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Maximize Efficiency and Organization with a Free Excel Project Plan Template
In today’s fast-paced business world, effective project management is crucial for success. One of the most powerful tools in a project manager’s arsenal is a well-designed project plan. While there are numerous software options available for creating project plans, many professionals prefer using Microsoft Excel due to its versatility and familiarity. In this article, we will explore the benefits of utilizing a free Excel project plan template and how it can help maximize efficiency and organization in your projects.
Streamline Planning Process
Creating a project plan from scratch can be a time-consuming task that requires careful consideration of various factors such as timelines, resources, and dependencies. However, with a free Excel project plan template, you can streamline this process significantly. These templates often come pre-populated with commonly used sections and columns required for planning projects effectively.
By using an Excel template specifically designed for project planning, you can save valuable time that would otherwise be spent on formatting cells, adding formulas, or creating custom layouts. Having a streamlined planning process allows you to kick-start your projects promptly and allocate more time to other critical tasks.
Customize to Fit Your Needs
While free Excel project plan templates provide an excellent starting point for your projects, they are also highly customizable. Every business has unique requirements and preferences when it comes to planning projects. With an Excel template, you have the flexibility to tailor it according to your specific needs.
Whether you need additional columns for tracking specific metrics or want to modify existing sections to match your company’s terminology or workflow, an Excel template allows you complete control over the structure and layout of your project plan. This level of customization ensures that the template aligns perfectly with your organization’s processes while providing consistency across different projects.
Enhance Collaboration and Communication
Effective collaboration among team members is crucial for successful project execution. With a free Excel project plan template, collaboration becomes seamless as it allows multiple users to work on the same document simultaneously. This eliminates the need for back-and-forth email exchanges or confusion caused by outdated versions of the project plan.
Furthermore, Excel’s familiar interface makes it easy for team members to understand and work with the template, even if they are not well-versed in project management software. This accessibility promotes better communication and ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding project goals, tasks, and deadlines.
Accessible Anytime, Anywhere
Another significant advantage of using a free Excel project plan template is its accessibility. Unlike specialized project management software that may require installation or access through a specific platform, Excel files can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.
This accessibility allows team members to view and update project plans on their preferred devices, whether it be a desktop computer in the office or a mobile device while on the go. Additionally, cloud storage services like Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive enable real-time synchronization of changes made to the Excel file, ensuring that everyone has access to the most up-to-date version.
In conclusion, utilizing a free Excel project plan template offers numerous benefits for maximizing efficiency and organization in your projects. By streamlining the planning process, customizing to fit your needs, enhancing collaboration and communication, and enabling anytime, anywhere access, you can effectively manage your projects from start to finish. Take advantage of these templates today and experience improved productivity and success in your projects.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step
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1. Write an executive summary
2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. add additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.
A business plan is a document that outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them. A strong, detailed plan will provide a road map for the business’s next three to five years, and you can share it with potential investors, lenders or other important partners.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing your business plan.
» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .
This is the first page of your business plan. Think of it as your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services offered, and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.
Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.
» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps
Next up is your company description, which should contain information like:
Your business’s registered name.
Address of your business location .
Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.
Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.
Lastly, it should cover the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.
» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan
The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out exactly what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the long term.
If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain why you have a clear need for the funds, how the financing will help your business grow, and how you plan to achieve your growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity presented and how the loan or investment will grow your company.
For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch the new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.
In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.
You should include the following:
An explanation of how your product or service works.
The pricing model for your product or service.
The typical customers you serve.
Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.
Your sales strategy.
Your distribution strategy.
You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.
Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.
Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.
» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing
If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.
You may also include metrics such as:
Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.
Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.
Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.
This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.
» NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:
The best business checking accounts .
The best business credit cards .
The best accounting software .
This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.
Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.
Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.
List any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere, such as resumes of key employees, licenses, equipment leases, permits, patents, receipts, bank statements, contracts and personal and business credit history. If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.
How Much Do You Need?
Here are some tips to help your business plan stand out:
Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business loan at a local bank, the loan officer likely knows your market pretty well. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of loan approval.
Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors, taking their mind off your business and putting it on the mistakes you made. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.
Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. You can search for a mentor or find a local SCORE chapter for more guidance.
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.
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How to Write a Winning Business Plan
- Stanley R. Rich
- David E. Gumpert
The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won’t even grant an interview. And the plan must be outstanding if it is to win investment funds. Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat […]
The Idea in Brief
You’ve got a great idea for a new product or service—how can you persuade investors to support it? Flashy PowerPoint slides aren’t enough; you need a winning business plan. A compelling plan accurately reflects the viewpoints of your three key constituencies: the market , potential investors , and the producer (the entrepreneur or inventor of the new offering).
But too many plans are written solely from the perspective of the producer. The problem is that, unless you’ve got your own capital to finance your venture, the only way you’ll get the funding you need is to satisfy the market’s and investors’ needs.
Here’s how to grab their attention.
The Idea in Practice
Emphasize Market Needs
To make a convincing case that a substantial market exists, establish market interest and document your claims.
Establish market interest. Provide evidence that customers are intrigued by your claims about the benefits of the new product or service:
- Let some customers use a product prototype; then get written evaluations.
- Offer the product to a few potential customers at a deep discount if they pay part of the production cost. This lets you determine whether potential buyers even exist.
- Use “reference installations”—statements from initial users, sales reps, distributors, and would-be customers who have seen the product demonstrated.
Document your claims. You’ve established market interest. Now use data to support your assertions about potential growth rates of sales and profits.
- Specify the number of potential customers, the size of their businesses, and the size that is most appropriate to your offering. Remember: Bigger isn’t necessarily better; e.g., saving $10,000 per year in chemical use may mean a lot to a modest company but not to a Du Pont.
- Show the nature of the industry; e.g., franchised weight-loss clinics might grow fast, but they can decline rapidly when competition stiffens. State how you will continually innovate to survive.
- Project realistic growth rates at which customers will accept—and buy—your offering. From there, assemble a credible sales plan and project plant and staffing needs.
Address Investor Needs
Cashing out. Show when and how investors may liquidate their holdings. Venture capital firms usually want to cash out in three to seven years; professional investors look for a large capital appreciation.
Making sound projections. Give realistic, five-year forecasts of profitability. Don’t skimp on the numbers, get overly optimistic about them, or blanket your plan with a smog of figures covering every possible variation.
The price. To figure out how much to invest in your offering, investors calculate your company’s value on the basis of results expected five years after they invest. They’ll want a 35 to 40% return for mature companies—up to 60% for less mature ventures. To make a convincing case for a rich return, get a product in the hands of representative customers—and demonstrate substantial market interest.
A comprehensive, carefully thought-out business plan is essential to the success of entrepreneurs and corporate managers. Whether you are starting up a new business, seeking additional capital for existing product lines, or proposing a new activity in a corporate division, you will never face a more challenging writing assignment than the preparation of a business plan.
- SR Mr. Rich has helped found seven technologically based businesses, the most recent being Advanced Energy Dynamics Inc. of Natick, Massachusetts. He is also a cofounder and has been chairman of the MIT Enterprise forum, which assists emerging growth companies.
- DG Mr. Gumpert is an associate editor of HBR, where he specializes in small business and marketing. He has written several HBR articles, the most recent of which was “The Heart of Entrepreneurship,” coauthored by Howard. H. Stevenson (March–April 1985). This article is adapted from Business Plans That Win $$$ : Lessons from the MIT Enterprise Forum, by Messrs. Rich and Gumpert (Harper & Row, 1985). The authors are also founders of Venture Resource Associates of Grantham, New Hampshire, which provides planning and strategic services to growing enterprises.
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How to Write a Business Plan: Business Planning Best Practices
Every company needs a plan to determine how it will operate and position itself in the market. This is known as a business plan, which is one of the most important business management documents.
What Is a Business Plan?
A business plan is a document that describes a business in detail. In a business plan, you’ll find the information you need to understand how a business works and how it plans to grow in the long term. Most business plans explain the business model, mission, vision, objectives, operational plan and financial plan of a company, among other important elements.
Creating a thorough business plan that outlines a business can seem like daunting work. In reality, the job can be done using common project planning methods and tools.
A business plan defines your business mission, vision and overall strategy, but that’s only the start. To turn those things into a successful business, you’ll need to assemble a team and start your business operations. ProjectManager has planning, scheduling and tracking tools that can help you track all your business processes and workflows. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.
When Should You Create a Business Plan?
You should always write a business plan before starting a business because it’ll help you set the stage for your strategic planning and operations management . In addition, writing a business plan helps you find any potential business planning issues, omissions or opportunities for improvement, so your business has a solid start.
Business plans are also very important for business funding. For example, if you’re just starting a business and need a business loan, you’ll need to write a detailed business plan for banks and investors, who will require you to include certain things on your business plan so they can better assess the feasibility of your business model.
What Does a Business Plan Include?
As a business owner or entrepreneur, you can decide on the level of detail for your business plan. However, in most cases, it’s advisable to include as many details as you can because your stakeholders will want to know as much as possible about your business.
Here’s a sample business plan with some of the most commonly used elements. You can customize it to fit your particular business planning needs.
Sample Business Plan Outline
While business plans might differ from one organization to another, there are key elements that should be included in all business plans.
The purpose of an executive summary is to compile the most important information about your business plan so that stakeholders can quickly get the idea without having to go over the whole document.
Also called a company overview, a business description simply defines what your business purpose is, as well as general information such as your company background and your mission and vision statements. This part can also include other basic details you might want to share about your business such as your company principles and core values.
This section provides information on the market for the product or service offered. A basic market analysis section should include three key elements: an industry analysis that addresses the sector at large, a competitor analysis that identifies direct and indirect competitors and a SWOT analysis that helps business managers understand the current competitive environment of a business.
Marketing & Sales Strategy
You should use the insights from your market analysis to create a marketing and sales strategy that helps you use your business strengths to position your brand in the market and establish your business as a leader in your industry. To create an effective marketing and sales strategy, you should consider these key elements.
- Business proposition: Your business proposition or value proposition explains how you differentiate yourself from your competitors by better addressing the needs of your target market.
- Target market: The market segment that includes your ideal customers. There are many qualitative and quantitative research techniques you can use to identify the ideal audience for your product or service.
- Products and services: Your business plan should explain your product or service portfolio. Include a general description, profit margins and any other relevant information such as substitute or complementary products in the market.
- Distribution channels: The distribution channels refer to the supply chain and logistics methods that your business uses to transport and distribute products or services to customers.
- Pricing: Pricing is a key element of your marketing and sales strategy. Make sure to understand your competitive landscape, as well as the socio-economic conditions of your market to choose a price that benefits both your customers and your business.
The operational plan describes how your business operates to achieve its long-term goals and objectives, highlighting key areas such as inventory control, supply chain, production planning , human resources and business process management.
This area demands specific information. Financial plans and projections should include income statements, cash flow statements and balance sheets. The purpose of this section is to establish both the current financial state of a business as well as its budget and projections about the future.
Organization and Management
This section shows exactly how the business is organized, from day-to-day operations to its leadership team. For example, you may include c-suite executives, managers and possibly even interns. It can also delve into the roles and responsibilities of different individuals.
Your business plan should specify the legal structure of your business. You can choose to establish a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, limited liability company (LLC) and other structures, depending on the business owner and stakeholders’ preference.
Best Practices for Writing a Business Plan
No matter which type of business plan you’re writing, there are tips and tricks that’ll keep you on track to create a successful roadmap, such as using business templates . Following these five best practices helps ensure the information in your business plan is thorough, easy to understand and engaging to audiences. This way, you get your point across loud and clear, while keeping the audience interested.
1. Create a Business Plan Immediately
It’s a common mistake to wait until the last minute to write a business plan. However, if you have the information and are ready for presentation before operations even begin, you can rest reasonably assured that your business is prepared for anything. This “living document” should be written before the business begins and should be updated every step of the way.
2. Write for Your Audience
Before writing your business plan, consider who will be reading it. The audience determines which type of business plan you choose. It may also call for adjustments to tone and style. For example, if you’re writing a business plan to inform employees, the tone might be more casual than it would be for potential investors.
3. Keep It Logical: Focus on Facts, Not Emotions
No matter the audience, a business plan must be logical, not emotional. Passion is important, but the facts are key. For example, when writing financial projections, refer to hard numbers from past quarters about sales, expenses and profits—rather than just writing what you think the future will look like.
4. Remain Concise
Being concise is one of the most important rules of thumb when creating a project plan of any kind. A business plan aims to outline an entire operation, but it must convey the facts as simply as possible. Always keep in mind that this information will be presented to an audience, and it must capture and keep their attention.
5. Remember Your Goal
Avoid tangents and unnecessary information. Each section should tie into the main objective of the business plan, whether that be to inform stakeholders, obtain funding or anything else.
How to Use ProjectManager to Execute Your Business Plan
ProjectManager is award-winning project management software that helps create, execute and track your business plan to ensure that it results in success. With it, you can lay out the day-to-day operations of your business and invite members of your team to collaborate and manage your resources.
Gantt Charts to Plan
On our Gantt view, you can add tasks, their duration and their priority and this information automatically populates the project timeline. With this powerful tool, you’ll be able to get a bird’s-eye view of your entire business plan, laid out in chronological order.
Dashboards to Track
As you work your way to making your business plan a reality, you’ll need a tool to ensure that you’re on the right track. With our real-time dashboard , you can view updates on the status of your tasks. Our dashboard also automatically calculates costs and other important KPIs and displays them in scannable graphs and charts.
Plus, ProjectManager has unlimited file storage, so you can collect all the important documents for your business plan in a central hub.
ProjectManager is award-winning project management software that offers businesses the tools they need to manage projects. Complete with Gantt charts, task lists, dashboards and more, ProjectManager gives teams the ability to plan, launch and report on projects from anywhere. This makes creating and collaborating on documents like a business plan easier than ever before. Try ProjectManager for yourself with our free 30-day trial offer.
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Whether you’re a seasoned business owner or just beginning to think about starting a business , demands come at you fast. Amidst the rush of to-do lists and meetings, determining how to write a business plan—much less following a business plan template—often feels time-consuming and intimidating.
But nearly 70% of business owners who have been there and done that recommend writing a business plan before you start a business, according to a recent QuickBooks survey . After all, when done right, business plans have enormous payoffs.
And yet, more than 10% of prospective business owners said they do not intend to write a business plan. Another 10% aren’t sure if they need a plan.
It’s more than the old cliche: A failure to plan is a plan to fail. In fact, a wealth of data now exists on the difference a written business plan makes, especially for small or growing companies.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to write a successful business plan, step-by-step, and turn your idea into a reality. Even better, if you’re pressed for time, we’ve compiled the 10 steps and examples into a downloadable (PDF) template . The 10 steps to write a business plan are:
- Create an executive summary
- Compose your company description
- Summarize market research and potential
- Conduct competitive analysis
- Describe your product or service
- Develop a marketing and sales strategy
- Compile your business financials
- Describe your organization and management
- Explain your funding request
- Compile an appendix for official documents
But, first things first.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a comprehensive road map for your small business’s growth and development. It communicates who you are, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. It also helps you attract talent and investors.
But remember that a business idea or business concept is not a plan.
Investors want to know you have:
- Product-market fit: Have you done the research to determine the demand for your product or service?
- A solid team in place: Do you have the people you need to support your goals and objectives?
- Scalability: Can you grow sales volume without proportional growth in headcount and fixed costs?
A templated business plan gives investors a blueprint of what to expect from your company and tells them about you as an entrepreneur.
Why do you need a business plan?
You need a business plan because the majority of venture capitalists (VCs) and all banking institutions will not invest in a startup or small business without a solid, written plan. Not only does a business plan help you focus on concrete objectives, but it gives outside parties reassurance that you’ve thought ahead.
In 2018, entrepreneurial resource center Bplans worked with the University of Oregon to compile and analyze research around the benefits of business planning . Here’s what they found:
- Businesses with a business plan grow 30% faster than those without.
- Owners with business plans are twice as likely to grow, get investments, or secure loans than those without.
- Entrepreneurs with a business plan have a 129% increased likelihood of growing beyond the startup phase and a 260% increased likelihood of growing from “idea” to “new business.”
Perhaps the strongest evidence comes from the Journal of Business Venturing’s 2010 meta-analysis of 46 separate studies on 11,046 organizations: Its findings confirm that “business planning increases the performance of both new and established small firms.”
When do you need a business plan?
Before you leave a nine-to-five income, your business plan can tell you if you’re ready. Over the long term, it’ll keep you focused on what needs to be accomplished.
It’s also smart to write a business plan when you’re:
- Seeking funding, investments, or loans
- Searching for a new partner or co-founder
- Attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent
- Experiencing slow growth and need a change
How to write a business plan in 10 steps
Start with a clear picture of the audience your plan will address. Is it a room full of angel investors? Your local bank’s venture funding department? Or is it you, your leaders, and your employees?
Defining your audience helps you determine the language you’ll need to propose your ideas as well as the depth to which you need to go to help readers conduct due diligence.
Now, let’s dive into the 10 key elements of your business plan.
1. Create an executive summary
Even though it appears first in the plan, write your executive summary last so you can condense essential ideas from the other nine sections. For now, leave it as a placeholder.
What is an executive summary?
The executive summary lays out all the vital information about your business within a relatively short space. An executive summary is typically one page or less. It’s a high-level look at everything and summarizes the other sections of your plan. In short, it’s an overview of your business.
How do I write an executive summary?
Below, you’ll find an example from a fictional business, Laura’s Landscapers. (We’ll use that same company throughout this guide to make each step practical and easy to replicate.)
This executive summary focuses on what’s often called the value proposition or unique selling point: an extended motto aimed at customers, investors, and employees.
You can follow a straightforward “problem, solution” format, or a fill-in-the-blanks framework:
- For [target customers]
- Who are dissatisfied with [current solutions]
- Our [product or service] solves [key customer problems]
- Unlike [competing product], we have [differentiating key features]
This framework isn’t meant to be rigid, but instead to serve as a jumping-off point.
Example of an executive summary
Market research indicates that an increasing number of wealthy consumers in Richmond are interested in landscape architecture based on sustainable design. However, high-end firms in the area are scarce. Currently, only two exist—neither of which focus on eco-friendly planning nor are certified by green organizations.
Laura’s Landscapers provides a premium, sustainable service for customers with disposable incomes, large yards, and a love of nature.
2. Compose your company description
Within a business plan, your company description contains three elements:
- Mission statement
These elements give context to the bigger picture in your business plan, letting investors know the purpose behind your company so the goals make sense as well.
What is a mission statement?
A mission statement is your business’s reason for existing. It’s more than what you do or what you sell, it’s about why exactly you do what you do. Effective mission statements should be:
- Inspirational to make others believe in your vision
- Emotional to captivate readers and grab their interest
Throughout every part of your plan, less is more. Nowhere is that truer than your mission statement. Think about what motivates you, what causes and experiences led you to start the business, the problems you solve, the wider social issues you care about, and more.
Tip: Review your mission statement often to make sure it matches your company’s purpose as it evolves. A statement that doesn’t fit your core values or what you actually do can undermine your marketing efforts and credibility.
How do you describe a company’s history?
Don’t worry about making your company history a dense narrative. Instead, write it like you would a profile:
- Founding date
- Major milestones
- Number of employees
- Executive leadership roles
- Flagship products or services
Then, translate that list into a few short paragraphs (like the example below).
Why do business objectives matter?
Business objectives give you clear goals to focus on, like the North Star. These goals must be SMART, which stands for:
They must also be tied to key results. When your objectives aren’t clearly defined, it’s hard for employees and team members to work toward a common purpose. What’s worse, fuzzy goals won’t inspire confidence from investors, nor will they have a profitable impact on your business.
Example of a company description
Laura’s Landscapers’ mission is to change the face of our city through sustainable landscaping and help you create the outdoor living space of your dreams.
Founded in 2021 by sisters Laura and Raquel Smith, we have over 25 years of combined landscape architecture experience. Our four employees work in teams of two and have already completed 10 projects for some of Richmond’s most influential business and community leaders.
Our objectives over the next three years are to:
- Solidify a glowing reputation as a service-based business that always exceeds customers’ expectations and honors the environment
- Complete at least 18 projects during year one, 24 in year two, and 36 in year three generated through word of mouth, referrals, and home shows
- Increase revenue from $360,000 in FY2021 to $972,000 in FY2023 based upon 10 completed projects in the last nine months
Feel confident from day one
You're never too small, and it's never too soon to know you're on track for success.
3. Summarize market research and potential
The next step is to outline your ideal potential customer as well as the actual and potential size of your market. Target markets—also known as personas—identify demographic information like:
By getting specific, you’ll illustrate expertise and generate confidence. If your target market is too broad, it can be a red flag for investors.
- Example: If your product is perfect for people with money to hire landscape architects, listing “anyone with a garden” as your target market might not go over so well.
The same is true with your market analysis when you estimate its size and monetary value. In addition to big numbers that encompass the total market, drill down into your business’s addressable market—meaning, local numbers or numbers that apply the grand total to your specific segments. You may even map your customer’s journey to get a better understanding of their wants and needs.
Example of market research and potential
Laura’s Landscapers’ ideal customer is a wealthy baby boomer, a member of Gen X, or a millennial between the ages of 35 and 65 with a high disposable income. He or she—though primarily, she—is a homeowner. They’re a working professional or have recently retired. In love with the outdoors, they want to enjoy the beauty and serenity of nature in their own backyard, but don’t have the time or skill to do it for themselves.
Market research shows the opportunity for Laura’s Landscapers has never been better:
- In the U.S., total revenue for landscaping services increased from $69.8 billion in 2013 to $99 billion in 2019. ( 1 )
- Among landscaping contractors, designing and building is the second fastest growing service offering. ( 2 )
- What’s more, landscape design and construction is the number one “new service” existing companies plan to add over the next year. ( 3 )
In Richmond, leading indicators for interest in green, eco-friendly, and sustainable landscaping have all increased exponentially over the last five years:
- Online search volume for those terms is up 467%
- 10 new community organizations have been formed
- 73 high-profile projects have been covered by local media
- And currently 13% of Richmond’s residents have a household income of $125,000 or more (compared to the U.S. average of 5%)
4. Conduct competitive analysis
Competitive research begins with identifying other companies that currently sell in the market you’re looking to enter. The idea of carving out enough time to learn about every potential competitor you have may sound overwhelming, but it can be extremely useful.
Answer these additional questions after you’ve identified your most significant competitors:
- Where do they invest in advertising?
- What kind of press coverage do they get?
- How good is their customer service?
- What are their sales and pricing strategies?
- How do they rank on third-party rating platforms?
Spend some time thinking about what sets you apart. If your idea is truly novel, be prepared to explain the customer pain points you see your business solving. If your business doesn’t have any direct competition, research other companies that provide a similar product or service.
Next, create a table or spreadsheet listing your competitors to include in your plan, often referred to as a competitor analysis table.
Example of competitive analysis
Within Richmond’s residential landscaping market, there are only two high-end architectural competitors: (1) Yukie’s Yards and (2) Dante’s Landscape Design. All other businesses focus solely on either industrial projects or residential maintenance.
- Average cost per project: $12,000
- Ongoing maintenance fee: $200 per month
- Google My Business: 3.1 stars from 163 reviews
- Environmental certifications: None
- Primary marketing channels: Google Ads
Dante’s Landscape Design
- Average cost per project: $35,000
- Ongoing maintenance fee: $500 per month
- Google My Business: 3.7 stars from 57 reviews
- Primary marketing channels: Home shows
5. Describe your product or service
This section describes the benefits, production process, and life cycle of your products or services, and how what your business offers is better than your competitors.
When describing benefits, focus on:
- Unique features
- Translating features into benefits
- Emotional and practical payoffs to your customers
- Intellectual property rights or any patents that protect differentiation
For the production process, answer how you:
- Create existing and new products or services
- Source raw materials or components
- Assemble them through manufacturing
- Maintain quality control and quality assurance
- Receive and deliver them (supply chain logistics)
- Manage your daily operations, like bookkeeping and inventory
Within the product life cycle portion, map elements like:
- Time between purchases
- Up-sells, cross-sells, and down-sells
- Future plans for research and development
Example of product or service description
Laura’s Landscapers’ service—our competitive advantage—is differentiated by three core features.
First, throughout their careers, Laura and Raquel Smith have worked at and with Richmond’s three leading industrial landscaping firms. This gives us unique access to the residents who are most likely to use our service.
Second, we’re the only firm certified green by the Richmond Homeowners Association, the National Preservation Society, and Business Leaders for Greener Richmond.
Third, of our 10 completed projects, seven have rated us a 5 out of 5 on Google My Business and our price points for those projects place us in a healthy middle ground between our two other competitors.
- Average cost per project: $20,000
- Ongoing maintenance fee: $250 per month
- Google My Business: 5 stars from 7 reviews
- Environmental certifications: Three (see Appendix)
- Primary marketing channels: Word of mouth, referrals, and home shows
6. Develop a marketing and sales strategy
Your marketing strategy or marketing plan can be the difference between selling so much that growth explodes or getting no business at all. Growth strategies are a critical part of your business plan.
You should briefly reiterate topics such as your:
- Value proposition
- Ideal target markets
- Existing customer segments
Then, add your:
- Launch plan to attract new business
- Growth tactics for established businesses to expand
- Retention strategies like customer loyalty or referral programs
- Advertising and promotion channels such as search engines, social media, print, television, YouTube, and word of mouth
You can also use this section of your business plan to reinforce your strengths and what differentiates you from the competition. Be sure to show what you’ve already done, what you plan to do given your existing resources, and what results you expect from your efforts.
Example of marketing and sales strategy
Laura’s Landscapers’ marketing and sales strategy will leverage, in order of importance:
- Word of mouth
- Reviews and ratings
- Local Google Ads
- Social media
- Direct mail
Reputation is the number one purchase influencer in high-end landscape design. As such, channels 1-4 will continue to be our top priority.
Our social media strategy will involve YouTube videos of the design process as well as multiple Instagram accounts and Pinterest boards showcasing professional photography. Lastly, our direct mail campaigns will send carbon-neutral, glossy brochures to houses in wealthy neighborhoods.
7. Compile your business financials
If you’re just starting out, your business may not yet have financial data , financial statements, or comprehensive reporting. However, you’ll still need to prepare a budget and a financial plan.
If your company has been around for a while and you’re seeking investors, be sure to include:
- Income statements
- Profit and loss statements
- Cash flow statements
- Balance sheets
Other figures that can be included are:
- How much of your revenue you retain as your net income
- Your ratio of liquidity to debt repayment ability
- How often you collect on your invoices
Ideally, you should provide at least three years’ worth of reporting. Make sure your figures are accurate and don’t provide any profit or loss projections before carefully going over your past statements for justification.
Avoid underestimating business costs
Costs, profit margins, and sale prices are closely linked, and many business owners set sale prices without accounting for all costs. New business owners are particularly at risk for this mistake. The cost of your product or service must include all of your costs, including overhead. If it doesn’t, you can’t determine a sale price to generate the profit level you desire.
Underestimating costs can catch you off guard and eat away at your business over time.
- Example: Insurance premiums tend to go up annually for most forms of coverage, and that’s especially true with business insurance. If an employee gets injured, Laura’s Landscapers’ workmen’s compensation insurance to cover this risk will increase.
Example of business financials
Given the high degree of specificity required to accurately represent your business’s financials, rather than create a fictional line item example for Laura’s Landscapers, we suggest using one of our free Excel templates and entering your own data:
- For new businesses: Start up budget template
- For existing businesses: Income statement template
Once you’ve completed either one, then create a big picture representation to include here as well as in your objectives in step two.
In the case of Laura’s Landscapers, this big picture would involve steadily increasing the number of annual projects and cost per project to offset lower margins:
Current revenue for FY2022: $200,000
- 10 completed projects
- ~$20,000 per project
- 15% profit margins
- $30,000 net
FY2022 projections: $360,000
- 18 completed projects
- $54,000 net
FY2023 projections: $552,000
- 24 completed projects
- ~$23,000 per project
- 12% profit margins
- $66,240 net
FY2024 projections: $972,000
- 36 completed projects
- ~$27,000 per project
- 10% profit margins
- $97,200 net
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8. Describe your organization and management
Your business is only as good as the team that runs it. Identify your team members and explain why they can either turn your business idea into a reality or continue to grow it. Highlight expertise and qualifications throughout —this section of your business plan should show off your management team superstars.
You should also note:
- Roles you still need to hire to grow your company
- The cost of hiring experts to assist operations
To make informed business decisions, you may need to budget for a bookkeeper , a CPA, and an attorney. CPAs can help you review your monthly accounting transactions and prepare your annual tax return. An attorney can help with client agreements, investor contracts (like shareholder agreements), and with any legal disputes that may arise.
Ask your business contacts for referrals (and their fees), and be sure to include those costs in your business plan.
Example of organization and management
Laura Smith, Co-founder and CEO
- Professional background
- Awards and honors
- Notable clients
Raquel Smith, Co-founder and Chief Design Officer
Laura’s Landscapers’ creative crews
- Cumulative years of experience
9. Explain your funding request
When outlining how much money your small business needs, try to be as realistic as possible. You can provide a range of numbers if you don’t want to pinpoint an exact number. However, include a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario.
Since a new business doesn’t have a track record of generating profits, it’s likely that you’ll sell equity to raise capital in the early years of operation. Equity means ownership—when you sell equity to raise capital, you are selling a portion of your company.
- Remember: An equity owner may expect to have a voice in company decisions, even if they do not own a majority interest in the business.
Most small business equity sales are private transactions. The investor may also expect to be paid a dividend, which is a share of company profits, and they’ll want to know how they can sell their ownership interest. Additionally, you can raise capital by borrowing money, but you’ll have to repay creditors both the principal amount borrowed and the interest on the debt.
If you look at the capital structure of any large company, you’ll see that most firms issue both equity and debt. When drafting your business plan, decide if you’re willing to accept the trade-off of giving up total control and profits before you sell equity in your business.
- Tip: Put together a timeline so your potential investors have an idea of what to expect. Some customers may not pay for 30 days or longer, which means the business needs a cash balance to operate.
The founder can access cash by contributing their own money into the business by securing a line of credit (LOC) at a bank or applying for QuickBooks Capital . If you raise cash through a LOC or some other type of loan, it needs to be paid off ASAP to reduce the interest cost on debt.
Example of a funding request
Laura’s Landscapers has already purchased all necessary permits, software, and equipment to serve our existing customers. Once scaled to $972,000 in annual revenue—over the next three years and at a 10% profit margin—our primary ongoing annual expenses (not including taxes) will total $874,800.
While already profitable, we are requesting $100,000 in the form of either a business loan or in exchange for equity to purchase equipment necessary to outfit two additional creative crews.
10. Compile an appendix for official documents
Finally, assemble a well-organized appendix for anything and everything readers will need to supplement the information in your plan. Consider any info that:
- Helps investors conduct due diligence
- Gives context and easy access to you or your employees
Useful details to cover in an appendix include:
- Deeds, local permits, and legal documents
- Certifications that bolster your credibility
- Business registries and professional licenses pertaining to your legal structure or type of business
- Patents and intellectual properties
- Industry associations and memberships
- State and federal identification numbers or codes
- Key customer contracts and purchase orders
Your appendix should be a living section of the business plan, whether the plan is a document for internal reference only or an external call for investors.
- Tip: As you include documents in the appendix, create a miniature table of contents and footnotes throughout the rest of the plan linking to or calling attention to them.
How to make a business plan that stands out
Investors have little patience for poorly written documents. You want your business plan to be as attractive and readable as possible.
- Keep it brief. A typical business plan can range from 10 to 20 pages. As long as you cover the essentials, less is more.
- Make it easy to read. Divide your document into distinct sections, so that investors can quickly flip between key pieces of information.
- Know your margins. List every cost your business incurs, and make sure that you’re assigning those costs to each product or service that you sell.
- Proofread. Double-check for typos and grammatical errors. Then, triple-check. Otherwise, you might risk your credibility.
- Invest in quality design and printing. Proper layout, branding, and decent printing or bookbinding give your business plan a professional feel.
- Be prepared in advance. Have everything ready to go at least two weeks ahead so you have time to make revisions in case of a last-minute change.
3 tips to update your business plan
It’s a good idea to periodically revisit your business plan, especially if you are looking to expand. Conducting new research and updating your plan could also provide answers when you hit difficult questions.
Mid-year is a good time to refocus and revise your original plans because it gives you the opportunity to refocus any goals for the second half of the year. Below are three ways to update your plan.
1. Refocus your productivity
When you wrote your original business plan, you likely identified your specific business and personal goals. Take some time now to assess if you’ve hit your targets.
- Example: If you planned to launch a new tips and trends video series and it hasn’t happened yet, what’s stopping you? Put a timeline together and set a launch date.
If you only want to work a set number of hours per week, you must identify the products and services that deliver the returns you need to make that a reality. Doing so helps you refocus your productivity on the most lucrative profit streams.
Also, use what you’ve achieved and the hard lessons you’ve learned to help you re-evaluate what is and isn’t working.
2. Realign with your goals
Do a gut check to determine whether all of your hard work is still aligned with your original goals and your mission statement. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are my goals still relevant?
- Am I still focused on the big picture?
- Where do I want to be a year from now?
- Will my existing plan still take me where I want to go?
These questions may be tough to answer at first glance, but they reveal your ties to your goals and what most likely needs to change to achieve new wins.
3. Repurpose your offerings
If your time has become more focused on small projects rather than tangible growth and building a valuable client list, consider packaging your existing products or services differently. Can you bundle a few things together?
- Example: Laura’s Landscapers might be able to offer a special pool and patio package. Doing so might help them bring in fewer yet higher-paying projects. Perhaps they can offer a maintenance package as well to keep that customer long term.
You must deliberately manage your revenue streams, and that might require shuffling things around a little to focus on what is working for you.
Business plan template
Even if you don’t plan on seeking investments early on, there are other important reasons to use a business plan template to write a great business plan:
- Clarifies what you’re trying to accomplish
- Identifies opportunities to understand your market, like demographics and behaviors
- Establishes the role of each team member
- Gives team members a benchmark to reference and stay on track
- Helps catch errors to make sure financial projections are accurate
- You’ll see the holes and blind spots that could cause future issues
Download the following template to build your business plan from the ground up, considering all the important questions that will help your investors and employees.
The old cliche is still true today: A failure to plan is a plan to fail. Your business plan is crucial to the growth of your business, from giving direction, motivation, and context to employees, to providing thoughtful reassurance and risk mitigation to financers. Before you get your small business up and running , put down a plan that instills confidence and sets you up for success.
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How to Create a Business Plan to Win Over Investors (7+ Business Plan Templates)
By Midori Nediger , Jul 11, 2023
A compelling business plan is essential to every new and growing business.
It’s the primary document that prospective investors use to evaluate the potential of a business, going hand in hand with a business pitch deck .
For a business plan, you need to organize a lot of information into a single, easy-to-read document. More than that, your business plan’s design should be engaging, inspire confidence in your stakeholders and motivate them to back your company and its vision.
Gone are the days when designing a business plan from scratch was a time-consuming and challenging task. Today, business plan templates offer a convenient solution by providing pre-designed layouts that simplify the process.
In this blog, I’m going to break it down for you. I’ll share the six things you need to know to put together a compelling, engaging business plan. Ready to get started now? Venngage’s online Business Plan Maker lets anyone create a winning business plan quickly and easily.
Just so you know, some of our business plan templates are free to use and some require a small monthly fee. Sign-up is always free, as is access to Venngage’s online drag-and-drop editor.
Click to jump ahead:
- How to format your business plan
Startup business plan templates
Simple business plan templates.
- How to write your business plan
- How to design an engaging executive summary
- How to use charts and graphs to present data
- How to communicate growth strategies in your business plan
- How to present financial data in your business plan
1. How to format your business plan
To format your business plan:
- Start with a clear title page.
- Include an executive summary.
- Provide a company description.
- Conduct a market analysis.
- Describe your product or service offering.
- Outline your marketing and sales strategy.
- Include organizational structure and management information.
A typical business plan is an in-depth document and covers every facet of your business (present and future). Creating a traditional business plan makes sense when you have a clear growth plan for the next three to five years, are in need of major funding, or want to attract long-term partners.
A professional business plan typically has the following sections:
- Table of Contents
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Market analysis
- Organization and management
- Service or product line
- Marketing and sales
- Funding request
- Financial projections
- An appendix
A business plan can span a dozen or more pages because it presents the big picture, as complete as possible, to reassure others to invest in you. Investment can mean a few different things – usually financial, but also as partners or employees.
The sections that can take a lot of research and add to the bulk of your business plan are your market analysis, marketing and sales plans, and financial projections.
These are the sections that demonstrate your business acumen, your long-term vision, and your accountability. Whereas, sections like the executive summary are meant to grab attention, inspire and get people excited about your business.
Start with a business plan template
To get started on your business plan, save yourself some time and use a template.
Most business plan templates will include things like a cover page, table of contents and the main sections you need. It will also have pre-formatted pages with placeholder text and charts that you can swap out.
It takes time to do market research, present growth plans, put together financial projections, analyze your customer base, create competitor breakdowns…the list goes on.
The last thing you want to do is spend precious time formatting the resulting document.
Save time by building your business plan from an existing business plan template, and customize it with your own content.
With a clean, consistent structure and clear headings, this template is the perfect starting point:
Then you’re free to customize the template with helpful visual elements like charts, tables, and diagrams, that will make your pitch deck impossible to resist.
A Venngage business plan template is designed to help you communicate visually and explain complex ideas easily. The right business plan template for you depends on the length and detail of your business plan, your brand and style, and the different sections you want to cover.
If your small business doesn’t have a dedicated design team, but you still need to learn how to write a business plan to present to investors–build off of a pre-designed business plan template:
There are just a handful of our business plan templates that can be customized in the Venngage editor. Browse more business plan templates, choose one that’s best for you and start editing right away.
Structuring your startup business plan involves organizing it into sections such as executive summary, company description, market analysis, product/service offering, marketing and sales strategy, financial projections, and operational plan.
Here are some business plan template examples:
Short Business Plan Template
Number your pages and include a table of contents
A table of contents is crucial to help readers navigate your document and quickly find specific sections that are of interest to them.
It’s a good idea to include page numbers, main section headings, and section subheadings here for easy reference.
Keeping these tips in mind will ensure that your business plan design feels clean and professional and doesn’t distract from your content. You want your information, not your formatting, to be the focus!
2. How to write your business plan
Crafting a solid business plan is vital for the success of your venture. It serves as a roadmap that outlines your objectives, strategies, and financial projections. Here are three tips for writing your business plan to ensure it’s easy to read, appears professional and is memorable.
Use bulleted lists, bold text, and a clear type hierarchy for ‘skimmability’
Business plans need to be understandable at a glance to attract funding . Investors are looking for information that will help them understand your business quickly and without much effort.
Take a look at this snippet of the business plan template from above:
What stands out to you?
To me, the large green headers pop out first, making it easy to scan through the sections to find what I want to focus on.
This is because there’s a defined type hierarchy, giving more visual weight to the headers over the body text.
Next, the unique selling points of this business–superior quality products, unique glass carving and brass inlays, and excellent service–jump out. Because they’re presented in an indented list , they’re easier to see at a glance, which will likely make them more memorable.
Finally, I’m drawn to the bolded stats–“top 30% of the industry” and “4 out of 5 households spent money on renovation”.
Key statistics like these can go a long way towards convincing your investors that you’re worth their time and money. If you’re going to include them within larger paragraphs, make sure they stand out by increasing their font weight.
To sum up: make your report skimmable. Draw attention to important takeaways with indented lists, bolded text, and a clear type hierarchy.
Consider using a one-column or two-column grid
If your business plan contains only text, stick with a single-column layout that reinforces the linear flow of the document. If your business plan includes some supporting data in the form of charts and tables, use a two-column layout to juxtapose text with its corresponding data.
Maintain page margins that set text at a readable line length
When we read long passages of text, the ease at which we read depends on how the text flows on the page. Something called line length (the number of characters in a horizontal line of text) plays a huge role in readability, and is something you should consider when formatting your business plan.
To dictate line length, designers and typesetters play with the width of page margins (the edges of a document that don’t contain any text or images) with the aim of maximizing readability.
It’s generally accepted that the ideal line length sits somewhere between 40 and 90 characters per line. Any longer or shorter and you’ll find that something feels “off” about your document.
How do you achieve this in your business plan?
If you use a single-column layout, use nice wide margins (1 ½ to 2 inches) to limit your text to less than 90 characters per line.
With a two-column layout, you might need to use narrower margins (possibly as little as ½ an inch on either side) to make sure there’s enough space for at least 40 characters per line of text.
The last thing to remember about margins and line length–don’t play around with them from page to page. Use consistent margins across your whole document.
3. How to design an executive summary
An executive summary is a snapshot of your business plan. It should be concise and hook your readers. It should reassure stakeholders that your business plan will be a worthwhile read.
How you choose to structure your executive summary is key. You can deliver a lot of excellent information that simply gets lost in a sea of text and paragraphs. Even if someone reads through it entirely, they may have missed something.
To make key information stand out, use vibrant headings, incorporate visuals throughout, and break up the layout of your text.
Not every investor looks for the same thing. Some will care more about who you or your executive team are, while another is interested solely in the financials of the business. Identifying each section makes it easy for readers to find exactly what they’re looking for.
You can also list out the key takeaways, briefly explaining them in the executive summary. If your reader finds everything they needed to know in the executive summary, they’ll happily move onto the rest of the business plan.
4. Use one feature color to tie your business plan together
Color should be used with restraint in professional documents like business plans. Instead of adding color solely for aesthetic purposes, think of color selection as another tool to highlight information you want your reader to focus on and to tie the document together.
You shouldn’t need more than a single color (ideally one of your brand colors ) to achieve this in a business plan.
In business plan charts, color should be used only to clarify trends and relationships. Use color to emphasize single important data points, differentiate between real and projected values, or group related data:
In the rest of your business plan, keep color to a minimum. At most, use it to make headers stand out or to highlight key points in long-form text, diagrams, or tables.
The nice thing about keeping document colors this simple? It’s hard to mess up, and without any complex design work, it creates a sense of cohesion and unity within a document.
4. How to use charts and graphs to present your data
Since your business plan should be backed by solid data, you might want to include some of that data as evidence, in the form of charts, tables or diagrams . Even simple visuals can communicate better than long paragraphs of text.
I’ll touch on some specific types of charts commonly used in business plans next, but first let’s review a few general chart design tactics.
Use descriptive titles and annotations to spell out chart takeaways
Avoid generic headers whenever possible. Maximize your chart’s value and impact by providing takeaway messages right in the title.
In the same vein, add direct annotations to data points or trends that support your case.
Repeating key messages within a chart, in the title, annotations, and captions, may improve viewers understanding and recall of those messages .
Aid understanding of market size and market share with area charts and pie charts
A market potential analysis is a fundamental pillar of your business plan. Market size and market share are two major components of a market potential analysis.
These numbers are typically in the millions and billions (the bigger the better, really), but most people have trouble grasping the meaning of such big numbers . At a surface level we can understand that one billion is one thousand times larger than one million, but we often struggle to comprehend what that really means.
This is the perfect opportunity to add some visual aids to your business plan.
Use bubble charts to represent market size
Bubble charts are useful for showing general proportions among numbers. Check out this one from our redesigned version of AirBnb’s first pitch deck :
Without having to think about the absolute values of these very large numbers, we can quickly see how they relate to one another.
While bubble charts are good for making quick, general comparisons, they’re less useful when it comes to precise measurements. To help readers make slightly more accurate judgements of proportion:
Use pie or donut charts to represent market share and market composition
Pie and donut charts are the industry standard for showing market share and market composition, since they’re the most widely understood method for representing part-to-whole relationships.
The way Uber breaks down their market with a simple donut chart makes their biggest segment (a key takeaway) really stand out, while the subtler differences between the smaller segments are still evident.
When you present a market analysis, use pie charts, donut charts, or bubble charts to aid the reader understanding proportions and part-to-whole relationships.
Use histograms and bar charts to represent demographic distributions in market segmentation summaries
Another part of analyzing market potential is about identifying and understanding target customers. This means segmenting customers by geography, interests, demographics…really anything that might affect purchasing behaviour.
Two standard metrics that most businesses include in a market segmentation summary are customer age and gender. These data are easily summarized in a histogram, with bars that represent age group distribution.
Bar charts can then be used to contrast the key behaviors and lifestyle choices of the top consumer segments.
Histograms and bar charts are standard features of a market segmentation summary. Use them together to identify and present information about top customer segments.
Outline major milestones with a Gantt chart
Stakeholders will want to see that you have a concrete plan in place to help you reach your revenue goals. When formulating your goals, use the SMART principle to provide your stakeholders with a very clear vision of how you intend to achieve them.
Use a Gantt chart (a sort of modified bar chart) to outline the major milestones and phases of your business strategy. Try to include a multi-year plan, broken down by quarter and by project or department.
You can create your own Gantt chart with Venngage.
5. How to communicate growth strategies in your business plan
No matter how impressive your product line or services, your business won’t just magically grow. You concrete marketing and sales plans in place, and effectively communicate strategies to your stakeholders.
Start by acknowledging your target market – who are you going after? This is what your marketing and sales efforts will revolve around after all.
Demonstrate an understanding of the competitor landscape. You will always have direct or indirect competition, and showing how your planning accounts for it is key. Then you can talk about actual plans and strategies you wish to implement.
Present your target audience with persona guides
A product may great on its own. But its value is determined when there is a clear and obvious market for it. You can point out shortcomings of your competition, but you also need to show that your target audience exists and how you’re serving them.
A persona guide provides a great deal of context to readers of your business plan. It’s the best way for them to understand who cares about your product or service, how it aligns with their lifestyle and needs, and why your marketing and sales tactics will work.
A persona guide needs to be detailed, and share an intimate understanding of your target audience. The more you can divulge, the more reassuring your research and overall business plan will be.
Even if you don’t have a substantial customer base, you can still create an ideal persona guide to show who you’re pursuing.
Highlight competitors and differentiate yourself with a SWOT analysis
Every business plan should include an analysis of the competitive landscape–an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of competitive businesses.
In terms of visuals, this competitive analysis is typically summarized in a SWOT analysis matrix .
You can also present the SWOT analysis as a table or a list. The layout is up to you, but you want to focus on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in relation to your competition.
While the SWOT analysis framework provides valuable insights, it’s not the entire reflection of your competitive landscape. For example, it doesn’t make it easy to see at a glance the qualities that differentiate your business from your competitors.
To highlight those offerings that set you apart from your competitors, a comparison matrix is more effective. Take a look at these two templates:
With a direct competitor comparison, it’s easy to present the key differentiators between the existing options for a product or service, and your business.
Alternatively, a “ Magic Quadrant ” can be useful when you’re focused on comparing across two main metrics ( key differentiators ):
Finally, in a competitive market, there are going to be a lot of players who compete directly or indirectly with you. A breakdown of them all may not be necessary. Instead, you can point visually to the space that you will address, that has been so far ignored up to now.
To do that, a prioritization chart can be used. By plotting competing businesses on a prioritization chart, you highlight experiences existing competitors focus on, and where your business falls.
Use roadmaps to present your marketing and sales plans
To explain any long-term marketing or sales plan, you want visuals. It’s easier to break down strategies you’ll be deploying every month or each quarter, when you can actually show what you’re talking about.
Keep in mind, those reading your business plan may not be marketers or sales executives. Being able to lay out your approach in a way that’s organized, shows how much thought you’ve given to your growth strategies.
You can design a simple roadmap that points to what you’ll be doing throughout the year. The more detailed you can get, the better.
You can also present your product roadmap , with your marketing roadmap how the business will be growing overall.
You don’t need to use a traditional roadmap layout, either. Experiment with different formats as you may find one easier to work with than another. As long as the time period for different strategies is clear, your roadmap will be easy to understand.
6. How to present financial data in your business plan
Presenting financial data isn’t easy. You have to crunch a lot of numbers before you can share projections with confidence. You’ll also need to explain how you arrived at the numbers and prepare for your answers.
Understanding how to organize your information is key to walking potential investors and other stakeholders through your projections.
Use organizational flow charts and summary tables for budget breakdowns and financial summaries
The financials section of your business plan will get a lot of attention from stakeholders. Simple bar charts and pie charts won’t suffice, as they can’t present financial data in very much detail.
If your business has already been operating for some time, stakeholders will expect a detailed report of revenues and expenses. Tables are usually the best choice for this kind of financial summary, as they provide an unbiased view of the numbers and allow stakeholders to look up specific values.
If you’re interested in highlighting a particular trend, however, you may want to include a line chart featuring a smaller snapshot of your financial data:
If you’re just starting your business and you don’t have any detailed revenue data, you can still provide useful information about your budget. Outline higher-level budget allocation with an organizational flow chart .
Use line or bar graphs to visualize financial trends
You can use different types of graphs to also show how your business has performed thus far.
You can share results over the course of a year with a line graph. This is effective to show an overall set of trends and growth rates.
You can also compare previous years to highlight how your business has grown.
Your audience should be able to draw conclusions from your data within seconds. If there is simply too much information, or it’s hard to find important information, they will lose interest.
Looking for a business plan software to help save time and reduce errors? Pick from one of these 7 best business plan software to get started.
A quick summary
A business plan is the one key document that every young business needs to present their vision to potential investors and other stakeholders.
The quality of a business plan can make or break a young business Here’s a quick recap of what we covered for you to keep in mind:
- Get started with a template
- Use a table of contents and numbered pages
- Use lists, bold headings and aim for skimmability
- Consider using a one-column or two-column
- Maintain page margins
- Use headings to identify the most important information
- Use one thematic color palette for your design
- Use descriptive titles and annotations
- Use area and pie charts to explain market size and market share
- Use pie/donut charts to visualize marketing share and market composition
- Use bar charts and histograms to capture demographics data
- Highlight major milestones with a gantt chart
- Identify your target audience using persona guides
- Differentiate yourself with a SWOT analysis/competitor chart
- Use roadmaps to visualize your marketing and sales plans
- Use flow charts and summary tables for financial breakdowns
- Use line or bar graphs for financial trends and projection
You can always reference this post as you work on your business plan. I’ve also included additional blog posts you can reference for specific areas of your business plan.
More Resources for business planning and growth:
Growth Strategy Checklist: Plan Your Business Goals With These 5 Templates
What is a Marketing Plan and How to Make One?
How to Communicate Strategy Effectively Using Visuals [Templates]
30+ Business Report Templates That Every Business Needs [+ Design Tips]
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Write your business plan
Business plans help you run your business.
A good business plan guides you through each stage of starting and managing your business. You’ll use your business plan as a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your new business. It’s a way to think through the key elements of your business.
Business plans can help you get funding or bring on new business partners. Investors want to feel confident they’ll see a return on their investment. Your business plan is the tool you’ll use to convince people that working with you — or investing in your company — is a smart choice.
Pick a business plan format that works for you
There’s no right or wrong way to write a business plan. What’s important is that your plan meets your needs.
Most business plans fall into one of two common categories: traditional or lean startup.
Traditional business plans are more common, use a standard structure, and encourage you to go into detail in each section. They tend to require more work upfront and can be dozens of pages long.
Lean startup business plans are less common but still use a standard structure. They focus on summarizing only the most important points of the key elements of your plan. They can take as little as one hour to make and are typically only one page.
Traditional business plan
Lean startup plan
Traditional business plan format
You might prefer a traditional business plan format if you’re very detail-oriented, want a comprehensive plan, or plan to request financing from traditional sources.
When you write your business plan, you don’t have to stick to the exact business plan outline. Instead, use the sections that make the most sense for your business and your needs. Traditional business plans use some combination of these nine sections.
Briefly tell your reader what your company is and why it will be successful. Include your mission statement, your product or service, and basic information about your company’s leadership team, employees, and location. You should also include financial information and high-level growth plans if you plan to ask for financing.
Use your company description to provide detailed information about your company. Go into detail about the problems your business solves. Be specific, and list out the consumers, organization, or businesses your company plans to serve.
Explain the competitive advantages that will make your business a success. Are there experts on your team? Have you found the perfect location for your store? Your company description is the place to boast about your strengths.
You'll need a good understanding of your industry outlook and target market. Competitive research will show you what other businesses are doing and what their strengths are. In your market research, look for trends and themes. What do successful competitors do? Why does it work? Can you do it better? Now's the time to answer these questions.
Organization and management
Tell your reader how your company will be structured and who will run it.
Describe the legal structure of your business. State whether you have or intend to incorporate your business as a C or an S corporation, form a general or limited partnership, or if you're a sole proprietor or limited liability company (LLC).
Use an organizational chart to lay out who's in charge of what in your company. Show how each person's unique experience will contribute to the success of your venture. Consider including resumes and CVs of key members of your team.
Service or product line
Describe what you sell or what service you offer. Explain how it benefits your customers and what the product lifecycle looks like. Share your plans for intellectual property, like copyright or patent filings. If you're doing research and development for your service or product, explain it in detail.
Marketing and sales
There's no single way to approach a marketing strategy. Your strategy should evolve and change to fit your unique needs.
Your goal in this section is to describe how you'll attract and retain customers. You'll also describe how a sale will actually happen. You'll refer to this section later when you make financial projections, so make sure to thoroughly describe your complete marketing and sales strategies.
If you're asking for funding, this is where you'll outline your funding requirements. Your goal is to clearly explain how much funding you’ll need over the next five years and what you'll use it for.
Specify whether you want debt or equity, the terms you'd like applied, and the length of time your request will cover. Give a detailed description of how you'll use your funds. Specify if you need funds to buy equipment or materials, pay salaries, or cover specific bills until revenue increases. Always include a description of your future strategic financial plans, like paying off debt or selling your business.
Supplement your funding request with financial projections. Your goal is to convince the reader that your business is stable and will be a financial success.
If your business is already established, include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for the last three to five years. If you have other collateral you could put against a loan, make sure to list it now.
Provide a prospective financial outlook for the next five years. Include forecasted income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. For the first year, be even more specific and use quarterly — or even monthly — projections. Make sure to clearly explain your projections, and match them to your funding requests.
This is a great place to use graphs and charts to tell the financial story of your business.
Use your appendix to provide supporting documents or other materials were specially requested. Common items to include are credit histories, resumes, product pictures, letters of reference, licenses, permits, patents, legal documents, and other contracts.
Example traditional business plans
Before you write your business plan, read the following example business plans written by fictional business owners. Rebecca owns a consulting firm, and Andrew owns a toy company.
Lean startup format
You might prefer a lean startup format if you want to explain or start your business quickly, your business is relatively simple, or you plan to regularly change and refine your business plan.
Lean startup formats are charts that use only a handful of elements to describe your company’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. They’re useful for visualizing tradeoffs and fundamental facts about your company.
There are different ways to develop a lean startup template. You can search the web to find free templates to build your business plan. We discuss nine components of a model business plan here:
Note the other businesses or services you’ll work with to run your business. Think about suppliers, manufacturers, subcontractors, and similar strategic partners.
List the ways your business will gain a competitive advantage. Highlight things like selling direct to consumers, or using technology to tap into the sharing economy.
List any resource you’ll leverage to create value for your customer. Your most important assets could include staff, capital, or intellectual property. Don’t forget to leverage business resources that might be available to women , veterans , Native Americans , and HUBZone businesses .
Make a clear and compelling statement about the unique value your company brings to the market.
Describe how customers will interact with your business. Is it automated or personal? In person or online? Think through the customer experience from start to finish.
Be specific when you name your target market. Your business won’t be for everybody, so it’s important to have a clear sense of whom your business will serve.
List the most important ways you’ll talk to your customers. Most businesses use a mix of channels and optimize them over time.
Will your company focus on reducing cost or maximizing value? Define your strategy, then list the most significant costs you’ll face pursuing it.
Explain how your company will actually make money. Some examples are direct sales, memberships fees, and selling advertising space. If your company has multiple revenue streams, list them all.
Example lean business plan
Before you write your business plan, read this example business plan written by a fictional business owner, Andrew, who owns a toy company.
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How to make a business plan
Table of Contents
How to make a good business plan: step-by-step guide.
A business plan is a strategic roadmap used to navigate the challenging journey of entrepreneurship. It's the foundation upon which you build a successful business.
A well-crafted business plan can help you define your vision, clarify your goals, and identify potential problems before they arise.
But where do you start? How do you create a business plan that sets you up for success?
This article will explore the step-by-step process of creating a comprehensive business plan.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a formal document that outlines a business's objectives, strategies, and operational procedures. It typically includes the following information about a company:
Products or services
Marketing and sales strategies
A business plan serves as a roadmap for a company's success and provides a blueprint for its growth and development. It helps entrepreneurs and business owners organize their ideas, evaluate the feasibility, and identify potential challenges and opportunities.
As well as serving as a guide for business owners, a business plan can attract investors and secure funding. It demonstrates the company's understanding of the market, its ability to generate revenue and profits, and its strategy for managing risks and achieving success.
Business plan vs. business model canvas
A business plan may seem similar to a business model canvas, but each document serves a different purpose.
A business model canvas is a high-level overview that helps entrepreneurs and business owners quickly test and iterate their ideas. It is often a one-page document that briefly outlines the following:
On the other hand, a Business Plan Template provides a more in-depth analysis of a company's strategy and operations. It is typically a lengthy document and requires significant time and effort to develop.
A business model shouldn’t replace a business plan, and vice versa. Business owners should lay the foundations and visually capture the most important information with a Business Model Canvas Template . Because this is a fast and efficient way to communicate a business idea, a business model canvas is a good starting point before developing a more comprehensive business plan.
A business plan can aim to secure funding from investors or lenders, while a business model canvas communicates a business idea to potential customers or partners.
Why is a business plan important?
A business plan is crucial for any entrepreneur or business owner wanting to increase their chances of success.
Here are some of the many benefits of having a thorough business plan.
Helps to define the business goals and objectives
A business plan encourages you to think critically about your goals and objectives. Doing so lets you clearly understand what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there.
A well-defined set of goals, objectives, and key results also provides a sense of direction and purpose, which helps keep business owners focused and motivated.
A business plan requires you to consider different scenarios and potential problems that may arise in your business. This awareness allows you to devise strategies to deal with these issues and avoid pitfalls.
With a clear plan, entrepreneurs can make informed decisions aligning with their overall business goals and objectives. This helps reduce the risk of making costly mistakes and ensures they make decisions with long-term success in mind.
Attracts investors and secures funding
Investors and lenders often require a business plan before considering investing in your business. A document that outlines the company's goals, objectives, and financial forecasts can help instill confidence in potential investors and lenders.
A well-written business plan demonstrates that you have thoroughly thought through your business idea and have a solid plan for success.
Identifies potential challenges and risks
A business plan requires entrepreneurs to consider potential challenges and risks that could impact their business. For example:
Is there enough demand for my product or service?
Will I have enough capital to start my business?
Is the market oversaturated with too many competitors?
What will happen if my marketing strategy is ineffective?
By identifying these potential challenges, entrepreneurs can develop strategies to mitigate risks and overcome challenges. This can reduce the likelihood of costly mistakes and ensure the business is well-positioned to take on any challenges.
Provides a basis for measuring success
A business plan serves as a framework for measuring success by providing clear goals and financial projections . Entrepreneurs can regularly refer to the original business plan as a benchmark to measure progress. By comparing the current business position to initial forecasts, business owners can answer questions such as:
Are we where we want to be at this point?
Did we achieve our goals?
If not, why not, and what do we need to do?
After assessing whether the business is meeting its objectives or falling short, business owners can adjust their strategies as needed.
How to make a business plan step by step
The steps below will guide you through the process of creating a business plan and what key components you need to include.
1. Create an executive summary
Start with a brief overview of your entire plan. The executive summary should cover your business plan's main points and key takeaways.
Keep your executive summary concise and clear with the Executive Summary Template . The simple design helps readers understand the crux of your business plan without reading the entire document.
2. Write your company description
Provide a detailed explanation of your company. Include information on what your company does, the mission statement, and your vision for the future.
Provide additional background information on the history of your company, the founders, and any notable achievements or milestones.
3. Conduct a market analysis
Conduct an in-depth analysis of your industry, competitors, and target market. This is best done with a SWOT analysis to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Next, identify your target market's needs, demographics, and behaviors.
Use the Competitive Analysis Template to brainstorm answers to simple questions like:
What does the current market look like?
Who are your competitors?
What are they offering?
What will give you a competitive advantage?
Who is your target market?
What are they looking for and why?
How will your product or service satisfy a need?
These questions should give you valuable insights into the current market and where your business stands.
4. Describe your products and services
Provide detailed information about your products and services. This includes pricing information, product features, and any unique selling points.
Use the Product/Market Fit Template to explain how your products meet the needs of your target market. Describe what sets them apart from the competition.
5. Design a marketing and sales strategy
Outline how you plan to promote and sell your products. Your marketing strategy and sales strategy should include information about your:
Advertising and promotional tactics
The Go to Market Strategy Template is a great way to visually map how you plan to launch your product or service in a new or existing market.
6. Determine budget and financial projections
Document detailed information on your business’ finances. Describe the current financial position of the company and how you expect the finances to play out.
Some details to include in this section are:
Profit and loss statement
Funding you have received or plan to receive
Strategy for raising funds
7. Set the organization and management structure
Define how your company is structured and who will be responsible for each aspect of the business. Use the Business Organizational Chart Template to visually map the company’s teams, roles, and hierarchy.
As well as the organization and management structure, discuss the legal structure of your business. Clarify whether your business is a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, or LLC.
8. Make an action plan
At this point in your business plan, you’ve described what you’re aiming for. But how are you going to get there? The Action Plan Template describes the following steps to move your business plan forward. Outline the next steps you plan to take to bring your business plan to fruition.
Types of business plans
Several types of business plans cater to different purposes and stages of a company's lifecycle. Here are some of the most common types of business plans.
Startup business plan
A startup business plan is typically an entrepreneur's first business plan. This document helps entrepreneurs articulate their business idea when starting a new business.
Not sure how to make a business plan for a startup? It’s pretty similar to a regular business plan, except the primary purpose of a startup business plan is to convince investors to provide funding for the business. A startup business plan also outlines the potential target market, product/service offering, marketing plan, and financial projections.
Strategic business plan
A strategic business plan is a long-term plan that outlines a company's overall strategy, objectives, and tactics. This type of strategic plan focuses on the big picture and helps business owners set goals and priorities and measure progress.
The primary purpose of a strategic business plan is to provide direction and guidance to the company's management team and stakeholders. The plan typically covers a period of three to five years.
Operational business plan
An operational business plan is a detailed document that outlines the day-to-day operations of a business. It focuses on the specific activities and processes required to run the business, such as:
The primary purpose of an operational business plan is to ensure that the business runs efficiently and effectively. It helps business owners manage their resources, track their performance, and identify areas for improvement.
A growth-business plan is a strategic plan that outlines how a company plans to expand its business. It helps business owners identify new market opportunities and increase revenue and profitability. The primary purpose of a growth-business plan is to provide a roadmap for the company's expansion and growth.
The 3 Horizons of Growth Template is a great tool to identify new areas of growth. This framework categorizes growth opportunities into three categories: Horizon 1 (core business), Horizon 2 (emerging business), and Horizon 3 (potential business).
One-page business plan
A one-page business plan is a condensed version of a full business plan that focuses on the most critical aspects of a business. It’s a great tool for entrepreneurs who want to quickly communicate their business idea to potential investors, partners, or employees.
A one-page business plan typically includes sections such as business concept, value proposition, revenue streams, and cost structure.
Best practices for how to make a good business plan
Here are some additional tips for creating a business plan:
Use a template
A template can help you organize your thoughts and effectively communicate your business ideas and strategies. Starting with a template can also save you time and effort when formatting your plan.
Miro’s extensive library of customizable templates includes all the necessary sections for a comprehensive business plan. With our templates, you can confidently present your business plans to stakeholders and investors.
Avoid overestimating revenue projections or underestimating expenses. Your business plan should be grounded in practical realities like your budget, resources, and capabilities.
Provide as much detail as possible in your business plan. A specific plan is easier to execute because it provides clear guidance on what needs to be done and how. Without specific details, your plan may be too broad or vague, making it difficult to know where to start or how to measure success.
Be thorough with your research
Conduct thorough research to fully understand the market, your competitors, and your target audience . By conducting thorough research, you can identify potential risks and challenges your business may face and develop strategies to mitigate them.
Get input from others
It can be easy to become overly focused on your vision and ideas, leading to tunnel vision and a lack of objectivity. By seeking input from others, you can identify potential opportunities you may have overlooked.
Review and revise regularly
A business plan is a living document. You should update it regularly to reflect market, industry, and business changes. Set aside time for regular reviews and revisions to ensure your plan remains relevant and effective.
Create a winning business plan to chart your path to success
Starting or growing a business can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be. Whether you're a seasoned entrepreneur or just starting, a well-written business plan can make or break your business’ success.
The purpose of a business plan is more than just to secure funding and attract investors. It also serves as a roadmap for achieving your business goals and realizing your vision. With the right mindset, tools, and strategies, you can develop a visually appealing, persuasive business plan.
Ready to make an effective business plan that works for you? Check out our library of ready-made strategy and planning templates and chart your path to success.
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How to Write a Business Plan: Step-by-Step Guide + Examples
24 min. read
Updated November 30, 2023
Writing a business plan doesn’t have to be complicated.
In this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn how to write a business plan that’s detailed enough to impress bankers and potential investors, while giving you the tools to start, run, and grow a successful business.
- The basics of business planning
If you’re reading this guide, then you already know why you need a business plan .
You understand that planning helps you:
- Raise money
- Grow strategically
- Keep your business on the right track
As you start to write your plan, it’s useful to zoom out and remember what a business plan is .
At its core, a business plan is an overview of the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy: how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.
Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. 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 use it as a management tool to track your progress toward your goals. Updating and adjusting your forecasts and budgets as you go is one of the most important steps you can take to run a healthier, smarter business.
We’ll dive into how to use your plan later in this article.
There are many different types of plans , but we’ll go over the most common type here, which includes everything you need for an investor-ready plan. However, if you’re just starting out and are looking for something simpler—I recommend starting with a one-page business plan . It’s faster and easier to create.
It’s also the perfect place to start if you’re just figuring out your idea, or need a simple strategic plan to use inside your business.
What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
Dig deeper : How to write a one-page business plan
- What to include in your business plan
The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally just one to two pages. Most people write it last because it’s a summary of the complete business plan.
Ideally, the executive summary can act as a stand-alone document that covers the highlights of your detailed plan.
In fact, it’s common for investors to ask only for the executive summary when evaluating your business. If they like what they see in the executive summary, they’ll often follow up with a request for a complete plan, a pitch presentation , or more in-depth financial forecasts .
Your executive summary should include:
- A summary of the problem you are solving
- A description of your product or service
- An overview of your target market
- A brief description of your team
- A summary of your financials
- Your funding requirements (if you are raising money)
Dig Deeper: How to write an effective executive summary
Products and services description
This is where you describe exactly what you’re selling, and how it solves a problem for your target market. The best way to organize this part of your plan is to start by describing the problem that exists for your customers. After that, you can describe how you plan to solve that problem with your product or service.
This is usually called a problem and solution statement .
To truly showcase the value of your products and services, you need to craft a compelling narrative around your offerings. How will your product or service transform your customers’ lives or jobs? A strong narrative will draw in your readers.
This is also the part of the business plan to discuss any competitive advantages you may have, like specific intellectual property or patents that protect your product. If you have any initial sales, contracts, or other evidence that your product or service is likely to sell, include that information as well. It will show that your idea has traction , which can help convince readers that your plan has a high chance of success.
Your target market is a description of the type of people that you plan to sell to. You might even have multiple target markets, depending on your business.
A market analysis is the part of your plan where you bring together all of the information you know about your target market. Basically, it’s a thorough description of who your customers are and why they need what you’re selling. You’ll also include information about the growth of your market and your industry .
Try to be as specific as possible when you describe your market.
Include information such as age, income level, and location—these are what’s called “demographics.” If you can, also describe your market’s interests and habits as they relate to your business—these are “psychographics.”
Related: Target market examples
Essentially, you want to include any knowledge you have about your customers that is relevant to how your product or service is right for them. With a solid target market, it will be easier to create a sales and marketing plan that will reach your customers. That’s because you know who they are, what they like to do, and the best ways to reach them.
Next, provide any additional information you have about your market.
What is the size of your market ? Is the market growing or shrinking? Ideally, you’ll want to demonstrate that your market is growing over time, and also explain how your business is positioned to take advantage of any expected changes in your industry.
Dig Deeper: Learn how to write a market analysis
Part of defining your business opportunity is determining what your competitive advantage is. To do this effectively, you need to know as much about your competitors as your target customers.
Every business has some form of competition. If you don’t think you have competitors, then explore what alternatives there are in the market for your product or service.
For example: In the early years of cars, their main competition was horses. For social media, the early competition was reading books, watching TV, and talking on the phone.
A good competitive analysis fully lays out the competitive landscape and then explains how your business is different. Maybe your products are better made, or cheaper, or your customer service is superior. Maybe your competitive advantage is your location – a wide variety of factors can ultimately give you an advantage.
Dig Deeper: How to write a competitive analysis for your business plan
Marketing and sales plan
The marketing and sales plan covers how you will position your product or service in the market, the marketing channels and messaging you will use, and your sales tactics.
The best place to start with a marketing plan is with a positioning statement .
This explains how your business fits into the overall market, and how you will explain the advantages of your product or service to customers. You’ll use the information from your competitive analysis to help you with your positioning.
For example: You might position your company as the premium, most expensive but the highest quality option in the market. Or your positioning might focus on being locally owned and that shoppers support the local economy by buying your products.
Once you understand your positioning, you’ll bring this together with the information about your target market to create your marketing strategy .
This is how you plan to communicate your message to potential customers. Depending on who your customers are and how they purchase products like yours, you might use many different strategies, from social media advertising to creating a podcast. Your marketing plan is all about how your customers discover who you are and why they should consider your products and services.
While your marketing plan is about reaching your customers—your sales plan will describe the actual sales process once a customer has decided that they’re interested in what you have to offer.
If your business requires salespeople and a long sales process, describe that in this section. If your customers can “self-serve” and just make purchases quickly on your website, describe that process.
A good sales plan picks up where your marketing plan leaves off. The marketing plan brings customers in the door and the sales plan is how you close the deal.
Together, these specific plans paint a picture of how you will connect with your target audience, and how you will turn them into paying customers.
Dig deeper: What to include in your sales and marketing plan
The operations section describes the necessary requirements for your business to run smoothly. It’s where you talk about how your business works and what day-to-day operations look like.
Depending on how your business is structured, your operations plan may include elements of the business like:
- Supply chain management
- Manufacturing processes
- Equipment and technology
Some businesses distribute their products and reach their customers through large retailers like Amazon.com, Walmart, Target, and grocery store chains.
These businesses should review how this part of their business works. The plan should discuss the logistics and costs of getting products onto store shelves and any potential hurdles the business may have to overcome.
If your business is much simpler than this, that’s OK. This section of your business plan can be either extremely short or more detailed, depending on the type of business you are building.
For businesses selling services, such as physical therapy or online software, you can use this section to describe the technology you’ll leverage, what goes into your service, and who you will partner with to deliver your services.
Dig Deeper: Learn how to write the operations chapter of your plan
Key milestones and metrics
Although it’s not required to complete your business plan, mapping out key business milestones and the metrics can be incredibly useful for measuring your success.
Good milestones clearly lay out the parameters of the task and set expectations for their execution. You’ll want to include:
- A description of each task
- The proposed due date
- Who is responsible for each task
If you have a budget, you can include projected costs to hit each milestone. You don’t need extensive project planning in this section—just list key milestones you want to hit and when you plan to hit them. This is your overall business roadmap.
Possible milestones might be:
- Website launch date
- Store or office opening date
- First significant sales
- Break even date
- Business licenses and approvals
You should also discuss the key numbers you will track to determine your success. Some common metrics worth tracking include:
- Conversion rates
- Customer acquisition costs
- Profit per customer
- Repeat purchases
It’s perfectly fine to start with just a few metrics and grow the number you are tracking over time. You also may find that some metrics simply aren’t relevant to your business and can narrow down what you’re tracking.
Dig Deeper: How to use milestones in your business plan
Organization and management team
Investors don’t just look for great ideas—they want to find great teams. Use this chapter to describe your current team and who you need to hire . You should also provide a quick overview of your location and history if you’re already up and running.
Briefly highlight the relevant experiences of each key team member in the company. It’s important to make the case for why yours is the right team to turn an idea into a reality.
Do they have the right industry experience and background? Have members of the team had entrepreneurial successes before?
If you still need to hire key team members, that’s OK. Just note those gaps in this section.
Your company overview should also include a summary of your company’s current business structure . The most common business structures include:
- Sole proprietor
Be sure to provide an overview of how the business is owned as well. Does each business partner own an equal portion of the business? How is ownership divided?
Potential lenders and investors will want to know the structure of the business before they will consider a loan or investment.
Dig Deeper: How to write about your company structure and team
Last, but certainly not least, is your financial plan chapter.
Entrepreneurs often find this section the most daunting. But, business financials for most startups are less complicated than you think, and a business degree is certainly not required to build a solid financial forecast.
A typical financial forecast in a business plan includes the following:
- Sales forecast : An estimate of the sales expected over a given period. You’ll break down your forecast into the key revenue streams that you expect to have.
- Expense budget : Your planned spending such as personnel costs , marketing expenses, and taxes.
- Profit & Loss : Brings together your sales and expenses and helps you calculate planned profits.
- Cash Flow : Shows how cash moves into and out of your business. It can predict how much cash you’ll have on hand at any given point in the future.
- Balance Sheet : A list of the assets, liabilities, and equity in your company. In short, it provides an overview of the financial health of your business.
A strong business plan will include a description of assumptions about the future, and potential risks that could impact the financial plan. Including those will be especially important if you’re writing a business plan to pursue a loan or other investment.
Dig Deeper: How to create financial forecasts and budgets
This is the place for additional data, charts, or other information that supports your plan.
Including an appendix can significantly enhance the credibility of your plan by showing readers that you’ve thoroughly considered the details of your business idea, and are backing your ideas up with solid data.
Just remember that the information in the appendix is meant to be supplementary. Your business plan should stand on its own, even if the reader skips this section.
Dig Deeper : What to include in your business plan appendix
Optional: Business plan cover page
Adding a business plan cover page can make your plan, and by extension your business, seem more professional in the eyes of potential investors, lenders, and partners. It serves as the introduction to your document and provides necessary contact information for stakeholders to reference.
Your cover page should be simple and include:
- Company logo
- Business name
- Value proposition (optional)
- Business plan title
- Completion and/or update date
- Address and contact information
- Confidentiality statement
Just remember, the cover page is optional. If you decide to include it, keep it very simple and only spend a short amount of time putting it together.
Dig Deeper: How to create a business plan cover page
How to use AI to help write your business plan
Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can speed up the business plan writing process and help you think through concepts like market segmentation and competition. These tools are especially useful for taking ideas that you provide and converting them into polished text for your business plan.
The best way to use AI for your business plan is to leverage it as a collaborator , not a replacement for human creative thinking and ingenuity.
AI can come up with lots of ideas and act as a brainstorming partner. It’s up to you to filter through those ideas and figure out which ones are realistic enough to resonate with your customers.
There are pros and cons of using AI to help with your business plan . So, spend some time understanding how it can be most helpful before just outsourcing the job to AI.
Learn more: How to collaborate with AI on your business plan
- Writing tips and strategies
To help streamline the business plan writing process, here are a few tips and key questions to answer to make sure you get the most out of your plan and avoid common mistakes .
Determine why you are writing a business plan
Knowing why you are writing a business plan will determine your approach to your planning project.
For example: If you are writing a business plan for yourself, or just to use inside your own business , you can probably skip the section about your team and organizational structure.
If you’re raising money, you’ll want to spend more time explaining why you’re looking to raise the funds and exactly how you will use them.
Regardless of how you intend to use your business plan , think about why you are writing and what you’re trying to get out of the process before you begin.
Keep things concise
Probably the most important tip is to keep your business plan short and simple. There are no prizes for long business plans . The longer your plan is, the less likely people are to read it.
So focus on trimming things down to the essentials your readers need to know. Skip the extended, wordy descriptions and instead focus on creating a plan that is easy to read —using bullets and short sentences whenever possible.
Have someone review your business plan
Writing a business plan in a vacuum is never a good idea. Sometimes it’s helpful to zoom out and check if your plan makes sense to someone else. You also want to make sure that it’s easy to read and understand.
Don’t wait until your plan is “done” to get a second look. Start sharing your plan early, and find out from readers what questions your plan leaves unanswered. This early review cycle will help you spot shortcomings in your plan and address them quickly, rather than finding out about them right before you present your plan to a lender or investor.
If you need a more detailed review, you may want to explore hiring a professional plan writer to thoroughly examine it.
Use a free business plan template and business plan examples to get started
Knowing what information you need to cover in a business plan sometimes isn’t quite enough. If you’re struggling to get started or need additional guidance, it may be worth using a business plan template.
If you’re looking for a free downloadable business plan template to get you started, download the template used by more than 1 million businesses.
Or, if you just want to see what a completed business plan looks like, check out our library of over 550 free business plan examples .
We even have a growing list of industry business planning guides with tips for what to focus on depending on your business type.
Common pitfalls and how to avoid them
It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re writing your business plan. Some entrepreneurs get sucked into the writing and research process, and don’t focus enough on actually getting their business started.
Here are a few common mistakes and how to avoid them:
Not talking to your customers : This is one of the most common mistakes. It’s easy to assume that your product or service is something that people want. Before you invest too much in your business and too much in the planning process, make sure you talk to your prospective customers and have a good understanding of their needs.
- Overly optimistic sales and profit forecasts: By nature, entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. But it’s good to temper that optimism a little when you’re planning, and make sure your forecasts are grounded in reality.
- Spending too much time planning: Yes, planning is crucial. But you also need to get out and talk to customers, build prototypes of your product and figure out if there’s a market for your idea. Make sure to balance planning with building.
- Not revising the plan: Planning is useful, but nothing ever goes exactly as planned. As you learn more about what’s working and what’s not—revise your plan, your budgets, and your revenue forecast. Doing so will provide a more realistic picture of where your business is going, and what your financial needs will be moving forward.
- Not using the plan to manage your business: A good business plan is a management tool. Don’t just write it and put it on the shelf to collect dust – use it to track your progress and help you reach your goals.
- Presenting your business plan
The planning process forces you to think through every aspect of your business and answer questions that you may not have thought of. That’s the real benefit of writing a business plan – the knowledge you gain about your business that you may not have been able to discover otherwise.
With all of this knowledge, you’re well prepared to convert your business plan into a pitch presentation to present your ideas.
A pitch presentation is a summary of your plan, just hitting the highlights and key points. It’s the best way to present your business plan to investors and team members.
Dig Deeper: Learn what key slides should be included in your pitch deck
Use your business plan to manage your business
One of the biggest benefits of planning is that it gives you a tool to manage your business better. With a revenue forecast, expense budget, and projected cash flow, you know your targets and where you are headed.
And yet, nothing ever goes exactly as planned – it’s the nature of business.
That’s where using your plan as a management tool comes in. The key to leveraging it for your business is to review it periodically and compare your forecasts and projections to your actual results.
Start by setting up a regular time to review the plan – a monthly review is a good starting point. During this review, answer questions like:
- Did you meet your sales goals?
- Is spending following your budget?
- Has anything gone differently than what you expected?
Now that you see whether you’re meeting your goals or are off track, you can make adjustments and set new targets.
Maybe you’re exceeding your sales goals and should set new, more aggressive goals. In that case, maybe you should also explore more spending or hiring more employees.
Or maybe expenses are rising faster than you projected. If that’s the case, you would need to look at where you can cut costs.
A plan, and a method for comparing your plan to your actual results , is the tool you need to steer your business toward success.
Learn More: How to run a regular plan review
Free business plan templates and examples
Kickstart your business plan writing with one of our free business plan templates or recommended tools.
Free business plan template
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Sample business plan library
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How to write a business plan FAQ
What is a business plan?
A document that describes your business , the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy, how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.
What are the benefits of a business plan?
A business plan helps you understand where you want to go with your business and what it will take to get there. It reduces your overall risk, helps you uncover your business’s potential, attracts investors, and identifies areas for growth.
Having a business plan ultimately makes you more confident as a business owner and more likely to succeed for a longer period of time.
What are the 7 steps of a business plan?
The seven steps to writing a business plan include:
- Write a brief executive summary
- Describe your products and services.
- Conduct market research and compile data into a cohesive market analysis.
- Describe your marketing and sales strategy.
- Outline your organizational structure and management team.
- Develop financial projections for sales, revenue, and cash flow.
- Add any additional documents to your appendix.
What are the 5 most common business plan mistakes?
There are plenty of mistakes that can be made when writing a business plan. However, these are the 5 most common that you should do your best to avoid:
- 1. Not taking the planning process seriously.
- Having unrealistic financial projections or incomplete financial information.
- Inconsistent information or simple mistakes.
- Failing to establish a sound business model.
- Not having a defined purpose for your business plan.
What questions should be answered in a business plan?
Writing a business plan is all about asking yourself questions about your business and being able to answer them through the planning process. You’ll likely be asking dozens and dozens of questions for each section of your plan.
However, these are the key questions you should ask and answer with your business plan:
- How will your business make money?
- Is there a need for your product or service?
- Who are your customers?
- How are you different from the competition?
- How will you reach your customers?
- How will you measure success?
How long should a business plan be?
The length of your business plan fully depends on what you intend to do with it. From the SBA and traditional lender point of view, a business plan needs to be whatever length necessary to fully explain your business. This means that you prove the viability of your business, show that you understand the market, and have a detailed strategy in place.
If you intend to use your business plan for internal management purposes, you don’t necessarily need a full 25-50 page business plan. Instead, you can start with a one-page plan to get all of the necessary information in place.
What are the different types of business plans?
While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering.
Traditional business plan: The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used when applying for funding or pitching to investors. This type of business plan follows the outline above and can be anywhere from 10-50 pages depending on the amount of detail included, the complexity of your business, and what you include in your appendix.
Business model canvas: The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea.
One-page business plan: This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business. You’ll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences. It’s most useful for those exploring ideas, needing to validate their business model, or who need an internal plan to help them run and manage their business.
Lean Plan: The Lean Plan is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance. It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.
What’s the difference between a business plan and a strategic plan?
A business plan covers the “who” and “what” of your business. It explains what your business is doing right now and how it functions. The strategic plan explores long-term goals and explains “how” the business will get there. It encourages you to look more intently toward the future and how you will achieve your vision.
However, when approached correctly, your business plan can actually function as a strategic plan as well. If kept lean, you can define your business, outline strategic steps, and track ongoing operations all with a single plan.
See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan
Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan.
Table of Contents
- Use AI to help write your plan
- Common planning mistakes
- Manage with your business plan
- Templates and examples
3 Min. Read
How Long Should a Business Plan Be?
12 Min. Read
Do You Need a Business Plan? Scientific Research Says Yes
14 Min. Read
How to Write a Five-Year Business Plan
5 Min. Read
How to Highlight Risks in Your Business Plan
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