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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
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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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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step
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1. Write an executive summary
2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. add additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.
A business plan is a document that outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them. A strong, detailed plan will provide a road map for the business’s next three to five years, and you can share it with potential investors, lenders or other important partners.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing your business plan.
» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .
This is the first page of your business plan. Think of it as your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services offered, and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.
Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.
» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps
Next up is your company description, which should contain information like:
Your business’s registered name.
Address of your business location .
Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.
Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.
Lastly, it should cover the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.
» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan
The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out exactly what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the long term.
If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain why you have a clear need for the funds, how the financing will help your business grow, and how you plan to achieve your growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity presented and how the loan or investment will grow your company.
For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch the new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.
In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.
You should include the following:
An explanation of how your product or service works.
The pricing model for your product or service.
The typical customers you serve.
Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.
Your sales strategy.
Your distribution strategy.
You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.
Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.
Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.
» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing
If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.
You may also include metrics such as:
Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.
Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.
Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.
This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.
» NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:
The best business checking accounts .
The best business credit cards .
The best accounting software .
This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.
Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.
Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.
List any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere, such as resumes of key employees, licenses, equipment leases, permits, patents, receipts, bank statements, contracts and personal and business credit history. If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.
Here are some tips to help your business plan stand out:
Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business loan at a local bank, the loan officer likely knows your market pretty well. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of loan approval.
Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors, taking their mind off your business and putting it on the mistakes you made. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.
Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. You can search for a mentor or find a local SCORE chapter for more guidance.
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.
Get advice and support about the rising costs of doing business on the Find Business Support website .
Working on a business plan
Whether you’re starting a business or already running one, our guide will help you evolve and support your business plan effectively.
- An introduction to business plans
- The benefits of a business plan
- What should your business plan include?
- Presenting your vision
- Ongoing business planning
- Contact Business Gateway advisers
1. An introduction to business plans
Whether you’re starting a business or already running one, creating a business plan is key.
We recognise that starting a business plan can be daunting when you’re facing a blank piece of paper. That’s why we’ve developed a template of a business plan structure for you to use, along with a handy guide to take you through every section of the document. The guides ask explicit questions, designed to help you collate all the business information you need to develop a full and comprehensive plan of action. Once you understand how to make a business plan, you’ll see the benefits of having these key pieces of information collated.
2. The benefits of a business plan
Externally, there are many key benefits to creating and managing a solid business plan. Primarily, it can help secure finance, funding and measure success. It does this by giving you a clear way to present other stakeholders such as lenders, investors and potential partners with your business plan outline, your aims and how you’ll achieve them.
And it also has benefits internally. Such as helping you spot potential pitfalls before they happen, efficient finance structuring, developing your business and measuring your success.
For more information, download our Business Plan Guide.
3. What should your business plan include?
When creating a business plan, it should include:
- An outline of your business, its aims and objectives and whatever products or services you provide – this is called an executive summary.
- An overview of the market in which you operate.
- Who is involved in your business.
- Your short term and longer-term objectives.
- Your resources and any need for external funding.
- Your strategies for selling your product/service.
- Your strategies for marketing your product/service.
- Financial forecasts.
For more information, download our Business Plan Template.
4. Presenting your vision
You want your plan to make an impact and leave a positive impression.
Keep it short and concise. Make it readable and confident.
Keep the presentation professional.
Clearly describe what your business does and set out your vision for your business. This includes who you are, what you do, what you have to offer and what the market you’re entering looks like. See our Market Reports for more information . Make sure your plan is realistic. Once you have prepared your plan, use it. If you update it regularly, it will help you keep track of your business' development.
5. Ongoing business planning
As your business grows and changes, your business plan should become a business growth plan. Although it might seem like more work, it follows the same business plan structure as your original and will keep your business on the right track, help avoid unpleasant surprises, enable you to be more flexible, and help you adapt to changing circumstances. And we all know that change is inevitable – whether that be the market, your employees, the political climate, or your personal circumstances.
It’s called the business planning cycle. How you choose to handle it is up to you and what’s right for your business. It could be monthly, quarterly or every six months, and you can decide which key people you want to be involved. However, we recommend an ongoing process that keeps you on top of everything. By regularly assessing your performance against the plans and targets you’ve set, you’re more likely to reach the goals in your business growth plan. See our setting targets and key performance indicators guide for more information.
6. Contact Business Gateway advisers
Our two downloads will help you in creating a business plan, and completing it to the best of your ability. You can also get in contact with your local Business Gateway office and our Advisers will be able to provide further guidance such as refine your business plan and discuss development plans.
Get the support you need right now
You can connect with us through the contact form, call us or contact your local Business Gateway office.
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Whether you’re a seasoned business owner or just beginning to think about starting a business , demands come at you fast. Amidst the rush of to-do lists and meetings, determining how to write a business plan—much less following a business plan template—often feels time-consuming and intimidating.
But nearly 70% of business owners who have been there and done that recommend writing a business plan before you start a business, according to a recent QuickBooks survey . After all, when done right, business plans have enormous payoffs.
And yet, more than 10% of prospective business owners said they do not intend to write a business plan. Another 10% aren’t sure if they need a plan.
It’s more than the old cliche: A failure to plan is a plan to fail. In fact, a wealth of data now exists on the difference a written business plan makes, especially for small or growing companies.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to write a successful business plan, step-by-step, and turn your idea into a reality. Even better, if you’re pressed for time, we’ve compiled the 10 steps and examples into a downloadable (PDF) template . The 10 steps to write a business plan are:
- Create an executive summary
- Compose your company description
- Summarize market research and potential
- Conduct competitive analysis
- Describe your product or service
- Develop a marketing and sales strategy
- Compile your business financials
- Describe your organization and management
- Explain your funding request
- Compile an appendix for official documents
But, first things first.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a comprehensive road map for your small business’s growth and development. It communicates who you are, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. It also helps you attract talent and investors.
But remember that a business idea or business concept is not a plan.
Investors want to know you have:
- Product-market fit: Have you done the research to determine the demand for your product or service?
- A solid team in place: Do you have the people you need to support your goals and objectives?
- Scalability: Can you grow sales volume without proportional growth in headcount and fixed costs?
A templated business plan gives investors a blueprint of what to expect from your company and tells them about you as an entrepreneur.
Why do you need a business plan?
You need a business plan because the majority of venture capitalists (VCs) and all banking institutions will not invest in a startup or small business without a solid, written plan. Not only does a business plan help you focus on concrete objectives, but it gives outside parties reassurance that you’ve thought ahead.
In 2018, entrepreneurial resource center Bplans worked with the University of Oregon to compile and analyze research around the benefits of business planning . Here’s what they found:
- Businesses with a business plan grow 30% faster than those without.
- Owners with business plans are twice as likely to grow, get investments, or secure loans than those without.
- Entrepreneurs with a business plan have a 129% increased likelihood of growing beyond the startup phase and a 260% increased likelihood of growing from “idea” to “new business.”
Perhaps the strongest evidence comes from the Journal of Business Venturing’s 2010 meta-analysis of 46 separate studies on 11,046 organizations: Its findings confirm that “business planning increases the performance of both new and established small firms.”
When do you need a business plan?
Before you leave a nine-to-five income, your business plan can tell you if you’re ready. Over the long term, it’ll keep you focused on what needs to be accomplished.
It’s also smart to write a business plan when you’re:
- Seeking funding, investments, or loans
- Searching for a new partner or co-founder
- Attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent
- Experiencing slow growth and need a change
Feel confident from day one
You're never too small, and it's never too soon to know you're on track for success.
How to write a business plan in 10 steps
Start with a clear picture of the audience your plan will address. Is it a room full of angel investors? Your local bank’s venture funding department? Or is it you, your leaders, and your employees?
Defining your audience helps you determine the language you’ll need to propose your ideas as well as the depth to which you need to go to help readers conduct due diligence.
Now, let’s dive into the 10 key elements of your business plan.
1. Create an executive summary
Even though it appears first in the plan, write your executive summary last so you can condense essential ideas from the other nine sections. For now, leave it as a placeholder.
What is an executive summary?
The executive summary lays out all the vital information about your business within a relatively short space. An executive summary is typically one page or less. It’s a high-level look at everything and summarizes the other sections of your plan. In short, it’s an overview of your business.
How do I write an executive summary?
Below, you’ll find an example from a fictional business, Laura’s Landscapers. (We’ll use that same company throughout this guide to make each step practical and easy to replicate.)
This executive summary focuses on what’s often called the value proposition or unique selling point: an extended motto aimed at customers, investors, and employees.
You can follow a straightforward “problem, solution” format, or a fill-in-the-blanks framework:
- For [target customers]
- Who are dissatisfied with [current solutions]
- Our [product or service] solves [key customer problems]
- Unlike [competing product], we have [differentiating key features]
This framework isn’t meant to be rigid, but instead to serve as a jumping-off point.
Example of an executive summary
Market research indicates that an increasing number of wealthy consumers in Richmond are interested in landscape architecture based on sustainable design. However, high-end firms in the area are scarce. Currently, only two exist—neither of which focus on eco-friendly planning nor are certified by green organizations.
Laura’s Landscapers provides a premium, sustainable service for customers with disposable incomes, large yards, and a love of nature.
2. Compose your company description
Within a business plan, your company description contains three elements:
- Mission statement
These elements give context to the bigger picture in your business plan, letting investors know the purpose behind your company so the goals make sense as well.
What is a mission statement?
A mission statement is your business’s reason for existing. It’s more than what you do or what you sell, it’s about why exactly you do what you do. Effective mission statements should be:
- Inspirational to make others believe in your vision
- Emotional to captivate readers and grab their interest
Throughout every part of your plan, less is more. Nowhere is that truer than your mission statement. Think about what motivates you, what causes and experiences led you to start the business, the problems you solve, the wider social issues you care about, and more.
Tip: Review your mission statement often to make sure it matches your company’s purpose as it evolves. A statement that doesn’t fit your core values or what you actually do can undermine your marketing efforts and credibility.
How do you describe a company’s history?
Don’t worry about making your company history a dense narrative. Instead, write it like you would a profile:
- Founding date
- Major milestones
- Number of employees
- Executive leadership roles
- Flagship products or services
Then, translate that list into a few short paragraphs (like the example below).
Why do business objectives matter?
Business objectives give you clear goals to focus on, like the North Star. These goals must be SMART, which stands for:
They must also be tied to key results. When your objectives aren’t clearly defined, it’s hard for employees and team members to work toward a common purpose. What’s worse, fuzzy goals won’t inspire confidence from investors, nor will they have a profitable impact on your business.
Example of a company description
Laura’s Landscapers’ mission is to change the face of our city through sustainable landscaping and help you create the outdoor living space of your dreams.
Founded in 2021 by sisters Laura and Raquel Smith, we have over 25 years of combined landscape architecture experience. Our four employees work in teams of two and have already completed 10 projects for some of Richmond’s most influential business and community leaders.
Our objectives over the next three years are to:
- Solidify a glowing reputation as a service-based business that always exceeds customers’ expectations and honors the environment
- Complete at least 18 projects during year one, 24 in year two, and 36 in year three generated through word of mouth, referrals, and home shows
- Increase revenue from $360,000 in FY2021 to $972,000 in FY2023 based upon 10 completed projects in the last nine months
3. Summarize market research and potential
The next step is to outline your ideal potential customer as well as the actual and potential size of your market. Target markets—also known as personas—identify demographic information like:
By getting specific, you’ll illustrate expertise and generate confidence. If your target market is too broad, it can be a red flag for investors.
- Example: If your product is perfect for people with money to hire landscape architects, listing “anyone with a garden” as your target market might not go over so well.
The same is true with your market analysis when you estimate its size and monetary value. In addition to big numbers that encompass the total market, drill down into your business’s addressable market—meaning, local numbers or numbers that apply the grand total to your specific segments. You may even map your customer’s journey to get a better understanding of their wants and needs.
Example of market research and potential
Laura’s Landscapers’ ideal customer is a wealthy baby boomer, a member of Gen X, or a millennial between the ages of 35 and 65 with a high disposable income. He or she—though primarily, she—is a homeowner. They’re a working professional or have recently retired. In love with the outdoors, they want to enjoy the beauty and serenity of nature in their own backyard, but don’t have the time or skill to do it for themselves.
Market research shows the opportunity for Laura’s Landscapers has never been better:
- In the U.S., total revenue for landscaping services increased from $69.8 billion in 2013 to $99 billion in 2019. ( 1 )
- Among landscaping contractors, designing and building is the second fastest growing service offering. ( 2 )
- What’s more, landscape design and construction is the number one “new service” existing companies plan to add over the next year. ( 3 )
In Richmond, leading indicators for interest in green, eco-friendly, and sustainable landscaping have all increased exponentially over the last five years:
- Online search volume for those terms is up 467%
- 10 new community organizations have been formed
- 73 high-profile projects have been covered by local media
- And currently 13% of Richmond’s residents have a household income of $125,000 or more (compared to the U.S. average of 5%)
4. Conduct competitive analysis
Competitive research begins with identifying other companies that currently sell in the market you’re looking to enter. The idea of carving out enough time to learn about every potential competitor you have may sound overwhelming, but it can be extremely useful.
Answer these additional questions after you’ve identified your most significant competitors:
- Where do they invest in advertising?
- What kind of press coverage do they get?
- How good is their customer service?
- What are their sales and pricing strategies?
- How do they rank on third-party rating platforms?
Spend some time thinking about what sets you apart. If your idea is truly novel, be prepared to explain the customer pain points you see your business solving. If your business doesn’t have any direct competition, research other companies that provide a similar product or service.
Next, create a table or spreadsheet listing your competitors to include in your plan, often referred to as a competitor analysis table.
Example of competitive analysis
Within Richmond’s residential landscaping market, there are only two high-end architectural competitors: (1) Yukie’s Yards and (2) Dante’s Landscape Design. All other businesses focus solely on either industrial projects or residential maintenance.
- Average cost per project: $12,000
- Ongoing maintenance fee: $200 per month
- Google My Business: 3.1 stars from 163 reviews
- Environmental certifications: None
- Primary marketing channels: Google Ads
Dante’s Landscape Design
- Average cost per project: $35,000
- Ongoing maintenance fee: $500 per month
- Google My Business: 3.7 stars from 57 reviews
- Primary marketing channels: Home shows
5. Describe your product or service
This section describes the benefits, production process, and life cycle of your products or services, and how what your business offers is better than your competitors.
When describing benefits, focus on:
- Unique features
- Translating features into benefits
- Emotional and practical payoffs to your customers
- Intellectual property rights or any patents that protect differentiation
For the production process, answer how you:
- Create existing and new products or services
- Source raw materials or components
- Assemble them through manufacturing
- Maintain quality control and quality assurance
- Receive and deliver them (supply chain logistics)
- Manage your daily operations, like bookkeeping and inventory
Within the product life cycle portion, map elements like:
- Time between purchases
- Up-sells, cross-sells, and down-sells
- Future plans for research and development
Example of product or service description
Laura’s Landscapers’ service—our competitive advantage—is differentiated by three core features.
First, throughout their careers, Laura and Raquel Smith have worked at and with Richmond’s three leading industrial landscaping firms. This gives us unique access to the residents who are most likely to use our service.
Second, we’re the only firm certified green by the Richmond Homeowners Association, the National Preservation Society, and Business Leaders for Greener Richmond.
Third, of our 10 completed projects, seven have rated us a 5 out of 5 on Google My Business and our price points for those projects place us in a healthy middle ground between our two other competitors.
- Average cost per project: $20,000
- Ongoing maintenance fee: $250 per month
- Google My Business: 5 stars from 7 reviews
- Environmental certifications: Three (see Appendix)
- Primary marketing channels: Word of mouth, referrals, and home shows
6. Develop a marketing and sales strategy
Your marketing strategy or marketing plan can be the difference between selling so much that growth explodes or getting no business at all. Growth strategies are a critical part of your business plan.
You should briefly reiterate topics such as your:
- Value proposition
- Ideal target markets
- Existing customer segments
Then, add your:
- Launch plan to attract new business
- Growth tactics for established businesses to expand
- Retention strategies like customer loyalty or referral programs
- Advertising and promotion channels such as search engines, social media, print, television, YouTube, and word of mouth
You can also use this section of your business plan to reinforce your strengths and what differentiates you from the competition. Be sure to show what you’ve already done, what you plan to do given your existing resources, and what results you expect from your efforts.
Example of marketing and sales strategy
Laura’s Landscapers’ marketing and sales strategy will leverage, in order of importance:
- Word of mouth
- Reviews and ratings
- Local Google Ads
- Social media
- Direct mail
Reputation is the number one purchase influencer in high-end landscape design. As such, channels 1-4 will continue to be our top priority.
Our social media strategy will involve YouTube videos of the design process as well as multiple Instagram accounts and Pinterest boards showcasing professional photography. Lastly, our direct mail campaigns will send carbon-neutral, glossy brochures to houses in wealthy neighborhoods.
7. Compile your business financials
If you’re just starting out, your business may not yet have financial data , financial statements, or comprehensive reporting. However, you’ll still need to prepare a budget and a financial plan.
If your company has been around for a while and you’re seeking investors, be sure to include:
- Income statements
- Profit and loss statements
- Cash flow statements
- Balance sheets
Other figures that can be included are:
- How much of your revenue you retain as your net income
- Your ratio of liquidity to debt repayment ability
- How often you collect on your invoices
Ideally, you should provide at least three years’ worth of reporting. Make sure your figures are accurate and don’t provide any profit or loss projections before carefully going over your past statements for justification.
Avoid underestimating business costs
Costs, profit margins, and sale prices are closely linked, and many business owners set sale prices without accounting for all costs. New business owners are particularly at risk for this mistake. The cost of your product or service must include all of your costs, including overhead. If it doesn’t, you can’t determine a sale price to generate the profit level you desire.
Underestimating costs can catch you off guard and eat away at your business over time.
- Example: Insurance premiums tend to go up annually for most forms of coverage, and that’s especially true with business insurance. If an employee gets injured, Laura’s Landscapers’ workmen’s compensation insurance to cover this risk will increase.
Example of business financials
Given the high degree of specificity required to accurately represent your business’s financials, rather than create a fictional line item example for Laura’s Landscapers, we suggest using one of our free Excel templates and entering your own data:
- For new businesses: Start up budget template
- For existing businesses: Income statement template
Once you’ve completed either one, then create a big picture representation to include here as well as in your objectives in step two.
In the case of Laura’s Landscapers, this big picture would involve steadily increasing the number of annual projects and cost per project to offset lower margins:
Current revenue for FY2022: $200,000
- 10 completed projects
- ~$20,000 per project
- 15% profit margins
- $30,000 net
FY2022 projections: $360,000
- 18 completed projects
- $54,000 net
FY2023 projections: $552,000
- 24 completed projects
- ~$23,000 per project
- 12% profit margins
- $66,240 net
FY2024 projections: $972,000
- 36 completed projects
- ~$27,000 per project
- 10% profit margins
- $97,200 net
8. Describe your organization and management
Your business is only as good as the team that runs it. Identify your team members and explain why they can either turn your business idea into a reality or continue to grow it. Highlight expertise and qualifications throughout —this section of your business plan should show off your management team superstars.
You should also note:
- Roles you still need to hire to grow your company
- The cost of hiring experts to assist operations
To make informed business decisions, you may need to budget for a bookkeeper , a CPA, and an attorney. CPAs can help you review your monthly accounting transactions and prepare your annual tax return. An attorney can help with client agreements, investor contracts (like shareholder agreements), and with any legal disputes that may arise.
Ask your business contacts for referrals (and their fees), and be sure to include those costs in your business plan.
Example of organization and management
Laura Smith, Co-founder and CEO
- Professional background
- Awards and honors
- Notable clients
Raquel Smith, Co-founder and Chief Design Officer
Laura’s Landscapers’ creative crews
- Cumulative years of experience
9. Explain your funding request
When outlining how much money your small business needs, try to be as realistic as possible. You can provide a range of numbers if you don’t want to pinpoint an exact number. However, include a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario.
Since a new business doesn’t have a track record of generating profits, it’s likely that you’ll sell equity to raise capital in the early years of operation. Equity means ownership—when you sell equity to raise capital, you are selling a portion of your company.
- Remember: An equity owner may expect to have a voice in company decisions, even if they do not own a majority interest in the business.
Most small business equity sales are private transactions. The investor may also expect to be paid a dividend, which is a share of company profits, and they’ll want to know how they can sell their ownership interest. Additionally, you can raise capital by borrowing money, but you’ll have to repay creditors both the principal amount borrowed and the interest on the debt.
If you look at the capital structure of any large company, you’ll see that most firms issue both equity and debt. When drafting your business plan, decide if you’re willing to accept the trade-off of giving up total control and profits before you sell equity in your business.
- Tip: Put together a timeline so your potential investors have an idea of what to expect. Some customers may not pay for 30 days or longer, which means the business needs a cash balance to operate.
The founder can access cash by contributing their own money into the business by securing a line of credit (LOC) at a bank or applying for QuickBooks Capital . If you raise cash through a LOC or some other type of loan, it needs to be paid off ASAP to reduce the interest cost on debt.
Example of a funding request
Laura’s Landscapers has already purchased all necessary permits, software, and equipment to serve our existing customers. Once scaled to $972,000 in annual revenue—over the next three years and at a 10% profit margin—our primary ongoing annual expenses (not including taxes) will total $874,800.
While already profitable, we are requesting $100,000 in the form of either a business loan or in exchange for equity to purchase equipment necessary to outfit two additional creative crews.
10. Compile an appendix for official documents
Finally, assemble a well-organized appendix for anything and everything readers will need to supplement the information in your plan. Consider any info that:
- Helps investors conduct due diligence
- Gives context and easy access to you or your employees
Useful details to cover in an appendix include:
- Deeds, local permits, and legal documents
- Certifications that bolster your credibility
- Business registries and professional licenses pertaining to your legal structure or type of business
- Patents and intellectual properties
- Industry associations and memberships
- State and federal identification numbers or codes
- Key customer contracts and purchase orders
Your appendix should be a living section of the business plan, whether the plan is a document for internal reference only or an external call for investors.
- Tip: As you include documents in the appendix, create a miniature table of contents and footnotes throughout the rest of the plan linking to or calling attention to them.
How to make a business plan that stands out
Investors have little patience for poorly written documents. You want your business plan to be as attractive and readable as possible.
- Keep it brief. A typical business plan can range from 10 to 20 pages. As long as you cover the essentials, less is more.
- Make it easy to read. Divide your document into distinct sections, so that investors can quickly flip between key pieces of information.
- Know your margins. List every cost your business incurs, and make sure that you’re assigning those costs to each product or service that you sell.
- Proofread. Double-check for typos and grammatical errors. Then, triple-check. Otherwise, you might risk your credibility.
- Invest in quality design and printing. Proper layout, branding, and decent printing or bookbinding give your business plan a professional feel.
- Be prepared in advance. Have everything ready to go at least two weeks ahead so you have time to make revisions in case of a last-minute change.
3 tips to update your business plan
It’s a good idea to periodically revisit your business plan, especially if you are looking to expand. Conducting new research and updating your plan could also provide answers when you hit difficult questions.
Mid-year is a good time to refocus and revise your original plans because it gives you the opportunity to refocus any goals for the second half of the year. Below are three ways to update your plan.
1. Refocus your productivity
When you wrote your original business plan, you likely identified your specific business and personal goals. Take some time now to assess if you’ve hit your targets.
- Example: If you planned to launch a new tips and trends video series and it hasn’t happened yet, what’s stopping you? Put a timeline together and set a launch date.
If you only want to work a set number of hours per week, you must identify the products and services that deliver the returns you need to make that a reality. Doing so helps you refocus your productivity on the most lucrative profit streams.
Also, use what you’ve achieved and the hard lessons you’ve learned to help you re-evaluate what is and isn’t working.
2. Realign with your goals
Do a gut check to determine whether all of your hard work is still aligned with your original goals and your mission statement. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are my goals still relevant?
- Am I still focused on the big picture?
- Where do I want to be a year from now?
- Will my existing plan still take me where I want to go?
These questions may be tough to answer at first glance, but they reveal your ties to your goals and what most likely needs to change to achieve new wins.
3. Repurpose your offerings
If your time has become more focused on small projects rather than tangible growth and building a valuable client list, consider packaging your existing products or services differently. Can you bundle a few things together?
- Example: Laura’s Landscapers might be able to offer a special pool and patio package. Doing so might help them bring in fewer yet higher-paying projects. Perhaps they can offer a maintenance package as well to keep that customer long term.
You must deliberately manage your revenue streams, and that might require shuffling things around a little to focus on what is working for you.
Business plan template
Even if you don’t plan on seeking investments early on, there are other important reasons to use a business plan template to write a great business plan:
- Clarifies what you’re trying to accomplish
- Identifies opportunities to understand your market, like demographics and behaviors
- Establishes the role of each team member
- Gives team members a benchmark to reference and stay on track
- Helps catch errors to make sure financial projections are accurate
- You’ll see the holes and blind spots that could cause future issues
Download the following template to build your business plan from the ground up, considering all the important questions that will help your investors and employees.
The old cliche is still true today: A failure to plan is a plan to fail. Your business plan is crucial to the growth of your business, from giving direction, motivation, and context to employees, to providing thoughtful reassurance and risk mitigation to financers. Before you get your small business up and running , put down a plan that instills confidence and sets you up for success.
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How to Write a Winning Business Plan
- Stanley R. Rich
- David E. Gumpert
The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won’t even grant an interview. And the plan must be outstanding if it is to win investment funds. Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat […]
The Idea in Brief
You’ve got a great idea for a new product or service—how can you persuade investors to support it? Flashy PowerPoint slides aren’t enough; you need a winning business plan. A compelling plan accurately reflects the viewpoints of your three key constituencies: the market , potential investors , and the producer (the entrepreneur or inventor of the new offering).
But too many plans are written solely from the perspective of the producer. The problem is that, unless you’ve got your own capital to finance your venture, the only way you’ll get the funding you need is to satisfy the market’s and investors’ needs.
Here’s how to grab their attention.
The Idea in Practice
Emphasize Market Needs
To make a convincing case that a substantial market exists, establish market interest and document your claims.
Establish market interest. Provide evidence that customers are intrigued by your claims about the benefits of the new product or service:
- Let some customers use a product prototype; then get written evaluations.
- Offer the product to a few potential customers at a deep discount if they pay part of the production cost. This lets you determine whether potential buyers even exist.
- Use “reference installations”—statements from initial users, sales reps, distributors, and would-be customers who have seen the product demonstrated.
Document your claims. You’ve established market interest. Now use data to support your assertions about potential growth rates of sales and profits.
- Specify the number of potential customers, the size of their businesses, and the size that is most appropriate to your offering. Remember: Bigger isn’t necessarily better; e.g., saving $10,000 per year in chemical use may mean a lot to a modest company but not to a Du Pont.
- Show the nature of the industry; e.g., franchised weight-loss clinics might grow fast, but they can decline rapidly when competition stiffens. State how you will continually innovate to survive.
- Project realistic growth rates at which customers will accept—and buy—your offering. From there, assemble a credible sales plan and project plant and staffing needs.
Address Investor Needs
Cashing out. Show when and how investors may liquidate their holdings. Venture capital firms usually want to cash out in three to seven years; professional investors look for a large capital appreciation.
Making sound projections. Give realistic, five-year forecasts of profitability. Don’t skimp on the numbers, get overly optimistic about them, or blanket your plan with a smog of figures covering every possible variation.
The price. To figure out how much to invest in your offering, investors calculate your company’s value on the basis of results expected five years after they invest. They’ll want a 35 to 40% return for mature companies—up to 60% for less mature ventures. To make a convincing case for a rich return, get a product in the hands of representative customers—and demonstrate substantial market interest.
The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won’t even grant an interview. And the plan must be outstanding if it is to win investment funds.
Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to their door. A good mousetrap is important, but it’s only part of meeting the challenge. Also important is satisfying the needs of marketers and investors. Marketers want to see evidence of customer interest and a viable market. Investors want to know when they can cash out and how good the financial projections are. Drawing on their own experiences and those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum, the authors show entrepreneurs how to write convincing and winning business plans.
A comprehensive, carefully thought-out business plan is essential to the success of entrepreneurs and corporate managers. Whether you are starting up a new business, seeking additional capital for existing product lines, or proposing a new activity in a corporate division, you will never face a more challenging writing assignment than the preparation of a business plan.
Only a well-conceived and well-packaged plan can win the necessary investment and support for your idea. It must describe the company or proposed project accurately and attractively. Even though its subject is a moving target, the plan must detail the company’s or the project’s present status, current needs, and expected future. You must present and justify ongoing and changing resource requirements, marketing decisions, financial projections, production demands, and personnel needs in logical and convincing fashion.
Because they struggle so hard to assemble, organize, describe, and document so much, it is not surprising that managers sometimes overlook the fundamentals. We have found that the most important one is the accurate reflection of the viewpoints of three constituencies.
1. The market, including both existing and prospective clients, customers, and users of the planned product or service.
2. The investors, whether of financial or other resources.
3. The producer, whether the entrepreneur or the inventor.
Too many business plans are written solely from the viewpoint of the third constituency—the producer. They describe the underlying technology or creativity of the proposed product or service in glowing terms and at great length. They neglect the constituencies that give the venture its financial viability—the market and the investor.
Take the case of five executives seeking financing to establish their own engineering consulting firm. In their business plan, they listed a dozen types of specialized engineering services and estimated their annual sales and profit growth at 20%. But the executives did not determine which of the proposed dozen services their potential clients really needed and which would be most profitable. By neglecting to examine these issues closely, they ignored the possibility that the marketplace might want some services not among the dozen listed.
Moreover, they failed to indicate the price of new shares or the percentage available to investors. Dealing with the investor’s perspective was important because—for a new venture, at least—backers seek a return of 40% to 60% on their capital, compounded annually. The expected sales and profit growth rates of 20% could not provide the necessary return unless the founders gave up a substantial share of the company.
In fact, the executives had only considered their own perspective—including the new company’s services, organization, and projected results. Because they had not convincingly demonstrated why potential customers would buy the services or how investors would make an adequate return (or when and how they could cash out), their business plan lacked the credibility necessary for raising the investment funds needed.
We have had experience in both evaluating business plans and organizing and observing presentations and investor responses at sessions of the MIT Enterprise Forum. We believe that business plans must deal convincingly with marketing and investor considerations. This reading identifies and evaluates those considerations and explains how business plans can be written to satisfy them.
The MIT Enterprise Forum
Organized under the auspices of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alumni Association in 1978, the MIT Enterprise Forum offers businesses at a critical stage of development an opportunity to obtain counsel from a panel of experts on steps to take to achieve their goals.
In monthly evening sessions the forum evaluates the business plans of companies accepted for presentation during 60- to 90-minute segments in which no holds are barred. The format allows each presenter 20 minutes to summarize a business plan orally. Each panelist reviews the written business plan in advance of the sessions. Then each of four panelists—who are venture capitalists, bankers, marketing specialists, successful entrepreneurs, MIT professors, or other experts—spends five to ten minutes assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the plan and the enterprise and suggesting improvements.
In some cases, the panelists suggest a completely new direction. In others, they advise more effective implementation of existing policies. Their comments range over the spectrum of business issues.
Sessions are open to the public and usually draw about 300 people, most of them financiers, business executives, accountants, lawyers, consultants, and others with special interest in emerging companies. Following the panelists’ evaluations, audience members can ask questions and offer comments.
Presenters have the opportunity to respond to the evaluations and suggestions offered. They also receive written evaluations of the oral presentation from audience members. (The entrepreneur doesn’t make the written plan available to the audience.) These monthly sessions are held primarily for companies that have advanced beyond the start-up stage. They tend to be from one to ten years old and in need of expansion capital.
The MIT Enterprise Forum’s success at its home base in Cambridge, Massachusetts has led MIT alumni to establish forums in New York, Washington, Houston, Chicago, and Amsterdam, among other cities.
Emphasize the Market
Investors want to put their money into market-driven rather than technology-driven or service-driven companies. The potential of the product’s markets, sales, and profit is far more important than its attractiveness or technical features.
You can make a convincing case for the existence of a good market by demonstrating user benefit, identifying marketplace interest, and documenting market claims.
Show the User’s Benefit
It’s easy even for experts to overlook this basic notion. At an MIT Enterprise Forum session an entrepreneur spent the bulk of his 20-minute presentation period extolling the virtues of his company’s product—an instrument to control certain aspects of the production process in the textile industry. He concluded with some financial projections looking five years down the road.
The first panelist to react to the business plan—a partner in a venture capital firm—was completely negative about the company’s prospects for obtaining investment funds because, he stated, its market was in a depressed industry.
Another panelist asked, “How long does it take your product to pay for itself in decreased production costs?” The presenter immediately responded, “Six months.” The second panelist replied, “That’s the most important thing you’ve said tonight.”
The venture capitalist quickly reversed his original opinion. He said he would back a company in almost any industry if it could prove such an important user benefit—and emphasize it in its sales approach. After all, if it paid back the customer’s cost in six months, the product would after that time essentially “print money.”
The venture capitalist knew that instruments, machinery, and services that pay for themselves in less than one year are mandatory purchases for many potential customers. If this payback period is less than two years, it is a probable purchase; beyond three years, they do not back the product.
The MIT panel advised the entrepreneur to recast his business plan so that it emphasized the short payback period and played down the self-serving discussion about product innovation. The executive took the advice and rewrote the plan in easily understandable terms. His company is doing very well and has made the transition from a technology-driven to a market-driven company.
Find out the Market’s Interest
Calculating the user’s benefit is only the first step. An entrepreneur must also give evidence that customers are intrigued with the user’s benefit claims and that they like the product or service. The business plan must reflect clear positive responses of customer prospects to the question “Having heard our pitch, will you buy?” Without them, an investment usually won’t be made.
How can start-up businesses—some of which may have only a prototype product or an idea for a service—appropriately gauge market reaction? One executive of a smaller company had put together a prototype of a device that enables personal computers to handle telephone messages. He needed to demonstrate that customers would buy the product, but the company had exhausted its cash resources and was thus unable to build and sell the item in quantity.
The executives wondered how to get around the problem. The MIT panel offered two possible responses. First, the founders might allow a few customers to use the prototype and obtain written evaluations of the product and the extent of their interest when it became available.
Second, the founders might offer the product to a few potential customers at a substantial price discount if they paid part of the cost—say one-third—up front so that the company could build it. The company could not only find out whether potential buyers existed but also demonstrate the product to potential investors in real-life installations.
In the same way, an entrepreneur might offer a proposed new service at a discount to initial customers as a prototype if the customers agreed to serve as references in marketing the service to others.
For a new product, nothing succeeds as well as letters of support and appreciation from some significant potential customers, along with “reference installations.” You can use such third-party statements—from would-be customers to whom you have demonstrated the product, initial users, sales representatives, or distributors—to show that you have indeed discovered a sound market that needs your product or service.
You can obtain letters from users even if the product is only in prototype form. You can install it experimentally with a potential user to whom you will sell it at or below cost in return for information on its benefits and an agreement to talk to sales prospects or investors. In an appendix to the business plan or in a separate volume, you can include letters attesting to the value of the product from experimental customers.
Document Your Claims
Having established a market interest, you must use carefully analyzed data to support your assertions about the market and the growth rate of sales and profits. Too often, executives think “If we’re smart, we’ll be able to get about 10% of the market” and “Even if we only get 1% of such a huge market, we’ll be in good shape.”
Investors know that there’s no guarantee a new company will get any business, regardless of market size. Even if the company makes such claims based on fact—as borne out, for example, by evidence of customer interest—they can quickly crumble if the company does not carefully gather and analyze supporting data.
One example of this danger surfaced in a business plan that came before the MIT Enterprise Forum. An entrepreneur wanted to sell a service to small businesses. He reasoned that he could have 170,000 customers if he penetrated even 1% of the market of 17 million small enterprises in the United States. The panel pointed out that anywhere from 11 million to 14 million of such so-called small businesses were really sole proprietorships or part-time businesses. The total number of full-time small businesses with employees was actually between 3 million and 6 million and represented a real potential market far beneath the company’s original projections—and prospects.
Similarly, in a business plan relating to the sale of certain equipment to apple growers, you must have U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics to discover the number of growers who could use the equipment. If your equipment is useful only to growers with 50 acres or more, then you need to determine how many growers have farms of that size, that is, how many are minor producers with only an acre or two of apple trees.
A realistic business plan needs to specify the number of potential customers, the size of their businesses, and which size is most appropriate to the offered products or services. Sometimes bigger is not better. For example, a saving of $10,000 per year in chemical use may be significant to a modest company but unimportant to a Du Pont or a Monsanto.
Such marketing research should also show the nature of the industry. Few industries are more conservative than banking and public utilities. The number of potential customers is relatively small, and industry acceptance of new products or services is painfully slow, no matter how good the products and services have proven to be. Even so, most of the customers are well known and while they may act slowly, they have the buying power that makes the wait worthwhile.
At the other end of the industrial spectrum are extremely fast-growing and fast-changing operations such as franchised weight-loss clinics and computer software companies. Here the problem is reversed. While some companies have achieved multi-million-dollar sales in just a few years, they are vulnerable to declines of similar proportions from competitors. These companies must innovate constantly so that potential competitors will be discouraged from entering the marketplace.
You must convincingly project the rate of acceptance for the product or service—and the rate at which it is likely to be sold. From this marketing research data, you can begin assembling a credible sales plan and projecting your plant and staff needs.
Address Investors’ Needs
The marketing issues are tied to the satisfaction of investors. Once executives make a convincing case for their market penetration, they can make the financial projections that help determine whether investors will be interested in evaluating the venture and how much they will commit and at what price.
Before considering investors’ concerns in evaluating business plans, you will find it worth your while to gauge who your potential investors might be. Most of us know that for new and growing private companies, investors may be professional venture capitalists and wealthy individuals. For corporate ventures, they are the corporation itself. When a company offers shares to the public, individuals of all means become investors along with various institutions.
But one part of the investor constituency is often overlooked in the planning process—the founders of new and growing enterprises. By deciding to start and manage a business, they are committed to years of hard work and personal sacrifice. They must try to stand back and evaluate their own businesses in order to decide whether the opportunity for reward some years down the road truly justifies the risk early on.
When an entrepreneur looks at an idea objectively rather than through rose-colored glasses, the decision whether to invest may change. One entrepreneur who believed in the promise of his scientific-instruments company faced difficult marketing problems because the product was highly specialized and had, at best, few customers. Because of the entrepreneur’s heavy debt, the venture’s chance of eventual success and financial return was quite slim.
The panelists concluded that the entrepreneur would earn only as much financial return as he would have had holding a job during the next three to seven years. On the downside, he might wind up with much less in exchange for larger headaches. When he viewed the project in such dispassionate terms, the entrepreneur finally agreed and gave it up.
Investors’ primary considerations are:
Entrepreneurs frequently do not understand why investors have a short attention span. Many who see their ventures in terms of a lifetime commitment expect that anyone else who gets involved will feel the same. When investors evaluate a business plan, they consider not only whether to get in but also how and when to get out.
Because small, fast-growing companies have little cash available for dividends, the main way investors can profit is from the sale of their holdings, either when the company goes public or is sold to another business. (Large corporations that invest in new enterprises may not sell their holdings if they’re committed to integrating the venture into their organizations and realizing long-term gains from income.)
Venture capital firms usually wish to liquidate their investments in small companies in three to seven years so as to pay gains while they generate funds for investment in new ventures. The professional investor wants to cash out with a large capital appreciation.
Investors want to know that entrepreneurs have thought about how to comply with this desire. Do they expect to go public, sell the company, or buy the investors out in three to seven years? Will the proceeds provide investors with a return on invested capital commensurate with the investment risk—in the range of 35% to 60%, compounded and adjusted for inflation?
Business plans often do not show when and how investors may liquidate their holdings. For example, one entrepreneur’s software company sought $1.5 million to expand. But a panelist calculated that, to satisfy their goals, the investors “would need to own the entire company and then some.”
Making Sound Projections
Five-year forecasts of profitability help lay the groundwork for negotiating the amount investors will receive in return for their money. Investors see such financial forecasts as yardsticks against which to judge future performance.
Too often, entrepreneurs go to extremes with their numbers. In some cases, they don’t do enough work on their financials and rely on figures that are so skimpy or overoptimistic that anyone who has read more than a dozen business plans quickly sees through them.
In one MIT Enterprise Forum presentation, a management team proposing to manufacture and market scientific instruments forecast a net income after taxes of 25% of sales during the fourth and fifth years following investment. While a few industries such as computer software average such high profits, the scientific instruments business is so competitive, panelists noted, that expecting such margins is unrealistic.
In fact, the managers had grossly—and carelessly—understated some important costs. The panelists advised them to take their financial estimates back to the drawing board and before approaching investors to consult financial professionals.
Some entrepreneurs think that the financials are the business plan. They may cover the plan with a smog of numbers. Such “spreadsheet merchants,” with their pages of computer printouts covering every business variation possible and analyzing product sensitivity, completely turn off many investors.
Investors are wary even when financial projections are solidly based on realistic marketing data because fledgling companies nearly always fail to achieve their rosy profit forecasts. Officials of five major venture capital firms we surveyed said they are satisfied when new ventures reach 50% of their financial goals. They agreed that the negotiations that determine the percentage of the company purchased by the investment dollars are affected by this “projection discount factor.”
The Development Stage
All investors wish to reduce their risk. In evaluating the risk of a new and growing venture, they assess the status of the product and the management team. The farther along an enterprise is in each area, the lower the risk.
At one extreme is a single entrepreneur with an unproven idea. Unless the founder has a magnificent track record, such a venture has little chance of obtaining investment funds.
At the more desirable extreme is a venture that has an accepted product in a proven market and a competent and fully staffed management team. This business is most likely to win investment funds at the lowest costs.
Entrepreneurs who become aware of their status with investors and think it inadequate can improve it. Take the case of a young MIT engineering graduate who appeared at an MIT Enterprise Forum session with written schematics for the improvement of semiconductor-equipment production. He had documented interest by several producers and was looking for money to complete development and begin production.
The panelists advised him to concentrate first on making a prototype and assembling a management team with marketing and financial know-how to complement his product-development expertise. They explained that because he had never before started a company, he needed to show a great deal of visible progress in building his venture to allay investors’ concern about his inexperience.
Once investors understand a company qualitatively, they can begin to do some quantitative analysis. One customary way is to calculate the company’s value on the basis of the results expected in the fifth year following investment. Because risk and reward are closely related, investors believe companies with fully developed products and proven management teams should yield between 35% and 40% on their investment, while those with incomplete products and management teams are expected to bring in 60% annual compounded returns.
Investors calculate the potential worth of a company after five years to determine what percentage they must own to realize their return. Take the hypothetical case of a well-developed company expected to yield 35% annually. Investors would want to earn 4.5 times their original investment, before inflation, over a five-year period.
After allowing for the projection discount factor, investors may postulate that a company will have $20 million annual revenues after five years and a net profit of $1.5 million. Based on a conventional multiple for acquisitions of ten times earnings, the company would be worth $15 million in five years.
If the company wants $1 million of financing, it should grow to $4.5 million after five years to satisfy investors. To realize that return from a company worth $15 million, the investors would need to own a bit less than one-third. If inflation is expected to average 7.5% a year during the five-year period, however, investors would look for a value of $6.46 million as a reasonable return over five years, or 43% of the company.
For a less mature venture—from which investors would be seeking 60% annually, net of inflation—a $1 million investment would have to bring in close to $15 million in five years, with inflation figured at 7.5% annually. But few businesses can make a convincing case for such a rich return if they do not already have a product in the hands of some representative customers.
The final percentage of the company acquired by the investors is, of course, subject to some negotiation, depending on projected earnings and expected inflation.
Make It Happen
The only way to tend to your needs is to satisfy those of the market and the investors—unless you are wealthy enough to furnish your own capital to finance the venture and test out the pet product or service.
Of course, you must confront other issues before you can convince investors that the enterprise will succeed. For example, what proprietary aspects are there to the product or service? How will you provide quality control? Have you focused the venture toward a particular market segment, or are you trying to do too much? If this is answered in the context of the market and investors, the result will be more effective than if you deal with them in terms of your own wishes.
An example helps illustrate the potential conflicts. An entrepreneur at an MIT Enterprise Forum session projected R&D spending of about half of gross sales revenues for his specialty chemical venture. A panelist who had analyzed comparable organic chemical suppliers asked why the company’s R&D spending was so much higher than the industry average of 5% of gross revenues.
The entrepreneur explained that he wanted to continually develop new products in his field. While admitting his purpose was admirable, the panel unanimously advised him to bring his spending into line with the industry’s. The presenter ignored the advice; he failed to obtain the needed financing and eventually went out of business.
Once you accept the idea that you should satisfy the market and the investors, you face the challenge of organizing your data into a convincing document so that you can sell your venture to investors and customers. We have provided some presentation guidelines in the insert called “Packaging Is Important.”
Packaging Is Important
A business plan gives financiers their first impressions of a company and its principals.
Potential investors expect the plan to look good, but not too good; to be the right length; to clearly and cisely explain early on all aspects of the company’s business; and not to contain bad grammar and typographical or spelling errors.
Investors are looking for evidence that the principals treat their own property with care—and will likewise treat the investment carefully. In other words, form as well as content is important, and investors know that good form reflects good content and vice versa.
Among the format issues we think most important are the following:
The binding and printing must not be sloppy; neither should the presentation be too lavish. A stapled compilation of photocopied pages usually looks amateurish, while bookbinding with typeset pages may arouse concern about excessive and inappropriate spending. A plastic spiral binding holding together a pair of cover sheets of a single color provides both a neat appearance and sufficient strength to withstand the handling of a number of people without damage.
A business plan should be no more than 40 pages long. The first draft will likely exceed that, but editing should produce a final version that fits within the 40-page ideal. Adherence to this length forces entrepreneurs to sharpen their ideas and results in a document likely to hold investors’ attention.
Background details can be included in an additional volume. Entrepreneurs can make this material available to investors during the investigative period after the initial expression of interest.
The Cover and Title Page
The cover should bear the name of the company, its address and phone number, and the month and year in which the plan is issued. Surprisingly, a large number of business plans are submitted to potential investors without return addresses or phone numbers. An interested investor wants to be able to contact a company easily and to request further information or express an interest, either in the company or in some aspect of the plan.
Inside the front cover should be a well-designed title page on which the cover information is repeated and, in an upper or a lower corner, the legend “Copy number______” provided. Besides helping entrepreneurs keep track of plans in circulation, holding down the number of copies outstanding—usually to no more than 20—has a psychological advantage. After all, no investor likes to think that the prospective investment is shopworn.
The Executive Summary
The two pages immediately following the title page should concisely explain the company’s current status, its products or services, the benefits to customers, the financial forecasts, the venture’s objectives in three to seven years, the amount of financing needed, and how investors will benefit.
This is a tall order for a two-page summary, but it will either sell investors on reading the rest of the plan or convince them to forget the whole thing.
The Table of Contents
After the executive summary include a well-designed table of contents. List each of the business plan’s sections and mark the pages for each section.
Even though we might wish it were not so, writing effective business plans is as much an art as it is a science. The idea of a master document whose blanks executives can merely fill in—much in the way lawyers use sample wills or real estate agreements—is appealing but unrealistic.
Businesses differ in key marketing, production, and financial issues. Their plans must reflect such differences and must emphasize appropriate areas and deemphasize minor issues. Remember that investors view a plan as a distillation of the objectives and character of the business and its executives. A cookie-cutter, fill-in-the-blanks plan or, worse yet, a computer-generated package, will turn them off.
Write your business plans by looking outward to your key constituencies rather than by looking inward at what suits you best. You will save valuable time and energy this way and improve your chances of winning investors and customers.
- SR Mr. Rich has helped found seven technologically based businesses, the most recent being Advanced Energy Dynamics Inc. of Natick, Massachusetts. He is also a cofounder and has been chairman of the MIT Enterprise forum, which assists emerging growth companies.
- DG Mr. Gumpert is an associate editor of HBR, where he specializes in small business and marketing. He has written several HBR articles, the most recent of which was “The Heart of Entrepreneurship,” coauthored by Howard. H. Stevenson (March–April 1985). This article is adapted from Business Plans That Win $$$ : Lessons from the MIT Enterprise Forum, by Messrs. Rich and Gumpert (Harper & Row, 1985). The authors are also founders of Venture Resource Associates of Grantham, New Hampshire, which provides planning and strategic services to growing enterprises.
How To Write A Business Plan (2023 Guide)
Updated: Aug 20, 2022, 2:21am
Table of Contents
Brainstorm an executive summary, create a company description, brainstorm your business goals, describe your services or products, conduct market research, create financial plans, bottom line, frequently asked questions.
Every business starts with a vision, which is distilled and communicated through a business plan. In addition to your high-level hopes and dreams, a strong business plan outlines short-term and long-term goals, budget and whatever else you might need to get started. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to write a business plan that you can stick to and help guide your operations as you get started.
Drafting the Summary
An executive summary is an extremely important first step in your business. You have to be able to put the basic facts of your business in an elevator pitch-style sentence to grab investors’ attention and keep their interest. This should communicate your business’s name, what the products or services you’re selling are and what marketplace you’re entering.
Ask for Help
When drafting the executive summary, you should have a few different options. Enlist a few thought partners to review your executive summary possibilities to determine which one is best.
After you have the executive summary in place, you can work on the company description, which contains more specific information. In the description, you’ll need to include your business’s registered name , your business address and any key employees involved in the business.
The business description should also include the structure of your business, such as sole proprietorship , limited liability company (LLC) , partnership or corporation. This is the time to specify how much of an ownership stake everyone has in the company. Finally, include a section that outlines the history of the company and how it has evolved over time.
Wherever you are on the business journey, you return to your goals and assess where you are in meeting your in-progress targets and setting new goals to work toward.
Goals can cover a variety of sections of your business. Financial and profit goals are a given for when you’re establishing your business, but there are other goals to take into account as well with regard to brand awareness and growth. For example, you might want to hit a certain number of followers across social channels or raise your engagement rates.
Another goal could be to attract new investors or find grants if you’re a nonprofit business. If you’re looking to grow, you’ll want to set revenue targets to make that happen as well.
Goals unrelated to traceable numbers are important as well. These can include seeing your business’s advertisement reach the general public or receiving a terrific client review. These goals are important for the direction you take your business and the direction you want it to go in the future.
The business plan should have a section that explains the services or products that you’re offering. This is the part where you can also describe how they fit in the current market or are providing something necessary or entirely new. If you have any patents or trademarks, this is where you can include those too.
If you have any visual aids, they should be included here as well. This would also be a good place to include pricing strategy and explain your materials.
This is the part of the business plan where you can explain your expertise and different approach in greater depth. Show how what you’re offering is vital to the market and fills an important gap.
You can also situate your business in your industry and compare it to other ones and how you have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Other than financial goals, you want to have a budget and set your planned weekly, monthly and annual spending. There are several different costs to consider, such as operational costs.
Business Operations Costs
Rent for your business is the first big cost to factor into your budget. If your business is remote, the cost that replaces rent will be the software that maintains your virtual operations.
Marketing and sales costs should be next on your list. Devoting money to making sure people know about your business is as important as making sure it functions.
Although you can’t anticipate disasters, there are likely to be unanticipated costs that come up at some point in your business’s existence. It’s important to factor these possible costs into your financial plans so you’re not caught totally unaware.
Business plans are important for businesses of all sizes so that you can define where your business is and where you want it to go. Growing your business requires a vision, and giving yourself a roadmap in the form of a business plan will set you up for success.
How do I write a simple business plan?
When you’re working on a business plan, make sure you have as much information as possible so that you can simplify it to the most relevant information. A simple business plan still needs all of the parts included in this article, but you can be very clear and direct.
What are some common mistakes in a business plan?
The most common mistakes in a business plan are common writing issues like grammar errors or misspellings. It’s important to be clear in your sentence structure and proofread your business plan before sending it to any investors or partners.
What basic items should be included in a business plan?
When writing out a business plan, you want to make sure that you cover everything related to your concept for the business, an analysis of the industry―including potential customers and an overview of the market for your goods or services―how you plan to execute your vision for the business, how you plan to grow the business if it becomes successful and all financial data around the business, including current cash on hand, potential investors and budget plans for the next few years.
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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
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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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Guide to Creating a Business Plan With Template
To make your business idea a reality, you need a business plan. These simple business plan templates will get you started.
- A business plan clearly defines a company’s goals and how it will achieve them.
- You can find templates for simple and traditional business plans online, including a free downloadable one created by Business News Daily.
- LivePlan, Bizplan, GoSmallBiz and Enloop all offer great business plan software that can take your business plan to the next level.
- This article is for entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to know how to write a business plan.
Having a road map helps you reach your journey’s end successfully. Business plans do the same for small businesses. They lay out the milestones you need to reach to build a profitable small business. They are also essential for identifying and overcoming obstacles along the way. Each part of a business plan helps you reach your goals, including the financial aspects, marketing, operations and sales.
Plenty of online business plan templates are available to take some of the pain out of the writing process. You may benefit from simple, easy-to-follow business plan tools so you spend less time writing and more time launching your venture.
What is a business plan?
With most great business ideas , the best way to execute them is to have a plan. A business plan is a written outline that you present to others, such as investors, whom you want to recruit into your venture. It’s your pitch to your investors, sharing with them what the goals of your startup are and how you expect to be profitable.
It also serves as your company’s roadmap, keeping your business on track and ensuring your operations grow and evolve to meet the goals outlined in your plan. As circumstances change, a business plan can serve as a living document – but it should always include the core goals of your business.
Why do I need a business plan?
Starting a new business comes with headaches. Being prepared for those headaches can greatly decrease their impact on your business. One important step in preparing for the challenges your startup may face is writing a solid business plan.
Writing a business plan helps you understand more clearly what you need to do to reach your goals. The finished business plan also serves as a reminder to you of these goals. It’s a valuable tool that you can refer back to, helping you stay focused and on track.
What are the three main purposes of a business plan?
Before you write your business plan, it’s important to understand the purpose of creating it in the first place. These are the three main reasons you should have a business plan:
- Establish a business focus. The primary purpose of a business plan is to establish your plans for the future. These plans should include goals or milestones alongside detailed steps of how your company will reach each step. The process of creating a roadmap to your goals will help you determine your business focus and pursue growth.
- Secure funding. One of the first things private investors , banks or other lenders look for before investing in your business is a well-researched business plan. Investors want to know how you operate your business, what your revenue and expense projections are and, most importantly, how they will receive a return on their investment. [Check out our recommendations for the best business loan options .]
- Attract executives. As your business grows, you’ll likely need to add executives to your team. A business plan helps you attract executive talent and determine whether or not they are a good fit for your company.
Your business plan can be written as a document or designed as a slideshow, such as a PowerPoint presentation. It may be beneficial to create both versions. For example, the PowerPoint can be used to pull people in, and the document version that contains more detail can be given to viewers as a follow-up.
Free downloadable business plan template
Business News Daily put together a simple but high-value business plan template to help you create a business plan. The template is completely customizable and can be used to attract investors, secure board members, and narrow the scope of your company.
Business plans can be overwhelming to new entrepreneurs, but our template makes it easy to provide all of the details required by financial institutions and private investors. The template has eight main sections, with subsections for each topic. For easy navigation, a table of contents is provided with the template. As you customize each section, you’ll receive tips on how to correctly write the required details.
Here is our free business plan template you can use to craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.
Types of business plans
There are two main types of business plans: simple and traditional. Traditional business plans are long, detailed plans that expound on both short-term and long-term objectives. In comparison, a simple business plan focuses on a few key metrics in concise detail so as to quickly share data with investors.
Simple business plan
Business model expert Ash Maurya has developed a simple type of business plan called a lean canvas . The model, which was developed in 2010, is still one of the most popular types of business plans emulated today.
A lean canvas comprises nine sections, with each part of the plan containing high-value information and metrics to attract investors. This lean business plan often consists of a single page of information with the following listed:
- Key metrics
- Unique proposition
- Unfair advantage
- Customer targets
- Cost structures
- Revenue streams
Traditional business plan
Traditional plans are lengthy documents, sometimes as long as 30 or 40 pages. A traditional business plan acts as a blueprint of a new business, detailing its progress from the time it launches to several years in the future when the startup is an established business. The following areas are covered in a traditional business plan:
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Products and services
- Market analysis
- Management team
- Financial plan
- Operational plan
We lay out each area of a traditional business plan in detail below.
1. Executive summary
The executive summary is the most important section of your business plan, because it needs to draw your readers into your plan and entice them to continue reading. If your executive summary doesn’t capture the reader’s attention, they won’t read further, and their interest in your business won’t be piqued.
Even though the executive summary is the first section in your business plan, you should write it last. When you are ready to write this section, we recommend that you summarize the problem (or market need) you aim to solve, your solution for consumers, an overview of the founders and/or owners, and key financial details. The key with this section is to be brief yet engaging.
2. Company description
This section is an overview of your entire business. Make sure you include basic information, such as when your company was founded, the type of business entity it is – limited liability company (LLC), sole proprietorship, partnership , C corporation or S corporation – and the state in which it is registered. Provide a summary of your company’s history to give the readers a solid understanding of its foundation. Learn more about articles of incorporation , and what you need to know to start a business.
3. Products and services
Next, describe the products and/or services your business provides. Focus on your customers’ perspective – and needs – by demonstrating the problem you are trying to solve. The goal with this section is to prove that your business fills a bona fide market need and will remain viable for the foreseeable future.
4. Market analysis
In this section, clearly define who your target audience is, where you will find customers, how you will reach them and, most importantly, how you will deliver your product or service to them. Provide a deep analysis of your ideal customer and how your business provides a solution for them.
You should also include your competitors in this section, and illustrate how your business is uniquely different from the established companies in the industry or market. What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how will you differentiate yourself from the pack?
Follow this step-by-step guide on how to conduct a competitor analysis and what details it should include.
You will also need to write a marketing plan based on the context of your business. For example, if you’re a small local business, you want to analyze your competitors who are located nearby. Franchises need to conduct a large-scale analysis, potentially on a national level. Competitor data helps you know the current trends in your target industry and the growth potential. These details also prove to investors that you’re very familiar with the industry.
For this section, the listed target market paints a picture of what your ideal customer looks like. Data to include may be the age range, gender, income levels, location, marital status and geographical regions of target consumers.
A SWOT analysis is a common tool entrepreneurs use to bring all collected data together in a market analysis. “SWOT” stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.” Strengths and weaknesses analyze the advantages and disadvantages unique to your company, while opportunities and threats analyze the current market risks and rewards.
5. Management team
Before anyone invests in your business, they want a complete understanding of the potential investment. This section should illustrate how your business is organized. It should list key members of the management team, the founders/owners, board members, advisors, etc.
As you list each individual, provide a summary of their experience and their role within your company. Treat this section as a series of mini resumes, and consider appending full-length resumes to your business plan.
6. Financial plan
The financial plan should include a detailed overview of your finances. At the very least, you should include cash flow statements, and profit and loss projections, over the next three to five years. You can also include historical financial data from the past few years, your sales forecast and balance sheet. Consider these items to include:
- Income statement: Investors want detailed information to confirm the viability of your business idea. Expect to provide an income statement for the business plan that includes a complete snapshot of your business. The income statement will list revenue, expenses and profits. Income statements are generated monthly for startups and quarterly for established businesses.
- Cash flow projection: Another element of your financial plan is your projection for cash flow. In this section, you estimate the expected amount of money coming in and going out of your business. There are two benefits to including a cash flow projection. The first is that this forecast demonstrates whether your business is a high or low-risk venture. The second benefit of doing a cash flow projection is that it shows you whether you would benefit most from short-term or long-term financing.
- Analysis of break-even point: Your financial plan should include a break-even analysis. The break-even point is the point at which your company’s sales totals cover all of its expenses. Investors want to see your revenue requirements to assess whether your business is capable of reaching the financial milestones you’ve laid out in your business plan.
Make sure this section is precise and accurate. It’s often best to create this section with a professional accountant. If you’re seeking outside funding for your business , highlight why you’re seeking financing, how you will use that money, and when investors can expect a return on investment .
Struggling for cash flow? Here are eight cash flow strategies for survival.
If you really want to master your financial plan, Jennifer Spaziano, vice president of business development at Accion, offers these helpful tips:
- Follow generally accepted accounting principles . As a rule, the financial part of your plan should follow the accounting principles set by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, especially if you’re creating the plan to obtain a loan or a line of credit.
- Get fluent in spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are the best and most accepted way to present financial information.
- Seek outside assistance. Obtaining advice from your financial planner or accountant can help you put the numbers together and present them properly. If you use an accountant and your financial statements have been audited, state that in the plan.
- Look up templates. If you want to attempt writing the financial section on your own, there are resources.
7. Operational plan
The operational plan section details the physical needs of your business. This section discusses the location of the business , as well as required equipment or critical facilities needed to make your products. Some companies – depending on their business type – may also need to detail their inventory needs, including information about suppliers. For manufacturing companies, all processing details are spelled out in the operational plan section.
For startups, you want to divide the operational plan into two distinct phases: the developmental plan and the production plan.
- Developmental plan: The developmental plan details each step in the process of bringing your product or service to market. You want to outline the risks and the protocols you’re taking to demonstrate to investors that you’ve examined all potential liabilities and that your business is well positioned for success. For instance, if workers (or your products) are exposed to toxic materials during the production process, in your developmental plan, you want to list the safety measures you will follow to minimize the risk of illness and injury to workers and consumers and how you plan to minimize any potential culpability to your business.
- Production plan: The production plan includes the day-to-day operation information, such as your business hours, the work site(s), company assets, equipment pieces, raw materials and any special requirements.
Free vs. paid business plan templates
You have your option of choosing between free and paid business templates. Both come with their own benefits and limitations, so the best one for you will depend on your specific needs and budget. Evaluating the pros and cons of each can help you decide.
The biggest advantage of using a free template is the cost savings it offers to your business. Startups are often strapped for cash, making it a desirable choice for new business owners to access a free template. Although it’s nice to use templates at no cost, there are some drawbacks to free business plan templates – the biggest one being limited customizability.
“The process of writing a business plan lets you personally find the kinks in your business and work them out,” Attiyya Atkins, founder of A+ Editing, told Business News Daily. “Starting with an online template is a good start, but it needs to be reviewed and targeted to your market. Downloadable business plans may have dated market prices, making the budget inaccurate. If you’re looking to get money from investors, you need a customized business plan with zero errors.”
Janil Jean, head of overseas operations at LogoDesign.net, agreed that free templates offer limited customization – such as the company name and some text. She added that they are often used by a ton of people, so if you use one to secure funds, investors might be tired of seeing that business plan format.
The benefit of paying for business plan templates – or paying for an expert to review your business plan – is the accuracy of information and high customization.
“Your audience gets thousands of applications per day. What’s to make your business plan stand out from the crowd when you’re not there in the room when they make the decisions about your enterprise?” Jean said. “Visuals are the best way to impress and get attention. It makes sense to get paid templates that allow you maximum customization through design, images and branding.”
On the contrary, the limitation to using a paid template is the cost. If your startup doesn’t have the funds to pay for a business plan template, it may not be a feasible option.
The best business plan software
In case you take the route of investing money in your business plan, there are several great software programs available. Software takes the legwork out of writing a business plan by simplifying the process and eliminating the need to start from scratch. They often include features like step-by-step wizards, templates, financial projection tools, charts and graphs, third-party application integrations, collaboration tools and video tutorials.
After researching and evaluating dozens of business plan software providers, we narrowed down these four of the best options available:
LivePlan is a cloud-hosted software application that provides many tools to create your business plan, including more than 500 templates, a one-page pitch builder, automatic financial statements, full financial forecasting , industry benchmark data and KPIs . Annual plans start at $15 per month.
Bizplan is cloud-hosted software that features a step-by-step builder to walk you through each section of the business plan. Annual plans start at $20.75 per month.
GoSmallBiz is a cloud-based service that offers industry-specific templates, a step-by-step wizard that makes creating a detailed business plan an easy one, and video tutorials. Monthly plans start at $15 per month.
Enloop focuses on financial projections. It provides you with everything you need to demonstrate how financially viable your business can be, and walks you through the process of generating financial forecasts. Annual plans start at $11 per month.
Common challenges of writing a business plan
The challenges of writing a business plan vary. Do you have all the information about your business that you need? Does your industry have strict guidelines that you must adhere to? To help you prepare, we identified 10 of the most common issues you may face:
- Getting started
- Identifying cash flow and financial projections
- Knowing your target market
- Being concise
- Making it interesting
- Establishing workable goals
- Being realistic about business growth
- Proving that your idea is worth the risk
- Finding the right amount of flexibility
- Creating a strategy that you can implement
Crafting a business plan around these 10 challenges can prepare your business – and anyone who joins it – for a prosperous future.
How to overcome the challenges of writing a business plan
Although you won’t accurately predict everything for your business, you can take preemptive steps to reduce the number of complications that may arise. For example, familiarize yourself with the business plan process by researching business plans and identifying how others successfully executed their plans.
You can use these plans as a basis; however, Rick Cottrell, CEO and founder of BizResults.com, recommends taking it one step further: Talk to small business owners and others who have experience.
“The business owner should talk to an accountant, banker, and those who deal with these plans on a daily basis and learn how others have done it,” Cottrell said. “They can join startup and investment groups, and speak to peers and others who are getting ready to launch a business, and gain insights from them. They can seek out capital innovation clubs in their area and get additional expertise.”
If you research how to write a business plan and still don’t feel comfortable writing one, you can always hire a consultant to help you with the process.
“It is simply a time-consuming process that cannot be rushed,” Cottrell added. “Millions of dollars can be at stake and, in many cases, requires a high level of expertise that either needs to be learned or executed in conjunction with an experienced business consultant.”
Sean Peek, Jennifer Post, Chad Brooks, Howard Wen and Joshua Stowers contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article and related articles.
How Business Plans Work
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So, you've decided to start your own business! You've weighed the risks and decided it fits your life goals and will be challenging and hopefully rewarding. Whether you're starting from scratch or buying a franchise, a lot of thought and planning needs to go into it before you can hope to make it successful. One very necessary tool that can help you cover all of the bases before you take the plunge and leave that reliable bi-weekly pay check, is a business plan. Even if you're not seeking investors in your business, you need to invest the time and effort involved in writing a business plan. While business plans are certainly a requirement for new businesses seeking outside funding, they are also a terrific way to map out your strategy. Think of the business plan as a roadmap. The road map not only lets you see exactly where you are, but where you're going to be, and what you may see along the way. While it may not be heavy on the details, it is definitely a necessity if you want to get to where you are going!
In this article, we'll look at how to put together a business plan that can help you lay the foundation for your business, improve your chances of being successful, and generate enthusiasm and excitement about the business whether it's being written for those funding it, or for yourself. We'll answer your questions about what has to be covered in the plan, how to do research, how to make realistic projections, how to set milestones, and hopefully answer the hundreds of other questions that will pop into your head as you begin the planning process.
That planning process, by the way, is part of what makes putting together a business plan so important. The act of thinking about everything that must go into the plan will force you to think through the logistics of your business venture, and perhaps even come up with some ideas you hadn't considered before! You may even end up using many of the "selling words" you come up with for your business plan in your marketing efforts.
A Few Guidelines
The executive summary, the business profile, the market: analysis & segmentation, the market: strengths & weaknesses, the market: target & competition, strategies: marketing, strategies: sales, management structure: staff positions and management section, management structure: org chart, staffing costs & facilities, financials: financial plan & needs summary, financials: revenue model, assumptions and comments, financials: profit & loss statement, financials: cash flow statement, financials: balance sheet, other plan elements, putting it all together, formatting the document sections, tools, checklists and forms, where to start.
The plan you write will set the scene for your business. You'll set concrete goals that include deadlines, think through your HR organizational scheme and assign responsibilities, as well as describe the business and make your financial projections. One thing to keep in mind before you begin, however, is to set realistic goals. Don't set yourself up for failure before you even leave the gate! Also, make sure your plan is results-oriented. In other words, your plan should influence opinions (even if only your own) about your business and its future. So with that in mind, let's get started.
Because all businesses are different, and business plans are written for different reasons, the first thing to think about is whom you are writing for. If you are planning on using the plan to get funding then remember that as you write, being sure to get the business's most important message across immediately. Also, if you're approaching lenders rather than equity investors your projected profits won't be nearly as important. (They often associate high projections with high risk!) Know your objectives and strategies before you tackle the business plan. Remember, your objectives should be specific, concrete, and measurable; and your strategies should clearly explain how you're going to meet your objectives. Finally, keep it clear and concise, and ideally no more than 15-30 pages with attachments. Just remember KISS ( k eep i t s hort and s imple). Once complete, the business plan is something you should refer to often and update and change frequently to meet the changing environment of your business.
Your plan should include information that falls into these categories:
- Your Product/The Business
- Your Management Team
If you're reviewing many of the business resources available, you'll quickly notice that every business plan outline will be slightly different. Just make sure you cover these basic categories, include an executive summary, and then add other sections that seem necessary for both the audience of your plan and your own personal use.
As we cover the steps in writing a business plan, we'll also write a plan a for a fictitious PDA software company. Watch for links to the fictitious plan at the end of each section. Now, let's go over the Executive Summary.
Usually, the first section of a business plan is the Executive Summary. This summary is often the most important part of your plan if you are seeking funding (and sometimes even if you aren't) because it provides a quick overview of everything else in the plan. Often this summary is the only chance your plan gets when it's in a stack with hundreds of other plans vying for the same investor's attention.
Although it comes first in the business plan, the executive summary is usually written last, after you have ironed out all of the details of your plan. So, once you have the meat of your plan written, come back to this section and write your executive summary.
The executive summary should briefly cover:
- Statement of purpose -- The objectives of the plan... (i.e., to raise money, act as a policy guide, etc.)
- Company background
- The company's product or service
- Strategy overview -- Why the product or service is unique
- The market potential -- Research findings
- Financial projections for at least 3 years into the future
- The qualifications of the management team
- Finance requirements -- How you plan on spending raised capital
Make sure you state in the summary why your business will succeed. You can also include your mission statement in your introductory/executive summary.
Briefly explain the legal structure of your company. Is it a proprietorship , a partnership , a corporation or any of the other variations of these models?
Give your reader the "Big Picture" in this section. Explain the business opportunity you've seen in the current market. Give an overview of the industry and explain why your business is unique, as well as why it will succeed. Describe your product or service in a non-technical way, focusing on what you are doing that will make your product stand out in the marketplace. For example, you may have noticed your competition's products do not meet the needs of certain markets, so your strategy is to create a product that does meet those needs in order to reach those untapped markets and gain a stronger competitive advantage. Make sure you make this type of strategy pop out in this section.
Describe both the present industry scene, as well as future projections. If you find that you can't describe your business clearly and simply, then you probably have not thought it through. If this is the case, stop where you are and take the time to mull through all aspects of your business idea from start to finish until you've boiled it down to its essence.
Explain where you are with your business right now. For startups this should be a short explanation that simply states whether you have a product, or simply an idea, and the stage you are at in its development. For existing businesses, this means explaining your background, current sales levels, and standing in the market.
List the objectives of your company. For instance, do you want to become one of the top ten companies in your industry within the next four years? Do you want to have a staff of ten within the next two years? Do you want to gross $XX by year five. Do you want a positive return on investment by the end of the second year? Keep them specific and measurable.
Determining the size of your market is much easier today than it was 10-15 years ago. If you have a personal computer and Internet access you're halfway there. You can access quite a bit of secondary research data via the Internet. (It is helpful to know the Standard Industrial Classification of your business (or your target market) when searching these databases.)You may also have to do some of your own primary research to get a better feel for your market's likes and dislikes. Don't forget to check with your product or service industry's trade associations. Many trade associations actively monitor the market, tracking industry sales, projections and trends. There are also many other sites that provide industry demographic information and market analyses. (See the related HowStuffWorks article on " How to Conduct Market Research .")
Once you've done your research, pull all of the raw material into a clear description of the current market, your target audience, your competition, and how your product is going to jump onto this big roller coaster. Make sure you're answering these questions:
- How big is the potential market?
- Is the market growing, flat, or shrinking? What changes do you see happening?
- Is the market segmented either by pricing, quality, age, income, or product usage?
- Who is your target audience?
- Who are your competitors?
In the next few sections, we'll discuss each of the questions.
In the first section of the Market Analysis, define your market using concrete numbers and percentages. In other words, how many potential users are there for your product or service? If you are offering a regional service and have found that there are 80,000 potential customers in your geographic area, then this is where you put that information. Explain the growth and other changes you see in the market and how the competition is flailing, failing or flourishing as a result. Include some market history if it applies to your product and market. You may not be able to go back three years because the market didn't exist! Refer to the statistics and data you've discovered through your market research and be sure to quote the source and date. You can also include information about outside influences on the market (i.e., government regulations, union activities, etc.), seasonality of the market, and the typical industry life cycle.
Your market may be segmented by price, quality, region, customer age, income, buying behavior, industry or anything else. Determine what those segments are and describe the ones you are going to target. By focusing on specific segments you'll have a better chance of success. Remember it's hard to be all things to all people. Keep in mind that your product will probably also cross into several market segments. Remember to address each segment in your marketing planning.
It's a jungle out there. What is your edge? Expound on your strengths and any elements of your strategy that will give your product a better chance in the market. For startups, this is a section where you really need to have done your homework. If you're an existing business and already have a foothold on a part of the market then this is the section where you can boast! Explain the particulars of your business that have gotten you where you are, such as your marketing plan, exceptional customer service, or your introduction of new, innovative products.
Now for the flip side, as hard as it may be, describe the weaknesses your company may have in the market. This may be as fixable as not having enough sales staff, or not having a company web site. Also note any weaknesses inherent to the market itself. This may not be as easily "fixed" but keep in mind that your competition must deal with it as well. Also remember to note any possible threats to your product such as regulatory issues, or environmental concerns.
Determining the right target audience is probably the most important part of your marketing efforts, because it doesn't matter what you're saying if you're not saying it to the right people! In this section of your business plan, go into as much detail as possible about who your market is. At a minimum, you should describe your typical customer. What is the age group, gender, family size, income, and geographic location. For business-to-business markets make sure you include the industry type (or SIC), company size, job titles/departments, annual revenue, and geographic areas. Include as much additional demographic and psychographic information as you can dig up, such as what their spending patterns are, whether they are brand conscious when it comes to your product type, what influences their buying behavior, what promotional efforts do they respond to most often, etc, etc.
Embarking on a journey into your target audience's brain, also known as psychographics is often key to your marketing efforts and will be demonstrated in more detail in our Marketing Plan Workshop .
Just as with all of the other sections of your business plan, there is no absolute for organizing your plan. Organize the market analysis section in the way that seems most logical and will best illustrate your product's market.
Give a complete and thorough overview of the competitive market. Who are the heavy hitters? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Identify the differences between your product offerings and theirs. What is their pricing structure? Sometimes your suppliers are good sources of information about your competition. Visit your competitors' locations, Web sites, exhibit booths, etc. Information is often the key to a strong competitive advantage.
Look back at your objectives from the Business/Concept section. How are you going to achieve them? This is the section of your business plan where you can really get down to the meat and potatoes of how you are going to make those goals and objectives a reality.
For each goal, assign a strategy. For each strategy, describe your tactics -- how you will implement the steps to reach it. Finally, identify the details such as the milestones and specific activities that will help make it succeed.
For example, if your goal is to take 20% of the market within the first two years of operation, then your strategy might be to offer the most stress-free buying experience for your customers. Your tactics could include setting up a 24/7 customer service hotline, and offering an unconditional satisfaction guarantee. The specific steps and milestones of this plan could include week-long, customer-oriented training sessions for your sales staff, establishing a live Web site help desk, paying the return postage for customers who were unsatisfied with your product, and conducting customer surveys to determine and improve satisfaction levels.
In the following sections, we'll discuss the two main strategy areas: marketing and sales.
When it comes to identifying your marketing strategies, think about how you are going make your product stand out from the pack. If you have a product that no one else offers, your job is not so difficult. If you don't then you have a little more work ahead of you. Find (or create) your competitive edge. What is your Unique Selling Advantage ? If your product does what the others do but you can offer it cheaper then you're on to something. If your product is packed with features that the others don't offer then you're also on to something. Whatever it is, find the differences in your product or service and capitalize on them.
One method for brainstorming is to put yourself in your customers' shoes! Walk the walk and talk the talk. Ask yourself why you buy one product over another. What media do you really pay attention to? All these thought processes will help you nail down the best strategies for getting your products into your potential customers' hands.
In this section, present an overview of your strategies and then move into how you are going to position your product, how you will price it, and how you plan to promote and distribute it.
How you position your product is how you want your target market to perceive it in the marketplace. Is it the premier product for business executives, or is it a less expensive alternative to the "big guy's" product? Do you want your product to be seen as an investment or an expense? Put into words the ideas you came up with while "walking the walk" above. According to David Ogilvy, founder of an extremely successful advertising agency, positioning is the most important aspect of your marketing efforts. You have to find your niche.
Also explain how you price your product in this section. Start with how your main competitors price their products. Is your product better (be objective!), or just comparable to theirs? Have you done any research into what people would pay for your product? Get as much competitive pricing information as possible and combine that information with a feature comparison. If your product is obviously better (be objective!) then you can probably price it at or above your established competitors' prices. If it isn't then you probably should lower your price in order to get a share of the market. Pricing increases can come later once you have a good hold on a piece of the market.
Once you've established your product's position and pricing, move into the exciting world of promotion and advertising . This should cover every avenue you'll travel in getting the word out about your business and your products or services, from free promotion via press releases, to trade shows , to million dollar TV ad campaigns. Your promotions should always have specific goals. For example, are you trying to build brand awareness, make immediate sales, promote a special event, or simply generate interest and leads?
Once you have goals set, build on the information you've already assembled about your target market and your marketing strategies, and once again, get into your prospects' heads. What media do they use? What are their buying habits? Where would your advertising dollars be best spent? What are their interests? How can you use that information to sell your product or otherwise meet the goals you've just set?
For example, let's use a Brady Bunch illustration and say we are in the business of selling cars -- specifically cars with a high passenger capacity. If the Brady's fall into our Target Audience, we know that our audience watches little TV, reads the newspaper, tends to make decisions as a family (so getting the attention of the kids is key), and likes to travel by car on long trips out west. Therefore, our advertising and promotions would probably work best in print -- specifically newspaper -- and our sales literature and other tactics need to be designed with kids in mind.
Now, that example is definitely oversimplified, but you should get the idea of what you have to think about. Basically you have to decide, based on your audience's habits:
- what your advertising message should be,
- how you need to say it,
- and where you need to say it.
In the promotions section of business plan, briefly explain the what, how and where listed above. The "where" part of those questions is called your advertising mix and is sometimes the easiest of the three to determine. This section doesn't always have to be that detailed. In other words, you don't have go into exactly what your advertising themes will be unless you feel they are key to your business's success. Save those details for your marketing plan .
Next discuss how your product will be distributed. Will you go through retail chains, online sales, direct sales, etc? Describe the standard distribution channels for your industry, and explain the strengths and weaknesses of each method. Is one channel better from a financial standpoint, but not from a customer service standpoint? Will you have a network of distributors? There are several options for distribution channels including retail outlets (either your own or an existing chain), wholesale outlets, sales force, telemarketing, cybermarketing, or direct marketing on TV and cable shopping channels.
Your sales should go into detail about how the sales transaction will actually take place. What steps do your sales reps go through to actually close the sale. What is their commission structure? What are their incentives to sell? How much are they involved in the actual delivery of the product or service? What is their role after the sale? Are they divided into territories based on geographic regions, product lines, or something else? What is the organization of your sales department and how will that specific way of organizing and compensating put you ahead of your competition?
When it comes down to it your sales forecasts may be only slightly more scientific than throwing darts at numbers on the wall. Use your instincts, what you know about your market, the experience of your sales team , and the strength of your marketing program to come up with an educated guess for your sales forecasts. If you have set sales goal for your sales team already then it may make sense to base your projections on the percentage of that goal that you feel will be achieved by each rep. Estimate sales figures for each rep on a monthly basis and you should have a good starting point for your projections.
Do you see opportunities for strategic alliances with non-competing companies? These types of strategies can be very beneficial for startups. Make sure your agreement is well thought-out and your company is not getting the short end of the stick.
View Strategies for PDAware.
The first thing many investors may look at in your plan is the management structure. If you're not looking for investors, this section will still help you plan your organization's structure and help you make sure you have the skill sets you need to succeed. Investors want to make sure you have the necessary resources to properly plan, organize, control and lead your business. They will look for weaknesses in your management team's experience, so before they can do that you should do it. Assuming you already have your technical staff in place, set up a management team that has good experience and track records in marketing, finance and operations. It can make the difference in whether your business plan works or doesn't work. In fact, 98% of small business's that fail do so because of weaknesses in their management staff.
Minimum Staff Positions
The staff you'll need to run your business will really depend a lot on the type and size of your business, and the scope of what you are offering. As a general guideline you'll need:
- Technical staff to develop and build your product or service
- Staff who can manage your finances
- Staff who can market your product
- Staff who can oversee your operations
- Administrative staff
Writing the Management Section
Start with a summary of your overall management philosophy. Identify your company founders and board of directors. Answer the obvious questions such as how many employees you will have over given periods of time, how many of those will be managers, what their experience and credentials need to be, etc.
For the key players you already have in place, provide summaries of their resumes highlighting pertinent experience and achievements, salary levels, and their areas of responsibility. For positions you are still trying to fill, summarize your minimum requirements for likely candidates along with the responsibilities of those positions. Or, contract those positions out to professionals who specialize in the area you need. You may find that contracting work out is the best solution initially anyway. Be sure you include the credentials and track records of your contracted help. Also, remember to include time tables for hiring additional staff.
Include a section on outside support, such as your CPA, your attorney, your banker, and your insurance broker. Also include any other outside resources such as your board of directors or management consultants.
Look at your management plan critically and search for weaknesses in your organization Spell those weaknesses out here, and identify your plans to address them. Even if you don't see the weaknesses, it is very likely that your potential investors will.
The Org Chart
Set up an organizational chart. Having a visual illustration makes it easier for both you and your readers to understand the organization and see any possible gaps.
Include either a table or a description identifying your personnel costs. These costs are also used in your profit and loss statement described in the previous session. You can either break it down by individual, or department. Include the title, department or group salary level and then in a separate line add 15%-20% to cover employee benefits, taxes, etc. (also referred to as your Payroll Burden.) Extend this table to cover then next 2-3 years.
You can also cover your facility information in this section. Describe the type of space your business requires, the costs and lease length and terms, your time table for moving to larger facilities, and any other pertinent information.
These are the basic areas that need to be covered in your management section, but there is additional information you can include if you think it would help an investor make the decision to fund your plan. For example, if a large part of your strategy is to gain market share based on excellent customer service, then you may want to include a section about your Customer Service plan. Or, if you are starting a business in an industry that has notorious difficulty's keeping technical staff, then you may want to include your Human Resources and Benefits plan to layout your strategy for getting and keeping top talent.
Other Things to Think About
Some other things you should keep in mind when writing this section include:
- Do any of your staff members have non-compete agreements they are bound to? Are there any other limitations that should be considered?
- Do your outside resources have experience in your particular industry?
- Do your outside resources or your existing management staff have experience with startups?
- Do you have stockholders, and if so will they have any say so in management decisions?
- What role will your investors play?
If you're seeking funding for your business venture, you have two options. You can go to banks and other lending institutions and seek a business loan, or you can go in search of venture capitalists. Which source you choose, will depend on the amount of funding you need. And the type of funding you need will dictate how your plan (especially the financial section) is written. In other words, investors will want to know how they are going to profit from this investment down the road, while lenders will want to see how you will be repaying their loan.
Regardless of the funder, you'll need solid financial projections that cover all of the bases. Your business plan's Financial Plan is critical. For many, the financial portion of your business plan is its heart. If you think about it, why else are you going into business? To fill a need you saw in the market? Yeah, maybe, but most likely what you're really after is making money! And, your potential investors or lenders are reading your plan to see when (or if ) you're going to make that money. So the financials of your plan can certainly be referred to as the heart, the meat, the big enchilada -- insert your own mega metaphor here.
What makes up the heart of your business plan is the profit and loss (or income) statement, the balance sheet, and a cash-flow statement. If your business is a startup, these will all be projections, or pro forma statements. If you're writing this for an existing business, then these statements will reflect your past business history and current financial situation. Break your financials down into monthly projections for the first two years and then move to annual projections. Since this is a very critical part of your business plan, make sure you follow Generally Accepted Accounting Standards , and that your financial statements are all prepared correctly. It may be well worth the expense to enlist the help of an accountant to prepare them, or at the very least to review them. If you do have an accountant prepare your financials for your company, make sure you completely understand the process and what the terms and figures mean. Potential investors often feel more comfortable investing in a company whose owners have shown a good understanding of the financial aspects of the business.
Financial Needs Summary
Before you throw numbers and spread sheets at your readers, summarize your financial needs. If you are seeking investors, this is where you will indicate how much cash you need to begin operations. Then describe how these funds will be used. How much will have to be spent on computer equipment, office furniture, etc? You can break these down into "operating projections" or "capital needs" or whatever makes the most sense based on your needs and what you are seeking. Also, remember to have documentation to back up this information.
Depending upon your business, you may also want to include a section describing your revenue model . This should describe the various revenue streams your business will be putting in place and how each will bring in money. If you've come up with a unique revenue stream then be sure to describe it clearly. (You may also want to make sure you have confidentiality forms signed.)
When writing your assumptions , you are essentially setting the scene for what is about to follow. Explain the techniques you came up with to arrive at the information in your financial statements. For instance, you may want to state that all sales and purchases are assumed to be cash based, certain inventory levels are maintained and paid for on specific terms, your sales commissions are based on x% of sales totals, etc. You can also include information about the general climate of your industry. This can be a bulleted list of short statements, or written in paragraph form.
For your own internal use, it is helpful to put together an assumptions spreadsheet that lists individual salaries (including costs of benefits), marketing expenses, other known budgeted business expenses, as well as revenue projections. This spreadsheet can help you identify when your expenses are going to peak due to marketing activity and planned hiring schedules.
Your profit and loss statement (also referred to as an income statement) lists your revenues and expenses, and tells you the profit or loss of your business for a given period of time. It is helpful for planning and to help control operations expenses. List monthly projections for the first year and include the following information:
- Sales Projections - Include the number of units sold, the retail price, the net price and the gross revenue.
- Cost of Goods - Include your cost for manufacturing a single unit including labor and all other indirect costs such as shipping, packaging, etc.
- Controllable Expenses - This includes salaries and payroll expenses (benefits, etc.), legal and accounting expenses, advertising and marketing expenses, auto expenses, office supplies, utilities, repair and maintenance, and other outside services. Anything that fluctuates in cost from month to month.
- Fixed Expenses - These include office rent, depreciation (amortization of capital assets), loan payments, insurance, licenses and permits, and other fixed monthly expenses.
Once you have these items listed, subtract your total expenses from your gross profit to get your Net Profit (or Loss) before taxes.
Enter your tax information and be sure you include all taxes such as sales tax, excise tax, property tax, etc. To arrive at your Net Profit (or loss) after taxes, take the total tax figure and subtract it from your Net Profit (or Loss) before taxes. (See sample Profit and Loss Statement.)
Your cash flow statement shows the amounts of cash needed to go out over a period of time, as well as cash that is coming in. It is very helpful for planning for large purchases, or to help be prepared for slow periods in the business. In simple terms, your Cash Flow equals your cash receipts minus your cash disbursements. What's left over is your Net Cash Flow, and when you add that to your beginning balance (before any receipts) you get your Cumulative Cash Flow. As a startup, when you complete your Cash Flow Projection, may want to include two columns for each month - one for your projections, and one for your actuals. The content of the statement consists of:
- Cash Receipts - include all sources of cash inflow such as cash sales, collections from credit sales, loans, etc.
- Cash Distributions - include all of your fixed and controllable expenses.
- A summary of your current cash position - begin with your opening balance, add your cash receipts, subtract your cash distributions, and you're left with your new balance.
You may also need to add notes to your Cash Flow Statements identifying certain cash terms, other sources of income, and explaining changes in your monthly distributions.
(See sample Cash Flow Statement.)
Your balance sheet gives a bird's eye view of your financial situation (or projection) at a given date in time. You'll typically create a balance sheet for the last day of your fiscal year. It includes your assets and liabilities and tells you your business's net worth. As a startup, this will of course be speculative and based on your own assumptions. Unlike the other financial statements, the balance sheet should follow a strict format and include standard information in a specific order because it is used for analysis and comparison. You can define your categories to more closely fit your business, but don't stray from the order.
Start with your Assets. These should include:
- Current assets - such as cash from all accounts and accessible sources (stocks, bonds, CDs, etc.), and resources that you can convert to cash within one year, all accounts receivables, all inventories (include any materials used for production), and any prepaid expenses such as insurance premiums, and supplies. (NOTE: To come up with a realistic estimate of your accounts receivable, you might estimate that you'll still be waiting to receive payment for 30% of sales two months prior to that date, 60% of sales one month prior, and all of sales of the given month of your balance sheet.)
- Fixed assets - items that have an expected useful business life that can be measured in longer periods of time such as land, equipment, buildings, vehicles, and furniture.
- Long-term investments and other assets - these include intangible assets such as copyrights, patents, and stocks or bonds that the company intends to keep for more than one year.
Liabilities should include:
- Current liabilities - all of your payables including accounts payable, notes payable, taxes, payroll expenses, interest on borrowed capital, and any other payment obligations for the current year.
- Long-term liabilities - include all notes payable such as mortgages, contract payments, etc. that are due over a period greater than one year.
Next comes Net Worth which is the owner's equity and is simply the total liabilities subtracted from the total assets.
Finally, add the total liabilities to the net worth to get to your bottom line. (See sample Balance Sheet.)
Again, it would be wise to have an accountant either prepare or review these statements to ensure that they are prepared correctly and accurately.
View Financials for PDAware.
It is often helpful to set up a time table of milestones for tracking and measuring your business's progress. This can be done in each section that would require it, or set up as a separate table in it's own section. Remember that knowing your milestones is helpful for you as you run your business.
Research and Development
You can also include a section detailing your strategies for introducing new products and services. A full scale R&D department isn't a requirement for this, just your technique for conducting your research and making your plans for product development. For example, if you offer consulting services based on government agency activities, part of your R&D activities might be to get all of the publications that agency puts out, make personal contacts within the agency, and attend all public functions the agency offers - all in order to stay on top of their activities and be prepared to offer new services to meet new regulations and requirements.
As hard as it may be to admit it, and as hard as it may be to think about, you need to have an idea of what you will do if your business fails, or for whatever other reason you need to close the doors. This could be simply that you're ready to retire (good for you!), you're tired of the long hours, you've lost some key people, or it's just not working. Whatever happens, you should have an idea of how you will handle disassembling your business. Your potential investors will also be interested in this section because they want to know how they will get their money back!
Some possible scenarios...
- Initial Public Offering (IPO)
- Selling/Acquisition by a larger company
- Passing it on to your children
- Liquidating your assets
Whatever the plan of action is, take some time in your plan to go over the most likely outcomes and strategies for removing yourself from the business, or closing the doors.
So now you've written the plan, put together your financials, mulled it over and over in your head until you just can't mull anymore! You next job is to get the plan put into a visually appealing and easy to read format. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many plans don't get selected just because they aren't laid out very well and don't make the information easy to find. (Or, how many get tubed because there isn't a phone number on the front to call the business!)
Rule number one: Make it visually attractive and easy to read!
Rule number two: Don't make your readers have to work to find something or understand what you're saying.
OK. I know there should now be rules number three through whatever, but from here on we just have some simple guidelines for you. First off is your Cover Sheet. Make sure you include at a minimum the company name and the title of the document (yes, actually call it a "business plan"), include the addresses and telephone numbers of the business or the principals, and include the name of the person who wrote the plan (in other words, you!). Include a Table of Contents that is detailed enough to allow the reader to find specific information easily, but not so long that it becomes confusing. Sure, that's easy for us to say! Just include your headers, sub-headers and appendix information.
The key here is consistency. Above all else maintain the same format for each section change. Setting up a style sheet will make it easier to maintain consistent spacing before and after headers, maintain consistent font face and size, etc. Your word processing program probably has these capabilities, so if you're not familiar with style sheets check your software user's guide. Also check for pre-set templates that your software may have come with. There may be a format that will work nicely for your business plan and has all of the styles pre-set. (Or wing it and just try to keep up with the text styles as you go along!) See HSW Business Plan Template.
- Make your headers large enough that they stand out as major category changes. It also helps to have your major categories begin a new page unless your plan is very short and these sections are all less than one page in length.
- Set up your sub-heads so that they are obviously a part of the same category and easily identify topic changes.
- Use bullet points wherever you can. They are usually easier to read than a paragraph of text.
- Include charts and graphs anywhere that they will make it easier to understand the information. Include color for your charts and graphs if you can.
- Make sure your plan is bound in a way that will withstand handling. The last thing you want is your plan to fall apart in a potential investor's hands! (Would that be a reflection of the chances your business will have in holding together! Nah!) Spiral binding makes it easier to flip pages and lay the document down flat on a desk.
- Make sure all of your claims are documented and include reference information.
- Proof, proof, proof! Read it over several times yourself, but also have a friend or business associate proof it. When you've written something yourself, your eyes will often skip over mistakes because you already know what you're reading. It's easy to miss mistakes in your own work!
- Do whatever you have to do to make it easier on the reader!
Corporation: An organization formed under specific state statutes in order to separate (usually financially) the organization from those running it.
Demographics: Objective population characteristics such as geographic areas, sex, age, income level, education, family size, dwelling type, and other vital statistics used for market research, and other types of sociological analyses.
Generally Accepted Accounting Standards: The accepted method of preparation for financial documents.
Mission Statement: A business's guiding principles that state what the company's goals are, what their values are, where they are headed. The mission statement defines the company's overall plan in a succinct and interesting manner with a tone reflective of the tone of the business itself.
Partnership: Two or more people associated in order to work together as co-owners of a business.
Primary Research: Specific research conducted for an individual product or service. Research you conduct yourself. Types of primary research include: surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.
Pro forma (as in Financial Statements): A projection or an estimate of the company's financial situation if certain assumptions are met. A statement based on assumption.
Proprietorship (sole): A business owned by an individual who is liable for all of the company debts.
Psychographics: The values, attitudes, etc. of consumer populations. These include measurements such as the type of lifestyle, self-image, opinions, interests, habits, buying behaviors. Marketers make use this data to develop product promotions that will target very specific groups of people in order to get the highest return.
Secondary Research: Research data drawn from existing databases such as the U.S. Government's Census Data, data from the Department of Labor, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc.
Standard Industrial Classification: [SIC] The Standard Industrial Classifichttp://etb.howstuffworks.com/images/icons/link.pngation system classifies establishments by their primary type of activity. This system is currently being replaced by the the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). NAICS was developed jointly by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to provide new comparability in statistics about business activity across North America. [Source: NAICS ]
Trade Shows: A large event at which buyers and sellers gather in a large open facility. Sellers are in 10+ foot booth spaces and display their products or service offerings to potential buyers. Also known as conventions, exhibitions, and conferences.
Unique Selling Advantage: A single, unique advantage used to distinguish one product over another in marketing, sales, and other promotional activities. Typically, USAs (also known as USPs, Unique Selling Propositions) are short and catchy so they can be used in advertising slogans. Think of them as your product's "edge."
- Sample Business Plan (Microsoft Word Format)
- Sample Business Plan (Adobe Acrobat Reader format)
- Business Plan Outline and Template (Microsoft Word format)
- Sample Business Plan Financial Statements (Adobe Acrobat Reader format): — Balance Sheet — Profit and Loss Statement Year 1 — Profit and Loss Statement Year 2 — Profit and Loss Statement Three Year Summary — Cash Flow Statement Year 1 — Cash Flow Statement Year 2
- Sample P&L Statement (Microsoft Excel Format)
- Sample Cash Flow Statement (Microsoft Excel Format)
- Sample Balance Sheet (Microsoft Excel Format)
Lots More Information
Related howstuffworks articles.
- How Building a Business Identity Works
- How Building a Sales Team Works
- How Business Accounting Works
- How Business Legal Structures Work
- How Marketing Plans Work
More Great Links
There are several software packages that can help you put your business plan together. Here is a sampling of them. HowStuffWorks has not reviewed any of these products and offers no endorsement of them. They are provided to help you be aware of what is available.
- Business Plan Pro
- Adams Streetwise Business Plan
In addition to software programs, don't forget the Small Business Administration and SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). SCORE works in association with SBA to help advise business startups. Some other helpful sites are:
- Commerce Clearing House: Toolkit
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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
Traditional business plan format · Executive summary · Company description · Market analysis · Organization and management · Service or product line · Marketing and
4. Describe your products and services · An explanation of how your product or service works. · The pricing model for your product or service.
3. What should your business plan include?
A business plan is a road map for your small business's growth and development. Use this business plan template to set your small business
It must describe the company or proposed project accurately and attractively. Even though its subject is a moving target, the plan must detail the company's or
After you have the executive summary in place, you can work on the company description, which contains more specific information. In the
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.
A business plan clearly defines a company's goals and how it will achieve them. You can find templates for simple and traditional business plans
Know your objectives and strategies before you tackle the business plan. Remember, your objectives should be specific, concrete, and measurable; and your