How to Build a Restaurant Business Plan
What’s inside this eBook?
When you decide to open a restaurant or expand to a second location, you’ll need to be able to build a restaurant business plan that is comprehensive, detailed, and lucrative. A solid plan addresses details including restaurant startup costs , target market, building a management team, and implementing a marketing plan . It also guides your decision-making process on key issues like whether to invest in real estate and the square footage you’ll need.
It doesn’t matter if you just have an idea, a rough draft, or you want to completely revamp your completed business plan – this eBook with help you plan thoughtfully so you can move on to other things. That saves you more time to do what you love – serve your customers!
This eBook includes how to:
- Translate your passion into an executive summary
- Write a business description
- Leverage your key players
- Create a detailed financial forecast
- Develop a comprehensive financial plan
- And much more!
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Grow Your Business
8 steps to building an online course business (+ business plan template), share this article.
There has never been a better time to build a business selling online courses . By 2027, the global e-learning market is estimated to reach an enormous $521.8 billion ( Research and Markets ), signalling an enormous potential. Millions of people are purchasing online courses, inside and outside of the traditional education system, in order to upgrade their knowledge and skills.
Step 1: Decide what to teach
Step 2: create a business plan for your online training business, step 3: validate market demand, step 4: create a compelling and unique brand, step 5: build your audience, step 6: create an online course, step 7: focus on customer success, step 8: scale your business.
It comes as no surprise that in response to this demand, entrepreneurs and subject matter experts from all over the world have started creating and selling online courses to share their knowledge with others.
At Thinkific, we’ve felt the effects of this demand first hand as thousands of individuals and organizations have started using our platform to create online courses .
Creating an online course is just one part of building an online course business. Building a business is the other part.
But let’s be real here. If you ask ANY type of business owner if it was easy for them to build their business, they will tell you that it wasn’t.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an online course business
At the beginning of 2017, I watched a close friend of mine open his own barbershop. It took him 3 months of renovations and tens of thousands of dollars just to get his barbershop ready for him to welcome his first customer through the front door. (I was his second customer, by the way. Someone else beat me to the grand opening by about 5 minutes!)
For my friend, those 3 months of preparation work was just the beginning. During the next 6 months after his grand opening, he worked 7 days per week to build up his clientele and recoup his startup costs before he started hiring more barbers. Why did he do this? Because that’s what it took to start his own barbershop.
What does this have to do with building an online course business?
The point of this story is that it takes a lot of work upfront to build a business . It doesn’t happen overnight and building an online course business is no exception. There is a lot of work you will have to do, both before and after you create your course, in order to be successful.
Unfortunately, most course creators give up on their business before putting in the work required to ensure they will be successful. They stop digging for gold before they experience the big payoff that makes all the hard work worth it.
Even though it takes a lot of work to build a successful online course business, there are plenty of other people that have done it before (check out our customer stories to see some examples).
With that in mind, we reached out to more than 40 successful entrepreneurs and online course creators. These people have literally built their careers by sharing their knowledge with others, many of them selling millions of dollars worth of training programs and online courses throughout their careers.
After reviewing all of the valuable insights these online course creation experts and entrepreneurs shared with us, we managed to distill the process of building a successful online course business into 8 specific steps (well, more like phases, since each one of these phases has several steps involved).
In this guide to building an online course business, we’ll be sharing these 8 steps with you.
8 Steps to Building a Successful Online Course Business
Before we jump into Step 1, there is something very important that you need to understand:
By itself, an online course is NOT a business
Without an online course to sell, you can’t exactly build an online course business. But creating your online course is just one part of building your business . Your online course is your product. It’s not your entire business.
As you can see from the graphic below, a typical online course business has many other parts as well:
This may surprise you, but creating an online course isn’t even the first step in the process of building an online course business. Out of the 8 steps we’re about to go through, creating a course is Step #6.
You’re welcome to skip steps 1-5 if you want to, but I would advise against it and here’s why:
If you jump straight to creating a course without strategically choosing a topic to teach (Step 1), creating a business model (Step 2), and validating demand for that topic (Step 3), you could end up creating a course that no one wants to sign up for.
Secondly, if you don’t build your brand (Step 4) and audience (Step 5) before you launch your course, you won’t have a way to stand out among your competition or have an audience to promote your course to.
Even if you have the “perfect” course created today, without a compelling brand and an audience to promote it to, it will be very difficult to generate sales. No sales = no business.
So to save yourself many hours of effort and (potentially) thousands of dollars in course creation and marketing costs, don’t skip these steps.
Okay, let’s dive in…
The first step in building an online course business is deciding what you will teach. What topic do you want to become known for? What topic are you expert enough to teach to others?
To be an expert at something, you just have to know more about your topic than the person you are teaching. That’s it. To that person, you’re an expert. Don’t overthink this.
Choose your course topic
Between the combination of your life experience and your professional experience, there are likely several topics that you know enough about to create a course on.
To help narrow down a specific course topic , we recommend completing the following exercise:
On a piece of paper, draw 2 vertical lines to create 3 columns. Label the first column Passions & Interests . Label the second column Skills . Label the third column Experience & Achievements .
Next, start adding as many things as you can think of to each column (aim for at least 20 per column).
Once you’ve done this, identify the top 2-3 topics where your passions/interests, your skills, and your experience/achievements intersect.
For example, if you like science fiction ( passion/interest ), you’re a great writer ( skill ), and you’ve written several science fiction novels ( experience/achievement ), then “how to write a science fiction novel” is a viable topic to consider teaching to others.
“You’ve been given a talent, you’ve been given a gift, you’ve been given experiences in your life that are here to serve others.” – Alexi Panos
Identify a specific target audience
Once you’ve identified a specific topic to teach, the next step is to identify a specific target audience (aka a target market) that is interested in that topic.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your topic (and therefore your course) will appeal to everyone. If you try to create a course that appeals to everyone, it will likely appeal to no one. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but trust me on this.
To give you an example, one of our customers ( Lizzie Lasater ) is a yoga practitioner and instructor. When she decided to create online courses , naturally, she decided to start teaching yoga online
Instead of creating courses to teach people how to practice yoga (a very broad and highly competitive topic) she decided to narrow her target audience to other yoga instructors (more specific). With other yoga instructors as her target audience, she created courses that are specifically about how to become a better yoga teacher.
Once you have decided on what to teach and have sufficient clarity about your course topic, it is time to get your business plan ready.
A business plan or business model is a formal blueprint describing how you will structure, manage and market your online course business. It is important to create one as it helps to ensure that your online course business will remain competitive and financially successful in the long term.
You can choose one of the many software tools to create a standard business plan or use a regular spreadsheet or word processing software.
Now, as every business is different, their business models can vary drastically. However, certain aspects remain common to most companies.
Here, we have laid out what you must include in your business plan:
Describe your business
A business description is needed to clearly state the purpose of your business, your target audience, and how you plan to deliver your products and services.
When drafting it, you must be as objective and concise as possible regarding the nature of your online course and how it intends to help the target audience.
Make sure to highlight if you will deliver your courses only online or offline. It also helps to state if your courses will be instructor-led or delivered through other e-learning methods.
Identify your marketing strategy
Once you describe the nature of your business, the next step is to put together a marketing and sales strategy.
Describe the strategies you will use to market your online course and how you plan to implement your email marketing, social media marketing, and other organic methods.
In addition, you need to plan to allocate a budget for your paid advertisements and online marketing if you decide to opt for pay-per-click ad programs.
Hiring and team management
While many online course creators choose to run their own shows, many opt to hire virtual assistants or full-time employees for help. Others choose to delegate tasks to freelancers or third-party vendors.
Make sure to describe how you plan to delegate the tasks you cannot do. It is always a good idea to outsource tasks that do not require your intervention to save time for those that require your expertise.
This section of the b-plan states how your day-to-day business activities will be structured and managed.
You can include your course content, operational hours, telecom and IT-related necessities, insurance, etc. The more concise your operations section, the better ground it makes for you to validate your plan later.
Every business requires money to run, and online businesses are no exception. In addition to the marketing and advertising expenses mentioned above, you will also need to factor in infrastructure, technology, hiring, etc. Remember to also describe what you plan to sell and how you plan to monetize your business.
With this, make sure to have a detailed budget plan and allocate your resources to different expenses fairly. However, be careful to ensure that your budget is within what you can commit to and it does not make you feel overstretched.
Please note that in addition to your online business course, you may also add other income streams such as selling ebooks, offering paid talks, etc.
Two financial calculations you should consider initially are:
Gross Profit Margin: This is the number of courses you sell minus the cost of running your online course. It can be represented as a percentage.
Gross Profit Margin = (Net course sale revenues – cost of running your online course) / net course sales x 100
Selling, General and Administrative (SG&A) Ratio : This figure tells you the percentage of your online course sales revenue used to cover your operational expenses.
SGA = [Selling + General + Operational (Administrative) expenses] / Net online course sales revenue
While we have described the essential aspects of a business plan, it also helps to follow the structure of a formal Business Model Canvas . This concept was popularized by Alexander Osterwalder in 2005 and consisted of nine building blocks. These include key partners, activities, resources, cost structure, revenue streams, value propositions, customer relationships, channels, and customer segments.
Once you’ve identified a specific topic to teach and have your basic business plan blueprint in place, the next step is to validate the demand for that topic.
As a course creator it sucks to spend several weeks, maybe even months (or years?!), creating an online course about a topic that you find out there is no demand for.
It’s a lot more efficient to validate demand for your course upfront before you invest time, effort and money creating a course.
Here are 2 ways you can validate the demand for your course topic:
Research your competition
See if you can find other people or companies that are selling courses and other forms of training about your topic (or a similar one), or who serve your target audience.
- Bestselling books on Amazon
- Other online courses
- Popular blogs and forums
- Top podcasts on iTunes
- In-person seminars, conferences, workshops
- Online events (virtual summits, webinars )
- Networking groups on Meetup
- Coaches and consultants
If you can’t find anyone that is profitably teaching your topic to others, that is a red flag that there isn’t enough market demand for that topic to justify creating an online course (or building a business). Competition is usually a proof of market demand.
What if there is no competition?!
On the rare occasion that you can’t find any competing products or services about your topic, that could mean one of two things:
- There is demand, but no one is serving that market yet (rare), or
- There is no demand, and you should pick a different topic
Either way, there are still two more steps you should take before you pull the trigger and decide to create (or not create) your course.
A great way to gauge demand for your topic is to use Google’s Keyword Planner to see how many people are searching for your topic per month. The higher the search volume, the higher the demand.
“Do not be afraid of competition. Their very existence validates that there is demand for the problem you’re trying to solve or for a solution to it.” – Greg Smith, CEO of Thinkific
Ask your target audience what they want to learn
If you have access to your target audience, whether online or offline, the best way to find out what they want to learn (and would be willing to pay to learn) is to ask them directly!
Here are a few ways you can ask your audience what they want to learn:
- Ask your list of email subscribers
- Ask your fans/followers on social media
- Ask your past and/or existing clients
With each of these options, you can send people a link to a survey, ask them open-ended questions directly, or ask them to have a quick call with you.
Another way is direct outreach (aka cold calling) to your target audience by phone, email or social media. Do this in a polite, non-spammy way of course.
See how many people are searching for your course idea on google
Engaging in keyword research is a great way to identify a course topic that can possibly sell like hotcakes, without directly asking your audience., keyword research essentially helps you to understand what people are looking for online by keying in terms on google or other search engines. , to conduct keyword research on topics that may interest your audience, you can use specialised tools such as semrush or ahrefs . , irrespective of the tool you choose to use, here is the basic framework to engage in keyword research:, identify your seed term, which would be an umbrella term for your course topic. , type in “course” + your seed term., get specific and find a niche area that has not been covered by other course creators but has a high search volume. check out this tool to identify search volume, continue to search and eliminate topics that are not feasible or interesting. , for example, if you wish to start an online course on gardening, type “gardening course” in the keyword search tool. you will see multiple results with different search volumes. these results will help you get more specific. for example, you may find that “gardening courses in semi-arid regions” is a possible course topic with a decent search volume. , alternatively, you can also use our search volume too l to discover popular course topic ideas. .
Remember: If you can’t find anyone that wants to learn the topic that you’re thinking of teaching, you should probably move on to another topic.
If you can’t find buyers before you create your course, you probably won’t find any after either!
The ideal scenario is you choose a topic that there is obviously a demand for (proven by competing products and services about that topic), but nothing that is for your specific target audience.
Facebook marketing , for example, is a broad topic with strong market demand (proven by all of the blogs, books, courses, consultants, seminars, etc. about this topic).
Now, assuming we want to create a course about Facebook marketing, let’s see what topics we come up with as we hone in on a specific target audience:
- Topic 1: Facebook marketing 101 (very broad)
- Topic 2: Facebook marketing for business owners (more specific, still pretty broad)
- Topic 3: Facebook marketing for local businesses (not bad)
- Topic 4: Facebook marketing for real estate agents (very specific)
- Topic 5: Facebook marketing strategies to get more listings (ding ding ding, we have a winner!)
If you are a real estate agent and you want to learn how to use Facebook to get more listings, which course topic is going to appeal to you the most? Which topic would you pay the most money for? Probably #5, because it is the most specific. It is exactly what you want to learn.
“The easiest way to know what to do is listen to what people are asking for and then give that to them.” – JJ Virgin , Celebrity Nutritionist & Fitness Expert
Once you’ve decided on a specific topic to teach, it’s time to start building your brand.
Don’t jump straight to getting your logo, website, and business cards designed. Those things do play a role in representing your brand, but they are not the starting point.
The starting point to creating a compelling and unique brand is making a conscious decision about how you want to be positioned in your industry. Branding is about positioning .
Your brand should position you as the go-to expert on your topic. Unless you’re positioned as an expert and a trusted authority on your topic, it will be hard to convince someone to buy a course (or any product or service) from you.
Even though we’re told not to, we do judge a book by its cover. Think of your brand as the “book cover” for your business.
Be strategic with your positioning
The biggest mistake that people (and organizations) make with their branding is trying to appeal to everyone. Don’t do that. Be strategic with your positioning.
Build a brand that appeals to your specific target audience. Don’t try to appeal to everyone, because everyone is not your ideal customer/client.
Here are some questions to consider as you create your brand:
How do you want to be positioned and perceived in your marketplace? What do you want people to think of when they think of you? Who do you want to attract? Who do you NOT want to attract? What do you stand for? What do you stand against? Why do you do what you do?
When your target audience is searching for information about your topic, you want them to find you and immediately feel like they’ve come to the right place. They should feel like they’ve found the exact person (or company) that can help them overcome a specific problem or achieve a specific outcome.
“A great brand starts with understanding who you are, what you stand for, understanding your marketplace and understanding your positioning.” – Re Perez, CEO of Branding For The People
Identify your Unique Value Proposition
An exercise that we recommend all course creators complete is creating a Unique Value Proposition (UVP). Your UVP is what will help you differentiate yourself from your competition.
To create your UVP, answer these questions:
- Who do you help?
- What do you help them do?
- Why is that beneficial for them?
Once you have the answers to these questions, tie them together in a single sentence.
To give you an example, one of our customers Ellie Diop aka Ellie Talks Money , is a business coach with a proven track record that helps you scale your business and have financial success. Pretty good UVP right?
Here is a screenshot of her website’s homepage:
As you can see, anyone who visits her website will be able to instantly figure out who she is, what she does, and who her target audience is. She has a clear and compelling personal brand . If you’re someone who wants to improve your business and reach financial success, it’s obvious you’ve come to the right place.
Good branding makes your target audience feel like they’ve come to the right place.
Once you’ve decided how you want to be positioned in your market, it’s time to start building your audience.
Your audience is the sum total of all the people that you have the ability to communicate with through various distribution channels (your blog, social media, email list , personal network, etc.).
Why is it important to build an audience?
Without an audience that knows, likes, and trusts you, it will be very difficult to sell your course for the simple reason that you don’t have anyone to sell it to!
So the sooner you start building your audience, the better.
“Online courses are the wave of the future. They can help expand my content and message into places and countries that I have yet to physically visit. Online courses have boosted my income and helped me share my message with a much larger audience.” – Andrea Beaman , Health Educator & Author
Related: How to Create Epic Content Your Customers Will Love
How to define your target audience
It helps if you follow a systematic framework to define your target audience . Some useful steps to that end include:
- Ask your current customers
- Get details on demographics like age, gender, location, etc.
- Understand their needs and pain points
- Analyze the solution they’re hoping for
- Create a customer avatar
Download our detailed step-by-step guide for audience research
Size is important (but not the most important)
The size of your audience is important, but not as important as you might think. The obvious benefit of having a large audience is the ability to reach more people. If you have 10,000 fans on Facebook, for example, your posts will probably be seen by more people than if you had 1,000 fans (all else being equal).
But the size of your audience is not as important as the relationship you build with your audience.
It’s more valuable to have 100 people on your email list that open and read every email you send them than it is to have 1,000 followers on Twitter who rarely see your Tweets or engage with you in any way.
When it comes to building an audience, loyalty and engagement are the most important.
Here are some of the most common ways that online course creators are building their audience:
- Social media
Set up profiles and/or pages on the social network networks that your target audience spends time on. You don’t need a presence on every social media network. Choose the top 2-3 that make the most sense for you and focus your efforts there. Share your content, join relevant groups, start your own Facebook group , and engage in conversations. The goal here is to build real relationships with other people that are interested in your course topic.
Read More: Social Media Marketing Guide: Uncracking the Code for Course Creators
- Content marketing
Publish free content about your course topic as often as you can. Free content helps you build trust and authority in your industry. Common types of content that you can create are articles, videos, podcast episodes, images, and infographics. All of these help to increase traffic to your website and exposure for your business.
The more content you publish on your website and other platforms (like YouTube ), the more likely your target audience will find you as they are searching for information about your topic.
- How To Generate Leads With Content Marketing (6 Simple Steps)
- The Complete Content Marketing Guide: Organic Growth Toolkit
- Publicity & PR
One of the quickest ways to build your audience is to get in front of existing audiences. Writing articles for popular publications in your industry, getting interviewed on podcasts , and getting featured in traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers, print magazines, etc.) are all great ways to increase your exposure and build authority in your industry.
- Networking & joint ventures
Build relationships with other experts and influencers in your industry. It doesn’t happen overnight, but building mutually beneficial relationships with others can lead to a number of opportunities including guest blogging, interviews, joint ventures , partnerships, and customer referrals.
- Public speaking
Reach out to event hosts and organizers of conferences and seminars that your target audience attends. Offer to give a presentation on your topic. Some events will even let you sell your course directly to their audience, in exchange for a percentage of your sales. A major advantage of public speaking is you have the undivided attention of everyone in the room during your presentation, and that can be very hard to get online.
- Email marketing
When it comes to marketing your online course (or any product or service online for that matter), email marketing is hands down the most effective way to generate sales. An email list of people that have expressed interest in your course topic and have given you permission to communicate with them will likely be your most valuable asset as an online course creator.
Start building your email list as soon as possible. Stay in touch with your subscribers by sending them helpful emails and links to your content on a regular basis. This is a great way to earn their trust before you ask them to buy from you.
- Paid advertising
Even with a modest budget, paid advertising can be a great way to grow your audience. By utilizing advertising platforms such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you can target people based on specific criteria including demographics, interests, search terms, job titles, and more. In fact, many of Thinkific’s most successful customers have been using Facebook ads to grow their audience and generate consistent leads and sales for their online courses.
“Consistency is what did it for us. Doing something every week, at least once a week, helped us get better really, really fast because we were putting in the time and putting in the practice.”
– Jordan Harbinger , Author & Podcast Host
Creating an online course is definitely one of the more exciting steps in this entire process, but it can also be the most time consuming one if you’re not careful.
Most people spend several weeks (or months, depending on the course) creating their online course. Other, more experienced course creators have perfected this process and can create an entire online course in one weekend .
But regardless of how long it takes you to create your course, the process that you go through will most likely look a lot like this:
- Choose your course title and subtitle.
- Ensure that your topic has high demand in the market
- Ensure that the learning outcomes are stellar
- Gather material for your online course content
- Create a lesson plan (aka course outline) and choose your lesson types (audio, video, text, etc.)
- Identify the best ways to deliver each of your course modules
- Film, record, and edit your online course
- Set up your online course, including a website
- Choose a price for your course
- Create a sales page and focus on marketing your course
Instead of going through each of these steps in more detail right here in this article (which would make it way longer than it already is!), I’m going to share a few of the most important lessons we’ve learned about course creation from the experts we interviewed.
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Create a “Minimum Viable Course”
A concept that has been popularized by American writer and entrepreneur Eric Ries in his book Lean Startup is the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) .
An MVP is a development technique used by organizations (especially startups) in which a new product is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product’s initial users.
Applying this concept to creating online courses, that means that you should not try to create the perfect course the first time. Instead, create a Minimum Viable Course (MVC).
The problem with trying to create the “perfect” course before you show it or sell it to anyone is that “perfect” is a very subjective term. What you think is perfect is probably not the same as what your customers/students think is perfect. Even if it is, your course does not have to be perfect in order to be valuable .
Perfectionism has stopped more people from creating and launching their online courses than anything else. Don’t let this happen to you. If your course (imperfect as it may be) is good enough to help someone, then it is good enough to publish. Done is better than perfect.
Create your MVC as quickly as possible so you can publish it and get real feedback from real students. Based on their feedback and other important data (such as course completion and engagement rates ) you can remove training, add training, and make revisions to your course to make it better.
“Don’t be a perfectionist because the world can’t wait for perfect. Get it done, get it out and get it sold. It’s not a book so you can always revisit it periodically but your number one priority is creating a transformation in your clients, so keep your focus there.” – Shazzie Love , Business Strategist
Course length ≠ course value
Read More: How to decide on the ideal course length ?
Another big mistake to avoid is trying to teach everything that you know about your topic in a single course. Doing this will most likely result in a super long course that your students won’t complete and that takes a ridiculous amount of time to create in the first place. Wrong approach!!
Your online course is the shortcut
The purpose of your course is to teach your student how to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and as efficiently as possible. It’s the shortcut.
Your online course is the shortcut. Help your students get from A to B as quickly as possible.
You absolutely should not overwhelm your students by brain-dumping everything that you know about your topic into your course. Your course should be as short as possible without sacrificing the key concepts in your training.
Don’t create 8 hours of training if you can teach your students what they need to know with 3 hours of training. As long as they learn what you promised to teach them, they won’t complain that your course was “too short”. Instead, they’ll probably thank you for not wasting their time with fluff or filler content.
Launch to a small test group first
Another important lesson we learned from the experts we interviewed is not to launch the first version of your course (your MVC!) to your entire audience.
Instead, you should promote your course to a small segment of your audience at a lower price than what you eventually want to charge for your course. If you do promote your course to your entire audience, consider imposing a limit on the number of students that can enroll in it. Once you hit your goal, you temporarily close enrollment for your course.
This strategy is often called a beta launch (similar to pre-selling ). The goal of this type of launch is to get your course into the hands of a small number of students who will “test” your course. In exchange for accessing your course at a reduced price, you ask your students to provide you with feedback to help you improve the course and testimonials to use in your future marketing.
Based on the feedback from your students, you can make changes to improve your course. When you have a revised version of your course that is better than the first and positive student testimonials to use in your marketing, you re-open enrollment for your course and sell it a higher price.
If you’re ready to start marketing your course, check out these 55 online course marketing ideas here .
Okay, let’s pretend that you’ve already completed Steps 1 to 5.
- You’ve decided what topic you’re going to teach. It’s not too broad, and it appeals to a specific target audience.
- You’ve validated market demand for your topic. Thousands of people around the world are interested in it, and they’re already spending money to learn it.
- You’ve crafted a compelling brand. You are known in your industry as an expert on your topic. When your target audience finds you, they trust that you can help them.
- You’ve built an audience. You have followers on social media. You have people on your email list. You have relationships with other experts in your industry. You’ve been featured in other publications, podcasts, and media outlets.
- You’ve created an online course. And after promoting your course to your audience, you are proud to say that you have customers. Your business is generating revenue.
Even though it is a HUGE accomplishment to get this far (and yes, you deserve to celebrate at this point!), there is still work to be done.
Acquiring customers is just the beginning. Now your job is to deliver on the promise you made to your customers.
Think of any local business you are a customer of. A restaurant. A nail salon. A coffee shop. A convenience store.
These businesses don’t stay in business because they are constantly attracting new customers. They stay in business because their existing customers come back more than once, often bringing their friends and family with them. This same rule applies to your online course business.
“We’re not in this business just to get people to buy our stuff. We want them to see the change and the impact and create the success stories.” – Nick Unsworth, CEO of Life on Fire
It’s a lot cheaper to keep a customer than acquire a new one
If you are constantly investing in marketing and promotion to attract new customers, but you’re doing nothing to ensure the success of those customers, it will be very difficult (and expensive!) for you to build a profitable and sustainable business.
When a customer purchases your online course, this should not be the end of your relationship with them. This should be the beginning.
Your customers should be so thrilled with the training and overall experience that you provide to them that they purchase additional courses from you in the future, and they tell others about your courses too.
Related: The Top Customer Success Strategies Used By Successful Companies
Here are a few ways you can increase your student engagement and retention rates:
- Gamify the learning experience
Create incentives and offer rewards to your students for achieving specific milestones in your course.
Related: Gamification in Training: The Complete Guide to E-Learning Gamification 
- Help your students be accountable
Pair them up with an accountability partner, offer 1-on-1 or group coaching calls with your students, or create a private group or discussion board for them to interact with each other.
- Appeal to different learning styles
Don’t create training that appeals to just one learning style. Utilize different media types to deliver your content (text, video, audio, worksheets, quizzes, etc.).
- Create small, bite-sized lessons
Shorter lessons are more likely to be completed by students than longer ones. If it takes you a while to teach a specific concept, try breaking up the concept into several shorter lessons.
- Bite Sized Learning: A New Strategy For Teaching (How It Works & Tips)
- What Is Microlearning? The Case For Shorter, Bite Sized Learning
- Send reminder emails to your students
If you notice that a student isn’t accessing or completing the training in your course, send them a polite reminder email to re-engage them. Show them that you care.
The final step in building a successful online course business is to scale your business by creating systems and/or hiring people to ensure that it continues to grow.
According to Greg Smith, CEO of Thinkific , you should only scale something that works.
The 76 steps that came before this one are your chance to do just that. To prove that your online course business works. Once you have a business that works, it’s time to shift from spending the majority of your time working in your business to working on it.
This is accomplished by creating systems and hiring people to handle the repetitive, day-to-day tasks involved in running your business. The goal is to free yourself up to focus the majority of your time on activities that move your business forward, such as:
- Building your audience
- Building your network
- Creating sales funnels to acquire new customers
- Creating additional courses and/or services to sell to your customers
Here are a few of the key lessons we learned about scaling an online course business from the expert we interviewed:
1. Automate repetitive tasks
Identify the tasks in your business that are highly repetitive and not the best use of your time as an entrepreneur. Document the process for those tasks and delegate them to someone else, or use technology/software to automate that task for you. Every repetitive task that you automate today buys you more time to focus on other activities tomorrow.
“The way you multiply time is by spending time on things today that give you more time tomorrow.” – Rory Vaden, Southwestern Consulting
2. Build a team as early as possible
To grow an online course business to 6 or even 7 figures in annual revenue and beyond, you’re going to need some help. Very few entrepreneurs are able to build successful and sustainable businesses without a team of people to help them make it happen. There is simply too much to learn and do, and not enough hours in the day for one person to do it all.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
Hiring a virtual assistant or a personal assistant is a great starting point. From there, consider hiring help for other areas of your business including content creation and editing, marketing and advertising, branding, accounting, etc. These do not have to be full-time employees. Many course creators have teams that consist of freelancers and independent contractors from around the world.
Related: How to Hire a Virtual Assistant (An Entrepreneur’s Guide To Outsourcing)
3. Tie your business to a greater purpose
Sharing your knowledge by creating online courses is a great way to empower others through education and move humanity forward. But creating online courses is certainly not the only way to make a positive impact in the world.
There are countless organizations that are doing incredible things to make the world a better place. By partnering with other organizations and tying your business to a greater purpose, you ensure that as your business grows, so does the impact you make in the world.
“Whether you’re in the non-profit structure or the for-profit structure, you have a tremendous opportunity to use business as a force for good.” – Adam Braun, Founder of Pencils of Promise
Ready to launch your online course and community with confidence? Sign up for your forever-free Thinkific account today.
This article was originally published May 2018, and refreshed with new information November 2022.
As the Content Marketing Manager at Thinkific (2016-2019), Tyler Basu helped to create, publish, and promote content to help thousands of entrepreneurs learn how to create and sell online courses . Today, he works directly with entrepreneurs to help them create content that attracts and converts their ideal clients.
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- How to Create a Sales Funnel to Sell Online Courses (Sales Funnel Template)
- Udemy’s Pricing Model: How To Use It To Your Advantage As An Online Course Creator
- How to Build a Personal Brand (Complete Guide)
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Building a Business Plan in Minnesota
A business plan is essential when forming any legal business entity. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), banks that might give a loan, and commercial property owners all generally look at a company’s business plan.
Business plans are living blueprints that change with your business needs. While these plans are generally not final, they may serve as useful guides for the direction of your venture. If you are looking to start a company, you may need help from a lawyer in building a business plan in Minnesota. Without this essential step and the help of a business formation attorney , your company may never leave the ground.
Traditional Business Plans vs. Lean Startup Plans in Minnesota
If a business plan needs to be drafted quickly or if the business is fairly simple and straightforward, a lean startup plan could be written. If not, a traditional business plan is recommended. The key difference between the two is that a traditional business plan has more detail and protracts at least three to five years into the future. Traditional business plans generally include:
- Executive summary
- Description of the business
- Services or products
- Analyses of the industry and market segment
- Organization and management structures
- Financial plans and projections
Conversely, a lean startup plan is a quick summary of the business that contains a mission, value proposition, partnerships, customers, resources, activities planned, relationships, and revenue streams. The lean startup model may be useful to some entrepreneurs as it generally requires fewer specifics, but it may also be less helpful as a roadmap for the business’s immediate future.
A traditional business plan is more common than the lean startup model. Although an entrepreneur could have an extremely long and detailed business plan, this is usually not recommended unless there are many investors because it is probably not going to be followed too closely. It is best to keep the business plan brief and to the point. To ensure brevity when building a business plan, it may be useful to work with a lawyer in Bloomington.
How Could an Attorney Help Draft a Business Plan?
A Bloomington business formation lawyer could help with a variety of forms, requirements, and legal documents needed to set up a business entity. Business owners frequently want to focus on the business and not so much on the inner works and the legal documents that are required to get their company where they would like to be. It is always better to have a lawyer involved from the start to create a solid foundation for prosperity and expansion.
Retroactively trying to fix a problem is more difficult and costly than if the business founders had gone to a lawyer at the start to ensure all aspects were handled properly. That goes towards any legal issue. If business-people secure the right kind of lawyer, ask the appropriate questions and get the proper guidance ahead of time, it may be better for the business and their bottom line in the long run.
When other partners or members are involved, an operating agreement, bylaws, and buy-sell agreements are key to building a basis for how this enterprise will work for everybody involved in Bloomington. These structures effectively govern the business entity and spell out how things should be done whether it is making a decision by vote or resolving a dispute. Even with a fully built-out business plan, the IRS, banks, and landlords look for the internal bylaws or operating agreement to ensure they follow certain formalities.
What to Look for in an Attorney When Building a Business Plan in Minnesota
When looking for a business lawyer, the first thing to determine is whether the lawyer is experienced, knows what they are talking about, and are familiar with their specific industry. It is essential to work with an attorney that is ready to work with you and respond to the needs of your business as they arise. A strong business attorney is in some ways similar to another partner in your company.
Your lawyer could stand by your side and could fight for the welfare of your company from building the business plan in Minnesota until you decide to sell or dissolve the venture. To start exploring if our attorneys are the right fit for you and your business, call today . A skilled lawyer could be the ally you need to build a strong foundation for your business to build off of.
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How To Build A Business Plan
September 19, 2022
Dreaming of bootstrapping a business and being your own boss?
Preparing to pitch to investors or trying to get business loan?
Hold on!! before proceeding with your ideas, let us review the secret mantra that our business tycoons have gifted us to follow before starting any business or pitching to an investor. The secret mantra is the “Business Plan”
“A good plan is a success half-done”
In this blog, we will provide you some ideas on how to build and what are the elements to be covered in building a perfect business plan for your dream business!
What is a business plan?
Business plan is a document that describes how your business endeavors and the way that your business will pass through to reach success. It is a fundamental tool that convinces your investors and partners to rely your business idea and also to act as a guiding document that can be referred during your journey.
What are the elements in a business plan?
Breaking down a business plan, below are the 7 key elements that you many need to cover while building your own business plan.
- Executive summary
- Business description
- Marketing strategies
- Competitive analysis
- Operation plan
- Management and Ownership plan
- Financial factors
It is a key section which summarizes the entire business idea in a nutshell. It should convey the core details of what your business offers to this world, including the mission & vision statements, short description of your products or services and summary of your business’ opportunity in the market.
Executive summary should act as a highlight reel of your entire business plan. Specially to pitch your business idea to an investor, your executive summary should be precise and outstanding, to act as a self-convincing element.
A business description should explain what kind of problem does your product or service solves for a consumer. It may also include the details on pricing, product lifespan and other benefits offered to your customers.
This section should also provide a summary of your business’ position within the industry segment, along with your organizations’ expertise and your competitive advantage. It may also include the overview of the industry that your business is serving for, including the recent trends, key players in that segment.
Marketing strategies should detail on how your business is intended to reach your target consumer in the whole market and how it will attract them towards your business. It in turn, defines the clear market distribution channel that your business is about to sail through to reach your right customers.
This section should also detail the cost elements that could be incurred in the marketing activities that is to be carried out. Forecasting and compiling all the associated costs with the marketing channels should act as a key element in this section.
This section should convey a clear comparison of your business idea against the existing direct and indirect competitors in the marketplace. You should convey that you are aware of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and how you will stay ahead of them.
It should also explain on how you will overcome any entry barriers in the chosen marketplace. You may also need to distinguish your business idea from the competition, which is truly important in persuading funding sources.
Operation plan should give out the information on how your business will actually run.
It should be covering the following areas:
- Physical location of the business
- Facilities and equipment
- Kind of employees needed
- Inventory requirements
- Any other operational details
6. Management and Ownership plan
This section should provide an outline of your business’s legal structure and management resources which includes both internal and external management resources and human resources needs. The experience or unique skills possessed by your management team which adds special value to your business can be highlighted in this section.
Details about your business ownership type – a sole proprietorship, partnership or a business with a different ownership structure need to be mentioned in this section.
Note : To specially focus for Investors, you can include the details of your Advisory board members and about their experience notes.
The last and the key element in the business plan is about mentioning the planned budgets which includes the costs related to staffing, product development, sales & marketing and any other expenses that could be incurred in running your business.
Also provide a description of your funding need, your detailed financial statements, and financial statement analysis. For a start-up, a well-studied cash flow projection and estimates is a key element as it helps to objectively evaluate a company’s potential for success. Comprehensive financial reports and analysis summary can also add more value.
As each and every organization is different from others your business plan may not be looking as same as other businesses. But understanding each core component of a business plan will help you in compiling up a perfect business plan.
Now that you’re ready to take up the journey, start your launch into the writing process, you can anytime refer back to this article to make these elements specific to your business. We wish you all the very best for your business growth.
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How to write a business plan in 7 steps
With this step-by-step guide, learn how to write a well-written professional business plan that can help you successfully start your business, apply for funding, and grow.
Writing a business plan doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to have a business or accounting degree to put together a viable business plan. Business planning can be simple—even fun!
This guide will show you how to get your plan done without any complexity or frustration. By the time you’re done, you’ll be better prepared to start, run, and grow your business. Here are the 7 steps to write a business plan:
- Executive summary
- Products & services
- Market analysis
- Marketing & sales
- Company organization and management team
- Financial projections
Be sure to download our free business plan template to start writing your own business plan as you work through this guide. For a more detailed guide to writing a business plan, download our free ebook : The Easy Way to Write Your Business Plan.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a document that describes your business, the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy. How you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.
Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. Setting sales goals, expense budgets, and predictions for cash flow.
Now, a business plan can be far more than just a static document that you write once and forget about. It’s also a guide that helps you outline and achieve your goals. A management tool to analyze results, make strategic decisions, and showcase how your business will operate and grow. In short, if you’re thinking of starting a business or plan to pitch to investors or venture capitalists, writing a business plan can improve your chances of success.
Why do you need a business plan?
You likely already have a good idea of your business strategy in your head. So you may be wondering, “Why should I spend my time making a business plan?” Here are the top reasons why you should invest in planning:
Businesses that plan grow 30% faster.
A surprising amount of research has been done on business planning and has shown that companies that take the time to write a plan and review it regularly grow 30% faster than those businesses that don’t plan. Not only do these companies grow faster, but they perform better and are less likely to fail in the long run.
Lenders and investors need business plans
If you’re growing your business and plan on getting a business loan or raising money from investors, you’ll need a business plan. Most lenders and investors will ask for a plan, but even if they don’t want to see the actual document, they will ask you questions that only a solid business plan will be able to answer.
Business plans reduce risk
Starting and running a business is always risky. Instead of flying by the seat of your pants, you can use a plan to forecast potential cash flow issues and get ahead of any potential roadblocks so you aren’t caught off guard. A business plan will help you reduce your risk and help you navigate the future.
Business planning helps you make smart spending decisions
Before you make a big spending decision for your business, you need to know the potential impacts on your finances. With a business plan in place, you can easily explore different scenarios and see what impacts a new hire or an expansion to a second location will have on your business.
Need more reasons for why you need a business plan? Read our full list of reasons why having a business plan is important for small businesses .
How to write a business plan step-by-step
Whether you’re building a business plan to raise money and grow your business or just need to figure out if your idea will work, every business plan needs to cover 6 essential sections. Here’s an overview of each section:
1. Executive summary
The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally only one to two pages. Most people write it last, though.
Ideally, the executive summary can act as a stand-alone document that covers the highlights of your detailed plan. In fact, it’s very common for investors to ask for only the executive summary when they are evaluating your business. If they like what they see in the executive summary, they’ll often follow up with a request for a complete plan, a pitch presentation, and more in-depth financials.
Your executive summary should include a summary of the problem you are solving, a description of your product or service, an overview of your target market, a brief description of your team, a summary of your financials, and your funding requirements (if you are raising money).
Learn more about writing an effective executive summary .
2. Products & services
The products & services chapter of your business plan is where the real meat of your plan lives. It includes information about the problem that you’re solving, your solution, and how your product or service fits into the existing competitive landscape.
Start the products & services chapter by describing the problem that you are solving for your customers and what your solution is. This is a description of your product or service.
Next, you should outline your competition . Who else is providing solutions that try to solve your customers’ pain points? What are your competitive advantages over other businesses?
If you happen to have any competitive advantages, such as specific intellectual property or patents that protect your product—this chapter is a great place to talk about those things.
Finally, review your milestones and metrics. This is an overview of the next steps that you need to accomplish to get your product or service ready to sell, with target dates. If you’ve already achieved some key milestones, such as landing a crucial customer or taking on pre-orders, discuss that here.
3. Market analysis
This section is where you will showcase all of the information about your potential customers. You’ll cover your target market as well as information about the growth of your market and your industry.
First, describe your target market . Your target market is the group of people that you plan on selling to. Try to be as specific as possible. With a solid target market, it will be easier to create a sales and marketing plan that will reach your customers.
Next, provide any market analysis and market research that you have. You’ll want to explain how your market is growing over time and also explain how your business is positioned to take advantage of expected changes in your industry.
4. Marketing & sales
The marketing and sales plan section of your business plan details how you plan to reach your target market segments, how you plan on selling to those target markets, what your pricing plan is, and what types of activities and partnerships you need to make your business a success.
Some businesses that distribute their products and reach their customers through stores like Amazon.com, Walmart, Target, grocery store chains, and other retail outlets should review how this part of their business works. The plan should discuss the logistics and costs of getting products onto store shelves and any potential hurdles that the business may have to overcome.
The marketing & sales chapter of your business plan can also be a good place to include a SWOT analysis . This is purely optional but can be a good way to explain how your products and services are positioned to deal with competitive threats and take advantage of opportunities.
5. Company organization and management team
Investors look for great teams in addition to great ideas. Use this chapter to describe your current team and who you need to hire. You will also provide a quick overview of your legal structure, location, and history if you’re already up and running.
Include brief bios that highlight the relevant experiences of each key team member. It’s important here to make the case for why the team is the right team to turn an idea into a reality. Do they have the right industry experience and background? Have members of the team had entrepreneurial successes before?
Your company overview should also include a summary of your company’s current business structure. The most common business structures include:
- Sole proprietor
Be sure to provide a review of how the business is owned as well. Does each business partner own an equal portion of the business? How is ownership divided? Potential lenders and investors will want to know the structure of the business before they will consider a loan or investment.
6. Financial projections
Last, but certainly not least, is your financial plan chapter. This is often what entrepreneurs find most daunting, but it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it seems. Business financials for most startups are less complicated than you think, and a business degree is certainly not required to build a solid financial forecast. That said, if you need additional help, there are plenty of tools and resources out there to help you build a solid financial plan.
A typical financial plan will include:
Sales and revenue projections
A monthly sales and revenue forecast for the first 12 months, and then annual projections for the remaining three to five years. Three-year projections are typically adequate, but some investors will request a five-year forecast.
Profit and loss statement
An income statement , also known as the profit and loss (or P&L), is where your numbers all come together and show if you’re making a profit or taking a loss.
Cash flow statement
A cash flow statement . While the income statement calculates your profits and losses, the cash flow statement keeps track of how much cash (money in the bank) you have at any given point.
A balance sheet lists the assets, liabilities, and equity in your company. In short, it provides an overview of the financial health of your business.
Optional sections to include when seeking funding
If you are raising money from investors, you should include a brief section of your business plan that details exactly how you plan on using your investors’ cash. This is typically just called, “Use of Funds.”
Investors will also want to see a short section on your exit strategy. An exit strategy is your plan for eventually selling your business, either to another company or to the public in an IPO. If you have investors, they will want to know your thoughts on this. If you’re running a business that you plan to maintain ownership of indefinitely, and you’re not seeking angel investment or VC funding, you can skip the exit strategy section.
For more information, read our guide on the different types of exit strategies .
Finally, discuss any assumptions and important risks for your business. Knowing what your assumptions are as you start a business can make the difference between business success and business failure. When you recognize your assumptions, you can set out to prove that your assumptions are correct. The more that you can minimize your assumptions, the more likely it is that your business will succeed.
An appendix to your business plan isn’t a required chapter by any means. However, it is a useful place to stick any charts, tables, definitions, legal notes, or other critical information that either felt too long or too out-of-place to include elsewhere in your business plan. If you have a patent or a patent-pending, or illustrations of your product, this is where you’d want to include the details. For more details, read about what to include in your business plan appendix .
Business plan writing tips
To help streamline the business plan writing process here are a few tips and key questions to answer to make sure you get the most out of your plan and avoid common mistakes .
Determine why you are writing a business plan
Knowing why you are writing a business plan will determine your approach to your planning project. For example, if you are writing a business plan for yourself or just for use inside your own business, you can probably skip the section about your team and organizational structure.
If you’re raising money, you’ll want to spend more time explaining why you’re looking to raise the money you want and exactly how you’re going to use those funds. So, before you start writing your plan, think about why you are writing a business plan and what you’re trying to get out of the process.
Keep things concise
Probably the most important tip is to keep your business plan short and simple . There are no prizes for long business plans. In fact, the longer your plan, the less likely it is to be read.
So, focus on trimming things down to the essentials that your readers need to know. Skip the extended descriptions of your target market and instead focus on creating a plan that is easy to read.
Have someone review your business plan
Writing a business plan in a vacuum is never a good idea. It’s helpful to zoom out from time to time and make sure that your plan is logical and makes sense. You also want to make sure that it’s easy to read and understand. Don’t wait until your plan is “done” to get a second look, though.
Start sharing your plan early and find out from your reader what questions the plan leaves unanswered. This early review cycle will help keep you on track. If you need a more detailed review, you may want to explore hiring a professional plan writer to give it a thorough examination.
Use a free business plan template to get started
Knowing what information you need to cover in a business plan sometimes isn’t quite enough. If you’re struggling to get started or need additional guidance, it may be worth using a business plan template. If you’re looking for a free downloadable business plan template to get you started, download the template that’s been used by more than 1 million businesses.
Or, if you just want to see what a completed business plan looks like, check out our library of over 500 free sample business plans .
How do I write a simple business plan?
If you’re not ready to work on a detailed business plan and want to start with something shorter and simpler, we recommend starting with a simple one-page business plan . You’ll be able to put together an initial plan in less than 30 minutes. For many businesses, this is a great way to get started. And, if you’re not raising money from investors, this may be all the plan you need.
Next steps for writing your business plan
Whether you’re writing a plan to explore a new business idea, establishing steps to start a business, looking to raise money from investors, seeking a loan, or just trying to run your business better—a solid business plan will help get you there.
Business planning is a continuous process that can help you validate your idea, set goals, manage, and successfully pitch your business. One of the most helpful things you can do to build a successful business is to jump in and start planning. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive step-by-step walkthrough for writing a business plan, check out our Business Planning Guide .
If you need more than a template, we recommend exploring business planning software, such as LivePlan. It features step-by-step guidance that ensures you include only what you need in your plan and reduces the time you spend on formatting and presenting.
You’ll also get help building solid financial models that you can trust, without having to worry about getting everything right in a spreadsheet. Finally, it will transform your plan into a management tool that will help you easily compare your forecasts to your actual results. This makes it easy to track your progress and make adjustments as you go.
Business plan FAQ
A business plan helps you understand where you want to go with your business and what it will take to get there. It reduces your overall risk, helps you uncover your business’s potential, attracts investor, and identify areas for growth. Having a business plan ultimately makes you more confident as a business owner and more likely to succeed for a longer period of time.
The seven steps to writing a business plan include: 1. Write a brief executive summary. 2. Describe your products and services. 3. Conduct market research and compile data into a cohesive market analysis. 4. Describe your marketing and sales strategy. 5. Outline your organizational structure and management team. 6. Develop financial projections for sales, revenue, and cash flow. 7. Add any additional documents to your appendix.
There are plenty of mistakes that can be made when writing a business plan. However, these are the 5 most common that you should do your best to avoid: 1. Not taking the planning process seriously. 2. Having unrealistic financial projections or incomplete financial information. 3. Inconsistent information or simple mistakes. 4. Failing to establish a sound business model. 5. Not having a defined purpose for your business plan.
Writing a business plan is all about asking yourself questions about your business and being able to answer them through the planning process. You’ll likely be asking dozens and dozens of questions for each section of your plan. However, these are the key questions you should ask and answer with your business plan: – How will your business make money? – Is there a need for your product or service? – Who are your customers? – How are you different from the competition? – How will you reach your customers? – How will you measure success?
The length of your business plan fully depends on what you intend to do with it. From the SBA and traditional lender point of view, a business plan needs to be whatever length necessary to fully explain your business. This means that you prove the viability of your business, show that you understand the market, and have a detailed strategy in place. If you intend to use your business plan for internal management purposes, you don’t necessarily need a full 25-50 page business plan. Instead, you can start with a one-page plan or a 3-10 page Lean Plan to get all of the necessary information in place.
While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering. Traditional business plan: The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used when applying for funding or pitching to investors. This type of business plan follows the outline above and can be anywhere from 10-50 pages depending on the amount of detail included, the complexity of your business, and what you include in your appendix. Business model canvas: The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea. One-page business plan: This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business. You’ll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences. It’s most useful for those exploring ideas, needing to validate their business model, or who need an internal plan to help them run and manage their business. Lean Plan: The Lean Plan is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance. It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.
A business plan covers the “who” and “what” of your business. It explains what your business is doing right now and how it functions. The strategic plan explores long-term goals and explains “how” the business will get there. It encourages you to look more intently toward the future and how you will achieve your vision. However, when approached correctly, your business plan can actually function as a strategic plan as well. If kept lean, you can define your business, outline strategic steps, and track ongoing operations all with a single plan.
The core elements of business planning are the same for nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses. The main difference between the two is that nonprofits are primarily driven by a specific mission or purpose. While a for-profit organization is typically driven by growth and improved performance. Additionally, nonprofit organizations will need to intently focus on their promotional, partnership, and fundraising strategies. While some of this is present in for-profit businesses, the need to thoroughly outline how and who you will continue to receive funding is far more important as a nonprofit.
Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. You can follow Noah on Twitter .
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Taking the First Steps, Building a Business Plan
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You’ve made the decision: you want to start your own business. And that means you’ll need to write a business plan. As you consider the steps to starting a business, you might think that writing a business plan comes first. Not so fast.
The better starting point is your personal vision: what do you want to achieve? Then you can draft your business plan, which will serve as the road map to get you to your ultimate destination.
Here’s the thing: writing a business plan isn’t always easy, and that’s largely because it’s daunting. A business plan is, in essence, the guide for how you’ll create, launch and run your company. That means there’s a wealth of information to consider before you create your business plan—and then you’ve got to get it all on paper!
A business plan includes strategic, high-level information and tactical details. It also includes market research and analysis, as well as financial projections. Sitting down to create and compile that breadth of information is undoubtedly challenging, but it can absolutely be done.
If you’re ready to tackle your business plan, read on for some help through the process, including what to include and tips for success. If you prefer a more structured approach, we can help with that, too. Check out Kauffman FastTrac , a series of self-paced, online courses that help prepare you to launch a business—including writing a business plan.
Whichever path you choose, the most important thing is to simply get started!
WHAT’S IN A BUSINESS PLAN?
Before you dive in to creating a business plan, it’s helpful to get a handle on what’s included so you can do some prep work, including making notes and conducting research.
If you ask 10 entrepreneurs what elements should be included in a business plan, chances are good you’ll get 10 different answers. Business plans can absolutely be customized to better fit your particular business, but there are some common pieces to include:
- An executive summary, which outlines your business plan
- A business description, including your vision, mission and team
- A market strategy, which details how you’ll launch and position your business
- A competitive analysis
- What you’ll offer, which could include: Product design and development, services etc.
- Marketing and advertising
- Business operations and management
- Financial analysis and projections
Once you’ve outlined your business plan, then you can begin to fill in each of the sections. Give yourself time to do some research, especially about current and forecasted market conditions, your intended customer base, competitors and costs
As you start drafting your business plan, keep these tips in mind:
- Save your executive summary for last. Ideally, your executive summary should be a one-page overview not just of your business plan, but also your business. This will be much easier to write once you’ve finished the rest of the document so that you can focus on the highlights.
- Be thorough yet concise. It might sound like an oxymoron, but you don’t want to create a novel-length business plan. It’s important to provide detail and supporting facts or research where applicable, but you also want someone to be able to read and understand your business plan in a reasonable amount of time.
- Don’t hesitate to reach out to experts. You may find yourself stumbling on certain sections of your business plan. For example, financial analysis and projections can be downright mind-boggling, especially for an aspiring entrepreneur. If you get stuck, reach out to an expert like an accountant to help ensure you’re including accurate information.
- Set a schedule. Writing a business plan isn’t easy, which means it’s more likely to fall to the bottom of your to-do list. Combat possible procrastination with a schedule and deadlines so that you can stay focused and on track.
FASTTRAC: YOUR CURE FOR BUSINESS PLAN WRITER’S BLOCK
Of course, even with the best of intentions and the most thorough preparation, you may find yourself struggling to create a polished business plan or struggling with a particular section. The good news? There’s a solution!
Business plans are just one of several topics covered in Kauffman FastTrac, an immersive series of online courses designed for aspiring and established entrepreneurs.
The self-paced modules offer a deeper dive into starting and running a business. You’ll start with foundational elements such as your personal vision, market opportunity, financial goals and branding and marketing—in short, the information you’ll need to draft your business plan.
After Liz Forkin Bohannon decided to pursue her entrepreneurial dream of designing, sourcing and marketing handcrafted items made by Ugandan women, she turned to FastTrac to help launch her business.
“FastTrac gave me tools and encouragement that empower me to empower others, and introduced me to valuable tools and relationships that helped get our business off the ground,” Bohannon says.
Even if you’ve already drafted a business plan, FastTrac can ensure you’re on the right path to business success. Whatever stage your business and business plan are in, there’s a FastTrac course for you. Your business plan is a living document, after all, and is likely to evolve just as your company will.
When you’re ready, simply register for FastTrac and start courses anytime. That’s one of the advantages of FastTrac—it happens on your schedule. Let’s get to work.
5 Steps to Building a Business Continuity Plan eBook
Be prepared to handle an emergency.
86% of building management professionals admit they are not prepared for an emergency or disruption from business as usual.
The best way to get prepared for events like this, is to develop a business continuity plan.
- Conducting a Business Impact Analysis
- Forming the Business Continuity Management Team
- Identifying Resources Needed With a Gap Analysis
- Exploring & Implementing Recovery Strategies
- Testing Your Business Continuity Plan
- Business Continuity Planning Resources
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How to Build a Business Plan
If you've been dreaming of starting a business lately, you’re not alone: An August 2021 Northwestern Mutual survey found that the majority of Americans want to become their own boss/become an entrepreneur. After doing market research and making sure you’re financially prepared , you’ll need to create a business plan.
A business plan can act as a roadmap for any burgeoning entrepreneur to follow — but it's also a good reference manual for understanding the vision of your business and how it’s put together. You can use it to hold yourself accountable, and it can also be a tool that helps you attract investors or future employees.
If you're ready to get started, these eight steps will help you get off on the right foot. Here’s how to build a business plan.
STEP 1: CREATE YOUR COMPANY OVERVIEW
First, clearly describe your business so that anyone who picks up your plan can understand it. Potential investors will reference this section of your plan to better understand what it is you do and the value your business provides.
Second, define your market. Give a brief introduction to your industry, how your business fits into it and why you will stand out. What are your strengths and what type of customers are you trying to serve?
STEP 2: PROVIDE A MARKET ANALYSIS
Here you will provide an in-depth analysis of the industry in which your business operates, who your potential competitors are and what makes you stand out. You can use this section to showcase your knowledge and the research you’ve done to prove your competitiveness, and as a reference for yourself when making your marketing plans.
STEP 3: OUTLINE YOUR ORGANIZATION
You may currently be a team of one, but if you have employees or multiple owners, use this section to lay out the structure of workers and ownership. This is also a good place to share your vision for your future, such as hiring, outsourcing plans or whether you’re looking for a business partner.
You should also outline how your company is structured from a tax perspective . Is it a sole proprietorship, S corporation, C corporation or partnership? If you have co-shareholders or partners, list who they are and what role each one plays in the business.
STEP 4: DEFINE YOUR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Break down exactly what your products or services are and how much you expect to get paid for them. Cover your sourcing, research and development and fulfillment processes, and break down your production costs and overhead as well as your profit margin projections.
STEP 5: OUTLINE YOUR SALES AND MARKETING PLAN
Your marketing and sales plan needs to define exactly how you plan to get the word out about your products. Will it be through social media? Old-school advertising? Referral programs? You should also include your strategy for retaining customers and how you will actually execute a sale.
STEP 6: SHARE FINANCIAL PROJECTIONS
Putting together a financial forecast is not only essential for potential investors but it will also help you understand your business’s potential for success. If your business has barely launched, you will have to make income and budget projections based on market research. If your business has already been operating, you’ll have to include line items such as your profit-and-loss statement, balance sheet and cash flow. Be as realistic as possible when filling out the numbers.
STEP 7: END WITH THE APPENDIX
You’ll end with an appendix, which will include any relevant supplementary materials, from legal documents (licenses, permits or patents) to credit histories, graphics, footnotes and product pictures.
You can also personalize this section. For example, you may want to share why you are passionate about starting your business or give a shout-out to your co-owner.
STEP 8: COMPLETE YOUR EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This will actually be the first section of your business plan, but you may find it easier to write after you’ve composed the bulk of your plan. That’s because the executive summary essentially recaps sections one through seven. In this nontechnical summary statement, you provide a mission statement, a brief explanation of your services or product line, why you are starting this business and basic details about your company’s team and location.
If you’re planning to ask for financing, include financial information and high-level growth plans. Keep this section brief but compelling. Think of it like the copy on the inside of a book jacket: You want to entice your target audience to read every chapter.
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