business plan introduction for a clothing line should talk about how your brand is unique and what you will do to generate a buzz about it.
Address the Big Question: Profitability
Those who invest in your business, or you alone where you don't have investors, will want to ensure that the business succeeds.
You don't need to provide all of the details in the introduction of your business proposal, but the overview should be clear and factual. Be aware that this is the second aspect of your plan to be read by the potential investor. They might not be quite as convinced as you are about your business opportunity.
The ultimate aim of your business proposal introduction is to answer the investor's core question: is this business going to be profitable, and will I get a return on my investment?
Help With Your Business Proposal Introduction
If you need help with putting together a business proposal, you can post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top five percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.
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- Business Plan and Proposal
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- Creating a Business Plan
- Business Plan Format: Everything you Need to Know
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- Business Plan for Existing Company
- Invention Proposal Example
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For startups, a well-written business planning document is important to source capital from banks and venture capitalists. A business plan also provides a clear direction for business growth . But how else does planning affect businesses? What does a good business plan contain? Let's look at the answers.
Business planning definition
Simply put, business planning is the process of developing a roadmap aimed at achieving a business goal. It involves key stakeholders coming together to brainstorm ideas and strategies and collating them into a formal, written document known as a business plan.
A business plan is an official document that outlines a business's core activities, objectives, and roadmap to achieving its goals. For example, if you are starting a new bakery, a business plan would include information about your products, marketing strategies, and financial situation. .
A good business plan helps a business focus on its short-term and long-term goals, and outlines the specific steps needed to achieve them. In summary, business planning is a key process that businesses undertake to achieve their goals and success.
Importance of a business plan
A good business plan is critical for any business, providing a roadmap for achieving success and ensuring that all stakeholders are aligned and working towards the same goals. It helps businesses make more informed decisions, secure funding, and track their progress over time. Here are some points summarising the importance of a business plan:
- A business plan helps a company track its growth and stay in line with its stated business objectives. If something is going off track, the managers can review the business plan and steer things back in the right direction.
- A good business plan notifies investors how the business is operated and if it is worth investing in. It attracts investors and sells them the idea of your business.
- A business plan provides a unified working structure among employees and business owners. It keeps employees and business owners on the same page about strategic actions needed to be taken.
- A well-crafted business plan can help startups attract investment or get loans without a proven financial record. It provides investors and lenders with an understanding of the company's goals, strategies, and financial projections.
Elements of a good business plan
A business plan should include key elements that help to provide a complete overview of the business and its plans for success. Here are some important elements that should be included in a typical business plan:
- Executive Summary
- Business Description
- Market Analysis
- Products and Services
- Marketing and Sales Strategy
- Management and Organization
- Financial Projections
- Funding Requirements
1. Executive summary
This business planning element provides a brief description of the business. It gives information on the business leadership , its employees, operations, and location. It also provides the business mission statement, goals, and vision.
2. Company description
This section provides a detailed description of the business, including its mission, vision, and goals. It should also include information about the industry and target market.
3. Market analysis
Good business planning requires a well-written market analysis showing demand and supply. A SWOT analysis provides detailed information on business strengths and weaknesses along with details on the business competitor and market opportunities available.
A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool used by business owners to identify a business's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the market. Conducting a SWOT analysis will guide you on what you do well, identify your weak points, maximize your opportunities, and avoid threats.
An example of a good business plan market analysis is presented in a SWOT analysis carried out by a local shirt production company called 69 Shirts (a fictional company).
Table 1. SWOT analysis example
4. Products and services offered
This element provides a description of the products and services offered by a business. It includes production information, information on patents (if available), research and development, product or services pricing, and consumer benefits.
Blooming Boutique is a retail female clothing brand located in Delaware, US. 1 By following different generations' fashion trends, and monitoring target customers' fashion preferences, the brand intends to produce female fashion wear that is appealing to customers. They also use styles, colours, and different fashion fits to draw attention to the consumer while satisfying their sartorial needs.
5. Marketing and sales strategy
This element provides information on how the business intends to distribute its products and services, for example, what marketing strategies and channels they will use. Fundamentally, it shows how a business intends to build and keep its audience.
Again, let's take the example of 69 Shirts. Here's a possible marketing strategy:
- Using social media marketing and influencer marketing - the business aims to reach the audience by telling the story behind the products and how they can help the customers. The company also focuses on price, product distinction, product promotion, and customers’ feelings.
- Running a guerrilla marketing campaign in train stations and on public transport - this is done with the aim of letting people know as much as possible about the products and how beneficial and memorable it will be for them to own the product.
6. Management and organisation
This section should describe the management team and the organization's structure, including the roles and responsibilities of each team member.
7. Financial plans
Here, the business projections and estimates are included for startups, and for an established business, balance sheets, financial statements , and important financial information should be added. It should also include a break-even analysis , which shows the level of sales needed to cover all expenses. Well-prepared financial calculations can attract investors, banks, and venture capitalists.
If the business needs funding, this section should outline the funding requirements, including how much funding is needed, what the funds will be used for, and how the business plans to repay the funding.
This section should include any additional information that is relevant to the business plan, such as market research reports, product specifications, and legal documents.
Plan length varies, as does the type of plan, but a document usually ranges from 15 to 20 pages.
Business planning process
A business plan is just one step of the business planning process. The steps of the business planning process below will help you understand it:
- Define the business goals: The first step in business planning is to define the goals that the business wants to achieve. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
- Conduct market research : The next step is to conduct market research to understand the target market, competition, and industry trends. This research can help the business identify opportunities and threats, and refine its strategy accordingly.
- Identify resources: The third step is to identify the resources that the business needs to achieve its goals. These resources could include finances, personnel, equipment, and facilities.
- Develop strategies: Based on market research and resource assessment, the business can develop strategies to achieve its goals. These strategies should be aligned with the business's strengths and opportunities, and address any weaknesses or threats.
- Create a business plan: The strategies can then be translated into a formal business plan, which outlines the business's core activities, objectives, and roadmap to achieving its goals. The business plan should include detailed information about the products or services, market analysis, marketing and sales strategy, as well as financial projections.
- Implement the plan: Once the business plan is complete, the next step is to implement it. This involves executing the strategies and tactics outlined in the plan, and monitoring progress towards the business goals.
- Evaluate and adjust: The final step is to evaluate the progress towards the business goals and adjust the plan as needed. This ensures that the business remains on track to achieve its goals and adapts to changes in the market or business environment.
Advantages and disadvantages of a business plan
While creating a business plan is a critical step in launching and running a successful business, it's important for managers and business owners to remember that there can be drawbacks. Advantages and disadvantages of a business plan are as follows:
Business planning - Key takeaways
Business planning is a process of developing a roadmap aimed at achieving a business goal.
A business plan is written documen t showing a business's core activities, objectives, and business roadmap to achieving its objectives.
The importance of a business plan can be seen in the organized growth of a business. It allows business owners to track business growth and stay in line with the business objectives.
Some crucial elements needed in business planning are executive summary, business description, market analysis, products and services, marketing and sales strategy, management and organization, financial projections, funding requirements.
Business planning process usually involves the following steps: define business goals, conduct market research , identify resources, develop strategies, create a business plan, implement the plan, evaluate and adjust.
- Blooming boutique, bloomingboutique.com, 2022.
- Jared Lindzon, The importance of a business plan, waveapps.com, 2022.
- Susan Ward, What is business planning, thebalancesmb.com, 2020.
- Staff, Business plan basic elements, bizally.com.au, 2022.
- Rich Longo, Why you need a business plan, sbdc.duq.edu, 2019.
- Staff, Effective business plan, lancasters.uk.net, 2022.
Frequently Asked Questions about Business Planning
--> what is a business plan.
A business plan is an official documen t showing a business's core activities, objectives, and business roadmap to achieving its objectives.
--> How to make a good business plan?
To make a good business plan, it's important to research the market and industry trends, set specific and measurable goals, develop a clear strategy, and create a well-organized and detailed plan that includes financial projections, marketing strategies, and plans for potential challenges. It's also crucial to review and adjust the plan regularly to ensure it remains relevant and effective.
--> How is a business plan structured?
A business plan usually has the following structure:
--> Why is a business plan important?
A business plan is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it enables companies to secure funding from investors by providing a clear roadmap of the business's goals and strategies. Secondly, it provides a framework for companies to work towards their objectives, monitor progress, and adjust course as needed. Lastly, it helps companies anticipate and address potential challenges that may arise in the course of business operations.
--> What are the three main purposes of a business plan?
The three main purposes of a business plan are:
- To serve as a roadmap for achieving the business's goals,
- To attract funding and investment from investors or financial institutions, and
- To provide a framework for managing and monitoring the business's performance over time.
Final Business Planning Quiz
What is business planning?
Business planning is a process of developing a roadmap aimed towards achieving a business goal.
The document used by stakeholders to collate ideas into a formally written document that summarizes the business current state, the state of the business market, and steps to improve the business performance is called ……
A business plan
What is a business plan?
A business plan is an officially written document showing a business core activities, objectives, and the business roadmap to achieving its established objectives.
Give two importance of a good business plan
A. The importance of a good business plan can be seen in the organised growth of a business. It allows business owners to track business growth and stay in line with the business objectives.
B. A business plan also gives investors an idea of how the business is operated and if it is worth investing in. A good business plan attracts investors and sells them the idea of your business.
What is the first element of a business plan?
What information does the executive summary provide?
This executive summary provides a brief description of the business. It gives information on the business leadership, its employees, operations and location. It also provides the business mission statement, goals and business vision.
A business budget usually includes ….,.
A business budget includes cost from paying staff, production processes, marketing, expanding, logistics, development, researching and all other business related expenses.
What does a SWOT analysis show about a business ?
A SWOT analysis shows a business strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the business.
A good business plan helps a business focus on its short term and long term goals, and it also helps business owners focus on the specified steps put in place to help the business succeed. True or False?
A business plan is the same for all types of business.
Financial plans are not a part of business plan.
SWOT analysis is a way to carry out a market analysis.
Market analysis and marketing strategy can be used interchangeably.
A good business plan can help startups attract investment or get loans without a proven financial record.
What is the difference between market analysis and marketing strategy?
Market strategy provides information on how a business plans to distribute its products or services while market analysis gives details on business strengths, weaknesses along with market threats and opportunities.
Business planning is a process of ________ aimed towards achieving a business goal.
developing a roadmap
A business plan is an ________ showing a business core activities, objectives, and the business roadmap to achieving its established objectives
officially written document
A good business plan only helps the business focus on its short term goals.
A good business plan can help a company to:
Stay in line with the business objectives
Executive Summary is the description of the products and services offered by a business.
Good business planning requires a well written market analysis showing demand and supply.
SWOT analysis stands for ________ .
strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the market
________ includes cost from paying staff, production processes, marketing, expanding, logistics, development, researching and all other business related expenses.
A business budget
A company generating a revenue of £150,000 from a business with a total cost of £80,000 per year. How much profit does it earn?
£150,000 - £80,000 = £70,000.
Variable cost = Output x Variable cost per unit output
What is not a business variable cost?
production materials expenses
- Organizational Behavior
- Strategic Analysis
- Influences on Business
- Change Management
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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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