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How to Write a Business Plan: Beginner’s Guide (& Templates)

How to Write a Business Plan: Beginner’s Guide (& Templates)

Written by: Chloe West

An illustration showing a woman standing in front of a folder containing her business plan.

Thinking about starting a business? One of the first steps you’ll need to take is to write a business plan. A business plan can help guide you through your financial planning, marketing strategy, unique selling point and more.

Making sure you start your new business off on the right foot is key, and we’re here to help. We’ve put together this guide to help you write your first business plan. Or, you can skip the guide and dive right into a business plan template .

Ready to get started?

Here’s a short selection of 8 easy-to-edit business plan templates you can edit, share and download with Visme. View more templates below:

what is the first step in business planning

8-Step Process for Writing a Business Plan

What is a business plan, why is a business plan important, step #1: write your executive summary, step #2: put together your company description, step #3: conduct your market analysis, step #4: research your competition, step #5: outline your products or services, step #6: summarize your financial plan, step #7: determine your marketing strategy, step #8: showcase your organizational chart, 14 business plan templates to help you get started.

A business plan is a document that helps potential new business owners flesh out their business idea and put together a bird’s eye view of their business. Writing a business plan is an essential step in any startup’s ideation process.

Business plans help determine demographics, market analysis, competitive analysis, financial projections, new products or services, and so much more.

Each of these bits of information are important to have on hand when you’re trying to start a business or pitching investors for funds.

Here’s an example of a business plan that you can customize to incorporate your own business information.

A business plan template available to customize with your own information in Visme.

We’re going to walk you through some of the most important parts of your business plan as well as how to write your own business plan in 8 easy steps.

If you’re in the beginning stages of starting a business , you might be wondering if it’s really worth your time to write out your business plan. 

We’re here to tell you that it is.

A business plan is important for a number of reasons, but mostly because it helps to set you up for success right from the start.

Here are four reasons to prove to you why you need to start your business off on the right foot with a plan.

Reason #1: Set Realistic Goals and Milestones

Putting together a business plan helps you to set your objectives for growth and make realistic goals while you begin your business. 

By laying out each of the steps you need to take in order to build a successful business, you’re able to be more reasonable about what your timeline is for achieving everything as well as what your financial projections are.

The best way to set goals is using the SMART goals guidelines, outlined below.

An infographic on creating smart goals.

Reason #2: Grow Your Business Faster

Having a business plan helps you be more organized and strategic, improving the overall performance of your business as you start out. In fact, one study found that businesses with a plan grow 30% faster than businesses that don’t.

Doesn’t that sound reason enough alone to start out your business venture with a solidified plan? We thought so too, but we’ve still got two more reasons.

Reason #3: Minimize Risk

Starting a new business is uncharted territory. However, when you start with a roadmap for your journey, it makes it easier to see success and minimize the risks that come with startups.

Minimize risk and maximize profitability by documenting the most important parts of your business planning.

Reason #4: Secure Funding

And finally, our last reason that business plans are so important is that if you plan to pitch investors for funding for your new venture, they’re almost always going to want to see a detailed business plan before deciding whether or not to invest.

You can easily create your business plan and investor pitch deck right here with Visme. Just sign up for a free account below to get started. 

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what is the first step in business planning

The executive summary is a brief overview of your entire business plan, giving anyone who reads through your document a quick understanding of what they’re going to learn about your business idea.

However, you need to remember that some of the people who are going to read your business plan don’t want to or have time to read the entire thing. So your executive summary needs to incorporate all of the most important aspects of your plan.

Here’s an example of an executive summary from a business plan template you can customize and turn into your own.

An executive summary page from a business plan template.

Your executive summary should include:

  • Key objective(s)
  • Market research
  • Competitor information
  • Products/services
  • Value proposition
  • Overview of your financial plan
  • How you’re going to actually start your business

One thing to note is that you should actually write your executive summary after the rest of your business plan so that you can properly summarize everything you’ve already created.

So at this point, simply leave a page blank for your executive summary so you can come back to it at the end of your business plan.

An executive summary section of a business plan.

The next step is to write out a full description of your business and its core offerings. This section of your business plan should include your mission statement and objectives, along with your company history or overview.

In this section, you may also briefly describe your business formation details from a legal perspective.

Mission Statement

Don’t spend too much time trying to craft this. Your mission statement is a simple “why” you started this business. What are you trying to achieve? Or what does your business solve?

This can be anything from one single quote or a paragraph, but it doesn’t need to be much longer than that. In fact, this could be very similar to your value proposition.

A mission statement page from a business plan template.

What are your goals? What do you plan to achieve in the first 90 days or one year of your business? What kind of impact do you hope to make on the market?

These are all good points to include in your objectives section so anyone reading your business plan knows upfront what you hope to achieve.

History or Overview

If you’re not launching a brand new business or if you’ve previously worked on another iteration of this business, let potential investors know the history of your company.

If not, simply provide an overview of your business, sharing what it does or what it will do.

A business overview page from a business plan template.

Your third step is to conduct a market analysis so you know how your business will fit into its target market. This page in your business plan is simply meant to summarize your findings. Most of your time should be spent actually doing the research.

Your market analysis needs to look at things like:

  • Market size, and if it’s grown in recent years or shrinking
  • The segment of the market you plan to target
  • Demographics and behavior of your target audience
  • The demand for your product or service
  • Your competitive advantage or differentiation strategy
  • The average price of your product or service

Put together a summary of your market analysis and industry research in a 1-2 page format, like we see below.

A market analysis page in a business plan template.

Your next step is to conduct a competitive analysis. While you likely touched on this briefly during your market analysis, now is the time to do a deep dive so that you have a good grasp on what your competitors are doing and how they are generating customers.

Start by creating a profile of all your existing competitors, or at the very least, your closest competitors – the ones who are offering very similar products or services to you, or are in a similar vicinity (if you’re opening a brick and mortar store).

Focus on their strengths and what they’re doing really well so that you can emulate their best qualities in your own way. Then, look at their weaknesses and what your business can do better.

Take note of their current marketing strategy, including the outlets you see a presence, whether it’s on social media, you hear a radio ad, you see a TV ad, etc. You won’t always find all of their marketing channels, but see what you can find online and on their website.

A competitive analysis page in a business plan template.

After this, take a minute to identify potential competitors based on markets you might try out in the future, products or services you plan to add to your offerings, and more.

Then put together a page or two in your business plan that highlights your competitive advantage and how you’ll be successful breaking into the market.

Step five is to dedicate a page to the products or services that your business plans to offer.

Put together a quick list and explanation of what each of the initial product or service offerings will be, but steer clear of industry jargon or buzzwords. This should be written in plain language so anyone reading has a full understanding of what your business will do.

A products and services page in a business plan template.

You can have a simple list like we see in the sample page above, or you can dive a little deeper. Depending on your type of business, it might be a good idea to provide additional information about what each product or service entails.

The next step is to work on the financial data of your new business. What will your overhead be? How will your business make money? What are your estimated expenses and profits over the first few months to a year? The expenses should cover all the spending whether they are recurring costs or just one-time LLC filing fees .

There is so much that goes into your financial plan for a new business, so this is going to take some time to compile. Especially because this section of your business plan helps potential cofounders or investors understand if the idea is even viable.

A financial analysis page from a business plan template.

Your financial plan should include at least five major sections:

  • Sales Forecast: The first thing you want to include is a forecast or financial projection of how much you think your business can sell over the next year or so. Break this down into the different products, services or facets of your business.
  • Balance Sheet: This section is essentially a statement of your company’s financial position. It includes existing assets, liabilities and equity to demonstrate the company’s overall financial health.
  • Income Statement: Also known as a profit and loss statement (P&L), this covers your projected expenses and revenue, showcasing whether your business will be profitable or not.
  • Operating Budget: A detailed outline of your business’s income and expenses. This should showcase that your business is bringing in more than it’s spending.
  • Cash Flow Statements: This tracks how much cash your business has at any given point, regardless of whether customers or clients have paid their bills or have 30-60+ days to do so.

While these are the most common financial statements, you may discover that there are other sections that you want to include or that lenders may want to see from you.

You can automate the process of looking through your documents with an OCR API , which will collect the data from all your financial statements and invoices.

The next step is coming up with a successful marketing plan so that you can actually get the word out about your business. 

Throughout your business plan, you’ve already researched your competitors and your target market, both of which are major components of a good marketing strategy. You need to know who you’re marketing to, and you want to do it better than your competition.

A marketing plan page from a business plan template.

On this page or throughout this section of your business plan, you need to focus on your chosen marketing channels and the types of marketing content you plan to create.

Start by taking a look at the channels that your competitors are on and make sure you have a good understanding of the demographics of each channel as well. You don’t want to waste time on a marketing channel that your target audience doesn’t use.

Then, create a list of each of your planned marketing avenues. It might look something like:

  • Social media ( Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest)
  • Email newsletter
  • Digital ads

Depending on the type of business you’re starting, this list could change quite a bit — and that’s okay. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy, and you need to find the one that brings in the highest number of potential customers.

Your last section will be all about your leadership and management team members. Showcasing that you have a solid team right from the start can make potential investors feel better about funding your venture.

You can easily put together an organizational chart like the one below, with the founder/CEO at the top and each of your team leaders underneath alongside the department they’re in charge of.

An organizational chart template available in Visme.

Simply add an organizational chart like this as a page into your overall business plan and make sure it matches the rest of your design to create a cohesive document.

If you want to create a good business plan that sets your new business up for success and attracts new investors, it’s a good idea to start with a template. 

We’ve got 14 options below from a variety of different industries for you to choose from. You can customize every aspect of each template to fit your business branding and design preferences.

Template #1: Photography Business Plan Template

A photography business plan template available in Visme.

This feminine and minimalistic business plan template is perfect for getting started with any kind of creative business. Utilize this template to help outline the step-by-step process of getting your new business idea up and running.

Template #2: Real Estate Business Plan Template

A real estate business plan template available in Visme.

Looking for a more modern business plan design? This template is perfect for plainly laying out each of your business plans in an easy-to-understand format. Adjust the red accents with your business’s colors to personalize this template.

Template #3: Nonprofit Business Plan Template

A nonprofit business plan template available in Visme.

Creating a business and marketing plan for your nonprofit is still an essential step when you’re just starting out. You need to get the word out to increase donations and awareness for your cause.

Template #4: Restaurant Business Plan Template

A restaurant business plan template available in Visme.

If your business plan needs to rely heavily on showcasing photos of your products (like food), this template is perfect for you. Get potential investors salivating at the sight of your business plan, and they’re sure to provide the capital you need.

Template #5: Fashion Business Plan Template

A fashion business plan template available to customize in Visme.

Serifs are in. Utilize this template with stunning serif as all the headers to create a contemporary and trendy business plan design that fits your business. Adjust the colors to match your brand and easily input your own content.

Template #6: Daycare Business Plan Template

A daycare business plan template available in Visme.

Creating a more kid-friendly or playful business? This business plan template has bold colors and design elements that will perfectly represent your business and its mission. 

Use the pages you need, and remove any that you don’t. You can also duplicate pages and move the elements around to add even more content to your business plan.

Template #7: Consulting Business Plan Template

A consulting business plan template available in Visme.

This classic business plan template is perfect for a consulting business that wants to use a stunning visual design to talk about its services.

Template #8: Coffee Shop Business Plan Template

A coffee shop business plan template available in Visme.

Customize this coffee shop business plan template to match your own business idea. Adjust the colors to fit your brand or industry, replace photos with your own photography or stock photos that represent your business, and insert your own logo, fonts and colors throughout.

Template #9: SaaS Business Plan Template

A SaaS business plan template available in Visme.

A SaaS or service-based company also needs a solid business plan that lays out its financials, list of services, target market and more. This template is the perfect starting point.

Template #10: Small Business Plan Template

A small business plan template available in Visme.

Every startup or small business needs to start out with a strong business plan in order to start off on the right foot and set yourself up for success. This template is an excellent starting point for any small business.

Template #11: Ecommerce Business Plan Template

An ecommerce business plan template available in Visme.

An ecommerce business plan is ideal for planning out your pricing strategy of all of your online products, as well as the site you plan to use for setting up your store, whether WordPress, Shopify, Wix or something else.

Template #12: Startup Business Plan Template

A startup business plan template available in Visme.

Customize this template and make it your own! Edit and Download  

This is another generic business plan template for any type of startup to customize. Switch out the content, fonts and colors to match your startup branding and increase brand equity.

Template #13: One-Page Business Plan Template

A single page business plan template available in Visme.

Want just a quick business plan to get your idea going before you bite the bullet and map out your entire plan? This one-page template is perfect for those just starting to flesh out a new business idea.

Template #14: Salon Business Plan Template

A salon business plan template available in Visme.

This salon business plan template is easy on the design and utilizes a light color scheme to put more focus on the actual content. You can use the design as is or keep it as a basis for your own design elements.

Create Your Own Business Plan Today

Ready to write your business plan? Once you’ve created all of the most important sections, get started with a business plan template to really wow your investors and organize your startup plan.

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what is the first step in business planning

About the Author

Chloe West is the content marketing manager at Visme. Her experience in digital marketing includes everything from social media, blogging, email marketing to graphic design, strategy creation and implementation, and more. During her spare time, she enjoys exploring her home city of Charleston with her son.

what is the first step in business planning

How to make a business plan

Strategic planning in Miro

Table of Contents

How to make a good business plan: step-by-step guide.

A business plan is a strategic roadmap used to navigate the challenging journey of entrepreneurship. It's the foundation upon which you build a successful business.

A well-crafted business plan can help you define your vision, clarify your goals, and identify potential problems before they arise.

But where do you start? How do you create a business plan that sets you up for success?

This article will explore the step-by-step process of creating a comprehensive business plan.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a formal document that outlines a business's objectives, strategies, and operational procedures. It typically includes the following information about a company:

Products or services

Target market

Competitors

Marketing and sales strategies

Financial plan

Management team

A business plan serves as a roadmap for a company's success and provides a blueprint for its growth and development. It helps entrepreneurs and business owners organize their ideas, evaluate the feasibility, and identify potential challenges and opportunities.

As well as serving as a guide for business owners, a business plan can attract investors and secure funding. It demonstrates the company's understanding of the market, its ability to generate revenue and profits, and its strategy for managing risks and achieving success.

Business plan vs. business model canvas

A business plan may seem similar to a business model canvas, but each document serves a different purpose.

A business model canvas is a high-level overview that helps entrepreneurs and business owners quickly test and iterate their ideas. It is often a one-page document that briefly outlines the following:

Key partnerships

Key activities

Key propositions

Customer relationships

Customer segments

Key resources

Cost structure

Revenue streams

On the other hand, a Business Plan Template provides a more in-depth analysis of a company's strategy and operations. It is typically a lengthy document and requires significant time and effort to develop.

A business model shouldn’t replace a business plan, and vice versa. Business owners should lay the foundations and visually capture the most important information with a Business Model Canvas Template . Because this is a fast and efficient way to communicate a business idea, a business model canvas is a good starting point before developing a more comprehensive business plan.

A business plan can aim to secure funding from investors or lenders, while a business model canvas communicates a business idea to potential customers or partners.

Why is a business plan important?

A business plan is crucial for any entrepreneur or business owner wanting to increase their chances of success.

Here are some of the many benefits of having a thorough business plan.

Helps to define the business goals and objectives

A business plan encourages you to think critically about your goals and objectives. Doing so lets you clearly understand what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there.

A well-defined set of goals, objectives, and key results also provides a sense of direction and purpose, which helps keep business owners focused and motivated.

Guides decision-making

A business plan requires you to consider different scenarios and potential problems that may arise in your business. This awareness allows you to devise strategies to deal with these issues and avoid pitfalls.

With a clear plan, entrepreneurs can make informed decisions aligning with their overall business goals and objectives. This helps reduce the risk of making costly mistakes and ensures they make decisions with long-term success in mind.

Attracts investors and secures funding

Investors and lenders often require a business plan before considering investing in your business. A document that outlines the company's goals, objectives, and financial forecasts can help instill confidence in potential investors and lenders.

A well-written business plan demonstrates that you have thoroughly thought through your business idea and have a solid plan for success.

Identifies potential challenges and risks

A business plan requires entrepreneurs to consider potential challenges and risks that could impact their business. For example:

Is there enough demand for my product or service?

Will I have enough capital to start my business?

Is the market oversaturated with too many competitors?

What will happen if my marketing strategy is ineffective?

By identifying these potential challenges, entrepreneurs can develop strategies to mitigate risks and overcome challenges. This can reduce the likelihood of costly mistakes and ensure the business is well-positioned to take on any challenges.

Provides a basis for measuring success

A business plan serves as a framework for measuring success by providing clear goals and financial projections . Entrepreneurs can regularly refer to the original business plan as a benchmark to measure progress. By comparing the current business position to initial forecasts, business owners can answer questions such as:

Are we where we want to be at this point?

Did we achieve our goals?

If not, why not, and what do we need to do?

After assessing whether the business is meeting its objectives or falling short, business owners can adjust their strategies as needed.

How to make a business plan step by step

The steps below will guide you through the process of creating a business plan and what key components you need to include.

1. Create an executive summary

Start with a brief overview of your entire plan. The executive summary should cover your business plan's main points and key takeaways.

Keep your executive summary concise and clear with the Executive Summary Template . The simple design helps readers understand the crux of your business plan without reading the entire document.

2. Write your company description

Provide a detailed explanation of your company. Include information on what your company does, the mission statement, and your vision for the future.

Provide additional background information on the history of your company, the founders, and any notable achievements or milestones.

3. Conduct a market analysis

Conduct an in-depth analysis of your industry, competitors, and target market. This is best done with a SWOT analysis to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Next, identify your target market's needs, demographics, and behaviors.

Use the Competitive Analysis Template to brainstorm answers to simple questions like:

What does the current market look like?

Who are your competitors?

What are they offering?

What will give you a competitive advantage?

Who is your target market?

What are they looking for and why?

How will your product or service satisfy a need?

These questions should give you valuable insights into the current market and where your business stands.

4. Describe your products and services

Provide detailed information about your products and services. This includes pricing information, product features, and any unique selling points.

Use the Product/Market Fit Template to explain how your products meet the needs of your target market. Describe what sets them apart from the competition.

5. Design a marketing and sales strategy

Outline how you plan to promote and sell your products. Your marketing strategy and sales strategy should include information about your:

Pricing strategy

Advertising and promotional tactics

Sales channels

The Go to Market Strategy Template is a great way to visually map how you plan to launch your product or service in a new or existing market.

6. Determine budget and financial projections

Document detailed information on your business’ finances. Describe the current financial position of the company and how you expect the finances to play out.

Some details to include in this section are:

Startup costs

Revenue projections

Profit and loss statement

Funding you have received or plan to receive

Strategy for raising funds

7. Set the organization and management structure

Define how your company is structured and who will be responsible for each aspect of the business. Use the Business Organizational Chart Template to visually map the company’s teams, roles, and hierarchy.

As well as the organization and management structure, discuss the legal structure of your business. Clarify whether your business is a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, or LLC.

8. Make an action plan

At this point in your business plan, you’ve described what you’re aiming for. But how are you going to get there? The Action Plan Template describes the following steps to move your business plan forward. Outline the next steps you plan to take to bring your business plan to fruition.

Types of business plans

Several types of business plans cater to different purposes and stages of a company's lifecycle. Here are some of the most common types of business plans.

Startup business plan

A startup business plan is typically an entrepreneur's first business plan. This document helps entrepreneurs articulate their business idea when starting a new business.

Not sure how to make a business plan for a startup? It’s pretty similar to a regular business plan, except the primary purpose of a startup business plan is to convince investors to provide funding for the business. A startup business plan also outlines the potential target market, product/service offering, marketing plan, and financial projections.

Strategic business plan

A strategic business plan is a long-term plan that outlines a company's overall strategy, objectives, and tactics. This type of strategic plan focuses on the big picture and helps business owners set goals and priorities and measure progress.

The primary purpose of a strategic business plan is to provide direction and guidance to the company's management team and stakeholders. The plan typically covers a period of three to five years.

Operational business plan

An operational business plan is a detailed document that outlines the day-to-day operations of a business. It focuses on the specific activities and processes required to run the business, such as:

Organizational structure

Staffing plan

Production plan

Quality control

Inventory management

Supply chain

The primary purpose of an operational business plan is to ensure that the business runs efficiently and effectively. It helps business owners manage their resources, track their performance, and identify areas for improvement.

Growth-business plan

A growth-business plan is a strategic plan that outlines how a company plans to expand its business. It helps business owners identify new market opportunities and increase revenue and profitability. The primary purpose of a growth-business plan is to provide a roadmap for the company's expansion and growth.

The 3 Horizons of Growth Template is a great tool to identify new areas of growth. This framework categorizes growth opportunities into three categories: Horizon 1 (core business), Horizon 2 (emerging business), and Horizon 3 (potential business).

One-page business plan

A one-page business plan is a condensed version of a full business plan that focuses on the most critical aspects of a business. It’s a great tool for entrepreneurs who want to quickly communicate their business idea to potential investors, partners, or employees.

A one-page business plan typically includes sections such as business concept, value proposition, revenue streams, and cost structure.

Best practices for how to make a good business plan

Here are some additional tips for creating a business plan:

Use a template

A template can help you organize your thoughts and effectively communicate your business ideas and strategies. Starting with a template can also save you time and effort when formatting your plan.

Miro’s extensive library of customizable templates includes all the necessary sections for a comprehensive business plan. With our templates, you can confidently present your business plans to stakeholders and investors.

Be practical

Avoid overestimating revenue projections or underestimating expenses. Your business plan should be grounded in practical realities like your budget, resources, and capabilities.

Be specific

Provide as much detail as possible in your business plan. A specific plan is easier to execute because it provides clear guidance on what needs to be done and how. Without specific details, your plan may be too broad or vague, making it difficult to know where to start or how to measure success.

Be thorough with your research

Conduct thorough research to fully understand the market, your competitors, and your target audience . By conducting thorough research, you can identify potential risks and challenges your business may face and develop strategies to mitigate them.

Get input from others

It can be easy to become overly focused on your vision and ideas, leading to tunnel vision and a lack of objectivity. By seeking input from others, you can identify potential opportunities you may have overlooked.

Review and revise regularly

A business plan is a living document. You should update it regularly to reflect market, industry, and business changes. Set aside time for regular reviews and revisions to ensure your plan remains relevant and effective.

Create a winning business plan to chart your path to success

Starting or growing a business can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be. Whether you're a seasoned entrepreneur or just starting, a well-written business plan can make or break your business’ success.

The purpose of a business plan is more than just to secure funding and attract investors. It also serves as a roadmap for achieving your business goals and realizing your vision. With the right mindset, tools, and strategies, you can develop a visually appealing, persuasive business plan.

Ready to make an effective business plan that works for you? Check out our library of ready-made strategy and planning templates and chart your path to success.

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The Business Planning Process: 6 Steps To Creating a New Plan

The Business Planning Process 6 Steps to Create a New Plan

In this article, we will define and explain the basic business planning process to help your business move in the right direction.

What is Business Planning?

Business planning is the process whereby an organization’s leaders figure out the best roadmap for growth and document their plan for success.

The business planning process includes diagnosing the company’s internal strengths and weaknesses, improving its efficiency, working out how it will compete against rival firms in the future, and setting milestones for progress so they can be measured.

The process includes writing a new business plan. What is a business plan? It is a written document that provides an outline and resources needed to achieve success. Whether you are writing your plan from scratch, from a simple business plan template , or working with an experienced business plan consultant or writer, business planning for startups, small businesses, and existing companies is the same.

Finish Your Business Plan Today!

The best business planning process is to use our business plan template to streamline the creation of your plan: Download Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template and finish your business plan & financial model in hours.

The Better Business Planning Process

The business plan process includes 6 steps as follows:

  • Do Your Research
  • Calculate Your Financial Forecast
  • Draft Your Plan
  • Revise & Proofread
  • Nail the Business Plan Presentation

We’ve provided more detail for each of these key business plan steps below.

1. Do Your Research

Conduct detailed research into the industry, target market, existing customer base,  competitors, and costs of the business begins the process. Consider each new step a new project that requires project planning and execution. You may ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are your business goals?
  • What is the current state of your business?
  • What are the current industry trends?
  • What is your competition doing?

There are a variety of resources needed, ranging from databases and articles to direct interviews with other entrepreneurs, potential customers, or industry experts. The information gathered during this process should be documented and organized carefully, including the source as there is a need to cite sources within your business plan.

You may also want to complete a SWOT Analysis for your own business to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and potential risks as this will help you develop your strategies to highlight your competitive advantage.

2. Strategize

Now, you will use the research to determine the best strategy for your business. You may choose to develop new strategies or refine existing strategies that have demonstrated success in the industry. Pulling the best practices of the industry provides a foundation, but then you should expand on the different activities that focus on your competitive advantage.

This step of the planning process may include formulating a vision for the company’s future, which can be done by conducting intensive customer interviews and understanding their motivations for purchasing goods and services of interest. Dig deeper into decisions on an appropriate marketing plan, operational processes to execute your plan, and human resources required for the first five years of the company’s life.

3. Calculate Your Financial Forecast

All of the activities you choose for your strategy come at some cost and, hopefully, lead to some revenues. Sketch out the financial situation by looking at whether you can expect revenues to cover all costs and leave room for profit in the long run.

Begin to insert your financial assumptions and startup costs into a financial model which can produce a first-year cash flow statement for you, giving you the best sense of the cash you will need on hand to fund your early operations.

A full set of financial statements provides the details about the company’s operations and performance, including its expenses and profits by accounting period (quarterly or year-to-date). Financial statements also provide a snapshot of the company’s current financial position, including its assets and liabilities.

This is one of the most valued aspects of any business plan as it provides a straightforward summary of what a company does with its money, or how it grows from initial investment to become profitable.

4. Draft Your Plan

With financials more or less settled and a strategy decided, it is time to draft through the narrative of each component of your business plan . With the background work you have completed, the drafting itself should be a relatively painless process.

If you have trouble writing convincing prose, this is a time to seek the help of an experienced business plan writer who can put together the plan from this point.

5. Revise & Proofread

Revisit the entire plan to look for any ideas or wording that may be confusing, redundant, or irrelevant to the points you are making within the plan. You may want to work with other management team members in your business who are familiar with the company’s operations or marketing plan in order to fine-tune the plan.

Finally, proofread thoroughly for spelling, grammar, and formatting, enlisting the help of others to act as additional sets of eyes. You may begin to experience burnout from working on the plan for so long and have a need to set it aside for a bit to look at it again with fresh eyes.

6. Nail the Business Plan Presentation

The presentation of the business plan should succinctly highlight the key points outlined above and include additional material that would be helpful to potential investors such as financial information, resumes of key employees, or samples of marketing materials. It can also be beneficial to provide a report on past sales or financial performance and what the business has done to bring it back into positive territory.

Business Planning Process Conclusion

Every entrepreneur dreams of the day their business becomes wildly successful.

But what does that really mean? How do you know whether your idea is worth pursuing?

And how do you stay motivated when things are not going as planned? The answers to these questions can be found in your business plan. This document helps entrepreneurs make better decisions and avoid common pitfalls along the way. ​

Business plans are dynamic documents that can be revised and presented to different audiences throughout the course of a company’s life. For example, a business may have one plan for its initial investment proposal, another which focuses more on milestones and objectives for the first several years in existence, and yet one more which is used specifically when raising funds.

Business plans are a critical first step for any company looking to attract investors or receive grant money, as they allow a new organization to better convey its potential and business goals to those able to provide financial resources.

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How to Write a Business Plan in 9 Steps (+ Template and Examples)

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Every successful business has one thing in common, a good and well-executed business plan. A business plan is more than a document, it is a complete guide that outlines the goals your business wants to achieve, including its financial goals . It helps you analyze results, make strategic decisions, show your business operations and growth.

If you want to start a business or already have one and need to pitch it to investors for funding, writing a good business plan improves your chances of attracting financiers. As a startup, if you want to secure loans from financial institutions, part of the requirements involve submitting your business plan.

Writing a business plan does not have to be a complicated or time-consuming process. In this article, you will learn the step-by-step process for writing a successful business plan.

You will also learn what you need a business plan for, tips and strategies for writing a convincing business plan, business plan examples and templates that will save you tons of time, and the alternatives to the traditional business plan.

Let’s get started.

What Do You Need A Business Plan For?

Businesses create business plans for different purposes such as to secure funds, monitor business growth, measure your marketing strategies, and measure your business success.

1. Secure Funds

One of the primary reasons for writing a business plan is to secure funds, either from financial institutions/agencies or investors.

For you to effectively acquire funds, your business plan must contain the key elements of your business plan . For example, your business plan should include your growth plans, goals you want to achieve, and milestones you have recorded.

A business plan can also attract new business partners that are willing to contribute financially and intellectually. If you are writing a business plan to a bank, your project must show your traction , that is, the proof that you can pay back any loan borrowed.

Also, if you are writing to an investor, your plan must contain evidence that you can effectively utilize the funds you want them to invest in your business. Here, you are using your business plan to persuade a group or an individual that your business is a source of a good investment.

2. Monitor Business Growth

A business plan can help you track cash flows in your business. It steers your business to greater heights. A business plan capable of tracking business growth should contain:

  • The business goals
  • Methods to achieve the goals
  • Time-frame for attaining those goals

A good business plan should guide you through every step in achieving your goals. It can also track the allocation of assets to every aspect of the business. You can tell when you are spending more than you should on a project.

You can compare a business plan to a written GPS. It helps you manage your business and hints at the right time to expand your business.

3. Measure Business Success

A business plan can help you measure your business success rate. Some small-scale businesses are thriving better than more prominent companies because of their track record of success.

Right from the onset of your business operation, set goals and work towards them. Write a plan to guide you through your procedures. Use your plan to measure how much you have achieved and how much is left to attain.

You can also weigh your success by monitoring the position of your brand relative to competitors. On the other hand, a business plan can also show you why you have not achieved a goal. It can tell if you have elapsed the time frame you set to attain a goal.

4. Document Your Marketing Strategies

You can use a business plan to document your marketing plans. Every business should have an effective marketing plan.

Competition mandates every business owner to go the extraordinary mile to remain relevant in the market. Your business plan should contain your marketing strategies that work. You can measure the success rate of your marketing plans.

In your business plan, your marketing strategy must answer the questions:

  • How do you want to reach your target audience?
  • How do you plan to retain your customers?
  • What is/are your pricing plans?
  • What is your budget for marketing?

Business Plan Infographic

How to Write a Business Plan Step-by-Step

1. create your executive summary.

The executive summary is a snapshot of your business or a high-level overview of your business purposes and plans . Although the executive summary is the first section in your business plan, most people write it last. The length of the executive summary is not more than two pages.

Executive Summary of the business plan

Generally, there are nine sections in a business plan, the executive summary should condense essential ideas from the other eight sections.

A good executive summary should do the following:

  • A Snapshot of Growth Potential. Briefly inform the reader about your company and why it will be successful)
  • Contain your Mission Statement which explains what the main objective or focus of your business is.
  • Product Description and Differentiation. Brief description of your products or services and why it is different from other solutions in the market.
  • The Team. Basic information about your company’s leadership team and employees
  • Business Concept. A solid description of what your business does.
  • Target Market. The customers you plan to sell to.
  • Marketing Strategy. Your plans on reaching and selling to your customers
  • Current Financial State. Brief information about what revenue your business currently generates.
  • Projected Financial State. Brief information about what you foresee your business revenue to be in the future.

The executive summary is the make-or-break section of your business plan. If your summary cannot in less than two pages cannot clearly describe how your business will solve a particular problem of your target audience and make a profit, your business plan is set on a faulty foundation.

Avoid using the executive summary to hype your business, instead, focus on helping the reader understand the what and how of your plan.

View the executive summary as an opportunity to introduce your vision for your company. You know your executive summary is powerful when it can answer these key questions:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What sector or industry are you in?
  • What are your products and services?
  • What is the future of your industry?
  • Is your company scaleable?
  • Who are the owners and leaders of your company? What are their backgrounds and experience levels?
  • What is the motivation for starting your company?
  • What are the next steps?

Writing the executive summary last although it is the most important section of your business plan is an excellent idea. The reason why is because it is a high-level overview of your business plan. It is the section that determines whether potential investors and lenders will read further or not.

The executive summary can be a stand-alone document that covers everything in your business plan. It is not uncommon for investors to request only the executive summary when evaluating your business. If the information in the executive summary impresses them, they will ask for the complete business plan.

If you are writing your business plan for your planning purposes, you do not need to write the executive summary.

2. Add Your Company Overview

The company overview or description is the next section in your business plan after the executive summary. It describes what your business does.

Adding your company overview can be tricky especially when your business is still in the planning stages. Existing businesses can easily summarize their current operations but may encounter difficulties trying to explain what they plan to become.

Your company overview should contain the following:

  • What products and services you will provide
  • Geographical markets and locations your company have a presence
  • What you need to run your business
  • Who your target audience or customers are
  • Who will service your customers
  • Your company’s purpose, mission, and vision
  • Information about your company’s founders
  • Who the founders are
  • Notable achievements of your company so far

When creating a company overview, you have to focus on three basics: identifying your industry, identifying your customer, and explaining the problem you solve.

If you are stuck when creating your company overview, try to answer some of these questions that pertain to you.

  • Who are you targeting? (The answer is not everyone)
  • What pain point does your product or service solve for your customers that they will be willing to spend money on resolving?
  • How does your product or service overcome that pain point?
  • Where is the location of your business?
  • What products, equipment, and services do you need to run your business?
  • How is your company’s product or service different from your competition in the eyes of your customers?
  • How many employees do you need and what skills do you require them to have?

After answering some or all of these questions, you will get more than enough information you need to write your company overview or description section. When writing this section, describe what your company does for your customers.

It describes what your business does

The company description or overview section contains three elements: mission statement, history, and objectives.

  • Mission Statement

The mission statement refers to the reason why your business or company is existing. It goes beyond what you do or sell, it is about the ‘why’. A good mission statement should be emotional and inspirational.

Your mission statement should follow the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). For example, Shopify’s mission statement is “Make commerce better for everyone.”

When describing your company’s history, make it simple and avoid the temptation of tying it to a defensive narrative. Write it in the manner you would a profile. Your company’s history should include the following information:

  • Founding Date
  • Major Milestones
  • Location(s)
  • Flagship Products or Services
  • Number of Employees
  • Executive Leadership Roles

When you fill in this information, you use it to write one or two paragraphs about your company’s history.

Business Objectives

Your business objective must be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.) Failure to clearly identify your business objectives does not inspire confidence and makes it hard for your team members to work towards a common purpose.

3. Perform Market and Competitive Analyses to Proof a Big Enough Business Opportunity

The third step in writing a business plan is the market and competitive analysis section. Every business, no matter the size, needs to perform comprehensive market and competitive analyses before it enters into a market.

Performing market and competitive analyses are critical for the success of your business. It helps you avoid entering the right market with the wrong product, or vice versa. Anyone reading your business plans, especially financiers and financial institutions will want to see proof that there is a big enough business opportunity you are targeting.

This section is where you describe the market and industry you want to operate in and show the big opportunities in the market that your business can leverage to make a profit. If you noticed any unique trends when doing your research, show them in this section.

Market analysis alone is not enough, you have to add competitive analysis to strengthen this section. There are already businesses in the industry or market, how do you plan to take a share of the market from them?

You have to clearly illustrate the competitive landscape in your business plan. Are there areas your competitors are doing well? Are there areas where they are not doing so well? Show it.

Make it clear in this section why you are moving into the industry and what weaknesses are present there that you plan to explain. How are your competitors going to react to your market entry? How do you plan to get customers? Do you plan on taking your competitors' competitors, tap into other sources for customers, or both?

Illustrate the competitive landscape as well. What are your competitors doing well and not so well?

Answering these questions and thoughts will aid your market and competitive analysis of the opportunities in your space. Depending on how sophisticated your industry is, or the expectations of your financiers, you may need to carry out a more comprehensive market and competitive analysis to prove that big business opportunity.

Instead of looking at the market and competitive analyses as one entity, separating them will make the research even more comprehensive.

Market Analysis

Market analysis, boarding speaking, refers to research a business carried out on its industry, market, and competitors. It helps businesses gain a good understanding of their target market and the outlook of their industry. Before starting a company, it is vital to carry out market research to find out if the market is viable.

Market Analysis for Online Business

The market analysis section is a key part of the business plan. It is the section where you identify who your best clients or customers are. You cannot omit this section, without it your business plan is incomplete.

A good market analysis will tell your readers how you fit into the existing market and what makes you stand out. This section requires in-depth research, it will probably be the most time-consuming part of the business plan to write.

  • Market Research

To create a compelling market analysis that will win over investors and financial institutions, you have to carry out thorough market research . Your market research should be targeted at your primary target market for your products or services. Here is what you want to find out about your target market.

  • Your target market’s needs or pain points
  • The existing solutions for their pain points
  • Geographic Location
  • Demographics

The purpose of carrying out a marketing analysis is to get all the information you need to show that you have a solid and thorough understanding of your target audience.

Only after you have fully understood the people you plan to sell your products or services to, can you evaluate correctly if your target market will be interested in your products or services.

You can easily convince interested parties to invest in your business if you can show them you thoroughly understand the market and show them that there is a market for your products or services.

How to Quantify Your Target Market

One of the goals of your marketing research is to understand who your ideal customers are and their purchasing power. To quantify your target market, you have to determine the following:

  • Your Potential Customers: They are the people you plan to target. For example, if you sell accounting software for small businesses , then anyone who runs an enterprise or large business is unlikely to be your customers. Also, individuals who do not have a business will most likely not be interested in your product.
  • Total Households: If you are selling household products such as heating and air conditioning systems, determining the number of total households is more important than finding out the total population in the area you want to sell to. The logic is simple, people buy the product but it is the household that uses it.
  • Median Income: You need to know the median income of your target market. If you target a market that cannot afford to buy your products and services, your business will not last long.
  • Income by Demographics: If your potential customers belong to a certain age group or gender, determining income levels by demographics is necessary. For example, if you sell men's clothes, your target audience is men.

What Does a Good Market Analysis Entail?

Your business does not exist on its own, it can only flourish within an industry and alongside competitors. Market analysis takes into consideration your industry, target market, and competitors. Understanding these three entities will drastically improve your company’s chances of success.

Market Analysis Steps

You can view your market analysis as an examination of the market you want to break into and an education on the emerging trends and themes in that market. Good market analyses include the following:

  • Industry Description. You find out about the history of your industry, the current and future market size, and who the largest players/companies are in your industry.
  • Overview of Target Market. You research your target market and its characteristics. Who are you targeting? Note, it cannot be everyone, it has to be a specific group. You also have to find out all information possible about your customers that can help you understand how and why they make buying decisions.
  • Size of Target Market: You need to know the size of your target market, how frequently they buy, and the expected quantity they buy so you do not risk overproducing and having lots of bad inventory. Researching the size of your target market will help you determine if it is big enough for sustained business or not.
  • Growth Potential: Before picking a target market, you want to be sure there are lots of potential for future growth. You want to avoid going for an industry that is declining slowly or rapidly with almost zero growth potential.
  • Market Share Potential: Does your business stand a good chance of taking a good share of the market?
  • Market Pricing and Promotional Strategies: Your market analysis should give you an idea of the price point you can expect to charge for your products and services. Researching your target market will also give you ideas of pricing strategies you can implement to break into the market or to enjoy maximum profits.
  • Potential Barriers to Entry: One of the biggest benefits of conducting market analysis is that it shows you every potential barrier to entry your business will likely encounter. It is a good idea to discuss potential barriers to entry such as changing technology. It informs readers of your business plan that you understand the market.
  • Research on Competitors: You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and how you can exploit them for the benefit of your business. Find patterns and trends among your competitors that make them successful, discover what works and what doesn’t, and see what you can do better.

The market analysis section is not just for talking about your target market, industry, and competitors. You also have to explain how your company can fill the hole you have identified in the market.

Here are some questions you can answer that can help you position your product or service in a positive light to your readers.

  • Is your product or service of superior quality?
  • What additional features do you offer that your competitors do not offer?
  • Are you targeting a ‘new’ market?

Basically, your market analysis should include an analysis of what already exists in the market and an explanation of how your company fits into the market.

Competitive Analysis

In the competitive analysis section, y ou have to understand who your direct and indirect competitions are, and how successful they are in the marketplace. It is the section where you assess the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, the advantage(s) they possess in the market and show the unique features or qualities that make you different from your competitors.

Four Steps to Create a Competitive Marketing Analysis

Many businesses do market analysis and competitive analysis together. However, to fully understand what the competitive analysis entails, it is essential to separate it from the market analysis.

Competitive analysis for your business can also include analysis on how to overcome barriers to entry in your target market.

The primary goal of conducting a competitive analysis is to distinguish your business from your competitors. A strong competitive analysis is essential if you want to convince potential funding sources to invest in your business. You have to show potential investors and lenders that your business has what it takes to compete in the marketplace successfully.

Competitive analysis will s how you what the strengths of your competition are and what they are doing to maintain that advantage.

When doing your competitive research, you first have to identify your competitor and then get all the information you can about them. The idea of spending time to identify your competitor and learn everything about them may seem daunting but it is well worth it.

Find answers to the following questions after you have identified who your competitors are.

  • What are your successful competitors doing?
  • Why is what they are doing working?
  • Can your business do it better?
  • What are the weaknesses of your successful competitors?
  • What are they not doing well?
  • Can your business turn its weaknesses into strengths?
  • How good is your competitors’ customer service?
  • Where do your competitors invest in advertising?
  • What sales and pricing strategies are they using?
  • What marketing strategies are they using?
  • What kind of press coverage do they get?
  • What are their customers saying about your competitors (both the positive and negative)?

If your competitors have a website, it is a good idea to visit their websites for more competitors’ research. Check their “About Us” page for more information.

How to Perform Competitive Analysis

If you are presenting your business plan to investors, you need to clearly distinguish yourself from your competitors. Investors can easily tell when you have not properly researched your competitors.

Take time to think about what unique qualities or features set you apart from your competitors. If you do not have any direct competition offering your product to the market, it does not mean you leave out the competitor analysis section blank. Instead research on other companies that are providing a similar product, or whose product is solving the problem your product solves.

The next step is to create a table listing the top competitors you want to include in your business plan. Ensure you list your business as the last and on the right. What you just created is known as the competitor analysis table.

Direct vs Indirect Competition

You cannot know if your product or service will be a fit for your target market if you have not understood your business and the competitive landscape.

There is no market you want to target where you will not encounter competition, even if your product is innovative. Including competitive analysis in your business plan is essential.

If you are entering an established market, you need to explain how you plan to differentiate your products from the available options in the market. Also, include a list of few companies that you view as your direct competitors The competition you face in an established market is your direct competition.

In situations where you are entering a market with no direct competition, it does not mean there is no competition there. Consider your indirect competition that offers substitutes for the products or services you offer.

For example, if you sell an innovative SaaS product, let us say a project management software , a company offering time management software is your indirect competition.

There is an easy way to find out who your indirect competitors are in the absence of no direct competitors. You simply have to research how your potential customers are solving the problems that your product or service seeks to solve. That is your direct competition.

Factors that Differentiate Your Business from the Competition

There are three main factors that any business can use to differentiate itself from its competition. They are cost leadership, product differentiation, and market segmentation.

1. Cost Leadership

A strategy you can impose to maximize your profits and gain an edge over your competitors. It involves offering lower prices than what the majority of your competitors are offering.

A common practice among businesses looking to enter into a market where there are dominant players is to use free trials or pricing to attract as many customers as possible to their offer.

2. Product Differentiation

Your product or service should have a unique selling proposition (USP) that your competitors do not have or do not stress in their marketing.

Part of the marketing strategy should involve making your products unique and different from your competitors. It does not have to be different from your competitors, it can be the addition to a feature or benefit that your competitors do not currently have.

3. Market Segmentation

As a new business seeking to break into an industry, you will gain more success from focusing on a specific niche or target market, and not the whole industry.

If your competitors are focused on a general need or target market, you can differentiate yourself from them by having a small and hyper-targeted audience. For example, if your competitors are selling men’s clothes in their online stores , you can sell hoodies for men.

4. Define Your Business and Management Structure

The next step in your business plan is your business and management structure. It is the section where you describe the legal structure of your business and the team running it.

Your business is only as good as the management team that runs it, while the management team can only strive when there is a proper business and management structure in place.

If your company is a sole proprietor or a limited liability company (LLC), a general or limited partnership, or a C or an S corporation, state it clearly in this section.

Use an organizational chart to show the management structure in your business. Clearly show who is in charge of what area in your company. It is where you show how each key manager or team leader’s unique experience can contribute immensely to the success of your company. You can also opt to add the resumes and CVs of the key players in your company.

The business and management structure section should show who the owner is, and other owners of the businesses (if the business has other owners). For businesses or companies with multiple owners, include the percent ownership of the various owners and clearly show the extent of each others’ involvement in the company.

Investors want to know who is behind the company and the team running it to determine if it has the right management to achieve its set goals.

Management Team

The management team section is where you show that you have the right team in place to successfully execute the business operations and ideas. Take time to create the management structure for your business. Think about all the important roles and responsibilities that you need managers for to grow your business.

Include brief bios of each key team member and ensure you highlight only the relevant information that is needed. If your team members have background industry experience or have held top positions for other companies and achieved success while filling that role, highlight it in this section.

Create Management Team For Business Plan

A common mistake that many startups make is assigning C-level titles such as (CMO and CEO) to everyone on their team. It is unrealistic for a small business to have those titles. While it may look good on paper for the ego of your team members, it can prevent investors from investing in your business.

Instead of building an unrealistic management structure that does not fit your business reality, it is best to allow business titles to grow as the business grows. Starting everyone at the top leaves no room for future change or growth, which is bad for productivity.

Your management team does not have to be complete before you start writing your business plan. You can have a complete business plan even when there are managerial positions that are empty and need filling.

If you have management gaps in your team, simply show the gaps and indicate you are searching for the right candidates for the role(s). Investors do not expect you to have a full management team when you are just starting your business.

Key Questions to Answer When Structuring Your Management Team

  • Who are the key leaders?
  • What experiences, skills, and educational backgrounds do you expect your key leaders to have?
  • Do your key leaders have industry experience?
  • What positions will they fill and what duties will they perform in those positions?
  • What level of authority do the key leaders have and what are their responsibilities?
  • What is the salary for the various management positions that will attract the ideal candidates?

Additional Tips for Writing the Management Structure Section

1. Avoid Adding ‘Ghost’ Names to Your Management Team

There is always that temptation to include a ‘ghost’ name to your management team to attract and influence investors to invest in your business. Although the presence of these celebrity management team members may attract the attention of investors, it can cause your business to lose any credibility if you get found out.

Seasoned investors will investigate further the members of your management team before committing fully to your business If they find out that the celebrity name used does not play any actual role in your business, they will not invest and may write you off as dishonest.

2. Focus on Credentials But Pay Extra Attention to the Roles

Investors want to know the experience that your key team members have to determine if they can successfully reach the company’s growth and financial goals.

While it is an excellent boost for your key management team to have the right credentials, you also want to pay extra attention to the roles they will play in your company.

Organizational Chart

Organizational chart Infographic

Adding an organizational chart in this section of your business plan is not necessary, you can do it in your business plan’s appendix.

If you are exploring funding options, it is not uncommon to get asked for your organizational chart. The function of an organizational chart goes beyond raising money, you can also use it as a useful planning tool for your business.

An organizational chart can help you identify how best to structure your management team for maximum productivity and point you towards key roles you need to fill in the future.

You can use the organizational chart to show your company’s internal management structure such as the roles and responsibilities of your management team, and relationships that exist between them.

5. Describe Your Product and Service Offering

In your business plan, you have to describe what you sell or the service you plan to offer. It is the next step after defining your business and management structure. The products and services section is where you sell the benefits of your business.

Here you have to explain how your product or service will benefit your customers and describe your product lifecycle. It is also the section where you write down your plans for intellectual property like patent filings and copyrighting.

The research and development that you are undertaking for your product or service need to be explained in detail in this section. However, do not get too technical, sell the general idea and its benefits.

If you have any diagrams or intricate designs of your product or service, do not include them in the products and services section. Instead, leave them for the addendum page. Also, if you are leaving out diagrams or designs for the addendum, ensure you add this phrase “For more detail, visit the addendum Page #.”

Your product and service section in your business plan should include the following:

  • A detailed explanation that clearly shows how your product or service works.
  • The pricing model for your product or service.
  • Your business’ sales and distribution strategy.
  • The ideal customers that want your product or service.
  • The benefits of your products and services.
  • Reason(s) why your product or service is a better alternative to what your competitors are currently offering in the market.
  • Plans for filling the orders you receive
  • If you have current or pending patents, copyrights, and trademarks for your product or service, you can also discuss them in this section.

What to Focus On When Describing the Benefits, Lifecycle, and Production Process of Your Products or Services

In the products and services section, you have to distill the benefits, lifecycle, and production process of your products and services.

When describing the benefits of your products or services, here are some key factors to focus on.

  • Unique features
  • Translating the unique features into benefits
  • The emotional, psychological, and practical payoffs to attract customers
  • Intellectual property rights or any patents

When describing the product life cycle of your products or services, here are some key factors to focus on.

  • Upsells, cross-sells, and down-sells
  • Time between purchases
  • Plans for research and development.

When describing the production process for your products or services, you need to think about the following:

  • The creation of new or existing products and services.
  • The sources for the raw materials or components you need for production.
  • Assembling the products
  • Maintaining quality control
  • Supply-chain logistics (receiving the raw materials and delivering the finished products)
  • The day-to-day management of the production processes, bookkeeping, and inventory.

Tips for Writing the Products or Services Section of Your Business Plan

1. Avoid Technical Descriptions and Industry Buzzwords

The products and services section of your business plan should clearly describe the products and services that your company provides. However, it is not a section to include technical jargons that anyone outside your industry will not understand.

A good practice is to remove highly detailed or technical descriptions in favor of simple terms. Industry buzzwords are not necessary, if there are simpler terms you can use, then use them. If you plan to use your business plan to source funds, making the product or service section so technical will do you no favors.

2. Describe How Your Products or Services Differ from Your Competitors

When potential investors look at your business plan, they want to know how the products and services you are offering differ from that of your competition. Differentiating your products or services from your competition in a way that makes your solution more attractive is critical.

If you are going the innovative path and there is no market currently for your product or service, you need to describe in this section why the market needs your product or service.

For example, overnight delivery was a niche business that only a few companies were participating in. Federal Express (FedEx) had to show in its business plan that there was a large opportunity for that service and they justified why the market needed that service.

3. Long or Short Products or Services Section

Should your products or services section be short? Does the long products or services section attract more investors?

There are no straightforward answers to these questions. Whether your products or services section should be long or relatively short depends on the nature of your business.

If your business is product-focused, then automatically you need to use more space to describe the details of your products. However, if the product your business sells is a commodity item that relies on competitive pricing or other pricing strategies, you do not have to use up so much space to provide significant details about the product.

Likewise, if you are selling a commodity that is available in numerous outlets, then you do not have to spend time on writing a long products or services section.

The key to the success of your business is most likely the effectiveness of your marketing strategies compared to your competitors. Use more space to address that section.

If you are creating a new product or service that the market does not know about, your products or services section can be lengthy. The reason why is because you need to explain everything about the product or service such as the nature of the product, its use case, and values.

A short products or services section for an innovative product or service will not give the readers enough information to properly evaluate your business.

4. Describe Your Relationships with Vendors or Suppliers

Your business will rely on vendors or suppliers to supply raw materials or the components needed to make your products. In your products and services section, describe your relationships with your vendors and suppliers fully.

Avoid the mistake of relying on only one supplier or vendor. If that supplier or vendor fails to supply or goes out of business, you can easily face supply problems and struggle to meet your demands. Plan to set up multiple vendor or supplier relationships for better business stability.

5. Your Primary Goal Is to Convince Your Readers

The primary goal of your business plan is to convince your readers that your business is viable and to create a guide for your business to follow. It applies to the products and services section.

When drafting this section, think like the reader. See your reader as someone who has no idea about your products and services. You are using the products and services section to provide the needed information to help your reader understand your products and services. As a result, you have to be clear and to the point.

While you want to educate your readers about your products or services, you also do not want to bore them with lots of technical details. Show your products and services and not your fancy choice of words.

Your products and services section should provide the answer to the “what” question for your business. You and your management team may run the business, but it is your products and services that are the lifeblood of the business.

Key Questions to Answer When Writing your Products and Services Section

Answering these questions can help you write your products and services section quickly and in a way that will appeal to your readers.

  • Are your products existing on the market or are they still in the development stage?
  • What is your timeline for adding new products and services to the market?
  • What are the positives that make your products and services different from your competitors?
  • Do your products and services have any competitive advantage that your competitors’ products and services do not currently have?
  • Do your products or services have any competitive disadvantages that you need to overcome to compete with your competitors? If your answer is yes, state how you plan to overcome them,
  • How much does it cost to produce your products or services? How much do you plan to sell it for?
  • What is the price for your products and services compared to your competitors? Is pricing an issue?
  • What are your operating costs and will it be low enough for you to compete with your competitors and still take home a reasonable profit margin?
  • What is your plan for acquiring your products? Are you involved in the production of your products or services?
  • Are you the manufacturer and produce all the components you need to create your products? Do you assemble your products by using components supplied by other manufacturers? Do you purchase your products directly from suppliers or wholesalers?
  • Do you have a steady supply of products that you need to start your business? (If your business is yet to kick-off)
  • How do you plan to distribute your products or services to the market?

You can also hint at the marketing or promotion plans you have for your products or services such as how you plan to build awareness or retain customers. The next section is where you can go fully into details about your business’s marketing and sales plan.

6. Show and Explain Your Marketing and Sales Plan

Providing great products and services is wonderful, but it means nothing if you do not have a marketing and sales plan to inform your customers about them. Your marketing and sales plan is critical to the success of your business.

The sales and marketing section is where you show and offer a detailed explanation of your marketing and sales plan and how you plan to execute it. It covers your pricing plan, proposed advertising and promotion activities, activities and partnerships you need to make your business a success, and the benefits of your products and services.

There are several ways you can approach your marketing and sales strategy. Ideally, your marketing and sales strategy has to fit the unique needs of your business.

In this section, you describe how the plans your business has for attracting and retaining customers, and the exact process for making a sale happen. It is essential to thoroughly describe your complete marketing and sales plans because you are still going to reference this section when you are making financial projections for your business.

Outline Your Business’ Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The sales and marketing section is where you outline your business’s unique selling proposition (USP). When you are developing your unique selling proposition, think about the strongest reasons why people should buy from you over your competition. That reason(s) is most likely a good fit to serve as your unique selling proposition (USP).

Target Market and Target Audience

Plans on how to get your products or services to your target market and how to get your target audience to buy them go into this section. You also highlight the strengths of your business here, particularly what sets them apart from your competition.

Target Market Vs Target Audience

Before you start writing your marketing and sales plan, you need to have properly defined your target audience and fleshed out your buyer persona. If you do not first understand the individual you are marketing to, your marketing and sales plan will lack any substance and easily fall.

Creating a Smart Marketing and Sales Plan

Marketing your products and services is an investment that requires you to spend money. Like any other investment, you have to generate a good return on investment (ROI) to justify using that marketing and sales plan. Good marketing and sales plans bring in high sales and profits to your company.

Avoid spending money on unproductive marketing channels. Do your research and find out the best marketing and sales plan that works best for your company.

Your marketing and sales plan can be broken into different parts: your positioning statement, pricing, promotion, packaging, advertising, public relations, content marketing, social media, and strategic alliances.

Your Positioning Statement

Your positioning statement is the first part of your marketing and sales plan. It refers to the way you present your company to your customers.

Are you the premium solution, the low-price solution, or are you the intermediary between the two extremes in the market? What do you offer that your competitors do not that can give you leverage in the market?

Before you start writing your positioning statement, you need to spend some time evaluating the current market conditions. Here are some questions that can help you to evaluate the market

  • What are the unique features or benefits that you offer that your competitors lack?
  • What are your customers’ primary needs and wants?
  • Why should a customer choose you over your competition? How do you plan to differentiate yourself from the competition?
  • How does your company’s solution compare with other solutions in the market?

After answering these questions, then you can start writing your positioning statement. Your positioning statement does not have to be in-depth or too long.

All you need to explain with your positioning statement are two focus areas. The first is the position of your company within the competitive landscape. The other focus area is the core value proposition that sets your company apart from other alternatives that your ideal customer might consider.

Here is a simple template you can use to develop a positioning statement.

For [description of target market] who [need of target market], [product or service] [how it meets the need]. Unlike [top competition], it [most essential distinguishing feature].

For example, let’s create the positioning statement for fictional accounting software and QuickBooks alternative , TBooks.

“For small business owners who need accounting services, TBooks is an accounting software that helps small businesses handle their small business bookkeeping basics quickly and easily. Unlike Wave, TBooks gives small businesses access to live sessions with top accountants.”

You can edit this positioning statement sample and fill it with your business details.

After writing your positioning statement, the next step is the pricing of your offerings. The overall positioning strategy you set in your positioning statement will often determine how you price your products or services.

Pricing is a powerful tool that sends a strong message to your customers. Failure to get your pricing strategy right can make or mar your business. If you are targeting a low-income audience, setting a premium price can result in low sales.

You can use pricing to communicate your positioning to your customers. For example, if you are offering a product at a premium price, you are sending a message to your customers that the product belongs to the premium category.

Basic Rules to Follow When Pricing Your Offering

Setting a price for your offering involves more than just putting a price tag on it. Deciding on the right pricing for your offering requires following some basic rules. They include covering your costs, primary and secondary profit center pricing, and matching the market rate.

  • Covering Your Costs: The price you set for your products or service should be more than it costs you to produce and deliver them. Every business has the same goal, to make a profit. Depending on the strategy you want to use, there are exceptions to this rule. However, the vast majority of businesses follow this rule.
  • Primary and Secondary Profit Center Pricing: When a company sets its price above the cost of production, it is making that product its primary profit center. A company can also decide not to make its initial price its primary profit center by selling below or at even with its production cost. It rather depends on the support product or even maintenance that is associated with the initial purchase to make its profit. The initial price thus became its secondary profit center.
  • Matching the Market Rate: A good rule to follow when pricing your products or services is to match your pricing with consumer demand and expectations. If you price your products or services beyond the price your customer perceives as the ideal price range, you may end up with no customers. Pricing your products too low below what your customer perceives as the ideal price range may lead to them undervaluing your offering.

Pricing Strategy

Your pricing strategy influences the price of your offering. There are several pricing strategies available for you to choose from when examining the right pricing strategy for your business. They include cost-plus pricing, market-based pricing, value pricing, and more.

Pricing strategy influences the price of offering

  • Cost-plus Pricing: This strategy is one of the simplest and oldest pricing strategies. Here you consider the cost of producing a unit of your product and then add a profit to it to arrive at your market price. It is an effective pricing strategy for manufacturers because it helps them cover their initial costs. Another name for the cost-plus pricing strategy is the markup pricing strategy.
  • Market-based Pricing: This pricing strategy analyses the market including competitors’ pricing and then sets a price based on what the market is expecting. With this pricing strategy, you can either set your price at the low-end or high-end of the market.
  • Value Pricing: This pricing strategy involves setting a price based on the value you are providing to your customer. When adopting a value-based pricing strategy, you have to set a price that your customers are willing to pay. Service-based businesses such as small business insurance providers , luxury goods sellers, and the fashion industry use this pricing strategy.

After carefully sorting out your positioning statement and pricing, the next item to look at is your promotional strategy. Your promotional strategy explains how you plan on communicating with your customers and prospects.

As a business, you must measure all your costs, including the cost of your promotions. You also want to measure how much sales your promotions bring for your business to determine its usefulness. Promotional strategies or programs that do not lead to profit need to be removed.

There are different types of promotional strategies you can adopt for your business, they include advertising, public relations, and content marketing.

Advertising

Your business plan should include your advertising plan which can be found in the marketing and sales plan section. You need to include an overview of your advertising plans such as the areas you plan to spend money on to advertise your business and offers.

Ensure that you make it clear in this section if your business will be advertising online or using the more traditional offline media, or the combination of both online and offline media. You can also include the advertising medium you want to use to raise awareness about your business and offers.

Some common online advertising mediums you can use include social media ads, landing pages, sales pages, SEO, Pay-Per-Click, emails, Google Ads, and others. Some common traditional and offline advertising mediums include word of mouth, radios, direct mail, televisions, flyers, billboards, posters, and others.

A key component of your advertising strategy is how you plan to measure the effectiveness and success of your advertising campaign. There is no point in sticking with an advertising plan or medium that does not produce results for your business in the long run.

Public Relations

A great way to reach your customers is to get the media to cover your business or product. Publicity, especially good ones, should be a part of your marketing and sales plan. In this section, show your plans for getting prominent reviews of your product from reputable publications and sources.

Your business needs that exposure to grow. If public relations is a crucial part of your promotional strategy, provide details about your public relations plan here.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a popular promotional strategy used by businesses to inform and attract their customers. It is about teaching and educating your prospects on various topics of interest in your niche, it does not just involve informing them about the benefits and features of the products and services you have,

The Benefits of Content Marketing

Businesses publish content usually for free where they provide useful information, tips, and advice so that their target market can be made aware of the importance of their products and services. Content marketing strategies seek to nurture prospects into buyers over time by simply providing value.

Your company can create a blog where it will be publishing content for its target market. You will need to use the best website builder such as Wix and Squarespace and the best web hosting services such as Bluehost, Hostinger, and other Bluehost alternatives to create a functional blog or website.

If content marketing is a crucial part of your promotional strategy (as it should be), detail your plans under promotions.

Including high-quality images of the packaging of your product in your business plan is a lovely idea. You can add the images of the packaging of that product in the marketing and sales plan section. If you are not selling a product, then you do not need to include any worry about the physical packaging of your product.

When organizing the packaging section of your business plan, you can answer the following questions to make maximum use of this section.

  • Is your choice of packaging consistent with your positioning strategy?
  • What key value proposition does your packaging communicate? (It should reflect the key value proposition of your business)
  • How does your packaging compare to that of your competitors?

Social Media

Your 21st-century business needs to have a good social media presence. Not having one is leaving out opportunities for growth and reaching out to your prospect.

You do not have to join the thousands of social media platforms out there. What you need to do is join the ones that your customers are active on and be active there.

Most popular social media platforms

Businesses use social media to provide information about their products such as promotions, discounts, the benefits of their products, and content on their blogs.

Social media is also a platform for engaging with your customers and getting feedback about your products or services. Make no mistake, more and more of your prospects are using social media channels to find more information about companies.

You need to consider the social media channels you want to prioritize your business (prioritize the ones your customers are active in) and your branding plans in this section.

Choosing the right social media platform

Strategic Alliances

If your company plans to work closely with other companies as part of your sales and marketing plan, include it in this section. Prove details about those partnerships in your business plan if you have already established them.

Strategic alliances can be beneficial for all parties involved including your company. Working closely with another company in the form of a partnership can provide access to a different target market segment for your company.

The company you are partnering with may also gain access to your target market or simply offer a new product or service (that of your company) to its customers.

Mutually beneficial partnerships can cover the weaknesses of one company with the strength of another. You should consider strategic alliances with companies that sell complimentary products to yours. For example, if you provide printers, you can partner with a company that produces ink since the customers that buy printers from you will also need inks for printing.

Steps Involved in Creating a Marketing and Sales Plan

1. Focus on Your Target Market

Identify who your customers are, the market you want to target. Then determine the best ways to get your products or services to your potential customers.

2. Evaluate Your Competition

One of the goals of having a marketing plan is to distinguish yourself from your competition. You cannot stand out from them without first knowing them in and out.

You can know your competitors by gathering information about their products, pricing, service, and advertising campaigns.

These questions can help you know your competition.

  • What makes your competition successful?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What are customers saying about your competition?

3. Consider Your Brand

Customers' perception of your brand has a strong impact on your sales. Your marketing and sales plan should seek to bolster the image of your brand. Before you start marketing your business, think about the message you want to pass across about your business and your products and services.

4. Focus on Benefits

The majority of your customers do not view your product in terms of features, what they want to know is the benefits and solutions your product offers. Think about the problems your product solves and the benefits it delivers, and use it to create the right sales and marketing message.

Your marketing plan should focus on what you want your customer to get instead of what you provide. Identify those benefits in your marketing and sales plan.

5. Focus on Differentiation

Your marketing and sales plan should look for a unique angle they can take that differentiates your business from the competition, even if the products offered are similar. Some good areas of differentiation you can use are your benefits, pricing, and features.

Key Questions to Answer When Writing Your Marketing and Sales Plan

  • What is your company’s budget for sales and marketing campaigns?
  • What key metrics will you use to determine if your marketing plans are successful?
  • What are your alternatives if your initial marketing efforts do not succeed?
  • Who are the sales representatives you need to promote your products or services?
  • What are the marketing and sales channels you plan to use? How do you plan to get your products in front of your ideal customers?
  • Where will you sell your products?

You may want to include samples of marketing materials you plan to use such as print ads, website descriptions, and social media ads. While it is not compulsory to include these samples, it can help you better communicate your marketing and sales plan and objectives.

The purpose of the marketing and sales section is to answer this question “How will you reach your customers?” If you cannot convincingly provide an answer to this question, you need to rework your marketing and sales section.

7. Clearly Show Your Funding Request

If you are writing your business plan to ask for funding from investors or financial institutions, the funding request section is where you will outline your funding requirements. The funding request section should answer the question ‘How much money will your business need in the near future (3 to 5 years)?’

A good funding request section will clearly outline and explain the amount of funding your business needs over the next five years. You need to know the amount of money your business needs to make an accurate funding request.

Also, when writing your funding request, provide details of how the funds will be used over the period. Specify if you want to use the funds to buy raw materials or machinery, pay salaries, pay for advertisements, and cover specific bills such as rent and electricity.

In addition to explaining what you want to use the funds requested for, you need to clearly state the projected return on investment (ROI) . Investors and creditors want to know if your business can generate profit for them if they put funds into it.

Ensure you do not inflate the figures and stay as realistic as possible. Investors and financial institutions you are seeking funds from will do their research before investing money in your business.

If you are not sure of an exact number to request from, you can use some range of numbers as rough estimates. Add a best-case scenario and a work-case scenario to your funding request. Also, include a description of your strategic future financial plans such as selling your business or paying off debts.

Funding Request: Debt or Equity?

When making your funding request, specify the type of funding you want. Do you want debt or equity? Draw out the terms that will be applicable for the funding, and the length of time the funding request will cover.

Case for Equity

If your new business has not yet started generating profits, you are most likely preparing to sell equity in your business to raise capital at the early stage. Equity here refers to ownership. In this case, you are selling a portion of your company to raise capital.

Although this method of raising capital for your business does not put your business in debt, keep in mind that an equity owner may expect to play a key role in company decisions even if he does not hold a major stake in the company.

Most equity sales for startups are usually private transactions . If you are making a funding request by offering equity in exchange for funding, let the investor know that they will be paid a dividend (a share of the company’s profit). Also, let the investor know the process for selling their equity in your business.

Case for Debt

You may decide not to offer equity in exchange for funds, instead, you make a funding request with the promise to pay back the money borrowed at the agreed time frame.

When making a funding request with an agreement to pay back, note that you will have to repay your creditors both the principal amount borrowed and the interest on it. Financial institutions offer this type of funding for businesses.

Large companies combine both equity and debt in their capital structure. When drafting your business plan, decide if you want to offer both or one over the other.

Before you sell equity in exchange for funding in your business, consider if you are willing to accept not being in total control of your business. Also, before you seek loans in your funding request section, ensure that the terms of repayment are favorable.

You should set a clear timeline in your funding request so that potential investors and creditors can know what you are expecting. Some investors and creditors may agree to your funding request and then delay payment for longer than 30 days, meanwhile, your business needs an immediate cash injection to operate efficiently.

Additional Tips for Writing the Funding Request Section of your Business Plan

The funding request section is not necessary for every business, it is only needed by businesses who plan to use their business plan to secure funding.

If you are adding the funding request section to your business plan, provide an itemized summary of how you plan to use the funds requested. Hiring a lawyer, accountant, or other professionals may be necessary for the proper development of this section.

You should also gather and use financial statements that add credibility and support to your funding requests. Ensure that the financial statements you use should include your projected financial data such as projected cash flows, forecast statements, and expenditure budgets.

If you are an existing business, include all historical financial statements such as cash flow statements, balance sheets and income statements .

Provide monthly and quarterly financial statements for a year. If your business has records that date back beyond the one-year mark, add the yearly statements of those years. These documents are for the appendix section of your business plan.

8. Detail Your Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projections

If you used the funding request section in your business plan, supplement it with a financial plan, metrics, and projections. This section paints a picture of the past performance of your business and then goes ahead to make an informed projection about its future.

The goal of this section is to convince readers that your business is going to be a financial success. It outlines your business plan to generate enough profit to repay the loan (with interest if applicable) and to generate a decent return on investment for investors.

If you have an existing business already in operation, use this section to demonstrate stability through finance. This section should include your cash flow statements, balance sheets, and income statements covering the last three to five years. If your business has some acceptable collateral that you can use to acquire loans, list it in the financial plan, metrics, and projection section.

Apart from current financial statements, this section should also contain a prospective financial outlook that spans the next five years. Include forecasted income statements, cash flow statements, balance sheets, and capital expenditure budget.

If your business is new and is not yet generating profit, use clear and realistic projections to show the potentials of your business.

When drafting this section, research industry norms and the performance of comparable businesses. Your financial projections should cover at least five years. State the logic behind your financial projections. Remember you can always make adjustments to this section as the variables change.

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section create a baseline which your business can either exceed or fail to reach. If your business fails to reach your projections in this section, you need to understand why it failed.

Investors and loan managers spend a lot of time going through the financial plan, metrics, and projection section compared to other parts of the business plan. Ensure you spend time creating credible financial analyses for your business in this section.

Many entrepreneurs find this section daunting to write. You do not need a business degree to create a solid financial forecast for your business. Business finances, especially for startups, are not as complicated as they seem. There are several online tools and templates that make writing this section so much easier.

Use Graphs and Charts

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section is a great place to use graphs and charts to tell the financial story of your business. Charts and images make it easier to communicate your finances.

Accuracy in this section is key, ensure you carefully analyze your past financial statements properly before making financial projects.

Address the Risk Factors and Show Realistic Financial Projections

Keep your financial plan, metrics, and projection realistic. It is okay to be optimistic in your financial projection, however, you have to justify it.

You should also address the various risk factors associated with your business in this section. Investors want to know the potential risks involved, show them. You should also show your plans for mitigating those risks.

What You Should In The Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projection Section of Your Business Plan

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section of your business plan should have monthly sales and revenue forecasts for the first year. It should also include annual projections that cover 3 to 5 years.

A three-year projection is a basic requirement to have in your business plan. However, some investors may request a five-year forecast.

Your business plan should include the following financial statements: sales forecast, personnel plan, income statement, income statement, cash flow statement, balance sheet, and an exit strategy.

1. Sales Forecast

Sales forecast refers to your projections about the number of sales your business is going to record over the next few years. It is typically broken into several rows, with each row assigned to a core product or service that your business is offering.

One common mistake people make in their business plan is to break down the sales forecast section into long details. A sales forecast should forecast the high-level details.

For example, if you are forecasting sales for a payroll software provider, you could break down your forecast into target market segments or subscription categories.

Benefits of Sales Forecasting

Your sales forecast section should also have a corresponding row for each sales row to cover the direct cost or Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). The objective of these rows is to show the expenses that your business incurs in making and delivering your product or service.

Note that your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) should only cover those direct costs incurred when making your products. Other indirect expenses such as insurance, salaries, payroll tax, and rent should not be included.

For example, the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) for a restaurant is the cost of ingredients while for a consulting company it will be the cost of paper and other presentation materials.

Factors that affect sales forecasting

2. Personnel Plan

The personnel plan section is where you provide details about the payment plan for your employees. For a small business, you can easily list every position in your company and how much you plan to pay in the personnel plan.

However, for larger businesses, you have to break the personnel plan into functional groups such as sales and marketing.

The personnel plan will also include the cost of an employee beyond salary, commonly referred to as the employee burden. These costs include insurance, payroll taxes , and other essential costs incurred monthly as a result of having employees on your payroll.

True HR Cost Infographic

3. Income Statement

The income statement section shows if your business is making a profit or taking a loss. Another name for the income statement is the profit and loss (P&L). It takes data from your sales forecast and personnel plan and adds other ongoing expenses you incur while running your business.

The income statement section

Every business plan should have an income statement. It subtracts your business expenses from its earnings to show if your business is generating profit or incurring losses.

The income statement has the following items: sales, Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), gross margin, operating expenses, total operating expenses, operating income , total expenses, and net profit.

  • Sales refer to the revenue your business generates from selling its products or services. Other names for sales are income or revenue.
  • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) refers to the total cost of selling your products. Other names for COGS are direct costs or cost of sales. Manufacturing businesses use the Costs of Goods Manufactured (COGM) .
  • Gross Margin is the figure you get when you subtract your COGS from your sales. In your income statement, you can express it as a percentage of total sales (Gross margin / Sales = Gross Margin Percent).
  • Operating Expenses refer to all the expenses you incur from running your business. It exempts the COGS because it stands alone as a core part of your income statement. You also have to exclude taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Your operating expenses include salaries, marketing expenses, research and development (R&D) expenses, and other expenses.
  • Total Operating Expenses refers to the sum of all your operating expenses including those exemptions named above under operating expenses.
  • Operating Income refers to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. It is simply known as the acronym EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Calculating your operating income is simple, all you need to do is to subtract your COGS and total operating expenses from your sales.
  • Total Expenses refer to the sum of your operating expenses and your business’ interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
  • Net profit shows whether your business has made a profit or taken a loss during a given timeframe.

4. Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement tracks the money you have in the bank at any given point. It is often confused with the income statement or the profit and loss statement. They are both different types of financial statements. The income statement calculates your profits and losses while the cash flow statement shows you how much you have in the bank.

Cash Flow Statement Example

5. Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is a financial statement that provides an overview of the financial health of your business. It contains information about the assets and liabilities of your company, and owner’s or shareholders’ equity.

You can get the net worth of your company by subtracting your company’s liabilities from its assets.

Balance sheet Formula

6. Exit Strategy

The exit strategy refers to a probable plan for selling your business either to the public in an IPO or to another company. It is the last thing you include in the financial plan, metrics, and projection section.

You can choose to omit the exit strategy from your business plan if you plan to maintain full ownership of your business and do not plan on seeking angel investment or virtual capitalist (VC) funding.

Investors may want to know what your exit plan is. They invest in your business to get a good return on investment.

Your exit strategy does not have to include long and boring details. Ensure you identify some interested parties who may be interested in buying the company if it becomes a success.

Exit Strategy Section of Business Plan Infographic

Key Questions to Answer with Your Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projection

Your financial plan, metrics, and projection section helps investors, creditors, or your internal managers to understand what your expenses are, the amount of cash you need, and what it takes to make your company profitable. It also shows what you will be doing with any funding.

You do not need to show actual financial data if you do not have one. Adding forecasts and projections to your financial statements is added proof that your strategy is feasible and shows investors you have planned properly.

Here are some key questions to answer to help you develop this section.

  • What is your sales forecast for the next year?
  • When will your company achieve a positive cash flow?
  • What are the core expenses you need to operate?
  • How much money do you need upfront to operate or grow your company?
  • How will you use the loans or investments?

9. Add an Appendix to Your Business Plan

Adding an appendix to your business plan is optional. It is a useful place to put any charts, tables, legal notes, definitions, permits, résumés, and other critical information that do not fit into other sections of your business plan.

The appendix section is where you would want to include details of a patent or patent-pending if you have one. You can always add illustrations or images of your products here. It is the last section of your business plan.

When writing your business plan, there are details you cut short or remove to prevent the entire section from becoming too lengthy. There are also details you want to include in the business plan but are not a good fit for any of the previous sections. You can add that additional information to the appendix section.

Businesses also use the appendix section to include supporting documents or other materials specially requested by investors or lenders.

You can include just about any information that supports the assumptions and statements you made in the business plan under the appendix. It is the one place in the business plan where unrelated data and information can coexist amicably.

If your appendix section is lengthy, try organizing it by adding a table of contents at the beginning of the appendix section. It is also advisable to group similar information to make it easier for the reader to access them.

A well-organized appendix section makes it easier to share your information clearly and concisely. Add footnotes throughout the rest of the business plan or make references in the plan to the documents in the appendix.

The appendix section is usually only necessary if you are seeking funding from investors or lenders, or hoping to attract partners.

People reading business plans do not want to spend time going through a heap of backup information, numbers, and charts. Keep these documents or information in the Appendix section in case the reader wants to dig deeper.

Common Items to Include in the Appendix Section of Your Business Plan

The appendix section includes documents that supplement or support the information or claims given in other sections of the business plans. Common items you can include in the appendix section include:

  • Additional data about the process of manufacturing or creation
  • Additional description of products or services such as product schematics
  • Additional financial documents or projections
  • Articles of incorporation and status
  • Backup for market research or competitive analysis
  • Bank statements
  • Business registries
  • Client testimonials (if your business is already running)
  • Copies of insurances
  • Credit histories (personal or/and business)
  • Deeds and permits
  • Equipment leases
  • Examples of marketing and advertising collateral
  • Industry associations and memberships
  • Images of product
  • Intellectual property
  • Key customer contracts
  • Legal documents and other contracts
  • Letters of reference
  • Links to references
  • Market research data
  • Organizational charts
  • Photographs of potential facilities
  • Professional licenses pertaining to your legal structure or type of business
  • Purchase orders
  • Resumes of the founder(s) and key managers
  • State and federal identification numbers or codes
  • Trademarks or patents’ registrations

Avoid using the appendix section as a place to dump any document or information you feel like adding. Only add documents or information that you support or increase the credibility of your business plan.

Tips and Strategies for Writing a Convincing Business Plan

To achieve a perfect business plan, you need to consider some key tips and strategies. These tips will raise the efficiency of your business plan above average.

1. Know Your Audience

When writing a business plan, you need to know your audience . Business owners write business plans for different reasons. Your business plan has to be specific. For example, you can write business plans to potential investors, banks, and even fellow board members of the company.

The audience you are writing to determines the structure of the business plan. As a business owner, you have to know your audience. Not everyone will be your audience. Knowing your audience will help you to narrow the scope of your business plan.

Consider what your audience wants to see in your projects, the likely questions they might ask, and what interests them.

  • A business plan used to address a company's board members will center on its employment schemes, internal affairs, projects, stakeholders, etc.
  • A business plan for financial institutions will talk about the size of your market and the chances for you to pay back any loans you demand.
  • A business plan for investors will show proof that you can return the investment capital within a specific time. In addition, it discusses your financial projections, tractions, and market size.

2. Get Inspiration from People

Writing a business plan from scratch as an entrepreneur can be daunting. That is why you need the right inspiration to push you to write one. You can gain inspiration from the successful business plans of other businesses. Look at their business plans, the style they use, the structure of the project, etc.

To make your business plan easier to create, search companies related to your business to get an exact copy of what you need to create an effective business plan. You can also make references while citing examples in your business plans.

When drafting your business plan, get as much help from others as you possibly can. By getting inspiration from people, you can create something better than what they have.

3. Avoid Being Over Optimistic

Many business owners make use of strong adjectives to qualify their content. One of the big mistakes entrepreneurs make when preparing a business plan is promising too much.

The use of superlatives and over-optimistic claims can prepare the audience for more than you can offer. In the end, you disappoint the confidence they have in you.

In most cases, the best option is to be realistic with your claims and statistics. Most of the investors can sense a bit of incompetency from the overuse of superlatives. As a new entrepreneur, do not be tempted to over-promise to get the interests of investors.

The concept of entrepreneurship centers on risks, nothing is certain when you make future analyses. What separates the best is the ability to do careful research and work towards achieving that, not promising more than you can achieve.

To make an excellent first impression as an entrepreneur, replace superlatives with compelling data-driven content. In this way, you are more specific than someone promising a huge ROI from an investment.

4. Keep it Simple and Short

When writing business plans, ensure you keep them simple throughout. Irrespective of the purpose of the business plan, your goal is to convince the audience.

One way to achieve this goal is to make them understand your proposal. Therefore, it would be best if you avoid the use of complex grammar to express yourself. It would be a huge turn-off if the people you want to convince are not familiar with your use of words.

Another thing to note is the length of your business plan. It would be best if you made it as brief as possible.

You hardly see investors or agencies that read through an extremely long document. In that case, if your first few pages can’t convince them, then you have lost it. The more pages you write, the higher the chances of you derailing from the essential contents.

To ensure your business plan has a high conversion rate, you need to dispose of every unnecessary information. For example, if you have a strategy that you are not sure of, it would be best to leave it out of the plan.

5. Make an Outline and Follow Through

A perfect business plan must have touched every part needed to convince the audience. Business owners get easily tempted to concentrate more on their products than on other sections. Doing this can be detrimental to the efficiency of the business plan.

For example, imagine you talking about a product but omitting or providing very little information about the target audience. You will leave your clients confused.

To ensure that your business plan communicates your full business model to readers, you have to input all the necessary information in it. One of the best ways to achieve this is to design a structure and stick to it.

This structure is what guides you throughout the writing. To make your work easier, you can assign an estimated word count or page limit to every section to avoid making it too bulky for easy reading. As a guide, the necessary things your business plan must contain are:

  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Product or service description
  • Target audience
  • Market size
  • Competition analysis
  • Financial projections

Some specific businesses can include some other essential sections, but these are the key sections that must be in every business plan.

6. Ask a Professional to Proofread

When writing a business plan, you must tie all loose ends to get a perfect result. When you are done with writing, call a professional to go through the document for you. You are bound to make mistakes, and the way to correct them is to get external help.

You should get a professional in your field who can relate to every section of your business plan. It would be easier for the professional to notice the inner flaws in the document than an editor with no knowledge of your business.

In addition to getting a professional to proofread, get an editor to proofread and edit your document. The editor will help you identify grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and inappropriate writing styles.

Writing a business plan can be daunting, but you can surmount that obstacle and get the best out of it with these tips.

Business Plan Examples and Templates That’ll Save You Tons of Time

1. hubspot's one-page business plan.

HubSpot's One Page Business Plan

The one-page business plan template by HubSpot is the perfect guide for businesses of any size, irrespective of their business strategy. Although the template is condensed into a page, your final business plan should not be a page long! The template is designed to ask helpful questions that can help you develop your business plan.

Hubspot’s one-page business plan template is divided into nine fields:

  • Business opportunity
  • Company description
  • Industry analysis
  • Target market
  • Implementation timeline
  • Marketing plan
  • Financial summary
  • Funding required

2. Bplan’s Free Business Plan Template

Bplan’s Free Business Plan Template

Bplans' free business plan template is investor-approved. It is a rich template used by prestigious educational institutions such as Babson College and Princeton University to teach entrepreneurs how to create a business plan.

The template has six sections: the executive summary, opportunity, execution, company, financial plan, and appendix. There is a step-by-step guide for writing every little detail in the business plan. Follow the instructions each step of the way and you will create a business plan that impresses investors or lenders easily.

3. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

HubSpot’s downloadable business plan template is a more comprehensive option compared to the one-page business template by HubSpot. This free and downloadable business plan template is designed for entrepreneurs.

The template is a comprehensive guide and checklist for business owners just starting their businesses. It tells you everything you need to fill in each section of the business plan and how to do it.

There are nine sections in this business plan template: an executive summary, company and business description, product and services line, market analysis, marketing plan, sales plan, legal notes, financial considerations, and appendix.

4. Business Plan by My Own Business Institute

The Business Profile

My Own Business Institute (MOBI) which is a part of Santa Clara University's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers a free business plan template. You can either copy the free business template from the link provided above or download it as a Word document.

The comprehensive template consists of a whopping 15 sections.

  • The Business Profile
  • The Vision and the People
  • Home-Based Business and Freelance Business Opportunities
  • Organization
  • Licenses and Permits
  • Business Insurance
  • Communication Tools
  • Acquisitions
  • Location and Leasing
  • Accounting and Cash Flow
  • Opening and Marketing
  • Managing Employees
  • Expanding and Handling Problems

There are lots of helpful tips on how to fill each section in the free business plan template by MOBI.

5. Score's Business Plan Template for Startups

Score's Business Plan Template for Startups

Score is an American nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs build successful companies. This business plan template for startups by Score is available for free download. The business plan template asks a whooping 150 generic questions that help entrepreneurs from different fields to set up the perfect business plan.

The business plan template for startups contains clear instructions and worksheets, all you have to do is answer the questions and fill the worksheets.

There are nine sections in the business plan template: executive summary, company description, products and services, marketing plan, operational plan, management and organization, startup expenses and capitalization, financial plan, and appendices.

The ‘refining the plan’ resource contains instructions that help you modify your business plan to suit your specific needs, industry, and target audience. After you have completed Score’s business plan template, you can work with a SCORE mentor for expert advice in business planning.

6. Minimalist Architecture Business Plan Template by Venngage

Minimalist Architecture Business Plan Template by Venngage

The minimalist architecture business plan template is a simple template by Venngage that you can customize to suit your business needs .

There are five sections in the template: an executive summary, statement of problem, approach and methodology, qualifications, and schedule and benchmark. The business plan template has instructions that guide users on what to fill in each section.

7. Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers two free business plan templates, filled with practical real-life examples that you can model to create your business plan. Both free business plan templates are written by fictional business owners: Rebecca who owns a consulting firm, and Andrew who owns a toy company.

There are five sections in the two SBA’s free business plan templates.

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Service Line
  • Marketing and Sales

8. The $100 Startup's One-Page Business Plan

The $100 Startup's One Page Business Plan

The one-page business plan by the $100 startup is a simple business plan template for entrepreneurs who do not want to create a long and complicated plan . You can include more details in the appendices for funders who want more information beyond what you can put in the one-page business plan.

There are five sections in the one-page business plan such as overview, ka-ching, hustling, success, and obstacles or challenges or open questions. You can answer all the questions using one or two sentences.

9. PandaDoc’s Free Business Plan Template

PandaDoc’s Free Business Plan Template

The free business plan template by PandaDoc is a comprehensive 15-page document that describes the information you should include in every section.

There are 11 sections in PandaDoc’s free business plan template.

  • Executive summary
  • Business description
  • Products and services
  • Operations plan
  • Management organization
  • Financial plan
  • Conclusion / Call to action
  • Confidentiality statement

You have to sign up for its 14-day free trial to access the template. You will find different business plan templates on PandaDoc once you sign up (including templates for general businesses and specific businesses such as bakeries, startups, restaurants, salons, hotels, and coffee shops)

PandaDoc allows you to customize its business plan templates to fit the needs of your business. After editing the template, you can send it to interested parties and track opens and views through PandaDoc.

10. Invoiceberry Templates for Word, Open Office, Excel, or PPT

Invoiceberry Templates Business Concept

InvoiceBerry is a U.K based online invoicing and tracking platform that offers free business plan templates in .docx, .odt, .xlsx, and .pptx formats for freelancers and small businesses.

Before you can download the free business plan template, it will ask you to give it your email address. After you complete the little task, it will send the download link to your inbox for you to download. It also provides a business plan checklist in .xlsx file format that ensures you add the right information to the business plan.

Alternatives to the Traditional Business Plan

A business plan is very important in mapping out how one expects their business to grow over a set number of years, particularly when they need external investment in their business. However, many investors do not have the time to watch you present your business plan. It is a long and boring read.

Luckily, there are three alternatives to the traditional business plan (the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, and Startup Pitch Deck). These alternatives are less laborious and easier and quicker to present to investors.

Business Model Canvas (BMC)

The business model canvas is a business tool used to present all the important components of setting up a business, such as customers, route to market, value proposition, and finance in a single sheet. It provides a very focused blueprint that defines your business initially which you can later expand on if needed.

Business Model Canvas (BMC) Infographic

The sheet is divided mainly into company, industry, and consumer models that are interconnected in how they find problems and proffer solutions.

Segments of the Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas was developed by founder Alexander Osterwalder to answer important business questions. It contains nine segments.

Segments of the Business Model Canvas

  • Key Partners: Who will be occupying important executive positions in your business? What do they bring to the table? Will there be a third party involved with the company?
  • Key Activities: What important activities will production entail? What activities will be carried out to ensure the smooth running of the company?
  • The Product’s Value Propositions: What does your product do? How will it be different from other products?
  • Customer Segments: What demography of consumers are you targeting? What are the habits of these consumers? Who are the MVPs of your target consumers?
  • Customer Relationships: How will the team support and work with its customer base? How do you intend to build and maintain trust with the customer?
  • Key Resources: What type of personnel and tools will be needed? What size of the budget will they need access to?
  • Channels: How do you plan to create awareness of your products? How do you intend to transport your product to the customer?
  • Cost Structure: What is the estimated cost of production? How much will distribution cost?
  • Revenue Streams: For what value are customers willing to pay? How do they prefer to pay for the product? Are there any external revenues attached apart from the main source? How do the revenue streams contribute to the overall revenue?

Lean Canvas

The lean canvas is a problem-oriented alternative to the standard business model canvas. It was proposed by Ash Maurya, creator of Lean Stack as a development of the business model generation. It uses a more problem-focused approach and it majorly targets entrepreneurs and startup businesses.

The lean canvas is a problem oriented alternative to the standard business model canvas

Lean Canvas uses the same 9 blocks concept as the business model canvas, however, they have been modified slightly to suit the needs and purpose of a small startup. The key partners, key activities, customer relationships, and key resources are replaced by new segments which are:

  • Problem: Simple and straightforward number of problems you have identified, ideally three.
  • Solution: The solutions to each problem.
  • Unfair Advantage: Something you possess that can't be easily bought or replicated.
  • Key Metrics: Important numbers that will tell how your business is doing.

Startup Pitch Deck

While the business model canvas compresses into a factual sheet, startup pitch decks expand flamboyantly.

Pitch decks, through slides, convey your business plan, often through graphs and images used to emphasize estimations and observations in your presentation. Entrepreneurs often use pitch decks to fully convince their target audience of their plans before discussing funding arrangements.

Startup Pitch Deck Presentation

Considering the likelihood of it being used in a small time frame, a good startup pitch deck should ideally contain 20 slides or less to have enough time to answer questions from the audience.

Unlike the standard and lean business model canvases, a pitch deck doesn't have a set template on how to present your business plan but there are still important components to it. These components often mirror those of the business model canvas except that they are in slide form and contain more details.

Airbnb Pitch Deck

Using Airbnb (one of the most successful start-ups in recent history) for reference, the important components of a good slide are listed below.

  • Cover/Introduction Slide: Here, you should include your company's name and mission statement. Your mission statement should be a very catchy tagline. Also, include personal information and contact details to provide an easy link for potential investors.
  • Problem Slide: This slide requires you to create a connection with the audience or the investor that you are pitching. For example in their pitch, Airbnb summarized the most important problems it would solve in three brief points – pricing of hotels, disconnection from city culture, and connection problems for local bookings.
  • Solution Slide: This slide includes your core value proposition. List simple and direct solutions to the problems you have mentioned
  • Customer Analysis: Here you will provide information on the customers you will be offering your service to. The identity of your customers plays an important part in fundraising as well as the long-run viability of the business.
  • Market Validation: Use competitive analysis to show numbers that prove the presence of a market for your product, industry behavior in the present and the long run, as well as the percentage of the market you aim to attract. It shows that you understand your competitors and customers and convinces investors of the opportunities presented in the market.
  • Business Model: Your business model is the hook of your presentation. It may vary in complexity but it should generally include a pricing system informed by your market analysis. The goal of the slide is to confirm your business model is easy to implement.
  • Marketing Strategy: This slide should summarize a few customer acquisition methods that you plan to use to grow the business.
  • Competitive Advantage: What this slide will do is provide information on what will set you apart and make you a more attractive option to customers. It could be the possession of technology that is not widely known in the market.
  • Team Slide: Here you will give a brief description of your team. Include your key management personnel here and their specific roles in the company. Include their educational background, job history, and skillsets. Also, talk about their accomplishments in their careers so far to build investors' confidence in members of your team.
  • Traction Slide: This validates the company’s business model by showing growth through early sales and support. The slide aims to reduce any lingering fears in potential investors by showing realistic periodic milestones and profit margins. It can include current sales, growth, valuable customers, pre-orders, or data from surveys outlining current consumer interest.
  • Funding Slide: This slide is popularly referred to as ‘the ask'. Here you will include important details like how much is needed to get your business off the ground and how the funding will be spent to help the company reach its goals.
  • Appendix Slides: Your pitch deck appendix should always be included alongside a standard pitch presentation. It consists of additional slides you could not show in the pitch deck but you need to complement your presentation.

It is important to support your calculations with pictorial renditions. Infographics, such as pie charts or bar graphs, will be more effective in presenting the information than just listing numbers. For example, a six-month graph that shows rising profit margins will easily look more impressive than merely writing it.

Lastly, since a pitch deck is primarily used to secure meetings and you may be sharing your pitch with several investors, it is advisable to keep a separate public version that doesn't include financials. Only disclose the one with projections once you have secured a link with an investor.

Advantages of the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, and Startup Pitch Deck over the Traditional Business Plan

  • Time-Saving: Writing a detailed traditional business plan could take weeks or months. On the other hand, all three alternatives can be done in a few days or even one night of brainstorming if you have a comprehensive understanding of your business.
  • Easier to Understand: Since the information presented is almost entirely factual, it puts focus on what is most important in running the business. They cut away the excess pages of fillers in a traditional business plan and allow investors to see what is driving the business and what is getting in the way.
  • Easy to Update: Businesses typically present their business plans to many potential investors before they secure funding. What this means is that you may regularly have to amend your presentation to update statistics or adjust to audience-specific needs. For a traditional business plan, this could mean rewriting a whole section of your plan. For the three alternatives, updating is much easier because they are not voluminous.
  • Guide for a More In-depth Business Plan: All three alternatives have the added benefit of being able to double as a sketch of your business plan if the need to create one arises in the future.

Business Plan FAQ

Business plans are important for any entrepreneur who is looking for a framework to run their company over some time or seeking external support. Although they are essential for new businesses, every company should ideally have a business plan to track their growth from time to time.  They can be used by startups seeking investments or loans to convey their business ideas or an employee to convince his boss of the feasibility of starting a new project. They can also be used by companies seeking to recruit high-profile employee targets into key positions or trying to secure partnerships with other firms.

Business plans often vary depending on your target audience, the scope, and the goals for the plan. Startup plans are the most common among the different types of business plans.  A start-up plan is used by a new business to present all the necessary information to help get the business up and running. They are usually used by entrepreneurs who are seeking funding from investors or bank loans. The established company alternative to a start-up plan is a feasibility plan. A feasibility plan is often used by an established company looking for new business opportunities. They are used to show the upsides of creating a new product for a consumer base. Because the audience is usually company people, it requires less company analysis. The third type of business plan is the lean business plan. A lean business plan is a brief, straight-to-the-point breakdown of your ideas and analysis for your business. It does not contain details of your proposal and can be written on one page. Finally, you have the what-if plan. As it implies, a what-if plan is a preparation for the worst-case scenario. You must always be prepared for the possibility of your original plan being rejected. A good what-if plan will serve as a good plan B to the original.

A good business plan has 10 key components. They include an executive plan, product analysis, desired customer base, company analysis, industry analysis, marketing strategy, sales strategy, financial projection, funding, and appendix. Executive Plan Your business should begin with your executive plan. An executive plan will provide early insight into what you are planning to achieve with your business. It should include your mission statement and highlight some of the important points which you will explain later. Product Analysis The next component of your business plan is your product analysis. A key part of this section is explaining the type of item or service you are going to offer as well as the market problems your product will solve. Desired Consumer Base Your product analysis should be supplemented with a detailed breakdown of your desired consumer base. Investors are always interested in knowing the economic power of your market as well as potential MVP customers. Company Analysis The next component of your business plan is your company analysis. Here, you explain how you want to run your business. It will include your operational strategy, an insight into the workforce needed to keep the company running, and important executive positions. It will also provide a calculation of expected operational costs.  Industry Analysis A good business plan should also contain well laid out industry analysis. It is important to convince potential investors you know the companies you will be competing with, as well as your plans to gain an edge on the competition. Marketing Strategy Your business plan should also include your marketing strategy. This is how you intend to spread awareness of your product. It should include a detailed explanation of the company brand as well as your advertising methods. Sales Strategy Your sales strategy comes after the market strategy. Here you give an overview of your company's pricing strategy and how you aim to maximize profits. You can also explain how your prices will adapt to market behaviors. Financial Projection The financial projection is the next component of your business plan. It explains your company's expected running cost and revenue earned during the tenure of the business plan. Financial projection gives a clear idea of how your company will develop in the future. Funding The next component of your business plan is funding. You have to detail how much external investment you need to get your business idea off the ground here. Appendix The last component of your plan is the appendix. This is where you put licenses, graphs, or key information that does not fit in any of the other components.

The business model canvas is a business management tool used to quickly define your business idea and model. It is often used when investors need you to pitch your business idea during a brief window.

A pitch deck is similar to a business model canvas except that it makes use of slides in its presentation. A pitch is not primarily used to secure funding, rather its main purpose is to entice potential investors by selling a very optimistic outlook on the business.

Business plan competitions help you evaluate the strength of your business plan. By participating in business plan competitions, you are improving your experience. The experience provides you with a degree of validation while practicing important skills. The main motivation for entering into the competitions is often to secure funding by finishing in podium positions. There is also the chance that you may catch the eye of a casual observer outside of the competition. These competitions also provide good networking opportunities. You could meet mentors who will take a keen interest in guiding you in your business journey. You also have the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs whose ideas can complement yours.

Exlore Further

  • 12 Key Elements of a Business Plan (Top Components Explained)
  • 13 Sources of Business Finance For Companies & Sole Traders
  • 5 Common Types of Business Structures (+ Pros & Cons)
  • How to Buy a Business in 8 Steps (+ Due Diligence Checklist)

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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step

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what is the first step in business planning

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What is a business plan?

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. summarize how your company operates, 10. add any additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.

A business plan outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them over the next three to five years. Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan that will offer a strong, detailed road map for your business.

ZenBusiness

ZenBusiness

A business plan is a document that explains what your business does, how it makes money and who its customers are. Internally, writing a business plan should help you clarify your vision and organize your operations. Externally, you can share it with potential lenders and investors to show them you’re on the right track.

Business plans are living documents; it’s OK for them to change over time. Startups may update their business plans often as they figure out who their customers are and what products and services fit them best. Mature companies might only revisit their business plan every few years. Regardless of your business’s age, brush up this document before you apply for a business loan .

» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .

This is your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services your business offers 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. This should contain basic 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, write a little about 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

what is the first step in business planning

The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the coming years.

If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain how the financing will help your business grow and how you plan to achieve those growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity your business presents to the lender.

For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch that new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.

» MORE: How to write a successful business plan for a loan

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.

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.

Include details about your sales and distribution strategies, including the costs involved in selling each product .

» 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.

Accounting software may be able to generate these reports for you. It may also help you calculate 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.

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.

NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:

The best business checking accounts .

The best business credit cards .

The best accounting software .

Before the end of your business plan, summarize how your business is structured and outline each team’s responsibilities. This will help your readers understand who performs each of the functions you’ve described above — making and selling your products or services — and how much each of those functions cost.

If any of your employees have exceptional skills, you may want to include their resumes to help explain the competitive advantage they give you.

Finally, attach any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere. That might include:

Licenses and permits.

Equipment leases.

Bank statements.

Details of your personal and business credit history, if you’re seeking financing.

If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.

How much do you need?

with Fundera by NerdWallet

We’ll start with a brief questionnaire to better understand the unique needs of your business.

Once we uncover your personalized matches, our team will consult you on the process moving forward.

Here are some tips to write a detailed, convincing business plan:

Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business bank loan or professional investment, someone will be reading your business plan closely. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of approval.

Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors. 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. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.

On a similar note...

Find small-business financing

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What should i include in my business plan.

You must have an executive summary, product/service description, market and competitive analysis, marketing and sales plan, operations overview, milestones, company overview, financial plan, and appendix.

Why should I write a business plan?

Businesses that write a business plan typically grow 30% faster because it helps them minimize risk, establish important milestones, track progress, and make more confident decisions.

What are the qualities of a good business plan?

A good business plan uses clear language, shows realistic goals, fits the needs of your business, and highlights any assumptions you’re making.

How long should my business plan be?

There is no target length for a business plan. It should be as long as you need it to be. A good rule of thumb is to go as short as possible, without missing any crucial information. You can always expand your business plan later.

How do I write a simple business plan?

Use a one-page business plan format to create a simple business plan. It includes all of the critical sections of a traditional business plan but can be completed in as little as 30 minutes.

What should I do before writing a business plan?

If you do anything before writing—figure out why you’re writing a business plan. You’ll save time and create a far more useful plan.

What is the first step in writing a business plan?

The first thing you’ll do when writing a business plan is describe the problem you’re solving and what your solution is.

What is the biggest mistake I can make when writing a business plan?

The worst thing you can do is not plan at all. You’ll miss potential issues and opportunities and struggle to make strategic decisions.

Business planning guides

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Business planning FAQ

What is business planning?

Business planning is the act of sitting down to establish goals, strategies, and actions you intend to take to successfully start, manage, and grow a business.

What are the 7 steps of a business plan?

The seven steps to write a business plan include:

  • Craft a brief executive summary
  • Describe your products and services
  • Conduct market research and compile data into a market analysis
  • Describe your marketing and sales strategy
  • Outline your organizational structure and management team
  • Develop financial projections for sales, revenue, and cash flow
  • Add additional documents to your appendix

What should a business plan include?

A traditional business plan should include:

  • An executive summary
  • Description of your products and services
  • Market analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Marketing and sales plan
  • Overview of business operations
  • Milestones and metrics
  • Description of your organization and management team
  • Financial plan and forecasts

Do you really need a business plan?

You are more likely to start and grow into a successful business if you write a business plan.

A business plan helps you understand where you want to go with your business and what it will take to get there. It reduces your overall risk, helps you uncover your business’s potential, attracts investors, and identifies areas for growth.

Having a business plan ultimately makes you more confident as a business owner and more likely to succeed for a longer period of time.

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How to Prepare and Write the Perfect Business Plan for Your Company Here's how to write a business plan that will formalize your company's goals and optimize your organization.

By Matthew McCreary May 5, 2021

Are you preparing to start your own business but uncertain about how to get started? A business plan ought to be one of the first steps in your entrepreneurial journey because it will organize the ideas that have been spinning around in your brain and prepare you to seek funding, partners and more.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a detailed document that outlines a company's goals and how the business, well, plans to achieve those goals over the next three or more years. It helps define expected profits and challenges, providing a road map that will help you avoid bumps in the road.

Stever Robbins writes in an Entrepreneur article titled, "Why You Must Have a Business Plan," that a business plan "is a tool for understanding how your business is put together…. Writing out your business plan forces you to review everything at once: your value proposition, marketing assumptions, operations plan, financial plan and staffing plan." But, a business plan is about more than just reviewing the past state of your business or even what your business looks like today.

Robbins writes that a well-written business plan will help you drive the future by "laying out targets in all major areas: sales, expense items, hiring positions and financing goals. Once laid out, the targets become performance goals."

The business plan can help your company attract talent and funding, because when prospects ask about your business, you already have an articulated overview to offer them. How they react can allow you to quickly understand how others see your business and pivot if necessary.

What should you do before you write your business plan?

It might sound redundant, but you actually need to plan your business plan. Business plans can be complicated, and you'll be held accountable for the goals you set. For example, if you plan to open five locations of your business within the first two years, your investors might get angry if you only manage to open two.

That's why it's essential that, before writing your business plan, you spend some time determining exactly which objectives are essential to your business. If you're struggling to come up with a list of goals on your own, Entrepreneur article "Plan Your Business Plan" offers some questions you can ask yourself to spark some inspiration.

How determined am I to see this venture succeed?

Am I willing to invest my own money and work long hours for no pay, sacrificing personal time and lifestyle, maybe for years?

What's going to happen to me if this venture doesn't work out?

If it does succeed, how many employees will this company eventually have?

What will be the business's annual revenue in a year? What about in five years?

What will be the company's market share in that amount of time?

Will the business have a niche market, or will it sell a broad spectrum of goods and services?

What are my plans for geographic expansion? Should it be local or national? Can it be global?

Am I going to be a hands-on manager, or will I delegate a large proportion of tasks to others?

If I delegate, what sorts of tasks will I share? Will it be sales, technical work or something else?

How comfortable am I taking direction from others? Can I work with partners or investors who demand input into the company's management?

Is the business going to remain independent and privately owned, or will it eventually be acquired or go public?

It's also essential to consider your financial goals. Your business might not require a massive financial commitment upfront, but it probably will if you're envisioning rapid growth. Unless you're making your product or service from scratch, you'll have to pay your suppliers before your customers can pay you, and as "Plan Your Business Plan" points out, "this cash flow conundrum is the reason so many fast-growing companies have to seek bank financing or equity sales to finance their growth. They are literally growing faster than they can afford."

How much financing will you need to start your business? What will you be willing to accept? If you're desperate for that first influx of cash, you might be tempted to accept any offer, but doing so might force you to either surrender too much control or ask investors for a number that's not quite right for either side.

These eight questions can help you determine a few financial aspects of your planning stages:

What initial investment will the business require?

How much control of the business are you willing to relinquish to investors?

When will the business turn a profit?

When can investors, including you, expect a return on investment?

What are the business's projected profits over time?

Will you be able to devote yourself full-time to the business?

What kind of salary or profit distribution can you expect to take home?

What are the chances the business will fail, and what will happen if it does?

You should also consider who, primarily, is going to be reading your business plan, and how you plan to use it. Is it a means of raising money or attracting employees? Will suppliers see it?

Lastly, you need to assess the likelihood of whether you actually have the time and resources to see your plan through. It might hurt to realize the assumptions you've made so far don't actually make a successful business, but it's best to know early on, before you make further commitments.

Related: Need a Business Plan Template? Here Is Apple's 1981 Plan for the Mac.

How to Write a Business Plan

Once you've worked out all the questions above and you know exactly what goals you have for your business plan, the next step is to actually write the darn thing. A typical business plan runs 15 to 20 pages but can be longer or shorter, depending on the complexity of the business and the needs of your venture. Regardless of whether you intend to use the business plan for self-evaluation or to seek a seven-figure investment, it should include nine key components, many of which are outlined in Entrepreneur 's introduction to business plans:

1. Title page and contents

Presentation is important, and a business plan should be presented in a binder with a cover that lists the business's name, the principals' names and other relevant information like a working address, phone number, email and web address and date. Write the information in a font that's easy to read and include it on the title page inside, too. Add in the company logo and a table of contents that follows the executive summary.

2. Executive summary

Think of the executive summary as the SparkNotes version of your business plan . It should tell the reader in as few words as possible what your business wants and why. The executive summary should address these nine things:

The business idea and why it is necessary. (What problem does it solve?)

How much will it cost, and how much financing are you seeking?

What will the return be to the investor? Over what length of time?

What is the perceived risk level?

Where does your idea fit into the marketplace?

What is the management team?

What are the product and competitive strategies?

What is your marketing plan?

What is your exit strategy?

When writing the executive summary, remember that it should be somewhere between one-half page to a full page. Anything longer, and you risk losing your reader's attention before they can dig into your business plan. Try to answer each of the questions above in two or three sentences, and you'll wind up with an executive summary that's about the right length.

Related: First Steps: Writing the Executive Summary of Your Business Plan

3. Business description

You can fill anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages when writing your business description, but try again to keep it short, with the understanding that more sections will follow. The business description typically starts with a short explanation of your chosen industry, including its present outlook and future possibilities. Use data and sources (with proper footnotes) to explain the markets the industry offers, along with the developments that will affect your business. That way, everyone who reads the business description, particularly investors, will see that they can trust the various information contained within your business plan.

When you pivot to speaking of your business, start with its structure. How does your business work? Is it retail, service-oriented or wholesale? Is the business new or established? Is the company a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation? Who are the principals and who are your customers? What do the distribution channels look like, and how can you support sales?

Next, break down your business's offerings. Are you selling a physical product, SaaS or a service? Explain it in a way that a reader knows what you're planning to sell and how it differentiates itself from the competition (investors call this a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP, and it's important that you find yours). Whether it's a trade secret or a patent, you should be specific about your competitive advantage and why your business is going to be profitable. If you plan to use your business plan for fundraising, you can use the business description section to explain why new investments will help make the business even more profitable.

This, like everything else, can be brief, but you can tell the reader about your business's efficiency or workflow. You can write about other key people within the business or cite industry experts' support of your idea, as well as your base of operations and reasons for starting in the first place.

4. Market strategies

Paint a picture about your market by remembering the four Ps: product, price, place and promotion.

Start this section by defining the market's size, structure and sales potential. What are the market's growth prospects? What do the demographics and trends look like right now?

Next, outline the frequency at which your product or service will be purchased by the target market and the potential annual purchase. What market share can you possibly expect to win? Try to be realistic here, and keep in mind that even a number like 25% might be a dominant share.

Next, break down your business's plan for positioning, which relates to the market niche your product or service can fill. Who is your target market, how will you reach them and what are they buying from you? Who are your competitors, and what is your USP?

The positioning statement within your business plan should be short and to the point, but make sure you answer each of those questions before you move on to, perhaps, the most difficult and important aspect of your market strategy: pricing.

In fact, settling on a price for your product or service is one of the most important decisions you have to make in the entire business plan. Pricing will directly determine essential aspects of your business, like profit margin and sales volume. It will influence all sorts of areas, too, from marketing to target consumer.

There are two primary ways to determine your price: The first is to look inward, adding up the costs of offering your product or service, and then adding in a profit margin to find your number. The second is called competitive pricing, and it involves research into how your competitors will either price their products or services now or in the future. The difficult aspect of this second pricing method is that it often sets a ceiling on pricing, which, in turn, could force you to adjust your costs.

Then, pivot the market strategies section toward your distribution process and how it relates to your competitors' channels. How, exactly, are you going to get your offerings from one place to the next? Walk the reader step by step through your process. Do you want to use the same strategy or something else that might give you an advantage?

Last, explain your promotion strategy. How are you going to communicate with your potential customers? This part should talk about not only marketing or advertising, but also packaging, public relations and sales promotions.

Related: Creating a Winning Startup Business Plan

5. Competitive analysis

The next section in your business plan should be the competitive analysis, which helps explain the differences between you and your competitors … and how you can keep it that way. If you can start with an honest evaluation of your competitors' strengths and weaknesses within the marketplace, you can also provide the reader with clear analysis about your advantage and the barriers that either already exist or can be developed to keep your business ahead of the pack. Are there weaknesses within the marketplace, and if so, how can you exploit them?

Remember to consider both your direct competition and your indirect competition, with both a short-term and long-term view.

6. Design and development plan

If you plan to sell a product, it's smart to add a design and development section to your business plan. This part should help your readers understand the background of that product. How have the production, marketing and company developed over time? What is your developmental budget?

For the sake of organization, consider these three aspects of the design and development plan:

Product development

Market development

Organizational development

Start by establishing your development goals, which should logically follow your evaluation of the market and your competition. Make these goals feasible and quantifiable, and be sure to establish timelines that allow your readers to see your vision. The goals should address both technical and marketing aspects.

Once the reader has a clear idea of your development goals, explain the procedures you'll develop to reach them. How will you allocate your resources, and who is in charge of accomplishing each goal?

The Entrepreneur guide to design and development plans offers this example on the steps of producing a recipe for a premium lager beer:

Gather ingredients.

Determine optimum malting process.

Gauge mashing temperature.

Boil wort and evaluate which hops provide the best flavor.

Determine yeast amounts and fermentation period.

Determine aging period.

Carbonate the beer.

Decide whether or not to pasteurize the beer.

Make sure to also talk about scheduling. What checkpoints will the product need to pass to reach a customer? Establish timeframes for each step of the process. Create a chart with a column for each task, how long that task will take and when the task will start and end.

Next, consider the costs of developing your product, breaking down the costs of these aspects:

General and administrative (G&A) costs

Marketing and sales

Professional services, like lawyers or accountants

Miscellaneous costs

Necessary equipment

The next section should be about the personnel you either have or plan to hire for that development. If you already have the right person in place, this part should be easy. If not, then this part of the business plan can help you create a detailed description of exactly what you need. This process can also help you formalize the hierarchy of your team's positions so that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.

Finish the development and design section of your business plan by addressing the risks in developing the product and how you're going to address those risks. Could there be technical difficulties? Are you having trouble finding the right person to lead the development? Does your financial situation limit your ability to develop the product? Being honest about your problems and solutions can help answer some of your readers' questions before they ask them.

Related: The Essential Guide to Writing a Business Plan

7. Operations and management plan

Want to learn everything you'll ever need to know about the operations and management section of your business plan, and read a real, actual web article from 1997? Check out our guide titled, "Writing A Business Plan: Operations And Management."

Here, we'll more briefly summarize the two areas that need to be covered within your operations and management plan: the organizational structure is first, and the capital requirement for the operation are second.

The organizational structure detailed within your business plan will establish the basis for your operating expenses, which will provide essential information for the next part of the business plan: your financial statements. Investors will look closely at the financial statements, so it's important to start with a solid foundation and a realistic framework. You can start by dividing your organizational structure into these four sections:

Marketing and sales (including customer relations and service)

Production (including quality assurance)

Research and development

Administration

After you've broken down the organization's operations within your business plan, you can look at the expenses, or overhead. Divide them into fixed expenses, which typically remain constant, and variable, which will change according to the volume of business. Here are some of the examples of overhead expenses:

Maintenance and repair

Equipment leases

Advertising and promotion

Packaging and shipping

Payroll taxes and benefits

Uncollectible receivables

Professional services

Loan payments

Depreciation

Having difficulty calculating what some of those expenses might be for your business? Try using the simple formulas in "Writing A Business Plan: Operations And Management."

8. Financial factors

The last piece of the business plan that you definitely need to have covers the business's finances. Specifically, three financial statements will form the backbone of your business plan: the income statement, the cash-flow statement and balance sheet . Let's go through them one by one.

The income statement explains how the business can make money in a simple way. It draws on financial models already developed and discussed throughout the business plan (revenue, expenses, capital and cost of goods) and combines those numbers with when sales are made and when expenses are incurred. When the reader finishes going through your income statement, they should understand how much money your company makes or loses by subtracting your costs from your revenue, showing either a loss or a profit. If you like, you or a CPA can add a very short analysis at the end to emphasize some important aspects of the statement.

Second is the cash-flow statement, which explains how much cash your business needs to meet its obligations, as well as when you're going to need it and how you're going to get it. This section shows a profit or loss at the end of each month or year that rolls over to the next time period, which can create a cycle. If your business plan shows that you're consistently operating at a loss that gets bigger as time goes on, this can be a major red flag for both you and potential investors. This part of the business plan should be prepared monthly during your first year in business, quarterly in your second year and annually after that.

Our guide on cash-flow statements includes 17 items you'll need to add to your cash-flow statement.

Cash. Cash on hand in the business.

Cash sales . Income from sales paid for by cash.

Receivables. Income from collecting money owed to the business due to sales.

Other income. The liquidation of assets, interest on extended loans or income from investments are examples.

Total income. The sum of the four items above (total cash, cash sales, receivables, other income).

Material/merchandise . This will depend on the structure of your business. If you're manufacturing, this will include your raw materials. If you're in retail, count your inventory of merchandise. If you offer a service, consider which supplies are necessary.

Direct labor . What sort of labor do you need to make your product or complete your service?

Overhead . This includes both the variable expenses and fixed expenses for business operations.

Marketing/sales . All salaries, commissions and other direct costs associated with the marketing and sales departments.

Research and development . Specifically, the labor expenses required for research and development.

General and administrative expenses. Like the research and development costs, this centers on the labor for G&A functions of the business.

Taxes . This excludes payroll taxes but includes everything else.

Capital. Required capital for necessary equipment.

Loan payments. The total of all payments made to reduce any long-term debts.

Total expenses. The sum of items six through 14 (material/merchandise, direct labor, overhead, marketing/sales, research and development, general and administrative expenses, taxes, capital and loan payments).

Cash flow. Subtract total expenses from total income. This is how much cash will roll over to the next period.

Cumulative cash flow . Subtract the previous period's cash flow from your current cash flow.

Just like with the income statement, it's a good idea to briefly summarize the figures at the end. Again, consulting with a CPA is probably a good idea.

The last financial statement is the balance sheet. A balance sheet is, as our encyclopedia says, "a financial statement that lists the assets, liabilities and equity of a company at a specific point in time and is used to calculate the net worth of a business." If you've already started the business, use the balance sheet from your last reporting period. If the business plan you wrote is for a business you hope to start, do your best to project your assets and liabilities over time. If you want to earn investors, you'll also need to include a personal financial statement. Then, as with the other two sections, add a short analysis that hits the main points.

9. Supporting documents

If you have other documents that your readers need to see, like important contracts, letters of reference, a copy of your lease or legal documents, you should add them in this section.

Related: 7 Steps to a Perfectly Written Business Plan

What do I do with my business plan after I've written it?

The simplest reason to create a business plan is to help people unfamiliar with your business understand it quickly. While the most obvious use for a document like this is for financing purposes, a business plan can also help you attract talented employees — and, if you share the business plan internally, help your existing employees understand their roles.

But it's also important to do for your own edification, too. It's like the old saying goes, "The best way to learn something is to teach it." Writing down your plans, your goals and the state of your finances helps clarify the thoughts in your own mind. From there, you can more easily lead your business because you'll know whether the business is reaching the checkpoints you set out to begin with. You'll be able to foresee difficulties before they pop up and be able to pivot quickly.

That's why you should continue to update your business plan when the conditions change, either within your business (you might be entering a new period or undergoing a change in management) or within your market (like a new competitor popping up). The key is to keep your business plan ready so that you don't have to get it ready when opportunity strikes.

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what is the first step in business planning

The 7 Steps of the Business Planning Process: A Complete Guide

what is the first step in business planning

In this article, we'll provide a comprehensive guide to the seven steps of the business planning process, and discuss the role of Strikingly website builder in creating a professional business plan.

Step 1: Conducting a SWOT Analysis

The first step in the business planning process is to conduct a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This analysis will help you understand your business's internal and external environment, and it can help you identify areas of improvement and growth.

Strengths and weaknesses refer to internal factors such as the company's resources, capabilities, and culture. Opportunities and threats are external factors such as market trends, competition, and regulations.

You can conduct a SWOT analysis by gathering information from various sources such as market research, financial statements, and feedback from customers and employees. You can also use tools such as a SWOT matrix to visualize your analysis.

What is a SWOT Analysis?

A SWOT analysis is a framework for analyzing a business's internal and external environment. The acronym SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

Strengths and weaknesses include internal factors such as the company's resources, capabilities, and culture. Opportunities and threats are external factors such as market trends, competition, and regulations.

A SWOT analysis can help businesses identify areas of improvement and growth, assess their competitive position, and make informed decisions. It can be used for various purposes, such as business planning, product development, marketing strategy, and risk management.

Importance of Conducting a SWOT Analysis

Conducting a SWOT analysis is crucial for businesses to develop a clear understanding of their internal and external environment. It can help businesses identify their strengths and weaknesses and uncover new opportunities and potential threats. By doing so, businesses can make informed decisions about their strategies, resource allocation, and risk management.

A SWOT analysis can also help businesses identify their competitive position in the market and compare themselves to their competitors. This can help businesses differentiate themselves from their competitors and develop a unique value proposition.

Example of a SWOT Analysis

Here is an example of a SWOT analysis for a fictional business that sells handmade jewelry:

  • Unique and high-quality products
  • Skilled and experienced craftsmen
  • Strong brand reputation and customer loyalty
  • Strategic partnerships with local boutiques
  • Limited production capacity
  • High production costs
  • Limited online presence
  • Limited product variety

Opportunities

  • Growing demand for handmade products
  • Growing interest in sustainable and eco-friendly products
  • Opportunities to expand online presence and reach new customers
  • Opportunities to expand product lines
  • Increasing competition from online and brick-and-mortar retailers
  • Fluctuating consumer trends and preferences
  • Economic downturns and uncertainty
  • Increased regulations and compliance requirements

This SWOT analysis can help the business identify areas for improvement and growth. For example, the business can invest in expanding its online presence, improving its production efficiency, and diversifying its product lines. The business can also leverage its strengths, such as its skilled craftsmen and strategic partnerships, to differentiate itself from its competitors and attract more customers.

Step 2: Defining Your Business Objectives

Once you have conducted a SWOT analysis, the next step is to define your business objectives. Business objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that align with your business's mission and vision.

Your business objectives can vary depending on your industry, target audience, and resources. Examples of business objectives include increasing sales revenue, expanding into new markets, improving customer satisfaction, and reducing costs.

You can use tools such as a goal-setting worksheet or a strategic planning framework to define your business objectives. You can also seek input from your employees and stakeholders to ensure your objectives are realistic and achievable.

what is the first step in business planning

What is Market Research?

Market research is an integral part of the business planning process. It gathers information about a target market or industry to make informed decisions. It involves collecting and analyzing data on consumer behavior, preferences, and buying habits, as well as competitors, industry trends, and market conditions.

Market research can help businesses identify potential customers, understand their needs and preferences, and develop effective marketing strategies. It can also help businesses identify market opportunities, assess their competitive position, and make informed product development, pricing, and distribution decisions.

Importance of Market Research in Business Planning

Market research is a crucial component of the business planning process. It can help businesses identify market trends and opportunities, assess their competitive position, and make informed decisions about their marketing strategies, product development, and business operations.

By conducting market research, businesses can gain insights into their target audience's behavior and preferences, such as their purchasing habits, brand loyalty, and decision-making process. This can help businesses develop targeted marketing campaigns and create products that meet their customers' needs.

Market research can also help businesses assess their competitive position and identify gaps in the market. Businesses can differentiate themselves by analyzing their competitors' strengths and weaknesses and developing a unique value proposition.

Different Types of Market Research Methods

Businesses can use various types of market research methods, depending on their research objectives, budget, and time frame. Here are some of the most common market research methods:

Surveys are a common market research method that involves asking questions to a sample of people about their preferences, opinions, and behaviors. Surveys can be conducted through various channels like online, phone, or in-person surveys.

  • Focus Groups

Focus groups are a qualitative market research method involving a small group to discuss a specific topic or product. Focus groups can provide in-depth insights into customers' attitudes and perceptions and can help businesses understand the reasoning behind their preferences and behaviors.

Interviews are a qualitative market research method that involves one-on-one conversations between a researcher and a participant. Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing and can provide detailed insights into a participant's experiences, perceptions, and preferences.

  • Observation

Observation is a market research method that involves observing customers' behavior and interactions in a natural setting such as a store or a website. Observation can provide insights into customers' decision-making processes and behavior that may not be captured through surveys or interviews.

  • Secondary Research

Secondary research involves collecting data from existing sources, like industry reports, government publications, or academic journals. Secondary research can provide a broad overview of the market and industry trends and help businesses identify potential opportunities and threats.

By combining these market research methods, businesses can comprehensively understand their target market and industry and make informed decisions about their business strategy.

Step 3: Conducting Market Research

Market research should always be a part of your strategic business planning. This step gathers information about your target audience, competitors, and industry trends. This information can help you make informed decisions about your product or service offerings, pricing strategy, and marketing campaigns.

what is the first step in business planning

There are various market research methods, such as surveys, focus groups, and online analytics. You can also use tools like Google Trends and social media analytics to gather data about your audience's behavior and preferences.

Market research can be time-consuming and costly, but it's crucial for making informed decisions that can impact your business's success. Strikingly website builder offers built-in analytics and SEO optimization features that can help you track your website traffic and audience engagement.

Step 4: Identifying Your Target Audience

Identifying your target audience is essential in the business planning process. Your target audience is the group of people who are most likely to buy your product or service. Understanding their needs, preferences, and behaviors can help you create effective marketing campaigns and improve customer satisfaction.

You can identify your target audience by analyzing demographic, psychographic, and behavioral data. Demographic data include age, gender, income, and education level. Psychographic data includes personality traits, values, and lifestyle. Behavioral data includes buying patterns, brand loyalty, and online engagement.

Once you have identified your target audience, you can use tools such as buyer personas and customer journey maps to create a personalized and engaging customer experience. Strikingly website builder offers customizable templates and designs to help you create a visually appealing and user-friendly website for your target audience.

What is a Target Audience?

A target audience is a group most likely to be interested in and purchase a company's products or services. A target audience can be defined based on various factors such as age, gender, location, income, education, interests, and behavior.

Identifying and understanding your target audience is crucial for developing effective marketing strategies and improving customer engagement and satisfaction. By understanding your target audience's needs, preferences, and behavior, you can create products and services that meet their needs and develop targeted marketing campaigns that resonate with them.

Importance of Identifying Your Target Audience

Identifying your target audience is essential for the success of your business. By understanding your target audience's needs and preferences, you can create products and services that meet their needs and develop targeted marketing campaigns that resonate with them.

Here are reasons why identifying your target audience is important:

  • Improve customer engagement. When you understand your target audience's behavior and preferences, you can create a more personalized and engaging customer experience to improve customer loyalty and satisfaction.
  • Develop effective marketing strategies. Targeting your marketing efforts to your target audience creates more effective and efficient marketing campaigns that can increase brand awareness, generate leads, and drive sales.
  • Improve product development. By understanding your target audience's needs and preferences, you can develop products and services that meet their specific needs and preferences, improving customer satisfaction and retention.
  • Identify market opportunities. If you identify gaps in the market or untapped market segments, you can develop products and services to meet unmet needs and gain a competitive advantage.

Examples of Target Audience Segmentation

Here are some examples of target audience segmentation based on different demographic, geographic, and psychographic factors:

  • Demographic segmentation. Age, gender, income, education, occupation, and marital status.
  • Geographic segmentation. Location, region, climate, and population density.
  • Psychographic segmentation. Personality traits, values, interests, and lifestyle.

Step 5: Developing a Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is a strategic roadmap that outlines your marketing objectives, strategies, tactics, and budget. Your marketing plan should align with your business objectives and target audience and include a mix of online and offline marketing channels.

Marketing strategies include content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and paid advertising. Your marketing tactics can include creating blog posts, sharing social media posts, sending newsletters, optimizing your website for search engines, and running Google Ads or Facebook Ads.

To create an effective marketing plan , research your competitors, understand your target audience's behavior, and set clear objectives and metrics. You can also seek customer and employee feedback to refine your marketing strategy.

Strikingly website builder offers a variety of marketing features such as email marketing, social media integration, and SEO optimization tools. You can also use the built-in analytics dashboard to track your website's performance and monitor your marketing campaign's effectiveness.

What is a Marketing Plan?

A marketing plan is a comprehensive document that outlines a company's marketing strategy and tactics. It typically includes an analysis of the target market, a description of the product or service, an assessment of the competition, and a detailed plan for achieving marketing objectives.

A marketing plan can help businesses identify and prioritize marketing opportunities, allocate resources effectively, and measure the success of their marketing efforts. It can also provide the marketing team with a roadmap and ensure everyone is aligned with the company's marketing goals and objectives.

Importance of a Marketing Plan in Business Planning

A marketing plan is critical to business planning. It can help businesses identify their target audience, assess their competitive position, and develop effective marketing strategies and tactics.

Here are a few reasons why a marketing plan is important in business planning:

  • Provides a clear direction. A marketing plan can provide a clear direction for the marketing team and ensure everyone is aligned with the company's marketing goals and objectives.
  • Helps prioritize marketing opportunities. By analyzing the target market and competition, a marketing plan can help businesses identify and prioritize marketing opportunities with the highest potential for success.
  • Ensures effective resource allocation. A marketing plan can help businesses allocate resources effectively and ensure that marketing efforts are focused on the most critical and impactful activities.
  • Measures success. A marketing plan can provide a framework for measuring the success of marketing efforts and making adjustments as needed.

Examples of Marketing Strategies and Tactics

Here are some examples of marketing strategies and tactics that businesses can use to achieve their marketing objectives:

  • Content marketing. Creating and sharing valuable and relevant content that educates and informs the target audience about the company's products or services.
  • Social media marketing. Leveraging social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to engage with the target audience, build brand awareness, and drive website traffic.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO). Optimizing the company's website and online content to rank higher in search engine results and drive organic traffic.
  • Email marketing. Sending personalized and targeted emails to the company's email list to nurture leads, promote products or services, and drive sales.
  • Influencer marketing. Partnering with influencers or industry experts to promote the company's products or services and reach a wider audience.

By using a combination of these marketing strategies and tactics, businesses can develop a comprehensive and effective marketing plan that aligns with their marketing goals and objectives.

Step 6: Creating a Financial Plan

A financial plan is a detailed document that outlines your business's financial projections, budget, and cash flow. Your financial plan should include a balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement, and it should be based on realistic assumptions and market trends.

To create a financial plan, you should consider your revenue streams, expenses, assets, and liabilities. You should also analyze your industry's financial benchmarks and projections and seek input from financial experts or advisors.

![Quantum Business Consulting Template - Strikingly]( https://user-images.strikinglycdn.com/res/hrscywv4p/image/upload/blog_service/2023-04-16-prl-quantum-business-consulting-strikingly (1).jpg)Image taken from Strikingly Templates

Strikingly website builder offers a variety of payment and e-commerce features, such as online payment integration and secure checkout. You can also use the built-in analytics dashboard to monitor your revenue and expenses and track your financial performance over time.

What is a Financial Plan?

A financial plan is a comprehensive document that outlines a company's financial goals and objectives and the strategies and tactics for achieving them. It typically includes a description of the company's financial situation, an analysis of revenue and expenses, and a projection of future financial performance.

A financial plan can help businesses identify potential risks and opportunities, allocate resources effectively, and measure the success of their financial efforts. It can also provide a roadmap for the finance team and ensure everyone is aligned with the company's financial goals and objectives.

Importance of Creating a Financial Plan in Business Planning

Creating a financial plan is a critical component of the business planning process. It can help businesses identify potential financial risks and opportunities, allocate resources effectively, and measure the success of their financial efforts.

Here are some reasons why creating a financial plan is important in business planning:

  • Provides a clear financial direction. A financial plan can provide a clear direction for the finance team and ensure everyone is in sync with the company's financial goals and objectives.
  • Helps prioritize financial opportunities. By analyzing revenue and expenses, a financial plan can help businesses identify and prioritize financial opportunities with the highest potential for success.
  • Ensures effective resource allocation. A financial plan can help businesses allocate resources effectively and ensure that financial efforts are focused on the most critical and impactful activities.
  • Measures success. A financial plan can provide a framework for measuring the success of financial efforts and making adjustments as needed.

Examples of Financial Statements and Projections

Here are some examples of financial statements and projections that businesses can use in their financial plan:

  • Income statement. A financial statement that shows the company's revenue and expenses over a period of time, typically monthly or annually.
  • Balance sheet. A financial statement shows the company's assets, liabilities, and equity at a specific time, typically at the end of a fiscal year.
  • Cash flow statement. A financial statement that shows the company's cash inflows and outflows over a period of time, typically monthly or annually.
  • Financial projections. Forecasts of the company's future financial performance based on assumptions and market trends. This can include revenue, expenses, profits, and cash flow projections.

Step 7: Writing Your Business Plan

The final step in the business planning process is to write your business plan. A business plan is a comprehensive document that outlines your business's mission, vision, objectives, strategies, and financial projections.

A business plan can help you clarify your business idea, assess the feasibility of your business, and secure funding from investors or lenders. It can also provide a roadmap for your business and ensure that you stay focused on your goals and objectives.

Importance of Writing a Business Plan

Writing a business plan is an essential component of the business planning process. It can help you clarify your business idea , assess the feasibility of your business, and secure funding from investors or lenders.

Here are some reasons why writing a business plan is important:

  • Clarifies your business idea. Writing a business plan can help you clarify your business idea and understand your business's goals, objectives, and strategies.
  • Assesses the feasibility of your business. A business plan can help you assess the feasibility of your business and identify potential risks and opportunities.
  • Secures funding. A well-written business plan can help you secure funding from investors or lenders by demonstrating the potential of your business and outlining a clear path to success.
  • Provides a roadmap for your business. A business plan can provide a roadmap and ensure that you stay focused on your goals and objectives.

Tips on How to Write a Successful Business Plan

Here are some tips on how to write a business plan successfully:

  • Start with an executive summary. The executive summary is a brief business plan overview and should include your business idea, target market, competitive analysis, and financial projections.
  • Describe your business and industry. Provide a detailed description of your business and industry, including your products or services, target market, and competitive landscape.
  • Develop a marketing strategy. Outline your marketing strategy and tactics, including your target audience, pricing strategy, promotional activities, and distribution channels.
  • Provide financial projections. Provide detailed financial projections, including income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements, as well as assumptions and risks.
  • Keep it concise and clear. Keep your business plan concise and clear, and avoid using jargon or technical terms that may confuse or intimidate readers.

Role of Strikingly Website Builder in Creating a Professional Business Plan

what is the first step in business planning

Strikingly website builder can play a significant role in creating a professional business plan. Strikingly provides an intuitive and user-friendly platform that allows you to create a professional-looking website and online store without coding or design skills.

Using Strikingly, you can create a visually appealing business plan and present it on your website with images, graphics, and videos to enhance the reader's experience. You can also use Strikingly's built-in templates and a drag-and-drop editor to create a customized and professional-looking business plan that reflects your brand and style.

Strikingly also provides various features and tools that can help you showcase your products or services, promote your business, and engage with your target audience. These features include e-commerce functionality, social media integration, and email marketing tools.

Let’s Sum Up!

In conclusion, the 7 steps of the business planning process are essential for starting and growing a successful business. By conducting a SWOT analysis, defining your business objectives, conducting market research, identifying your target audience, developing a marketing plan, creating a financial plan, and writing your business plan, you can set a solid foundation for your business's success.

Strikingly website builder can help you throughout the business planning process by offering a variety of features such as analytics, marketing, e-commerce , and business plan templates. With Strikingly, you can create a professional and engaging website and business plan that aligns with your business objectives and target audience.

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How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: 10 Essential Steps

Whether you’re starting a new small business or are already years into operating one, a business plan is one of the best ways to clarify your long-term vision. Follow our step-by-step guide to writing a highly effective business plan.

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hether you’re starting a new small business or are already years into operating one, a business plan is one of the best ways to clarify your long-term vision. While every business plan is different, there are several key elements to consider that will benefit you in the long run. 

Follow our step-by-step guide to writing a highly effective business plan. 

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a document that outlines your business goals and how you plan to achieve them. Ideally, this will become your roadmap for marketing, sales, finance, and growth. 

In other words, a business plan is...

  • An explanation of your overall vision.
  • A valuable tool to plan and track your business fundamentals.
  • An overview of your path to profitability, which can help get funding for your company.

Do You Need A Business Plan?

While it’s not a requirement, having a business plan is strongly recommended. In a recent QuickBooks survey , nearly 70% of current business owners recommended writing a business plan.

Creating a business plan is especially useful in the following scenarios:

  • Applying for business loans
  • Seeking additional rounds of funding or investors 
  • Growing your employee headcount  
  • Attracting top-level management candidates 
  • Looking for opportunities to scale your business

10 Steps To Creating A Comprehensive Business Plan

While not every business plan is the same, there are a few key steps you should take to create an effective and comprehensive document:

1. Create an executive summary

Think of an executive summary as your company's elevator pitch in written form. It should be 1 to 2 pages in length and summarize important information about your company and goals. If you are pitching your business plan to get funding, you should ensure your executive summary appeals to investors.

What should you include in an executive summary?

  • An overview of your business
  • Your company mission statement
  • A concise description of products or services offered
  • A description of your target market and customer demographics
  • A brief analysis of your competition
  • Financial projections and funding requirements
  • Information about your management team
  • Future plans and growth opportunities
  • An overall summary of your business plan

2. Write your company description

Your company description is a more detailed and comprehensive explanation of your business. It should provide a thorough overview of your company, including your company history, your mission, your objectives, and your vision. A company description should help the reader understand the context and background of the business, as well as the key factors that contribute to its success.

What should you include in your company description?

  • Official company name 
  • Type of business structure
  • Physical address(es)
  • Company history and background information
  • Mission statement and core values
  • Management team members and their qualifications
  • Products and services offered
  • Target market and customer segmentation
  • Marketing and sales strategy
  • Goals (both short- and long-term)
  • Vision statement

Novo Note : The company description is your chance to expound on the pain points your company solves. It should also give a reader an accurate impression of who you are. 

3. Conduct and outline market analysis

This is one of the most important steps in building a business plan. Here, you will assess the size and dynamics of the market your business operates in.

How to conduct a market analysis

Market analyses include both quantitative and qualitative data. You may want to conduct surveys or lean on existing industry research to gather this information. You’ll want to answer:

  • What is the size of the market?
  • How much revenue does your industry generate?
  • What trends are impacting this industry?
  • Where are opportunities for innovation?
  • What are the most well-known companies in the industry? What tactics do they use to sell to customers? How do they price their offering?
  • Where are there gaps in the market? 
  • What are your customer demographics? What problems do they have that need solving? What are their values, desires, and purchasing habits?
  • What barriers to entry, if any, exist? These could include startup costs, legal requirements, environmental conditions that impact consumer behavior, and market saturation.

What is your target market?

In this section, you will specify the customer segment(s) you’re targeting . You can divide customers into small segments organized by age, location, income, and lifestyle. The goal is to describe what type of consumer will be most interested in your offering.

Novo Note : Regardless of your company’s size, understanding the trends and opportunities within your target market enables you to build a more effective marketing plan to distinguish yourself from the marketplace and grow your business. This analysis might also help you find potential customers or new products you could offer. 

4. Analyze your competitors

After conducting a market analysis, you need to do a deep dive into your competitors. Look at how the competition is succeeding or failing and how each competitor has positioned itself. For example, you might want to evaluate your competitors’ brand, pricing, and distribution strategies. 

How to conduct a competitive analysis

You’ll want to research your competitors and ask the following questions:

  • What are their strengths?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What are their customer reviews like?
  • How do they price their offering(s)?
  • What are their value propositions?
  • What marketing and sales channels do they leverage?
  • How are they growing and evolving?

Novo Note : After you develop a strong understanding of the competitive landscape, consider how your business is unique. Solidifying your competitive advantage can help you appeal to your target audience.  

5. Describe your products or services

This is your chance to go into more detail about the products and services you offer! Use this opportunity to note where your offering or service differs from others in the industry. Highlight the standout features of your product, your company’s unique ability to solve customer problems, and your product roadmap.

What to include:

  • Your product catalog
  • Key differentiating features
  • Information about the production process
  • The resources required for production
  • Plans for future product releases

6. Define your marketing and sales strategy

Your marketing plan describes your strategy for connecting with your target market and generating leads. It doesn't need to be full-fledged at this point, but it should answer who you're trying to sell to and how you plan to target them. Investors also want to know how you plan on selling your brand and breaking into the market, so make sure to consider their perspective as you develop your marketing strategy.

  • Your sales and marketing budget
  • Your key sales and marketing objectives
  • Details about your sales process and sales goals
  • Platforms or strategies you’ll employ to reach your target audience
  • PR initiatives, content ideas, and social media strategies

7. Gather your business financials and outline financial projections

Your financials section lays out your company's past and current performance. You can also include a roadmap that dives into financial projections for your business. Aim to include projections for the next five years at a minimum.

  • Income statements
  • Cash flow statements
  • Balance sheets
  • Explanation of any significant changes

Novo Note : Novo offers integrations with accounting software like Quickbooks and Xero , allowing you to seamlessly access all your financial information within your business checking account .

sign up for Novo: powerfully simple business banking with no hidden fees

8. Describe your organization

Your business plan should also include an organizational chart that maps your company’s structure. 

What to include :

  • Company’s management structure
  • Other key personnel, along with their roles and responsibilities
  • Expertise of your team (feature any specialists or experts)

Novo Note : This is also a good place to explain the legal structure of your company — for example, if you are an LLC , a corporation, or a sole proprietorship . 

9. Outline your funding requests

If you’re looking for business funding, include an outline of any funding requests and requirements.

  • Why you are requesting funding
  • What the funding will be used for specifically
  • Desired terms and conditions of funding
  • The length of time over which the funding will be used
  • Type of funding required (for example, debt or equity)

Novo Note : Propose a five-year funding plan, and aim to be as detailed as possible about how you will utilize the funds to grow your business. 

10. Create an appendix

The last section, the appendix, includes supporting documents and additional information not listed elsewhere in your business plan. Not all of these items are necessary to include, so you’ll need to evaluate which are most relevant to your business. You might also want to include a table of contents to help keep the appendix organized.

Items to consider including:

  • Bank statements
  • Business credit history
  • Legal documents
  • Letters of reference

Sample Business Plans

Need an example to help you through the process? Check out the Small Business Administration’s downloadable examples or this even more in-depth one from Harvard Business School.

Tips For Creating A Great Business Plan

Here are some of our favorite tips for creating the most effective and efficient business plan:

  • Keep it short and sweet : You want to be sure people will actually read your business plan, so stay on topic and to the point.
  • Make it digestible : No need to use the fanciest terminology or draft up the most complex graphs. Keep wording and ideas simple and straightforward — it’s the most impactful way to get your information across.
  • Triple-check your work : There’s nothing worse than noticing a grammar, spelling, or mathematical error when you’re presenting your vision. So proofread… and then proofread again!
  • Start early : It’s never too late to write a business plan, but the earlier you do it, the stronger your strategy for growth and expansion will be from the start.
  • Reference credible sources : If you are going to reference third-party research in your business plan, lean on sources that are widely recognized as authorities. Try tapping into trade associations and government resources, like U.S. Census data or data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Set yourself apart : Wherever you can, explain why your product or service stands out and how it can solve a problem.
  • Be objective : Avoid the instinct to only showcase the good. Stakeholders and investors want to know that you are realistic and have a contingency plan if you hit a bump in the road.

Updating Your Business Plan

As with most situations in business (and life), things change! So don’t think that your business plan has to be set in stone after you create it. Instead, you should plan to return to it once a year and make updates.

Be sure to do the following when you review and update your business plan:

  • Analyze your progress: Review your original business plan and compare it to your actual financial data. Are you moving in the right direction, or do you need to reevaluate your strategy?
  • Consider whether your product offerings need to be adjusted: For example, decide if you want to diversify your product offerings or scale back and focus on a singular product. 
  • Reassess your overall goals: Perhaps your sales goals have changed with your new marketing strategy. Or maybe your customer’s needs have changed. In any case, be flexible where needed. 

We know there’s a lot that goes into creating a business plan, but it’s worth it. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for developing a business plan, but our steps outlined above will put you on the right track for developing a comprehensive, investor-friendly document.

Take time to review your business plan annually and make changes as your needs and goals change.

Novo Platform Inc. strives to provide accurate information but cannot guarantee that this content is correct, complete, or up-to-date. This page is for informational purposes only and is not financial or legal advice nor an endorsement of any third-party products or services. All products and services are presented without warranty. Novo Platform Inc. does not provide any financial or legal advice, and you should consult your own financial, legal, or tax advisors.

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Business Planning Process: Create a Business Plan That Works

Business Startup Checklist

Free Business Startup Checklist

Radhika Agarwal

  • December 15, 2023

Business Planning Process

If you are planning to start or grow your business, you might have heard about the importance of the business planning process countless times. And yes, it is necessary to have a plan. After all, it’ll be your roadmap to success.

But how would you go about it? Where will you start? And most importantly is there a tried and tested process that can make your job easier? What if we told you there is such a process?

And through this article, we’ll walk you through everything from what is business planning to the steps of the business planning process .

What is Business Planning?

Business planning is the process of giving structure to your business idea. It acts as a roadmap to your business journey, helps you get through obstacles, and maximizes opportunities.

It also helps you set realistic goals and pursue the same with a structured action plan.

Moreover, through a business plan, you can analyze your company’s strengths and weaknesses, and understand how that would impact your company while dealing with market competition and how your strengths would help you achieve your goal.

Above all, doing business with a well-written business plan increases your chances of success.

Steps of the Business Planning Process

Although there’s no sole right way to go about the process of planning your business, here’s a compilation of steps that’ll make your planning process faster and easier.

1. Carry out your research

Carry out your Research

The first step to creating a business plan is to do thorough research about the business and industry you are trying to get into. Tap into all the information you can get about your target audience, potential customer base, competitors, market and industry trends, cost of business, etc.

You can give a form to your research by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are your goals?
  • Where does your business stand currently?
  • What are the prevailing market trends?
  • What strategies is your competitor following?

You can find your answers by conducting market surveys, talking to customers and industry experts, designing good questionnaires, reading articles, blogs, and news updates about your industry and related ones, and so on.

Also, it is a good practice to conduct a SWOT analysis for your company to understand how your company’s strengths and weaknesses would help you stand apart from your competitors based on the current market statistics.

2. Make a Framework

Make a Framework

Once you’re done with your research the next step is to make a framework or a set of strategies for your business based on your research and business goals. You can either design strategies from scratch or reframe previously tried and tested successful strategies to fit your business goals.

But remember that you’ll have to tweak strategies to fit your unique competitive advantages and goals. Hence, strategies that are already being used can act as a good foundation, but it is essential to remember that you’ll have to expand upon them or improvise them for your business.

This step can be completed by taking a deep dive into your customer’s buying motivations and challenges that your product can help solve. Based on that, make a marketing plan, operations plan, and cost structure for your business at least for the first few years of your business.

3. Formulate your Financial Forecasts

Formulate your Financial Forecasts

No matter how tedious finances might seem, they are an integral part of any business. When you map out your finances it is essential to note down all the costs you’ll incur as you grow and run your business for the next five years and what would be your potential revenue, and if or not it would leave room for profit.

You can get your financial forecast by adding your financial assumptions to a financial system which will give you your cash flow statements and give you an idea of what amount of funds you’ll need to start and run your business for the first year.

This step is especially helpful if you want to acquire funding for your business. Nonetheless, it helps you prepare to deal with the financial aspects of your business.

A financial statement essentially provides details of a company’s expenses and profits. It also provides an overview of the company’s current financial stance, including its assets and liabilities.

Through this section try to write down and explain how you plan to use your investments and how would the same give a return.

4. Draft a Plan

Draft a Plan

As you’re done with creating business strategies and planning your finances, it is time to draft your business plan and compile everything into a single document. As you are done with all the technical aspects, this step should feel relatively easy.

But if you need help drafting a business plan and making it look presentable, you can subscribe to business plan software that comes with predesigned templates and tools to make your work easier .

5. Recheck and Improvise

Recheck and Improvise

Now as you’re done with writing your plan, it is a good idea to give it enough time to edit it. Check for any unclear sentences, irrelevant phrases, or confusing terms.

Take suggestions from your team members who are familiar with the functioning of your business. Finally, proofread for any grammar or punctuation errors. One of the most popular and useful pieces of editing advice is to put your work aside for a while and then look at it with fresh eyes to edit it better.

6. Create an Impressive Business Plan Presentation

Create an Impressive Business Plan Presentation

Now, as you’re done with writing your business plan, it is time to create a presentation that leaves an excellent impression on your audience. Highlight all the important and relevant points.

Also, add references for your investors like your financial reports , resumes of your key team members, snippets of your marketing plan, and past sales reports to have a well-rounded presentation.

It is true that starting a business is intimidating. It includes a bunch of emotions, chaotic ideas, and a will to take risks. (Risks are a part and parcel of starting a business, no matter how much you plan, but yes planning helps you prepare for it.) But in the end, all of us know that all of it is worth it if you have a profitable business in the end.

And business planning is something that takes you one step closer to your idea of success. Moreover, a plan keeps you going in the face of challenges and adversities, and helps you push yourself a little harder to achieve your dreams when things get tougher.

Above all, a business plan helps you take action and turn ideas into a real and functioning business. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and start planning !

And while you’re at it, to check out Upmetrics’s business planning software to make business planning easier and faster.

Build your Business Plan Faster

with step-by-step Guidance & AI Assistance.

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About the Author

what is the first step in business planning

Radhika is an economics graduate and likes to read about every subject and idea she comes across. Apart from that she can discuss her favorite books to lengths( to the point you\'ll start feeling a little annoyed) and spends most of her free time on Google word coach.

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How To Write a Business Plan in 9 Steps (2024)

Business plans aren’t just for entrepreneurs who need to secure funding—they can help you plan and evaluate new ideas or growth plans, too. Find out how to write a business plan and get the most out of the process in this comprehensive guide.

Illustration of two people looking at a business plan

A great business plan can help you clarify your strategy, identify potential roadblocks, determine necessary resources, and evaluate the viability of your idea and growth plan 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.

Learn how to write a business plan with a step-by-step guide, get tips for getting the most of your plan, and see real business plan examples to inspire you.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a strategic document that outlines a company's goals, strategies for achieving them, and the time frame for their achievement. It covers aspects like market analysis , financial projections, and organizational structure, serving as a roadmap for business growth and a tool to secure funding.

Often, financial institutions and investors need to see a business plan before funding any project. Even if you don’t plan to seek outside funding, a well-crafted plan becomes the guidance for your business as it scales.

How to write a business plan in 9 steps

  • Draft an executive summary.
  • Write a company description.
  • 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 to get you started (and avoid the terror of facing a blank page).

Once you have your business plan template 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 distills everything that follows and gives 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.

A webpage on the FIGS website showing an executive summary

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. 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. Who’s involved in the business?

2. Write a company description.

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. 

For example, clean makeup brand Saie shares a letter from its founder on the company’s mission and why it exists.

A webpage from the Saie site featuring a company description

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

Brand values and goals

To define your brand 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.

Your company description should also 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 your goal setting includes SMART goals : specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

Vision and mission statements

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.

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.

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.

Here is an example to illustrate how to approach this section:

Example of market analysis section on a business 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. Look for government data about the size of your target market , learn where they live, what social channels they use, and their shopping habits.
  • Research relevant industry trends and trajectory. Explore consumer trends and product trends in your industry by looking at Google Trends, trade publications, and influencers in the space.
  • Make informed guesses. You’ll never have perfect, complete information about your total addressable market. Your goal is to base your estimates on as many verifiable data points as necessary.

Some sources to consult for market data include government statistics offices, industry associations, academic research, and respected news outlets covering your industry.

Read more: What is a Marketing Analysis? 3 Steps Every Business Should Follow

SWOT analysis

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?

SWOT is often depicted in a grid or visual way. With this visual presentation, your reader can quickly see the factors that may impact your business and determine your competitive advantage in the market.

Competitive analysis

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.

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.

4. Outline the management and organization.

Woman writes on a laptop in a living room

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 categories and key details about the products within each.

A product collection page from Baggu's website

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.

6. Perform customer segmentation.

Three women and front to back in a row in front of a lake

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.

Put your customer data to work with Shopify’s customer segmentation

Shopify’s built-in segmentation tools help you discover insights about your customers, build segments as targeted as your marketing plans with filters based on your customers’ demographic and behavioral data, and drive sales with timely and personalized emails.

7. Define a marketing plan.

Close up of feminine hands typing on a laptop

If you’re planning to invest heavily in Instagram marketing or TikTok ads , for example, it might make sense to include whether Instagram and TikTok are a leading platform for your audience—if it’s not, that might be a sign to rethink your marketing plan.

Market your business with Shopify’s customer marketing tools

Shopify has everything you need to capture more leads, send email campaigns, automate key marketing moments, segment your customers, and analyze your results. Plus, it’s all free for your first 10,000 emails sent per month.

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? On what channels and in which markets?

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.

Here is an example of a marketing plan for a new business:

Sample of a marketing plan for a small business

8. Provide a logistics and operations plan.

Logistics and operations are the workflows you’ll implement to make your business idea 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.

Close up of hands doing financial work on a calculator

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.

Let’s review the types of financial statements you’ll need.

Income statements

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.

Balance sheets

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 statements

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.

📚 Read more: What Is Cash Flow Management: Template and Examples

Why write a business plan?

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. 

Business plans also help owners identify areas of weakness before launching, potentially avoiding costly mistakes down the road. “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,” says Jordan Barnett, owner of Kapow Meggings .

There are several other compelling reasons to consider writing a business plan, including:

  • 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 collaborate with other brands , having a clear overview of your vision, your audience, and your business strategy will make it much easier for them to identify if your business is a good fit for theirs.
  • Competitions. There are many business plan competitions offering prizes such as mentorships, grants, or investment capital. 

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.

Business plan types

Business plan types 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 business plans we see include, but are not limited to, the following types:

Traditional business plans

These are the most common business plans. Traditional business plans take longer to write and can be dozens of pages long. Venture capitalist firms and lenders ask for this plan. Traditional business plans may not be necessary if you don’t plan to seek outside funding. That’s where the next type comes in.

Lean business plans

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 lean business plans to onboard new hires or modify existing plans for a specific target market.

Nonprofit business plans

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.

📚 Read more: The Road to Success: Business Plan Examples to Inspire Your Own .

7 tips for creating a small business plan

There are a few best practices when it comes to writing a business plan. While your plan will be unique to your business and goals, keep these tips in mind as you write.

1. 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.

2. Have a clear goal.

When creating a business plan, 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Use a business plan template.

You can also use a free business plan template to provide a skeleton for writing a plan. These often guide you through each section from financial projects to market research to mission statement ensuring you don’t miss a step.

7. Try 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 has business plan 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
  • Go Small Biz : budget-friendly option with industry-specific templates

📚 Read more: 6 Best Business Plan Software to Help Write Your Future

Common mistakes when writing a business plan

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. Sometimes your idea may be too risky for potential investors, too expensive to run, or there’s no market. Aim for small business ideas that require low startup costs.
  • No exit strategy. If you don’t show an exit strategy, or a plan for investors 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 focus on potential profits, without worrying about how it will be done. 
  • Missing financial projections. 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 in your financial projections to create a successful business plan.
  • Spelling and grammar errors. 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?

Prepare your business plan today

Two people work together on a laptop

Whether you’re working on starting a new online business idea , building a retail storefront, growing your established business, or purchasing an existing business , you now understand how to write a business plan that suits your business’s goals and needs.

Feature illustration by Rachel Tunstall

Business plan FAQ

How do i write a business plan.

Learning how to write a business plan is simple if you use a business plan template or business plan software. Typically, a traditional business plan for every new business should have the following components :

  • Executive summary
  • Company description, including value proposition
  • Market analysis and competitive analysis
  • Management and organization
  • Products and services
  • Customer segmentation
  • Marketing plan
  • Logistics and operations
  • Financial plan and financial projections

What is a good business plan?

A good business plan starts with a strong executive summary. It also adequately outlines idea feasibility, target market insights, and the competitive landscape. A business plan template can help businesses be sure to follow the typical format of traditional business plans which include financial projections, details about the management team, and other key elements that venture capital firms and potential investors want to see.

What are the 3 main purposes of a business plan?

The three main purposes of a business plan are: 

  • To clarify your plans for growth
  • To understand your financial needs
  • To attract funding from investors or secure a business loan

What are the different types of business plans?

The types of business plans include startup, refocusing, internal, annual, strategic, feasibility, operations, growth, and scenario-based. Each type of business plan has a different purpose. Business plan formats include traditional, lean, and nonprofit. Find a business plan template for the type of plan you want to write.

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How to write a business plan in 12 steps (2024 edition)

Updated 26 June 2024 • 12 min read

This guide breaks down how to write a business plan, step-by-step, detailing what your document needs to include and what you need to think about to make your business plan as persuasive as possible.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is an essential document that can provide immense value for new and existing companies of all sizes. It is an overview that includes an outline of your business, its key objectives and plan for achieving important goals.

This information can be used to communicate strategic actions to internal teams and also attract interest from potential partners and investors . However, writing a business plan can be a lengthy and involved process. For many, using a business plan template can be a good way to get started.

For best results, you’ll need to do a lot of thinking and planning before you start writing your business plan. This way you have all the information and resources you need at your fingertips and won’t be under time pressure to come up with something at the last minute. After all, a well-thought-out business plan can help you avoid generic information and set your company up for success.

Download your free business plan template .

Why write a business plan?

Writing your business plan helps to get your strategy nailed down and onto the page. A plan that stays in your head is probably going to be full of unrealistic assumptions and biases, whereas a strategically thought-out and organised approach forces you to notice your blind spots and find a way forward.

If you’re looking for financing, a bank or investor needs to be persuaded by your business proposal and the opportunity to work with you. Therefore, a well-written business plan can help provide potential financial partners with the confidence that your business can become profitable. Your business plan gives them a comprehensive view of all aspects of your business and details your strategy for achieving your goals.

What are the main sections of a business plan?

Whatever your line of work, your business plan will generally need to provide the following:

An executive summary

A business overview

The market opportunity

Your products/services

How to write a business plan

Make sure you cover each of the following steps when preparing your document:

1. Write an executive summary

This section of your business plan should be 1–2 pages in length and enables potential financiers or partners to get an overview of what your business does and – most importantly — what the opportunity is for them. If they’re interested in the opportunity, they’ll conduct their own due diligence - and this will start with going through your business plan and financials.

It’s a good idea to write your executive summary last, when you’ve clarified your thinking around every section of the document. As an overview section, you don’t want to add any new content that isn’t in your business plan. Aim to keep this summary succinct and engaging by using simple, plain language, as this is much more persuasive than complicated or academic wording.

Use sub-headings and bullet points to help your most important information stand out, especially as busy executives may simply scan your executive summary and use this to decide whether they want to find out more.

What to include in an executive summary?

Make sure you include details on:

What your business does

What the opportunity is

What your unique selling points / differentiators are

How much funding you’re looking for

What the funding will be used for

How you'll succeed

Remember, you’re providing the big picture overview of your business - the detail is in the rest of the document and in the appendices.

2. Write your business overview

This section of your business plan needs to be more than just a list of what your business does. Its purpose is to excite those you’re hoping will work with you or help to fund your business.

Information to address includes:

What's the purpose of your business?

What problem does your business’ product or service solve?

What niche could it fill?

What’s different about your offering?

How are you better than anyone else at what you do?

Consider what your customer value proposition is by deciding what you want to achieve and what your number 1 benefit is for your customer.

3. Identify your USP

Think about what your unique selling points (USP) or differentiators are, and what proof-points you can provide to back them up.

For example, you can use terms like “market-leading” but if you don’t provide any evidence to back up your claims, your reader will take them with a big pinch of salt!

You should certainly reference any awards or endorsements that position you as the best person to provide your product or service, as well as any client testimonials. Make sure you include any education or experience that makes you an expert in your field as well.

4. Describe the market opportunity

Show you understand your industry, market and where you fit in it. While no-one can predict the future, offer up where you think the opportunity is for your business and make sales projections based on that. 

For example, imagine your business is selling personalised cookies - there's little competition in your area and you see your market opportunity to create designs for all calendar and holiday events. You expect to increase sales by 30% in one year and 50% in three years, driven primarily by word-of-mouth referrals.

Make sure you also consider macro trends that may create opportunities for you, such as social, environmental, or technological changes that may affect buying behaviour.

5. Include a SWOT analysis

Whatever your business strengths or opportunities, they’ll always be known and unknown weaknesses and threats; there’s no such thing as certainty in business or in life!

However, you can demonstrate that you’ve examined your business through different lenses and have a thorough understanding of it by doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

Don’t worry about drawing attention to your business’ shortcomings - every opportunity has them and it’ll give investors and partners confidence in you that you won't bury your head in the sand. Naturally, it's important that you specify what you’re going to do to address these weaknesses and counter these threats.

Here are some areas you can think about to get started: reputation, technology, location, experience, staff, overheads, competition, suppliers and price.

6. Present a competitor analysis

Let’s face it, no matter what industry you’re in, or what you’re selling, there’s going to be other businesses offering the same thing. But instead of worrying about the competition, use this as a positive opportunity to up your game and work out the unique advantages you have that will keep you competitive.

Identify your top 3 competitors and analyse what they're doing well and where they’re coming up short. Try to be as objective as possible and identify how to differentiate yourself from them.

You should also look into who the industry leaders are and what the benchmarks are for your industry so that you can set yourself targets for continuous improvement.

7. Create a customer persona

A customer persona is a fictional person who represents your company's ideal customer. Naturally, the persona can be based on a real person - the more you get to know your ideal customer, the more targeted and successful your marketing efforts will be.

To create a customer persona, you need to conduct research into your ideal customer’s age, sex, income, employment, daily activities, interests and hobbies. If you’re feeling unsure about your customer persona, you may need to give your ideal customer further thought and download the customer persona template to get started.

8. Write your marketing strategy

When you’ve created your customer persona, you need to work out how you’re going to reach them. Do they hang out on social media apps, like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or LinkedIn? Or are they more used to local, traditional marketing like free local papers or high foot traffic areas?

Once you’ve figured where your audience is likely to hang out, you can outline your strategies for promoting and advertising your products or services in the next 12 months.

Make a list of the marketing channels you’ll use to achieve your advertising strategy and be sure to include your budget. How much can you set aside for advertising? And where are you most likely to see a return on your efforts? Paid ads on Facebook? Half or full paid spreads in an industry magazine? Or even a direct mail out? 

For more structured help around this, check out free course: Business 101 | Get social with your business on Facebook . 

9. Design your customer retention strategy

Business success relies heavily on the relationship you’re able to build with your customers. What techniques will you use to keep them coming back? Consider the following:

What can your business do to increase the number of repeat customers? 

Does your business have a referral or loyalty program? 

Do you have a post-purchase follow up in place?

Will you use surveys to track customer satisfaction?

What ways can you continue delivering outstanding service?

Is there a way to continue educating and adding value to your customers?

10. Present your financials

Most people who are looking at investing their time and/or money in your business will want to see your financial statements - your performance to date and your projections over the short and medium term. They'll also want to know how much you’ve received in funding to date and what these other sources of funding are - including your own investment.

Current finances

You need to show how your business has performed financially over the last year, highlighting metrics such as positive cashflow , net profit and assets.

Financial forecasts

You should also provide a balance forecast projecting total assets, total liabilities and net assets over 1, 2 and 3 years, and a profit and loss forecast for the same periods detailing gross profit /net sales, total expenses and net profit/loss. Finally, you should also provide a cash flow forecast month by month over the next year.

It’s also a good idea to speak to an expert like an accountant or bookkeeper about your finances and get advice on how best to present them in this all-important section of your business plan.

11. Detail how much funding is needed

Naturally, you also need to be very clear about how much money you’re looking for and what you plan to do with it. If you’re looking for a loan , you need to detail what it’s for, over what period it’ll be repaid, and what collateral you have to secure it.

12. Propose an exit strategy

Any financial stakeholder in your business will want a return on investment. If you’re pursuing this type of funding, you should include some detail on your proposed exit strategy . For example, do you want to sell the company at some point or go public?

Similarly, you should outline your succession plan so the business can continue to operate if you decide to step away from it. Likewise, you need a plan for what happens if the business loses money and can’t sustain itself. Documenting this means that everyone is on the same page and potential investors have this information upfront.

Frequently asked questions about writing a business plan:

When to write a business plan.

Typically, entrepreneurs write their business plans within the first year of operations. A business plan is a tool that helps business owners refine their strategy, attract partners and financiers, and grow their business.

If a business plan is written too soon, it may lack the substance that comes with time in the market. However, it’s important to note that a business plan isn't a static document - it can and should change as the business evolves.

How long should your business plan be?

There are no hard and fast rules around how long your business plan should be - it just needs to include all the relevant information. Aim for clear, concise sections and build a business plan that is as easy to read and navigate as possible.

Using a business plan template can help you make sure you have everything covered off, while also having a document that looks as professional as possible. Make sure you run a spelling and grammar check too - any sloppy errors can undermine your credibility.

What’s a business plan on a page?

It’s important to write your business plan as it helps to embed your strategy - as well as communicate what you’re about to potential partners or investors. When you have a comprehensive business plan you can easily adapt it to suit different audiences. For example, a full business plan is essential for raising capital but a business plan on a page may be enough for potential partners or employees.

What do venture capitalists look for in a business plan?

Venture capitalists invest money into businesses with the goal of achieving a return on their investment within the short to medium term. As a result, they’re looking for an attractive market opportunity, a clear point of differentiation, a strong management team, a proven track record, solid financials and, importantly, an exit opportunity.

Where to go for help or more information?

There are many great resources out there to help you fine-tune your business strategy and write your business plan. The Australian Government has a comprehensive website dedicated to supporting businesses at all stages of their journey.

You can also get help from Business Enterprise Centres , business advisors, accountants and fellow business owners. MYOB also has a list of business advisors who can give you feedback on your business plan, so your venture has the very best chance of success. 

Related Guides

How to get a business loan arrow right, how to find investors: a guide for startups arrow right, business models: definitions, types and key components arrow right.

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How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

Thinking of starting a business here's the best step-by-step template for writing the perfect business plan when creating your startup..

How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

Maybe you think you don't need a step-by-step guide to writing a great business plan . Maybe you think you don't need a template for writing a business plan. After all, some entrepreneurs succeed without writing a business plan. With great timing, solid business skills, entrepreneurial drive, and a little luck , some founders build thriving businesses without creating even an  informal business plan . 

But the odds are greater that those entrepreneurs will fail.

Does a business plan make startup success inevitable? Absolutely not. But great planning often means the difference between success and failure. Where your entrepreneurial dreams are concerned, you should do everything possible to set the stage for success.

And that's why a great business plan is one that helps you  succeed .

The following is a comprehensive guide to creating a great business plan. We'll start with an overview of key concepts. Then we'll look at each section of a typical business plan:

Executive Summary

Overview and objectives, products and services, market opportunities, sales and marketing.

  • Competitive Analysis

Management Team

Financial analysis.

So first let's gain a little perspective on why you need a business plan.

Key Concepts

Many business plans are fantasies. That's because many aspiring entrepreneurs see a business plan as simply a tool--filled with strategies and projections and hyperbole--that will convince lenders or investors the business makes sense.

That's a huge mistake.

First and foremost, your business plan should convince  you  that your idea makes sense--because your time, your money, and your effort are on the line.

So a solid business plan should be a blueprint for a successful business . It should flesh out strategic plans, develop marketing and sales plans, create the foundation for smooth operations, and maybe--just maybe--persuade a lender or investor to jump on board.

For many entrepreneurs, developing a business plan is the first step in the process of deciding whether to actually start a business. Determining if an idea fails on paper can help a prospective founder avoid wasting time and money on a business with no realistic hope of success.

So, at a minimum, your plan should:

  • Be as objective and logical as possible. What may have seemed like a good idea for a business can, after some thought and analysis, prove not viable because of heavy competition, insufficient funding, or a nonexistent market. (Sometimes even the best ideas are simply ahead of their time.)
  • Serve as a guide to the business's operations for the first months and sometimes years, creating a blueprint for company leaders to follow.
  • Communicate the company's purpose and vision, describe management responsibilities, detail personnel requirements, provide an overview of marketing plans, and evaluate current and future competition in the marketplace.
  • Create the foundation of a financing proposal for investors and lenders to use to evaluate the company.

A good business plan delves into each of the above categories, but it should also accomplish other objectives. Most of all, a good business plan is  convincing . It proves a case. It provides concrete, factual evidence showing your idea for a business is in fact sound and reasonable and has every chance of success.

Who  must  your business plan convince?

First and foremost, your business plan should convince  you  that your idea for a business is not just a dream but can be a viable reality. Entrepreneurs are by nature confident, positive, can-do people. After you objectively evaluate your capital needs, products or services, competition, marketing plans, and potential to make a profit, you'll have a much better grasp on your chances for success.

And if you're not convinced, fine: Take a step back and refine your ideas and your plans.

Who  can  your business plan convince?

1. Potential sources of financing.   If you need seed money from a bank or friends and relatives, your business plan can help you make a great case. Financial statements can show where you have been. Financial projections describe where you plan to go.

Your business plan shows how you will get there. Lending naturally involves risk, and a great business plan can help lenders understand and quantity that risk, increasing your chances for approval.

2. Potential partners and investors. Where friends and family are concerned, sharing your business plan may not be necessary (although it certainly could help).

Other investors--including angel investors or venture capitalists--generally require a business plan in order to evaluate your business.

3. Skilled employees . When you need to attract talent, you need  something  to show prospective employees since you're still in the startup phase. Early on, your business is more of an idea than a reality, so your business plan can help prospective employees understand your goals--and, more important, their place in helping you achieve those goals.

4. Potential joint ventures. Joint ventures are like partnerships between two companies. A joint venture is a formal agreement to share the work--and share the revenue and profit. As a new company, you will likely be an unknown quantity in your market. Setting up a joint venture with an established partner could make all the difference in getting your business off the ground.

But above all, your business plan should convince  you  that it makes sense to move forward.

As you map out your plan, you may discover issues or challenges you had not anticipated.

Maybe the market isn't as large as you thought. Maybe, after evaluating the competition, you realize your plan to be the low-cost provider isn't feasible since the profit margins will be too low to cover your costs.

Or you might realize the fundamental idea for your business is sound, but how you implement that idea should change. Maybe establishing a storefront for your operation isn't as cost-effective as taking your products directly to customers--not only will your operating costs be lower, but you can charge a premium since you provide additional customer convenience.

Think of it this way. Successful businesses do not remain static. They learn from mistakes, and adapt and react to changes: changes in the economy, the marketplace, their customers, their products and services, etc. Successful businesses identify opportunities and challenges and react accordingly.

Creating a business plan lets you spot opportunities and challenges without risk. Use your plan to dip your toe in the business water. It's the perfect way to review and revise your ideas and concepts before you ever spend a penny.

Many people see writing a business plan as a "necessary evil" required to attract financing or investors. Instead, see your plan as a no-cost way to explore the viability of your potential business and avoid costly mistakes.

Now let's look at the first section of your business plan: The Executive Summary.

The Executive Summary is a brief outline of the company's purpose and goals. While it can be tough to fit on one or two pages, a good Summary includes:

  • A brief description of products and services
  • A summary of objectives
  • A solid description of the market
  • A high-level justification for viability (including a quick look at your competition and your competitive advantage)
  • A snapshot of growth potential
  • An overview of funding requirements

I know that seems like a lot, and that's why it's so important you get it right. The Executive Summary is often the make-or-break section of your business plan.

A great business solves customer problems. If your Summary cannot clearly describe, in one or two pages, how your business will solve a particular problem and make a profit, then it's very possible the opportunity does not exist--or your plan to take advantage of a genuine opportunity is not well developed.

So think of it as a snapshot of your business plan. Don't try to "hype" your business--focus on helping a busy reader get a great feel for what you plan to do, how you plan to do it, and how you will succeed.

Since a business plan should above all help you start and grow your business, your Executive Summary should first and foremost help you do the following.

1. Refine and tighten your concept.

Think of it as a written elevator pitch  (with more detail, of course). Your Summary describes the highlights of your plan, includes only the most critical points, and leaves out less important issues and factors.

As you develop your Summary, you will naturally focus on the issues that contribute most to potential success. If your concept is too fuzzy, too broad, or too complicated, go back and start again. Most great businesses can be described in several sentences, not several pages.

2. Determine your priorities.

Your business plan walks the reader through your plan. What ranks high in terms of importance? Product development? Research? Acquiring the right location? Creating strategic partnerships?

Your Summary can serve as a guide to writing the rest of your plan.

3. Make the rest of the process easy.

Once your Summary is complete, you can use it as an outline for the rest of your plan. Simply flesh out the highlights with more detail.

Then work to accomplish your secondary objective by focusing on your readers. Even though you may be creating a business plan solely for your own purposes, at some point you may decide to seek financing or to bring on other investors, so make sure your Summary meets their needs as well. Work hard to set the stage for the rest of the plan. Let your excitement for your idea and your business shine through.

In short, make readers want to turn the page and keep reading. Just make sure your sizzle meets your steak by providing clear, factual descriptions.

How? The following is how an Executive Summary for a bicycle rental store might read.

Introduction

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will offer road and mountain bike rentals in a strategic location directly adjacent to an entrance to the George Washington National Forest. Our primary strategy is to develop Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals as the most convenient and cost-effective rental alternative for the thousands of visitors who flock to the area each year.

Once underway, we will expand our scope and take advantage of high-margin new equipment sales and leverage our existing labor force to sell and service those products. Within three years we intend to create the area's premier destination for cycling enthusiasts.

Company and Management

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will be located at 321 Mountain Drive, a location providing extremely high visibility as well as direct entry and exit from a primary national park access road. The owner of the company, Marty Cycle, has over 20 years experience in the bicycle business, having served as a product manager for Acme Cycles as well as the general manager of Epic Cycling.

Because of his extensive industry contacts, initial equipment inventory will be purchased at significant discounts from OEM suppliers as well by sourcing excess inventory from shops around the country.

Because of the somewhat seasonal nature of the business, part-time employees will be hired to handle spikes in demand. Those employees will be attracted through competitive wages as well as discounts products and services.

460,000 people visited the George Washington National Forest during the last 12 months. While the outdoor tourism industry as a whole is flat, the park expects its number of visitors to grow over the next few years.

  • The economic outlook indicates fewer VA, WV, NC, and MD cycling enthusiasts will travel outside the region
  • The park has added a camping and lodging facilities that should attract an increased number of visitors
  • The park has opened up additional areas for trail exploration and construction, ensuring a greater number of single-track options and therefore a greater number of visitors

The market potential inherent in those visitors is substantial. According to third-party research data, approximately 30 percent of all cyclists would rather rent than transport their own bicycles, especially those who are visiting the area for reasons other than cycling.

Competitive Advantages

The cycling shops located in Harrisonburg, VA, are direct and established competitors. Our two primary competitive advantages will be location and lower costs.

Our location is also a key disadvantage where non-park rentals are concerned. We will overcome that issue by establishing a satellite location in Harrisonburg for enthusiasts who wish to rent bicycles to use in town or on other local trails.

We will also use online tools to better engage customers, allowing them to reserve and pay online as well as create individual profiles regarding sizes, preferences, and special needs.

Financial Projections

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals expects to earn a modest profit by year two based on projected sales. Our projections are based on the following key assumptions:

  • Initial growth will be moderate as we establish awareness in the market
  • Initial equipment purchases will stay in service for an average of three to four years; after two years we will begin investing in "new" equipment to replace damaged or obsolete equipment
  • Marketing costs will not exceed 14 percent of sales
  • Residual profits will be reinvested in expanding the product and service line

We project first-year revenue of $720,000 and a 10 percent growth rate for the next two years. Direct cost of sales is projected to average 60 percent of gross sales, including 50 percent for the purchase of equipment and 10 percent for the purchase of ancillary items. Net income is projected to reach $105,000 in year three as sales increase and operations become more efficient.

And so on ...

Keep in mind this is just a made-up example of how your Summary might read. Also keep in mind this example focused on the rental business, so a description of products was not included. (They'll show up later.) If your business will manufacture or sell products, or provide a variety of services, then be sure to include a Products and Services section in your Summary. (In this case the products and services are obvious, so including a specific section would be redundant.)

Bottom line:  Provide some sizzle in your Executive Summary, but make sure you show a reasonable look at the steak, too.

Providing an overview of your business can be tricky, especially when you're still in the planning stages. If you already own an existing business, summarizing your current operation should be relatively easy; it can be a lot harder to explain what you plan to  become .

So start by taking a step back.

Think about what products and services you will provide, how you will provide those items, what you need to have in order to provide those items, exactly who will provide those items, and most important, whom you will provide those items to.

Consider our bicycle rental business example. It's serves retail customers. It has an online component, but the core of the business is based on face-to-face transactions for bike rentals and support.

So you'll need a physical location, bikes, racks and tools and supporting equipment, and other brick-and-mortar related items. You'll need employees  with a very particular set of skills  to serve those customers, and you'll need an operating plan to guide your everyday activities.

Sound like a lot? It boils down to:

  • What you will provide
  • What you need to run your business
  • Who will service your customers, and
  • Who your customers are.

In our example, defining the above is fairly simple. You know what you will provide to meet your customer's needs. You will of course need a certain quantity of bikes to service demand, but you will not need a number of different types of bikes. You need a retail location, furnished to meet the demands of your business. You need semi-skilled employees capable of sizing, customizing, and repairing bikes.

And you know your customers: cycling enthusiasts.

In other businesses and industries, answering the above questions can be more difficult. If you open a restaurant, what you plan to serve will in some ways determine your labor needs, the location you choose, the equipment you need to purchase. And, most important, it will help define your customer. Changing any one element may change other elements; if you cannot afford to purchase expensive kitchen equipment, you may need to adapt your menu accordingly. If you hope to attract an upscale clientele, you may need to invest more in purchasing a prime location and creating an appealing ambience.

So where do you start? Focus on the basics first:

  • Identify your industry. Retail, wholesale, service, manufacturing, etc. Clearly define your type of business.
  • Identify your customer. You cannot market and sell to customers until you know who they are.
  • Explain the problem you solve. Successful businesses create customer value by solving problems. In our rental example, one problem is cycling enthusiasts who don't--or can't--travel with bikes. Another problem is casual cyclists who can't--or choose not to--spend significant sums on their own bikes. The rental shop will solve that problem by offering a lower-cost and convenient alternative.
  • Show how you will solve that problem. Our rental shop will offer better prices and enhanced services like remote deliveries, off-hours equipment returns, and online reservations.

If you are still stuck, try answering these questions. Some may pertain to you; others may not.

  • Who is my average customer? Who am I targeting? (Unless you plan to open a grocery store, you should be unlikely to answer, "Everyone!")
  • What pain point do I solve for my customers?
  • How will I overcome that paint point?
  • Where will I fail to solve a customer problem, and what can I do to overcome that issue? (In our rental example, one problem is a potential lack of convenience; we will overcome that issue by offering online reservations, on-resort deliveries, and drive-up equipment returns.)
  • Where will I locate my business?
  • What products, services, and equipment do I need to run my business?
  • What skills do my employees need, and how many do I need?
  • How will I beat my competition?
  • How can I differentiate myself from my competition in the eyes of my customers? (You can have a great plan to beat your competition, but you also must win the perception battle among your customers. If customers don't feel you are different, then you aren't truly different. Perception is critical.)

Once you work through this list you will probably end up with a lot more detail than is necessary for your business plan. That is not a problem: Start summarizing the main points. For example, your Business Overview and Objectives section could start something like this:

History and Vision

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals is a new retail venture that will be located at 321 Mountain Drive, directly adjacent to an extremely popular cycling destination. Our initial goal is to become the premier provider for bicycle rentals. We will then leverage our customer base and position in the market to offer new equipment sales as well as comprehensive maintenance and service, custom equipment fittings, and expert trail advice.

  • Achieve the largest market share bicycle rentals in the area
  • Generate a net income of $235,000 at the end of the second year of operation
  • Minimize rental inventory replacement costs by maintaining a 7 percent attrition rate on existing equipment (industry average is 12 percent)

Keys to Success

  • Provide high-quality equipment, sourcing that equipment as inexpensively as possible through existing relationships with equipment manufacturers and other cycling shops
  • Use signage to attract visitors traveling to the national forest, highlighting our cost and service advantage
  • Create additional customer convenience factors to overcome a perceived lack of convenience for customers planning to ride roads and trails some distance away from our shop
  • Develop customer incentive and loyalty programs to leverage customer relationships and create positive word of mouth

You could certainly include more detail in each section; this is simply a quick guide. And if you plan to develop a product or service, you should thoroughly describe the development process as well as the end result.

The key is to describe what you will do for your customers--if you can't, you won't  have  any customers.

In the Products and Services section of your business plan, you will clearly describe--yep--the products and services your business will provide.

Keep in mind that highly detailed or technical descriptions are not necessary and definitely not recommended. Use simple terms and avoid industry buzzwords.

On the other hand, describing how the company's products and services will differ from the competition is critical. So is describing why your products and services are needed if no market currently exists. (For example, before there was Federal Express, overnight delivery was a niche business served by small companies. FedEx had to define the opportunity for a new, large-scale service and justify why customers needed--and would actually  use --that service.)

Patents, copyrights, and trademarks you own or have applied for should also be listed in this section.

Depending on the nature of your business, your Products and Services section could be very long or relatively short. If your business is product-focused, you will want to spend more time describing those products.

If you plan to sell a commodity item and the key to your success lies in, say, competitive pricing, you probably don't need to provide significant product detail. Or if you plan to sell a commodity readily available in a variety of outlets, the key to your business may not be the commodity itself but your ability to market in a more cost-effective way than your competition.

But if you're creating a new product (or service), make sure you thoroughly explain the nature of the product, its uses, and its value, etc.--otherwise your readers will not have enough information to evaluate your business.

Key questions to answer:

  • Are products or services in development or existing (and on the market)?
  • What is the timeline for bringing new products and services to market?
  • What makes your products or services different? Are there competitive advantages compared with offerings from other competitors? Are there competitive disadvantages you will need to overcome? (And if so, how?)
  • Is price an issue? Will your operating costs be low enough to allow a reasonable profit margin?
  • How will you acquire your products? Are you the manufacturer? Do you assemble products using components provided by others? Do you purchase products from suppliers or wholesalers? If your business takes off, is a steady supply of products available?

In the cycling rental business example we've been using, products and services could be a relatively simple section to complete or it could be fairly involved. It depends on the nature of the products the company plans to rent to customers.

If Blue Mountain Cycling Rentals plans to market itself as a provider of high-end bikes, describing those bikes--and the sources for those bikes--is important, since "high-end cycling rentals" is intended to be a market differentiation. If the company plans to be the low-cost provider, then describing specific brands of equipment is probably not necessary.

Also, keep in mind that if a supplier runs out of capacity--or goes out of business altogether--you may not have a sufficient supply to meet your demand. Plan to set up multiple vendor or supplier relationships, and describe those relationships fully. 

Remember, the primary goal of your business plan is to convince  you  that the business is viable--and to create a road map for you to follow.

The Products and Services section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Product Description

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will provide a comprehensive line of bicycles and cycling equipment for all ages and levels of ability. Since the typical customer seeks medium-quality equipment and excellent services at competitive prices, we will focus on providing brands like Trek bikes, Shimano footwear, and Giro helmets. These manufacturers have a widespread reputation as mid- to high-level quality, unlike equipment typically found in the rental market.

The following is a breakdown of anticipated rental price points, per day and per week:

  • Bicycle $30/$120
  • Helmet $6/$30
  • Customers can extend the rental term online without visiting the store.
  • A grace period of two hours will be applied to all rentals; customers who return equipment within that two-hour period will not be charged an additional fee.

Competition

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will have clear advantages over its primary competitors, the bike shops located in Harrisonburg, VA:

  • Newer equipment inventory with higher perceived quality
  • Price points 15 percent below the competition
  • Online renewals offering greater convenience
  • A liberal return grace period that will reinforce our reputation as a customer-friendly rental experience

Future Products

Expansion will allow us to move product offerings into new equipment sales. We will also explore maintenance and fitting services, leveraging our existing maintenance staff to provide value-added services at a premium price.

When you draft your Products and Services section, think of your reader as a person who knows little to nothing about your business. Be clear and to the point.

Think of it this way: The Products and Services section answers the "what" question for your business. Make sure you fully understand the "what" factor; you may run the business, but your products and services are its lifeblood.

Market research is critical to business success. A good business plan analyzes and evaluates customer demographics, purchasing habits, buying cycles, and willingness to adopt new products and services.

The process starts with understanding your market and the opportunities inherent in that market. And that means you'll need to do a little research. Before you start a business you must be sure there is a viable market for what you plan to offer.

That process requires asking, and more importantly answering, a number of questions. The more thoroughly you answer the following questions, the better you will understand your market.

Start by evaluating the market at a relatively high level, answering some high-level questions about your market and your industry:

  • What is the size of the market? Is it growing, stable, or in decline?
  • Is the overall industry growing, stable, or in decline?
  • What segment of the market do I plan to target? What demographics and behaviors make up the market I plan to target?
  • Is demand for my specific products and services rising or falling?
  • Can I differentiate myself from the competition in a way customers will find meaningful? If so, can I differentiate myself in a cost-effective manner?
  • What do customers expect to pay for my products and services? Are they considered to be a commodity or to be custom and individualized?

Fortunately, you've already done some of the legwork. You've already defined and mapped out your products and services. The Market Opportunities section provides a sense-check of that analysis, which is particularly important since choosing the right products and services is such a critical factor in business success.

But your analysis should go further: Great products are great, but there still must be a market for those products. (Ferraris are awesome, but you're unlikely to sell many where I live.)

So let's dig deeper and quantify your market. Your goal is to thoroughly understand the characteristics and purchasing ability of potential customers in your market. A little Googling can yield a tremendous amount of data.

For the market you hope to serve, determine:

  • Your potential customers. In general terms, potential customers are the people in the market segment you plan to target. Say you sell jet skis; anyone under the age of 16 and over the age of 60 or so is unlikely to be a customer. Plus, again in general terms, women make up a relatively small percentage of jet ski purchasers. Determining the total population for the market is not particularly helpful if your product or service does not serve a need for the entire population. Most products and services do not.
  • Total households. In some cases determining the number of total households is important depending on your business. For example, if you sell heating and air conditioning systems, knowing the number of households is more important than simply knowing the total population in your area. While people purchase HVAC systems, "households" consume those systems.
  • Median income. Spending ability is important. Does your market area have sufficient spending power to purchase enough of your products and services to enable you to make a profit? Some areas are more affluent than others. Don't assume every city or locality is the same in terms of spending power. A service that is viable in New York City may not be viable in your town.
  • Income by demographics. You can also determine income levels by age group, by ethnic group, and by gender. (Again, potential spending power is an important number to quantify.) Senior citizens could very well have a lower income level than males or females age 45 to 55 in the prime of their careers. Or say you plan to sell services to local businesses; in that case, try to determine the amount they currently spend on similar services.

The key is to understand the market in general terms and then to dig deeper to understand whether there are specific segments within that market--the segments you plan to target--that can become customers and support the growth of your business.

Also keep in mind that if you plan to sell products online the global marketplace is incredibly crowded and competitive. Any business can sell a product online and ship that product around the world. Don't simply assume that just because "the bicycle industry is a $62 billion business" (a number I just made up) that you can capture a meaningful percentage of that market.

On the other hand, if you live in an area with 50,000 people and there's only one bicycle shop, you may be able to enter that market and attract a major portion of bicycle customers in your area.

Always remember it's much easier to serve a market you can define and quantify.

After you complete your research you may feel a little overwhelmed. While data is good, and more data is great, sifting through and making sense of too much data can be daunting.

For the purposes of your business plan, narrow your focus and focus on answering these main questions:

  • What is your market? Include geographic descriptions, target demographics, and company profiles (if you're B2B). In short: Who are your customers?
  • What segment of your market will you focus on? What niche will you attempt to carve out? What percentage of that market do you hope to penetrate and acquire?
  • What is the size of your intended market? What is the population and spending habits and levels?
  • Why do customers need and why will they be willing to purchase your products and services?
  • How will you price your products and services? Will you be the low cost provider or provide value-added services at higher prices?
  • Is your market likely to grow? How much? Why?
  • How can you increase your market share over time?

The Market Opportunities section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Market Summary

Consumer spending on cycling equipment reached $9,250,000 in the states of VA, WV, MD, and NC last year. While we expect sales to rise, for the purposes of performing a conservative analysis we have projected a zero growth rate for the next three years.

In those states 2,500,000 people visited a national forest last year. Our target market includes customers visiting the Shenandoah National Forest; last year 120,000 people visited the area during spring, summer, and fall months.

Over time, however, we do expect equipment rentals and sales to increase as the popularity of cycling continues to rise. In particular we forecast a spike in demand in 2015 since the national road racing championships will be held in Richmond, VA.

Market Trends

Participation and population trends favor our venture:

  • Recreational sports in general and both family-oriented and "extreme" sports continue to gain in exposure and popularity.
  • Western VA and eastern WV have experienced population growth rates nearly double that of the country as a whole.
  • Industry trends show cycling has risen at a more rapid rate than most other recreational activities.

Market Growth

According to the latest studies, recreation spending in our target market has grown by 14 percent per year for the past three years.

In addition, we anticipate greater than industry-norm growth rates for cycling in the area due to the increase in popularity of cycling events like the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo.

Market Needs

Out target market has one basic need: The availability to source bicycle rentals at a competitive price. Our only other competition are the bike shops in Harrisonburg, VA, and our location will give us a competitive advantage over those and other companies who try to serve our market.

You may want to add other categories to this section based on your particular industry.

For example, you might decide to provide information about Market Segments. In our case, the cycling rental business does not require much segmentation. Rentals are typically not broken down into segments like "inexpensive," "midrange," and "high-end." For the most part rental bikes are more of a commodity. (Although you'll notice in our Products and Services section, we decided to provide "high-end" rentals.)

But say you decide to open a clothing store. You could focus on high fashion, or children's clothes, or outdoor wear, or casual--you could segment the market in a number of ways. If that's the case, provide detail on segmentation that supports your plan.

The key is to define your market--and then show how you will serve your market.

Providing great products and services is wonderful, but customers must actually know those products and services exist. That's why marketing plans and strategies are critical to business success. (Duh, right?)

But keep in mind marketing is not just advertising. Marketing--whether advertising, public relations, promotional literature, etc.--is an investment in the growth of your business.

Like any other investment you would make, money spent on marketing must generate a return. (Otherwise why make the investment?) While that return could simply be greater cash flow, good marketing plans result in higher sales and profits.

So don't simply plan to spend money on a variety of advertising efforts. Do your homework and create a smart marketing program .

Here are some of the basic steps involved in creating your marketing plan:

  • Focus on your target market. Who are your customers? Who will you target? Who makes the decisions? Determine how you can best reach potential customers.
  • Evaluate your competition. Your marketing plan must set you apart from your competition, and you can't stand out unless you  know  your competition. (It's hard to stand out from a crowd if you don't know where the crowd stands.) Know your competitors by gathering information about their products, service, quality, pricing, and advertising campaigns. In marketing terms, what does your competition do that works well? What are their weaknesses? How can you create a marketing plan that highlights the advantages you offer to customers?
  • Consider your brand. How customers perceive your business makes a dramatic impact on sales. Your marketing program should consistently reinforce and extend your brand. Before you start to market your business, think about how you want your marketing to reflect on your business and your products and services. Marketing is the face of your to potential customers--make sure you put your best face forward.
  • Focus on benefits. What problems do you solve? What benefits do you deliver? Customers don't think in terms of products--they think in terms of benefits and solutions. Your marketing plan should clearly identify benefits customers will receive. Focus on what customers  get  instead of on what you provide. (Take Dominos; theoretically they're in the pizza business, but really they're a delivery business.)
  • Focus on differentiation. Your products and services have to stand out from the competition in some way. How will you compete in terms of price, product, or service?

Then focus on providing detail and backup for your marketing plan.

  • What is your budget for sales and marketing efforts? 
  • How will you determine if your initial marketing efforts are successful? In what ways will you adapt if your initial efforts do not succeed?
  • Will you need sales representatives (inside or external) to promote your products?
  • Can you set up public relations activities to help market your business?

The Sales and Marketing section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Target Market

The target market for Blue Mountain Cycling Rentals is western VA, eastern WV, southwestern MD, and northern NC. While customers in the counties surrounding the George Washington National Forest make up 35 percent of our potential customer base, much of our market travels from outside that geographic area.

Marketing Strategy

Our marketing strategy will focus on three basic initiatives:

  • Road signage. Access to the forest is restricted to a few primary entrances, and visitors reach those entrances after traveling on one of several main roadways. Since customers currently rent bicycles in the local town of Harrisonburg, road signage will communicate our value proposition to all potential customers.
  • Web initiatives. Our website will attract potential visitors to the resort. We will partner with local businesses that serve our target market to provide discounts and incentives.
  • Promotional events. We will hold regular events with professional cyclists, like demonstrations and autograph signings, to bring more customers to the store as well as to extend the athletes' "brand" to our brand.

Pricing Strategy

We will not be the low-cost provider for our target market. Our goal is to provide mid- to high-end equipment. However, we will create web-based loyalty programs to incent customers to set up online profiles and reserve and renew equipment rentals online, and provide discounts for those who do. Over time we will be able to market specifically to those customers.

Just as in the Market Opportunity section, you may want to include a few more categories. For example, if your business involves a commission-compensated sales force, describe your Sales Programs and incentives. If you distribute products to other companies or suppliers and those distribution efforts will impact your overall marketing plans, lay out your Distribution Strategy.

The key is to show you understand your market and you understand how you will reach your market. Marketing and promotions must result in customers--your goal is to thoroughly describe how you will acquire and keep your customers.

Also keep in mind you may want to include examples of marketing materials you have already prepared, like website descriptions, print ads, web-based advertising programs, etc. While you don't need to include samples, taking the time to create actual marketing materials might help you better understand and communicate your marketing plans and objectives.

Make sure your Sales and Marketing section answers the "How will I reach my customers?" question.

Competitive Advantage

The Competitive Analysis section of your business plan is devoted to analyzing your competition--both your current competition and potential competitors who might enter your market.

Every business has competition. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your competition--or potential competition--is critical to making sure your business survives and grows. While you don't need to hire a private detective, you do need to thoroughly assess your competition on a regular basis even if you plan to run only a small business.

In fact, small businesses can be especially vulnerable to competition, especially when new companies enter a marketplace.

Competitive analysis can be incredibly complicated and time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be. Here is a simple process you can follow to identify, analyze, and determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competition.

Profile  Current  Competitors

First, develop a basic profile of each of your current competition. For example, if you plan to open an office supply store, you may have three competing stores in your market.

Online retailers will also provide competition, but thoroughly analyzing those companies will be less valuable unless you also decide you want to sell office supplies online. (Although it's also possible that they--or, say, Amazon--are your  real  competition. Only you can determine that.)

To make the process easier, stick to analyzing companies you will directly compete with. If you plan to set up an accounting firm, you will compete with other accounting firms in your area. If you plan to open a clothing store, you will compete with other clothing retailers in your area.

Again, if you run a clothing store, you also compete with online retailers, but there is relatively little you can do about that type of competition other than to work hard to distinguish yourself in other ways: great service, friendly salespeople, convenient hours, truly understanding your customers, etc.

Once you identify your main competitors, answer these questions about each one. And be objective. It's easy to identify weaknesses in your competition, but less easy (and a lot less fun) to recognize how they may be able to outperform you:

  • What are their strengths? Price, service, convenience, and extensive inventory are all areas where you may be vulnerable.
  • What are their weaknesses? Weaknesses are opportunities you should plan to take advantage of.
  • What are their basic objectives? Do they seek to gain market share? Do they attempt to capture premium clients? See your industry through their eyes. What are they trying to achieve?
  • What marketing strategies do they use? Look at their advertising, public relations, etc.
  • How can you take market share away from their business?
  • How will they respond when you enter the market?

While these questions may seem like a lot of work to answer, in reality the process should be fairly easy. You should already have a feel for the competition's strengths and weaknesses--if you know your market and your industry.

To gather information, you can also:

  • Check out their websites and marketing materials. Most of the information you need about products, services, prices, and company objectives should be readily available. If that information is not available, you may have identified a weakness.
  • Visit their locations. Take a look around. Check out sales materials and promotional literature. Have friends stop in or call to ask for information.
  • Evaluate their marketing and advertising campaigns. How a company advertises creates a great opportunity to uncover the objectives and strategies of that business. Advertising should help you quickly determine how a company positions itself, who it markets to, and what strategies it employs to reach potential customers.
  • Browse. Search the Internet for news, public relations, and other mentions of your competition. Search blogs and Twitter feeds as well as review and recommendation sites. While most of the information you find will be anecdotal and based on the opinion of just a few people, you may at least get a sense of how some consumers perceive your competition. Plus you may also get advance warning about expansion plans, new markets they intend to enter, or changes in management.

Keep in mind competitive analysis does more than help you understand your competition. Competitive analysis can also help you identify changes you should make to  your  business strategies. Learn from competitor strengths, take advantage of competitor's weaknesses, and apply the same analysis to your own business plan.

You might be surprised by what you can learn about your business by evaluating other businesses.

Identify  Potential  Competitors

It can be tough to predict when and where new competitors may pop up. For starters, regularly search for news on your industry, your products, your services, and your target market.

But there are other ways to predict when competition may follow you into a market. Other people may see the same opportunity you see. Think about your business and your industry, and if the following conditions exist, you may face competition does the road:

  • The industry enjoys relatively high profit margins
  • Entering the market is relatively easy and inexpensive
  • The market is growing--the more rapidly it is growing the greater the risk of competition
  • Supply and demand is off--supply is low and demand is high
  • Very little competition exists, so there is plenty of "room" for others to enter the market

In general terms, if serving your market seems easy you can safely assume competitors will enter your market. A good business plan anticipates and accounts for new competitors.

Now distill what you've learned by answering these questions in your business plan:

  • Who are my current competitors? What is their market share? How successful are they?
  • What market do current competitors target? Do they focus on a specific customer type, on serving the mass market, or on a particular niche?
  • Are competing businesses growing or scaling back their operations? Why? What does that mean for your business?
  • How will your company be different from the competition? What competitor weaknesses can you exploit? What competitor strengths will you need to overcome to be successful?
  • What will you do if competitors drop out of the marketplace? What will you do to take advantage of the opportunity?
  • What will you do if new competitors enter the marketplace? How will you react to and overcome new challenges?

The Competitive Analysis section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Primary Competitors

Our nearest and only competition is the bike shops in Harrisonburg, VA. Our next closest competitor is located over 100 miles away.

The in-town bike shops will be strong competitors. They are established businesses with excellent reputations. On the other hand, they offer inferior-quality equipment and their location is significantly less convenient.

Secondary Competitors

We do not plan to sell bicycles for at least the first two years of operation. However, sellers of new equipment do indirectly compete with our business since a customer who buys equipment no longer needs to rent equipment.

Later, when we add new equipment sales to our operation, we will face competition from online retailers. We will compete with new equipment retailers through personalized service and targeted marketing to our existing customer base, especially through online initiatives.

Opportunities

  • By offering mid- to high-end quality equipment, we provide customers the opportunity to "try out" bikes they may wish to purchase at a later date, providing additional incentive (besides cost savings) to use our service.
  • Offering drive-up, express rental return services will be seen as a much more attractive option compared with the hassle of renting bikes in Harrisonburg and transporting them to intended take-off points for rides.
  • Online initiatives like online renewals and online reservations enhances customer convenience and positions us as a cutting-edge supplier in a market largely populated, especially in the cycling segment, by customers who tend to be early technology adapters.
  • Renting bikes and cycling equipment may be perceived by some of our target market as a commodity transaction. If we do not differentiate ourselves in terms of quality, convenience, and service, we could face additional competition from other entrants to the market.
  • One of the bike shops in Harrisonburg is a subsidiary of a larger corporation with significant financial assets. If we, as hoped, carve out a significant market share, the corporation may use those assets to increase service, improve equipment quality, or cut prices.

While your business plan is primarily intended to convince  you  that your business makes sense, keep in mind most investors look closely at your competitive analysis. A common mistake made by entrepreneurs is assuming they will simply "do it better" than any competition.

Experienced businesspeople know you will face stiff competition: showing you understand your competition, understand your strengths and weaknesses relative to that competition, and that you understand you will have to adapt and change based on that competition is critical.

And, even if you do not ever plan to seek financing or bring in investors, you absolutely must know your competition.

The Competitive Analysis section helps you answer the "Against whom?" question.

The next step in creating your business plan is to develop an Operations Plan that will serve your customers, keep your operating costs in line, and ensure profitability . Your ops plan should detail strategies for managing, staffing, manufacturing, fulfillment, inventory--all the stuff involved in operating your business on a day-to-day basis.

Fortunately, most entrepreneurs have a better handle on their operations plan than on any other aspect of their business. After all, while it may not seem natural to analyze your market or your competition, most budding entrepreneurs tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how they will  run  their businesses.

Your goal is to answer the following key questions:

  • What facilities, equipment, and supplies do you need?
  • What is your organizational structure? Who is responsible for which aspects of the business?
  • Is research and development required, either during start up or as an ongoing operation? If so, how will you accomplish this task?
  • What are your initial staffing needs? When and how will you add staff?
  • How will you establish business relationships with vendors and suppliers? How will those relationships impact your day-to-day operations?
  • How will your operations change as the company grows? What steps will you take to cut costs if the company initially does not perform up to expectations?

Operations plans should be highly specific to your industry, your market sector, and your customers. Instead of providing an example like I've done with other sections, use the following to determine the key areas your plan should address:

Location and Facility Management

In terms of location, describe:

  • Zoning requirements
  • The type of building you need
  • The space you need
  • Power and utility requirements
  • Access: Customers, suppliers, shipping, etc.
  • Specialized construction or renovations
  • Interior and exterior remodeling and preparation

Daily Operations

  • Production methods
  • Service methods
  • Inventory control
  • Sales and customer service
  • Receiving and Delivery
  • Maintenance, cleaning, and re-stocking
  • Licenses and permits
  • Environmental or health regulations
  • Patents, trademarks, and copyrights

Personnel Requirements

  • Typical staffing
  • Breakdown of skills required
  • Recruiting and retention
  • Policies and procedures
  • Pay structures
  • Anticipated inventory levels
  • Turnover rate
  • Seasonal fluctuations in demand
  • Major suppliers
  • Back-up suppliers and contingency plans
  • Credit and payment policies

Sound like a lot? It can be, but not all of the above needs to be in your business plan.

You should think through and create a detailed plan for each category, but you won't need to share the results with the people who read your business plan

Working through each issue and developing concrete operations plans helps you in two major ways:

  • If you don't plan to seek financing or outside capital, you can still take advantage of creating a comprehensive plan that addresses all of your operational needs.
  • If you do seek financing or outside capital, you may not include all the detail in your business plan--but you will have answers to any operations questions at your fingertips.

Think of Operations as the "implementation" section of your business plan. What do you need to do? How will you get it done? Then create an overview of that plan to make sure your milestones and timeline make sense.

That way the operations section answers the "How?" question.

Many investors and lenders feel the quality and experience of the management team is one of the most important factors used to evaluate the potential of a new business.

But putting work into the Management Team section will not only benefit people who may read your plan. It will also help  you  evaluate the skills, experiences, and resources your management team will need . Addressing your company's needs during implementation will make a major impact on your chances for success.

  • Who are the key leaders? (If actual people have not been identified, describe the type of people needed.) What are their experiences, educational backgrounds, and skills?
  • Do your key leaders have industry experience? If not, what experience do they bring to the business that is applicable?
  • What duties will each position perform? (Creating an organization chart might be helpful.) What authority is granted to and what responsibilities are expected in each position?
  • What salary levels will be required to attract qualified candidates for each position? What is the salary structure for the company, by position?

The Management Team section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Jim Rouleur, Owner and Manager

Joe has over 20 years experience in the cycling business. He served for 10 years as a product manager for Acme Bikes. After that he was the operations manager of Single Track Cycles, a full-service bike shop located in Bend, Oregon. He has an undergraduate degree in marketing from Duke University and an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University. (A complete resume for Mr. Rouleur can be found in the Appendix.)

Mary Gearset, Assistant Manager

Mary was the 2009 U.S. Mountain Biking National Champion. She worked in product development for High Tec frames, creating custom frames and frame modifications for professional cyclists. She also has extensive customer service and sales experience, having worked for four years as the online manager of Pro Parts Unlimited, an online retailer of high-end cycling equipment and accessories.

In some instances you may also wish to describe your staffing plans.

For example, if you manufacture a product or provide a service and will hire a key skilled employee, describe that employee's credentials. Otherwise, include staffing plans in the Operations section.

One key note: Don't be tempted to add a "name" to your management team in hopes of attracting investors. Celebrity management team members may attract the attention of your readers, but experienced lenders and investors will immediately ask what role that person will actually play in the running of the business--and in most cases those individuals won't play any meaningful role.

If you don't have a lot of experience--but are willing to work hard to overcome that lack of experience--don't be tempted to include people in your plan who will not actually work in the business.

If you can't survive without help, that's okay. In fact, that's expected; no one does anything worthwhile on their own. Just make plans to get help from the  right  people.

Finally, when you create your Management section, focus on credentials but pay extra attention to what each person actually will  do . Experience and reputation are great, but action is everything.

That way your Management section will answer the "Who is in charge?" question.

Numbers tell the story. Bottom line results indicate the success or failure of any business.

Financial projections and estimates help entrepreneurs, lenders, and investors or lenders objectively evaluate a company's potential for success. If a business seeks outside funding, providing comprehensive financial reports and analysis is critical.

But most important, financial projections tell you whether your business has a chance of being viable--and if not let you know you have more work to do.

Most business plans include at least five basic reports or projections:

  • Balance Sheet: Describes the company cash position including assets, liabilities, shareholders, and earnings retained to fund future operations or to serve as funding for expansion and growth. It indicates the financial health of a business.
  • Income Statement: Also called a Profit and Loss statement, this report lists projected revenue and expenses. It shows whether a company will be profitable during a given time period.
  • Cash Flow Statement: A projection of cash receipts and expense payments. It shows how and when cash will flow through the business; without cash, payments (including salaries) cannot be made.
  • Operating Budget: A detailed breakdown of income and expenses; provides a guide for how the company will operate from a "dollars" point of view.
  • Break-Even Analysis: A projection of the revenue required to cover all fixed and variable expenses. Shows when, under specific conditions, a business can expect to become profitable.

It's easy to find examples of all of the above. Even the most basic accounting software packages include templates and samples. You can also find templates in Excel and Google Docs. (A quick search like "google docs profit and loss statement" yields plenty of examples.)

Or you can work with an accountant to create the necessary financial projections and documents. Certainly feel free to do so, but first play around with the reports yourself. While you don't need to be an accountant to run a business, you do need to understand your numbers, and the best way to understand your numbers is usually to actually work with your numbers.

But ultimately the tools you use to develop your numbers are not as important as whether those numbers are as accurate as possible--and whether those numbers help you decide whether to take the next step and put your business plan into action.

Then Financial Analysis can help you answer the most important business question: "Can we make a profit?"

Some business plans include less essential but potentially important information in an Appendix section. You may decide to include, as backup or additional information:

  • Resumes of key leaders
  • Additional descriptions of products and services
  • Legal agreements
  • Organizational charts
  • Examples of marketing and advertising collateral
  • Photographs of potential facilities, products, etc.
  • Backup for market research or competitive analysis
  • Additional financial documents or projections

Keep in mind creating an Appendix is usually only necessary if you're seeking financing or hoping to bring in partners or investors. Initially the people reading your business plan don't wish to plow through reams and reams of charts, numbers, and backup information. If one does want to dig deeper, fine--he or she can check out the documents in the Appendix.

That way your business plan can share your story clearly and concisely.

Otherwise, since you created your business plan, you should already have the backup.

Tying It All Together

While you may use your business plan to attract investors, partners, suppliers, etc., never forget that the goal of your business plan is to convince  you  that your idea makes sense. 

Because ultimately it's your time, your money, and your effort on the line.

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What is strategic planning? A 5-step guide

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Strategic planning is a process through which business leaders map out their vision for their organization’s growth and how they’re going to get there. In this article, we'll guide you through the strategic planning process, including why it's important, the benefits and best practices, and five steps to get you from beginning to end.

Strategic planning is a process through which business leaders map out their vision for their organization’s growth and how they’re going to get there. The strategic planning process informs your organization’s decisions, growth, and goals.

Strategic planning helps you clearly define your company’s long-term objectives—and maps how your short-term goals and work will help you achieve them. This, in turn, gives you a clear sense of where your organization is going and allows you to ensure your teams are working on projects that make the most impact. Think of it this way—if your goals and objectives are your destination on a map, your strategic plan is your navigation system.

In this article, we walk you through the 5-step strategic planning process and show you how to get started developing your own strategic plan.

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What is strategic planning?

Strategic planning is a business process that helps you define and share the direction your company will take in the next three to five years. During the strategic planning process, stakeholders review and define the organization’s mission and goals, conduct competitive assessments, and identify company goals and objectives. The product of the planning cycle is a strategic plan, which is shared throughout the company.

What is a strategic plan?

[inline illustration] Strategic plan elements (infographic)

A strategic plan is the end result of the strategic planning process. At its most basic, it’s a tool used to define your organization’s goals and what actions you’ll take to achieve them.

Typically, your strategic plan should include: 

Your company’s mission statement

Your organizational goals, including your long-term goals and short-term, yearly objectives

Any plan of action, tactics, or approaches you plan to take to meet those goals

What are the benefits of strategic planning?

Strategic planning can help with goal setting and decision-making by allowing you to map out how your company will move toward your organization’s vision and mission statements in the next three to five years. Let’s circle back to our map metaphor. If you think of your company trajectory as a line on a map, a strategic plan can help you better quantify how you’ll get from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to be in a few years).

When you create and share a clear strategic plan with your team, you can:

Build a strong organizational culture by clearly defining and aligning on your organization’s mission, vision, and goals.

Align everyone around a shared purpose and ensure all departments and teams are working toward a common objective.

Proactively set objectives to help you get where you want to go and achieve desired outcomes.

Promote a long-term vision for your company rather than focusing primarily on short-term gains.

Ensure resources are allocated around the most high-impact priorities.

Define long-term goals and set shorter-term goals to support them.

Assess your current situation and identify any opportunities—or threats—allowing your organization to mitigate potential risks.

Create a proactive business culture that enables your organization to respond more swiftly to emerging market changes and opportunities.

What are the 5 steps in strategic planning?

The strategic planning process involves a structured methodology that guides the organization from vision to implementation. The strategic planning process starts with assembling a small, dedicated team of key strategic planners—typically five to 10 members—who will form the strategic planning, or management, committee. This team is responsible for gathering crucial information, guiding the development of the plan, and overseeing strategy execution.

Once you’ve established your management committee, you can get to work on the planning process. 

Step 1: Assess your current business strategy and business environment

Before you can define where you’re going, you first need to define where you are. Understanding the external environment, including market trends and competitive landscape, is crucial in the initial assessment phase of strategic planning.

To do this, your management committee should collect a variety of information from additional stakeholders, like employees and customers. In particular, plan to gather:

Relevant industry and market data to inform any market opportunities, as well as any potential upcoming threats in the near future.

Customer insights to understand what your customers want from your company—like product improvements or additional services.

Employee feedback that needs to be addressed—whether about the product, business practices, or the day-to-day company culture.

Consider different types of strategic planning tools and analytical techniques to gather this information, such as:

A balanced scorecard to help you evaluate four major elements of a business: learning and growth, business processes, customer satisfaction, and financial performance.

A SWOT analysis to help you assess both current and future potential for the business (you’ll return to this analysis periodically during the strategic planning process). 

To fill out each letter in the SWOT acronym, your management committee will answer a series of questions:

What does your organization currently do well?

What separates you from your competitors?

What are your most valuable internal resources?

What tangible assets do you have?

What is your biggest strength? 

Weaknesses:

What does your organization do poorly?

What do you currently lack (whether that’s a product, resource, or process)?

What do your competitors do better than you?

What, if any, limitations are holding your organization back?

What processes or products need improvement? 

Opportunities:

What opportunities does your organization have?

How can you leverage your unique company strengths?

Are there any trends that you can take advantage of?

How can you capitalize on marketing or press opportunities?

Is there an emerging need for your product or service? 

What emerging competitors should you keep an eye on?

Are there any weaknesses that expose your organization to risk?

Have you or could you experience negative press that could reduce market share?

Is there a chance of changing customer attitudes towards your company? 

Step 2: Identify your company’s goals and objectives

To begin strategy development, take into account your current position, which is where you are now. Then, draw inspiration from your vision, mission, and current position to identify and define your goals—these are your final destination. 

To develop your strategy, you’re essentially pulling out your compass and asking, “Where are we going next?” “What’s the ideal future state of this company?” This can help you figure out which path you need to take to get there.

During this phase of the planning process, take inspiration from important company documents, such as:

Your mission statement, to understand how you can continue moving towards your organization’s core purpose.

Your vision statement, to clarify how your strategic plan fits into your long-term vision.

Your company values, to guide you towards what matters most towards your company.

Your competitive advantages, to understand what unique benefit you offer to the market.

Your long-term goals, to track where you want to be in five or 10 years.

Your financial forecast and projection, to understand where you expect your financials to be in the next three years, what your expected cash flow is, and what new opportunities you will likely be able to invest in.

Step 3: Develop your strategic plan and determine performance metrics

Now that you understand where you are and where you want to go, it’s time to put pen to paper. Take your current business position and strategy into account, as well as your organization’s goals and objectives, and build out a strategic plan for the next three to five years. Keep in mind that even though you’re creating a long-term plan, parts of your plan should be created or revisited as the quarters and years go on.

As you build your strategic plan, you should define:

Company priorities for the next three to five years, based on your SWOT analysis and strategy.

Yearly objectives for the first year. You don’t need to define your objectives for every year of the strategic plan. As the years go on, create new yearly objectives that connect back to your overall strategic goals . 

Related key results and KPIs. Some of these should be set by the management committee, and some should be set by specific teams that are closer to the work. Make sure your key results and KPIs are measurable and actionable. These KPIs will help you track progress and ensure you’re moving in the right direction.

Budget for the next year or few years. This should be based on your financial forecast as well as your direction. Do you need to spend aggressively to develop your product? Build your team? Make a dent with marketing? Clarify your most important initiatives and how you’ll budget for those.

A high-level project roadmap . A project roadmap is a tool in project management that helps you visualize the timeline of a complex initiative, but you can also create a very high-level project roadmap for your strategic plan. Outline what you expect to be working on in certain quarters or years to make the plan more actionable and understandable.

Step 4: Implement and share your plan

Now it’s time to put your plan into action. Strategy implementation involves clear communication across your entire organization to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and how to measure the plan’s success. 

Make sure your team (especially senior leadership) has access to the strategic plan, so they can understand how their work contributes to company priorities and the overall strategy map. We recommend sharing your plan in the same tool you use to manage and track work, so you can more easily connect high-level objectives to daily work. If you don’t already, consider using a work management platform .  

A few tips to make sure your plan will be executed without a hitch: 

Communicate clearly to your entire organization throughout the implementation process, to ensure all team members understand the strategic plan and how to implement it effectively. 

Define what “success” looks like by mapping your strategic plan to key performance indicators.

Ensure that the actions outlined in the strategic plan are integrated into the daily operations of the organization, so that every team member's daily activities are aligned with the broader strategic objectives.

Utilize tools and software—like a work management platform—that can aid in implementing and tracking the progress of your plan.

Regularly monitor and share the progress of the strategic plan with the entire organization, to keep everyone informed and reinforce the importance of the plan.

Establish regular check-ins to monitor the progress of your strategic plan and make adjustments as needed. 

Step 5: Revise and restructure as needed

Once you’ve created and implemented your new strategic framework, the final step of the planning process is to monitor and manage your plan.

Remember, your strategic plan isn’t set in stone. You’ll need to revisit and update the plan if your company changes directions or makes new investments. As new market opportunities and threats come up, you’ll likely want to tweak your strategic plan. Make sure to review your plan regularly—meaning quarterly and annually—to ensure it’s still aligned with your organization’s vision and goals.

Keep in mind that your plan won’t last forever, even if you do update it frequently. A successful strategic plan evolves with your company’s long-term goals. When you’ve achieved most of your strategic goals, or if your strategy has evolved significantly since you first made your plan, it might be time to create a new one.

Build a smarter strategic plan with a work management platform

To turn your company strategy into a plan—and ultimately, impact—make sure you’re proactively connecting company objectives to daily work. When you can clarify this connection, you’re giving your team members the context they need to get their best work done. 

A work management platform plays a pivotal role in this process. It acts as a central hub for your strategic plan, ensuring that every task and project is directly tied to your broader company goals. This alignment is crucial for visibility and coordination, allowing team members to see how their individual efforts contribute to the company’s success. 

By leveraging such a platform, you not only streamline workflow and enhance team productivity but also align every action with your strategic objectives—allowing teams to drive greater impact and helping your company move toward goals more effectively. 

Strategic planning FAQs

Still have questions about strategic planning? We have answers.

Why do I need a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is one of many tools you can use to plan and hit your goals. It helps map out strategic objectives and growth metrics that will help your company be successful.

When should I create a strategic plan?

You should aim to create a strategic plan every three to five years, depending on your organization’s growth speed.

Since the point of a strategic plan is to map out your long-term goals and how you’ll get there, you should create a strategic plan when you’ve met most or all of them. You should also create a strategic plan any time you’re going to make a large pivot in your organization’s mission or enter new markets. 

What is a strategic planning template?

A strategic planning template is a tool organizations can use to map out their strategic plan and track progress. Typically, a strategic planning template houses all the components needed to build out a strategic plan, including your company’s vision and mission statements, information from any competitive analyses or SWOT assessments, and relevant KPIs.

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. business plan?

A business plan can help you document your strategy as you’re getting started so every team member is on the same page about your core business priorities and goals. This tool can help you document and share your strategy with key investors or stakeholders as you get your business up and running.

You should create a business plan when you’re: 

Just starting your business

Significantly restructuring your business

If your business is already established, you should create a strategic plan instead of a business plan. Even if you’re working at a relatively young company, your strategic plan can build on your business plan to help you move in the right direction. During the strategic planning process, you’ll draw from a lot of the fundamental business elements you built early on to establish your strategy for the next three to five years.

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. mission and vision statements?

Your strategic plan, mission statement, and vision statements are all closely connected. In fact, during the strategic planning process, you will take inspiration from your mission and vision statements in order to build out your strategic plan.

Simply put: 

A mission statement summarizes your company’s purpose.

A vision statement broadly explains how you’ll reach your company’s purpose.

A strategic plan pulls in inspiration from your mission and vision statements and outlines what actions you’re going to take to move in the right direction. 

For example, if your company produces pet safety equipment, here’s how your mission statement, vision statement, and strategic plan might shake out:

Mission statement: “To ensure the safety of the world’s animals.” 

Vision statement: “To create pet safety and tracking products that are effortless to use.” 

Your strategic plan would outline the steps you’re going to take in the next few years to bring your company closer to your mission and vision. For example, you develop a new pet tracking smart collar or improve the microchipping experience for pet owners. 

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. company objectives?

Company objectives are broad goals. You should set these on a yearly or quarterly basis (if your organization moves quickly). These objectives give your team a clear sense of what you intend to accomplish for a set period of time. 

Your strategic plan is more forward-thinking than your company goals, and it should cover more than one year of work. Think of it this way: your company objectives will move the needle towards your overall strategy—but your strategic plan should be bigger than company objectives because it spans multiple years.

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. a business case?

A business case is a document to help you pitch a significant investment or initiative for your company. When you create a business case, you’re outlining why this investment is a good idea, and how this large-scale project will positively impact the business. 

You might end up building business cases for things on your strategic plan’s roadmap—but your strategic plan should be bigger than that. This tool should encompass multiple years of your roadmap, across your entire company—not just one initiative.

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. a project plan?

A strategic plan is a company-wide, multi-year plan of what you want to accomplish in the next three to five years and how you plan to accomplish that. A project plan, on the other hand, outlines how you’re going to accomplish a specific project. This project could be one of many initiatives that contribute to a specific company objective which, in turn, is one of many objectives that contribute to your strategic plan. 

What’s the difference between strategic management vs. strategic planning?

A strategic plan is a tool to define where your organization wants to go and what actions you need to take to achieve those goals. Strategic planning is the process of creating a plan in order to hit your strategic objectives.

Strategic management includes the strategic planning process, but also goes beyond it. In addition to planning how you will achieve your big-picture goals, strategic management also helps you organize your resources and figure out the best action plans for success. 

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How to write a business plan in seven simple steps

When written effectively, a business plan can help raise capital, inform decisions, and draw new talent.

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Writing a business plan is often the first step in transforming your business from an idea into something tangible . As you write, your thoughts begin to solidify into strategy, and a path forward starts to emerge. But a business plan is not only the realm of startups; established companies can also benefit from revisiting and rewriting theirs. In any case, the formal documentation can provide the clarity needed to motivate staff , woo investors, or inform future decisions.  

No matter your industry or the size of your team, the task of writing a business plan—a document filled with so much detail and documentation—can feel daunting. Don’t let that stop you, however; there are easy steps to getting started. 

What is a business plan and why does it matter? 

A business plan is a formal document outlining the goals, direction, finances, team, and future planning of your business. It can be geared toward investors, in a bid to raise capital, or used as an internal document to align teams and provide direction. It typically includes extensive market research, competitor analysis, financial documentation, and an overview of your business and marketing strategy. When written effectively, a business plan can help prescribe action and keep business owners on track to meeting business goals. 

Who needs a business plan?

A business plan can be particularly helpful during a company’s initial growth and serve as a guiding force amid the uncertainty, distractions, and at-times rapid developments involved in starting a business . For enterprise companies, a business plan should be a living, breathing document that guides decision-making and facilitates intentional growth.

“You should have a game plan for every major commitment you’ll have, from early-stage founder agreements to onboarding legal professionals,” says Colin Keogh, CEO of the Rapid Foundation—a company that brings technology and training to communities in need—and a WeWork Labs mentor in the UK . “You can’t go out on funding rounds or take part in accelerators without any planning.”

How to make a business plan and seven components every plan needs

While there is no set format for writing a business plan, there are several elements that are typically included. Here’s what’s important to consider when writing your business plan. 

1. Executive summary 

No longer than half a page, the executive summary should briefly introduce your business and describe the purpose of the business plan. Are you writing the plan to attract capital? If so, specify how much money you hope to raise, and how you’re going to repay the loan. If you’re writing the plan to align your team and provide direction, explain at a high level what you hope to achieve with this alignment, as well as the size and state of your existing team.

The executive summary should explain what your business does, and provide an introductory overview of your financial health and major achievements to date.  

2. Company description 

To properly introduce your company, it’s important to also describe the wider industry. What is the financial worth of your market? Are there market trends that will affect the success of your company? What is the state of the industry and its future potential? Use data to support your claims and be sure to include the full gamut of information—both positive and negative—to provide investors and your employees a complete and accurate portrayal of your company’s milieu. 

Go on to describe your company and what it provides your customers. Are you a sole proprietor , LLC, partnership, or corporation? Are you an established company or a budding startup? What does your leadership team look like and how many employees do you have? This section should provide both historical and future context around your business, including its founding story, mission statement , and vision for the future. 

It’s essential to showcase your point of difference in your company description, as well as any advantages you may have in terms of expert talent or leading technology. This is typically one of the first pieces of the plan to be written.

3. Market analysis and opportunity

Research is key in completing a business plan and, ideally, more time should be spent on research and analysis than writing the plan itself. Understanding the size, growth, history, future potential, and current risks inherent to the wider market is essential for the success of your business, and these considerations should be described here. 

In addition to this, it’s important to include research into the target demographic of your product or service. This might be in the form of fictional customer personas, or a broader overview of the income, location, age, gender, and buying habits of your existing and potential customers. 

Though the research should be objective, the analysis in this section is a good place to reiterate your point of difference and the ways you plan to capture the market and surpass your competition.

4. Competitive analysis 

Beyond explaining the elements that differentiate you from your competition, it’s important to provide an in-depth analysis of your competitors themselves.

This research should delve into the operations, financials, history, leadership, and distribution channels of your direct and indirect competitors. It should explore the value propositions of these competitors, and explain the ways you can compete with, or exploit, their strengths and weaknesses. 

5. Execution plan: operations, development, management 

This segment provides details around how you’re going to do the work necessary to fulfill this plan. It should include information about your organizational structure and the everyday operations of your team, contractors, and physical and digital assets.

Consider including your company’s organizational chart, as well as more in-depth information on the leadership team: Who are they? What are their backgrounds? What do they bring to the table? Potentially include the résumés of key people on your team. 

For startups, your execution plan should include how long it will take to begin operations, and then how much longer to reach profitability. For established companies, it’s a good idea to outline how long it will take to execute your plan, and the ways in which you will change existing operations.

If applicable, it’s also beneficial to include your strategy for hiring new team members and scaling into different markets. 

6. Marketing plan 

It’s essential to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place as you scale operations or kick off a new strategy—and this should be shared with your stakeholders and employees. This segment of your business plan should show how you’re going to promote your business, attract customers, and retain existing clients.

Include brand messaging, marketing assets, and the timeline and budget for engaging consumers across different channels. Potentially include a marketing SWOT analysis into your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Evaluate the way your competitors market themselves, and how your target audience responds—or doesn’t respond—to these messages.

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7. Financial history and projections  

It’s essential to disclose all finances involved in running your company within your business plan. This is so your shareholders properly understand how you’re projected to perform going forward, and the progress you’ve made so far. 

You should include your income statement, which outlines annual net profits or losses; a cash flow statement, which shows how much money you need to launch or scale operations; and a balance sheet that shows financial liabilities and assets. 

“An income statement is the measure of your financial results for a certain period and the most accurate report of business activities during that time, [whereas a balance sheet] presents your assets, liabilities, and equity,” Amit Perry, a corporate finance expert, explained at a WeWork Labs educational session in Israel.

It’s crucial to understand the terms correctly so you know how to present your finances when you’re speaking to investors. Amit Perry, CEO and founder of Perryllion Ltd.

In addition, if you’re asking for funding, you will need to outline exactly how much money you need as well as where this money will go and how you plan to pay it back. 

12 quick tips for writing a business plan 

Now that you know what components are traditionally included in a business plan, it’s time to consider how you’ll actually construct the document.

Here are 12 key factors to keep in mind when writing a business plan. These overarching principles will help you write a business plan that serves its purpose (whatever that may be) and becomes an easy reference in the years ahead. 

1. Don’t be long-winded

Use clear, concise language and avoid jargon. When business plans are too long-winded, they’re less likely to be used as intended and more likely to be forgotten or glazed over by stakeholders. 

2. Show why you care

Let your passion for your business shine through; show employees and investors why you care (and why they should too). 

3. Provide supporting documents

Don’t be afraid to have an extensive list of appendices, including the CVs of team members, built-out customer personas, product demonstrations, and examples of internal or external messaging. 

4. Reference data

All information regarding the market, your competitors, and your customers should reference authoritative and relevant data points.  

5. Research, research, research

The research that goes into your business plan should take you longer than the writing itself. Consider tracking your research as supporting documentation. 

6. Clearly demonstrate your points of difference

At every opportunity, it’s important to drive home the way your product or service differentiates you from your competition and helps solve a problem for your target audience. Don’t shy away from reiterating these differentiating factors throughout the plan. 

7. Be objective in your research

As important as it is to showcase your company and the benefits you provide your customers, it’s also important to be objective in the data and research you reference. Showcase the good and the bad when it comes to market research and your financials; you want your shareholders to know you’ve thought through every possible contingency. 

8. Know the purpose of your plan

It’s important you understand the purpose of your plan before you begin researching and writing. Be clear about whether you’re writing this plan to attract investment, align teams, or provide direction. 

9. Identify your audience

The same way your business plan must have a clearly defined purpose, you must have a clearly defined audience. To whom are you writing? New investors? Current employees? Potential collaborators? Existing shareholders? 

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10. Avoid jargon

Avoid using industry-specific jargon, unless completely unavoidable, and try making your business plan as easy to understand as possible—for all potential stakeholders. 

11. Don’t be afraid to change it

Your business plan should evolve with your company’s growth, which means your business plan document should evolve as well. Revisit and rework your business plan as needed, and remember the most important factor: having a plan in place, even if it changes.

A business plan shouldn’t just be a line on your to-do list; it should be referenced and used as intended going forward. Keep your business plan close, and use it to inform decisions and guide your team in the years ahead. 

Creating a business plan is an important step in growing your company 

Whether you’re just starting out or running an existing operation, writing an effective business plan can be a key predictor of future success. It can be a foundational document from which you grow and thrive . It can serve as a constant reminder to employees and clients about what you stand for, and the direction in which you’re moving. Or, it can prove to investors that your business, team, and vision are worth their investment. 

No matter the size or stage of your business, WeWork can help you fulfill the objectives outlined in your business plan—and WeWork’s coworking spaces can be a hotbed for finding talent and investors, too. The benefits of coworking spaces include intentionally designed lounges, conference rooms, and private offices that foster connection and bolster creativity, while a global network of professionals allows you to expand your reach and meet new collaborators. 

Using these steps to write a business plan will put you in good stead to not only create a document that fulfills a purpose but one that also helps to more clearly understand your market, competition, point of difference, and plan for the future. 

For more tips on growing teams and building a business, check out all our articles on  Ideas by WeWork.

Caitlin Bishop is a writer for WeWork’s  Ideas by WeWork , based in New York City. Previously, she was a journalist and editor at  Mamamia  in Sydney, Australia, and a contributing reporter at  Gotham Gazette .

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Starting a business in the United States involves a number of different steps spanning legal considerations, market research, creating a business plan, securing funding, and developing a marketing strategy. It also requires decisions about a business’ location, structure, name, taxation, and registration. Here are the key steps involved in starting a business, as well as important aspects of the process for entrepreneurs to consider.

Key Takeaways

  • Entrepreneurs should start by conducting market research to understand their industry space, competition, and target customers.
  • The next step is to write a comprehensive business plan, outlining the company’s structure, vision, and strategy.
  • Securing funding in the form of grants, loans, venture capital, and/or crowdfunded money is crucial if you’re not self-funding.
  • When choosing a venue, be aware of local regulations and requirements.
  • Design your business structure with an eye to legal aspects, such as taxation and registration.
  • Make a strategic marketing plan that addresses the specifics of the business, industry, and target market.

Before starting a business, entrepreneurs should conduct market research to determine their target audience, competition, and market trends. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) breaks down common market considerations as follows:

  • Demand : Is there a need for this product or service?
  • Market size : How many people might be interested?
  • Economic indicators : What are the income, employment rate, and spending habits of potential customers?
  • Location : Are the target market and business well situated for each other?
  • Competition : What is the market saturation ? Who and how many are you going up against?
  • Pricing : What might a customer be willing to pay?

Market research should also include an analysis of market opportunities, barriers to market entry, and industry trends, as well as the competition’s strengths, weaknesses, and market share .

There are various methods for conducting market research, and these will vary depending on the nature of the industry and potential business. Data can come from a variety of places, including statistical agencies, economic and financial institutions, and industry sources, as well as direct consumer research through focus groups, interviews, surveys, and questionnaires.

A comprehensive business plan is like a blueprint. It lays the foundation for business development and affects decision-making, day-to-day operations, and growth. Potential investors or partners may want to review and assess it in advance of agreeing to work together. Financial institutions often request business plans as part of an application for a loan or other forms of capital. 

Business plans will differ according to the needs and nature of the company and should only include what makes sense for the business in question. As such, they can vary in length and structure. They can generally be divided into two formats: traditional and lean start-up. The latter is less common and more useful for simple businesses or those that expect to rework their traditional business plan frequently. It provides a vivid snapshot of the company through a small number of elements.

The process of funding a business depends on its needs and the vision and financial situation of its owner.  The first step is to calculate the start-up costs . Identify a list of expenses and put a dollar amount to each of them through research and requesting quotes. The SBA has a start-up costs calculator for small businesses that includes common types of business expenses.  

The next step is to determine how to get the money. Common methods include:

  • Self-funding , also known as “ bootstrapping ”
  • Finding investors willing to contribute to your venture capital
  • Raising money online by crowdfunding
  • Securing a business loan from a bank, an online lender, or a credit union
  • Winning a business grant from a donor, usually a government, foundation, charity, or corporation

Different methods suit different businesses, and it’s important to consider the obligations associated with any avenue of funding. For example, investors generally want a degree of control for their money, while self-funding puts business owners fully in charge. Of course, investors also mitigate risk; self-funding does not.

Availability is another consideration. Loans are easier to get than grants, which don’t have to be paid back. Additionally, the federal government doesn’t provide grants for the purposes of starting or growing a business, although private organizations may. However, the SBA does guarantee several categories of loans , accessing capital that may not be available through traditional lenders. No matter the funding method(s), it’s essential to detail how the money will be used and lay out a future financial plan for the business, including sales projections and loan repayments . 

Businesses operating in the U.S. are legally subject to regulations at the local, county, state, and federal level involving taxation, business IDs, registrations, and permits.

Choosing a Business Location

Where a business operates will dictate such things as taxes, zoning laws (for brick-and-mortar locations), licenses, and permits. Other considerations when choosing a location might include:

  • Human factors : These include target audience and the preferences of business owners and partners regarding convenience, knowledge of the area, and commuting distance.
  • Regulations : Government at every level will assert its authority.
  • Regionally specific expenses : Examples are average salaries (including required minimum wages), property or rental prices, insurance rates, utilities, and government fees and licensing.
  • The tax and financial environment : Tax types include income, sales, corporate, and property, as well as tax credits; available investment incentives and loan programs may also be geographically determined.

Picking a Business Structure

The structure of a business should reflect the desired number of owners, liability characteristics, and tax status. Because these have legal and tax compliance implications , it’s important to understand them fully. If necessary, consult a business counselor, a lawyer, and/or an accountant.

Common business structures include:

  • Sole proprietorship : A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business that has just one owner, who pays personal income tax on its profits.
  • Partnership : Partnership options include a limited partnership (LP) and a limited liability partnership (LLP) .
  • Limited liability company (LLC) : An LLC protects its owners from personal responsibility for the company’s debts and liabilities.
  • Corporation : The different types of corporations include C corp , S corp , B corp , closed corporation , and nonprofit .

Getting a Tax ID Number

A tax ID number is the equivalent of a Social Security number for a business. Whether or not a state and/or federal tax ID number is required will depend on the nature of the business and the location in which it’s registered.

A federal tax ID, also known as an employer identification number (EIN) , is required if a business:

  • Operates as a corporation or partnership
  • Pays federal taxes
  • Has employees
  • Files employment, excise, alcohol, tobacco, or firearms tax returns
  • Has a Keogh plan
  • Withholds taxes on non-wage income to nonresident aliens
  • Is involved with certain types of organizations, including trusts, estates, real estate mortgage investment conduits, nonprofits, farmers’ cooperatives, and plan administrators

An EIN can also be useful if you want to open a business bank account, offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or apply for federal business licenses and permits. You can get one online from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) . State websites will do the same for a state tax ID.

Registering a Business

How you register a business will depend on its location, nature, size, and business structure.  For example, a small business may not require any steps beyond registering its business name with local and state governments, and business owners whose business name is their own legal name might not need to register at all.

That said, registration can provide personal liability protection, tax-exempt status, and trademark protection, so it can be beneficial even if it’s not strictly required. Overall registration requirements, costs, and documentation will vary depending on the governing jurisdictions and business structure.  

Most LLCs, corporations, partnerships, and nonprofits are required to register at the state level and will need a registered agent to file on their behalf. Determining which state to register with can depend on factors such as:

  • Whether the business has a physical presence in the state
  • If the business often conducts in-person client meetings in the state
  • If a large portion of business revenue comes from the state
  • Whether the business has employees working in the state

If a business operates in more than one state, it may need to file for foreign qualification in other states in which it conducts business. In this case the business would register in the state in which it was formed (this would be considered the domestic state) and file for foreign qualification in any additional states.

Obtaining Permits

Filing for the applicable government licenses and permits will depend on the industry and nature of the business and might include submitting an application to a federal agency, state, county, and/or city. The SBA lists federally regulated business activities alongside the corresponding license-issuing agency, while state, county, and city regulations can be found on the official government websites for each region.

Every business should have a marketing plan that outlines an overall strategy and the day-to-day tactics used to execute it. A successful marketing plan will lay out tactics for how to connect with customers and convince them to buy what the company is selling. 

Marketing plans will vary according to the specifics of the industry, target market, and business, but they should aim to include descriptions of and strategies for the following:

  • A target customer : Including market size, demographics, traits, and relevant trends
  • Value propositions or business differentiators : An overview of the company’s competitive advantage with regard to employees, certifications, and offerings
  • A sales and marketing plan : Including methods, channels, and a customer’s journey through interacting with the business
  • Goals : Should cover different aspects of the marketing and sales strategy, such as social media follower growth, public relations opportunities, and sales targets
  • An execution plan : Should detail tactics and break down higher-level goals into specific actions
  • A budget : Detailing how much different marketing projects and activities will cost

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Business?

Business start-up costs will vary depending on the industry, business activity, and product or service offered. Home-based online businesses will usually cost less than those that require an office setting to meet with customers. The estimated cost can be calculated by first identifying a list of expenses and then researching and requesting quotes for each one. Use the SBA’s start-up costs calculator for common types of expenses associated with starting a small business.

What Should I Do Before Starting a Business?

Entrepreneurs seeking to start their own business should fully research and understand all the legal and funding considerations involved, conduct market research, and create marketing and business plans. They will also need to secure any necessary permits, licenses, funding, and business bank accounts.

What Types of Funding Are Available to Start a Business?

Start-up capital can come in the form of loans, grants, crowdfunding, venture capital, or self-funding. Note that the federal government does not provide grant funding for the purposes of starting a business, although some private sources do.

Do You Need to Write a Business Plan?

Business plans are comprehensive documents that lay out the most important information about a business. They reference its growth, development, and decision-making processes, and financial institutions and potential investors and partners generally request to review them in advance of agreeing to provide funding or to collaborate.

Starting a business is no easy feat, but research and preparation can help smooth the way. Having a firm understanding of your target market, competition, industry, goals, company structure, funding requirements, legal regulations, and marketing strategy, as well as conducting research and consulting experts where necessary, are all things that entrepreneurs can do to set themselves up for success.

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Market Research and Competitive Analysis .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Write Your Business Plan .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. " Calculate Your Startup Costs ."

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Fund Your Business .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Grants .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Loans .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Pick Your Business Location .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Choose a Business Structure .”

Internal Revenue Service. “ Do You Need an EIN? ”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Get Federal and State Tax ID Numbers .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Register Your Business .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Apply for Licenses and Permits .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Marketing and Sales .”

what is the first step in business planning

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17.2 The Planning Process

  • Outline the planning and controlling processes.

Planning is a process. Ideally it is future oriented, comprehensive, systematic, integrated, and negotiated. 11 It involves an extensive search for alternatives and analyzes relevant information, is systematic in nature, and is commonly participative. 12 The planning model described in this section breaks the managerial function of planning into several steps, as shown in Exhibit 17.3 . Following this step-by-step procedure helps ensure that organizational planning meets these requirements.

Step 1: Developing an Awareness of the Present State

According to management scholars Harold Koontz and Cyril O’Donnell, the first step in the planning process is awareness. 13 It is at this step that managers build the foundation on which they will develop their plans. This foundation specifies an organization’s current status, pinpoints its commitments, recognizes its strengths and weaknesses, and sets forth a vision of the future. Because the past is instrumental in determining where an organization expects to go in the future, managers at this point must understand their organization and its history. It has been said—“The further you look back, the further you can see ahead.” 14

Step 2: Establishing Outcome Statements

The second step in the planning process consists of deciding “where the organization is headed, or is going to end up.” Ideally, this involves establishing goals. Just as your goal in this course might be to get a certain grade, managers at various levels in an organization’s hierarchy set goals. For example, plans established by a university’s marketing department curriculum committee must fit with and support the plans of the department, which contribute to the goals of the business school, whose plans must, in turn, support the goals of the university. Managers therefore develop an elaborate network of organizational plans, such as that shown in Exhibit 17.4 , to achieve the overall goals of their organization.

Goal vs. Domain Planning

Outcome statements can be constructed around specific goals or framed in terms of moving in a particular direction toward a viable set of outcomes. In goal planning , people set specific goals and then create action statements. 15 For example, freshman Kristin Rude decides that she wants a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry (the goal). She then constructs a four-year academic plan that will help her achieve this goal. Kristin is engaging in goal planning. She first identifies a goal and then develops a course of action to realize her goal.

Another approach to planning is domain/directional planning , in which managers develop a course of action that moves an organization toward one identified domain (and therefore away from other domains). 16 Within the chosen domain may lie a number of acceptable and specific goals. For example, high-school senior Neil Marquardt decides that he wants to major in a business-related discipline in college. During the next four years, he will select a variety of courses from the business school curriculum yet never select a major. After selecting courses based on availability and interest, he earns a sufficient number of credits within this chosen domain that enables him to graduate with a major in marketing. Neil never engaged in goal planning, but in the end he will realize one of many acceptable goals within an accepted domain.

The development of the Post-it® product by the 3M Corporation demonstrates how domain planning works. In the research laboratories at 3M, efforts were being made to develop new forms and strengths of cohesive substances. One result was cohesive material with no known value because of its extremely low cohesive level. A 3M division specialist, Arthur L. Fry, frustrated by page markers falling from his hymn book in church, realized that this material, recently developed by Spencer F. Silver, would stick to paper for long periods and could be removed without destroying the paper. Fry experimented with the material as page markers and note pads—out of this came the highly popular and extremely profitable 3M product Scotch Post-it®. Geoff Nicholson, the driving force behind the Post-it® product, comments that rather than get bogged down in the planning process, innovations must be fast-tracked and decisions made whether to continue or move on early during the product development process. 17

Situations in which managers are likely to engage in domain planning include (1) when there is a recognized need for flexibility, (2) when people cannot agree on goals, (3) when an organization’s external environment is unstable and highly uncertain, and (4) when an organization is starting up or is in a transitional period. In addition, domain planning is likely to prevail at upper levels in an organization, where managers are responsible for dealing with the external environment and when task uncertainty is high. Goal planning (formulating goals compatible with the chosen domain) is likely to prevail in the technical core, where there is less uncertainty.

Hybrid Planning

Occasionally, coupling of domain and goal planning occurs, creating a third approach, called hybrid planning . In this approach, managers begin with the more general domain planning and commit to moving in a particular direction. As time passes, learning occurs, uncertainty is reduced, preferences sharpen, and managers are able to make the transition to goal planning as they identify increasingly specific targets in the selected domain. Movement from domain planning to goal planning occurs as knowledge accumulates, preferences for a particular goal emerge, and action statements are created.

Consequences of Goal, Domain, and Hybrid Planning

Setting goals not only affects performance directly, but also encourages managers to plan more extensively. That is, once goals are set, people are more likely to think systematically about how they should proceed to realize the goals. 18 When people have vague goals, as in domain planning, they find it difficult to draw up detailed action plans and are therefore less likely to perform effectively. When studying the topic of motivation, you will learn about goal theory. Research suggests that goal planning results in higher levels of performance than does domain planning alone. 19

Step 3: Premising

In this step of the planning process, managers establish the premises, or assumptions, on which they will build their action statements. The quality and success of any plan depends on the quality of its underlying assumptions. Throughout the planning process, assumptions about future events must be brought to the surface, monitored, and updated. 20

Managers collect information by scanning their organization’s internal and external environments. They use this information to make assumptions about the likelihood of future events. As Kristin considers her four-year pursuit of her biochemistry major, she anticipates that in addition to her savings and funds supplied by her parents, she will need a full-time summer job for two summers in order to cover the cost of her undergraduate education. Thus, she includes finding full-time summer employment between her senior year of high school and her freshman year and between her freshman and sophomore years of college as part of her plan. The other two summers she will devote to an internship and finding postgraduate employment—much to mom and dad’s delight! Effective planning skills can be used throughout your life. The plan you develop to pay for and complete your education is an especially important one.

Step 4: Determining a Course of Action (Action Statements)

In this stage of the planning process, managers decide how to move from their current position toward their goal (or toward their domain). They develop an action statement that details what needs to be done, when, how, and by whom. The course of action determines how an organization will get from its current position to its desired future position. Choosing a course of action involves determining alternatives by drawing on research, experimentation, and experience; evaluating alternatives in light of how well each would help the organization reach its goals or approach its desired domain; and selecting a course of action after identifying and carefully considering the merits of each alternative.

Step 5: Formulating Supportive Plans

The planning process seldom stops with the adoption of a general plan. Managers often need to develop one or more supportive or derivative plans to bolster and explain their basic plan. Suppose an organization decides to switch from a 5-day, 40-hour workweek (5/40) to a 4-day, 40-hour workweek (4/40) in an attempt to reduce employee turnover. This major plan requires the creation of a number of supportive plans. Managers might need to develop personnel policies dealing with payment of daily overtime. New administrative plans will be needed for scheduling meetings, handling phone calls, and dealing with customers and suppliers.

Planning, Implementation, and Controlling

After managers have moved through the five steps of the planning process and have drawn up and implemented specific plans, they must monitor and maintain their plans. Through the controlling function (to be discussed in greater detail later in this chapter), managers observe ongoing human behavior and organizational activity, compare it to the outcome and action statements formulated during the planning process, and take corrective action if they observe unexpected and unwanted deviations. Thus, planning and controlling activities are closely interrelated (planning ➨ controlling ➨ planning . . .). Planning feeds controlling by establishing the standards against which behavior will be evaluated during the controlling process. Monitoring organizational behavior (the control activity) provides managers with input that helps them prepare for the upcoming planning period—it adds meaning to the awareness step of the planning process.

Influenced by total quality management (TQM) and the importance of achieving continuous improvement in the processes used, as well as the goods and services produced, organizations such as IBM-Rochester have linked their planning and controlling activities by adopting the Deming cycle (also known as the Shewhart cycle).

It has been noted on numerous occasions that many organizations that do plan fail to recognize the importance of continuous learning. Their plans are either placed on the shelf and collect dust or are created, implemented, and adhered to without a systematic review and modification process. Frequently, plans are implemented without first measuring where the organization currently stands so that future comparisons and evaluations of the plan’s effectiveness cannot be determined. The Deming cycle , shown in Exhibit 17.6 , helps managers assess the effects of planned action by integrating organizational learning into the planning process. The cycle consists of four key stages: (1) Plan—create the plan using the model discussed earlier. (2) Do—implement the plan. (3) Check—monitor the results of the planned course of action; organizational learning about the effectiveness of the plan occurs at this stage. (4) Act—act on what was learned, modify the plan, and return to the first stage in the cycle, and the cycle begins again as the organization strives for continuous learning and improvement.

Concept Check

  • What are the five steps in the planning process?
  • What is the difference between goal, domain, and hybrid planning?
  • How are planning, implementation, and controlling related?

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what is the first step in business planning

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Business Planning Process and Strategy

Business Planning Process and Strategy - Steps & Plan

Starting a business is one thing, but sustaining it requires planning. Business planning strategies and processes are crucial to get ahead of the competition. A business growth plan and strategic development for sustainable growth is significant for business expansion.

Developing a business plan is essential to the strategic management planning process. It helps you to set goals, establish priorities, and develop strategies for achieving them. Business planning involves many critical steps, including market analysis, competitive research, financial forecasting, and risk assessment. With the proper business planning process and business planning strategy, you can build a roadmap for the future and take your business to the next level.

This blog will explain business planning and explore the steps involved in creating a successful business planning process, appropriate business strategy for growth, and a business growth plan. As we explain business planning, we will also discuss business strategic development and how to develop a business development plan that aligns with your goals and objectives.

If you're wondering how to grow a business or looking for ways to improve your business strategy for growth, register with Amazon Business . Amazon Business is a B2B marketplace that provides businesses of all sizes with a convenient way to purchase products and services online. Amazon Business has the best projectors for home & office use , the best Bluetooth speaker , the best water purifier for home & offices , and various other benefits for its users.

What is a Business Plan?

 What is a Business Plan?

How to explain business planning? All businesses require a business planning strategy. A business planning strategy is the basic step while setting up a business. A business planning process is like a map of a company's success that includes the process of achieving the objectives.

An attempt to understand and explain business planning or business development plans involves systematically analyzing an organization's current state, defining its goals and objectives, and developing a business plan and strategy well-suited to the company's specific needs and circumstances.

For successful business strategic planning, it is essential to follow the steps outlined in the business plan steps. For new entrepreneurs, the business planning process in entrepreneurship is critical. It is also crucial to consider trademark registration . It helps prevent competitors from using similar marks or confusing consumers about the origin of products or services.

Objectives of a Business Plan

When it comes to the business planning process, an entrepreneur must be concerned about every aspect of the business and have clear goals. Any business planning strategy must include the following:

Objectives of a Business Plan

How to Prepare for a Business Plan?

Preliminary investigation.

Businesses must review the available business planning process and look for threats and opportunities to create a new business planning process and business planning strategy.

Business Planning Process

While working on the business planning process, determine the essential goals for your business and create a business planning strategy. Identify the company's strengths and weaknesses and lay down all necessary steps to initiate the proposed business.

Key Components of a Business Plan

Key Components of a Business Plan

Executive Summary

An executive summary is a brief business plan overview highlighting its key points and objectives. It serves as an introduction to the plan and gives a clear understanding of the business, its goals, and how it plans to achieve them. An executive summary serves as a quick snapshot of the entire business plan.

It has a critical role in the business planning process and business level strategy in strategic management. It helps business owners and managers focus on their business plan's essential elements. It helps them to articulate their objectives of business , strategies, and tactics concisely and compellingly.

Company Description

A company description in a business plan is a section that provides an overview of a business. It should include information about the nature of the business, its products or services, target market, competition, management team, and financial outlook. This section aims to give investors or potential partners a clear understanding of what the business does and what sets it apart from competitors.

Strategic management planning and business strategic development require a clear understanding of the company's objectives, which should be outlined in the company description. The objectives of the business should be aligned with the customer acquisition strategies to ensure a successful business process outsourcing.

Market Analysis

Market analysis is a crucial aspect of a business plan that involves researching and understanding the target market for a product or service. It includes identifying the needs of potential customers, analyzing competitors, and evaluating industry trends to create a strategy for market development.

Market analysis helps businesses understand their customers, their requirements, and how to reach them best. A company can develop a more effective market development and growth strategy by conducting a thorough market analysis.

Financial Plan

A financial plan is a detailed projection of a business's economic activities and outcomes over a specific period. It helps business owners plan and manage their finances effectively.

Financial planning is an essential component of strategic planning for small business growth and development. A sound financial plan is critical to overall planning and strategic management for any business.

Steps to a Successful Business Planning Process

Steps to a Successful Business Planning Process

Idea Generation

Idea generation is an important step in strategic management planning, integral to planning in business management. Generating new ideas involves several steps in the business planning process for creating a successful business development plan. Idea generation can be a powerful tool for planning in business management and can help in developing a business plan that aligns with the company's vision and mission.

Sources of New Ideas

For generating new ideas for the business planning process, businesses can obtain insights from various sources:

  • Market research and development
  • Competitors
  • Vendors and retailers

These sources can provide a wealth of information to be analyzed and used to develop business plan steps, new ideas, or solutions to existing problems.

Methods of Generating New Ideas

  • Data obtained through surveys and questionnaires
  • Market research
  • Group discussion and brainstorming activities
  • Social media research
  • Mind Mapping
  • Adding value to existing products and services

2. Environmental Scanning

Several internal and external factors impact the success of every business planning process. An environmental scan helps to understand the factors that affect your business directly or indirectly.

External Environment

The external environment can be competitors, customers, suppliers, demographics, socio-political situations, or economic conditions.

Internal Environment

These are factors that exist within the business:

  • Raw Material : Identify the availability, quality, and cost of raw materials needed for production.
  • Production/ Operation : Assess the production processes, machinery, equipment needed, manufacturing capacity, and production costs.
  • Finance : Analyze the financial resources available, including startup capital, cash flow, and potential funding sources.
  • Market : Understand the target market, including their demographics, preferences, and buying habits.
  • Human Resource : Evaluate the personnel needs, including their skills, knowledge, and experience, as well as their availability and cost.

3. Feasibility Analysis

Feasibility Analysis is one of the most important business plan steps in the business planning process. It analyzes different alternatives to achieving a successful business planning process. A feasibility analysis identifies the best and the worst scenarios in which the company can be.

The different variables included in a feasibility analysis are:

Market analysis provides data on the niche that the business wants to explore. Making the ideal business planning process and business planning strategy is critical.

Technical/ Operational Analysis

It analyzes the operational aspects required to carry on the business successfully. For instance, an idea discussed might have great potential. Still, it may not be feasible when it comes to operational costs. The primary parameters examined during the operational analysis are:

  • Material Availability : Evaluate the availability, quality, and cost of raw materials needed for production.
  • Plant Location : Assess the location's suitability, including access to raw materials, labor, transportation, and infrastructure.
  • Choice of Technology : Analyze the production processes, machinery, equipment needed, manufacturing capacity, and production costs.

Financial Feasibility

The financial feasibility assesses the business's financial issues, including monthly operating expenses, forecasted income statements, cash flow, balance sheet, and capital expenditure.

Functional Plans

The top executives must ensure that functional business strategic planning and process sync with the business goals in a business planning process. Once the feasibility analysis gives the go-ahead, you can draft a business plan.

4. Project Report Preparation

Project report preparation is a critical part of every business planning process. Experts prepare the project report. This report acts as a plan of action that describes the goals and objectives of the business.

Project reports allow the business idea to shape and become a productive venture with a clear-cut business planning strategy. It tracks the progress of the business planning process and compares it with the original plan. It also identifies any risks or challenges and to take corrective action whenever necessary.

5. Plan Your Marketing Strategy

A well-planned marketing strategy and business development plan will help the business reach its target audience.

6. Evaluation, Control, and Review

All the strategies prepared for a business are open to modifications due to internal and external factors. The critical evaluation, control, and review activities include measuring performance based on the current strategy and taking corrective action to enhance or improve the business goal.

What is Business Strategy Planning?

The business planning strategy outlines the goals, objectives, and actions needed to achieve success in a business. It involves analyzing the company's current state, identifying areas for improvement, setting targets, and developing strategies to achieve them.

As part of the business planning process, it is essential to consider the competitive landscape and market trends and the strengths and weaknesses of the business.

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When it comes to the business planning process and planning in business management, having a solid strategy for market development is critical. By identifying and targeting new markets, businesses can expand their customer base and increase revenue. Strategic planning for small businesses is essential, as these businesses often have limited resources and must make every dollar count. Small companies can overcome challenges and succeed by focusing on planning and strategic management.

What does Strategic Planning Involve?

Business planning strategy involves analyzing the company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and identifying the best methods for success.

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Essentials of Strategy Planning

In planning and strategic management, it is essential to consider the unique challenges facing small businesses. Strategic planning for small businesses should prioritize flexibility and adaptability, as these businesses often operate in highly dynamic environments.

Past and Present Data Analysis

Past and present data analysis is essential for the business planning process and the business planning strategy. By examining historical data and current performance metrics, businesses can gain insights and identify opportunities for growth and development.

For example, past and present data analysis can help to make informed decisions about inventory management techniques and the purchasing process . By analyzing past sales data and inventory levels, businesses can determine which products are most popular among customers and ensure sufficient inventory to meet demand.

Insightful Analysis of Market Dynamics

Insightful analysis of market dynamics is an important component of the business planning process, particularly in the supply chain management process . By analyzing past demand and supply fluctuations, businesses can identify trends and patterns in the market and develop effective strategies for managing their supply chain.

In addition, insightful analysis of market dynamics is also essential when developing a business plan.

Following a Unique Approach to Planning

Following a unique approach to planning is critical to the business planning process, particularly in business strategic development. With a unique strategy, businesses can create a competitive advantage in the market.

Business level strategy in strategic management also plays a key role in following a unique approach to planning. Focusing on a specific market niche or target audience, businesses can tailor their strategy for market development to meet customers' needs.

Scenario Analysis Based on Relevant Inputs

Scenario analysis is an important aspect of the business planning process and is particularly relevant in business strategic development and business level strategy in strategic management. As businesses develop their strategies, they must consider a range of possible future scenarios and their potential impact on the company's value.

This process is also important in the business planning process in entrepreneurship, as entrepreneurs develop their business plans and strategies. By conducting scenario analysis, entrepreneurs can identify potential risks and opportunities and focus on developing a business plan and strategy to mitigate risk and capitalize on opportunities.

Risk Mitigation Measures to Minimize Loss

Risk mitigation measures are crucial in minimizing the losses a company may face due to unforeseen events. These measures help to identify and evaluate potential risks that could negatively impact the company.

Strategic management planning plays a crucial role in identifying potential risks and creating a risk mitigation plan in the business planning process. A risk management plan should be part of the business plan steps.

Business strategic planning should incorporate risk assessment and mitigation as a part of the overall planning process. A comprehensive understanding of potential risks is necessary for a successful business planning process in entrepreneurship. 

BMGI's Approach to Strategy Planning

After working with different kinds of businesses, BMGI has developed a robust process for business strategy planning. It encompasses all the aspects required for the best business strategy planning.

For long-term goals, BMGI focuses on the following three aspects:

  • Defining the strategy
  • Establish how to implement the strategy
  • Implementing the strategy and managing the changes

BMGI has a process in place for businesses to define how to implement their strategy as follows:

External Assessment

BMGI recommends the analysis of-

  • Market and Customers
  • Competition
  • Probable Trends of the Future
  • PESTEL (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal)

Internal Assessment

Discover your business's SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and compare them against various scenarios to determine your position.

The assessments mentioned above, along with the understanding of its impact, in the long run, enable businesses to plan their business strategy efficiently.

Impact Areas of Strategic Planning

Examples of Successful Business Planning Process and Strategy

While the impact areas of strategic planning may vary depending on the organization and industry, here are some common areas where business strategic planning can have an impact:

Organic Growth Strategy

Organic growth strategy focuses on growing the organization's existing business lines.

Business Unit Strategy

This growth route focuses on analyzing and implementing strategies for each business unit.

Corporate Strategy

Corporate strategy requires knowledge of the business level strategy in strategic management. In this strategy, the senior management steers the direction of the entire organization based on its core principles and values.

Emerging Markets Strategy

In this strategy, businesses look out for opportunities in places with the potential for promising growth. Entrepreneurs must have a solid business planning process to successfully enter and expand in new and emerging markets. A well-defined business planning process in entrepreneurship can be the difference between success and failure.

Sustainable Growth Strategy

The sustainable growth strategy is a critical component of the business planning process. This strategy involves taking meaningful steps toward the future while considering the unpredictable changes that may arise.

Measuring the Success of Your Business Plan and Strategy

Here are some key steps you can take to measure the success of your business plan and strategy:

Setting Measurable Goals and Objectives

It is essential to set measurable goals and objectives to measure the success of your business plan and strategy.

  • Determine your business goals: First, you need to identify your goals with your business growth plan. It could be increasing revenue, expanding market share, or improving customer satisfaction.
  • Define your objectives: Once you have identified your business goals, break them down into specific, measurable, and achievable objectives that are relevant and time-bound.

By setting measurable goals, you can track your progress over time and measure the success of your strategy.

Tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Here are some steps to follow to measure the success of your business plan and strategy by tracking KPIs:

  • Identify the relevant KPIs: Once you have defined your objectives, identify the KPIs that are relevant to each objective.
  • Set targets for each KPI: Once you have identified the KPIs, set targets for each one. These targets should be realistic and aligned with your business objectives.
  • Track and analyze the KPIs: Once you have set targets for each KPI, start tracking them regularly.

Conducting Regular Performance Reviews

  • Adjust your strategy: Based on your data analysis, adjust your business growth plan or planning in business management as necessary.
  • Implement Business Process Outsourcing: Consider implementing business process outsourcing to help you achieve your strategic planning for small businesses. What is Business Process Outsourcing? It is a business practice where a company outsources non-core business functions or processes to a third-party provider.
  • Review your performance against benchmarks regularly and adjust your strategy as necessary. This planning and strategic management process will help you stay on track and achieve your business goals.

Soliciting Customer Feedback

  • Collect customer feedback: Collect customer feedback through surveys, focus groups, or social media platforms.
  • Analyze the feedback: Once you have collected customer feedback, analyze it to identify areas for improvement.
  • Implement changes: Use your collected feedback to change your business strategy.
  • Measure the impact: Use the same KPIs you used to track your progress before to determine if the changes have positively or negatively impacted your business.
  • Adjust your strategy: Based on the impact of your changes, adjust your business strategy as needed.

Examples of Successful Business Planning Process and Strategy

Toyota's US invasion in the '70s

Cars have had an enormous impact on Americans since the good old days. The three biggest American car companies ruled over the car market in the US. However, the Japanese car manufacturer, Toyota, did a market analysis and started selling cheaper and more efficient cars during the '70s.

The US car companies did not worry about Toyota at first. They thought Toyota must lose money exporting their vehicles to the US at such low prices. However, within a few years, Toyota started production in the US.

Toyota soon became the largest car company in the US. But what was their business strategy for growth?

Of course, Toyota was using the cost leadership strategy. However, Toyota's manufacturing process was so efficient that it cost them far less to produce cars than American companies. Besides, Toyota's supply chain management was their business strategy for growth, and it made a crucial difference in Toyota's survival. It was also a part of its business planning process.

The multi-billion-dollar idea began with the founders of Airbnb renting their mattresses to strangers. It was a business space no one had explored before.

They struggled to meet ends initially but saw potential in their idea. So, the founders created a website where people could rent their mattresses to travelers and strangers.

There were some scattered online bookings, but they needed to be more to be sustainable. The founders conducted an operational analysis and discovered the problem with poorly presented listings.

They visited all the nearby locations where people were renting out their mattresses. They moved things around to make them look more pleasing and clicked photos. After adding images to their website, the bookings started pouring in.

Then, they hired professional photographers to click photos of all the listings and their owners. The online orders kept skyrocketing. The founders of Airbnb analyzed data to discover the one problem keeping them from succeeding in their revolutionary idea. Airbnb is now valued at over 100 billion Dollars!

A clear understanding of the business planning process and a well-developed plan can help set the foundation for growth and profitability.

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What questions should be asked in a business plan?

The vital questions to ask in a business plan are as follows:

  • What makes you different?
  • Who is your audience?
  • How will you make profits?
  • How will you promote your business?
  • How will you get started?

What is the most important part of your business plan?

The executive summary is the most important part of your business plan. It contains the overview of your entire business plan and everything it encompasses.

How many years should a business plan cover?

It is recommended to have a business plan of at least one year to 3 years to address your business goals and possible objections.

How do you overcome lack of planning?

  • Automate repetitive tasks such as data entry
  • Set up a network between all your software so that your position is constantly getting updated
  • Improve the communication between all the departments in your company
  • Deploy cloud-based technologies for effectively sharing information

What are the barriers to planning?

Here is a list of things that become barriers to planning:

  • Incompetent leaders
  • Continuous distractions
  • Limited resources for task completion
  • Impractical expectations in senior management

How to define companies Vision and Mission?

A company's vision statement lists what an organization wants to represent in society. A mission statement lists the things a company does to achieve its vision.

What financial projections should I include in my business plan?

Common financial projections that most business plans consist of are sales forecast, profit and loss statement, cash flow statement, balance sheet, break-even analysis, and capital expenditure budget.

How do I revise and update my business plan as my business evolves?

To revise and update your business plan:

  • Set aside time for review
  • Analyze your financial performance and other key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Identify new opportunities for growth and challenges that may require adjustments to your business plan.
  • Use the insights you have gained from your evaluation to update your business plan.
  • Communicate changes with stakeholders
  • Set new targets and milestones for your business.

How do I identify my target audience and develop a marketing strategy?

·        Identify your target audience's demographics, preferences, behaviors, and needs through market research.

·        Use the insights from your market research to create detailed profiles of your target audience.

·        Determine your unique selling proposition (USP)

·        Define your marketing goals.

·        Choose your marketing channels.

·        Tailor your marketing content to your target audience and communicate your USP.

·        Test and refine your marketing strategy to optimize your results.

Who benefits from a good business strategy?

A good business strategy can benefit both the business and the consumers.

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what is the first step in business planning

How to Start a Business in 8 Steps: A Comprehensive Guide from Concept to Launch

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Starting a business can be extremely exciting. But figuring out how to start a business can also feel overwhelming—particularly if you don’t have a clear sense of how to get from where you are now (an aspiring entrepreneur) to where you want to be (a successful, established one).

The good news is that there are clear steps to follow. Once you know these steps, you can create a road map that will take you from asking, “What do I need to begin a business?” to questions like “How did I get so successful?” or “Why was I ever worried?”

Here, we outline everything you need to know—whether it’s about how to start a business online, at home, with no money, or any other situation.

1. Finding your business idea

So, how do you start a business? The first step is coming up with an idea. You can’t start a business without a great one. You don’t want to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks; instead, you should aim to take “a structured approach to ideation,” says business coach Yael Tamar .

What are your strengths? What kind of business do you want to build? What kind of customers do you want to work with, and which of their needs can you fulfill? It’s important to answer these questions because the key to a successful business idea is finding the intersection of what you want to do and what your ideal customers need .

“It's crucial to align your venture with both your passions and market demand,” says Jeff Mains, CEO of business growth consultancy Champion Leadership Group .

“Start by identifying problems you're passionate about solving,” Mains says. “This approach ensures that you have a genuine interest in your business, which is essential for long-term success.

“Also look for gaps in the market by analyzing current trends and customer needs,” he says. “Combining your passion with market opportunities increases the likelihood of finding a viable and fulfilling business idea.”

2. Conduct market research

Once you have a business idea you want to pursue, it’s time to do some research—more specifically, market research.

“It involves gathering data on customer demographics, conducting competitor analysis, and studying industry trends,” Tamar says. “This research helps validate business concepts and informs strategic decision-making.”

It can also help in the long-term, giving you the insights you need to lay the foundation for a successful business. “Effective market research also minimizes risks and ensures your business is well-positioned to meet market demands,” Mains says.

So, how do you perform the kind of market research you need to set your business up for success?

“Begin by identifying your target audience and understanding their pain points, preferences, and behaviors,” Mains says. “Use a mix of primary research, such as surveys and interviews, and secondary research, including industry reports and competitor analysis.”

In addition to audience research, you’ll also want to check out your competitors to see what they’re doing, what’s working (and what isn't), and how you can differentiate your company from others in the space—and grab your target audience’s attention in the process.

3. Create a business plan

Once you’ve come up with a business idea—and you’ve done the market research necessary to ensure it’s viable—it’s time to create your business plan.

There are a few different elements to a business plan. “Start with a clear executive summary that outlines your business idea, mission, and vision,” Mains says. “Follow this with a detailed market analysis, showcasing your understanding of the industry and target market.”

Plus, you’ll want to outline your business structure, product or service offerings, marketing strategies, and financial projections. Why? Because “a strong business plan not only guides your strategic decisions but also serves as a crucial tool when seeking funding from investors or financial institutions,” says Mains

Bottom line? “It integrates findings from market research into actionable steps aligned with long-term business objectives,” Tamar says—making it a must for starting, launching, and sustaining a successful business.

4. Take care of logistics

Next step on the list? Taking care of the logistical side of starting a business, which include:

  • Choosing a business structure
  • Registering your business
  • Obtaining necessary licenses/permits
  • Getting necessary insurance
  • Opening a business bank account

From a logistical perspective, there are no universal solutions when starting a business. Much will depend on the type of business you’re trying to start.

For example, if you’re focusing on how to start a small business at home and you’ll be the only employee, you may not need physical liability insurance (since there won’t be any other employees working in your home). But if you’re figuring out how to start an online business—and intend to operate from a commercial space with other employees—physical liability insurance is generally a must.

Same thing goes for business structure (for example, being a sole proprietor or registering an LLC), business registration, permitting…pretty much all of it. Make sure to do your research and ensure you take all of the logistical steps needed to legally establish your business.

5. Find your funding

Funding is often where budding entrepreneurs get stuck. If you're wondering how to start a business without money , in full transparency, the answer is…you can’t. Whatever kind of business you’re starting, you’re going to need some money to get things off the ground.

But how much money you need to start a business—and where you ultimately get that money from—can vary widely.

In general, there are a few different funding options for starting a business, including:

  • Self-funding . If you have money—and you’re willing to spend it on your entrepreneurial dreams—self-funding is a great option. (Particularly since you won’t have to pay any interest or give up equity in your company).
  • Business loans . Loans are another option for getting the capital you need to start a business. The process of how to get a loan to start a business can be challenging; often, traditional lenders are wary of lending to brand new businesses. But there are loan programs out there that cater to start-ups—so doing research to see if you qualify is definitely worth it.
  • Credit cards . If you can’t get a loan, credit cards (personal or business) can help to cover expenses as you build your business.
  • Business grants. There are also a variety of grants out there that provide capital to qualifying applicants. For example, there are grants for women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses. Grant competitions can also be great if you have a particularly interesting or innovative business idea. So, if you fit into any relevant grant categories, you’ll definitely want to explore how to get a grant to start a business.
  • Friends and family . Asking friends and family to invest in your business is also an option. Just keep in mind that introducing money into personal relationships can be challenging—so if you do take money from loved ones, make sure the terms and expectations of the investment are extremely clear on both sides.
  • Outside investors. Depending on your business model and industry, you may also be able to pitch outside investors, like venture capital firms or angel investors—which is more common in certain industries, like tech.

Build your dream business with the help of a high-paying job—browse open jobs on The Muse »

6. Get your systems in place

You’ve got your funding. You’ve got your business plan. But before you move forward in bringing your business to life, it’s important to lay the foundation for success by putting the right systems and processes in place.

Establishing systems and processes from the get-go can help make your business launch and growth significantly more smooth—and also can save time, energy, hassle, and money.

For example, before you start selling products, you’ll want to set up a secure online payment system. Before you start billing clients, you’ll need an invoicing procedure—and the software to implement those procedures. Before you start marketing, you’ll want to have a strategy and system in place to ensure you reach the right customers at the right time.

Systems and processes help you get organized—and if you want your business to be successful, you’ll want to take the steps to get organized before you launch.

7. Build your brand

Once you’ve got the backend of your business in place, it’s time to start thinking about the front-facing elements—the elements that make up your brand.

In order to launch a business, you’ll want to have certain branding assets in place, including:

  • Brand color palette
  • Brand fonts
  • Brand voice
  • Social media profiles

Building a brand helps to create a consistent experience for your customers and tell the story of your business to your target audience. “This is important for gaining recognition,” says Keith Donovan, a startup advisor and Founder of Startup Stumbles .

8. Launch and market your business

You’ve figured out how to begin a business. You’ve got all the pieces in place. Now it’s time to actually launch your business—and market that business to connect with your ideal audience.

“Making sure people know about your company is crucial,” Donovan says.

How you market your business is up to you. For example, “actions like creating social media pages, running advertisements and cultivating helpful content introduce potential buyers to the business and what it offers,” he adds.

You could also market your business in other ways, like:

  • Local events
  • Influencer partnership
  • Print advertisements
  • Cross-marketing with other businesses
  • Email marketing

It’s not so much about how you market your business; it’s about how effectively you do so that will determine whether your company thrives or falters. Whatever methods you decide to go for, just make sure you’re invested in creating and implementing a marketing strategy that allows you to connect with your target audience and convert them into paying customers.

what is the first step in business planning

The 4 Phases Needed to Develop a Successful Business Plan

Back view of freelancer man sitting in front of wall with strategy and creating a plan.

David Gordon

  • January 5, 2021
  • Type Articles

As they say in the military, “The enemy has a say.” The key to winning is adjusting. In 2021, expect COVID-19 will continue to impact the first half of the year, while the second half could represent different opportunities. Further, a new presidential administration, with its new initiatives, could impact your market looking toward 2022 and 2023.

This is where business planning comes into play.

Planning is about understanding the landscape, knowing what you want to achieve and then determining how to achieve it. It requires gathering information to understand your environment; determining current deployment; resources; where you can solicit assistance and then determining what you need to do (or procure) to give your team the resources needed to achieve the goal. Then, it is all about execution – developing a plan to achieve your future goals.

The phases of developing a plan include:

1. Introspection, Research & Insights

2. idea generation, 3. aggregation & execution, 4. ongoing evaluation and refinement.

While it sounds comprehensive, and it can be, it can also be streamlined. It all depends upon your organization, style and, if you use an outside facilitator, their ability to ask the right questions, understand your business/industry and add ideas.

This first step is critical. It is about gathering information: quantitative information and qualitative insights.

This can comprise macroeconomic information, marketplace information, industry insights and data analysis. The goal is to have a sense of where the economy and market are going while understanding your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), which comes from information gathering.

Understand your relationship with your market, your company, your customers, and the potential of each. Data can deliver these insights. Internal business intelligence data, combined with external economic data, can be powerful tools.

Some additional areas to consider include:

  • Do you “plan” expecting today’s COVID-19 environment or a different one? For how long?
  • What is your expectation of the market? Future macro trends and the potential opportunities that they can create? For example, how will the new presidential administration’s likely focus on clean energy and the climate impact your markets?
  • How have your processes been impacted?
  • More importantly, how are customers and their customers being impacted? What are their new expectations? What is their outlook?
  • What is your staff’s input?

As part of this process, “customer” insights can be beneficial. This should be 360-degree input. From end-customers/contractors, distributors (if you are a manufacturer), salespeople (and reps/RSMs), perhaps even employees or suppliers. Ask their opinion about the market, their opportunities, how “you” can improve and more. Those who contribute want you to succeed.

Next, ask departments how they can improve. How can “you/they” be easier to do business with? What additional value can each bring to their customers? What processes need to be improved? How can utilization, and productivity, increase? What is their value proposition, and the company’s, today and what could it be?

If you are in sales, the issues are the same, but focus on their goals and account package. Where are customer needs? Where are they going? What is your value proposition, according to your sales organization? How can you generate more? What do you need to be successful (or, more importantly, what does your company need to do to be more successful with your customers/in your territory?)

Ask what is important for account retention as well as for taking share. Then prioritize.

It is about asking for information, seeking opportunities, developing ideas, changing models and anticipating the future, becoming knowledgeable. Going into 2021, many companies will be more conservative with investments and will seek to reallocate funding. Focus and enhancing models will be critical. Opportunities abound.

Once you have gathered information and know the current and projected state, the next phase is identifying what strategies you want to continue. Conduct an idea generation exercise to determine what’s next.

This brainstorming exercise helps identify what new strategies will emerge. Consider what competitors are doing. Look at distributors/manufacturers in other industries or markets. Ask customers what would be of benefit to them.

Next it is about aggregating the ideas, developing a project plan and calendaring the activities to ensure time implementation.

For some initiatives, you may want advance time to present the strategy to your key suppliers or distributors to gather their input, or perhaps get their buy-in. For distributors, remember your 2021 earned co-op funds will probably decline, as they are based upon 2020 performance.

Gather the thoughts, determine the feasibility, gain budgetary insight and then prioritize. Inevitably, you cannot do everything. Every company is, at some point, resource-constrained.

An area that is challenging for most companies is ongoing evaluation of strategy with periodic reviews that allow the company to refine its strategy. It is like taking a road trip and finding out that there is construction on a segment of the highway. You can slow down or consider a detour/alternate route that enables you to continue. Adjustments are needed in plans. The key is achieving the end goal within the defined timeframe.

Reporting these metrics to various stakeholders also helps earn buy-in for future initiatives.

Strategic planning is a commitment to intentionally succeed. It is a leadership decision that reinforces to your staff that the company has a roadmap to achieve success and is committed to profitable growth. Involving your team helps develop a better “product” as well as earns their buy-in to the strategy, to implementation and to success.

Planning can be a process, or it can be a workshop. The key is, have a plan so you can be intentional in your actions.

David Gordon is president of Channel Marketing Group, a distribution strategy and marketing consulting firm helping distributors, manufacturers and representatives in the industrial and construction industries generate insights and ideas to drive growth. For more information on Channel Marketing Group, visit channelmkt.com . Reach Gordon at [email protected]

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What Must an Entrepreneur Do After Creating a Business Plan?

  • October 5, 2022 May 1, 2024

what is the first step in business planning

Many successful entrepreneurs started with a solid business plan detailing factors of their business such as marketing, funding, legal considerations, and operations. But then what must an entrepreneur do to turn their vision into reality?

What’s Included in a Business Plan?

A business plan is a formal document that justifies the idea with research, defines the steps to starting the business, and details the growth and management of the business after launch. A strong business plan typically includes:

  • Executive Summary and Company Description: Key terms and summary of the business and its goals.
  • Market Research and Analysis: The findings of market research and projection of success in the target market.
  • Marketing and Sales: A strategy to optimize the business for the market, based on market research analysis: Who is the target audience? What products and strategies should be the focus for sales? The likely includes the go-to-market strategy for pre-launch and launch as well as sales operations and infrastructure.
  • Organization and Management: A plan for the organization of departments and management, as well as the number of employees needed. Includes budgeting for salaries and benefits, as applicable.
  • Financial Projections and Funding Requests: The projected revenue of the company versus costs, as well as any plans for necessary funding like investments.

What Are the Steps to Take After the Business Plan?

1. Build the Initial Team

Few entrepreneurs can manage every aspect of a new business alone. They should focus on what they can do well and delegate other tasks to a strong team. For example, that might mean hiring a web designer or financial consultant.

2. File Necessary Legal Documents

To legally protect a business and make sure taxes are in order, it’s necessary to file proper forms with the IRS and other applicable governing bodies. Some business owners may choose to form a limited liability company (LLC) , while others may incorporate their business. Choosing the right business structure requires quite a bit of thought and should be completed in the business plan.

3. Protect Intellectual Property

Without proper legal protection, business owners have no formal recourse if someone else uses their designs or branding. Understanding the differences between trademarking, copyrighting , and patenting is critical, as each protects different types of intellectual property . For example, trademarking can protect branding assets, copyrighting can protect creative content such as books, and patents can protect product design. Ideally, this step would be completed prior to any launch.

4. Advertising and Marketing

Part of the business plan is a go-to-market strategy, which includes pre-launch, launch, and, often, post-launch marketing plans. Once the business is legally established and the initial intellectual property has been protected, it’s time to implement the pre-launch marketing. This may include social media marketing, the establishment of a blog, or more traditional print marketing such as fliers. The goal? Get the word out to your prospective customers so they can buy at launch.

5. Official Business Launch

This is an exciting time for any entrepreneur—the moment their hard work takes center stage and their product goes public for purchase. Ideally, the necessary production and marketing stay on the launch schedule established in the business plan. Many business owners start tracking marketing and sales data immediately so they can pivot quickly if something isn’t working properly.

6. Review Business Performance and Progress

Many business owners benefit from frequent reviews of their sales and marketing data. For a younger business, it’s common to conduct monthly or quarterly reviews to adjust quickly. As the business matures, frequency may decrease to annual reviews with smaller quarterly reports. Either way, setting goals and metrics based on the business plan keeps a business on track and focused.

The Next Step: Scaling the Business

With the initial business plan implemented successfully, business owners often ask themselves what comes next. Plans for growth and scaling the business may have been outlined in the initial plan, but have the plans changed? Possibly, which is why consistently measuring performance and aligning goals is critical.

Often, the end of the initial business plan is just the beginning of an entrepreneur’s journey. Understanding how to legally protect the business you’re building is key to keeping momentum and stability as you grow from launch to scaling.

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How To Start A Pressure Washing Business In 2024

Kimberlee Leonard

Updated: Feb 1, 2024, 4:24pm

How To Start A Pressure Washing Business In 2024

Table of Contents

5 steps to start a pressure washing business, getting started with your first client, frequently asked questions.

Pressure washing is a business that nearly anyone can start. There is little in terms of supplies needed to do your work. This could be a lucrative side gig or a full-time operation. Consider that the average pressure washing costs between $192 and $401 per job. If you did two jobs a day at $250 each, you’d make $130,000 a year working 260 days per year. That’s good money and a lot of time off to enjoy it.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to start a pressure washing business. Whether you’re completely new to the industry or are looking to make a transition from employee to business owner, here’s everything you need to know!

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Step 1. Getting Started: Establish a Business Structure

The first step in starting a business is choosing a business structure and filing the appropriate paperwork to offer services in your area legally. There are three business structures that you can choose from: a sole proprietorship, an LLC or a corporation. A sole proprietorship uses your own Social Security number with a “doing business as” (DBA) name. This structure can leave you with personal liability in your business, and legal experts don’t recommend it.

Most people will choose an LLC or a corporation as their business entity to limit personal liability. You’ll start with a name search with the secretary of state’s office to see that there are no competing business names with what you want to use. Then you’ll file the appropriate paperwork with the state that lists the owners of the entity, the business name and pertinent contact information. Depending on the state that you live in, expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $700 to establish your business entity.

Step 2. Buy Your Equipment and Supplies

You’ll need to get the right equipment and supplies to start your business. First, choose between a gas or electric pressure washer. Keep in mind that if you choose an electric pressure washer, you’ll need clients to supply the energy to run it. Also, select the type of pressure washer you want to get: light duty, medium duty or heavy duty.

A heavy-duty pressure washer might cost you $400, while a light-duty washer will run less than $200. Rather than buy all the washers at the onset, think about renting the equipment when you first start to save on costs and ensure you have what you need when you need it.

Recommended equipment and supplies other than the pressure washer include:

  • Surface cleaners

Don’t forget about transportation; you need to get your gear to and from jobs every day. Think about leasing a work van or truck to keep everything in. It might be good advertising to have your company name and phone number listed on the truck so that people can call while they see you moving about neighborhoods. Expect to pay at least $350 per month for a truck lease .

Step 3. Set Your Rates

You’ll need to set rates before you market to potential customers. With most jobs costing consumers between $192 and $401, you’ll want to think about whether you choose the high end of the range or the low end. It might be easier to get a lot of clients with lower prices, but you need to determine if that is worth your time and effort. It’s a good idea to do some secret shopping and see what other pressure washers in your area are charging so that you are competitive.

When determining your pricing, think about whether you will charge hourly or per project. Keep in mind that if you charge per project, you have to know how much time any particular project will take. Practice your craft to see how long it takes to pressure wash:

  • Windows on an average size home
  • Fences and walls

When setting rates, think about the gas needed to run the pressure washer as well as the number of supplies necessary to do a job. Make sure that you are charging enough to cover all of it and still make a profit.

Step 4. Set Up Your Banking

You’re in this to turn a profit, and that means being able to take payments to deposit funds into a bank account. With your LLC or corporation details, contact the IRS to complete Form W-7 and get a tax identification number (TIN) . This is similar to a Social Security number but for your business. You’ll then be able to go to the bank with your company documents to get a bank account.

The bank account will let you deposit cash and checks, but you’ll need a payment gateway to take credit card payments. There are many payment gateway options available. Expect to pay up to 3% of the charge as a fee for using the gateway, so be sure to factor that into your pricing. Connect the payment gateway to the bank so that you can run all income and expense transactions from your business bank account.

Step 5. Establish Marketing Channels

Your marketing is everything from word-of-mouth conversations to online listings. Get business cards made that have your business name and contact information on them. You can use these as you go door-to-door, introducing yourself and your new business. You may also want to set up a website that shows some of your work with “before and after” pictures.

Even if you don’t establish a website, get listed on online service listing pages, such as Google Business pages, Yelp and Facebook. Some businesses have also found success by posting on Instagram Reels or TikTok, where users enjoy the satisfying process of watching a dirty facade become beautiful again.

Start talking to everyone about your new business. This includes participating in community groups online where you can promote your pressure washing business. Think about running some ads with an introductory special to help you drum up business fast. Facebook has made it easy to target homeowners with a small budget; start an ad with a $10-a-day budget and test different ads to see which works best. As you grow, you can scale your budget to target more people.

When you start a new business, one of the biggest challenges is getting that first client. Be sure to ask friends, family and neighbors if you can offer your services to them. If you cannot get a first client from these friendly channels, think about offering your services to a few people for free in exchange for a testimonial online. This will let you build up a positive online presence and help you establish the quality of your work.

Bottom Line

It doesn’t take much to start a pressure washing business. You can get into the business with less than $5,000 in capital with equipment, supplies and a vehicle lease. Get the business set up properly and determine pricing that makes you competitive, then talk to everyone that you can about your services to find new customers as quickly as possible.

How do pressure washing companies get clients?

You can get clients for your pressure washing business by going door-to-door and introducing yourself, you can put an ad in the paper or a mailer, or you can do online advertising. Each marketing option has its own time and budget considerations.

What is the difference between pressure washing and power washing?

The difference between pressure washing and power washing is water temperature. Pressure washing uses normal water temperature with pressure to clean things. Power washing uses hot water with less pressure and is helpful for tough messes that need some extra sanitation.

Can you scale a pressure washing business?

Yes, you can scale a pressure washing business. As you become better at your craft, you will be faster in completing jobs and can then take on more business. Once you max out your time with jobs, you can invest in more machines and hire employees to do the work.

What sort of things need to be pressure washed?

The kinds of items that you may be asked to pressure wash by potential clients include driveways, sidewalks, fences, decks, siding, brick and other building materials, porches, pools and solar panels.

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Kimberlee Leonard has 22 years of experience as a freelance writer. Her work has been featured on US News and World Report, Business.com and Fit Small Business. She brings practical experience as a business owner and insurance agent to her role as a small business writer.

Cassie is a deputy editor collaborating with teams around the world while living in the beautiful hills of Kentucky. Focusing on bringing growth to small businesses, she is passionate about economic development and has held positions on the boards of directors of two non-profit organizations seeking to revitalize her former railroad town. Prior to joining the team at Forbes Advisor, Cassie was a content operations manager and copywriting manager.

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COMMENTS

  1. How To Write A Business Plan (2024 Guide)

    A solid business plan is essential for any new business. ... 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 ...

  2. Write your business plan

    Common items to include are credit histories, resumes, product pictures, letters of reference, licenses, permits, patents, legal documents, and other contracts. Example traditional business plans. Before you write your business plan, read the following example business plans written by fictional business owners.

  3. How to Write a Business Plan: Guide + Examples

    Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. These set sales goals, budget for expenses, and predict profits and cash flow. A good business plan is much more than just a document that you write once and forget about. It's also a guide that helps you outline and achieve your goals. After completing your plan, you can ...

  4. How to Write a Business Plan: Beginner's Guide (& Templates)

    Step #3: Conduct Your Market Analysis. Step #4: Research Your Competition. Step #5: Outline Your Products or Services. Step #6: Summarize Your Financial Plan. Step #7: Determine Your Marketing Strategy. Step #8: Showcase Your Organizational Chart. 14 Business Plan Templates to Help You Get Started.

  5. How To Make A Business Plan: Step By Step Guide

    Outline the next steps you plan to take to bring your business plan to fruition. Types of business plans. Several types of business plans cater to different purposes and stages of a company's lifecycle. Here are some of the most common types of business plans. Startup business plan. A startup business plan is typically an entrepreneur's first ...

  6. The Business Planning Process: Steps To Creating Your Plan

    The Better Business Planning Process. The business plan process includes 6 steps as follows: Do Your Research. Strategize. Calculate Your Financial Forecast. Draft Your Plan. Revise & Proofread. Nail the Business Plan Presentation. We've provided more detail for each of these key business plan steps below.

  7. How to Write a Business Plan in 9 Steps (+ Template and Examples)

    1. Create Your Executive Summary. The executive summary is a snapshot of your business or a high-level overview of your business purposes and plans. Although the executive summary is the first section in your business plan, most people write it last. The length of the executive summary is not more than two pages.

  8. How to Write a Business Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide

    Step 7: Financial Analysis and Projections. It doesn't matter if you include a request for funding in your plan, you will want to include a financial analysis here. You'll want to do two things here: Paint a picture of your business's performance in the past and show it will grow in the future.

  9. Business Plan: What it Is, How to Write One

    Learn about the best business plan software. 1. Write an executive summary. This is your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services your ...

  10. Plan Your Business: Guides, Templates, & Resources

    A business plan is the backbone of a successful business. Learn to write, use, and improve your business plan with exclusive guides, templates, and examples. ... What is the first step in writing a business plan? The first thing you'll do when writing a business plan is describe the problem you're solving and what your solution is.

  11. How to Write a Business Plan

    Add in the company logo and a table of contents that follows the executive summary. 2. Executive summary. Think of the executive summary as the SparkNotes version of your business plan. It should ...

  12. Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How to Write One

    Business Plan: A business plan is a written document that describes in detail how a business, usually a new one, is going to achieve its goals. A business plan lays out a written plan from a ...

  13. The 7 Steps of the Business Planning Process: A Complete Guide

    The first step in the business planning process is to conduct a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. ... The final step in the business planning process is to write your business plan. A business plan is a comprehensive document that outlines your business's mission, vision, objectives, strategies ...

  14. How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: 10 Essential Steps

    10 Steps To Creating A Comprehensive Business Plan. While not every business plan is the same, there are a few key steps you should take to create an effective and comprehensive document: ‍. 1. Create an executive summary. Think of an executive summary as your company's elevator pitch in written form.

  15. Business Planning Process: 6 Steps to a Winning Business Plan

    1. Carry out your research. The first step to creating a business plan is to do thorough research about the business and industry you are trying to get into. Tap into all the information you can get about your target audience, potential customer base, competitors, market and industry trends, cost of business, etc.

  16. How To Write a Business Plan in 9 Steps (2024)

    While your plan will be unique to your business and goals, keep these tips in mind as you write. 1. 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.

  17. How to write a business plan in 12 steps (2024 edition)

    Make sure you cover each of the following steps when preparing your document: 1. Write an executive summary. This section of your business plan should be 1-2 pages in length and enables potential financiers or partners to get an overview of what your business does and - most importantly — what the opportunity is for them.

  18. How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

    For many entrepreneurs, developing a business plan is the first step in the process of deciding whether to actually start a business. Determining if an idea fails on paper can help a prospective ...

  19. Strategic Planning: 5 Planning Steps, Process Guide [2024] • Asana

    Step 1: Assess your current business strategy and business environment. Before you can define where you're going, you first need to define where you are. Understanding the external environment, including market trends and competitive landscape, is crucial in the initial assessment phase of strategic planning.

  20. How to write a business plan in seven simple steps

    This is typically one of the first pieces of the plan to be written. 3. Market analysis and opportunity. Research is key in completing a business plan and, ideally, more time should be spent on research and analysis than writing the plan itself. Understanding the size, growth, history, future potential, and current risks inherent to the wider ...

  21. 10 steps to start your business

    Conduct market research. Market research will tell you if there's an opportunity to turn your idea into a successful business. It's a way to gather information about potential customers and businesses already operating in your area. Use that information to find a competitive advantage for your business. Learn more about conducting market ...

  22. How to Start a Business: A Comprehensive Guide and Essential Steps

    The first step is to calculate the start-up costs. Identify a list of expenses and put a dollar amount to each of them through research and requesting quotes. The SBA has a start-up costs ...

  23. PDF The Elements of a Business Plan: First Steps for New Entrepreneurs

    Provide projections for two to four years in the future, including: 1. Forecasted income (monthly for first two years, then by quarter or year thereafter), 2. Forecasted cash flows by month (monthly for first two years, then by quarter or year thereafter), 3. Forecasted balance sheet for all years (year-end), and. 4.

  24. How To Start A Business In 11 Steps (2024 Guide)

    The best way to accomplish any business or personal goal is to write out every possible step it takes to achieve the goal. Then, order those steps by what needs to happen first. Some steps may ...

  25. 17.2 The Planning Process

    Step 1: Developing an Awareness of the Present State. According to management scholars Harold Koontz and Cyril O'Donnell, the first step in the planning process is awareness. 13 It is at this step that managers build the foundation on which they will develop their plans. This foundation specifies an organization's current status, pinpoints its commitments, recognizes its strengths and ...

  26. Business Planning Process and Strategy

    Developing a business plan is essential to the strategic management planning process. It helps you to set goals, establish priorities, and develop strategies for achieving them. Business planning involves many critical steps, including market analysis, competitive research, financial forecasting, and risk assessment.

  27. How to Start a Business in 8 Steps: From Concept to Launch

    7. Build your brand. Once you've got the backend of your business in place, it's time to start thinking about the front-facing elements—the elements that make up your brand. In order to launch a business, you'll want to have certain branding assets in place, including: Logo. Brand color palette.

  28. The 4 Phases Needed to Develop a Successful Business Plan

    The key to winning is adjusting. In 2021, expect COVID-19 will continue to impact the first half of the year, while the second half could represent different opportunities. Further, a new presidential administration, with its new initiatives, could impact your market looking toward 2022 and 2023. This is where business planning comes into play.

  29. What Must an Entrepreneur Do After Creating a Business Plan?

    For a younger business, it's common to conduct monthly or quarterly reviews to adjust quickly. As the business matures, frequency may decrease to annual reviews with smaller quarterly reports. Either way, setting goals and metrics based on the business plan keeps a business on track and focused. The Next Step: Scaling the Business. With the ...

  30. How To Start A Pressure Washing Business In 2024

    Step 2. Buy Your Equipment and Supplies. You'll need to get the right equipment and supplies to start your business. First, choose between a gas or electric pressure washer. Keep in mind that if ...