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What Is a Business Plan?

Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, common elements of a business plan, how often should a business plan be updated, the bottom line, business plan: what it is, what's included, and how to write one.

Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

what should a business planning include

A business plan is a document that details a company's goals and how it intends to achieve them. Business plans can be of benefit to both startups and well-established companies. For startups, a business plan can be essential for winning over potential lenders and investors. Established businesses can find one useful for staying on track and not losing sight of their goals. This article explains what an effective business plan needs to include and how to write one.

Key Takeaways

  • A business plan is a document describing a company's business activities and how it plans to achieve its goals.
  • Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
  • For established companies, a business plan can help keep the executive team focused on and working toward the company's short- and long-term objectives.
  • There is no single format that a business plan must follow, but there are certain key elements that most companies will want to include.

Investopedia / Ryan Oakley

Any new business should have a business plan in place prior to beginning operations. In fact, banks and venture capital firms often want to see a business plan before they'll consider making a loan or providing capital to new businesses.

Even if a business isn't looking to raise additional money, a business plan can help it focus on its goals. A 2017 Harvard Business Review article reported that, "Entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than the otherwise identical nonplanning entrepreneurs."

Ideally, a business plan should be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect any goals that have been achieved or that may have changed. An established business that has decided to move in a new direction might create an entirely new business plan for itself.

There are numerous benefits to creating (and sticking to) a well-conceived business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and highlighting any potential obstacles to success. A company might also share its business plan with trusted outsiders to get their objective feedback. In addition, a business plan can help keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and priorities.

Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they often have some of the same basic elements, as we describe below.

While it's a good idea to provide as much detail as necessary, it's also important that a business plan be concise enough to hold a reader's attention to the end.

While there are any number of templates that you can use to write a business plan, it's best to try to avoid producing a generic-looking one. Let your plan reflect the unique personality of your business.

Many business plans use some combination of the sections below, with varying levels of detail, depending on the company.

The length of a business plan can vary greatly from business to business. Regardless, it's best to fit the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and attached as appendices.

These are some of the most common elements in many business plans:

  • Executive summary: This section introduces the company and includes its mission statement along with relevant information about the company's leadership, employees, operations, and locations.
  • Products and services: Here, the company should describe the products and services it offers or plans to introduce. That might include details on pricing, product lifespan, and unique benefits to the consumer. Other factors that could go into this section include production and manufacturing processes, any relevant patents the company may have, as well as proprietary technology . Information about research and development (R&D) can also be included here.
  • Market analysis: A company needs to have a good handle on the current state of its industry and the existing competition. This section should explain where the company fits in, what types of customers it plans to target, and how easy or difficult it may be to take market share from incumbents.
  • Marketing strategy: This section can describe how the company plans to attract and keep customers, including any anticipated advertising and marketing campaigns. It should also describe the distribution channel or channels it will use to get its products or services to consumers.
  • Financial plans and projections: Established businesses can include financial statements, balance sheets, and other relevant financial information. New businesses can provide financial targets and estimates for the first few years. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making.

The best business plans aren't generic ones created from easily accessed templates. A company should aim to entice readers with a plan that demonstrates its uniqueness and potential for success.

2 Types of Business Plans

Business plans can take many forms, but they are sometimes divided into two basic categories: traditional and lean startup. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the more common of the two.

  • Traditional business plans : These plans tend to be much longer than lean startup plans and contain considerably more detail. As a result they require more work on the part of the business, but they can also be more persuasive (and reassuring) to potential investors.
  • Lean startup business plans : These use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans are short—as short as one page—and provide only the most basic detail. If a company wants to use this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or a lender requests it.

Why Do Business Plans Fail?

A business plan is not a surefire recipe for success. The plan may have been unrealistic in its assumptions and projections to begin with. Markets and the overall economy might change in ways that couldn't have been foreseen. A competitor might introduce a revolutionary new product or service. All of this calls for building some flexibility into your plan, so you can pivot to a new course if needed.

How frequently a business plan needs to be revised will depend on the nature of the business. A well-established business might want to review its plan once a year and make changes if necessary. A new or fast-growing business in a fiercely competitive market might want to revise it more often, such as quarterly.

What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?

The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers to give a quick explanation of its business. For example, a brand-new company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide yet.

Sections can include: a value proposition ; the company's major activities and advantages; resources such as staff, intellectual property, and capital; a list of partnerships; customer segments; and revenue sources.

A business plan can be useful to companies of all kinds. But as a company grows and the world around it changes, so too should its business plan. So don't think of your business plan as carved in granite but as a living document designed to evolve with your business.

Harvard Business Review. " Research: Writing a Business Plan Makes Your Startup More Likely to Succeed ."

U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."

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what should a business planning include

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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step

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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.

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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 should a business planning include

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.

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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.

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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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Martin loves entrepreneurship and has helped dozens of entrepreneurs by validating the business idea, finding scalable customer acquisition channels, and building a data-driven organization. During his time working in investment banking, tech startups, and industry-leading companies he gained extensive knowledge in using different software tools to optimize business processes.

This insights and his love for researching SaaS products enables him to provide in-depth, fact-based software reviews to enable software buyers make better decisions.

What is a Business Plan? Definition, Tips, and Templates

AJ Beltis

Published: June 07, 2023

In an era where more than 20% of small enterprises fail in their first year, having a clear, defined, and well-thought-out business plan is a crucial first step for setting up a business for long-term success.

Business plan graphic with business owner, lightbulb, and pens to symbolize coming up with ideas and writing a business plan.

Business plans are a required tool for all entrepreneurs, business owners, business acquirers, and even business school students. But … what exactly is a business plan?

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In this post, we'll explain what a business plan is, the reasons why you'd need one, identify different types of business plans, and what you should include in yours.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a documented strategy for a business that highlights its goals and its plans for achieving them. It outlines a company's go-to-market plan, financial projections, market research, business purpose, and mission statement. Key staff who are responsible for achieving the goals may also be included in the business plan along with a timeline.

The business plan is an undeniably critical component to getting any company off the ground. It's key to securing financing, documenting your business model, outlining your financial projections, and turning that nugget of a business idea into a reality.

What is a business plan used for?

The purpose of a business plan is three-fold: It summarizes the organization’s strategy in order to execute it long term, secures financing from investors, and helps forecast future business demands.

Business Plan Template [ Download Now ]

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Working on your business plan? Try using our Business Plan Template . Pre-filled with the sections a great business plan needs, the template will give aspiring entrepreneurs a feel for what a business plan is, what should be in it, and how it can be used to establish and grow a business from the ground up.

Purposes of a Business Plan

Chances are, someone drafting a business plan will be doing so for one or more of the following reasons:

1. Securing financing from investors.

Since its contents revolve around how businesses succeed, break even, and turn a profit, a business plan is used as a tool for sourcing capital. This document is an entrepreneur's way of showing potential investors or lenders how their capital will be put to work and how it will help the business thrive.

All banks, investors, and venture capital firms will want to see a business plan before handing over their money, and investors typically expect a 10% ROI or more from the capital they invest in a business.

Therefore, these investors need to know if — and when — they'll be making their money back (and then some). Additionally, they'll want to read about the process and strategy for how the business will reach those financial goals, which is where the context provided by sales, marketing, and operations plans come into play.

2. Documenting a company's strategy and goals.

A business plan should leave no stone unturned.

Business plans can span dozens or even hundreds of pages, affording their drafters the opportunity to explain what a business' goals are and how the business will achieve them.

To show potential investors that they've addressed every question and thought through every possible scenario, entrepreneurs should thoroughly explain their marketing, sales, and operations strategies — from acquiring a physical location for the business to explaining a tactical approach for marketing penetration.

These explanations should ultimately lead to a business' break-even point supported by a sales forecast and financial projections, with the business plan writer being able to speak to the why behind anything outlined in the plan.

what should a business planning include

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  • Outline your idea.
  • Pitch to investors.
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Free Business Plan [Template]

Fill out the form to access your free business plan., 3. legitimizing a business idea..

Everyone's got a great idea for a company — until they put pen to paper and realize that it's not exactly feasible.

A business plan is an aspiring entrepreneur's way to prove that a business idea is actually worth pursuing.

As entrepreneurs document their go-to-market process, capital needs, and expected return on investment, entrepreneurs likely come across a few hiccups that will make them second guess their strategies and metrics — and that's exactly what the business plan is for.

It ensures an entrepreneur's ducks are in a row before bringing their business idea to the world and reassures the readers that whoever wrote the plan is serious about the idea, having put hours into thinking of the business idea, fleshing out growth tactics, and calculating financial projections.

4. Getting an A in your business class.

Speaking from personal experience, there's a chance you're here to get business plan ideas for your Business 101 class project.

If that's the case, might we suggest checking out this post on How to Write a Business Plan — providing a section-by-section guide on creating your plan?

What does a business plan need to include?

  • Business Plan Subtitle
  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • The Business Opportunity
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Target Market
  • Marketing Plan
  • Financial Summary
  • Funding Requirements

1. Business Plan Subtitle

Every great business plan starts with a captivating title and subtitle. You’ll want to make it clear that the document is, in fact, a business plan, but the subtitle can help tell the story of your business in just a short sentence.

2. Executive Summary

Although this is the last part of the business plan that you’ll write, it’s the first section (and maybe the only section) that stakeholders will read. The executive summary of a business plan sets the stage for the rest of the document. It includes your company’s mission or vision statement, value proposition, and long-term goals.

3. Company Description

This brief part of your business plan will detail your business name, years in operation, key offerings, and positioning statement. You might even add core values or a short history of the company. The company description’s role in a business plan is to introduce your business to the reader in a compelling and concise way.

4. The Business Opportunity

The business opportunity should convince investors that your organization meets the needs of the market in a way that no other company can. This section explains the specific problem your business solves within the marketplace and how it solves them. It will include your value proposition as well as some high-level information about your target market.

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5. Competitive Analysis

Just about every industry has more than one player in the market. Even if your business owns the majority of the market share in your industry or your business concept is the first of its kind, you still have competition. In the competitive analysis section, you’ll take an objective look at the industry landscape to determine where your business fits. A SWOT analysis is an organized way to format this section.

6. Target Market

Who are the core customers of your business and why? The target market portion of your business plan outlines this in detail. The target market should explain the demographics, psychographics, behavioristics, and geographics of the ideal customer.

7. Marketing Plan

Marketing is expansive, and it’ll be tempting to cover every type of marketing possible, but a brief overview of how you’ll market your unique value proposition to your target audience, followed by a tactical plan will suffice.

Think broadly and narrow down from there: Will you focus on a slow-and-steady play where you make an upfront investment in organic customer acquisition? Or will you generate lots of quick customers using a pay-to-play advertising strategy? This kind of information should guide the marketing plan section of your business plan.

8. Financial Summary

Money doesn’t grow on trees and even the most digital, sustainable businesses have expenses. Outlining a financial summary of where your business is currently and where you’d like it to be in the future will substantiate this section. Consider including any monetary information that will give potential investors a glimpse into the financial health of your business. Assets, liabilities, expenses, debt, investments, revenue, and more are all useful adds here.

So, you’ve outlined some great goals, the business opportunity is valid, and the industry is ready for what you have to offer. Who’s responsible for turning all this high-level talk into results? The "team" section of your business plan answers that question by providing an overview of the roles responsible for each goal. Don’t worry if you don’t have every team member on board yet, knowing what roles to hire for is helpful as you seek funding from investors.

10. Funding Requirements

Remember that one of the goals of a business plan is to secure funding from investors, so you’ll need to include funding requirements you’d like them to fulfill. The amount your business needs, for what reasons, and for how long will meet the requirement for this section.

Types of Business Plans

  • Startup Business Plan
  • Feasibility Business Plan
  • Internal Business Plan
  • Strategic Business Plan
  • Business Acquisition Plan
  • Business Repositioning Plan
  • Expansion or Growth Business Plan

There’s no one size fits all business plan as there are several types of businesses in the market today. From startups with just one founder to historic household names that need to stay competitive, every type of business needs a business plan that’s tailored to its needs. Below are a few of the most common types of business plans.

For even more examples, check out these sample business plans to help you write your own .

1. Startup Business Plan

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As one of the most common types of business plans, a startup business plan is for new business ideas. This plan lays the foundation for the eventual success of a business.

The biggest challenge with the startup business plan is that it’s written completely from scratch. Startup business plans often reference existing industry data. They also explain unique business strategies and go-to-market plans.

Because startup business plans expand on an original idea, the contents will vary by the top priority goals.

For example, say a startup is looking for funding. If capital is a priority, this business plan might focus more on financial projections than marketing or company culture.

2. Feasibility Business Plan

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This type of business plan focuses on a single essential aspect of the business — the product or service. It may be part of a startup business plan or a standalone plan for an existing organization. This comprehensive plan may include:

  • A detailed product description
  • Market analysis
  • Technology needs
  • Production needs
  • Financial sources
  • Production operations

According to CBInsights research, 35% of startups fail because of a lack of market need. Another 10% fail because of mistimed products.

Some businesses will complete a feasibility study to explore ideas and narrow product plans to the best choice. They conduct these studies before completing the feasibility business plan. Then the feasibility plan centers on that one product or service.

3. Internal Business Plan

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Internal business plans help leaders communicate company goals, strategy, and performance. This helps the business align and work toward objectives more effectively.

Besides the typical elements in a startup business plan, an internal business plan may also include:

  • Department-specific budgets
  • Target demographic analysis
  • Market size and share of voice analysis
  • Action plans
  • Sustainability plans

Most external-facing business plans focus on raising capital and support for a business. But an internal business plan helps keep the business mission consistent in the face of change.

4. Strategic Business Plan

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Strategic business plans focus on long-term objectives for your business. They usually cover the first three to five years of operations. This is different from the typical startup business plan which focuses on the first one to three years. The audience for this plan is also primarily internal stakeholders.

These types of business plans may include:

  • Relevant data and analysis
  • Assessments of company resources
  • Vision and mission statements

It's important to remember that, while many businesses create a strategic plan before launching, some business owners just jump in. So, this business plan can add value by outlining how your business plans to reach specific goals. This type of planning can also help a business anticipate future challenges.

5. Business Acquisition Plan

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Investors use business plans to acquire existing businesses, too — not just new businesses.

A business acquisition plan may include costs, schedules, or management requirements. This data will come from an acquisition strategy.

A business plan for an existing company will explain:

  • How an acquisition will change its operating model
  • What will stay the same under new ownership
  • Why things will change or stay the same
  • Acquisition planning documentation
  • Timelines for acquisition

Additionally, the business plan should speak to the current state of the business and why it's up for sale.

For example, if someone is purchasing a failing business, the business plan should explain why the business is being purchased. It should also include:

  • What the new owner will do to turn the business around
  • Historic business metrics
  • Sales projections after the acquisition
  • Justification for those projections

6. Business Repositioning Plan

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When a business wants to avoid acquisition, reposition its brand, or try something new, CEOs or owners will develop a business repositioning plan.

This plan will:

  • Acknowledge the current state of the company.
  • State a vision for the future of the company.
  • Explain why the business needs to reposition itself.
  • Outline a process for how the company will adjust.

Companies planning for a business reposition often do so — proactively or retroactively — due to a shift in market trends and customer needs.

For example, shoe brand AllBirds plans to refocus its brand on core customers and shift its go-to-market strategy. These decisions are a reaction to lackluster sales following product changes and other missteps.

7. Expansion or Growth Business Plan

When your business is ready to expand, a growth business plan creates a useful structure for reaching specific targets.

For example, a successful business expanding into another location can use a growth business plan. This is because it may also mean the business needs to focus on a new target market or generate more capital.

This type of plan usually covers the next year or two of growth. It often references current sales, revenue, and successes. It may also include:

  • SWOT analysis
  • Growth opportunity studies
  • Financial goals and plans
  • Marketing plans
  • Capability planning

These types of business plans will vary by business, but they can help businesses quickly rally around new priorities to drive growth.

Getting Started With Your Business Plan

At the end of the day, a business plan is simply an explanation of a business idea and why it will be successful. The more detail and thought you put into it, the more successful your plan — and the business it outlines — will be.

When writing your business plan, you’ll benefit from extensive research, feedback from your team or board of directors, and a solid template to organize your thoughts. If you need one of these, download HubSpot's Free Business Plan Template below to get started.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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How to Write a Business Plan

An effective business plan should outline financial projections and a strategy to achieve future goals.

Smiling businessman in discussion at workstation in office

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Business plans can vary in format and structure, but experts say all should include some key elements.

When you're contemplating starting your own company , crafting a detailed financial document that outlines your strategy and long-term goals may not be at the top of your priority list, but it should be. Without a sound written plan that outlines your concept, structure and financial projections, it can be difficult to secure essential funding.

But unless you've been to business school, you may have never learned how to write a business plan. With that in mind, here are the basic steps for writing a business plan, along with key resources, detailed instructions and tips for getting your startup off the ground.

Why Do I Need a Business Plan?

If you need to secure a loan or attract key investors to get your business started , a detailed business plan is crucial. A written plan provides an overview of your business concept, structure and potential opportunities or risks for investors. The more well-laid-out your business plan is, the better your odds of attracting a lender or investor. Even if you don't intend to borrow money or pitch investors, crafting a business plan can help you fully understand the challenges ahead.

"You're writing (a business plan) for lenders and investors to show that they can trust you with their funds," says Rob Stephens, founder of CFO Perspective, a business consultancy in Spokane Valley, Washington.

But even if you don't plan on finding lenders, you should still write a business plan, Stephens says. "The first investor you need to convince is yourself," Stephens says. "I had many doubts about leaving a good job to start my company. I looked at my business plan financial projection 20 times in the six months before starting my company to assure myself to take the big leap."

What Does a Traditional Business Plan Include?

While business plans can differ in format and structure, experts agree there are some key elements to include.

Here's what to include and how to write a business plan, step by step:

  • Executive summary.
  • Company description.
  • Objective statement or business goals.
  • A market analysis.
  • Management and operational strategy.
  • A financial analysis.
  • Financial projections.

1. Executive Summary

This section sums up everything about your business. Mostly, it should explain how the business will make money. You can also include information such as a mission statement, an overview of your industry – and how your business fits into it – and a description of your service or product.

2. Company Description

While the executive summary gives the big picture on why your company is needed, this is where you can describe your business and drill down further into specifics on your company's core products or services. If you've registered it as an LLC or S Corp, you'll want to include that information as well as the registered name of the business, along with where you'll be located and your overarching mission for the company.

3. Objective Statement or Business Goals

In this section, you should address your business strategy . You may want to include an industry analysis, explaining who your competition will be and how you will market your product or service. You'll also want to explain how your company will spend any investment it receives, explaining how the revenue will help the business develop, grow and reach its goals.

4. A Market Analysis

This is where you define your target demographic and how your business will attract it. If you have hired a market research firm to conduct a market analysis for your business, you can include that information. You'll also want to show lenders and investors that you really understand who your business is servicing.

5. Management and Operational Strategy

Think of this as an outline of the nuts and bolts of how your business will run. The more information you put down, the more you'll demonstrate to key stakeholders that you've really thought how your business will operate. You'll want to consider key questions like: Will you have inventory? If so, you'll also want to take into account how much you will likely carry, whether or not you will manufacture a product and what the structure of manufacturing a product will look like.

6. A Financial Analysis

You'll want to highlight pricing and profit margins and explain how your company will make money. In this section, consider including any details that will be helpful to point out the financial strength of your company, like a balance sheet with your company's assets and liabilities.

7. Financial Projections

Estimate how much your company is likely to earn in its first year or two and provide that information to potential lenders and investors. If you have an estimate for the rate of return for investors, you'll definitely want to highlight this here. This is also an ideal section to indicate any risk factors you haven't spelled out.

8. Appendix

You can consider this section as optional, but if you have something like a resume that you'd like to include or paperwork, like permits you've already applied for, you could include that here.

How Can I Enhance My Business Plan?

Bruce Hogan, the New York City-based founder of SoftwarePundit, a technology research firm, says that you really want to study the different components of your business plan and why they are important. "You need to understand your product, target customers, sales and marketing strategy, financials, competitive landscape and the team you'll need to build. If you don't understand one of these areas, invest additional time mastering it," Hogan advises.

But at the same time, Hogan advises, don't get too caught up in trying to create the perfect business plan, he says. "At a certain point, your time is better spent building your business rather than perfecting your plan," he says.

How Should I Use My Business Plan and When Should I Submit It to Investors?

"I recommend sharing your business plan with trusted friends and advisors early on in the process," says Bobby Reed, CEO of Capitol Tech Solutions, an internet marketing service in Sacramento, California. "By getting feedback, you can strengthen the plan."

You also should consider reaching out to business experts for assistance in developing your plan, suggests Lin Grensing-Pophal, who is based out of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and is the co-author of the book, "Writing a Convincing Business Plan." She is also the author of many other business books, including, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Strategic Planning."

"Local universities and technical colleges often offer this type of assistance through instructors or student groups," she says. "In addition, most communities have organizations like SCORE that can provide small businesses with access to retired business experts with expertise in finance and other areas."

The U.S. Small Business Administration is also a great resource. The website SBA.gov offers information about writing a business plan. What's more, there are 68 district office around the U.S., and the SBA works with over 300 SCORE chapters, 980 Small Business Development Centers, over 100 Women's Business Centers and 20 Veterans Business Outreach Centers across the country, according to Andrea Roebker, regional communications director of the Great Lakes region for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

What Should I Do if I Don't Know How Much Money My Business Will Make?

"Your actual financial results won't match your business plan. Investors understand that," Stephens says. Investors are mostly concerned that "you have the right people leading a company with a good business model to earn significant income," Stephens says. "Clearly point out these items and back them up with a believable financial projection."

Grensing-Pophal echoes similar sentiments. "Don't think that your plan needs to be right. There's no such thing," she says. "Instead, your plan should be an educated, and fact-based, description of what you believe you can accomplish based on the best information available to you at the time the plan is created."

What Are Common Business Plan Mistakes?

Overhyping the financial projections is probably the biggest mistake. If your numbers are unrealistic, investors will lose confidence in you. But another significant mistake is having grammatical errors and spelling mistakes riddled throughout the business plan , many experts say. It suggests a lack of attention to detail. You also want to be clear and concise and avoid lending confusion to the reader.

What Should I Do With My Business Plan Once I Start My Business?

Ideally, you'll continue to update your business plan regularly. "Don't be afraid to change, modify or entirely toss out your plan," Grensing-Pophal says. "Things change. Markets change. Competitors change. Assumptions change. When these things happen, your plan should change, too."

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What Is a Business Plan? Definition and Planning Essentials Explained

Posted february 21, 2022 by kody wirth.

what should a business planning include

What is a business plan? It’s the roadmap for your business. The outline of your goals, objectives, and the steps you’ll take to get there. It describes the structure of your organization, how it operates, as well as the financial expectations and actual performance. 

A business plan can help you explore ideas, successfully start a business, manage operations, and pursue growth. In short, a business plan is a lot of different things. It’s more than just a stack of paper and can be one of your most effective tools as a business owner. 

Let’s explore the basics of business planning, the structure of a traditional plan, your planning options, and how you can use your plan to succeed. 

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a document that explains how your business operates. It summarizes your business structure, objectives, milestones, and financial performance. Again, it’s a guide that helps you, and anyone else, better understand how your business will succeed.  

Why do you need a business plan?

The primary purpose of a business plan is to help you understand the direction of your business and the steps it will take to get there. Having a solid business plan can help you grow up to 30% faster and according to our own 2021 Small Business research working on a business plan increases confidence regarding business health—even in the midst of a crisis. 

These benefits are directly connected to how writing a business plan makes you more informed and better prepares you for entrepreneurship. It helps you reduce risk and avoid pursuing potentially poor ideas. You’ll also be able to more easily uncover your business’s potential. By regularly returning to your plan you can understand what parts of your strategy are working and those that are not.

That just scratches the surface for why having a plan is valuable. Check out our full write-up for fifteen more reasons why you need a business plan .  

What can you do with your plan?

So what can you do with a business plan once you’ve created it? It can be all too easy to write a plan and just let it be. Here are just a few ways you can leverage your plan to benefit your business.

Test an idea

Writing a plan isn’t just for those that are ready to start a business. It’s just as valuable for those that have an idea and want to determine if it’s actually possible or not. By writing a plan to explore the validity of an idea, you are working through the process of understanding what it would take to be successful. 

The market and competitive research alone can tell you a lot about your idea. Is the marketplace too crowded? Is the solution you have in mind not really needed? Add in the exploration of milestones, potential expenses, and the sales needed to attain profitability and you can paint a pretty clear picture of the potential of your business.

Document your strategy and goals

For those starting or managing a business understanding where you’re going and how you’re going to get there are vital. Writing your plan helps you do that. It ensures that you are considering all aspects of your business, know what milestones you need to hit, and can effectively make adjustments if that doesn’t happen. 

With a plan in place, you’ll have an idea of where you want your business to go as well as how you’ve performed in the past. This alone better prepares you to take on challenges, review what you’ve done before, and make the right adjustments.

Pursue funding

Even if you do not intend to pursue funding right away, having a business plan will prepare you for it. It will ensure that you have all of the information necessary to submit a loan application and pitch to investors. So, rather than scrambling to gather documentation and write a cohesive plan once it’s relevant, you can instead keep your plan up-to-date and attempt to attain funding. Just add a use of funds report to your financial plan and you’ll be ready to go.

The benefits of having a plan don’t stop there. You can then use your business plan to help you manage the funding you receive. You’ll not only be able to easily track and forecast how you’ll use your funds but easily report on how it’s been used. 

Better manage your business

A solid business plan isn’t meant to be something you do once and forget about. Instead, it should be a useful tool that you can regularly use to analyze performance, make strategic decisions, and anticipate future scenarios. It’s a document that you should regularly update and adjust as you go to better fit the actual state of your business.

Doing so makes it easier to understand what’s working and what’s not. It helps you understand if you’re truly reaching your goals or if you need to make further adjustments. Having your plan in place makes that process quicker, more informative, and leaves you with far more time to actually spend running your business.

What should your business plan include?

The content and structure of your business plan should include anything that will help you use it effectively. That being said, there are some key elements that you should cover and that investors will expect to see. 

Executive summary

The executive summary is a simple overview of your business and your overall plan. It should serve as a standalone document that provides enough detail for anyone—including yourself, team members, or investors—to fully understand your business strategy. Make sure to cover the problem you’re solving, a description of your product or service, your target market, organizational structure, a financial summary, and any necessary funding requirements.

This will be the first part of your plan but it’s easiest to write it after you’ve created your full plan.

Products & Services

When describing your products or services, you need to start by outlining the problem you’re solving and why what you offer is valuable. This is where you’ll also address current competition in the market and any competitive advantages your products or services bring to the table. Lastly, be sure to outline the steps or milestones that you’ll need to hit to successfully launch your business. If you’ve already hit some initial milestones, like taking pre-orders or early funding, be sure to include it here to further prove the validity of your business. 

Market analysis

A market analysis is a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the current market you’re entering or competing in. It helps you understand the overall state and potential of the industry, who your ideal customers are, the positioning of your competition, and how you intend to position your own business. This helps you better explore the long-term trends of the market, what challenges to expect, and how you will need to initially introduce and even price your products or services.

Check out our full guide for how to conduct a market analysis in just four easy steps .  

Marketing & sales

Here you detail how you intend to reach your target market. This includes your sales activities, general pricing plan, and the beginnings of your marketing strategy. If you have any branding elements, sample marketing campaigns, or messaging available—this is the place to add it. 

Additionally, it may be wise to include a SWOT analysis that demonstrates your business or specific product/service position. This will showcase how you intend to leverage sales and marketing channels to deal with competitive threats and take advantage of any opportunities.

Check out our full write-up to learn how to create a cohesive marketing strategy for your business. 

Organization & management

This section addresses the legal structure of your business, your current team, and any gaps that need to be filled. Depending on your business type and longevity, you’ll also need to include your location, ownership information, and business history. Basically, add any information that helps explain your organizational structure and how you operate. This section is particularly important for pitching to investors but should be included even if attempted funding is not in your immediate future.

Financial projections

Possibly the most important piece of your plan, your financials section is vital for showcasing the viability of your business. It also helps you establish a baseline to measure against and makes it easier to make ongoing strategic decisions as your business grows. This may seem complex on the surface, but it can be far easier than you think. 

Focus on building solid forecasts, keep your categories simple, and lean on assumptions. You can always return to this section to add more details and refine your financial statements as you operate. 

Here are the statements you should include in your financial plan:

  • Sales and revenue projections
  • Profit and loss statement
  • Cash flow statement
  • Balance sheet

The appendix is where you add additional detail, documentation, or extended notes that support the other sections of your plan. Don’t worry about adding this section at first and only add documentation that you think will be beneficial for anyone reading your plan.

Types of business plans explained

While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. So, to get the most out of your plan, it’s best to find a format that suits your needs. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering. 

Traditional business plan

The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used for external purposes. Typically this is the type of plan you’ll need when applying for funding or pitching to investors. It can also be used when training or hiring employees, working with vendors, or any other situation where the full details of your business must be understood by another individual. 

This type of business plan follows the outline above and can be anywhere from 10-50 pages depending on the amount of detail included, the complexity of your business, and what you include in your appendix. We recommend only starting with this business plan format if you plan to immediately pursue funding and already have a solid handle on your business information. 

Business model canvas

The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea. 

The structure ditches a linear structure in favor of a cell-based template. It encourages you to build connections between every element of your business. It’s faster to write out and update, and much easier for you, your team, and anyone else to visualize your business operations. This is really best for those exploring their business idea for the first time, but keep in mind that it can be difficult to actually validate your idea this way as well as adapt it into a full plan.

One-page business plan

The true middle ground between the business model canvas and a traditional business plan is the one-page business plan. This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business. It basically serves as a beefed-up pitch document and can be finished as quickly as the business model canvas.

By starting with a one-page plan, you give yourself a minimal document to build from. You’ll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences making it much easier to elaborate or expand sections into a longer-form business plan. This plan type is useful for those exploring ideas, needing to validate their business model, or who need an internal plan to help them run and manage their business.

Now, the option that we here at LivePlan recommend is the Lean Plan . This is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance.

It holds all of the benefits of the single-page plan, including the potential to complete it in as little as 27-minutes . However, it’s even easier to convert into a full plan thanks to how heavily it’s tied to your financials. The overall goal of Lean Planning isn’t to just produce documents that you use once and shelve. Instead, the Lean Planning process helps you build a healthier company that thrives in times of growth and stable through times of crisis.

It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.

Try the LivePlan Method for Lean Business Planning

Now that you know the basics of business planning, it’s time to get started. Again we recommend leveraging a Lean Plan for a faster, easier, and far more useful planning process. 

To get familiar with the Lean Plan format, you can download our free Lean Plan template . However, if you want to elevate your ability to create and use your lean plan even further, you may want to explore LivePlan. 

It features step-by-step guidance that ensures you cover everything necessary while reducing the time spent on formatting and presenting. You’ll also gain access to financial forecasting tools that propel you through the process. Finally, it will transform your plan into a management tool that will help you easily compare your forecasts to your actual results. 

Check out how LivePlan streamlines Lean Planning by downloading our Kickstart Your Business ebook .

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Kody Wirth

Posted in Business Plan Writing

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6 Questions Every Business Plan Should Answer

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An actionable business plan is crucial, whether your business is brand-new or an established player in its field. A business plan is especially vital for SMBs, which often must contend with lower name recognition, fewer loyal customers and other typical business challenges. While it doesn’t guarantee success, creating a business plan with research and care can help a business prepare for any future uncertainties.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners must ensure their business plans address six primary questions. Thinking through these questions and developing potential solutions helps set up your venture for success. 

What is a business plan, and why does it matter?

A business plan is a formal document designed to help you set achievable business goals and outline how you’ll accomplish them. The business plan should include various road maps dedicated to the following operational elements:

  • Product creation
  • Operational goals

A business plan is a valuable tool internally and externally.

  • Internal business plan functions: Internally, a business plan helps align its decisions with an overall road map to help it stay on track. Businesses can also use road maps to help think through difficult choices, such as headcount decisions.
  • External business plan functions: Externally, a road map is critical for securing funding from outside investors like angel investors . A business must demonstrate to investors that it has a solid business plan with achievable goals and a road map to success. 

When pitching your business idea to investors , emphasize how your product or service solves a problem and frame your pitch as a story to demonstrate your passion.

What should a business plan include?

Typically, a business plan should include the following elements: 

  • Executive summary. An executive summary highlights a business plan’s essential elements. Readers should be able to understand your business plan by reading your executive summary, even if they don’t read the rest of the document.
  • Budget. A small business budget should include overall operational and personnel costs. Consider your payroll budget , marketing budget and other departmental budgets.
  • Market analysis. A market analysis should include a thorough market assessment that identifies competitors, your target customer , customer buying habits, marketing demographics and what customers are willing to pay. A market analysis may include a competitive analysis that dives more deeply into direct and indirect competitors.
  • Product analysis. A product analysis outlines decisions about optimal product pricing. While you want to sell as many products as possible, low prices can scare off customers and eat into your profit margins, while prices that are too high will have customers turning to your competitors. 
  • Marketing strategy. Your marketing plan should outline how best to market the business and its products or services. Consider digital marketing targeted to specific online and social platforms, email marketing and local marketing. 

Business plans vary in length depending on your business’s size, industry and scope. An SMB typically has a shorter and more succinct business plan than a larger, established business that operates across industries. 

Collect market intelligence for your business plan by conducting customer surveys and researching social media metrics, competitors’ sales and target customer data.

Questions every business plan should answer

We spoke with six business leaders who shared their thoughts on the crucial questions a business plan should answer. Consider these six essential questions to optimize your business plan.

1. What is the competitive advantage?

Scott Locke, chair of the intellectual property department at Dorf and Nelson LLP, advises thoroughly researching copyright infringement issues when determining your competitive advantage. 

“I always look for what will give the business a competitive advantage relative to businesses that want to offer the same or similar goods and services and an analysis of the competitive landscape,” Locke explained. “I pay particular attention as to whether there is valuable intellectual property, be it patents, trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets, that will serve as barriers to entry for competitors. Similarly, I like to see a discussion of the intellectual property of the most direct competitors and how the new business will avoid infringing on it.”

2. Is the business in a growth market?

Walter Recher, principal consultant at SmallBall Marketing, says your business plan should emphasize how you plan to grow your business . 

“The key to any successful business is to be a growing company in a growth market. A business plan should articulate how the entrepreneurs will enter the market, apply their investment to prepare them to grow quickly, and participate in the expansion of an industry that is thriving, with a better-than-average growth trajectory,” Recher said. “As I have spent my career working for hyper-growth companies in rapidly expanding markets, a founder of several small businesses and adjunct professor of a course on entrepreneurship, this has been the common denominator.”

3. Will customers pay for it?

Andi Gray, founder and president of Strategy Leaders, advises examining the risks of entrepreneurship and determining what and how customers will pay for their products and services. 

“When looking at business plans, I always want to know how the owners plan to get paying customers to engage at a fee and quantity that allows them, as owners, to be in business and sustain themselves,” Gray advised. “My frequently asked question is, ‘How do you plan to feed and clothe yourself, and where do you plan to sleep while you’re getting this venture off the ground?’ My hope is that it will cause the students to consider why they are planning to take the risks of entrepreneurship.” 

4. How will the business be staffed?

Larry Holfelder, senior consultant at DJL Insurance Services Inc., emphasizes the importance of staffing considerations. 

“In every business plan, I like to see the recognition of the need to cover and staff the production, sales and finance parts of the business. Roles should be established for the entity as if it were mature and successful,” Holfelder advised. “Multiple roles should be assigned at first, if necessary, and filled with the right people as the entity grows and the timing is right.” 

Holfelder says thoughtful staffing coverage shows that the business owners are realistic. “I like to see that type of thought process because it shows me they recognize that they won’t be able to do it all themselves and that business success revolves around collaboration and management,” Holfelder said. “It also shows that they recognize their own limitations, their ability to focus on their strengths, and the need to bring in others who know what they don’t in order to reach the goals they envision.”

Consider using a staffing agency if you need to scale quickly and want flexibility and reduced legal risks.

5. Is the product innovative?

Irwin Glenn, chief identity scientist at Hunova, stresses the importance of innovation and inventiveness as well as the team’s level of inspiration. 

“Is the idea for the product or service innovative, a unique invention, or is the dream truly inspired? Glenn asked. “By innovative, I want to understand if the business plan is centered around a new twist on already-existing technology or services delivered in a new and compelling way. If inventive, can the idea be protected against new or existing competition? Finally, is the team assembled an excellent group that can’t be stopped from succeeding? Are they inspiring to me, each other, and their marketplace?”

6. Are the plans and goals realistic?

Charles North, former president and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, prioritizes a realistic business plan with reasonable expectations. 

“I look for it to be a realistic business plan, not something that is pie-in-the-sky. I want to see reasonable expectations,” North explained. “I tend to look more on the conservative side, since I feel that is the safest way to go. The idea doesn’t have to be reasonable; the plan does. The idea can be anything.”

North also emphasizes the importance of sales forecasts . “I always look for projections on what the business will do in the first year, second year, third year and fourth year showing sales, expenses [and the] bottom line as the business progresses. Those assumptions have to be reasonable.”

How planning for success pays off

A great business idea is no guarantee of success, but a solid business plan is a way to start a new business off the right foot and prepare your venture for a lucrative future. 

Business plans are a vital resource for businesses of all sizes. While business plans should, at minimum, lay out a series of goals and a road map for achieving them, a business plan should also help answer questions ranging from analyzing a business’ competitive advantages to considering if its goals are realistic. 

If you think through these questions while creating your business plan, your business will be in a better position to achieve its goals and weather any challenges it may face. 

David Mielach contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.

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How to write a business plan in 9 steps

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Bryce Colburn

Bryce Colburn

“Verified by an expert” means that this article has been thoroughly reviewed and evaluated for accuracy.

Published 7:54 a.m. UTC Jan. 2, 2024

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Starting a business is a risky venture. 

Even the smartest of entrepreneurs have many questions to consider as they develop and execute their business idea. One of the best outlets for creating a successful company is having a business plan in place before you launch on day one. 

A solid business plan will provide a game plan for your company, both now and in the future. It should guide all of your decisions and allow you to navigate difficult times by providing a resource by which you operate and strategize. 

A business plan is a vital part of any successful company. 

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What is a business plan?

A business plan is simply an outline of a company’s future goals and how it plans to achieve those goals. A solid business plan will guide a company’s strategy and decision-making and help it navigate through any unforeseen obstacles. 

Companies of all sizes can benefit from a business plan. Smaller-sized companies can use this plan to develop a strategy for growth, development and investor strategy. Larger, more established companies can use a business plan to expand, explore other profit possibilities and stay on track with its original vision. 

Business plans are also important when it comes to funding, as many investors will want to see your plan before funding your project or company. 

How to write a business plan

One of the most important parts of writing a business plan is the realization you need one in the first place. If that’s you, congratulations on overcoming that initial obstacle. 

Now that you understand why a business plan is important let’s take a look at the steps you’ll need to follow to create a successful one. 

1. Write an executive summary

Think of your executive summary as a Cliffs Notes for your business plan. This summary will condense the entire business plan that follows into one easy-to-follow package. It should contain all the highlights while giving a solid overview of the entire plan. 

The plan should also briefly offer key company information, such as business goals and vision, product descriptions, marketing strategy and current financials — as well as other relevant information like leadership, employees and location.

In addition to offering a brief overview of your business strategy, the executive summary is a useful tool to give to potential investors who might not have the time to read the entire plan. 

2. Draft a company description

This section simply covers the basics of your company — what you do, how you separate yourself in your industry, what makes the services and/or products you provide worthwhile and why your company would be a smart investment. 

You should also include information like your business’s mission statement, its structure, short- and long-term goals, business history and other similar facts. This is also a good place to list your company’s core values. 

A lot of these issues should be well thought out before you draft a company description or business plan. By this point, you should be able to easily articulate all of this. If not, take a breath and meet with your team to go back through this to make sure you have all your bases covered.  

3. Include a description of your products and services

This is where you outline what you sell and why your target market should care. You should outline key specs like price, size and material quality. If you provide a service, you should offer information about availability, quality and durability. 

Give a brief overview of the multiple products you offer, as well as those that are a part of your future plans. 

4. Consider your company goals and objectives

You’ve already briefly mentioned your goals and objectives in prior sections, but this section allows you to go a little more in-depth. 

Here, expand on your mission statement and why it’s important to your company. You might talk about the thought process behind the statement and how it came to be. Who was involved in crafting it, and what were the important elements they wanted to include?

Then, begin going more in-depth on your specific business goals — both short-term and long-term. What are some of your priorities for the next year? Five years? Decade? Listing out these objectives shows you not only have a good grasp of your company’s current situation but also of where it is headed. 

5. Perform market research and competitor analysis

Performing market research and competitive analysis is an extremely important part of your business plan. Getting familiar with other businesses in your market will help you see what works and what doesn’t. 

You should be able to list out the size of your market and who might be interested in your products or services, how you fit into that market and what other competitors are doing. Along those lines, what is your brand’s differentiation with that market — what sets you apart?

Knowing your market and how you approach it strategically can make or break your business. 

6. Create a marketing plan

Who is your ideal customer? And, strategically, how do you plan on reaching them? This is the foundation of your marketing plan. 

How much money and effort do you plan on putting into marketing, or will you rely more heavily on sales? With your marketing, this is where you’ll outline the platforms you plan on using to reach your audience — whether that’s through social media, online ads, television or radio commercials.

Ultimately, this section will provide the details on your product or service, how much it will cost, how you plan to promote it and where you plan on selling it. 

7. Define your operating procedures

This section explains the framework of your organization and how you operate. 

You’ll outline your leadership structure with an organizational chart if you have one. Explain some of the key members of your team and how they make your business run successfully. You might consider including resumes or CVs. 

This is where you’ll lay out the legal structure of your company as well. Do you plan on incorporating, or are you a limited liability company (LLC) or sole proprietor ?

In terms of operations, outline who your suppliers will be, how your production process will work, which facilities and equipment you’ll use to develop your products, how you plan on shipping and the amount of inventory you’ll keep on hand. 

8. Create a financial plan

Obviously, your financials are the backbone of your business. With a solid financial plan, your company will thrive. Without one, it may whither. The basics of your financial plan will include a balance sheet, income statement and cash-flow statement. 

The balance sheet shows your total assets and liabilities. The income statement will show your revenue and expenses — the two main factors that ultimately reveal your business’s profit or loss. The cash-flow statement shows how much cash your business will have available at any given time — based on when you pay your bills and deposit revenue.

9. Set a timeline for progress and goals

In this section, you’ll set the timeline for your company’s progress. You’ll break down different milestones and when you expect to reach them, as well as what progress will look like for your business. 

Be specific. List out the exact amount of profit you hope to have over a certain time frame. This should be as detailed as possible. So when writing out your goals, don’t use generalized phrases like “increase revenue.” Instead, go into the specifics of those goals. 

Additional business planning resources

In addition to a business plan, you definitely want to make sure you have other aspects of your business covered. Some business planning topics to think about include:

  • Business structures: Starting out, will you form your business structure as a limited liability company (LLC), which protects you from your company’s debts and liabilities in the event of a lawsuit? Or are you forming a partnership or sole proprietorship ? 
  • Business licenses: Most businesses will require a business license , which may be needed at the county, state and federal level, depending on the type of business you operate.
  • Business taxes: The type of business you have will dictate how you pay taxes. You may be required to pay income tax, payroll tax, self-employment tax, employment taxes and excise tax. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

You don’t necessarily need a business plan to start your business, but creating one will put you at a great advantage. 

A business plan communicates your vision and mission to your company as well as potential investors. It also allows you to get buy-in from your current employees and how you plan to build your business into the future.

A solid business plan will include the following:

  • Executive summary: A quick overview of the entire business plan. 
  • Company description: A description of your company and what it does.
  • Products and services description: A description of the products and services your company offers.
  • Company goals and objectives: An outline of your company’s future goals. 
  • Market research: Who are your competitors and how do you fit into the industry?
  • Marketing plan: Details about how you plan to reach your ideal customer. 
  • Operating procedures: Outline the framework of your organization and how it operates. 
  • Financial plan: Provide details about your balance sheet, income statement and cash-flow statement.
  • Progress and goals: A breakdown of company milestones and your timeline for reaching them. 

A business plan allows you to precisely define the basic information and values of your company, as well as its viability, vision, mission, marketing strategy and future goals. A solid plan will outline all the above while explaining, in detail, how you plan to make these ideas a reality.

Blueprint is an independent publisher and comparison service, not an investment advisor. The information provided is for educational purposes only and we encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding specific financial decisions. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Blueprint has an advertiser disclosure policy . The opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Blueprint editorial staff alone. Blueprint adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. The information is accurate as of the publish date, but always check the provider’s website for the most current information.

Robert Bruce

Robert Bruce has been a full-time writer for nearly 20 years. His work has been featured in US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, The Penny Hoarder, The Money Manual, WGN Chicago, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, among others.

Bryce Colburn is a USA TODAY Blueprint small business editor with a history of helping startups and small firms nationwide grow their business. He has worked as a freelance writer, digital marketing professional and business-to-business (B2B) editor at U.S. News and World Report, gaining a strong understanding of the challenges businesses face. Bryce is enthusiastic about helping businesses make the best decisions for their company and specializes in reviewing business software and services. His expertise includes topics such as credit card processing companies, payroll software, company formation services and virtual private networks (VPNs).

How to start a small business: A step-by-step guide

How to start a small business: A step-by-step guide

Business Eric Rosenberg

Full Scale

What Should a Business Plan Include?

A business plan serves as a roadmap to successfully launch a business. It helps you overcome the challenges you might experience in your industry. Learn how to create and use a business plan for your startup.

One of the most fatal mistakes that aspiring entrepreneurs make in launching a startup is forgetting a business plan . You wouldn’t launch a ship at sea without establishing its routes and the direction you’ll steer it to. Without proper planning, your ship will end up adrift or worst, dramatically sink when the tides hit. And in a volatile commercial industry, the tides are constantly changing.

Avoid common startup mistakes by creating a business plan. A business plan not only strengthens your foundation but also helps you navigate the ever-changing field of business. Chances are your customers’ preferences will change over time and you have to keep up with them. Hence, a business plan also changes accordingly.

But how exactly do you create a business plan ? Is there a template to follow? Should you enlist the help of other experts to write it? Today, we’ll look into what should be included in your business plan and how it should be written. The first step is by understanding what it is and what it is for.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is an official company document that breaks down all the goals of a business and how to achieve them. It basically lays out the groundwork for your idea to come alive. It’s often referred to as the “blueprint of the business”, summarizing your goals.

Although there are many ways to write it, its key point usually discusses the financial, marketing, and operational strategies of the business.   

What is it for?

A business plan serves as a guide for a growing company. It’s a consistent reference for business owners and stakeholders to base critical decisions on. It’s especially useful for early-stage startups to attract investors. When a company doesn’t have a proven track record, it can lay out its full potential instead.

Not only is the business plan useful for the initial launching of a business, but it also helps with pivotal changes. Since the market is perpetually changing, it’s crucial that your plan also evolves with it. Hence, the goals and methods of achieving will be updated. In some cases, a whole new plan is created if the company wants to drastically move in a new direction.   

What’s included in a Business Plan

Although there’s no fixed formula for writing a business plan, there are some identifiable key points. These are generally the items factored in its creation:

1.     Executive Summary

The executive summary outlines the whole plan. You start with a clear introduction of who you are, what you sell, and what your ambitions are as a business. This section includes your mission statement, product description, and the basic overview of your company’s structure. It should also include your financial plans.   

2.     Business Description

The business description provides detailed information about your industry. It must describe its current outlook as well as its profit potential. You will go into detail about your target market and other organizations or businesses you cater to. Also, this section briefly discusses what problem the business is trying to solve.  

3.     Market Analysis

A business must have a firm understanding of its target market and should be able to prove its sustainability. The market analysis provides trends and studies about the target consumers—their size, demographics, buying power, and frequent activities. This section also touches briefly on the competitors.

4.     Product Development

Investors need a clear idea of how you would create and maintain your product. The development plan section contains the details of the product’s design; its production methods, lifecycle, marketing, and development budget. This includes the overall strategy of how it will be sold in the market.

5.     Marketing Strategies

The product is only as good as how much it will sell. Therefore, this section describes how you will present your products and services to the market. This will discuss your marketing campaigns, distribution channels, and types of media you’ll tap into. You will summarize how you intend to reach your customers and pitch your products to them.

6.     Operations and Management

Your investors need an overview of how the business functions. The operations plan highlights the logistics of the company such as team responsibilities, division tasks, and operational expenses. This helps track down who is responsible for certain areas of the business.  

7.     Financial Plans

Money mobilizes the idea. Hence, it’s important to keep an accurate record of where it’s going. This section shows the company’s monetary plans and its future projections. This includes financial statements, balance sheets, and third-party business transactions. For startups, it will mostly contain the target profit and estimates of expenses.    

Tips on Writing a Business Plan

Now that we have an idea of the business plan template , it’s time to learn how to write it effectively. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re writing one for your business.

  • Keep it concise. It serve as a guide for the company and the investors. It needs to be easy to understand and direct to the point. You can’t afford to waste a reader’s time by creating a 100-page business plan. Instead, aim for a summarized version of your plan, only highlighting the important points and outlining the rest.
  • Avoid jargon. Ensure that everyone, especially investors, can understand your business plan. Do not include complex jargon in your content. Save the technicalities for the experts and simplify the terms in explaining your ideas.
  • Keep it up-to-date. As previously mentioned, business plans are not static. Over time, a lot of things in the industry will change and might make your original plans obsolete. Frequently update your business plan according to what’s new in the field and with new methods you’re employing. Remember, a business plan is only useful if it’s still relevant.  

Build your Business

Business plans are important when you’re starting your business from scratch. However, the success of your business still heavily relies on their execution. A lot of startups fail because they can’t push through with what was proposed in the business plans.

More than just articulating your ideas, you need to do a lot more to make them come to life. For one, you’ll need the capital to kick things off and make everything operational. Second, you’ll need to hire the best people to run your operations. Lastly, you have to find investors to sustain your business.

One way to ensure that your business plan is properly executed is by enlisting the help of business experts. Full Scale is an offshore software development company that specializes in helping startups.

We can provide the talent and resources needed to begin your operations. Whether you need project managers, marketing specialists, or technical experts; we’ve got them all. We’ll take care of all the processes of recruitment and management so you can focus on your core competencies.

Ready to begin your entrepreneurial journey? Get your FREE consultation today!

Learn More about Offshore Development

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  • Stock Market
  • December 7, 2023

14 Key Steps for Effective Business Planning: Complete Guide

“Let’s start this journey through our detailed guide, where you’ll find everything you need for Niche Selection, Product Selection, Market Research, and Market Analysis . From fundamental strategies to innovative techniques, this article covers a broad spectrum of topics. Dive into sections on identifying your niche, mastering market research methods, and conducting thorough market analysis. Each segment is designed to clear any doubts and answer all queries related to these topics. With our article, be assured that every aspect of your search intent will be comprehensively addressed.”

Table of Contents

Introduction to business planning, definition and importance.

Business planning, a critical process for any entrepreneur, stands as the blueprint for company success. Delving into the heart of business planning, it’s much more than just a structured document; it’s the narrative of your business’s future. Imagine it as a compass, guiding your venture through the often-tumultuous waves of the market. Here, we’re not just scribbling down objectives, strategies, and methods. Oh no, it’s an intricate dance of aligning your company’s aspirations with the rhythmic movements of market dynamics, resource management, and the quest for profitability and sustainability.

Picture this: a well-orchestrated business plan, not merely a document, but a visionary’s tool, shaping decisions and carving out a path for long-term success. It’s in these pages that the seeds of future triumphs are sown. Let’s embark on this journey to uncover how a meticulously crafted plan can revolutionize the way you navigate the business world.

Overview of Article Contents

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll traverse through the key elements of creating a robust business plan. From conducting thorough market research to financial planning, each section is meticulously designed to guide you through every stage of business planning. Our journey will include practical steps, insightful tables comparing key data, and illustrative bulleted lists. True-to-life examples, including some from my personal experience in the business world, will enrich your understanding. This article is more than a guide; it’s a companion in your business planning journey.

The Fundamentals of Business Planning

What a business plan includes.

A business plan is more than a document; it’s a roadmap for your venture’s journey, encompassing your goals, strategies to achieve them, and the challenges you might face. It’s a versatile tool that serves various purposes, from securing funding to guiding your team. Here’s a breakdown in a bulleted format:

  • Vision and Objectives: Outlining the primary goals and aspirations of your business.
  • Market Research: In-depth analysis of industry trends, target market, and competition.
  • Strategies and Tactics: Detailed plans for marketing, sales, and operations.
  • Financial Projections: Revenue forecasts, budgeting, and financial needs.
  • Organizational Structure: Roles, responsibilities, and company hierarchy.
  • Implementation Timeline: Key milestones and timelines for important initiatives.

Key Components: Executive Summary, Company Description, Market Analysis

Each business plan comprises several critical components, forming the backbone of your strategy:

In the Executive Summary, I recall vividly outlining my company’s vision, which helped align our team and attract investors. The Company Description is more than history; it’s a narrative of your business’s purpose and potential. The Market Analysis, crucial for understanding your playing field, requires meticulous research and an objective view, something I learned is vital in making informed decisions.

Types of Business Plans

Traditional vs. lean startup plans.

In the realm of business plans, there are two distinct breeds: the Traditional and the Lean Startup. Each, like a key to its lock, fits perfectly with different business landscapes and objectives .

Traditional business plans are comprehensive, often containing detailed descriptions and long-term projections. They are ideal for businesses seeking substantial funding or those with a complex business model. On the other hand, Lean Startup plans are concise, focusing on summarizing only the most critical points of the plan. These are perfect for startups looking to quickly adapt and iterate their business model.

Here’s a comparative table to illustrate the differences:

In my experience, choosing between a traditional and a lean plan often depends on the specific needs and stage of your business.

Plans for Various Business Stages

Business plans must evolve with the business. The planning needs of a startup differ vastly from those of an established enterprise.

Startups usually require plans that emphasize market entry and growth strategies, whereas established businesses might focus more on expansion and sustainability. Here’s a table to help differentiate:

When I started my first venture, the focus was on market entry and survival, but as the business grew, the plan shifted towards expansion and managing complex operations.

How to Start a Business Plan

Initial steps.

Embarking on the creation of a business plan might initially feel like scaling a mountain, steep and overwhelming. Yet, when dissected into bite-sized, manageable morsels, this mountain transforms into a series of small hills, each easily surmountable. Picture the initial phase as laying down the bedrock, the very essence of your future empire.

Here, it all begins with crystallizing your business concept, a vivid picture of what you aim to achieve. Next, like a detective piecing together clues, you dive into a preliminary market analysis, a quest to unravel the mysteries of your industry and understand the moves of your competition. This isn’t just about setting the stage; it’s about painting the first strokes on your business’s canvas and defining the hues and contours of your entrepreneurial journey. Setting clear, achievable goals is also crucial at this stage.

Here’s a table outlining these initial steps:

From my journey, I found that setting clear objectives in the beginning provided a focused direction for my business plan.

Gathering Information and Resources

The next step in creating a business plan is gathering the necessary information and resources. This involves conducting detailed market research, understanding your target audience’s needs and preferences, and accumulating financial data and projections. It’s also essential to identify the resources, such as software or consultancy services, that can aid in crafting a comprehensive plan.

The following table summarizes this process:

In my experience, thorough research and resource gathering were instrumental in developing a plan that was not only realistic but also competitive.

Market Analysis in Business Planning

Importance and methods.

Market analysis is a cornerstone of business planning, vital for understanding the environment in which your business will operate. It offers insights into industry trends, customer behaviors, and competitive dynamics. This analysis helps in making informed decisions and crafting strategies that align with market realities.

The methods of market analysis include:

  • Demographic Analysis: Understanding the age, gender, income level, and other attributes of your target market.
  • Competitor Analysis: Assessing your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, market share, and strategies.
  • Trend Analysis: Identifying and evaluating industry trends and consumer preferences.
  • SWOT Analysis: A comprehensive evaluation of your business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats concerning the market.

Through my experience, competitor and trend analyses were particularly revealing, offering crucial insights into market positioning and potential opportunities.

Tools and Techniques

Effectively conducting market analysis requires the right tools and techniques. These tools don’t just smooth the path; they sharpen the precision of your insights, turning rough guesses into fine-tuned knowledge.

Some of the key tools and techniques are:

  • Surveys and Questionnaires: To gather direct feedback from potential or existing customers.
  • Market Segmentation: Dividing your target market into segments based on certain characteristics to tailor strategies effectively.
  • Data Analysis Software: Utilizing software tools for analyzing market data and uncovering patterns and insights.
  • Industry Reports and Publications: Leveraging existing research and reports for a broader understanding of market trends and forecasts.

Incorporating these tools into my market analysis efforts significantly boosted the depth and breadth of my market understanding, guiding more strategic decision-making.

Crafting the Marketing and Sales Strategy

Developing plans and strategies.

Crafting a dynamic marketing and sales strategy is the lifeblood of business triumph. It’s a dance of comprehending your market’s pulse and wooing your audience with finesse. Imagine this: you’re not just setting goals, but lighting beacons – increasing brand visibility, skyrocketing sales, and seizing more market territory.

Your marketing plan should encompass various channels and tactics, including digital marketing, advertising, public relations, and promotions. Similarly, the sales strategy should focus on sales channels, pricing models, and sales team structure and training.

When developing these strategies, consider the following key elements:

  • Audience Engagement: Understanding how to connect with your audience through effective messaging and branding.
  • Budget Allocation: Determining how much to invest in different marketing and sales activities.
  • Performance Metrics: Setting benchmarks and KPIs to measure the effectiveness of your strategies.

In my ventures, balancing the marketing budget between digital and traditional channels was a critical decision that significantly impacted our outreach.

Techniques for Target Customer Identification

Identifying your target customer is integral to effectively tailoring your marketing and sales efforts. This involves a deep understanding of who your ideal customers are, their needs, preferences, and behaviors.

Some techniques for identifying your target customers include:

  • Customer Personas: Creating detailed profiles of your ideal customers based on market research and existing customer data.
  • Market Segmentation: Dividing the market into smaller segments based on demographics, psychographics, or behavior to target more effectively.
  • Feedback Analysis: Using customer feedback to understand their needs and improve your offerings accordingly.

One technique I found particularly useful was developing detailed customer personas, which helped in creating more targeted and effective marketing campaigns.

Porter’s Strategy in Business Planning

Porter’s Strategy, developed by Michael E. Porter, is a cornerstone concept in the realm of business strategy and competitive analysis. It’s particularly crucial for businesses at any stage, guiding them in navigating competitive landscapes and carving out a niche in the market. Porter’s framework consists of three generic strategies: Cost Leadership, Differentiation, and Focus. Let’s delve into how these can be integrated into business planning:

  • Cost Leadership: This strategy aims to be the lowest-cost producer in the industry. It’s suitable for markets where price is a critical factor.
  • Differentiation: This involves making your products or services unique. Differentiation can be based on design, brand, customer service, or technology.
  • Focus: Focus strategy targets a specific market niche, with an emphasis on either cost leadership or differentiation within that segment.

Implementing Porter’s strategies in your business plan

  • Analyzing Your Market: Understand the competitive forces and where your business fits.
  • Identifying Your Competitive Advantage: Decide whether cost leadership, differentiation, or focus aligns with your strengths.
  • Aligning Operations and Marketing: Ensure your operations and marketing strategies support your chosen Porter strategy.

Here’s a summary of the application of Porter’s strategies in business planning:

Incorporating Porter’s Strategy into your business plan can provide a clear direction for your competitive approach, helping to define your market positioning and strategic decisions. It’s a powerful tool for businesses looking to establish a competitive edge in their industry.

Operations Plan and Management Structure

Detailing operations, logistics, and technology.

The operations plan is the heartbeat of your business plan, detailing the daily pulse of your venture. It weaves through production, service delivery, logistics, supply chain intricacies, and the tech magic that makes it all run smoothly.

When detailing your operations plan, consider the following:

  • Production or Service Delivery: How your product or service will be created and delivered to your customers.
  • Supply Chain Management: How you will manage your supply chain, from sourcing raw materials to delivering the final product.
  • Technology Utilization: The role of technology in your operations, whether for production, customer service, or internal communication.

In my own experience, integrating advanced technology in operations significantly streamlined our processes and enhanced efficiency.

Organizational Roles and Management Team

The management structure of your business is another vital element. It provides clarity on the roles and responsibilities within your organization, ensuring that every aspect of the business is effectively managed.

Key considerations for outlining your management structure include:

  • Defining Roles: Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each team member.
  • Leadership Team: Identifying your core leadership team and their qualifications.
  • Organizational Hierarchy: Establishing a hierarchy that supports efficient decision-making and communication.

Drawing from my journey, having a clear organizational structure was fundamental in maintaining smooth operations and fostering a collaborative work environment.

Financial Planning in Business

Financial projections and budgeting importance.

Financial planning is a pivotal aspect of business planning, central to the sustainability and growth of any enterprise. This section emphasizes the importance of creating accurate financial projections and budgeting. Financial projections help in forecasting future revenues, expenses, and profitability, guiding business decisions and strategies. Budgeting, on the other hand, ensures that you allocate your resources efficiently, preventing overspending and helping maintain financial health.

Key aspects to consider in financial planning include:

  • Revenue Projections: Estimating future sales based on market analysis, historical data, and business goals.
  • Expense Budgeting: Identifying and planning for both fixed and variable costs.
  • Profitability Analysis: Calculating expected profits by subtracting projected expenses from revenues.

In my ventures, realistic financial projections were a cornerstone in securing investor confidence and guiding our growth strategy.

Financial Analysis Tools

Various tools can assist in financial planning and analysis, making the process more accurate and manageable. This table outlines some essential financial analysis tools:

Incorporating these tools into my financial planning process significantly improved our accuracy and decision-making capabilities.

Business Planning for Different Sectors

Planning variances across industries.

Business planning is a tailor-made journey, varying distinctly across industries. Each sector dances to its rhythm of challenges, opportunities, and market dynamics, all of which must echo through your business plan. For instance, the technology sector might focus heavily on innovation and rapid growth, whereas a retail business plan might prioritize location and customer experience.

Consider these variances:

  • Market Dynamics: Each industry has distinct market trends and customer behaviors.
  • Regulatory Environment: Different sectors are subject to varying levels of regulation.
  • Technology Utilization: The role and impact of technology can vary widely between industries.
  • Competition: The intensity and nature of competition differ in each sector.

Here’s a table that illustrates some of these variances:

Examples of Multiple Sectors

To further illustrate how business planning adapts to different sectors, let’s look at some examples:

  • Technology: A tech startup might focus its plan on securing venture capital and scaling quickly.
  • Retail: A retail business plan could emphasize location analysis and in-store customer experience strategies.
  • Manufacturing: This sector might prioritize operational efficiency and supply chain management.

Here’s a table with examples:

Drawing from my own experience, adapting the business plan to the specific needs and realities of the industry was key to achieving success.

Business Planning Tools and Software

Overview of tools and software.

In today’s digital age, various tools and software significantly simplify the business planning process. These tools range from comprehensive business plan creation software to specialized applications focusing on financial projections, market analysis, or strategic planning. Utilizing these tools can enhance accuracy, save time, and provide valuable insights.

Here’s an overview of some key tools:

  • Business Plan Software: Software like LivePlan and Bizplan helps in creating, formatting, and organizing your business plan.
  • Financial Modelling Tools: Applications such as QuickBooks and Xero offer financial tracking and projections.
  • Market Analysis Software: Tools like MarketResearch.com provide industry reports and market data.

This table lists some popular tools along with their primary functions:

Comparisons and Recommendations

Choosing the right business planning tool depends on your specific needs, business size, and the aspects of planning you find most challenging. Here are some comparisons and recommendations:

  • For Comprehensive Planning: LivePlan is excellent for those who need a detailed, all-in-one solution.
  • For Financial Focus: QuickBooks and Xero are ideal for businesses that need robust financial tracking and analysis.
  • For Market Analysis: MarketResearch.com offers extensive market data, beneficial for in-depth market analysis.

This table provides a comparison:

In my experience, using a combination of these tools, like LivePlan for overall planning and QuickBooks for financial management, provided a balanced approach to business planning.

Common Challenges and Solutions in Business Planning

Potential roadblocks.

Business planning, while essential, is often fraught with challenges that can hinder progress. Recognizing these potential roadblocks is the first step in navigating them effectively. Common challenges include:

  • Underestimating Market Complexity: Many entrepreneurs misjudge the complexity of their target market, leading to unrealistic plans.
  • Inadequate Financial Planning: A lack of thorough financial projections can result in funding shortfalls or mismanagement of resources.
  • Overlooking Competition: Failing to properly analyze competitors can lead to strategies that don’t adequately address market realities.
  • Rigid Planning: Overly rigid plans can hinder adaptability in a dynamic business environment.

These challenges can significantly impact the effectiveness of a business plan and, consequently, the success of the business.

Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

Addressing these challenges requires strategic thinking and adaptability. Here are some strategies to overcome common business planning hurdles:

  • Conduct Thorough Market Research: Gain a deep understanding of your market to create realistic and informed strategies.
  • Develop Detailed Financial Projections: Use tools and professional advice to create comprehensive financial plans.
  • Regular Competitor Analysis: Continuously monitor competitors to stay ahead of market trends and shifts.
  • Flexibility in Planning: Build flexibility into your business plan to allow for adjustments in response to market changes.

During my business planning, I found that regularly revisiting and adjusting the plan in response to new market information was key to staying relevant and competitive.

The Role of Business Plans in Fundraising

Attracting investors or securing loans.

A well-crafted business plan is crucial in attracting investors and securing loans. Your business plan is a showcase, highlighting your venture’s potential, strategic insight, and dedication to triumph. For investors and lenders, it’s a lens magnifying risks and rewards, pivotal in their decision-making process.

Key elements that appeal to investors and lenders include:

  • Clear Value Proposition: Conveying the unique benefits of your business.
  • Solid Market Analysis: Showing an understanding of the market and its potential.
  • Realistic Financial Projections: Presenting well-researched financial forecasts.
  • Effective Management Team: Demonstrating the team’s capability and experience.

Investor-Focused Elements in Business Plans

Certain elements of a business plan are particularly critical to investors. These elements showcase the business’s potential for growth and profitability.

Here’s a table outlining these key elements:

In my experience, emphasizing these elements in the business plan significantly increased our attractiveness to investors.

List of Venture Capital Investment and Fundraising Companies in India

India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem is supported by a robust network of venture capital and fundraising companies. These firms are instrumental in providing the necessary capital to fuel growth and innovation.

Here’s a list of notable venture capital and fundraising companies in India, along with their websites:

These firms have been instrumental in the growth of various successful startups in India, providing not just capital but also strategic guidance and networking opportunities.

Updating and Revising Your Business Plan

When and how to update.

A business plan is not a static document; it requires regular updates to remain relevant and effective. Key moments to update your business plan include:

  • After Major Market Changes: Adjust your plan in response to significant shifts in your industry or target market.
  • Following Major Business Milestones: Update your plan to reflect achieved goals and set new ones.
  • When Expanding or Pivoting: Modify your plan if your business is entering new markets or altering its product/service offerings.

The process of updating your business plan should involve:

  • Reviewing Each Section: Assess each part of your business plan for current relevance and accuracy.
  • Consulting Stakeholders: Engage with team members, investors, and advisors for insights and feedback.
  • Incorporating New Data: Update your plan with the latest market research, financial data, and operational changes.

In my journey, regularly revisiting and revising the business plan ensured that it remained a useful tool for decision-making and strategy.

Keeping the Plan Relevant

Ensuring your business plan remains relevant over time is crucial for its effectiveness. This involves:

  • Staying Informed: Keep abreast of industry trends, customer preferences, and competitive landscapes.
  • Flexibility: Design your plan to accommodate changes and unforeseen circumstances.
  • Continuous Learning: Incorporate new insights, learning, and feedback into your plan.

A key strategy I employed was setting periodic reviews, and aligning the business plan with current business realities and future aspirations.

Business Plan Templates and Resources

Providing templates and resources.

Access to quality templates and resources can greatly simplify the process of creating a business plan. Templates serve as your planning compass, guiding you to cover all vital facets of a business plan. Plus, a treasure trove of resources awaits, ready to enlighten your journey with wisdom and best practices.

Here’s a list of helpful templates and resources, along with a brief description:

These resources were invaluable in my planning process, offering both structure and flexibility.

Customizing Guidelines

While templates provide a starting point, customizing your business plan to reflect your unique business is essential. Here are some guidelines for customization:

  • Tailor to Your Audience: Modify your plan based on who will be reading it, whether investors, lenders, or internal stakeholders.
  • Reflect Your Business’s Unique Aspects: Emphasize elements that set your business apart from competitors.
  • Update Financials to Your Specifics: Ensure the financial projections and budgets accurately reflect your business’s financial situation.

Incorporating these customization guidelines ensures that your business plan is not only comprehensive but also reflects the unique identity and goals of your business.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ve gone through the critical stages of business planning, from understanding market dynamics to crafting effective strategies and making informed financial decisions. This journey, enriched with practical insights and tools, aims to empower entrepreneurs and business leaders to craft plans that are both visionary and pragmatic. Remember, a well-structured business plan is more than a document; it’s a roadmap guiding your venture toward success and sustainability. As you embark on or continue your business journey, let this guide be a cornerstone in your strategic arsenal.

Additional Resources

Links to further reading and resources.

To further enhance your knowledge and skills in business planning, here are some valuable resources:

  • Harvard Business Review – For insightful articles on business strategies and management.
  • Entrepreneur Magazine – Offers a plethora of resources for business planning and entrepreneurship.
  • Investopedia – Business Plan – A comprehensive resource for understanding various business terms and concepts.

Recommendations for Continued Learning

Continuing your learning journey is vital in keeping up with the ever-evolving business landscape. Here are some recommendations:

  • Coursera – Business Strategy Courses – Online courses from top universities and institutions.
  • Udemy – Business Plan Courses – Practical courses on business plan development.
  • Khan Academy – Entrepreneurship – Free courses on entrepreneurship and business fundamentals.

These resources, combined with the insights from our guide, will equip you with the knowledge and tools to create a robust and effective business plan.

Call to Action

Encouraging readers to start their business planning journey.

Reading this comprehensive guide isn’t merely a quest for knowledge, but a launchpad for action. Stepping into your business planning adventure marks a daring stride toward your entrepreneurial dreams. Seasoned tycoons fine-tuning their strategies or novices crafting their inaugural plans, the moment for action is ripe. Harness this guide’s wisdom and tools to forge a plan that mirrors your vision and the truths of your market.

Suggestions for Next Steps and How to Apply the Information

To translate the knowledge from this guide into action, follow these steps:

Each step is designed to move you closer to a robust and effective business plan. Remember, planning is an ongoing process. As you learn and grow, continually revisit and update your plan to keep it aligned with your business’s evolution. Now, armed with this guide as your blueprint, stride boldly forward on your business planning odyssey, transforming your vision from mere thought to tangible reality.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • How long should a typical business plan be? While a typical business plan’s length can be a dance between 15 and 50 pages, it’s the depth that counts, ensuring every critical aspect of your venture is thoroughly illuminated. The length waltzes with your business’s intricacy and the plan’s intent.
  • Can a business plan guarantee funding from investors? Crafting a stellar business plan boosts your odds for funding, yet it’s not a magic key. Investors weigh a mosaic of factors: the plan’s finesse, your business model’s solidity, market potential, and your team’s prowess.
  • How often should I review and update my business plan? You should revisit and refresh your business plan at least once a year, or when the winds of change blow through your market, bringing shifts or new rivals into play.
  • Is a business plan necessary for a small or solo entrepreneur? Even for solo voyagers or small-scale entrepreneurs, a business plan stands as a beacon, guiding strategy, sharpening decisions, and unlocking doors to funding when needed.
  • What is the biggest mistake to avoid when writing a business plan? One of the biggest mistakes is not conducting thorough market research. This can lead to unrealistic projections and strategies that don’t align with market realities.
  • How detailed should the financial projections in a business plan be? Financial projections should be as detailed as possible, including income statements, cash flow statements, and balance sheets for at least three to five years into the future.
  • Can the business plan format be modified to suit specific needs? The business plan format should be adaptable to suit your specific business needs and the audience for whom it is intended (investors, lenders, partners, etc.).
  • Should a business plan include information about the exit strategy? Yes, including an exit strategy is important, especially for investors, as it outlines how they will realize a return on their investment.
  • How can I protect the confidentiality of my business plan? To safeguard the secrets of your business plan, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) becomes your shield, signed by stakeholders like potential investors or partners before you unveil your blueprint.
  • Is it advisable to hire a consultant to write a business plan? Bringing a consultant on board can be a game-changer, particularly when you’re strapped for time or expertise in drafting a meticulous plan. Yet, your active involvement is key to ensuring the plan truly echoes your vision and goals.

Prashant P. Chauhan

Meet Prashant Pratap Chauhan, the savvy founder behind The Winning Leap, a hub for sharp financial insights and expert analysis in the realm of finance blogging.

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What should a business plan include?

Table of Contents

Keep your financial information organised with a simple app

Every business needs a plan to succeed. A business plan is a crucial document that gives you and interested parties (like investors or lenders) a description and overview of your company’s future. At its most basic, your business plan should explain who you are, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there. 

So, what details should a business plan include to convey this information? This guide will explain why your business plan needs the following elements:

  • Executive summary
  • Company description
  • Competitor and market analysis
  • Details of organisation and management
  • Breakdown of products and services
  • Marketing and sales
  • Funding requests and financial projections

Use a combination of these nine elements to create your business plan.

The executive summary appears first in your business plan and highlights what you’ll discuss in your business plan to give the reader an idea of what to expect. Since it’s a summary of what’s to come, it’s best to write it last to make sure you include all the important parts.

A good executive summary is engaging from the first sentence, revealing your company’s mission and sharing details about your products or services. It might be good to explain why you’re starting your business and share details about your experience in the industry.

After your executive summary, you include a company description that includes key information about your business, goals and target market. Use this section to provide a detailed description of your company, including the problems you solve and who you solve them for. 

Explain your competitive advantages that will make your business succeed. Your company description is the best place to boast about your strengths and abilities. 

  • Competitor analysis

A good business plan will also include a section that describes how your business will compete against your competitors. Use this section to prove your knowledge of the industry, breaking down other companies’ strengths and weaknesses. 

This section aims to demonstrate how your business will measure up and explain if anything will prevent you from jumping into the market. Examples of such obstacles could be high upfront costs or complicated supply processes. Whatever it is, you need to be honest about it. The competitor analysis is part of your market analysis, which we’ll cover in the next section.

  • Market analysis

This section is to show readers that you understand the industry and specific market you want to enter. You’ll explain how your unique strengths will fit into the market and back it up with data and statistics about industry trends and themes. 

Include information about how other businesses are succeeding and failing, and use the analysis to visualise your target customers. Above all, your analysis should demonstrate how your business will provide value in your target market .

  • Organisation and management

Here you’ll explain how your business will be structured and managed. Describe the legal structure of your business: will you be a sole trader or run a limited company? 

Use an organisational chart to lay out how you’ll manage your business, including if you plan to eventually hire staff or if you’ll go it alone the entire way. The more details you can provide, the better an overview the reader will get.

While you’ll include a description of your products or services in your company description, this section will give the reader all the details they need. This section should include a complete description of what your business creates and sells. Explain how long they could last and how they’ll meet the existing demand in the market. 

You should also mention your suppliers (if you have any) and other key information like how much it’ll cost to make your products and how much you hope to make from them. If you have any patents or copyrights, this is where you list them.

This section is where you explain how you’ll attract and retain customers, including how a sale will actually happen. You’ll need to refer to this section when you make financial projections (we’ll cover this later), so be thorough when describing your marketing and sales strategies. 

Break down the steps you’ll take to promote your business and the budget you’ll need to implement your strategies.

  • Funding request

If you need funding , this section is where you outline your funding requirements. Clearly explain how much funding you need over the next few years and what you’ll use the money for. 

You’ll need to specify the type of funding you want, such as the terms you want to apply and the length of time your request will cover. Explain if you need funding to buy equipment or materials, cover specific bills until business picks up, or if you need it for something else. Always include a description of how you plan to pay off your debt as well.

  • Financial projections

In this final section, you’ll break down the financial goals and expectations that you’ve set based on your market analysis. 

Report how much you anticipate to make in the first 12 months and your projected earnings for the second, third, fourth and fifth years of business. If you’re applying for a personal loan or small business loan, it’s a good idea to include an appendix or added section that provides additional financial or background information.

Now that you know what to include, you should have all the tools you need to create a solid business plan.

Financial management can be stressful and time-consuming when you’re self-employed. That’s why thousands of business owners use the Countingup app to make their financial admin easier. 

Countingup is the business current account with built-in accounting software that allows you to manage all your financial data in one place. With features like automatic expense categorisation, invoicing on the go, receipt capture tools, tax estimates, and cash flow insights, you can confidently keep on top of your business finances wherever you are. 

You can also share your bookkeeping with your accountant instantly without worrying about duplication errors, data lags or inaccuracies. Seamless, simple, and straightforward! 

Find out more here .

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what should a business planning include

Small Business Trends

How to create a farm business plan.

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Crafting a comprehensive farm business plan is a crucial step towards transforming your agricultural visions into tangible realities. This plan serves as a blueprint, enabling you to formally articulate your thoughts, ideas, and aspirations. Engaging in this process can lead to profound insights, illuminating the path to a thriving agricultural enterprise.

Even though the term ‘farm business plan’ might evoke a sense of formal rigidity, it’s important to remember that this document is, in fact, a living, evolving entity. Just like a seedling that sprouts, grows, and changes with the seasons, your business plan is not meant to be static.

It’s something you nurture, revise, and expand as circumstances dictate and as your farm business matures. Feeling pressure to perfect your business plan from the outset could be paralyzing. Instead, we suggest you view this document as a foundation that can be continuously built upon.

farm business plan

To get you started, we offer a detailed farm business plan template. This invaluable resource can be tailored and expanded to suit your unique agricultural venture, whether you’re cultivating a sprawling wheat field or nurturing a boutique organic herb garden.

The most effective business plans are those that exhibit flexibility and resilience, characteristics that are at the heart of any successful farm business. Agriculture, by its very nature, is a domain subject to the whims of Mother Nature. From unpredictable weather patterns to seasonal variations, farmers of all kinds grapple with an array of external factors.

Therefore, your farm business plan should not only anticipate these challenges but also prescribe adaptive measures to navigate through them. It’s this inherent adaptability that transforms a good farm business plan into a great one.

Writing a Farm Business Plan Template: 15+ Things Entrepreneurs Should Include

farm business plan

A farm business plan, like any strategic document, should be comprehensive, encompassing all aspects of your operation, be it agricultural (crops) or product-based. Utilize these 15 key sections to shape your farm business plan template.

Do bear in mind that while these sections are integral, they are by no means exhaustive. Your farm business plan may necessitate additional topics based on your specific farming operations.

Creating a robust business plan is of paramount importance, whether you’re kickstarting a farm venture or acquiring an existing one. Our farm business plan template starts off with an executive summary.

Executive Summary

The executive summary provides an essential overview of your farm business. It helps to streamline communication and understanding between various stakeholders, such as internal team members, potential lenders, business partners, and customers. When drafting your executive summary, consider the following key components:

  • Business Profile : Provide a snapshot of your farm business, describing its nature and scope. Are you into crop cultivation, livestock rearing, or any specialized farming practices?
  • Products : Clearly outline what product or products your farm will produce. These could range from dairy products to specific crops or even services like agrotourism.
  • Production Methodology : Describe how you plan to achieve your production goals. This could involve discussing your farming techniques, usage of technology, or unique methodologies.
  • Target Audience : Identify the individuals or groups who will be interested in your farm products or services. These might be local consumers, restaurants, farmers’ markets, or even online customers.
  • Key Strategies : Highlight the strategies you plan to implement to run and grow your business. This could cover marketing techniques, sustainability practices, or partnerships.
  • Mission and Vision : Briefly outline the mission and vision of your farm business. This helps to convey your long-term objectives and core values.

Remember, your executive summary is essentially the first impression of your business plan. Making it comprehensive, clear, and compelling will help attract interest and support from stakeholders.

Goals and Objectives

A well-crafted business plan should encapsulate both personal and economic goals and objectives. Many successful farm business plans also address environmental stewardship and community outreach. You may want to include goals around preserving farm resources for future generations, ensuring that both the operational and stewardship aspects remain within the family.

Introduction

Your introduction should provide information about the business owners, including their backgrounds and levels of industry experience.

Mission Statement and Values of Your Farming Business Plan

what should a business planning include

This section enables you to express the core values that led you to the farming business, whether it’s an urban farming venture or a homemade product-based farm. Your mission statement should reflect these values. Sustainable practices and conservation are often key motivations that draw people to farming, so don’t be shy to share your commitment to such principles.

Industry History

Understanding your place within the wider agricultural landscape is key. Be sure to research farms that have historically dominated your region, whether they specialize in vineyards, urban farming, or livestock rearing. Use this research to make educated projections about the future.

Company Background and History

Share the history of your farm if it has been a long-standing family venture or the journey leading up to your purchase if it wasn’t. If your farm business is a startup, focus on the business experience and backgrounds of the involved parties.

Competitor Analysis

Understanding your competition is crucial. In the agricultural sector, farmers often share resources, such as a high-tech corn planter , or cooperate in marketing endeavors. Factor in such synergies when analyzing competitors.

Target Market

Clearly define your target market. This can include area groceries, farmers’ markets, or online customers. If you’ll be relying on online sales, ensure your website is professionally designed, keyword optimized, and easily discoverable.

Products and Services

Describe each product or service offered by your farm, highlighting those features most appealing to your target market.

Organization, Human Resources, and Management Plans

These interconnected elements cover your farm’s day-to-day operations, employee roles and responsibilities (including their job descriptions ), and overarching management plans.

SWOT Analysis

Conduct a SWOT analysis to identify your farm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This will help you strategize on how to leverage your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, exploit opportunities, and neutralize threats.

Your vision is the roadmap for your farm’s future. It should express not just your financial aspirations but also your plans for the farm operation in the long run.

Growth Strategy

A comprehensive growth strategy should outline your plans for debt reduction, savings, and business expansion. Keeping detailed farm production records is key to evaluating the effectiveness of your growth strategy.

Financial Plan

Your financial plan should include elements like balance sheets, income statements, projected cash flows, loan repayment schedules, and depreciation factors.

Marketing Strategy

A robust marketing strategy is essential for your farm’s success. Look into brochures, advertisements, and joining co-op groups. Resources from institutions like the University of Minnesota and Cornell University offer comprehensive insights into effective marketing strategies for farm businesses.

Establishing a Farming Business Entity

Discuss the legal structure of your farm business. Will it be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, an LLC, or a corporation? Outline the pros and cons of each and why the chosen structure is the best fit for your farm business.

Detailed Description of Farm Operations

Include a section that provides an in-depth look at your day-to-day farm operations. This can cover everything from crop rotation plans, livestock breeding programs, to the use of technology and machinery in your farming activities.

Risk Management Strategies

Address potential risks and challenges your farm might face, such as natural disasters, market fluctuations, or pest infestations. Discuss the strategies you plan to implement to mitigate these risks, like insurance coverage, diversification, and emergency response plans.

Sustainability and Environmental Impact

Highlight your farm’s approach to sustainability and its impact on the environment. Discuss practices like organic farming, conservation techniques, and renewable energy usage, which demonstrate your commitment to environmental stewardship.

Community Involvement and Social Responsibility

Describe how your farm business plans to engage with and contribute to the local community. This could include hosting educational farm tours, participating in farmers’ markets, or supporting local food programs.

Supply Chain and Vendor Relationships

Detail your farm’s supply chain and vendor relationships. Explain how you plan to source inputs like seeds, feed, or equipment, and any partnerships with local suppliers or distributors.

Technology and Innovation

Discuss the role of technology and innovation in your farm business. This could include the use of precision agriculture, innovative irrigation systems, or the adoption of farm management software to enhance efficiency and productivity.

Training and Development Plans

Explain how you intend to train and develop your staff. Include plans for ongoing education, skill development, and potentially, leadership training for future farm managers.

Expansion and Diversification

Outline your long-term plans for expansion and diversification. This could involve adding new crops, branching into agrotourism, or exploring value-added products like farm-produced jams or cheeses.

Exit Strategy

Consider including an exit strategy for your farming business. This could be a plan for succession, selling the business, or transitioning to a different type of agricultural operation.

Wrap up your business plan with a conclusion that reiterates your farm’s core mission and vision, and express your enthusiasm and commitment to making your farm business a success.

Frequently Asked Questions

Include a FAQ section at the end of your business plan to address common questions potential investors or partners may have about your farm business. This can include queries about your business model, funding needs, or market potential.

Provide an addendum for additional documents that support your business plan. This can include resumes of key team members, detailed financial projections, market research data, or letters of support from future customers or partners.

Do I Need a Business Plan for My Farm?

Even if you’re knee-deep in the dirt, tending to your crops or livestock, every farming enterprise has the core elements of a business at its heart. These include aspects such as operations, marketing, human resources, and finances. When you embark on developing a farm business plan, it might astonish you to see where the journey takes you. You could end up discovering facets of your farm business that you hadn’t previously considered.

One of the many advantages of constructing your business plan is the opportunity it affords to involve others. Employees, family members, even your loyal farm dog might have innovative small farm business ideas that could significantly enhance your farm’s productivity and marketability. A different perspective can often yield solutions for issues you might not have even been aware of. Therefore, encourage an open exchange of thoughts and ideas. Who knows, the next great idea could be lying right under your hay bale!

what should a business planning include

More than just a document outlining your farm’s structure, your farm business plan should serve as a valuable decision-making tool. With it, you can confidently navigate the varied terrain of farm management, from daily operations to larger strategic initiatives. When you’ve got a meticulously crafted, robust farm business plan, it doesn’t just narrate your farm’s story, but also provides you with a roadmap to future growth and success.

Beyond this, a top-notch farm business plan can also be a lever that helps you access critical financing. Lenders and investors are more likely to support your venture when they see a well-structured, thoughtful business plan that articulates your vision, illustrates your understanding of the market, and demonstrates your commitment to fiscal responsibility.

So, where to begin? Let’s dive into our fundamental guide to crafting a farm business plan using our adaptable template. This resource has been designed to help you capture every aspect of your agricultural venture, laying a strong foundation for a bountiful future.

How Do I Write a Small Farm Business Plan?

what should a business planning include

Don’t sit down to write the whole thing. Chip away, one section at a time. Keep in mind that the plan doesn’t have to be the definitive last word. You can make adaptations.

How do you start a farm business plan?

Start with one piece of the business plan. One of the hardest sections of a business plan to write is the Mission Statement . If you get bogged down there, continue and come back to it later.

How much do farm owners make a year?

As you can imagine, the net income varies greatly by type of farm business.

The bottom line after expenses may not be high. Farmers need to consider net worth as assets grow and the farm property increases in value.

How much does it cost to start a small farm?

Getting set up to raise 100 beef cattle costs lots more than getting set up to raise 100 rabbits.

Things like property acquisition, soil preparation, equipment and machinery and the key costs. Other costs may be i rrigation systems , packaging and trucking.

What is the most profitable farming business?

Poultry farming is currently the most profitable – and common – farm business in the world. It includes chicken, turkey, quail, ducks and goose, that are being raised for meat or eggs.

It’s also one of the most expensive businesses to start, requiring significant capital investment. The industry is very labor-intensive and labor costs are high.

Image: Depositphotos

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An illustration of a person working in a glass cubicle in Banff National Park.

Planning to Combine Business and Leisure Travel? You’re Not Alone.

As employees increasingly add leisure time to their business trips, companies are trying to figure out where their duty of care obligations begin and end.

Credit... Aart-Jan Venema

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By Amy Zipkin

  • April 7, 2024

On a Sunday in late January, Melinda Buchmann, who lives in Florida and supervises client relations for RevShoppe, a 30-person remote company advising organizations on sales techniques and strategies, arrived in Banff, Alberta, to help set up a four-day company meeting.

The last day of the event, her husband, Josh, a director of strategic partnerships for the delivery company DoorDash , who also works remotely, joined her. They spent two leisurely days hiking in Banff National Park and visiting Lake Louise.

“I take advantage, because I don’t know when I’m going to return,” Ms. Buchmann said of the decision to combine downtime with a business trip.

As postpandemic work life has changed, and arrangements now include full-time office attendance as well as hybrid and remote work, so, too, has business travel. The phenomenon known as bleisure, or blended business and leisure travel, was initially embraced largely by digital nomads . But such combined travel is now also popular with people outside that group . Allied Market Research, a subsidiary of Allied Analytics, based in Portland, Ore., estimated that the bleisure travel market was $315.3 billion in 2022 and would reach $731.4 billion by 2032.

As employees increasingly add leisure time to their business trips, companies are struggling to determine where their legal obligation to protect employees from harm — their so-called duty of care — begins and ends. And workers may think that because their trip started with business, they will get all the help they need if something goes wrong on the leisure end. Instead, they should generally consider the leisure part of a trip as a regular vacation where they cover all expenses and contingencies.

Companies are responsible for knowing where their employees are during a business trip, covering expenses if an accident or emergency occurs, securing new lodging if a hotel is damaged, even swapping out a broken down rental car. Still, it’s not entirely clear if that coverage ends completely after the conference or the last client meeting.

Companies recognize that threats are increasing, said Robert Cole, senior research analyst focusing on lodging and leisure travel at Phocuswright, a market research company. They are trying to figure out how to take care of a valuable company resource, the employee, without leaving themselves open to financial risk or potential litigation.

“Crafting a comprehensive policy that balances business objectives, employee well-being and legal considerations can be challenging,” Nikolaos Gkolfinopoulos, head of tourism at ICF, a consulting and technology services company in Reston, Va., wrote in an email.

Employees may be on their own without realizing it and may be surprised by out-of-pocket expenses if they require hospital care abroad or evacuation, said Suzanne Morrow, chief executive of InsureMyTrip , an online insurance travel comparison site in Warwick, R.I.

Ms. Morrow said medical coverage provided by a company “is generally only for the dates of the actual business trip abroad.” If travelers are extending the trip for personal travel, she added, “they would want to secure emergency medical coverage for that additional time abroad.”

Employers and employees are left to figure out when the business portion of the trip ends and the leisure segment begins, a significant detail if an employee has a medical emergency. “Where does the corporation liability end?” said Kathy Bedell, senior vice president at BCD Travel, a travel management company.

Companies have varying policies to deal with the new travel amalgam. The chief executive of RevShoppe, Patricia McLaren, based in Austin, Texas, said the company provided flexible travel options and allowed employees to work anywhere they choose.

Even so, there are constraints. The company requires all employees, including executives, to sign liability and insurance waivers when they are on a voluntary company-sponsored trip, such as an off-site meeting. Such waivers typically place responsibility on employees for their own well-being. And if they bring someone, they are responsible for that person’s expenses.

Employees are responsible for requesting the paid time off and notifying their managers of their whereabouts, although that part is not a requirement. Managers have to ensure adequate staffing, Ms. McLaren said.

Elsewhere, employees may not bother to mention the leisure portion of their trip. Eliot Lees, a vice president and managing director at ICF, said he had been on trips as a child with his parents when they combined business and leisure. His parents were academics, who would piggyback vacations onto conferences.

Now he does the same. “I don’t think I ever asked for approval,” he said. (ICF has no formal business-leisure travel policy. It’s allowed as part of personal time off.) After a conference in the Netherlands last year, he spent four days hiking in the northern part of the country.

“I go anywhere, and take more risks than I should,” he said. He said he didn’t carry personal travel or accident insurance.

Any nonchalance may quickly evaporate if a threat emerges. Security experts say even low-risk locations can become high-risk for a few days or weeks of the year.

“Companies are concerned about losing visibility into a traveler’s whereabouts if they booked flights and hotels outside their corporate travel management company,” Benjamin Thorne, senior intelligence manager in London for Crisis24, a subsidiary of GardaWorld, wrote in an email. “The company may think the traveler is in one city when, in reality, they could have booked a holiday package to another nearby city. This lack of visibility by the company makes it difficult to support travelers when a disaster occurs.”

He also raised the possibility that “a traveler with bleisure travel reservations and expectations may find their work trip canceled due to changes in the risk environment or company policy, disrupting their leisure plans.”

Will a company step in off hours if there’s a problem? “That depends on how you are booked,” Mr. Cole, the senior research analyst at Phocuswright, said. A rule of thumb is the further you get from corporate control, the greater the gray area gets.

Half of GoldSpring Consulting’s clients take the responsibility for the entire trip, said Will Tate, a partner at the consultancy based in Cross Roads, Texas, and a certified public accountant. They don’t want the reputational risk. The other half say: “The business trip ended Friday. That’s when we end our duty of care.”

Some companies are trying to define and narrow the gray area. “If you are clearly on personal time, there is no legal requirement for your employer to provide for you,” said Nicole Page, a lawyer whose practice includes employment law at Reavis Page Jump in New York.

Uber provides employees with advisories before a trip, travel assessments, safety tips while traveling and emergency travel assistance, including medical aid, airport travel support, urgent and emergency assistance, and lost or stolen personal property insurance whether they are on business or pleasure travel or a combination.

And at DoorDash, Chris Cherry, head of global safety and security, wrote in an email that “while personal travel is not something we track, we have received requests to extend our travel support capabilities to personal travel.” Mr. Cherry said in those cases, the company has manually added employee leisure itineraries to its travel risk management system and “provided the same level of overwatch that we do for regular business travel.”

The Buchmanns plan to travel this month to Barcelona, Spain, for the McDonald’s Worldwide Convention. DoorDash will have a booth, and Mr. Buchmann will work on the exhibit floor and also entertain clients.

Ms. Buchmann will accompany him. She plans to go sightseeing in the morning, and work in the afternoons and evenings Barcelona time. She will also take three days of paid time off and has shared her plans with Ms. McLaren, the RevShoppe chief executive.

They will stay a day after the conference and plan to visit the Dalí Theater and Museum in Figueres. “I’m sure there will be no shortage of tapas and window shopping along way,” Mr. Buchmann said. He expects to be back at work the next Monday.

Explore Our Business Coverage

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Hoping for an A.I. Productivity Boost:  Economists doubt that A.I. is already visible in productivity data . Big companies, however, talk often about adopting it to improve efficiency.

Cashing In on Graffiti:  Brands, developers and even officials are embracing the global appeal of street art , but the boom comes with questions about preserving a neighborhood’s cultural cachet.

‘Twitter Menace’ or True Believer?: The deep-pocketed tech investor Garry Tan says he wants to save San Francisco. But his pugnacious online habits are making him enemies .

A C.E.O.’s Bold Claims:  Amira Yahyaoui, a human rights activist, promoted the success of her student aid start-up, Mos. Some of her statements do not add up .

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Healthy Living with Diabetes

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How can I plan what to eat or drink when I have diabetes?

How can physical activity help manage my diabetes, what can i do to reach or maintain a healthy weight, should i quit smoking, how can i take care of my mental health, clinical trials for healthy living with diabetes.

Healthy living is a way to manage diabetes . To have a healthy lifestyle, take steps now to plan healthy meals and snacks, do physical activities, get enough sleep, and quit smoking or using tobacco products.

Healthy living may help keep your body’s blood pressure , cholesterol , and blood glucose level, also called blood sugar level, in the range your primary health care professional recommends. Your primary health care professional may be a doctor, a physician assistant, or a nurse practitioner. Healthy living may also help prevent or delay health problems  from diabetes that can affect your heart, kidneys, eyes, brain, and other parts of your body.

Making lifestyle changes can be hard, but starting with small changes and building from there may benefit your health. You may want to get help from family, loved ones, friends, and other trusted people in your community. You can also get information from your health care professionals.

What you choose to eat, how much you eat, and when you eat are parts of a meal plan. Having healthy foods and drinks can help keep your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in the ranges your health care professional recommends. If you have overweight or obesity, a healthy meal plan—along with regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, and other healthy behaviors—may help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. In some cases, health care professionals may also recommend diabetes medicines that may help you lose weight, or weight-loss surgery, also called metabolic and bariatric surgery.

Choose healthy foods and drinks

There is no right or wrong way to choose healthy foods and drinks that may help manage your diabetes. Healthy meal plans for people who have diabetes may include

  • dairy or plant-based dairy products
  • nonstarchy vegetables
  • protein foods
  • whole grains

Try to choose foods that include nutrients such as vitamins, calcium , fiber , and healthy fats . Also try to choose drinks with little or no added sugar , such as tap or bottled water, low-fat or non-fat milk, and unsweetened tea, coffee, or sparkling water.

Try to plan meals and snacks that have fewer

  • foods high in saturated fat
  • foods high in sodium, a mineral found in salt
  • sugary foods , such as cookies and cakes, and sweet drinks, such as soda, juice, flavored coffee, and sports drinks

Your body turns carbohydrates , or carbs, from food into glucose, which can raise your blood glucose level. Some fruits, beans, and starchy vegetables—such as potatoes and corn—have more carbs than other foods. Keep carbs in mind when planning your meals.

You should also limit how much alcohol you drink. If you take insulin  or certain diabetes medicines , drinking alcohol can make your blood glucose level drop too low, which is called hypoglycemia . If you do drink alcohol, be sure to eat food when you drink and remember to check your blood glucose level after drinking. Talk with your health care team about your alcohol-drinking habits.

A woman in a wheelchair, chopping vegetables at a kitchen table.

Find the best times to eat or drink

Talk with your health care professional or health care team about when you should eat or drink. The best time to have meals and snacks may depend on

  • what medicines you take for diabetes
  • what your level of physical activity or your work schedule is
  • whether you have other health conditions or diseases

Ask your health care team if you should eat before, during, or after physical activity. Some diabetes medicines, such as sulfonylureas  or insulin, may make your blood glucose level drop too low during exercise or if you skip or delay a meal.

Plan how much to eat or drink

You may worry that having diabetes means giving up foods and drinks you enjoy. The good news is you can still have your favorite foods and drinks, but you might need to have them in smaller portions  or enjoy them less often.

For people who have diabetes, carb counting and the plate method are two common ways to plan how much to eat or drink. Talk with your health care professional or health care team to find a method that works for you.

Carb counting

Carbohydrate counting , or carb counting, means planning and keeping track of the amount of carbs you eat and drink in each meal or snack. Not all people with diabetes need to count carbs. However, if you take insulin, counting carbs can help you know how much insulin to take.

Plate method

The plate method helps you control portion sizes  without counting and measuring. This method divides a 9-inch plate into the following three sections to help you choose the types and amounts of foods to eat for each meal.

  • Nonstarchy vegetables—such as leafy greens, peppers, carrots, or green beans—should make up half of your plate.
  • Carb foods that are high in fiber—such as brown rice, whole grains, beans, or fruits—should make up one-quarter of your plate.
  • Protein foods—such as lean meats, fish, dairy, or tofu or other soy products—should make up one quarter of your plate.

If you are not taking insulin, you may not need to count carbs when using the plate method.

Plate method, with half of the circular plate filled with nonstarchy vegetables; one fourth of the plate showing carbohydrate foods, including fruits; and one fourth of the plate showing protein foods. A glass filled with water, or another zero-calorie drink, is on the side.

Work with your health care team to create a meal plan that works for you. You may want to have a diabetes educator  or a registered dietitian  on your team. A registered dietitian can provide medical nutrition therapy , which includes counseling to help you create and follow a meal plan. Your health care team may be able to recommend other resources, such as a healthy lifestyle coach, to help you with making changes. Ask your health care team or your insurance company if your benefits include medical nutrition therapy or other diabetes care resources.

Talk with your health care professional before taking dietary supplements

There is no clear proof that specific foods, herbs, spices, or dietary supplements —such as vitamins or minerals—can help manage diabetes. Your health care professional may ask you to take vitamins or minerals if you can’t get enough from foods. Talk with your health care professional before you take any supplements, because some may cause side effects or affect how well your diabetes medicines work.

Research shows that regular physical activity helps people manage their diabetes and stay healthy. Benefits of physical activity may include

  • lower blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
  • better heart health
  • healthier weight
  • better mood and sleep
  • better balance and memory

Talk with your health care professional before starting a new physical activity or changing how much physical activity you do. They may suggest types of activities based on your ability, schedule, meal plan, interests, and diabetes medicines. Your health care professional may also tell you the best times of day to be active or what to do if your blood glucose level goes out of the range recommended for you.

Two women walking outside.

Do different types of physical activity

People with diabetes can be active, even if they take insulin or use technology such as insulin pumps .

Try to do different kinds of activities . While being more active may have more health benefits, any physical activity is better than none. Start slowly with activities you enjoy. You may be able to change your level of effort and try other activities over time. Having a friend or family member join you may help you stick to your routine.

The physical activities you do may need to be different if you are age 65 or older , are pregnant , or have a disability or health condition . Physical activities may also need to be different for children and teens . Ask your health care professional or health care team about activities that are safe for you.

Aerobic activities

Aerobic activities make you breathe harder and make your heart beat faster. You can try walking, dancing, wheelchair rolling, or swimming. Most adults should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Aim to do 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. You don’t have to do all 30 minutes at one time. You can break up physical activity into small amounts during your day and still get the benefit. 1

Strength training or resistance training

Strength training or resistance training may make your muscles and bones stronger. You can try lifting weights or doing other exercises such as wall pushups or arm raises. Try to do this kind of training two times a week. 1

Balance and stretching activities

Balance and stretching activities may help you move better and have stronger muscles and bones. You may want to try standing on one leg or stretching your legs when sitting on the floor. Try to do these kinds of activities two or three times a week. 1

Some activities that need balance may be unsafe for people with nerve damage or vision problems caused by diabetes. Ask your health care professional or health care team about activities that are safe for you.

 Group of people doing stretching exercises outdoors.

Stay safe during physical activity

Staying safe during physical activity is important. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Drink liquids

Drinking liquids helps prevent dehydration , or the loss of too much water in your body. Drinking water is a way to stay hydrated. Sports drinks often have a lot of sugar and calories , and you don’t need them for most moderate physical activities.

Avoid low blood glucose

Check your blood glucose level before, during, and right after physical activity. Physical activity often lowers the level of glucose in your blood. Low blood glucose levels may last for hours or days after physical activity. You are most likely to have low blood glucose if you take insulin or some other diabetes medicines, such as sulfonylureas.

Ask your health care professional if you should take less insulin or eat carbs before, during, or after physical activity. Low blood glucose can be a serious medical emergency that must be treated right away. Take steps to protect yourself. You can learn how to treat low blood glucose , let other people know what to do if you need help, and use a medical alert bracelet.

Avoid high blood glucose and ketoacidosis

Taking less insulin before physical activity may help prevent low blood glucose, but it may also make you more likely to have high blood glucose. If your body does not have enough insulin, it can’t use glucose as a source of energy and will use fat instead. When your body uses fat for energy, your body makes chemicals called ketones .

High levels of ketones in your blood can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) . DKA is a medical emergency that should be treated right away. DKA is most common in people with type 1 diabetes . Occasionally, DKA may affect people with type 2 diabetes  who have lost their ability to produce insulin. Ask your health care professional how much insulin you should take before physical activity, whether you need to test your urine for ketones, and what level of ketones is dangerous for you.

Take care of your feet

People with diabetes may have problems with their feet because high blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels and nerves. To help prevent foot problems, wear comfortable and supportive shoes and take care of your feet  before, during, and after physical activity.

A man checks his foot while a woman watches over his shoulder.

If you have diabetes, managing your weight  may bring you several health benefits. Ask your health care professional or health care team if you are at a healthy weight  or if you should try to lose weight.

If you are an adult with overweight or obesity, work with your health care team to create a weight-loss plan. Losing 5% to 7% of your current weight may help you prevent or improve some health problems  and manage your blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. 2 If you are worried about your child’s weight  and they have diabetes, talk with their health care professional before your child starts a new weight-loss plan.

You may be able to reach and maintain a healthy weight by

  • following a healthy meal plan
  • consuming fewer calories
  • being physically active
  • getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night 3

If you have type 2 diabetes, your health care professional may recommend diabetes medicines that may help you lose weight.

Online tools such as the Body Weight Planner  may help you create eating and physical activity plans. You may want to talk with your health care professional about other options for managing your weight, including joining a weight-loss program  that can provide helpful information, support, and behavioral or lifestyle counseling. These options may have a cost, so make sure to check the details of the programs.

Your health care professional may recommend weight-loss surgery  if you aren’t able to reach a healthy weight with meal planning, physical activity, and taking diabetes medicines that help with weight loss.

If you are pregnant , trying to lose weight may not be healthy. However, you should ask your health care professional whether it makes sense to monitor or limit your weight gain during pregnancy.

Both diabetes and smoking —including using tobacco products and e-cigarettes—cause your blood vessels to narrow. Both diabetes and smoking increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke , nerve damage , kidney disease , eye disease , or amputation . Secondhand smoke can also affect the health of your family or others who live with you.

If you smoke or use other tobacco products, stop. Ask for help . You don’t have to do it alone.

Feeling stressed, sad, or angry can be common for people with diabetes. Managing diabetes or learning to cope with new information about your health can be hard. People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes may develop anxiety or other mental health conditions .

Learn healthy ways to lower your stress , and ask for help from your health care team or a mental health professional. While it may be uncomfortable to talk about your feelings, finding a health care professional whom you trust and want to talk with may help you

  • lower your feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety
  • manage problems sleeping or remembering things
  • see how diabetes affects your family, school, work, or financial situation

Ask your health care team for mental health resources for people with diabetes.

Sleeping too much or too little may raise your blood glucose levels. Your sleep habits may also affect your mental health and vice versa. People with diabetes and overweight or obesity can also have other health conditions that affect sleep, such as sleep apnea , which can raise your blood pressure and risk of heart disease.

Man with obesity looking distressed talking with a health care professional.

NIDDK conducts and supports clinical trials in many diseases and conditions, including diabetes. The trials look to find new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease and improve quality of life.

What are clinical trials for healthy living with diabetes?

Clinical trials—and other types of clinical studies —are part of medical research and involve people like you. When you volunteer to take part in a clinical study, you help health care professionals and researchers learn more about disease and improve health care for people in the future.

Researchers are studying many aspects of healthy living for people with diabetes, such as

  • how changing when you eat may affect body weight and metabolism
  • how less access to healthy foods may affect diabetes management, other health problems, and risk of dying
  • whether low-carbohydrate meal plans can help lower blood glucose levels
  • which diabetes medicines are more likely to help people lose weight

Find out if clinical trials are right for you .

Watch a video of NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers explaining the importance of participating in clinical trials.

What clinical trials for healthy living with diabetes are looking for participants?

You can view a filtered list of clinical studies on healthy living with diabetes that are federally funded, open, and recruiting at www.ClinicalTrials.gov . You can expand or narrow the list to include clinical studies from industry, universities, and individuals; however, the National Institutes of Health does not review these studies and cannot ensure they are safe for you. Always talk with your primary health care professional before you participate in a clinical study.

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

NIDDK would like to thank: Elizabeth M. Venditti, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

What to know about Biden’s new student loan forgiveness plan

what should a business planning include

President Biden is forging a new path to reduce or eliminate federal student loan balances for tens of millions of borrowers, holding firm to a campaign promise to ease the burden of college debt.

The proposed forgiveness plan announced Monday is an alternative to the sweeping $400 billion debt relief program that Biden announced in 2022 and the Supreme Court blocked last summer. Since that court defeat, the Biden administration has worked through a negotiated rulemaking process to craft a regulation that achieves large-scale debt cancellation, albeit with a much more targeted approach than the last plan.

The Education Department will release a draft rule on the forgiveness plan to solicit public comment in the coming months. But the Biden administration is releasing more details of how the proposal will accomplish the president’s goal of sweeping debt reduction.

Here’s what we know.

What does Biden’s student loan relief plan do?

The new plan will expand federal student loan relief to several categories of borrowers. It will eliminate up to $20,000 in accrued interest for borrowers who owe far more than they originally borrowed because of unpaid interest. Borrowers could get all of their interest wiped away if they are enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan and have an annual income under $120,000 for an individual or under $240,000 for couples. The White House estimates that 25 million people will benefit from this feature of the new plan, including 23 million who could have their unpaid interest completely forgiven.

Once the plan is finalized, another 2 million borrowers could automatically have their loans canceled because they’re eligible for existing forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness , but never applied. The proposed plan will also automatically cancel the loans of people who have been in repayment on undergraduate loans for at least 20 years, and graduate loans for 25 years or more. It would also forgive the debt of borrowers who attended career training programs that led to high debt loads or low earnings.

A fifth category of borrowers would receive debt relief if they are facing hardships , such as high medical debt or child-care expenses, that prevent them from repaying their student loans. The specific terms of each category will be fleshed out in the formal rule due out soon.

The administration plans to roll out the interest education feature this fall, and the remaining features could be implemented next summer.

Who is eligible for student loan forgiveness?

The majority of Americans with federally held student loans will qualify for some level of relief under the new plan. People with privately held federal loans originated through the defunct Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program would also benefit from some aspects of the proposal.

Those commercial FFEL borrowers would receive forgiveness if they entered repayment on or before July 1, 2000, or are eligible but have not yet applied for a closed school discharge — a form of debt cancellation for borrowers whose schools abruptly close. Such borrowers would also be eligible for debt relief if they have loans associated with a college that lost access to federal student aid because of high loan default rates, according to the Education Department.

Do I need to apply for this loan forgiveness?

While the specifics of the plan are still being hashed out at the Education Department, the Biden administration said the goal is for the vast majority of the relief to be automatic.

I was approved for loan forgiveness in the old plan. Will I qualify this time?

It depends on whether you fit any of the five categories for loan forgiveness.

How is this different from the plan rejected by the Supreme Court?

Biden’s 2022 student loan forgiveness plan relied on the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (Heroes) Act of 2003, which lets the secretary of education “alleviate the hardship that federal student loan recipients may suffer as a result of national emergencies.” The president argued that the coronavirus pandemic created economic hardship for borrowers that required government intervention of up to $20,000 in loan cancellation for 40 million borrowers. But in striking down the debt plan , a majority of Supreme Court justices said the Heroes statute was not designed for policy with such a “staggering” economic impact.

This time, instead of the 2003 law, the Biden administration anchored its new plan with authority in the 1965 Higher Education Act, which allows the education secretary to compromise, waive or release loans under certain circumstances. Critics of Biden’s plan question whether the 1965 law permits expansive debt relief envisioned by the administration, and note that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his opinion last year that the act can be used to cancel debt in “certain limited circumstances.”

The Biden administration said the new plan is composed of interventions that address specific circumstances in ways that are covered by the Higher Education Act. The president is confident he is acting within the scope of the law, according to the White House.

Are private loans eligible?

Loans originated and held by banks and other private entities are not eligible for the new forgiveness plan. But federal loans held by private companies are eligible for some components.

Student loans

The impact of student loan repayments : A technical loophole is helping some parents lower their student loan payments . The ending of the student loan payment pause has left some borrowers anxious and confused .

What are my student loan repayment options? Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary shares what to focus on as student loan payments resume and why she says President Biden’s new SAVE student loan income-driven plan is a game changer .

What’s next for student loan debt relief? Biden is forging ahead on a new path to narrower student loan relief after the Supreme Court rejected his earlier loan forgiveness plan . Meanwhile, conservative groups sued to block Biden’s effort to provide $39 billion in forgiveness to longtime borrowers.

what should a business planning include

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Case Study: How Aggressively Should a Bank Pursue AI?

  • Thomas H. Davenport
  • George Westerman

what should a business planning include

A Malaysia-based CEO weighs the risks and potential benefits of turning a traditional bank into an AI-first institution.

Siti Rahman, the CEO of Malaysia-based NVF Bank, faces a pivotal decision. Her head of AI innovation, a recent recruit from Google, has a bold plan. It requires a substantial investment but aims to transform the traditional bank into an AI-first institution, substantially reducing head count and the number of branches. The bank’s CFO worries they are chasing the next hype cycle and cautions against valuing efficiency above all else. Siti must weigh the bank’s mixed history with AI, the resistance to losing the human touch in banking services, and the risks of falling behind in technology against the need for a prudent, incremental approach to innovation.

Two experts offer advice: Noemie Ellezam-Danielo, the chief digital and AI strategy at Société Générale, and Sastry Durvasula, the chief information and client services officer at TIAA.

Siti Rahman, the CEO of Malaysia-headquartered NVF Bank, hurried through the corridors of the university’s computer engineering department. She had directed her driver to the wrong building—thinking of her usual talent-recruitment appearances in the finance department—and now she was running late. As she approached the room, she could hear her head of AI innovation, Michael Lim, who had joined NVF from Google 18 months earlier, breaking the ice with the students. “You know, NVF used to stand for Never Very Fast,” he said to a few giggles. “But the bank is crawling into the 21st century.”

what should a business planning include

  • Thomas H. Davenport is the President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, a visiting scholar at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and a senior adviser to Deloitte’s AI practice. He is a coauthor of All-in on AI: How Smart Companies Win Big with Artificial Intelligence (Harvard Business Review Press, 2023).
  • George Westerman is a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a coauthor of Leading Digital (HBR Press, 2014).

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8 Business Plan Templates You Can Get for Free

Kody Wirth

8 min. read

Updated April 10, 2024

A business plan template can be an excellent tool to simplify the creation of your business plan. 

The pre-set structure helps you organize ideas, covers all critical business information, and saves you time and effort on formatting.

The only issue? There are SO many free business plan templates out there. 

So, which ones are actually worth using? 

To help remove the guesswork, I’ve rounded up some of the best business plan templates you can access right now. 

These are listed in no particular order, and each has its benefits and drawbacks.

What to look for in a business plan template

Not all business plan templates are created equal. As you weigh your options and decide which template(s) you’ll use, be sure to review them with the following criteria in mind:

  • Easy to edit: A template should save you time. That won’t be the case if you have to fuss around figuring out how to edit the document, or even worse, it doesn’t allow you to edit at all.
  • Contains the right sections: A good template should cover all essential sections of a business plan , including the executive summary, product/service description, market/competitive analysis, marketing and sales plan, operations, milestones, and financial projections. 
  • Provides guidance: You should be able to trust that the information in a template is accurate. That means the organization or person who created the template is highly credible, known for producing useful resources, and ideally has some entrepreneurial experience.
  • Software compatibility: Lastly, you want any template to be compatible with the software platforms you use. More than likely, this means it’s available in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or PDF format at a minimum. 

1. Bplans — A plan with expert guidance

Preview of Bplans' free business plan template download asset.

Since you’re already on Bplans, I have to first mention the templates that we have available. 

Our traditional and one-page templates were created by entrepreneurs and business owners with over 80 years of collective planning experience. We revisit and update them annually to ensure they are approachable, thorough, and aligned with our team’s evolving best practices.  

The templates, available in Word, PDF, or Google Doc formats, include in-depth guidance on what to include in each section, expert tips, and links to additional resources. 

Plus, we have over 550 real-world sample business plans you can use for guidance when filling out your template.

Download: Traditional lender-ready business plan template or a simple one-page plan template .

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2. SBA — Introduction to business plans

what should a business planning include

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers two different business plan templates along with a short planning guide. 

While not incredibly in-depth, it’s enough to help you understand how traditional and lean plans are structured and what information needs to be covered. The templates themselves are more like examples, providing you with a finished product to reference as you write your plan.

The key benefit of using these templates is that they were created by the SBA. While they may provide less guidance, you can be assured that the information and structure meet their expectations.

Explore: The SBA’s planning guide and free templates

3. SCORE — Planning workbook

what should a business planning include

SCORE’s template is more like a workbook. It includes exercises after each section to help you get your ideas down and turn them into a structured plan.

The market research worksheets are especially useful. They provide a clear framework for identifying your target market and analyzing competitors from multiple angles. Plus, they give you an easy way to document all the information you’re collecting.

You will likely have to remove the exercises in this template to make it investor-ready. But it can be worth it if you’re struggling to get past a blank page and want a more interactive planning method.

Download: SCORE’s business plan template

4. PandaDoc — A template with fillable forms

what should a business planning include

PandaDoc’s library offers a variety of industry-specific business plan templates that feature a modern design flair and concise instructions. 

These templates are designed for sharing. They include fillable fields and sections for non-disclosure agreements, which may be necessary when sending a plan to investors.  

But the real benefit is their compatibility with PandaDoc’s platform. Yes, they are free, but if you’re a PandaDoc subscriber, you’ll have far more customization options. 

Out of all their templates, the standard business plan template is the most in-depth. The rest, while still useful, go a bit lighter on guidance in favor of tailoring the plan to a specific industry.

Explore: PandaDoc’s business plan template library  

5. Canva — Pitch with your plan

A sample of the 696 free business plan templates available from Canva. The templates represented here are for a restaurant and two options designed around a minimalist beige aesthetic.

Canva is a great option for building a visually stunning business plan that can be used as a pitch tool. It offers a diverse array of templates built by their in-house team and the larger creative community, meaning the number of options constantly grows.

You will need to verify that the information in the template you choose matches the standard structure of a traditional business plan. 

You should do this with any template, but it’s especially important with any tool that accepts community submissions. While they are likely reviewed and approved, there may still be errors.

Remember, you can only edit these templates within Canva. Luckily, you only need a free subscription, and you may just miss out on some of the visual assets being used. 

To get the most value, it may be best to create a more traditional planning document and transfer that information into Canva. 

Explore: Canva’s business plan gallery

6. ClickUp — The collaborative template

Preview of ClickUp's business plan template within the project management platform. It includes a number of fillable cells to help guide the creation process.

Out of all the project management tools that offer free business plan templates, ClickUp’s is the most approachable.

Rather than throwing you into all the features and expecting you to figure it out—ClickUp provides a thorough startup guide with resource links, images, and videos explaining how to write a plan using the tool. 

There’s also a completed sample plan (structured like an expanded one-page plan) for you to reference and see how the more traditional document can connect to the product management features. You can set goals, target dates, leave comments, and even assign tasks to someone else on your team. 

These features are limited to the ClickUp platform and will not be useful for everyone. They will likely get in the way of writing a plan you can easily share with lenders or investors. 

But this is a great option if you’re looking for a template that makes internal collaboration more fluid and keeps all your information in one place.

Sign Up: Get a free trial of ClickUp and explore their template library

7. Smartsheet — A wide variety of templates

A preview of the Smartsheet business plan template. It provides a preview of the cover page, directory, and small views of the remaining template pages.

I’m including Smartsheet’s library of templates on this list because of the sheer number of options they provide. 

They have a simple business plan template, a one-page plan, a fill-in-the-blank template, a plan outline, a plan grading rubric, and even an Excel-built project plan. All are perfectly usable and vary in visual style, depth of instructions, and the available format.

Honestly, the only drawback (which is also the core benefit) is that the amount of templates can be overwhelming. If you’re already uncertain which plan option is right for you, the lengthy list they provide may not provide much clarity.

At the same time, it can be a great resource if you want a one-stop shop to view multiple plan types.

Explore: Smartsheet’s business plan template library  

8. ReferralRock affiliate marketing business plan

Preview of the ReferralRock affiliate marketing business plan template. It just represents the cover page of the full template.

I’m adding ReferralRock’s template to this list due to its specificity. 

It’s not your standard business plan template. The plan is tailored with specific sections and guidance around launching an affiliate marketing business. 

Most of the template is dedicated to defining how to choose affiliates, set commissions, create legal agreements, and track performance.

So, if you plan on starting an affiliate marketing business or program, this template will provide more specific guidance. Just know that you will likely need to reference additional resources when writing the non-industry sections of your plan.

Download: ReferralRock affiliate marketing business plan template

Does it matter what business plan template you use?

The short answer is no. As long as the structure is correct, it saves you time, and it helps you write your business plan , then any template will work. 

What it ultimately comes down to, is what sort of value you hope to get from the template. 

  • Do you need more guidance? 
  • A simple way to structure your plan? 
  • An option that works with a specific tool?
  • A way to make your plan more visually interesting?

Hopefully, this list has helped you hone in on an option that meets one (or several) of these needs. Still, it may be worth downloading a few of these templates to determine the right fit. 

And really, what matters most is that you spend time writing a business plan . It will help you avoid early mistakes, determine if you have a viable business, and fully consider what it will take to get up and running. 

If you need additional guidance, check out our library of planning resources . We cover everything from plan formats , to how to write a business plan, and even how to use it as a management tool . 

If you don’t want to waste time researching other templates, you can download our one-page or traditional business plan template and jump right into the planning process.

See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan

Content Author: Kody Wirth

Kody Wirth is a content writer and SEO specialist for Palo Alto Software—the creator's of Bplans and LivePlan. He has 3+ years experience covering small business topics and runs a part-time content writing service in his spare time.

Start stronger by writing a quick business plan. Check out LivePlan

Table of Contents

  • Qualities of a good template
  • ReferralRock
  • Does the template matter?

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    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 ...

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    Additionally, the business plan should speak to the current state of the business and why it's up for sale. For example, if someone is purchasing a failing business, the business plan should explain why the business is being purchased. It should also include: What the new owner will do to turn the business around; Historic business metrics

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    Include a SWOT analysis in the market research section of the business plan by creating a section for each letter in a 2×2 grid. Under strengths, list your business characteristics that offer you a competitive edge. Under weaknesses, include the areas where you know you are not as developed as your competitors.

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    Include the following to have a comprehensive company description: Your company's legal structure (corporation, dual proprietorship) A short history of your company. A short overview of your company's business operations. The demands your company meets for customers. A list of your company's products, services, current customers and suppliers.

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