• Credit cards
  • View all credit cards
  • Banking guide
  • Loans guide
  • Insurance guide
  • Personal finance
  • View all personal finance
  • Small business
  • Small business guide
  • View all taxes

You’re our first priority. Every time.

We believe everyone should be able to make financial decisions with confidence. And while our site doesn’t feature every company or financial product available on the market, we’re proud that the guidance we offer, the information we provide and the tools we create are objective, independent, straightforward — and free.

So how do we make money? Our partners compensate us. This may influence which products we review and write about (and where those products appear on the site), but it in no way affects our recommendations or advice, which are grounded in thousands of hours of research. Our partners cannot pay us to guarantee favorable reviews of their products or services. Here is a list of our partners .

How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step

Profile photo of Rosalie Murphy

Many, or all, of the products featured on this page are from our advertising partners who compensate us when you take certain actions on our website or click to take an action on their website. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .

What is a business plan?

1. write an executive summary, 2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. summarize how your company operates, 10. add any additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.

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

ZenBusiness

LLC Formation

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

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

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

This is your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services your business offers and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.

Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.

» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps

Next up is your company description. This should contain basic information like:

Your business’s registered name.

Address of your business location .

Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.

Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.

Lastly, write a little about the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.

» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan

how does the business plan work

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

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

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

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

In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.

You should include the following:

An explanation of how your product or service works.

The pricing model for your product or service.

The typical customers you serve.

Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.

You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.

Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.

Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.

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

» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing

If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.

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

Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.

Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.

Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.

This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.

This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.

Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.

Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.

NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:

The best business checking accounts .

The best business credit cards .

The best accounting software .

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

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

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

Licenses and permits.

Equipment leases.

Bank statements.

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

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

How much do you need?

with Fundera by NerdWallet

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

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

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

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

Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.

Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.

One blue credit card on a flat surface with coins on both sides.

  • Search Search Please fill out this field.

What Is a Business Plan?

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

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

how does the business plan work

  • How to Start a Business: A Comprehensive Guide and Essential Steps
  • How to Do Market Research, Types, and Example
  • Marketing Strategy: What It Is, How It Works, How To Create One
  • Marketing in Business: Strategies and Types Explained
  • What Is a Marketing Plan? Types and How to Write One
  • Business Development: Definition, Strategies, Steps & Skills
  • Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How to Write One CURRENT ARTICLE
  • Small Business Development Center (SBDC): Meaning, Types, Impact
  • How to Write a Business Plan for a Loan
  • Business Startup Costs: It’s in the Details
  • Startup Capital Definition, Types, and Risks
  • Bootstrapping Definition, Strategies, and Pros/Cons
  • Crowdfunding: What It Is, How It Works, and Popular Websites
  • Starting a Business with No Money: How to Begin
  • A Comprehensive Guide to Establishing Business Credit
  • Equity Financing: What It Is, How It Works, Pros and Cons
  • Best Startup Business Loans
  • Sole Proprietorship: What It Is, Pros & Cons, and Differences From an LLC
  • Partnership: Definition, How It Works, Taxation, and Types
  • What is an LLC? Limited Liability Company Structure and Benefits Defined
  • Corporation: What It Is and How to Form One
  • Starting a Small Business: Your Complete How-to Guide
  • Starting an Online Business: A Step-by-Step Guide
  • How to Start Your Own Bookkeeping Business: Essential Tips
  • How to Start a Successful Dropshipping Business: A Comprehensive Guide

A business plan is a document that outlines a company's goals and the strategies to achieve them. It's valuable for both startups and established companies. For startups, a well-crafted business plan is crucial for attracting potential lenders and investors. Established businesses use business plans to stay on track and aligned with their growth objectives. This article will explain the key components of an effective business plan and guidance on how to write one.

Key Takeaways

  • A business plan is a document detailing a company's business activities and strategies for achieving its goals.
  • Startup companies use business plans to launch their venture and to attract outside investors.
  • For established companies, a business plan helps keep the executive team focused on short- and long-term objectives.
  • There's no single required format for a business plan, but certain key elements are essential for most companies.

Investopedia / Ryan Oakley

Any new business should have a business plan in place before beginning operations. Banks and venture capital firms often want to see a business plan before considering making a loan or providing capital to new businesses.

Even if a company doesn't need additional funding, having a business plan helps it stay focused on its goals. Research from the University of Oregon shows that businesses with a plan are significantly more likely to secure funding than those without one. Moreover, companies with a business plan grow 30% faster than those that don't plan. According to a Harvard Business Review article, entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than those who don't.

A business plan should ideally be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect achieved goals or changes in direction. An established business moving in a new direction might even create an entirely new plan.

There are numerous benefits to creating (and sticking to) a well-conceived business plan. It allows for careful consideration of ideas before significant investment, highlights potential obstacles to success, and provides a tool for seeking objective feedback from trusted outsiders. A business plan may also help ensure that a company’s executive team remains aligned on strategic action items and priorities.

While business plans vary widely, even among competitors in the same industry, they often share basic elements detailed below.

A well-crafted business plan is essential for attracting investors and guiding a company's strategic growth. It should address market needs and investor requirements and provide clear financial projections.

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

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

The length of a business plan can vary greatly from business to business. Regardless, gathering the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document is best. Any additional crucial elements, such as patent applications, can be referenced in the main document and included as appendices.

Common elements in many business plans include:

  • Executive summary : This section introduces the company and includes its mission statement along with relevant information about the company's leadership, employees, operations, and locations.
  • Products and services : Describe the products and services the company offers or plans to introduce. Include details on pricing, product lifespan, and unique consumer benefits. Mention production and manufacturing processes, relevant patents , proprietary technology , and research and development (R&D) information.
  • Market analysis : Explain the current state of the industry and the competition. Detail where the company fits in, the types of customers it plans to target, and how it plans to capture market share from competitors.
  • Marketing strategy : Outline the company's plans to attract and retain customers, including anticipated advertising and marketing campaigns. Describe the distribution channels that will be used to deliver products or services to consumers.
  • Financial plans and projections : Established businesses should include financial statements, balance sheets, and other relevant financial information. New businesses should provide financial targets and estimates for the first few years. This section may also include any funding requests.

Investors want to see a clear exit strategy, expected returns, and a timeline for cashing out. It's likely a good idea to provide five-year profitability forecasts and realistic financial estimates.

2 Types of Business Plans

Business plans can vary in format, often categorized into traditional and lean startup plans. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the more common of the two.

  • Traditional business plans : These are detailed and lengthy, requiring more effort to create but offering comprehensive information that can be persuasive to potential investors.
  • Lean startup business plans : These are concise, sometimes just one page, and focus on key elements. While they save time, companies should be ready to provide additional details if requested by investors or lenders.

Why Do Business Plans Fail?

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

How Often Should a Business Plan Be Updated?

How frequently a business plan needs to be revised will depend on its nature. Updating your business plan is crucial due to changes in external factors (market trends, competition, and regulations) and internal developments (like employee growth and new products). While a well-established business might want to review its plan once a year and make changes if necessary, a new or fast-growing business in a fiercely competitive market might want to revise it more often, such as quarterly.

What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?

The lean startup business plan is ideal for quickly explaining a business, especially for new companies that don't have much information yet. Key sections may include a value proposition , major activities and advantages, resources (staff, intellectual property, and capital), partnerships, customer segments, and revenue sources.

A well-crafted business plan is crucial for any company, whether it's a startup looking for investment or an established business wanting to stay on course. It outlines goals and strategies, boosting a company's chances of securing funding and achieving growth.

As your business and the market change, update your business plan regularly. This keeps it relevant and aligned with your current goals and conditions. Think of your business plan as a living document that evolves with your company, not something carved in stone.

University of Oregon Department of Economics. " Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Business Planning Using Palo Alto's Business Plan Pro ." Eason Ding & Tim Hursey.

Bplans. " Do You Need a Business Plan? Scientific Research Says Yes ."

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

Harvard Business Review. " How to Write a Winning Business Plan ."

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

SCORE. " When and Why Should You Review Your Business Plan? "

how does the business plan work

  • Terms of Service
  • Editorial Policy
  • Privacy Policy

How to Write a Business Plan: Step-by-Step Guide + Examples

Determined female African-American entrepreneur scaling a mountain while wearing a large backpack. Represents the journey to starting and growing a business and needi

Noah Parsons

24 min. read

Updated May 7, 2024

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.

Dig deeper : How to write a one-page business plan

Brought to you by

LivePlan Logo

Create a professional business plan

Using ai and step-by-step instructions.

Secure funding

Validate ideas

Build a strategy

  • What to include in your business plan

Executive summary

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.

Market analysis

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

Competitive 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

Business operations

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
  • Distribution

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
  • Partnership

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

Financial plan

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: 10 AI prompts you need to write a 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 to include in a business plan is sometimes not quite enough. If you’re struggling to get started or need additional guidance, it may be worth using a business plan template. 

There are plenty of great options available (we’ve rounded up our 8 favorites to streamline your search).

But, if you’re looking for a free downloadable business plan template , you can get one right now; 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.

how does the business plan work

Free business plan template

Download a free SBA-approved business plan template built for small businesses and startups.

Download Template

how does the business plan work

One-page plan template

Download a free one-page plan template to write a useful business plan in as little as 30-minutes.

how does the business plan work

Sample business plan library

Explore over 500 real-world business plan examples from a wide variety of industries.

View Sample Plans

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.

Content Author: Noah Parsons

Noah is the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. He started his career at Yahoo! and then helped start the user review site Epinions.com. From there he started a software distribution business in the UK before coming to Palo Alto Software to run the marketing and product teams.

Check out LivePlan

Table of Contents

  • Use AI to help write your plan
  • Common planning mistakes
  • Manage with your business plan
  • Templates and examples

Related Articles

Female entrepreneur sitting at her desk doing manual calculations with a calculator trying to understand what her return on investment will be.

1 Min. Read

How to Calculate Return on Investment (ROI)

Bakery business owners look over their bakery business plan

7 Min. Read

How to Write a Bakery Business Plan + Sample

Overlapping files, folders, charts, graphs, and documents. Represents the information included in a business plan appendix.

3 Min. Read

What to Include in Your Business Plan Appendix

Owner of a life coaching business works on writing their business plan.

5 Min. Read

How To Write a Business Plan for a Life Coaching Business + Free Example

The Bplans Newsletter

The Bplans Weekly

Subscribe now for weekly advice and free downloadable resources to help start and grow your business.

We care about your privacy. See our privacy policy .

Garrett's Bike Shop

The quickest way to turn a business idea into a business plan

Fill-in-the-blanks and automatic financials make it easy.

No thanks, I prefer writing 40-page documents.

LivePlan pitch example

Discover the world’s #1 plan building software

how does the business plan work

  • Sources of Business Finance
  • Small Business Loans
  • Small Business Grants
  • Crowdfunding Sites
  • How to Get a Business Loan
  • Small Business Insurance Providers
  • Best Factoring Companies
  • Types of Bank Accounts
  • Best Banks for Small Business
  • Best Business Bank Accounts
  • Open a Business Bank Account
  • Bank Accounts for Small Businesses
  • Free Business Checking Accounts
  • Best Business Credit Cards
  • Get a Business Credit Card
  • Business Credit Cards for Bad Credit
  • Build Business Credit Fast
  • Business Loan Eligibility Criteria
  • Small-Business Bookkeeping Basics
  • How to Set Financial Goals
  • Business Loan Calculators
  • How to Calculate ROI
  • Calculate Net Income
  • Calculate Working Capital
  • Calculate Operating Income
  • Calculate Net Present Value (NPV)
  • Calculate Payroll Tax

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

' src=

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started.

What Do You Need A Business Plan For?

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

1. Secure Funds

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

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

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

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

2. Monitor Business Growth

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

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

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

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

3. Measure Business Success

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

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

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

4. Document Your Marketing Strategies

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

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

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

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

Business Plan Infographic

How to Write a Business Plan Step-by-Step

1. create your executive summary.

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

Executive Summary of the business plan

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

A good executive summary should do the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Add Your Company Overview

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

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

Your company overview should contain the following:

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

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

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

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

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

It describes what your business does

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

  • Mission Statement

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

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

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

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

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

Business Objectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market Analysis

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

Market Analysis for Online Business

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

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

  • Market Research

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

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

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

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

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

How to Quantify Your Target Market

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

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

What Does a Good Market Analysis Entail?

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

Market Analysis Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competitive Analysis

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

Four Steps to Create a Competitive Marketing Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Perform Competitive Analysis

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

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

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

Direct vs Indirect Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Factors that Differentiate Your Business from the Competition

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

1. Cost Leadership

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

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

2. Product Differentiation

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

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

3. Market Segmentation

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

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

4. Define Your Business and Management Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Management Team

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

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

Create Management Team For Business Plan

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

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

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

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

Key Questions to Answer When Structuring Your Management Team

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

Additional Tips for Writing the Management Structure Section

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organizational Chart

Organizational chart Infographic

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

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

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

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

5. Describe Your Product and Service Offering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Avoid Technical Descriptions and Industry Buzzwords

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Long or Short Products or Services Section

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Describe Your Relationships with Vendors or Suppliers

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

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

5. Your Primary Goal Is to Convince Your Readers

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

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

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

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

Key Questions to Answer When Writing your Products and Services Section

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

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

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

6. Show and Explain Your Marketing and Sales Plan

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

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

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

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

Outline Your Business’ Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

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

Target Market and Target Audience

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

Target Market Vs Target Audience

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

Creating a Smart Marketing and Sales Plan

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

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

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

Your Positioning Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Rules to Follow When Pricing Your Offering

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

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

Pricing Strategy

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

Pricing strategy influences the price of offering

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

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

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

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

Advertising

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

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

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

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

Public Relations

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

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

Content Marketing

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

The Benefits of Content Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Media

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

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

Most popular social media platforms

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

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

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

Choosing the right social media platform

Strategic Alliances

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

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

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

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

Steps Involved in Creating a Marketing and Sales Plan

1. Focus on Your Target Market

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

2. Evaluate Your Competition

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

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

These questions can help you know your competition.

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

3. Consider Your Brand

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

4. Focus on Benefits

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

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

5. Focus on Differentiation

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

Key Questions to Answer When Writing Your Marketing and Sales Plan

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

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

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

7. Clearly Show Your Funding Request

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funding Request: Debt or Equity?

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

Case for Equity

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

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

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

Case for Debt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Detail Your Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Graphs and Charts

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

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

Address the Risk Factors and Show Realistic Financial Projections

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Sales Forecast

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

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

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

Benefits of Sales Forecasting

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

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

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

Factors that affect sales forecasting

2. Personnel Plan

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

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

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

True HR Cost Infographic

3. Income Statement

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

The income statement section

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

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

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

4. Cash Flow Statement

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

Cash Flow Statement Example

5. Balance Sheet

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

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

Balance sheet Formula

6. Exit Strategy

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

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

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

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

Exit Strategy Section of Business Plan Infographic

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

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

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

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

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

9. Add an Appendix to Your Business Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips and Strategies for Writing a Convincing Business Plan

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

1. Know Your Audience

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

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

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

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

2. Get Inspiration from People

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

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

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

3. Avoid Being Over Optimistic

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

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

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

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

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

4. Keep it Simple and Short

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

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

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

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

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

5. Make an Outline and Follow Through

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Ask a Professional to Proofread

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

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

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

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

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

1. hubspot's one-page business plan.

HubSpot's One Page Business Plan

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

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

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

2. Bplan’s Free Business Plan Template

Bplan’s Free Business Plan Template

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

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

3. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

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

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

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

4. Business Plan by My Own Business Institute

The Business Profile

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

The comprehensive template consists of a whopping 15 sections.

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

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

5. Score's Business Plan Template for Startups

Score's Business Plan Template for Startups

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

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

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

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

6. Minimalist Architecture Business Plan Template by Venngage

Minimalist Architecture Business Plan Template by Venngage

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

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

7. Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

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

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

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

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

The $100 Startup's One Page Business Plan

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

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

9. PandaDoc’s Free Business Plan Template

PandaDoc’s Free Business Plan Template

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invoiceberry Templates Business Concept

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

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

Alternatives to the Traditional Business Plan

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

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

Business Model Canvas (BMC)

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

Business Model Canvas (BMC) Infographic

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

Segments of the Business Model Canvas

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

Segments of the Business Model Canvas

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

Lean Canvas

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

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

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

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

Startup Pitch Deck

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

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

Startup Pitch Deck Presentation

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

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

Airbnb Pitch Deck

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Plan FAQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exlore Further

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

Was This Article Helpful?

Martin luenendonk.

' src=

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

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

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

AJ Beltis

Published: June 28, 2024

Years ago, I had an idea to launch a line of region-specific board games. I knew there was a market for games that celebrated local culture and heritage. I was so excited about the concept and couldn't wait to get started.

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

But my idea never took off. Why? Because I didn‘t have a plan. I lacked direction, missed opportunities, and ultimately, the venture never got off the ground.

→ Download Now: Free Business Plan Template

And that’s exactly why a business plan is important. It cements your vision, gives you clarity, and outlines your next step.

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

Table of Contents

What is a business plan?

What is a business plan used for.

  • Business Plan Template [Download Now]

Purposes of a Business Plan

What does a business plan need to include, types of business plans.

how does the business plan work

Free Business Plan Template

The essential document for starting a business -- custom built for your needs.

  • Outline your idea.
  • Pitch to investors.
  • Secure funding.
  • Get to work!

Download Free

All fields are required.

You're all set!

Click this link to access this resource at any time.

A business plan is a comprehensive document that outlines a company's goals, strategies, and financial projections. It provides a detailed description of the business, including its products or services, target market, competitive landscape, and marketing and sales strategies. The plan also includes a financial section that forecasts revenue, expenses, and cash flow, as well as a funding request if the business is seeking investment.

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

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

Business Plan Template [ Download Now ]

business plan template

Don't forget to share this post!

Related articles.

The 8 Best Free Flowchart Templates [+ Examples]

The 8 Best Free Flowchart Templates [+ Examples]

18 of My Favorite Sample Business Plans & Examples For Your Inspiration

18 of My Favorite Sample Business Plans & Examples For Your Inspiration

7 Gantt Chart Examples You'll Want to Copy [+ 5 Steps to Make One]

7 Gantt Chart Examples You'll Want to Copy [+ 5 Steps to Make One]

How to Write an Executive Summary Execs Can't Ignore [+ 5 Top Examples]

How to Write an Executive Summary Execs Can't Ignore [+ 5 Top Examples]

20 Free & Paid Small Business Tools for Any Budget

20 Free & Paid Small Business Tools for Any Budget

Maximizing Your Social Media Strategy: The Top Aggregator Tools to Use

Maximizing Your Social Media Strategy: The Top Aggregator Tools to Use

The Content Aggregator Guide for 2024

The Content Aggregator Guide for 2024

16 Best Screen Recorders to Use for Collaboration

16 Best Screen Recorders to Use for Collaboration

The 25 Best Google Chrome Extensions for SEO

The 25 Best Google Chrome Extensions for SEO

Professional Invoice Design: 28 Samples & Templates to Inspire You

Professional Invoice Design: 28 Samples & Templates to Inspire You

2 Essential Templates For Starting Your Business

Marketing software that helps you drive revenue, save time and resources, and measure and optimize your investments — all on one easy-to-use platform

Home > Business > Business Startup

How To Write a Business Plan

Stephanie Coleman

We are committed to sharing unbiased reviews. Some of the links on our site are from our partners who compensate us. Read our editorial guidelines and advertising disclosure .

How-to-write-a-business-plan

Starting a business is a wild ride, and a solid business plan can be the key to keeping you on track. A business plan is essentially a roadmap for your business — outlining your goals, strategies, market analysis and financial projections. Not only will it guide your decision-making, a business plan can help you secure funding with a loan or from investors .

Writing a business plan can seem like a huge task, but taking it one step at a time can break the plan down into manageable milestones. Here is our step-by-step guide on how to write a business plan.

Table of contents

  • Write your executive summary
  • Do your market research homework
  • Set your business goals and objectives
  • Plan your business strategy
  • Describe your product or service
  • Crunch the numbers
  • Finalize your business plan

how does the business plan work

By signing up I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy .

Step 1: Write your executive summary

Though this will be the first page of your business plan , we recommend you actually write the executive summary last. That’s because an executive summary highlights what’s to come in the business plan but in a more condensed fashion.

An executive summary gives stakeholders who are reading your business plan the key points quickly without having to comb through pages and pages. Be sure to cover each successive point in a concise manner, and include as much data as necessary to support your claims.

You’ll cover other things too, but answer these basic questions in your executive summary:

  • Idea: What’s your business concept? What problem does your business solve? What are your business goals?
  • Product: What’s your product/service and how is it different?
  • Market: Who’s your audience? How will you reach customers?
  • Finance: How much will your idea cost? And if you’re seeking funding, how much money do you need? How much do you expect to earn? If you’ve already started, where is your revenue at now?

how does the business plan work

Step 2: Do your market research homework

The next step in writing a business plan is to conduct market research . This involves gathering information about your target market (or customer persona), your competition, and the industry as a whole. You can use a variety of research methods such as surveys, focus groups, and online research to gather this information. Your method may be formal or more casual, just make sure that you’re getting good data back.

This research will help you to understand the needs of your target market and the potential demand for your product or service—essential aspects of starting and growing a successful business.

Step 3: Set your business goals and objectives

Once you’ve completed your market research, you can begin to define your business goals and objectives. What is the problem you want to solve? What’s your vision for the future? Where do you want to be in a year from now?

Use this step to decide what you want to achieve with your business, both in the short and long term. Try to set SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound benchmarks—that will help you to stay focused and motivated as you build your business.

Step 4: Plan your business strategy

Your business strategy is how you plan to reach your goals and objectives. This includes details on positioning your product or service, marketing and sales strategies, operational plans, and the organizational structure of your small business.

Make sure to include key roles and responsibilities for each team member if you’re in a business entity with multiple people.

Step 5: Describe your product or service

In this section, get into the nitty-gritty of your product or service. Go into depth regarding the features, benefits, target market, and any patents or proprietary tech you have. Make sure to paint a clear picture of what sets your product apart from the competition—and don’t forget to highlight any customer benefits.

Step 6: Crunch the numbers

Financial analysis is an essential part of your business plan. If you’re already in business that includes your profit and loss statement , cash flow statement and balance sheet .

These financial projections will give investors and lenders an understanding of the financial health of your business and the potential return on investment.

You may want to work with a financial professional to ensure your financial projections are realistic and accurate.

Step 7: Finalize your business plan

Once you’ve completed everything, it's time to finalize your business plan. This involves reviewing and editing your plan to ensure that it is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

You should also have someone else review your plan to get a fresh perspective and identify any areas that may need improvement. You could even work with a free SCORE mentor on your business plan or use a SCORE business plan template for more detailed guidance.

Compare the Top Small-Business Banks

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$10.00 (waivable)

$0.00

Data effective 1/10/23. At publishing time, rates, fees, and requirements are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

The takeaway

Writing a business plan is an essential process for any forward-thinking entrepreneur or business owner. A business plan requires a lot of up-front research, planning, and attention to detail, but it’s worthwhile. Creating a comprehensive business plan can help you achieve your business goals and secure the funding you need.

Related content

  • 5 Best Business Plan Software and Tools in 2023 for Your Small Business
  • How to Get a Business License: What You Need to Know
  • What Is a Cash Flow Statement?

Best Small Business Loans

Upstart Personal Loans Review

5202 W Douglas Corrigan Way Salt Lake City, UT 84116

Accounting & Payroll

Point of Sale

Payment Processing

Inventory Management

Human Resources

Other Services

Best Inventory Management Software

Best Small Business Accounting Software

Best Payroll Software

Best Mobile Credit Card Readers

Best POS Systems

Best Tax Software

Stay updated on the latest products and services anytime anywhere.

By signing up, you agree to our Terms of Use  and  Privacy Policy .

Disclaimer: The information featured in this article is based on our best estimates of pricing, package details, contract stipulations, and service available at the time of writing. All information is subject to change. Pricing will vary based on various factors, including, but not limited to, the customer’s location, package chosen, added features and equipment, the purchaser’s credit score, etc. For the most accurate information, please ask your customer service representative. Clarify all fees and contract details before signing a contract or finalizing your purchase.

Our mission is to help consumers make informed purchase decisions. While we strive to keep our reviews as unbiased as possible, we do receive affiliate compensation through some of our links. This can affect which services appear on our site and where we rank them. Our affiliate compensation allows us to maintain an ad-free website and provide a free service to our readers. For more information, please see our  Privacy Policy Page . |

© Business.org 2024 All Rights Reserved.

How to make a business plan

Strategic planning in Miro

Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

What is a business plan?

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

Products or services

Target market

Competitors

Marketing and sales strategies

Financial plan

Management team

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

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

Business plan vs. business model canvas

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

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

Key partnerships

Key activities

Key propositions

Customer relationships

Customer segments

Key resources

Cost structure

Revenue streams

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

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

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

Why is a business plan important?

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

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

Helps to define the business goals and objectives

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

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

Guides decision-making

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

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

Attracts investors and secures funding

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

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

Identifies potential challenges and risks

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

Is there enough demand for my product or service?

Will I have enough capital to start my business?

Is the market oversaturated with too many competitors?

What will happen if my marketing strategy is ineffective?

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

Provides a basis for measuring success

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

Are we where we want to be at this point?

Did we achieve our goals?

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

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

How to make a business plan step by step

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

1. Create an executive summary

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

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

2. Write your company description

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

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

3. Conduct a market analysis

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

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

What does the current market look like?

Who are your competitors?

What are they offering?

What will give you a competitive advantage?

Who is your target market?

What are they looking for and why?

How will your product or service satisfy a need?

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

4. Describe your products and services

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

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

5. Design a marketing and sales strategy

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

Pricing strategy

Advertising and promotional tactics

Sales channels

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

6. Determine budget and financial projections

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

Some details to include in this section are:

Startup costs

Revenue projections

Profit and loss statement

Funding you have received or plan to receive

Strategy for raising funds

7. Set the organization and management structure

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

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

8. Make an action plan

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

Types of business plans

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

Startup business plan

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

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

Strategic business plan

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

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

Operational business plan

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

Organizational structure

Staffing plan

Production plan

Quality control

Inventory management

Supply chain

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

Growth-business plan

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

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

One-page business plan

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

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

Best practices for how to make a good business plan

Here are some additional tips for creating a business plan:

Use a template

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

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

Be practical

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

Be specific

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

Be thorough with your research

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

Get input from others

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

Review and revise regularly

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

Create a winning business plan to chart your path to success

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

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

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

Get on board in seconds

Join thousands of teams using Miro to do their best work yet.

How to Write a Business Plan: Your Step-by-Step Guide

Getty Images

So, you’ve got an idea and you want to start a business —great! Before you do anything else, like seek funding or build out a team, you'll need to know how to write a business plan. This plan will serve as the foundation of your company while also giving investors and future employees a clear idea of your purpose.

Below, Lauren Cobello, Founder and CEO of Leverage with Media PR , gives her best advice on how to make a business plan for your company.

Build your dream business with the help of a high-paying job—browse open jobs on The Muse »

What is a business plan, and when do you need one?

According to Cobello, a business plan is a document that contains the mission of the business and a brief overview of it, as well as the objectives, strategies, and financial plans of the founder. A business plan comes into play very early on in the process of starting a company—more or less before you do anything else.

“You should start a company with a business plan in mind—especially if you plan to get funding for the company,” Cobello says. “You’re going to need it.”

Whether that funding comes from a loan, an investor, or crowdsourcing, a business plan is imperative to secure the capital, says the U.S. Small Business Administration . Anyone who’s considering giving you money is going to want to review your business plan before doing so. That means before you head into any meeting, make sure you have physical copies of your business plan to share.

Different types of business plans

The four main types of business plans are:

Startup Business Plans

Internal business plans, strategic business plans, one-page business plans.

Let's break down each one:

If you're wondering how to write a business plan for a startup, Cobello has advice for you. Startup business plans are the most common type, she says, and they are a critical tool for new business ventures that want funding. A startup is defined as a company that’s in its first stages of operations, founded by an entrepreneur who has a product or service idea.

Most startups begin with very little money, so they need a strong business plan to convince family, friends, banks, and/or venture capitalists to invest in the new company.

Internal business plans “are for internal use only,” says Cobello. This kind of document is not public-facing, only company-facing, and it contains an outline of the company’s business strategy, financial goals and budgets, and performance data.

Internal business plans aren’t used to secure funding, but rather to set goals and get everyone working there tracking towards them.

As the name implies, strategic business plans are geared more towards strategy and they include an assessment of the current business landscape, notes Jérôme Côté, a Business Advisor at BDC Advisory Services .

Unlike a traditional business plan, Cobello adds, strategic plans include a SWOT analysis (which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and an in-depth action plan for the next six to 12 months. Strategic plans are action-based and take into account the state of the company and the industry in which it exists.

Although a typical business plan falls between 15 to 30 pages, some companies opt for the much shorter One-Page Business Plan. A one-page business plan is a simplified version of the larger business plan, and it focuses on the problem your product or service is solving, the solution (your product), and your business model (how you’ll make money).

A one-page plan is hyper-direct and easy to read, making it an effective tool for businesses of all sizes, at any stage.

How to create a business plan in 7 steps

Every business plan is different, and the steps you take to complete yours will depend on what type and format you choose. That said, if you need a place to start and appreciate a roadmap, here’s what Cobello recommends:

1. Conduct your research

Before writing your business plan, you’ll want to do a thorough investigation of what’s out there. Who will be the competitors for your product or service? Who is included in the target market? What industry trends are you capitalizing on, or rebuking? You want to figure out where you sit in the market and what your company’s value propositions are. What makes you different—and better?

2. Define your purpose for the business plan

The purpose of your business plan will determine which kind of plan you choose to create. Are you trying to drum up funding, or get the company employees focused on specific goals? (For the former, you’d want a startup business plan, while an internal plan would satisfy the latter.) Also, consider your audience. An investment firm that sees hundreds of potential business plans a day may prefer to see a one-pager upfront and, if they’re interested, a longer plan later.

3. Write your company description

Every business plan needs a company description—aka a summary of the company’s purpose, what they do/offer, and what makes it unique. Company descriptions should be clear and concise, avoiding the use of jargon, Cobello says. Ideally, descriptions should be a few paragraphs at most.

4. Explain and show how the company will make money

A business plan should be centered around the company’s goals, and it should clearly explain how the company will generate revenue. To do this, Cobello recommends using actual numbers and details, as opposed to just projections.

For instance, if the company is already making money, show how much and at what cost (e.g. what was the net profit). If it hasn’t generated revenue yet, outline the plan for how it will—including what the product/service will cost to produce and how much it will cost the consumer.

5. Outline your marketing strategy

How will you promote the business? Through what channels will you be promoting it? How are you going to reach and appeal to your target market? The more specific and thorough you can be with your plans here, the better, Cobello says.

6. Explain how you’ll spend your funding

What will you do with the money you raise? What are the first steps you plan to take? As a founder, you want to instill confidence in your investors and show them that the instant you receive their money, you’ll be taking smart actions that grow the company.

7. Include supporting documents

Creating a business plan is in some ways akin to building a legal case, but for your business. “You want to tell a story, and to be as thorough as possible, while keeping your plan succinct, clear, interesting, and visually appealing,” Cobello says. “Supporting documents could include financial projects, a competitive analysis of the market you’re entering into, and even any licenses, patents, or permits you’ve secured.”

A business plan is an individualized document—it’s ultimately up to you what information to include and what story you tell. But above all, Cobello says, your business plan should have a clear focus and goal in mind, because everything else will build off this cornerstone.

“Many people don’t realize how important business plans are for the health of their company,” she says. “Set aside time to make this a priority for your business, and make sure to keep it updated as you grow.”

how does the business plan work

  • Design for Business
  • Most Recent
  • Presentations
  • Infographics
  • Data Visualizations
  • Forms and Surveys
  • Video & Animation
  • Case Studies
  • Digital Marketing
  • Design Inspiration
  • Visual Thinking
  • Product Updates
  • Visme Webinars
  • Artificial Intelligence

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

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

Written by: Chloe West

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

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

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

Ready to get started?

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

how does the business plan work

8-Step Process for Writing a Business Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re here to tell you that it is.

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

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

Reason #1: Set Realistic Goals and Milestones

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

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

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

An infographic on creating smart goals.

Reason #2: Grow Your Business Faster

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

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

Reason #3: Minimize Risk

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

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

Reason #4: Secure Funding

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

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

Hey executives! Looking to cut design costs?

  • Spend less time on presentations and more time strategizing
  • Ensure your brand looks and feels visually consistent across all your organization's documents
  • Impress clients and stakeholders with boardroom ready presentations

Sign up. It’s free.

how does the business plan work

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

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

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

An executive summary page from a business plan template.

Your executive summary should include:

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

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

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

An executive summary section of a business plan.

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

A mission statement page from a business plan template.

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

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

History or Overview

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

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

A business overview page from a business plan template.

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

Your market analysis needs to look at things like:

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

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

A market analysis page in a business plan template.

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

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

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

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

A competitive analysis page in a business plan template.

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

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

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

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

A products and services page in a business plan template.

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

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

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

A financial analysis page from a business plan template.

Your financial plan should include at least five major sections:

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

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

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

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

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

A marketing plan page from a business plan template.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An organizational chart template available in Visme.

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

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

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

If you're pressed for time, Visme's AI business plan generator can churn out compelling business plans in minutes. Just input a detailed prompt, choose the design, and watch the tool generate your plan in a few seconds.

Template #1: Photography Business Plan Template

A photography business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #2: Real Estate Business Plan Template

A real estate business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #3: Nonprofit Business Plan Template

A nonprofit business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #4: Restaurant Business Plan Template

A restaurant business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #5: Fashion Business Plan Template

A fashion business plan template available to customize in Visme.

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

Template #6: Daycare Business Plan Template

A daycare business plan template available in Visme.

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

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

Template #7: Consulting Business Plan Template

A consulting business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #8: Coffee Shop Business Plan Template

A coffee shop business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #9: SaaS Business Plan Template

A SaaS business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #10: Small Business Plan Template

A small business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #11: Ecommerce Business Plan Template

An ecommerce business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #12: Startup Business Plan Template

A startup business plan template available in Visme.

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

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

Template #13: One-Page Business Plan Template

A single page business plan template available in Visme.

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

Template #14: Salon Business Plan Template

A salon business plan template available in Visme.

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

Create Your Own Business Plan Today

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

Design beautiful visual content you can be proud of.

how does the business plan work

Trusted by leading brands

Capterra

Recommended content for you:

11 Sponsorship Agreement Templates to Secure Your Partnership thumbnail

Create Stunning Content!

Design visual brand experiences for your business whether you are a seasoned designer or a total novice.

how does the business plan work

About the Author

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

how does the business plan work

How to Write a Business Plan (Plus Examples & Templates)

how does the business plan work

Have you ever wondered how to write a business plan step by step? Mike Andes, told us: 

This guide will help you write a business plan to impress investors.

Throughout this process, we’ll get information from Mike Andes, who started Augusta Lawn Care Services when he was 12 and turned it into a franchise with over 90 locations. He has gone on to help others learn how to write business plans and start businesses.  He knows a thing or two about writing  business plans!

We’ll start by discussing the definition of a business plan. Then we’ll discuss how to come up with the idea, how to do the market research, and then the important elements in the business plan format. Keep reading to start your journey!

What Is a Business Plan?

A business plan is simply a road map of what you are trying to achieve with your business and how you will go about achieving it. It should cover all elements of your business including: 

  • Finding customers
  • Plans for developing a team
  •  Competition
  • Legal structures
  • Key milestones you are pursuing

If you aren’t quite ready to create a business plan, consider starting by reading our business startup guide .

Get a Business Idea

Before you can write a business plan, you have to have a business idea. You may see a problem that needs to be solved and have an idea how to solve it, or you might start by evaluating your interests and skills. 

Mike told us, “The three things I suggest asking yourself when thinking about starting a business are:

  • What am I good at?
  • What would I enjoy doing?
  • What can I get paid for?”

Three adjoining circles about business opportunity

If all three of these questions don’t lead to at least one common answer, it will probably be a much harder road to success. Either there is not much market for it, you won’t be good at it, or you won’t enjoy doing it. 

As Mike told us, “There’s enough stress starting and running a business that if you don’t like it or aren’t good at it, it’s hard to succeed.”

If you’d like to hear more about Mike’s approach to starting a business, check out our YouTube video

Conduct Market Analysis

Market analysis is focused on establishing if there is a target market for your products and services, how large the target market is, and identifying the demographics of people or businesses that would be interested in the product or service. The goal here is to establish how much money your business concept can make.

Product and Service Demand

An image showing product service and demand

A search engine is your best friend when trying to figure out if there is demand for your products and services. Personally, I love using presearch.org because it lets you directly search on a ton of different platforms including Google, Youtube, Twitter, and more. Check out the screenshot for the full list of search options.

With quick web searches, you can find out how many competitors you have, look through their reviews, and see if there are common complaints about the competitors. Bad reviews are a great place to find opportunities to offer better products or services. 

If there are no similar products or services, you may have stumbled upon something new, or there may just be no demand for it. To find out, go talk to your most honest friend about the idea and see what they think. If they tell you it’s dumb or stare at you vacantly, there’s probably no market for it.

You can also conduct a survey through social media to get public opinion on your idea. Using Facebook Business Manager , you could get a feel for who would be interested in your product or service.

 I ran a quick test of how many people between 18-65  you could reach in the U.S. during a week. It returned an estimated 700-2,000 for the total number of leads, which is enough to do a fairly accurate statistical analysis.

Identify Demographics of Target Market

Depending on what type of business you want to run, your target market will be different. The narrower the demographic, the fewer potential customers you’ll have. If you did a survey, you’ll be able to use that data to help define your target audience. Some considerations you’ll want to consider are:

  • Other Interests
  • Marital Status
  • Do they have kids?

Once you have this information, it can help you narrow down your options for location and help define your marketing further. One resource that Mike recommended using is the Census Bureau’s Quick Facts Map . He told us,  

“It helps you quickly evaluate what the best areas are for your business to be located.”

How to Write a Business Plan

Business plan development

Now that you’ve developed your idea a little and established there is a market for it, you can begin writing a business plan. Getting started is easier with the business plan template we created for you to download. I strongly recommend using it as it is updated to make it easier to create an action plan. 

Each of the following should be a section of your business plan:

  • Business Plan Cover Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Description of Products and Services

SWOT Analysis

  • Competitor Data
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Marketing Expenses Strategy 

Pricing Strategy

  • Distribution Channel Assessment
  • Operational Plan
  • Management and Organizational Strategy
  • Financial Statements and/or Financial Projections

We’ll look into each of these. Don’t forget to download our free business plan template (mentioned just above) so you can follow along as we go. 

How to Write a Business Plan Step 1. Create a Cover Page

The first thing investors will see is the cover page for your business plan. Make sure it looks professional. A great cover page shows that you think about first impressions.

A good business plan should have the following elements on a cover page:

  • Professionally designed logo
  • Company name
  • Mission or Vision Statement
  • Contact Info

Basically, think of a cover page for your business plan like a giant business card. It is meant to capture people’s attention but be quickly processed.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 2. Create a Table of Contents

Most people are busy enough that they don’t have a lot of time. Providing a table of contents makes it easy for them to find the pages of your plan that are meaningful to them.

A table of contents will be immediately after the cover page, but you can include it after the executive summary. Including the table of contents immediately after the executive summary will help investors know what section of your business plan they want to review more thoroughly.

Check out Canva’s article about creating a  table of contents . It has a ton of great information about creating easy access to each section of your business plan. Just remember that you’ll want to use different strategies for digital and hard copy business plans.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 3. Write an Executive Summary

A notepad with a written executive summary for business plan writing

An executive summary is where your business plan should catch the readers interest.  It doesn’t need to be long, but should be quick and easy to read.

Mike told us,

How long should an executive summary bein an informal business plan?

For casual use, an executive summary should be similar to an elevator pitch, no more than 150-160 words, just enough to get them interested and wanting more. Indeed has a great article on elevator pitches .  This can also be used for the content of emails to get readers’ attention.

It consists of three basic parts:

  • An introduction to you and your business.
  • What your business is about.
  • A call to action

Example of an informal executive summary 

One of the best elevator pitches I’ve used is:

So far that pitch has achieved a 100% success rate in getting partnerships for the business.

What should I include in an executive summary for investors?

Investors are going to need a more detailed executive summary if you want to secure financing or sell equity. The executive summary should be a brief overview of your entire business plan and include:

  • Introduction of yourself and company.
  • An origin story (Recognition of a problem and how you came to solution)
  • An introduction to your products or services.
  • Your unique value proposition. Make sure to include intellectual property.
  • Where you are in the business life cycle
  • Request and why you need it.

Successful business plan examples

The owner of Urbanity told us he spent 2 months writing a 75-page business plan and received a $250,000 loan from the bank when he was 23. Make your business plan as detailed as possible when looking for financing. We’ve provided a template to help you prepare the portions of a business plan that banks expect.

Here’s the interview with the owner of Urbanity:

When to write an executive summary?

Even though the summary is near the beginning of a business plan, you should write it after you complete the rest of a business plan. You can’t talk about revenue, profits, and expected expenditures if you haven’t done the market research and created a financial plan.

What mistakes do people make when writing an executive summary?

Business owners commonly go into too much detail about the following items in an executive summary:

  • Marketing and sales processes
  • Financial statements
  • Organizational structure
  • Market analysis

These are things that people will want to know later, but they don’t hook the reader. They won’t spark interest in your small business, but they’ll close the deal.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 4. Company Description

Every business plan should include a company description. A great business plan will include the following elements while describing the company:

  • Mission statement
  • Philosophy and vision
  • Company goals

Target market

  • Legal structure

Let’s take a look at what each section includes in a good business plan.

Mission Statement

A mission statement is a brief explanation of why you started the company and what the company’s main focus is. It should be no more than one or two sentences. Check out HubSpot’s article 27 Inspiring Mission Statement for a great read on informative and inspiring mission and vision statements. 

Company Philosophy and Vision

Writing the company philosophy and vision

The company philosophy is what drives your company. You’ll normally hear them called core values.  These are the building blocks that make your company different. You want to communicate your values to customers, business owners, and investors as often as possible to build a company culture, but make sure to back them up.

What makes your company different?

Each company is different. Your new business should rise above the standard company lines of honesty, integrity, fun, innovation, and community when communicating your business values. The standard answers are corporate jargon and lack authenticity. 

Examples of core values

One of my clients decided to add a core values page to their website. As a tech company they emphasized the values:

  •  Prioritize communication.
  •  Never stop learning.
  •  Be transparent.
  •  Start small and grow incrementally.

These values communicate how the owner and the rest of the company operate. They also show a value proposition and competitive advantage because they specifically focus on delivering business value from the start. These values also genuinely show what the company is about and customers recognize the sincerity. Indeed has a great blog about how to identify your core values .

What is a vision statement?

A vision statement communicate the long lasting change a business pursues. The vision helps investors and customers understand what your company is trying to accomplish. The vision statement goes beyond a mission statement to provide something meaningful to the community, customer’s lives, or even the world.

Example vision statements

The Alzheimer’s Association is a great example of a vision statement:

A world without Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia.

It clearly tells how they want to change the world. A world without Alzheimers might be unachievable, but that means they always have room for improvement.

Business Goals

You have to measure success against goals for a business plan to be meaningful. A business plan helps guide a company similar to how your GPS provides a road map to your favorite travel destination. A goal to make as much money as possible is not inspirational and sounds greedy.

Sure, business owners want to increase their profits and improve customer service, but they need to present an overview of what they consider success. The goals should help everyone prioritize their work.

How far in advance should a business plan?

Business planning should be done at least one year in advance, but many banks and investors prefer three to five year business plans. Longer plans show investors that the management team  understands the market and knows the business is operating in a constantly shifting market. In addition, a plan helps businesses to adjust to changes because they have already considered how to handle them.

Example of great business goals

My all time-favorite long-term company goals are included in Tesla’s Master Plan, Part Deux . These goals were written in 2016 and drive the company’s decisions through 2026. They are the reason that investors are so forgiving when Elon Musk continually fails to meet his quarterly and annual goals.

If the progress aligns with the business plan investors are likely to continue to believe in the company. Just make sure the goals are reasonable or you’ll be discredited (unless you’re Elon Musk).

A man holding an iPad with a cup of coffee on his desk

You did target market research before creating a business plan. Now it’s time to add it to the plan so others understand what your ideal customer looks like. As a new business owner, you may not be considered an expert in your field yet, so document everything. Make sure the references you use are from respectable sources. 

Use information from the specific lender when you are applying for lending. Most lenders provide industry research reports and using their data can strengthen the position of your business plan.

A small business plan should include a section on the external environment. Understanding the industry is crucial because we don’t plan a business in a vacuum. Make sure to research the industry trends, competitors, and forecasts. I personally prefer IBIS World for my business research. Make sure to answer questions like:

  • What is the industry outlook long-term and short-term?
  • How will your business take advantage of projected industry changes and trends?
  • What might happen to your competitors and how will your business successfully compete?

Industry resources

Some helpful resources to help you establish more about your industry are:

  • Trade Associations
  • Federal Reserve
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics

Legal Structure

There are five basic types of legal structures that most people will utilize:

  • Sole proprietorships
  • Limited Liability Companies (LLC)

Partnerships

Corporations.

  • Franchises.

Each business structure has their pros and cons. An LLC is the most common legal structure due to its protection of personal assets and ease of setting up. Make sure to specify how ownership is divided and what roles each owner plays when you have more than one business owner.

You’ll have to decide which structure is best for you, but we’ve gathered information on each to make it easier.

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the easiest legal structure to set up but doesn’t protect the owner’s personal assets from legal issues. That means if something goes wrong, you could lose both your company and your home.

To start a sole proprietorship, fill out a special tax form called a  Schedule C . Sole proprietors can also join the American Independent Business Alliance .

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

An LLC is the most common business structure used in the United States because an LLC protects the owner’s personal assets. It’s similar to partnerships and corporations, but can be a single-member LLC in most states. An LLC requires a document called an operating agreement.

Each state has different requirements. Here’s a link to find your state’s requirements . Delaware and Nevada are common states to file an LLC because they are really business-friendly. Here’s a blog on the top 10 states to get an LLC.

Partnerships are typically for legal firms. If you choose to use a partnership choose a Limited Liability Partnership. Alternatively, you can just use an LLC.

Corporations are typically for massive organizations. Corporations have taxes on both corporate and income tax so unless you plan on selling stock, you are better off considering an LLC with S-Corp status . Investopedia has good information corporations here .

An iPad with colored pens on a desk

There are several opportunities to purchase successful franchises. TopFranchise.com has a list of companies in a variety of industries that offer franchise opportunities. This makes it where an entrepreneur can benefit from the reputation of an established business that has already worked out many of the kinks of starting from scratch.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 5. Products and Services

This section of the business plan should focus on what you sell, how you source it, and how you sell it. You should include:

  • Unique features that differentiate your business products from competitors
  • Intellectual property
  • Your supply chain
  • Cost and pricing structure 

Questions to answer about your products and services

Mike gave us a list  of the most important questions to answer about your product and services:

  • How will you be selling the product? (in person, ecommerce, wholesale, direct to consumer)?
  • How do you let them know they need a product?
  • How do you communicate the message?
  • How will you do transactions?
  • How much will you be selling it for?
  • How many do you think you’ll sell and why?

Make sure to use the worksheet on our business plan template .

How to Write a Business Plan Step 6. Sales and Marketing Plan

The marketing and sales plan is focused on the strategy to bring awareness to your company and guides how you will get the product to the consumer.  It should contain the following sections:

SWOT Analysis stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Not only do you want to identify them, but you also want to document how the business plans to deal with them.

Business owners need to do a thorough job documenting how their service or product stacks up against the competition.

If proper research isn’t done, investors will be able to tell that the owner hasn’t researched the competition and is less likely to believe that the team can protect its service from threats by the more well-established competition. This is one of the most common parts of a presentation that trips up business owners presenting on Shark Tank .

SWOT Examples

Business plan SWOT analysis

Examples of strengths and weaknesses could be things like the lack of cash flow, intellectual property ownership, high costs of suppliers, and customers’ expectations on shipping times.

Opportunities could be ways to capitalize on your strengths or improve your weaknesses, but may also be gaps in the industry. This includes:

  • Adding offerings that fit with your current small business
  • Increase sales to current customers
  • Reducing costs through bulk ordering
  • Finding ways to reduce inventory
  •  And other areas you can improve

Threats will normally come from outside of the company but could also be things like losing a key member of the team. Threats normally come from competition, regulations, taxes, and unforeseen events.

The management team should use the SWOT analysis to guide other areas of business planning, but it absolutely has to be done before a business owner starts marketing. 

Include Competitor Data in Your Business Plan

When you plan a business, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the competition is key to navigating the field. Providing an overview of your competition and where they are headed shows that you are invested in understanding the industry.

For smaller businesses, you’ll want to search both the company and the owners names to see what they are working on. For publicly held corporations, you can find their quarterly and annual reports on the SEC website .

What another business plans to do can impact your business. Make sure to include things that might make it attractive for bigger companies to outsource to a small business.

Marketing Strategy

The marketing and sales part of business plans should be focused on how you are going to make potential customers aware of your business and then sell to them.

If you haven’t already included it, Mike recommends:

“They’ll want to know about Demographics, ages, and wealth of your target market.”

Make sure to include the Total addressable market .  The term refers to the value if you captured 100% of the market.

Advertising Strategy

You’ll explain what formats of advertising you’ll be using. Some possibilities are:

  • Online: Facebook and Google are the big names to work with here.
  • Print : Print can be used to reach broad groups or targeted markets. Check out this for tips .
  • Radio : iHeartMedia is one of the best ways to advertise on the radio
  • Cable television : High priced, hard to measure ROI, but here’s an explanation of the process
  • Billboards: Attracting customers with billboards can be beneficial in high traffic areas.

You’ll want to define how you’ll be using each including frequency, duration, and cost. If you have the materials already created, including pictures or links to the marketing to show creative assets.

Mike told us “Most businesses are marketing digitally now due to Covid, but that’s not always the right answer.”

Make sure the marketing strategy will help team members or external marketing agencies stay within the brand guidelines .

An iPad with graph about pricing strategy

This section of a business plan should be focused on pricing. There are a ton of pricing strategies that may work for different business plans. Which one will work for you depends on what kind of a business you run.

Some common pricing strategies are:

  • Value-based pricing – Commonly used with home buying and selling or other products that are status symbols.
  • Skimming pricing – Commonly seen in video game consoles, price starts off high to recoup expenses quickly, then reduces over time.
  • Competition-based pricing – Pricing based on competitors’ pricing is commonly seen at gas stations.
  • Freemium services –  Commonly used for software, where there is a free plan, then purchase options for more functionality.

HubSpot has a great calculator and blog on pricing strategies.

Beyond explaining what strategy your business plans to use, you should include references for how you came to this pricing strategy and how it will impact your cash flow.

Distribution Plan

This part of a business plan is focused on how the product or service is going to go through the supply chain. These may include multiple divisions or multiple companies. Make sure to include any parts of the workflow that are automated so investors can see where cost savings are expected and when.

Supply Chain Examples

For instance, lawn care companies  would need to cover aspects such as:

  • Suppliers for lawn care equipment and tools
  • Any chemicals or treatments needed
  • Repair parts for sprinkler systems
  • Vehicles to transport equipment and employees
  • Insurance to protect the company vehicles and people.

Examples of Supply Chains

These are fairly flat supply chains compared to something like a clothing designer where the clothes would go through multiple vendors. A clothing company might have the following supply chain:

  • Raw materials
  • Shipping of raw materials
  • Converting of raw materials to thread
  • Shipping thread to produce garments
  • Garment producer
  • Shipping to company
  • Company storage
  • Shipping to retail stores

There have been advances such as print on demand that eliminate many of these steps. If you are designing completely custom clothing, all of this would need to be planned to keep from having business disruptions.

The main thing to include in the business plan is the list of suppliers, the path the supply chain follows, the time from order to the customer’s home, and the costs associated with each step of the process.

According to BizPlanReview , a business plan without this information is likely to get rejected because they have failed to research the key elements necessary to make sales to the customer.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 7. Company Organization and Operational Plan

This part of the business plan is focused on how the business model will function while serving customers.  The business plan should provide an overview of  how the team will manage the following aspects:

Quality Control

  • Legal environment

Let’s look at each for some insight.

Production has already been discussed in previous sections so I won’t go into it much. When writing a business plan for investors, try to avoid repetition as it creates a more simple business plan.

If the organizational plan will be used by the team as an overview of how to perform the best services for the customer, then redundancy makes more sense as it communicates what is important to the business.

A wooden stamp with the words "quality control"

Quality control policies help to keep the team focused on how to verify that the company adheres to the business plan and meets or exceeds customer expectations.

Quality control can be anything from a standard that says “all labels on shirts can be no more than 1/16″ off center” to a defined checklist of steps that should be performed and filled out for every customer.

There are a variety of organizations that help define quality control including:

  • International Organization for Standardization – Quality standards for energy, technology, food, production environments, and cybersecurity
  • AICPA – Standard defined for accounting.
  • The Joint Commission – Healthcare
  • ASHRAE – HVAC best practices

You can find lists of the organizations that contribute most to the government regulation of industries on Open Secrets . Research what the leaders in your field are doing. Follow their example and implement it in your quality control plan.

For location, you should use information from the market research to establish where the location will be. Make sure to include the following in the location documentation.

  • The size of your location
  • The type of building (retail, industrial, commercial, etc.)
  • Zoning restrictions – Urban Wire has a good map on how zoning works in each state
  • Accessibility – Does it meet ADA requirements?
  • Costs including rent, maintenance, utilities, insurance and any buildout or remodeling costs
  • Utilities – b.e.f. has a good energy calculator .

Legal Environment

The legal requirement section is focused on defining how to meet the legal requirements for your industry. A good business plan should include all of the following:

  • Any licenses and/or permits that are needed and whether you’ve obtained them
  • Any trademarks, copyrights, or patents that you have or are in the process of applying for
  • The insurance coverage your business requires and how much it costs
  • Any environmental, health, or workplace regulations affecting your business
  • Any special regulations affecting your industry
  • Bonding requirements, if applicable

Your local SBA office can help you establish requirements in your area. I strongly recommend using them. They are a great resource.

Your business plan should include a plan for company organization and hiring. While you may be the only person with the company right now, down the road you’ll need more people. Make sure to consider and document the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the current leadership structure and what will it look like in the future?
  • What types of employees will you have? Are there any licensing or educational requirements?
  • How many employees will you need?
  • Will you ever hire freelancers or independent contractors?
  • What is each position’s job description?
  • What is the pay structure (hourly, salaried, base plus commission, etc.)?
  • How do you plan to find qualified employees and contractors?

One of the most crucial parts of a business plan is the organizational chart. This simply shows the positions the company will need, who is in charge of them and the relationship of each of them. It will look similar to this:

Organization chart

Our small business plan template has a much more in-depth organizational chart you can edit to include when you include the organizational chart in your business plan.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 8. Financial Statements 

No business plan is complete without financial statements or financial projections. The business plan format will be different based on whether you are writing a business plan to expand a business or a startup business plan. Let’s dig deeper into each.

Provide All Financial Income from an Existing Business

An existing business should use their past financial documents including the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement to find trends to estimate the next 3-5 years.

You can create easy trendlines in excel to predict future revenue, profit and loss, cash flow, and other changes in year-over-year performance. This will show your expected performance assuming business continues as normal.

If you are seeking an investment, then the business is probably not going to continue as normal. Depending on the financial plan and the purpose of getting financing, adjustments may be needed to the following:

  • Higher Revenue if expanding business
  • Lower Cost of Goods Sold if purchasing inventory with bulk discounts
  • Adding interest if utilizing financing (not equity deal)
  • Changes in expenses
  • Addition of financing information to the cash flow statement
  • Changes in Earnings per Share on the balance sheet

Financial modeling is a challenging subject, but there are plenty of low-cost courses on the subject. If you need help planning your business financial documentation take some time to watch some of them.

Make it a point to document how you calculated all the changes to the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement in your business plan so that key team members or investors can verify your research.

Financial Projections For A Startup Business Plan

Unlike an existing business, a startup doesn’t have previous success to model its future performance. In this scenario, you need to focus on how to make a business plan realistic through the use of industry research and averages.

Mike gave the following advice in his interview:

Financial Forecasting Mistakes

One of the things a lot of inexperienced people use is the argument, “If I get one percent of the market, it is worth $100 million.” If you use this, investors are likely to file the document under bad business plan examples.

Let’s use custom t-shirts as an example.

Credence Research estimated in 2018 there were 11,334,800,000 custom t-shirts sold for a total of $206.12 Billion, with a 6% compound annual growth rate.

With that data,  you can calculate that the industry will grow to $270 Billion in 2023 and that the average shirt sold creates $18.18 in revenue.

Combine that with an IBIS World estimate of 11,094 custom screen printers and that means even if you become an average seller, you’ll get .009% of the market.

Here’s a table for easier viewing of that information.

A table showing yearly revenue of a business

The point here is to make sure your business proposal examples make sense.

You’ll need to know industry averages such as cost of customer acquisition, revenue per customer, the average cost of goods sold, and admin costs to be able to create accurate estimates.

Our simple business plan templates walk you through most of these processes. If you follow them you’ll have a good idea of how to write a business proposal.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 9. Business Plan Example of Funding Requests

What is a business plan without a plan on how to obtain funding?

The Small Business Administration has an example for a pizza restaurant that theoretically needed nearly $20k to make it through their first month.

In our video, How to Start a $500K/Year T-Shirt Business (Pt. 1 ), Sanford Booth told us he needed about $200,000 to start his franchise and broke even after 4 months.

Freshbooks estimates it takes on average 2-3 years for a business to be profitable, which means the fictitious pizza company from the SBA could need up to $330k to make it through that time and still pay their bills for their home and pizza shop.

Not every business needs that much to start, but realistically it’s a good idea to assume that you need a fairly large cushion.

Ways to get funding for a small business

There are a variety of ways to cover this. the most common are:

  • Bootstrapping – Using your savings without external funding.
  • Taking out debt – loans, credit cards
  • Equity, Seed Funding – Ownership of a percentage of the company in exchange for current funds
  • Crowdsourcing – Promising a good for funding to create the product

Keep reading for more tips on how to write a business plan.

How funding will be used

When asking for business financing make sure to include:

  • How much to get started?
  • What is the minimum viable product and how soon can you make money?
  • How will the money be spent?

Mike emphasized two aspects that should be included in every plan, 

How to Write a Business Plan Resources

Here are some links to a business plan sample and business plan outline. 

  • Sample plan

It’s also helpful to follow some of the leading influencers in the business plan writing community. Here’s a list:

  • Wise Plans –  Shares a lot of information on starting businesses and is a business plan writing company.
  • Optimus Business Plans –  Another business plan writing company.
  • Venture Capital – A venture capital thread that can help give you ideas.

How to Write a Business Plan: What’s Next?

We hope this guide about how to write a simple business plan step by step has been helpful. We’ve covered:

  • The definition of a business plan
  • Coming up with a business idea
  • Performing market research
  • The critical components of a business plan
  • An example business plan

In addition, we provided you with a simple business plan template to assist you in the process of writing your startup business plan. The startup business plan template also includes a business model template that will be the key to your success.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our business hub .

Have you written a business plan before? How did it impact your ability to achieve your goals?

80% of businesses fail... Learn how not to.

Learn from business failures and successes in 5 min or less. The stories, frameworks, and tactics that will make you a 10x better founder.

how does the business plan work

Brandon Boushy

Related articles

how does the business plan work

The Ultimate Cleaning Checklist: 24 Downloadable Templates

how does the business plan work

How to Start a Pressure Washing Business & Make $150K/Month

how does the business plan work

31 Best Self-Employment Ideas 2024

how does the business plan work

nice work https://binarychemist.com/

how does the business plan work

My Name is PRETTY NGOMANE. A south African female. Aspiring to do farming. And finding a home away from home for the differently abled persons in their daily needs.

Become a business owner in less than 90 days

Start your 10-day free trial of the UpFlip Academy and learn how to start your own business from scratch.

Get business advice straight to your   Inbox 

START YOUR ECOMMERCE BUSINESS FOR JUST $1

  • Skip to primary navigation
  • Skip to main content

A magazine for young entrepreneurs

how does the business plan work

The best advice in entrepreneurship

Subscribe for exclusive access, how to write a business plan (tips, templates, examples).

' src=

Written by Jesse Sumrak | May 14, 2023

Comments -->

Business plan graphic

Get real-time frameworks, tools, and inspiration to start and build your business. Subscribe here

Business plans might seem like an old-school stiff-collared practice, but they deserve a place in the startup realm, too. It’s probably not going to be the frame-worthy document you hang in the office—yet, it may one day be deserving of the privilege.

Whether you’re looking to win the heart of an angel investor or convince a bank to lend you money, you’ll need a business plan. And not just any ol’ notes and scribble on the back of a pizza box or napkin—you’ll need a professional, standardized report.

Bah. Sounds like homework, right?

Yes. Yes, it does.

However, just like bookkeeping, loan applications, and 404 redirects, business plans are an essential step in cementing your business foundation.

Don’t worry. We’ll show you how to write a business plan without boring you to tears. We’ve jam-packed this article with all the business plan examples, templates, and tips you need to take your non-existent proposal from concept to completion.

Table of Contents

What Is a Business Plan?

Tips to Make Your Small Business Plan Ironclad

How to Write a Business Plan in 6 Steps

Startup Business Plan Template

Business Plan Examples

Work on Making Your Business Plan

How to Write a Business Plan FAQs

What is a business plan why do you desperately need one.

A business plan is a roadmap that outlines:

  • Who your business is, what it does, and who it serves
  • Where your business is now
  • Where you want it to go
  • How you’re going to make it happen
  • What might stop you from taking your business from Point A to Point B
  • How you’ll overcome the predicted obstacles

While it’s not required when starting a business, having a business plan is helpful for a few reasons:

  • Secure a Bank Loan: Before approving you for a business loan, banks will want to see that your business is legitimate and can repay the loan. They want to know how you’re going to use the loan and how you’ll make monthly payments on your debt. Lenders want to see a sound business strategy that doesn’t end in loan default.
  • Win Over Investors: Like lenders, investors want to know they’re going to make a return on their investment. They need to see your business plan to have the confidence to hand you money.
  • Stay Focused: It’s easy to get lost chasing the next big thing. Your business plan keeps you on track and focused on the big picture. Your business plan can prevent you from wasting time and resources on something that isn’t aligned with your business goals.

Beyond the reasoning, let’s look at what the data says:

  • Simply writing a business plan can boost your average annual growth by 30%
  • Entrepreneurs who create a formal business plan are 16% more likely to succeed than those who don’t
  • A study looking at 65 fast-growth companies found that 71% had small business plans
  • The process and output of creating a business plan have shown to improve business performance

Convinced yet? If those numbers and reasons don’t have you scrambling for pen and paper, who knows what will.

Don’t Skip: Business Startup Costs Checklist

Before we get into the nitty-gritty steps of how to write a business plan, let’s look at some high-level tips to get you started in the right direction:

Be Professional and Legit

You might be tempted to get cutesy or revolutionary with your business plan—resist the urge. While you should let your brand and creativity shine with everything you produce, business plans fall more into the realm of professional documents.

Think of your business plan the same way as your terms and conditions, employee contracts, or financial statements. You want your plan to be as uniform as possible so investors, lenders, partners, and prospective employees can find the information they need to make important decisions.

If you want to create a fun summary business plan for internal consumption, then, by all means, go right ahead. However, for the purpose of writing this external-facing document, keep it legit.

Know Your Audience

Your official business plan document is for lenders, investors, partners, and big-time prospective employees. Keep these names and faces in your mind as you draft your plan.

Think about what they might be interested in seeing, what questions they’ll ask, and what might convince (or scare) them. Cut the jargon and tailor your language so these individuals can understand.

Remember, these are busy people. They’re likely looking at hundreds of applicants and startup investments every month. Keep your business plan succinct and to the point. Include the most pertinent information and omit the sections that won’t impact their decision-making.

Invest Time Researching

You might not have answers to all the sections you should include in your business plan. Don’t skip over these!

Your audience will want:

  • Detailed information about your customers
  • Numbers and solid math to back up your financial claims and estimates
  • Deep insights about your competitors and potential threats
  • Data to support market opportunities and strategy

Your answers can’t be hypothetical or opinionated. You need research to back up your claims. If you don’t have that data yet, then invest time and money in collecting it. That information isn’t just critical for your business plan—it’s essential for owning, operating, and growing your company.

Stay Realistic

Your business may be ambitious, but reign in the enthusiasm just a teeny-tiny bit. The last thing you want to do is have an angel investor call BS and say “I’m out” before even giving you a chance.

The folks looking at your business and evaluating your plan have been around the block—they know a thing or two about fact and fiction. Your plan should be a blueprint for success. It should be the step-by-step roadmap for how you’re going from Point A to Point B.

Button to visit the free training for starting a side hustle

How to Write a Business Plan—6 Essential Elements

Not every business plan looks the same, but most share a few common elements. Here’s what they typically include:

  • Executive Summary
  • Business Overview
  • Products and Services
  • Market Analysis
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Financial Strategy

Below, we’ll break down each of these sections in more detail.

1. Executive Summary

While your executive summary is the first page of your business plan, it’s the section you’ll write last. That’s because it summarizes your entire business plan into a succinct one-pager.

Begin with an executive summary that introduces the reader to your business and gives them an overview of what’s inside the business plan.

Your executive summary highlights key points of your plan. Consider this your elevator pitch. You want to put all your juiciest strengths and opportunities strategically in this section.

2. Business Overview

In this section, you can dive deeper into the elements of your business, including answering:

  • What’s your business structure? Sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, etc.
  • Where is it located?
  • Who owns the business? Does it have employees?
  • What problem does it solve, and how?
  • What’s your mission statement? Your mission statement briefly describes why you are in business. To write a proper mission statement, brainstorm your business’s core values and who you serve.

Don’t overlook your mission statement. This powerful sentence or paragraph could be the inspiration that drives an investor to take an interest in your business. Here are a few examples of powerful mission statements that just might give you the goosebumps:

  • Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
  • Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
  • InvisionApp : Question Assumptions. Think Deeply. Iterate as a Lifestyle. Details, Details. Design is Everywhere. Integrity.
  • TED : Spread ideas.
  • Warby Parker : To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.

3. Products and Services

As the owner, you know your business and the industry inside and out. However, whoever’s reading your document might not. You’re going to need to break down your products and services in minute detail.

For example, if you own a SaaS business, you’re going to need to explain how this business model works and what you’re selling.

You’ll need to include:

  • What services you sell: Describe the services you provide and how these will help your target audience.
  • What products you sell: Describe your products (and types if applicable) and how they will solve a need for your target and provide value.
  • How much you charge: If you’re selling services, will you charge hourly, per project, retainer, or a mixture of all of these? If you’re selling products, what are the price ranges?

4. Market Analysis

Your market analysis essentially explains how your products and services address customer concerns and pain points. This section will include research and data on the state and direction of your industry and target market.

This research should reveal lucrative opportunities and how your business is uniquely positioned to seize the advantage. You’ll also want to touch on your marketing strategy and how it will (or does) work for your audience.

Include a detailed analysis of your target customers. This describes the people you serve and sell your product to. Be careful not to go too broad here—you don’t want to fall into the common entrepreneurial trap of trying to sell to everyone and thereby not differentiating yourself enough to survive the competition.

The market analysis section will include your unique value proposition. Your unique value proposition (UVP) is the thing that makes you stand out from your competitors. This is your key to success.

If you don’t have a UVP, you don’t have a way to take on competitors who are already in this space. Here’s an example of an ecommerce internet business plan outlining their competitive edge:

FireStarters’ competitive advantage is offering product lines that make a statement but won’t leave you broke. The major brands are expensive and not distinctive enough to satisfy the changing taste of our target customers. FireStarters offers products that are just ahead of the curve and so affordable that our customers will return to the website often to check out what’s new.

5. Competitive Analysis

Your competitive analysis examines the strengths and weaknesses of competing businesses in your market or industry. This will include direct and indirect competitors. It can also include threats and opportunities, like economic concerns or legal restraints.

The best way to sum up this section is with a classic SWOT analysis. This will explain your company’s position in relation to your competitors.

6. Financial Strategy

Your financial strategy will sum up your revenue, expenses, profit (or loss), and financial plan for the future. It’ll explain how you make money, where your cash flow goes, and how you’ll become profitable or stay profitable.

This is one of the most important sections for lenders and investors. Have you ever watched Shark Tank? They always ask about the company’s financial situation. How has it performed in the past? What’s the ongoing outlook moving forward? How does the business plan to make it happen?

Answer all of these questions in your financial strategy so that your audience doesn’t have to ask. Go ahead and include forecasts and graphs in your plan, too:

  • Balance sheet: This includes your assets, liabilities, and equity.
  • Profit & Loss (P&L) statement: This details your income and expenses over a given period.
  • Cash flow statement: Similar to the P&L, this one will show all cash flowing into and out of the business each month.

It takes cash to change the world—lenders and investors get it. If you’re short on funding, explain how much money you’ll need and how you’ll use the capital. Where are you looking for financing? Are you looking to take out a business loan, or would you rather trade equity for capital instead?

Read More: 16 Financial Concepts Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Startup Business Plan Template (Copy/Paste Outline)

Ready to write your own business plan? Copy/paste the startup business plan template below and fill in the blanks.

Executive Summary Remember, do this last. Summarize who you are and your business plan in one page.

Business Overview Describe your business. What’s it do? Who owns it? How’s it structured? What’s the mission statement?

Products and Services Detail the products and services you offer. How do they work? What do you charge?

Market Analysis Write about the state of the market and opportunities. Use date. Describe your customers. Include your UVP.

Competitive Analysis Outline the competitors in your market and industry. Include threats and opportunities. Add a SWOT analysis of your business.

Financial Strategy Sum up your revenue, expenses, profit (or loss), and financial plan for the future. If you’re applying for a loan, include how you’ll use the funding to progress the business.

What’s the Best Business Plan to Succeed as a Consultant?

5 Frame-Worthy Business Plan Examples

Want to explore other templates and examples? We got you covered. Check out these 5 business plan examples you can use as inspiration when writing your plan:

  • SBA Wooden Grain Toy Company
  • SBA We Can Do It Consulting
  • OrcaSmart Business Plan Sample
  • Plum Business Plan Template
  • PandaDoc Free Business Plan Templates

Get to Work on Making Your Business Plan

If you find you’re getting stuck on perfecting your document, opt for a simple one-page business plan —and then get to work. You can always polish up your official plan later as you learn more about your business and the industry.

Remember, business plans are not a requirement for starting a business—they’re only truly essential if a bank or investor is asking for it.

Ask others to review your business plan. Get feedback from other startups and successful business owners. They’ll likely be able to see holes in your planning or undetected opportunities—just make sure these individuals aren’t your competitors (or potential competitors).

Your business plan isn’t a one-and-done report—it’s a living, breathing document. You’ll make changes to it as you grow and evolve. When the market or your customers change, your plan will need to change to adapt.

That means when you’re finished with this exercise, it’s not time to print your plan out and stuff it in a file cabinet somewhere. No, it should sit on your desk as a day-to-day reference. Use it (and update it) as you make decisions about your product, customers, and financial plan.

Review your business plan frequently, update it routinely, and follow the path you’ve developed to the future you’re building.

Keep Learning: New Product Development Process in 8 Easy Steps

What financial information should be included in a business plan?

Be as detailed as you can without assuming too much. For example, include your expected revenue, expenses, profit, and growth for the future.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when writing a business plan?

The most common mistake is turning your business plan into a textbook. A business plan is an internal guide and an external pitching tool. Cut the fat and only include the most relevant information to start and run your business.

Who should review my business plan before I submit it?

Co-founders, investors, or a board of advisors. Otherwise, reach out to a trusted mentor, your local chamber of commerce, or someone you know that runs a business.

Ready to Write Your Business Plan?

Don’t let creating a business plan hold you back from starting your business. Writing documents might not be your thing—that doesn’t mean your business is a bad idea.

Let us help you get started.

Join our free training to learn how to start an online side hustle in 30 days or less. We’ll provide you with a proven roadmap for how to find, validate, and pursue a profitable business idea (even if you have zero entrepreneurial experience).

Stuck on the ideas part? No problem. When you attend the masterclass, we’ll send you a free ebook with 100 of the hottest side hustle trends right now. It’s chock full of brilliant business ideas to get you up and running in the right direction.

Launch your side hustle training

About Jesse Sumrak

Jesse Sumrak is a writing zealot focused on creating killer content. He’s spent almost a decade writing about startup, marketing, and entrepreneurship topics, having built and sold his own post-apocalyptic fitness bootstrapped business. A writer by day and a peak bagger by night (and early early morning), you can usually find Jesse preparing for the apocalypse on a precipitous peak somewhere in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Related Posts

Customer Engagement: The Secret to Long-Term Success

Customer Engagement: The Secret to Long-Term Success

Giveaway Ideas: 4 Tried and Tested Approaches from a 7-Figure Ecommerce Expert

Giveaway Ideas: 4 Tried and Tested Approaches from a 7-Figure Ecommerce Expert

How to List Products on Amazon: Everything You Need to Know

How to List Products on Amazon: Everything You Need to Know

Is Selling On Amazon Worth it? Get Your Questions Answered

Is Selling On Amazon Worth it? Get Your Questions Answered

Amazon FBA Fees: How to Calculate What FBA Will Cost You

Amazon FBA Fees: How to Calculate What FBA Will Cost You

The Complete Guide to Getting Clients for Your Consulting Business

The Complete Guide to Getting Clients for Your Consulting Business

What’s the Most Profitable Business to Start in 2024?

What’s the Most Profitable Business to Start in 2024?

9 Best Businesses You Can Start with No Money

9 Best Businesses You Can Start with No Money

8 Businesses That Make Money Right Away (In 1-3 Months or Less)

8 Businesses That Make Money Right Away (In 1-3 Months or Less)

How Much To Unapologetically Charge For Public Speaking

How Much To Unapologetically Charge For Public Speaking

Write the Perfect Consulting Proposal: Tools, Examples, and a Template

Write the Perfect Consulting Proposal: Tools, Examples, and a Template

How to Create an Online Course That Sells in 2024

How to Create an Online Course That Sells in 2024

I Used this Product Launch Checklist to Start 5 Ecom Brands

I Used this Product Launch Checklist to Start 5 Ecom Brands

How to Get Sponsored: From 0 to $50,000 in 4 Weeks

How to Get Sponsored: From 0 to $50,000 in 4 Weeks

How Shay Mitchell Is Disrupting a $17B Industry

How Shay Mitchell Is Disrupting a $17B Industry

FREE TRAINING FROM LEGIT FOUNDERS

Actionable Strategies for Starting & Growing Any Business.

Don't Miss Out! Get Instant Access to foundr+ for Just $1!

1000+ lessons. customized learning. 30,000+ strong community..

how does the business plan work

  • Starting a Business
  • Growing a Business
  • Small Business Guide
  • Business News
  • Science & Technology
  • Money & Finance
  • For Subscribers
  • Write for Entrepreneur
  • Tips White Papers
  • Entrepreneur Store
  • United States
  • Asia Pacific
  • Middle East
  • South Africa

Copyright © 2024 Entrepreneur Media, LLC All rights reserved. Entrepreneur® and its related marks are registered trademarks of Entrepreneur Media LLC

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

By Matthew McCreary May 5, 2021

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

What is a business plan?

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

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

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

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

What should you do before you write your business plan?

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

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

How determined am I to see this venture succeed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What initial investment will the business require?

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

When will the business turn a profit?

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

What are the business's projected profits over time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Write a Business Plan

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

1. Title page and contents

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

2. Executive summary

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

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

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

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

What is the perceived risk level?

Where does your idea fit into the marketplace?

What is the management team?

What are the product and competitive strategies?

What is your marketing plan?

What is your exit strategy?

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

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

3. Business description

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

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

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

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

4. Market strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Creating a Winning Startup Business Plan

5. Competitive analysis

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

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

6. Design and development plan

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

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

Product development

Market development

Organizational development

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

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

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

Gather ingredients.

Determine optimum malting process.

Gauge mashing temperature.

Boil wort and evaluate which hops provide the best flavor.

Determine yeast amounts and fermentation period.

Determine aging period.

Carbonate the beer.

Decide whether or not to pasteurize the beer.

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

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

General and administrative (G&A) costs

Marketing and sales

Professional services, like lawyers or accountants

Miscellaneous costs

Necessary equipment

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

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

Related: The Essential Guide to Writing a Business Plan

7. Operations and management plan

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

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

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

Marketing and sales (including customer relations and service)

Production (including quality assurance)

Research and development

Administration

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

Maintenance and repair

Equipment leases

Advertising and promotion

Packaging and shipping

Payroll taxes and benefits

Uncollectible receivables

Professional services

Loan payments

Depreciation

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

8. Financial factors

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

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

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

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

Cash. Cash on hand in the business.

Cash sales . Income from sales paid for by cash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taxes . This excludes payroll taxes but includes everything else.

Capital. Required capital for necessary equipment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Supporting documents

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

Related: 7 Steps to a Perfectly Written Business Plan

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

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

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

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

Entrepreneur Staff

Associate Editor, Contributed Content

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick Red Arrow

  • He Didn't Want to Lead His $1 Billion Business the Same Way Anymore — Here's How the High-Stakes Switch-Up Paid Off
  • Lock Your Workplace Is Just Pretending to Care — and You're Part of the Problem, Too. Here's Why.
  • Can ChatGPT Help Start a Business? I Tried the Latest Version, GPT-4o, to Find Out.
  • Lock Her Startup's Product Was Better and Cheaper Than the Competition, So Why Wasn't It Selling? The Answer Would Bring in $25 Million a Year.
  • Taylor Swift Just Gave a Masterclass in Crisis Management — Turning an Onstage Disaster Into a Highlight
  • Fast-Food Chains and Their Menus Barely Resemble Those of the Past — And This Viral Post Reveals How Stark the Difference Is

Most Popular Red Arrow

How to be a billionaire by 25, according to a college dropout turned ceo worth $1.6 billion.

Austin Russell became the world's youngest self-made billionaire in 2020 at age 25.

Taylor Swift Has a Lucky Number. And She's Not the Only High Performer Who Leans Into Superstitions to Boost Confidence.

Even megastars like Swift need a little extra something to get them in the right mindset when it is game time.

Her Son Struggled In School. After Helping Him Become an 'A' Student, She Started a Business to Replicate Their Success.

Maria Washington and her husband Aaron realized they were on to something.

SEO Trends You Need to Be Aware of Right Now, According to a Seasoned Pro

Navigate the future of search engine optimization to elevate your online presence and drive meaningful engagement.

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

These 3 Big Tech Companies Offer 6-Figure Salaries and Easy Interviews — Especially If You Follow This Expert's Advice

There are far more candidates than positions, so being strategic on the job hunt is key.

Successfully copied link

how does the business plan work

Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Simple Business Plan

By Joe Weller | October 11, 2021

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on LinkedIn

Link copied

A business plan is the cornerstone of any successful company, regardless of size or industry. This step-by-step guide provides information on writing a business plan for organizations at any stage, complete with free templates and expert advice. 

Included on this page, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan and a chart to identify which type of business plan you should write . Plus, find information on how a business plan can help grow a business and expert tips on writing one .

What Is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a document that communicates a company’s goals and ambitions, along with the timeline, finances, and methods needed to achieve them. Additionally, it may include a mission statement and details about the specific products or services offered.

A business plan can highlight varying time periods, depending on the stage of your company and its goals. That said, a typical business plan will include the following benchmarks:

  • Product goals and deadlines for each month
  • Monthly financials for the first two years
  • Profit and loss statements for the first three to five years
  • Balance sheet projections for the first three to five years

Startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses all create business plans to use as a guide as their new company progresses. Larger organizations may also create (and update) a business plan to keep high-level goals, financials, and timelines in check.

While you certainly need to have a formalized outline of your business’s goals and finances, creating a business plan can also help you determine a company’s viability, its profitability (including when it will first turn a profit), and how much money you will need from investors. In turn, a business plan has functional value as well: Not only does outlining goals help keep you accountable on a timeline, it can also attract investors in and of itself and, therefore, act as an effective strategy for growth.

For more information, visit our comprehensive guide to writing a strategic plan or download free strategic plan templates . This page focuses on for-profit business plans, but you can read our article with nonprofit business plan templates .

Business Plan Steps

The specific information in your business plan will vary, depending on the needs and goals of your venture, but a typical plan includes the following ordered elements:

  • Executive summary
  • Description of business
  • Market analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Description of organizational management
  • Description of product or services
  • Marketing plan
  • Sales strategy
  • Funding details (or request for funding)
  • Financial projections

If your plan is particularly long or complicated, consider adding a table of contents or an appendix for reference. For an in-depth description of each step listed above, read “ How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step ” below.

Broadly speaking, your audience includes anyone with a vested interest in your organization. They can include potential and existing investors, as well as customers, internal team members, suppliers, and vendors.

Do I Need a Simple or Detailed Plan?

Your business’s stage and intended audience dictates the level of detail your plan needs. Corporations require a thorough business plan — up to 100 pages. Small businesses or startups should have a concise plan focusing on financials and strategy.

How to Choose the Right Plan for Your Business

In order to identify which type of business plan you need to create, ask: “What do we want the plan to do?” Identify function first, and form will follow.

Use the chart below as a guide for what type of business plan to create:

Function Audience Type of Business Plan
Serve as a loose guide of objectives and timeline Internal Lean
Serve as a detailed, brass-tacks blueprint of business goals and timeline Internal Traditional
Serve as a strategic document with a narrative focus on organization-wide goals, priorities, and vision Internal Strategic
Earn a company loan or grant External Traditional (with focus on financial documents)
Attract investors or partners External Traditional/strategic (with focus on financials, as well as support departments, such as marketing, sales, product, etc.)
To test a business or startup idea Internal Lean

Is the Order of Your Business Plan Important?

There is no set order for a business plan, with the exception of the executive summary, which should always come first. Beyond that, simply ensure that you organize the plan in a way that makes sense and flows naturally.

The Difference Between Traditional and Lean Business Plans

A traditional business plan follows the standard structure — because these plans encourage detail, they tend to require more work upfront and can run dozens of pages. A Lean business plan is less common and focuses on summarizing critical points for each section. These plans take much less work and typically run one page in length.

In general, you should use a traditional model for a legacy company, a large company, or any business that does not adhere to Lean (or another Agile method ). Use Lean if you expect the company to pivot quickly or if you already employ a Lean strategy with other business operations. Additionally, a Lean business plan can suffice if the document is for internal use only. Stick to a traditional version for investors, as they may be more sensitive to sudden changes or a high degree of built-in flexibility in the plan.

How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step

Writing a strong business plan requires research and attention to detail for each section. Below, you’ll find a 10-step guide to researching and defining each element in the plan.

Step 1: Executive Summary

The executive summary will always be the first section of your business plan. The goal is to answer the following questions:

  • What is the vision and mission of the company?
  • What are the company’s short- and long-term goals?

See our  roundup of executive summary examples and templates for samples. Read our executive summary guide to learn more about writing one.

Step 2: Description of Business

The goal of this section is to define the realm, scope, and intent of your venture. To do so, answer the following questions as clearly and concisely as possible:

  • What business are we in?
  • What does our business do?

Step 3: Market Analysis

In this section, provide evidence that you have surveyed and understand the current marketplace, and that your product or service satisfies a niche in the market. To do so, answer these questions:

  • Who is our customer? 
  • What does that customer value?

Step 4: Competitive Analysis

In many cases, a business plan proposes not a brand-new (or even market-disrupting) venture, but a more competitive version — whether via features, pricing, integrations, etc. — than what is currently available. In this section, answer the following questions to show that your product or service stands to outpace competitors:

  • Who is the competition? 
  • What do they do best? 
  • What is our unique value proposition?

Step 5: Description of Organizational Management

In this section, write an overview of the team members and other key personnel who are integral to success. List roles and responsibilities, and if possible, note the hierarchy or team structure.

Step 6: Description of Products or Services

In this section, clearly define your product or service, as well as all the effort and resources that go into producing it. The strength of your product largely defines the success of your business, so it’s imperative that you take time to test and refine the product before launching into marketing, sales, or funding details.

Questions to answer in this section are as follows:

  • What is the product or service?
  • How do we produce it, and what resources are necessary for production?

Step 7: Marketing Plan

In this section, define the marketing strategy for your product or service. This doesn’t need to be as fleshed out as a full marketing plan , but it should answer basic questions, such as the following:

  • Who is the target market (if different from existing customer base)?
  • What channels will you use to reach your target market?
  • What resources does your marketing strategy require, and do you have access to them?
  • If possible, do you have a rough estimate of timeline and budget?
  • How will you measure success?

Step 8: Sales Plan

Write an overview of the sales strategy, including the priorities of each cycle, steps to achieve these goals, and metrics for success. For the purposes of a business plan, this section does not need to be a comprehensive, in-depth sales plan , but can simply outline the high-level objectives and strategies of your sales efforts. 

Start by answering the following questions:

  • What is the sales strategy?
  • What are the tools and tactics you will use to achieve your goals?
  • What are the potential obstacles, and how will you overcome them?
  • What is the timeline for sales and turning a profit?
  • What are the metrics of success?

Step 9: Funding Details (or Request for Funding)

This section is one of the most critical parts of your business plan, particularly if you are sharing it with investors. You do not need to provide a full financial plan, but you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • How much capital do you currently have? How much capital do you need?
  • How will you grow the team (onboarding, team structure, training and development)?
  • What are your physical needs and constraints (space, equipment, etc.)?

Step 10: Financial Projections

Apart from the fundraising analysis, investors like to see thought-out financial projections for the future. As discussed earlier, depending on the scope and stage of your business, this could be anywhere from one to five years. 

While these projections won’t be exact — and will need to be somewhat flexible — you should be able to gauge the following:

  • How and when will the company first generate a profit?
  • How will the company maintain profit thereafter?

Business Plan Template

Business Plan Template

Download Business Plan Template

Microsoft Excel | Smartsheet

This basic business plan template has space for all the traditional elements: an executive summary, product or service details, target audience, marketing and sales strategies, etc. In the finances sections, input your baseline numbers, and the template will automatically calculate projections for sales forecasting, financial statements, and more.

For templates tailored to more specific needs, visit this business plan template roundup or download a fill-in-the-blank business plan template to make things easy. 

If you are looking for a particular template by file type, visit our pages dedicated exclusively to Microsoft Excel , Microsoft Word , and Adobe PDF business plan templates.

How to Write a Simple Business Plan

A simple business plan is a streamlined, lightweight version of the large, traditional model. As opposed to a one-page business plan , which communicates high-level information for quick overviews (such as a stakeholder presentation), a simple business plan can exceed one page.

Below are the steps for creating a generic simple business plan, which are reflected in the template below .

  • Write the Executive Summary This section is the same as in the traditional business plan — simply offer an overview of what’s in the business plan, the prospect or core offering, and the short- and long-term goals of the company. 
  • Add a Company Overview Document the larger company mission and vision. 
  • Provide the Problem and Solution In straightforward terms, define the problem you are attempting to solve with your product or service and how your company will attempt to do it. Think of this section as the gap in the market you are attempting to close.
  • Identify the Target Market Who is your company (and its products or services) attempting to reach? If possible, briefly define your buyer personas .
  • Write About the Competition In this section, demonstrate your knowledge of the market by listing the current competitors and outlining your competitive advantage.
  • Describe Your Product or Service Offerings Get down to brass tacks and define your product or service. What exactly are you selling?
  • Outline Your Marketing Tactics Without getting into too much detail, describe your planned marketing initiatives.
  • Add a Timeline and the Metrics You Will Use to Measure Success Offer a rough timeline, including milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to measure your progress.
  • Include Your Financial Forecasts Write an overview of your financial plan that demonstrates you have done your research and adequate modeling. You can also list key assumptions that go into this forecasting. 
  • Identify Your Financing Needs This section is where you will make your funding request. Based on everything in the business plan, list your proposed sources of funding, as well as how you will use it.

Simple Business Plan Template

Simple Business Plan Template

Download Simple Business Plan Template

Microsoft Excel |  Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF  | Smartsheet

Use this simple business plan template to outline each aspect of your organization, including information about financing and opportunities to seek out further funding. This template is completely customizable to fit the needs of any business, whether it’s a startup or large company.

Read our article offering free simple business plan templates or free 30-60-90-day business plan templates to find more tailored options. You can also explore our collection of one page business templates . 

How to Write a Business Plan for a Lean Startup

A Lean startup business plan is a more Agile approach to a traditional version. The plan focuses more on activities, processes, and relationships (and maintains flexibility in all aspects), rather than on concrete deliverables and timelines.

While there is some overlap between a traditional and a Lean business plan, you can write a Lean plan by following the steps below:

  • Add Your Value Proposition Take a streamlined approach to describing your product or service. What is the unique value your startup aims to deliver to customers? Make sure the team is aligned on the core offering and that you can state it in clear, simple language.
  • List Your Key Partners List any other businesses you will work with to realize your vision, including external vendors, suppliers, and partners. This section demonstrates that you have thoughtfully considered the resources you can provide internally, identified areas for external assistance, and conducted research to find alternatives.
  • Note the Key Activities Describe the key activities of your business, including sourcing, production, marketing, distribution channels, and customer relationships.
  • Include Your Key Resources List the critical resources — including personnel, equipment, space, and intellectual property — that will enable you to deliver your unique value.
  • Identify Your Customer Relationships and Channels In this section, document how you will reach and build relationships with customers. Provide a high-level map of the customer experience from start to finish, including the spaces in which you will interact with the customer (online, retail, etc.). 
  • Detail Your Marketing Channels Describe the marketing methods and communication platforms you will use to identify and nurture your relationships with customers. These could be email, advertising, social media, etc.
  • Explain the Cost Structure This section is especially necessary in the early stages of a business. Will you prioritize maximizing value or keeping costs low? List the foundational startup costs and how you will move toward profit over time.
  • Share Your Revenue Streams Over time, how will the company make money? Include both the direct product or service purchase, as well as secondary sources of revenue, such as subscriptions, selling advertising space, fundraising, etc.

Lean Business Plan Template for Startups

Lean Business Plan Templates for Startups

Download Lean Business Plan Template for Startups

Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF

Startup leaders can use this Lean business plan template to relay the most critical information from a traditional plan. You’ll find all the sections listed above, including spaces for industry and product overviews, cost structure and sources of revenue, and key metrics, and a timeline. The template is completely customizable, so you can edit it to suit the objectives of your Lean startups.

See our wide variety of  startup business plan templates for more options.

How to Write a Business Plan for a Loan

A business plan for a loan, often called a loan proposal , includes many of the same aspects of a traditional business plan, as well as additional financial documents, such as a credit history, a loan request, and a loan repayment plan.

In addition, you may be asked to include personal and business financial statements, a form of collateral, and equity investment information.

Download free financial templates to support your business plan.

Tips for Writing a Business Plan

Outside of including all the key details in your business plan, you have several options to elevate the document for the highest chance of winning funding and other resources. Follow these tips from experts:.

  • Keep It Simple: Avner Brodsky , the Co-Founder and CEO of Lezgo Limited, an online marketing company, uses the acronym KISS (keep it short and simple) as a variation on this idea. “The business plan is not a college thesis,” he says. “Just focus on providing the essential information.”
  • Do Adequate Research: Michael Dean, the Co-Founder of Pool Research , encourages business leaders to “invest time in research, both internal and external (market, finance, legal etc.). Avoid being overly ambitious or presumptive. Instead, keep everything objective, balanced, and accurate.” Your plan needs to stand on its own, and you must have the data to back up any claims or forecasting you make. As Brodsky explains, “Your business needs to be grounded on the realities of the market in your chosen location. Get the most recent data from authoritative sources so that the figures are vetted by experts and are reliable.”
  • Set Clear Goals: Make sure your plan includes clear, time-based goals. “Short-term goals are key to momentum growth and are especially important to identify for new businesses,” advises Dean.
  • Know (and Address) Your Weaknesses: “This awareness sets you up to overcome your weak points much quicker than waiting for them to arise,” shares Dean. Brodsky recommends performing a full SWOT analysis to identify your weaknesses, too. “Your business will fare better with self-knowledge, which will help you better define the mission of your business, as well as the strategies you will choose to achieve your objectives,” he adds.
  • Seek Peer or Mentor Review: “Ask for feedback on your drafts and for areas to improve,” advises Brodsky. “When your mind is filled with dreams for your business, sometimes it is an outsider who can tell you what you’re missing and will save your business from being a product of whimsy.”

Outside of these more practical tips, the language you use is also important and may make or break your business plan.

Shaun Heng, VP of Operations at Coin Market Cap , gives the following advice on the writing, “Your business plan is your sales pitch to an investor. And as with any sales pitch, you need to strike the right tone and hit a few emotional chords. This is a little tricky in a business plan, because you also need to be formal and matter-of-fact. But you can still impress by weaving in descriptive language and saying things in a more elegant way.

“A great way to do this is by expanding your vocabulary, avoiding word repetition, and using business language. Instead of saying that something ‘will bring in as many customers as possible,’ try saying ‘will garner the largest possible market segment.’ Elevate your writing with precise descriptive words and you'll impress even the busiest investor.”

Additionally, Dean recommends that you “stay consistent and concise by keeping your tone and style steady throughout, and your language clear and precise. Include only what is 100 percent necessary.”

Resources for Writing a Business Plan

While a template provides a great outline of what to include in a business plan, a live document or more robust program can provide additional functionality, visibility, and real-time updates. The U.S. Small Business Association also curates resources for writing a business plan.

Additionally, you can use business plan software to house data, attach documentation, and share information with stakeholders. Popular options include LivePlan, Enloop, BizPlanner, PlanGuru, and iPlanner.

How a Business Plan Helps to Grow Your Business

A business plan — both the exercise of creating one and the document — can grow your business by helping you to refine your product, target audience, sales plan, identify opportunities, secure funding, and build new partnerships. 

Outside of these immediate returns, writing a business plan is a useful exercise in that it forces you to research the market, which prompts you to forge your unique value proposition and identify ways to beat the competition. Doing so will also help you build (and keep you accountable to) attainable financial and product milestones. And down the line, it will serve as a welcome guide as hurdles inevitably arise.

Streamline Your Business Planning Activities with Real-Time Work Management in Smartsheet

Empower your people to go above and beyond with a flexible platform designed to match the needs of your team — and adapt as those needs change. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. 

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.  Try Smartsheet for free, today.

Discover why over 90% of Fortune 100 companies trust Smartsheet to get work done.

how does the business plan work

Advertisement

How Business Plans Work

  • Share Content on Facebook
  • Share Content on LinkedIn
  • Share Content on Flipboard
  • Share Content on Reddit
  • Share Content via Email

how does the business plan work

­So, you've decided to start your own business! You've weighed the risks and decided it fits your life goals and will be challenging and hopefully rewarding. Whether you're starting from scratch or buying a franchise, a lot of thought and planning needs to go into it before you can hope to ­make it successful. One very necessary tool that can help you cover all of the bases before you take the plunge and leave that reliable bi-weekly pay check, is a business plan. Even if you're not seeking investors in your business, you need to invest the time and effort involved in writing a business plan. While business plans are certainly a requirement for new businesses seeking outside funding, they are also a terrific way to map out your strategy. Think of the business plan as a roadmap. The road map not only lets you see exactly where you are, but where you're going to be, and what you may see along the way. While it may not be heavy on the details, it is definitely a necessity if you want to get to where you are going!

­In t­his article, we'll look at how to put together a business plan that can help you lay the foundation for your business, improve your chances of being successful, and generate enthusiasm and excitement about the business whether it's being written for those funding it, or for yourself. We'll answer your questions about what has to be covered in the plan, how to do research, how to make realistic projections, how to set milestones, and hopefully answer the hundreds of other questions that will pop into your head as you begin the planning process.

That planning process, by the way, is part of what makes putting together a business plan so important. The act of thinking about everything that must go into the plan will force you to think through the logistics of your business venture, and perhaps even come up with some ideas you hadn't considered before! You may even end up using many of the "selling words" you come up with for your business plan in your marketing efforts.

A Few Guidelines

The executive summary, the business profile, the market: analysis & segmentation, the market: strengths & weaknesses, the market: target & competition, strategies: marketing, strategies: sales, management structure: staff positions and management section, management structure: org chart, staffing costs & facilities, financials: financial plan & needs summary, financials: revenue model, assumptions and comments, financials: profit & loss statement, financials: cash flow statement, financials: balance sheet, other plan elements, putting it all together, formatting the document sections, tools, checklists and forms, where to start.

The plan you write will set the scene for your business. You'll set concrete goals that include deadlines, think through your HR organizational scheme and assign responsibilities, as well as describe the business and make your financial projections. One thing to keep in mind before you begin, however, is to set realistic goals. Don't set yourself up for failure before you even leave the gate! Also, make sure your plan is results-oriented. In other words, your plan should influence opinions (even if only your own) about your business and its future. So with that in mind, let's get started.

Pre-Plan Planning

Because all businesses are different, and business plans are written for different reasons, the first thing to think about is whom you are writing for. If you are planning on using the plan to get funding then remember that as you write, being sure to get the business's most important message across immediately. Also, if you're approaching lenders rather than equity investors your projected profits won't be nearly as important. (They often associate high projections with high risk!) Know your objectives and strategies before you tackle the business plan. Remember, your objectives should be specific, concrete, and measurable; and your strategies should clearly explain how you're going to meet your objectives. Finally, keep it clear and concise, and ideally no more than 15-30 pages with attachments. Just remember KISS ( k eep i t s hort and s imple). Once complete, the business plan is something you should refer to often and update and change frequently to meet the changing environment of your business.

Plan Elements

Your plan should include information that falls into these categories:

  • Your Product/The Business
  • Your Management Team

If you're reviewing many of the business resources available, you'll quickly notice that every business plan outline will be slightly different. Just make sure you cover these basic categories, include an executive summary, and then add other sections that seem necessary for both the audience of your plan and your own personal use.

As we cover the steps in writing a business plan, we'll also write a plan a for a fictitious PDA software company. Watch for links to the fictitious plan at the end of each section. Now, let's go over the Executive Summary.

Usually, the first section of a business plan is the Executive Summary. This summary is often the most important part of your plan if you are seeking funding (and sometimes even if you aren't) because it provides a quick overview of everything else in the plan. Often this summary is the only chance your plan gets when it's in a stack with hundreds of other plans vying for the same investor's attention.

Although it comes first in the business plan, the executive summary is usually written last, after you have ironed out all of the details of your plan. So, once you have the meat of your plan written, come back to this section and write your executive summary.

The executive summary should briefly cover:

  • Statement of purpose -- The objectives of the plan... (i.e., to raise money, act as a policy guide, etc.)
  • Company background
  • The company's product or service
  • Strategy overview -- Why the product or service is unique
  • The market potential -- Research findings
  • Financial projections for at least 3 years into the future
  • The qualifications of the management team
  • Finance requirements -- How you plan on spending raised capital

Make sure you state in the summary why your business will succeed. You can also include your mission statement in your introductory/executive summary.

Legal Structure

Briefly explain the legal structure of your company. Is it a proprietorship , a partnership , a corporation or any of the other variations of these models?

Business/Concept Summary

Give your reader the "Big Picture" in this section. Explain the business opportunity you've seen in the current market. Give an overview of the industry and explain why your business is unique, as well as why it will succeed. Describe your product or service in a non-technical way, focusing on what you are doing that will make your product stand out in the marketplace. For example, you may have noticed your competition's products do not meet the needs of certain markets, so your strategy is to create a product that does meet those needs in order to reach those untapped markets and gain a stronger competitive advantage. Make sure you make this type of strategy pop out in this section.

Describe both the present industry scene, as well as future projections. If you find that you can't describe your business clearly and simply, then you probably have not thought it through. If this is the case, stop where you are and take the time to mull through all aspects of your business idea from start to finish until you've boiled it down to its essence.

Current Situation

Explain where you are with your business right now. For startups this should be a short explanation that simply states whether you have a product, or simply an idea, and the stage you are at in its development. For existing businesses, this means explaining your background, current sales levels, and standing in the market.

List the objectives of your company. For instance, do you want to become one of the top ten companies in your industry within the next four years? Do you want to have a staff of ten within the next two years? Do you want to gross $XX by year five. Do you want a positive return on investment by the end of the second year? Keep them specific and measurable.

Determining the size of your market is much easier today than it was 10-15 years ago. If you have a personal computer and Internet access you're halfway there. You can access quite a bit of secondary research data via the Internet. (It is helpful to know the Standard Industrial Classification of your business (or your target market) when searching these databases.)You may also have to do some of your own primary research to get a better feel for your market's likes and dislikes. Don't forget to check with your product or service industry's trade associations. Many trade associations actively monitor the market, tracking industry sales, projections and trends. There are also many other sites that provide industry demographic information and market analyses. (See the related HowStuffWorks article on " How to Conduct Market Research .")

Once you've done your research, pull all of the raw material into a clear description of the current market, your target audience, your competition, and how your product is going to jump onto this big roller coaster. Make sure you're answering these questions:

  • How big is the potential market?
  • Is the market growing, flat, or shrinking? What changes do you see happening?
  • Is the market segmented either by pricing, quality, age, income, or product usage?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Who are your competitors?

In the next few sections, we'll discuss each of the questions.

Market Analysis

In the first section of the Market Analysis, define your market using concrete numbers and percentages. In other words, how many potential users are there for your product or service? If you are offering a regional service and have found that there are 80,000 potential customers in your geographic area, then this is where you put that information. Explain the growth and other changes you see in the market and how the competition is flailing, failing or flourishing as a result. Include some market history if it applies to your product and market. You may not be able to go back three years because the market didn't exist! Refer to the statistics and data you've discovered through your market research and be sure to quote the source and date. You can also include information about outside influences on the market (i.e., government regulations, union activities, etc.), seasonality of the market, and the typical industry life cycle.

Segmentation

Your market may be segmented by price, quality, region, customer age, income, buying behavior, industry or anything else. Determine what those segments are and describe the ones you are going to target. By focusing on specific segments you'll have a better chance of success. Remember it's hard to be all things to all people. Keep in mind that your product will probably also cross into several market segments. Remember to address each segment in your marketing planning.

It's a jungle out there. What is your edge? Expound on your strengths and any elements of your strategy that will give your product a better chance in the market. For startups, this is a section where you really need to have done your homework. If you're an existing business and already have a foothold on a part of the market then this is the section where you can boast! Explain the particulars of your business that have gotten you where you are, such as your marketing plan, exceptional customer service, or your introduction of new, innovative products.

Now for the flip side, as hard as it may be, describe the weaknesses your company may have in the market. This may be as fixable as not having enough sales staff, or not having a company web site. Also note any weaknesses inherent to the market itself. This may not be as easily "fixed" but keep in mind that your competition must deal with it as well. Also remember to note any possible threats to your product such as regulatory issues, or environmental concerns.

Target Audience

Determining the right target audience is probably the most important part of your marketing efforts, because it doesn't matter what you're saying if you're not saying it to the right people! In this section of your business plan, go into as much detail as possible about who your market is. At a minimum, you should describe your typical customer. What is the age group, gender, family size, income, and geographic location. For business-to-business markets make sure you include the industry type (or SIC), company size, job titles/departments, annual revenue, and geographic areas. Include as much additional demographic and psychographic information as you can dig up, such as what their spending patterns are, whether they are brand conscious when it comes to your product type, what influences their buying behavior, what promotional efforts do they respond to most often, etc, etc.

Embarking on a journey into your target audience's brain, also known as psychographics is often key to your marketing efforts and will be demonstrated in more detail in our Marketing Plan Workshop .

Just as with all of the other sections of your business plan, there is no absolute for organizing your plan. Organize the market analysis section in the way that seems most logical and will best illustrate your product's market.

The Competition

Give a complete and thorough overview of the competitive market. Who are the heavy hitters? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Identify the differences between your product offerings and theirs. What is their pricing structure? Sometimes your suppliers are good sources of information about your competition. Visit your competitors' locations, Web sites, exhibit booths, etc. Information is often the key to a strong competitive advantage.

Look back at your objectives from the Business/Concept section. How are you going to achieve them? This is the section of your business plan where you can really get down to the meat and potatoes of how you are going to make those goals and objectives a reality.

For each goal, assign a strategy. For each strategy, describe your tactics -- how you will implement the steps to reach it. Finally, identify the details such as the milestones and specific activities that will help make it succeed.

For example, if your goal is to take 20% of the market within the first two years of operation, then your strategy might be to offer the most stress-free buying experience for your customers. Your tactics could include setting up a 24/7 customer service hotline, and offering an unconditional satisfaction guarantee. The specific steps and milestones of this plan could include week-long, customer-oriented training sessions for your sales staff, establishing a live Web site help desk, paying the return postage for customers who were unsatisfied with your product, and conducting customer surveys to determine and improve satisfaction levels.

In the following sections, we'll discuss the two main strategy areas: marketing and sales.

When it comes to identifying your marketing strategies, think about how you are going make your product stand out from the pack. If you have a product that no one else offers, your job is not so difficult. If you don't then you have a little more work ahead of you. Find (or create) your competitive edge. What is your Unique Selling Advantage ? If your product does what the others do but you can offer it cheaper then you're on to something. If your product is packed with features that the others don't offer then you're also on to something. Whatever it is, find the differences in your product or service and capitalize on them.

One method for brainstorming is to put yourself in your customers' shoes! Walk the walk and talk the talk. Ask yourself why you buy one product over another. What media do you really pay attention to? All these thought processes will help you nail down the best strategies for getting your products into your potential customers' hands.

In this section, present an overview of your strategies and then move into how you are going to position your product, how you will price it, and how you plan to promote and distribute it.

How you position your product is how you want your target market to perceive it in the marketplace. Is it the premier product for business executives, or is it a less expensive alternative to the "big guy's" product? Do you want your product to be seen as an investment or an expense? Put into words the ideas you came up with while "walking the walk" above. According to David Ogilvy, founder of an extremely successful advertising agency, positioning is the most important aspect of your marketing efforts. You have to find your niche.

Also explain how you price your product in this section. Start with how your main competitors price their products. Is your product better (be objective!), or just comparable to theirs? Have you done any research into what people would pay for your product? Get as much competitive pricing information as possible and combine that information with a feature comparison. If your product is obviously better (be objective!) then you can probably price it at or above your established competitors' prices. If it isn't then you probably should lower your price in order to get a share of the market. Pricing increases can come later once you have a good hold on a piece of the market.

Once you've established your product's position and pricing, move into the exciting world of promotion and advertising . This should cover every avenue you'll travel in getting the word out about your business and your products or services, from free promotion via press releases, to trade shows , to million dollar TV ad campaigns. Your promotions should always have specific goals. For example, are you trying to build brand awareness, make immediate sales, promote a special event, or simply generate interest and leads?

Once you have goals set, build on the information you've already assembled about your target market and your marketing strategies, and once again, get into your prospects' heads. What media do they use? What are their buying habits? Where would your advertising dollars be best spent? What are their interests? How can you use that information to sell your product or otherwise meet the goals you've just set?

For example, let's use a Brady Bunch illustration and say we are in the business of selling cars -- specifically cars with a high passenger capacity. If the Brady's fall into our Target Audience, we know that our audience watches little TV, reads the newspaper, tends to make decisions as a family (so getting the attention of the kids is key), and likes to travel by car on long trips out west. Therefore, our advertising and promotions would probably work best in print -- specifically newspaper -- and our sales literature and other tactics need to be designed with kids in mind.

Now, that example is definitely oversimplified, but you should get the idea of what you have to think about. Basically you have to decide, based on your audience's habits:

  • what your advertising message should be,
  • how you need to say it,
  • and where you need to say it.

In the promotions section of business plan, briefly explain the what, how and where listed above. The "where" part of those questions is called your advertising mix and is sometimes the easiest of the three to determine. This section doesn't always have to be that detailed. In other words, you don't have go into exactly what your advertising themes will be unless you feel they are key to your business's success. Save those details for your marketing plan .

Next discuss how your product will be distributed. Will you go through retail chains, online sales, direct sales, etc? Describe the standard distribution channels for your industry, and explain the strengths and weaknesses of each method. Is one channel better from a financial standpoint, but not from a customer service standpoint? Will you have a network of distributors? There are several options for distribution channels including retail outlets (either your own or an existing chain), wholesale outlets, sales force, telemarketing, cybermarketing, or direct marketing on TV and cable shopping channels.

Your sales should go into detail about how the sales transaction will actually take place. What steps do your sales reps go through to actually close the sale. What is their commission structure? What are their incentives to sell? How much are they involved in the actual delivery of the product or service? What is their role after the sale? Are they divided into territories based on geographic regions, product lines, or something else? What is the organization of your sales department and how will that specific way of organizing and compensating put you ahead of your competition?

Sales Forecasts

When it comes down to it your sales forecasts may be only slightly more scientific than throwing darts at numbers on the wall. Use your instincts, what you know about your market, the experience of your sales team , and the strength of your marketing program to come up with an educated guess for your sales forecasts. If you have set sales goal for your sales team already then it may make sense to base your projections on the percentage of that goal that you feel will be achieved by each rep. Estimate sales figures for each rep on a monthly basis and you should have a good starting point for your projections.

Strategic Alliances

Do you see opportunities for strategic alliances with non-competing companies? These types of strategies can be very beneficial for startups. Make sure your agreement is well thought-out and your company is not getting the short end of the stick.

View Strategies for PDAware.

The first thing many investors may look at in your plan is the management structure. If you're not looking for investors, this section will still help you plan your organization's structure and help you make sure you have the skill sets you need to succeed. Investors want to make sure you have the necessary resources to properly plan, organize, control and lead your business. They will look for weaknesses in your management team's experience, so before they can do that you should do it. Assuming you already have your technical staff in place, set up a management team that has good experience and track records in marketing, finance and operations. It can make the difference in whether your business plan works or doesn't work. In fact, 98% of small business's that fail do so because of weaknesses in their management staff.

Minimum Staff Positions

The staff you'll need to run your business will really depend a lot on the type and size of your business, and the scope of what you are offering. As a general guideline you'll need:

  • Technical staff to develop and build your product or service
  • Staff who can manage your finances
  • Staff who can market your product
  • Staff who can oversee your operations
  • Administrative staff

Writing the Management Section

Start with a summary of your overall management philosophy. Identify your company founders and board of directors. Answer the obvious questions such as how many employees you will have over given periods of time, how many of those will be managers, what their experience and credentials need to be, etc.

For the key players you already have in place, provide summaries of their resumes highlighting pertinent experience and achievements, salary levels, and their areas of responsibility. For positions you are still trying to fill, summarize your minimum requirements for likely candidates along with the responsibilities of those positions. Or, contract those positions out to professionals who specialize in the area you need. You may find that contracting work out is the best solution initially anyway. Be sure you include the credentials and track records of your contracted help. Also, remember to include time tables for hiring additional staff.

Include a section on outside support, such as your CPA, your attorney, your banker, and your insurance broker. Also include any other outside resources such as your board of directors or management consultants.

Look at your management plan critically and search for weaknesses in your organization Spell those weaknesses out here, and identify your plans to address them. Even if you don't see the weaknesses, it is very likely that your potential investors will.

The Org Chart

Set up an organizational chart. Having a visual illustration makes it easier for both you and your readers to understand the organization and see any possible gaps.

Staffing Costs

Include either a table or a description identifying your personnel costs. These costs are also used in your profit and loss statement described in the previous session. You can either break it down by individual, or department. Include the title, department or group salary level and then in a separate line add 15%-20% to cover employee benefits, taxes, etc. (also referred to as your Payroll Burden.) Extend this table to cover then next 2-3 years.

You can also cover your facility information in this section. Describe the type of space your business requires, the costs and lease length and terms, your time table for moving to larger facilities, and any other pertinent information.

Miscellaneous

These are the basic areas that need to be covered in your management section, but there is additional information you can include if you think it would help an investor make the decision to fund your plan. For example, if a large part of your strategy is to gain market share based on excellent customer service, then you may want to include a section about your Customer Service plan. Or, if you are starting a business in an industry that has notorious difficulty's keeping technical staff, then you may want to include your Human Resources and Benefits plan to layout your strategy for getting and keeping top talent.

Other Things to Think About

Some other things you should keep in mind when writing this section include:

  • Do any of your staff members have non-compete agreements they are bound to? Are there any other limitations that should be considered?
  • Do your outside resources have experience in your particular industry?
  • Do your outside resources or your existing management staff have experience with startups?
  • Do you have stockholders, and if so will they have any say so in management decisions?
  • What role will your investors play?

If you're seeking funding for your business venture, you have two options. You can go to banks and other lending institutions and seek a business loan, or you can go in search of venture capitalists. Which source you choose, will depend on the amount of funding you need. And the type of funding you need will dictate how your plan (especially the financial section) is written. In other words, investors will want to know how they are going to profit from this investment down the road, while lenders will want to see how you will be repaying their loan.

Regardless of the funder, you'll need solid financial projections that cover all of the bases. Your business plan's Financial Plan is critical. For many, the financial portion of your business plan is its heart. If you think about it, why else are you going into business? To fill a need you saw in the market? Yeah, maybe, but most likely what you're really after is making money! And, your potential investors or lenders are reading your plan to see when (or if ) you're going to make that money. So the financials of your plan can certainly be referred to as the heart, the meat, the big enchilada -- insert your own mega metaphor here.

What makes up the heart of your business plan is the profit and loss (or income) statement, the balance sheet, and a cash-flow statement. If your business is a startup, these will all be projections, or pro forma statements. If you're writing this for an existing business, then these statements will reflect your past business history and current financial situation. Break your financials down into monthly projections for the first two years and then move to annual projections. Since this is a very critical part of your business plan, make sure you follow Generally Accepted Accounting Standards , and that your financial statements are all prepared correctly. It may be well worth the expense to enlist the help of an accountant to prepare them, or at the very least to review them. If you do have an accountant prepare your financials for your company, make sure you completely understand the process and what the terms and figures mean. Potential investors often feel more comfortable investing in a company whose owners have shown a good understanding of the financial aspects of the business.

Financial Needs Summary

Before you throw numbers and spread sheets at your readers, summarize your financial needs. If you are seeking investors, this is where you will indicate how much cash you need to begin operations. Then describe how these funds will be used. How much will have to be spent on computer equipment, office furniture, etc? You can break these down into "operating projections" or "capital needs" or whatever makes the most sense based on your needs and what you are seeking. Also, remember to have documentation to back up this information.

Depending upon your business, you may also want to include a section describing your revenue model . This should describe the various revenue streams your business will be putting in place and how each will bring in money. If you've come up with a unique revenue stream then be sure to describe it clearly. (You may also want to make sure you have confidentiality forms signed.)

When writing your assumptions , you are essentially setting the scene for what is about to follow. Explain the techniques you came up with to arrive at the information in your financial statements. For instance, you may want to state that all sales and purchases are assumed to be cash based, certain inventory levels are maintained and paid for on specific terms, your sales commissions are based on x% of sales totals, etc. You can also include information about the general climate of your industry. This can be a bulleted list of short statements, or written in paragraph form.

For your own internal use, it is helpful to put together an assumptions spreadsheet that lists individual salaries (including costs of benefits), marketing expenses, other known budgeted business expenses, as well as revenue projections. This spreadsheet can help you identify when your expenses are going to peak due to marketing activity and planned hiring schedules.

Your profit and loss statement (also referred to as an income statement) lists your revenues and expenses, and tells you the profit or loss of your business for a given period of time. It is helpful for planning and to help control operations expenses. List monthly projections for the first year and include the following information:

  • Sales Projections - Include the number of units sold, the retail price, the net price and the gross revenue.
  • Cost of Goods - Include your cost for manufacturing a single unit including labor and all other indirect costs such as shipping, packaging, etc.
  • Controllable Expenses - This includes salaries and payroll expenses (benefits, etc.), legal and accounting expenses, advertising and marketing expenses, auto expenses, office supplies, utilities, repair and maintenance, and other outside services. Anything that fluctuates in cost from month to month.
  • Fixed Expenses - These include office rent, depreciation (amortization of capital assets), loan payments, insurance, licenses and permits, and other fixed monthly expenses.

Once you have these items listed, subtract your total expenses from your gross profit to get your Net Profit (or Loss) before taxes.

Enter your tax information and be sure you include all taxes such as sales tax, excise tax, property tax, etc. To arrive at your Net Profit (or loss) after taxes, take the total tax figure and subtract it from your Net Profit (or Loss) before taxes. (See sample Profit and Loss Statement.)

Your cash flow statement shows the amounts of cash needed to go out over a period of time, as well as cash that is coming in. It is very helpful for planning for large purchases, or to help be prepared for slow periods in the business. In simple terms, your Cash Flow equals your cash receipts minus your cash disbursements. What's left over is your Net Cash Flow, and when you add that to your beginning balance (before any receipts) you get your Cumulative Cash Flow. As a startup, when you complete your Cash Flow Projection, may want to include two columns for each month - one for your projections, and one for your actuals. The content of the statement consists of:

  • Cash Receipts - include all sources of cash inflow such as cash sales, collections from credit sales, loans, etc.
  • Cash Distributions - include all of your fixed and controllable expenses.
  • A summary of your current cash position - begin with your opening balance, add your cash receipts, subtract your cash distributions, and you're left with your new balance.

You may also need to add notes to your Cash Flow Statements identifying certain cash terms, other sources of income, and explaining changes in your monthly distributions.

(See sample Cash Flow Statement.)

Your balance sheet gives a bird's eye view of your financial situation (or projection) at a given date in time. You'll typically create a balance sheet for the last day of your fiscal year. It includes your assets and liabilities and tells you your business's net worth. As a startup, this will of course be speculative and based on your own assumptions. Unlike the other financial statements, the balance sheet should follow a strict format and include standard information in a specific order because it is used for analysis and comparison. You can define your categories to more closely fit your business, but don't stray from the order.

Start with your Assets. These should include:

  • Current assets - such as cash from all accounts and accessible sources (stocks, bonds, CDs, etc.), and resources that you can convert to cash within one year, all accounts receivables, all inventories (include any materials used for production), and any prepaid expenses such as insurance premiums, and supplies. (NOTE: To come up with a realistic estimate of your accounts receivable, you might estimate that you'll still be waiting to receive payment for 30% of sales two months prior to that date, 60% of sales one month prior, and all of sales of the given month of your balance sheet.)
  • Fixed assets - items that have an expected useful business life that can be measured in longer periods of time such as land, equipment, buildings, vehicles, and furniture.
  • Long-term investments and other assets - these include intangible assets such as copyrights, patents, and stocks or bonds that the company intends to keep for more than one year.

Liabilities should include:

  • Current liabilities - all of your payables including accounts payable, notes payable, taxes, payroll expenses, interest on borrowed capital, and any other payment obligations for the current year.
  • Long-term liabilities - include all notes payable such as mortgages, contract payments, etc. that are due over a period greater than one year.

Next comes Net Worth which is the owner's equity and is simply the total liabilities subtracted from the total assets.

Finally, add the total liabilities to the net worth to get to your bottom line. (See sample Balance Sheet.)

Again, it would be wise to have an accountant either prepare or review these statements to ensure that they are prepared correctly and accurately.

View Financials for PDAware.

Milestones/Implementation Schedule

It is often helpful to set up a time table of milestones for tracking and measuring your business's progress. This can be done in each section that would require it, or set up as a separate table in it's own section. Remember that knowing your milestones is helpful for you as you run your business.

Research and Development

You can also include a section detailing your strategies for introducing new products and services. A full scale R&D department isn't a requirement for this, just your technique for conducting your research and making your plans for product development. For example, if you offer consulting services based on government agency activities, part of your R&D activities might be to get all of the publications that agency puts out, make personal contacts within the agency, and attend all public functions the agency offers - all in order to stay on top of their activities and be prepared to offer new services to meet new regulations and requirements.

Exit Strategy

As hard as it may be to admit it, and as hard as it may be to think about, you need to have an idea of what you will do if your business fails, or for whatever other reason you need to close the doors. This could be simply that you're ready to retire (good for you!), you're tired of the long hours, you've lost some key people, or it's just not working. Whatever happens, you should have an idea of how you will handle disassembling your business. Your potential investors will also be interested in this section because they want to know how they will get their money back!

Some possible scenarios...

  • Initial Public Offering (IPO)
  • Selling/Acquisition by a larger company
  • Passing it on to your children
  • Liquidating your assets

Whatever the plan of action is, take some time in your plan to go over the most likely outcomes and strategies for removing yourself from the business, or closing the doors.

So now you've written the plan, put together your financials, mulled it over and over in your head until you just can't mull anymore! You next job is to get the plan put into a visually appealing and easy to read format. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many plans don't get selected just because they aren't laid out very well and don't make the information easy to find. (Or, how many get tubed because there isn't a phone number on the front to call the business!)

Rule number one: Make it visually attractive and easy to read!

Rule number two: Don't make your readers have to work to find something or understand what you're saying.

OK. I know there should now be rules number three through whatever, but from here on we just have some simple guidelines for you. First off is your Cover Sheet. Make sure you include at a minimum the company name and the title of the document (yes, actually call it a "business plan"), include the addresses and telephone numbers of the business or the principals, and include the name of the person who wrote the plan (in other words, you!). Include a Table of Contents that is detailed enough to allow the reader to find specific information easily, but not so long that it becomes confusing. Sure, that's easy for us to say! Just include your headers, sub-headers and appendix information.

The key here is consistency. Above all else maintain the same format for each section change. Setting up a style sheet will make it easier to maintain consistent spacing before and after headers, maintain consistent font face and size, etc. Your word processing program probably has these capabilities, so if you're not familiar with style sheets check your software user's guide. Also check for pre-set templates that your software may have come with. There may be a format that will work nicely for your business plan and has all of the styles pre-set. (Or wing it and just try to keep up with the text styles as you go along!) See HSW Business Plan Template.

  • Make your headers large enough that they stand out as major category changes. It also helps to have your major categories begin a new page unless your plan is very short and these sections are all less than one page in length.
  • Set up your sub-heads so that they are obviously a part of the same category and easily identify topic changes.
  • Use bullet points wherever you can. They are usually easier to read than a paragraph of text.
  • Include charts and graphs anywhere that they will make it easier to understand the information. Include color for your charts and graphs if you can.
  • Make sure your plan is bound in a way that will withstand handling. The last thing you want is your plan to fall apart in a potential investor's hands! (Would that be a reflection of the chances your business will have in holding together! Nah!) Spiral binding makes it easier to flip pages and lay the document down flat on a desk.
  • Make sure all of your claims are documented and include reference information.
  • Proof, proof, proof! Read it over several times yourself, but also have a friend or business associate proof it. When you've written something yourself, your eyes will often skip over mistakes because you already know what you're reading. It's easy to miss mistakes in your own work!
  • Do whatever you have to do to make it easier on the reader!

­Corporation: An organization formed under specific state statutes in order to separate (usually financially) the organization from those running it.

Demographics: Objective population characteristics such as geographic areas, sex, age, income level, education, family size, dwelling type, and other vital statistics used for market research, and other types of sociological analyses.

Generally Accepted Accounting Standards: The accepted method of preparation for financial documents.

Mission Statement: A business's guiding principles that state what the company's goals are, what their values are, where they are headed. The mission statement defines the company's overall plan in a succinct and interesting manner with a tone reflective of the tone of the business itself.

Partnership: Two or more people associated in order to work together as co-owners of a business.

Primary Research: Specific research conducted for an individual product or service. Research you conduct yourself. Types of primary research include: surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.

Pro forma (as in Financial Statements): A projection or an estimate of the company's financial situation if certain assumptions are met. A statement based on assumption.

Proprietorship (sole): A business owned by an individual who is liable for all of the company debts.

Psychographics: The values, attitudes, etc. of consumer populations. These include measurements such as the type of lifestyle, self-image, opinions, interests, habits, buying behaviors. Marketers make use this data to develop product promotions that will target very specific groups of people in order to get the highest return.

Secondary Research: Research data drawn from existing databases such as the U.S. Government's Census Data, data from the Department of Labor, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc.

Standard Industrial Classification: [SIC] The Standard Industrial Classifichttp://etb.howstuffworks.com/images/icons/link.pngation system classifies establishments by their primary type of activity. This system is currently being replaced by the the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). NAICS was developed jointly by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to provide new comparability in statistics about business activity across North America. [Source: NAICS ]

Trade Shows: A large event at which buyers and sellers gather in a large open facility. Sellers are in 10+ foot booth spaces and display their products or service offerings to potential buyers. Also known as conventions, exhibitions, and conferences.

Unique Selling Advantage: A single, unique advantage used to distinguish one product over another in marketing, sales, and other promotional activities. Typically, USAs (also known as USPs, Unique Selling Propositions) are short and catchy so they can be used in advertising slogans. Think of them as your product's "edge."

  • Sample Business Plan (Microsoft Word Format)
  • Sample Business Plan (Adobe Acrobat Reader format)
  • Business Plan Outline and Template (Microsoft Word format)
  • Sample Business Plan Financial Statements (Adobe Acrobat Reader format): — Balance Sheet — Profit and Loss Statement Year 1 — Profit and Loss Statement Year 2 — Profit and Loss Statement Three Year Summary — Cash Flow Statement Year 1 — Cash Flow Statement Year 2
  • Sample P&L Statement (Microsoft Excel Format)
  • Sample Cash Flow Statement (Microsoft Excel Format)
  • Sample Balance Sheet (Microsoft Excel Format)

Lots More Information

Related howstuffworks articles.

  • How Building a Business Identity Works
  • How Building a Sales Team Works
  • How Business Accounting Works
  • How Business Legal Structures Work
  • How Marketing Plans Work

More Great Links

There are several software packages that can help you put your business plan together. Here is a sampling of them. HowStuffWorks has not reviewed any of these products and offers no endorsement of them. They are provided to help you be aware of what is available.

  • Business Plan Pro
  • BizPlanBuilder
  • Adams Streetwise Business Plan

In addition to software programs, don't forget the Small Business Administration and SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). SCORE works in association with SBA to help advise business startups. Some other helpful sites are:

  • Commerce Clearing House: Toolkit

Please copy/paste the following text to properly cite this HowStuffWorks.com article:

How NASDAQ Works: Market Makers

how does the business plan work

  • Case Studies
  • Flexible Products

how does the business plan work

  • Expert Insights
  • Research Studies

how does the business plan work

  • Creativity and Culture
  • Management and Leadership
  • Business Solutions

how does the business plan work

  • Member Spotlight
  • Employee Spotlight

How to write a business plan in seven simple steps

When written effectively, a business plan can help raise capital, inform decisions, and draw new talent.

WeWork 511 West 25th St in New York.

Companies of all sizes have one thing in common: They all began as small businesses.  Starting small  is the corner for those just getting off the ground. Learn about how to make that first hire, deal with all things administrative, and set yourself up for success.

Writing a business plan is often the first step in transforming your business from an idea into something tangible . As you write, your thoughts begin to solidify into strategy, and a path forward starts to emerge. But a business plan is not only the realm of startups; established companies can also benefit from revisiting and rewriting theirs. In any case, the formal documentation can provide the clarity needed to motivate staff , woo investors, or inform future decisions.  

No matter your industry or the size of your team, the task of writing a business plan—a document filled with so much detail and documentation—can feel daunting. Don’t let that stop you, however; there are easy steps to getting started. 

What is a business plan and why does it matter? 

A business plan is a formal document outlining the goals, direction, finances, team, and future planning of your business. It can be geared toward investors, in a bid to raise capital, or used as an internal document to align teams and provide direction. It typically includes extensive market research, competitor analysis, financial documentation, and an overview of your business and marketing strategy. When written effectively, a business plan can help prescribe action and keep business owners on track to meeting business goals. 

Who needs a business plan?

A business plan can be particularly helpful during a company’s initial growth and serve as a guiding force amid the uncertainty, distractions, and at-times rapid developments involved in starting a business . For enterprise companies, a business plan should be a living, breathing document that guides decision-making and facilitates intentional growth.

“You should have a game plan for every major commitment you’ll have, from early-stage founder agreements to onboarding legal professionals,” says Colin Keogh, CEO of the Rapid Foundation—a company that brings technology and training to communities in need—and a WeWork Labs mentor in the UK . “You can’t go out on funding rounds or take part in accelerators without any planning.”

How to make a business plan and seven components every plan needs

While there is no set format for writing a business plan, there are several elements that are typically included. Here’s what’s important to consider when writing your business plan. 

1. Executive summary 

No longer than half a page, the executive summary should briefly introduce your business and describe the purpose of the business plan. Are you writing the plan to attract capital? If so, specify how much money you hope to raise, and how you’re going to repay the loan. If you’re writing the plan to align your team and provide direction, explain at a high level what you hope to achieve with this alignment, as well as the size and state of your existing team.

The executive summary should explain what your business does, and provide an introductory overview of your financial health and major achievements to date.  

2. Company description 

To properly introduce your company, it’s important to also describe the wider industry. What is the financial worth of your market? Are there market trends that will affect the success of your company? What is the state of the industry and its future potential? Use data to support your claims and be sure to include the full gamut of information—both positive and negative—to provide investors and your employees a complete and accurate portrayal of your company’s milieu. 

Go on to describe your company and what it provides your customers. Are you a sole proprietor , LLC, partnership, or corporation? Are you an established company or a budding startup? What does your leadership team look like and how many employees do you have? This section should provide both historical and future context around your business, including its founding story, mission statement , and vision for the future. 

It’s essential to showcase your point of difference in your company description, as well as any advantages you may have in terms of expert talent or leading technology. This is typically one of the first pieces of the plan to be written.

3. Market analysis and opportunity

Research is key in completing a business plan and, ideally, more time should be spent on research and analysis than writing the plan itself. Understanding the size, growth, history, future potential, and current risks inherent to the wider market is essential for the success of your business, and these considerations should be described here. 

In addition to this, it’s important to include research into the target demographic of your product or service. This might be in the form of fictional customer personas, or a broader overview of the income, location, age, gender, and buying habits of your existing and potential customers. 

Though the research should be objective, the analysis in this section is a good place to reiterate your point of difference and the ways you plan to capture the market and surpass your competition.

4. Competitive analysis 

Beyond explaining the elements that differentiate you from your competition, it’s important to provide an in-depth analysis of your competitors themselves.

This research should delve into the operations, financials, history, leadership, and distribution channels of your direct and indirect competitors. It should explore the value propositions of these competitors, and explain the ways you can compete with, or exploit, their strengths and weaknesses. 

5. Execution plan: operations, development, management 

This segment provides details around how you’re going to do the work necessary to fulfill this plan. It should include information about your organizational structure and the everyday operations of your team, contractors, and physical and digital assets.

Consider including your company’s organizational chart, as well as more in-depth information on the leadership team: Who are they? What are their backgrounds? What do they bring to the table? Potentially include the résumés of key people on your team. 

For startups, your execution plan should include how long it will take to begin operations, and then how much longer to reach profitability. For established companies, it’s a good idea to outline how long it will take to execute your plan, and the ways in which you will change existing operations.

If applicable, it’s also beneficial to include your strategy for hiring new team members and scaling into different markets. 

6. Marketing plan 

It’s essential to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place as you scale operations or kick off a new strategy—and this should be shared with your stakeholders and employees. This segment of your business plan should show how you’re going to promote your business, attract customers, and retain existing clients.

Include brand messaging, marketing assets, and the timeline and budget for engaging consumers across different channels. Potentially include a marketing SWOT analysis into your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Evaluate the way your competitors market themselves, and how your target audience responds—or doesn’t respond—to these messages.

WeWork 222 Exhibition Street in Melbourne, Australia.

7. Financial history and projections  

It’s essential to disclose all finances involved in running your company within your business plan. This is so your shareholders properly understand how you’re projected to perform going forward, and the progress you’ve made so far. 

You should include your income statement, which outlines annual net profits or losses; a cash flow statement, which shows how much money you need to launch or scale operations; and a balance sheet that shows financial liabilities and assets. 

“An income statement is the measure of your financial results for a certain period and the most accurate report of business activities during that time, [whereas a balance sheet] presents your assets, liabilities, and equity,” Amit Perry, a corporate finance expert, explained at a WeWork Labs educational session in Israel.

It’s crucial to understand the terms correctly so you know how to present your finances when you’re speaking to investors. Amit Perry, CEO and founder of Perryllion Ltd.

In addition, if you’re asking for funding, you will need to outline exactly how much money you need as well as where this money will go and how you plan to pay it back. 

12 quick tips for writing a business plan 

Now that you know what components are traditionally included in a business plan, it’s time to consider how you’ll actually construct the document.

Here are 12 key factors to keep in mind when writing a business plan. These overarching principles will help you write a business plan that serves its purpose (whatever that may be) and becomes an easy reference in the years ahead. 

1. Don’t be long-winded

Use clear, concise language and avoid jargon. When business plans are too long-winded, they’re less likely to be used as intended and more likely to be forgotten or glazed over by stakeholders. 

2. Show why you care

Let your passion for your business shine through; show employees and investors why you care (and why they should too). 

3. Provide supporting documents

Don’t be afraid to have an extensive list of appendices, including the CVs of team members, built-out customer personas, product demonstrations, and examples of internal or external messaging. 

4. Reference data

All information regarding the market, your competitors, and your customers should reference authoritative and relevant data points.  

5. Research, research, research

The research that goes into your business plan should take you longer than the writing itself. Consider tracking your research as supporting documentation. 

6. Clearly demonstrate your points of difference

At every opportunity, it’s important to drive home the way your product or service differentiates you from your competition and helps solve a problem for your target audience. Don’t shy away from reiterating these differentiating factors throughout the plan. 

7. Be objective in your research

As important as it is to showcase your company and the benefits you provide your customers, it’s also important to be objective in the data and research you reference. Showcase the good and the bad when it comes to market research and your financials; you want your shareholders to know you’ve thought through every possible contingency. 

8. Know the purpose of your plan

It’s important you understand the purpose of your plan before you begin researching and writing. Be clear about whether you’re writing this plan to attract investment, align teams, or provide direction. 

9. Identify your audience

The same way your business plan must have a clearly defined purpose, you must have a clearly defined audience. To whom are you writing? New investors? Current employees? Potential collaborators? Existing shareholders? 

Related articles

how does the business plan work

10. Avoid jargon

Avoid using industry-specific jargon, unless completely unavoidable, and try making your business plan as easy to understand as possible—for all potential stakeholders. 

11. Don’t be afraid to change it

Your business plan should evolve with your company’s growth, which means your business plan document should evolve as well. Revisit and rework your business plan as needed, and remember the most important factor: having a plan in place, even if it changes.

A business plan shouldn’t just be a line on your to-do list; it should be referenced and used as intended going forward. Keep your business plan close, and use it to inform decisions and guide your team in the years ahead. 

Creating a business plan is an important step in growing your company 

Whether you’re just starting out or running an existing operation, writing an effective business plan can be a key predictor of future success. It can be a foundational document from which you grow and thrive . It can serve as a constant reminder to employees and clients about what you stand for, and the direction in which you’re moving. Or, it can prove to investors that your business, team, and vision are worth their investment. 

No matter the size or stage of your business, WeWork can help you fulfill the objectives outlined in your business plan—and WeWork’s coworking spaces can be a hotbed for finding talent and investors, too. The benefits of coworking spaces include intentionally designed lounges, conference rooms, and private offices that foster connection and bolster creativity, while a global network of professionals allows you to expand your reach and meet new collaborators. 

Using these steps to write a business plan will put you in good stead to not only create a document that fulfills a purpose but one that also helps to more clearly understand your market, competition, point of difference, and plan for the future. 

For more tips on growing teams and building a business, check out all our articles on  Ideas by WeWork.

Caitlin Bishop is a writer for WeWork’s  Ideas by WeWork , based in New York City. Previously, she was a journalist and editor at  Mamamia  in Sydney, Australia, and a contributing reporter at  Gotham Gazette .

how does the business plan work

If you’ve been asking questions like, how will I know when I find a product market fit? How long should I explore before launching? Or what should I initially price my product? These are all questions that founders have asked, and below are the answers from the founders who’ve figured it out.

how does the business plan work

Tom Hewitson, Chief AI Officer at leading AI training company General Purpose , offers tips for small businesses

how does the business plan work

Learn the differences between Class A, Class B, and Class C buildings based on their visual appeal, location, and amenities to see which of them best suits your business.

Comscore

Inc. Power Partner Awards Application Deadline Extended: Friday, July 19 Apply Now

  • Newsletters
  • Best Industries
  • Business Plans
  • Home-Based Business
  • The UPS Store
  • Customer Service
  • Black in Business
  • Your Next Move
  • Female Founders
  • Best Workplaces
  • Company Culture
  • Public Speaking
  • HR/Benefits
  • Productivity
  • All the Hats
  • Digital Transformation
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Bringing Innovation to Market
  • Cloud Computing
  • Social Media
  • Data Detectives
  • Exit Interview
  • Bootstrapping
  • Crowdfunding
  • Venture Capital
  • Business Models
  • Personal Finance
  • Founder-Friendly Investors
  • Upcoming Events
  • Inc. 5000 Vision Conference
  • Become a Sponsor
  • Cox Business
  • Verizon Business
  • Branded Content
  • Apply Inc. 5000 US

Inc. Premium

Subscribe to Inc. Magazine

How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

Thinking of starting a business here's the best step-by-step template for writing the perfect business plan when creating your startup..

How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

Maybe you think you don't need a step-by-step guide to writing a great business plan . Maybe you think you don't need a template for writing a business plan. After all, some entrepreneurs succeed without writing a business plan. With great timing, solid business skills, entrepreneurial drive, and a little luck , some founders build thriving businesses without creating even an  informal business plan . 

But the odds are greater that those entrepreneurs will fail.

Does a business plan make startup success inevitable? Absolutely not. But great planning often means the difference between success and failure. Where your entrepreneurial dreams are concerned, you should do everything possible to set the stage for success.

And that's why a great business plan is one that helps you  succeed .

The following is a comprehensive guide to creating a great business plan. We'll start with an overview of key concepts. Then we'll look at each section of a typical business plan:

Executive Summary

Overview and objectives, products and services, market opportunities, sales and marketing.

  • Competitive Analysis

Management Team

Financial analysis.

So first let's gain a little perspective on why you need a business plan.

Key Concepts

Many business plans are fantasies. That's because many aspiring entrepreneurs see a business plan as simply a tool--filled with strategies and projections and hyperbole--that will convince lenders or investors the business makes sense.

That's a huge mistake.

First and foremost, your business plan should convince  you  that your idea makes sense--because your time, your money, and your effort are on the line.

So a solid business plan should be a blueprint for a successful business . It should flesh out strategic plans, develop marketing and sales plans, create the foundation for smooth operations, and maybe--just maybe--persuade a lender or investor to jump on board.

For many entrepreneurs, developing a business plan is the first step in the process of deciding whether to actually start a business. Determining if an idea fails on paper can help a prospective founder avoid wasting time and money on a business with no realistic hope of success.

So, at a minimum, your plan should:

  • Be as objective and logical as possible. What may have seemed like a good idea for a business can, after some thought and analysis, prove not viable because of heavy competition, insufficient funding, or a nonexistent market. (Sometimes even the best ideas are simply ahead of their time.)
  • Serve as a guide to the business's operations for the first months and sometimes years, creating a blueprint for company leaders to follow.
  • Communicate the company's purpose and vision, describe management responsibilities, detail personnel requirements, provide an overview of marketing plans, and evaluate current and future competition in the marketplace.
  • Create the foundation of a financing proposal for investors and lenders to use to evaluate the company.

A good business plan delves into each of the above categories, but it should also accomplish other objectives. Most of all, a good business plan is  convincing . It proves a case. It provides concrete, factual evidence showing your idea for a business is in fact sound and reasonable and has every chance of success.

Who  must  your business plan convince?

First and foremost, your business plan should convince  you  that your idea for a business is not just a dream but can be a viable reality. Entrepreneurs are by nature confident, positive, can-do people. After you objectively evaluate your capital needs, products or services, competition, marketing plans, and potential to make a profit, you'll have a much better grasp on your chances for success.

And if you're not convinced, fine: Take a step back and refine your ideas and your plans.

Who  can  your business plan convince?

1. Potential sources of financing.   If you need seed money from a bank or friends and relatives, your business plan can help you make a great case. Financial statements can show where you have been. Financial projections describe where you plan to go.

Your business plan shows how you will get there. Lending naturally involves risk, and a great business plan can help lenders understand and quantity that risk, increasing your chances for approval.

2. Potential partners and investors. Where friends and family are concerned, sharing your business plan may not be necessary (although it certainly could help).

Other investors--including angel investors or venture capitalists--generally require a business plan in order to evaluate your business.

3. Skilled employees . When you need to attract talent, you need  something  to show prospective employees since you're still in the startup phase. Early on, your business is more of an idea than a reality, so your business plan can help prospective employees understand your goals--and, more important, their place in helping you achieve those goals.

4. Potential joint ventures. Joint ventures are like partnerships between two companies. A joint venture is a formal agreement to share the work--and share the revenue and profit. As a new company, you will likely be an unknown quantity in your market. Setting up a joint venture with an established partner could make all the difference in getting your business off the ground.

But above all, your business plan should convince  you  that it makes sense to move forward.

As you map out your plan, you may discover issues or challenges you had not anticipated.

Maybe the market isn't as large as you thought. Maybe, after evaluating the competition, you realize your plan to be the low-cost provider isn't feasible since the profit margins will be too low to cover your costs.

Or you might realize the fundamental idea for your business is sound, but how you implement that idea should change. Maybe establishing a storefront for your operation isn't as cost-effective as taking your products directly to customers--not only will your operating costs be lower, but you can charge a premium since you provide additional customer convenience.

Think of it this way. Successful businesses do not remain static. They learn from mistakes, and adapt and react to changes: changes in the economy, the marketplace, their customers, their products and services, etc. Successful businesses identify opportunities and challenges and react accordingly.

Creating a business plan lets you spot opportunities and challenges without risk. Use your plan to dip your toe in the business water. It's the perfect way to review and revise your ideas and concepts before you ever spend a penny.

Many people see writing a business plan as a "necessary evil" required to attract financing or investors. Instead, see your plan as a no-cost way to explore the viability of your potential business and avoid costly mistakes.

Now let's look at the first section of your business plan: The Executive Summary.

The Executive Summary is a brief outline of the company's purpose and goals. While it can be tough to fit on one or two pages, a good Summary includes:

  • A brief description of products and services
  • A summary of objectives
  • A solid description of the market
  • A high-level justification for viability (including a quick look at your competition and your competitive advantage)
  • A snapshot of growth potential
  • An overview of funding requirements

I know that seems like a lot, and that's why it's so important you get it right. The Executive Summary is often the make-or-break section of your business plan.

A great business solves customer problems. If your Summary cannot clearly describe, in one or two pages, how your business will solve a particular problem and make a profit, then it's very possible the opportunity does not exist--or your plan to take advantage of a genuine opportunity is not well developed.

So think of it as a snapshot of your business plan. Don't try to "hype" your business--focus on helping a busy reader get a great feel for what you plan to do, how you plan to do it, and how you will succeed.

Since a business plan should above all help you start and grow your business, your Executive Summary should first and foremost help you do the following.

1. Refine and tighten your concept.

Think of it as a written elevator pitch  (with more detail, of course). Your Summary describes the highlights of your plan, includes only the most critical points, and leaves out less important issues and factors.

As you develop your Summary, you will naturally focus on the issues that contribute most to potential success. If your concept is too fuzzy, too broad, or too complicated, go back and start again. Most great businesses can be described in several sentences, not several pages.

2. Determine your priorities.

Your business plan walks the reader through your plan. What ranks high in terms of importance? Product development? Research? Acquiring the right location? Creating strategic partnerships?

Your Summary can serve as a guide to writing the rest of your plan.

3. Make the rest of the process easy.

Once your Summary is complete, you can use it as an outline for the rest of your plan. Simply flesh out the highlights with more detail.

Then work to accomplish your secondary objective by focusing on your readers. Even though you may be creating a business plan solely for your own purposes, at some point you may decide to seek financing or to bring on other investors, so make sure your Summary meets their needs as well. Work hard to set the stage for the rest of the plan. Let your excitement for your idea and your business shine through.

In short, make readers want to turn the page and keep reading. Just make sure your sizzle meets your steak by providing clear, factual descriptions.

How? The following is how an Executive Summary for a bicycle rental store might read.

Introduction

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will offer road and mountain bike rentals in a strategic location directly adjacent to an entrance to the George Washington National Forest. Our primary strategy is to develop Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals as the most convenient and cost-effective rental alternative for the thousands of visitors who flock to the area each year.

Once underway, we will expand our scope and take advantage of high-margin new equipment sales and leverage our existing labor force to sell and service those products. Within three years we intend to create the area's premier destination for cycling enthusiasts.

Company and Management

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will be located at 321 Mountain Drive, a location providing extremely high visibility as well as direct entry and exit from a primary national park access road. The owner of the company, Marty Cycle, has over 20 years experience in the bicycle business, having served as a product manager for Acme Cycles as well as the general manager of Epic Cycling.

Because of his extensive industry contacts, initial equipment inventory will be purchased at significant discounts from OEM suppliers as well by sourcing excess inventory from shops around the country.

Because of the somewhat seasonal nature of the business, part-time employees will be hired to handle spikes in demand. Those employees will be attracted through competitive wages as well as discounts products and services.

460,000 people visited the George Washington National Forest during the last 12 months. While the outdoor tourism industry as a whole is flat, the park expects its number of visitors to grow over the next few years.

  • The economic outlook indicates fewer VA, WV, NC, and MD cycling enthusiasts will travel outside the region
  • The park has added a camping and lodging facilities that should attract an increased number of visitors
  • The park has opened up additional areas for trail exploration and construction, ensuring a greater number of single-track options and therefore a greater number of visitors

The market potential inherent in those visitors is substantial. According to third-party research data, approximately 30 percent of all cyclists would rather rent than transport their own bicycles, especially those who are visiting the area for reasons other than cycling.

Competitive Advantages

The cycling shops located in Harrisonburg, VA, are direct and established competitors. Our two primary competitive advantages will be location and lower costs.

Our location is also a key disadvantage where non-park rentals are concerned. We will overcome that issue by establishing a satellite location in Harrisonburg for enthusiasts who wish to rent bicycles to use in town or on other local trails.

We will also use online tools to better engage customers, allowing them to reserve and pay online as well as create individual profiles regarding sizes, preferences, and special needs.

Financial Projections

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals expects to earn a modest profit by year two based on projected sales. Our projections are based on the following key assumptions:

  • Initial growth will be moderate as we establish awareness in the market
  • Initial equipment purchases will stay in service for an average of three to four years; after two years we will begin investing in "new" equipment to replace damaged or obsolete equipment
  • Marketing costs will not exceed 14 percent of sales
  • Residual profits will be reinvested in expanding the product and service line

We project first-year revenue of $720,000 and a 10 percent growth rate for the next two years. Direct cost of sales is projected to average 60 percent of gross sales, including 50 percent for the purchase of equipment and 10 percent for the purchase of ancillary items. Net income is projected to reach $105,000 in year three as sales increase and operations become more efficient.

And so on ...

Keep in mind this is just a made-up example of how your Summary might read. Also keep in mind this example focused on the rental business, so a description of products was not included. (They'll show up later.) If your business will manufacture or sell products, or provide a variety of services, then be sure to include a Products and Services section in your Summary. (In this case the products and services are obvious, so including a specific section would be redundant.)

Bottom line:  Provide some sizzle in your Executive Summary, but make sure you show a reasonable look at the steak, too.

Providing an overview of your business can be tricky, especially when you're still in the planning stages. If you already own an existing business, summarizing your current operation should be relatively easy; it can be a lot harder to explain what you plan to  become .

So start by taking a step back.

Think about what products and services you will provide, how you will provide those items, what you need to have in order to provide those items, exactly who will provide those items, and most important, whom you will provide those items to.

Consider our bicycle rental business example. It's serves retail customers. It has an online component, but the core of the business is based on face-to-face transactions for bike rentals and support.

So you'll need a physical location, bikes, racks and tools and supporting equipment, and other brick-and-mortar related items. You'll need employees  with a very particular set of skills  to serve those customers, and you'll need an operating plan to guide your everyday activities.

Sound like a lot? It boils down to:

  • What you will provide
  • What you need to run your business
  • Who will service your customers, and
  • Who your customers are.

In our example, defining the above is fairly simple. You know what you will provide to meet your customer's needs. You will of course need a certain quantity of bikes to service demand, but you will not need a number of different types of bikes. You need a retail location, furnished to meet the demands of your business. You need semi-skilled employees capable of sizing, customizing, and repairing bikes.

And you know your customers: cycling enthusiasts.

In other businesses and industries, answering the above questions can be more difficult. If you open a restaurant, what you plan to serve will in some ways determine your labor needs, the location you choose, the equipment you need to purchase. And, most important, it will help define your customer. Changing any one element may change other elements; if you cannot afford to purchase expensive kitchen equipment, you may need to adapt your menu accordingly. If you hope to attract an upscale clientele, you may need to invest more in purchasing a prime location and creating an appealing ambience.

So where do you start? Focus on the basics first:

  • Identify your industry. Retail, wholesale, service, manufacturing, etc. Clearly define your type of business.
  • Identify your customer. You cannot market and sell to customers until you know who they are.
  • Explain the problem you solve. Successful businesses create customer value by solving problems. In our rental example, one problem is cycling enthusiasts who don't--or can't--travel with bikes. Another problem is casual cyclists who can't--or choose not to--spend significant sums on their own bikes. The rental shop will solve that problem by offering a lower-cost and convenient alternative.
  • Show how you will solve that problem. Our rental shop will offer better prices and enhanced services like remote deliveries, off-hours equipment returns, and online reservations.

If you are still stuck, try answering these questions. Some may pertain to you; others may not.

  • Who is my average customer? Who am I targeting? (Unless you plan to open a grocery store, you should be unlikely to answer, "Everyone!")
  • What pain point do I solve for my customers?
  • How will I overcome that paint point?
  • Where will I fail to solve a customer problem, and what can I do to overcome that issue? (In our rental example, one problem is a potential lack of convenience; we will overcome that issue by offering online reservations, on-resort deliveries, and drive-up equipment returns.)
  • Where will I locate my business?
  • What products, services, and equipment do I need to run my business?
  • What skills do my employees need, and how many do I need?
  • How will I beat my competition?
  • How can I differentiate myself from my competition in the eyes of my customers? (You can have a great plan to beat your competition, but you also must win the perception battle among your customers. If customers don't feel you are different, then you aren't truly different. Perception is critical.)

Once you work through this list you will probably end up with a lot more detail than is necessary for your business plan. That is not a problem: Start summarizing the main points. For example, your Business Overview and Objectives section could start something like this:

History and Vision

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals is a new retail venture that will be located at 321 Mountain Drive, directly adjacent to an extremely popular cycling destination. Our initial goal is to become the premier provider for bicycle rentals. We will then leverage our customer base and position in the market to offer new equipment sales as well as comprehensive maintenance and service, custom equipment fittings, and expert trail advice.

  • Achieve the largest market share bicycle rentals in the area
  • Generate a net income of $235,000 at the end of the second year of operation
  • Minimize rental inventory replacement costs by maintaining a 7 percent attrition rate on existing equipment (industry average is 12 percent)

Keys to Success

  • Provide high-quality equipment, sourcing that equipment as inexpensively as possible through existing relationships with equipment manufacturers and other cycling shops
  • Use signage to attract visitors traveling to the national forest, highlighting our cost and service advantage
  • Create additional customer convenience factors to overcome a perceived lack of convenience for customers planning to ride roads and trails some distance away from our shop
  • Develop customer incentive and loyalty programs to leverage customer relationships and create positive word of mouth

You could certainly include more detail in each section; this is simply a quick guide. And if you plan to develop a product or service, you should thoroughly describe the development process as well as the end result.

The key is to describe what you will do for your customers--if you can't, you won't  have  any customers.

In the Products and Services section of your business plan, you will clearly describe--yep--the products and services your business will provide.

Keep in mind that highly detailed or technical descriptions are not necessary and definitely not recommended. Use simple terms and avoid industry buzzwords.

On the other hand, describing how the company's products and services will differ from the competition is critical. So is describing why your products and services are needed if no market currently exists. (For example, before there was Federal Express, overnight delivery was a niche business served by small companies. FedEx had to define the opportunity for a new, large-scale service and justify why customers needed--and would actually  use --that service.)

Patents, copyrights, and trademarks you own or have applied for should also be listed in this section.

Depending on the nature of your business, your Products and Services section could be very long or relatively short. If your business is product-focused, you will want to spend more time describing those products.

If you plan to sell a commodity item and the key to your success lies in, say, competitive pricing, you probably don't need to provide significant product detail. Or if you plan to sell a commodity readily available in a variety of outlets, the key to your business may not be the commodity itself but your ability to market in a more cost-effective way than your competition.

But if you're creating a new product (or service), make sure you thoroughly explain the nature of the product, its uses, and its value, etc.--otherwise your readers will not have enough information to evaluate your business.

Key questions to answer:

  • Are products or services in development or existing (and on the market)?
  • What is the timeline for bringing new products and services to market?
  • What makes your products or services different? Are there competitive advantages compared with offerings from other competitors? Are there competitive disadvantages you will need to overcome? (And if so, how?)
  • Is price an issue? Will your operating costs be low enough to allow a reasonable profit margin?
  • How will you acquire your products? Are you the manufacturer? Do you assemble products using components provided by others? Do you purchase products from suppliers or wholesalers? If your business takes off, is a steady supply of products available?

In the cycling rental business example we've been using, products and services could be a relatively simple section to complete or it could be fairly involved. It depends on the nature of the products the company plans to rent to customers.

If Blue Mountain Cycling Rentals plans to market itself as a provider of high-end bikes, describing those bikes--and the sources for those bikes--is important, since "high-end cycling rentals" is intended to be a market differentiation. If the company plans to be the low-cost provider, then describing specific brands of equipment is probably not necessary.

Also, keep in mind that if a supplier runs out of capacity--or goes out of business altogether--you may not have a sufficient supply to meet your demand. Plan to set up multiple vendor or supplier relationships, and describe those relationships fully. 

Remember, the primary goal of your business plan is to convince  you  that the business is viable--and to create a road map for you to follow.

The Products and Services section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Product Description

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will provide a comprehensive line of bicycles and cycling equipment for all ages and levels of ability. Since the typical customer seeks medium-quality equipment and excellent services at competitive prices, we will focus on providing brands like Trek bikes, Shimano footwear, and Giro helmets. These manufacturers have a widespread reputation as mid- to high-level quality, unlike equipment typically found in the rental market.

The following is a breakdown of anticipated rental price points, per day and per week:

  • Bicycle $30/$120
  • Helmet $6/$30
  • Customers can extend the rental term online without visiting the store.
  • A grace period of two hours will be applied to all rentals; customers who return equipment within that two-hour period will not be charged an additional fee.

Competition

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will have clear advantages over its primary competitors, the bike shops located in Harrisonburg, VA:

  • Newer equipment inventory with higher perceived quality
  • Price points 15 percent below the competition
  • Online renewals offering greater convenience
  • A liberal return grace period that will reinforce our reputation as a customer-friendly rental experience

Future Products

Expansion will allow us to move product offerings into new equipment sales. We will also explore maintenance and fitting services, leveraging our existing maintenance staff to provide value-added services at a premium price.

When you draft your Products and Services section, think of your reader as a person who knows little to nothing about your business. Be clear and to the point.

Think of it this way: The Products and Services section answers the "what" question for your business. Make sure you fully understand the "what" factor; you may run the business, but your products and services are its lifeblood.

Market research is critical to business success. A good business plan analyzes and evaluates customer demographics, purchasing habits, buying cycles, and willingness to adopt new products and services.

The process starts with understanding your market and the opportunities inherent in that market. And that means you'll need to do a little research. Before you start a business you must be sure there is a viable market for what you plan to offer.

That process requires asking, and more importantly answering, a number of questions. The more thoroughly you answer the following questions, the better you will understand your market.

Start by evaluating the market at a relatively high level, answering some high-level questions about your market and your industry:

  • What is the size of the market? Is it growing, stable, or in decline?
  • Is the overall industry growing, stable, or in decline?
  • What segment of the market do I plan to target? What demographics and behaviors make up the market I plan to target?
  • Is demand for my specific products and services rising or falling?
  • Can I differentiate myself from the competition in a way customers will find meaningful? If so, can I differentiate myself in a cost-effective manner?
  • What do customers expect to pay for my products and services? Are they considered to be a commodity or to be custom and individualized?

Fortunately, you've already done some of the legwork. You've already defined and mapped out your products and services. The Market Opportunities section provides a sense-check of that analysis, which is particularly important since choosing the right products and services is such a critical factor in business success.

But your analysis should go further: Great products are great, but there still must be a market for those products. (Ferraris are awesome, but you're unlikely to sell many where I live.)

So let's dig deeper and quantify your market. Your goal is to thoroughly understand the characteristics and purchasing ability of potential customers in your market. A little Googling can yield a tremendous amount of data.

For the market you hope to serve, determine:

  • Your potential customers. In general terms, potential customers are the people in the market segment you plan to target. Say you sell jet skis; anyone under the age of 16 and over the age of 60 or so is unlikely to be a customer. Plus, again in general terms, women make up a relatively small percentage of jet ski purchasers. Determining the total population for the market is not particularly helpful if your product or service does not serve a need for the entire population. Most products and services do not.
  • Total households. In some cases determining the number of total households is important depending on your business. For example, if you sell heating and air conditioning systems, knowing the number of households is more important than simply knowing the total population in your area. While people purchase HVAC systems, "households" consume those systems.
  • Median income. Spending ability is important. Does your market area have sufficient spending power to purchase enough of your products and services to enable you to make a profit? Some areas are more affluent than others. Don't assume every city or locality is the same in terms of spending power. A service that is viable in New York City may not be viable in your town.
  • Income by demographics. You can also determine income levels by age group, by ethnic group, and by gender. (Again, potential spending power is an important number to quantify.) Senior citizens could very well have a lower income level than males or females age 45 to 55 in the prime of their careers. Or say you plan to sell services to local businesses; in that case, try to determine the amount they currently spend on similar services.

The key is to understand the market in general terms and then to dig deeper to understand whether there are specific segments within that market--the segments you plan to target--that can become customers and support the growth of your business.

Also keep in mind that if you plan to sell products online the global marketplace is incredibly crowded and competitive. Any business can sell a product online and ship that product around the world. Don't simply assume that just because "the bicycle industry is a $62 billion business" (a number I just made up) that you can capture a meaningful percentage of that market.

On the other hand, if you live in an area with 50,000 people and there's only one bicycle shop, you may be able to enter that market and attract a major portion of bicycle customers in your area.

Always remember it's much easier to serve a market you can define and quantify.

After you complete your research you may feel a little overwhelmed. While data is good, and more data is great, sifting through and making sense of too much data can be daunting.

For the purposes of your business plan, narrow your focus and focus on answering these main questions:

  • What is your market? Include geographic descriptions, target demographics, and company profiles (if you're B2B). In short: Who are your customers?
  • What segment of your market will you focus on? What niche will you attempt to carve out? What percentage of that market do you hope to penetrate and acquire?
  • What is the size of your intended market? What is the population and spending habits and levels?
  • Why do customers need and why will they be willing to purchase your products and services?
  • How will you price your products and services? Will you be the low cost provider or provide value-added services at higher prices?
  • Is your market likely to grow? How much? Why?
  • How can you increase your market share over time?

The Market Opportunities section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Market Summary

Consumer spending on cycling equipment reached $9,250,000 in the states of VA, WV, MD, and NC last year. While we expect sales to rise, for the purposes of performing a conservative analysis we have projected a zero growth rate for the next three years.

In those states 2,500,000 people visited a national forest last year. Our target market includes customers visiting the Shenandoah National Forest; last year 120,000 people visited the area during spring, summer, and fall months.

Over time, however, we do expect equipment rentals and sales to increase as the popularity of cycling continues to rise. In particular we forecast a spike in demand in 2015 since the national road racing championships will be held in Richmond, VA.

Market Trends

Participation and population trends favor our venture:

  • Recreational sports in general and both family-oriented and "extreme" sports continue to gain in exposure and popularity.
  • Western VA and eastern WV have experienced population growth rates nearly double that of the country as a whole.
  • Industry trends show cycling has risen at a more rapid rate than most other recreational activities.

Market Growth

According to the latest studies, recreation spending in our target market has grown by 14 percent per year for the past three years.

In addition, we anticipate greater than industry-norm growth rates for cycling in the area due to the increase in popularity of cycling events like the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo.

Market Needs

Out target market has one basic need: The availability to source bicycle rentals at a competitive price. Our only other competition are the bike shops in Harrisonburg, VA, and our location will give us a competitive advantage over those and other companies who try to serve our market.

You may want to add other categories to this section based on your particular industry.

For example, you might decide to provide information about Market Segments. In our case, the cycling rental business does not require much segmentation. Rentals are typically not broken down into segments like "inexpensive," "midrange," and "high-end." For the most part rental bikes are more of a commodity. (Although you'll notice in our Products and Services section, we decided to provide "high-end" rentals.)

But say you decide to open a clothing store. You could focus on high fashion, or children's clothes, or outdoor wear, or casual--you could segment the market in a number of ways. If that's the case, provide detail on segmentation that supports your plan.

The key is to define your market--and then show how you will serve your market.

Providing great products and services is wonderful, but customers must actually know those products and services exist. That's why marketing plans and strategies are critical to business success. (Duh, right?)

But keep in mind marketing is not just advertising. Marketing--whether advertising, public relations, promotional literature, etc.--is an investment in the growth of your business.

Like any other investment you would make, money spent on marketing must generate a return. (Otherwise why make the investment?) While that return could simply be greater cash flow, good marketing plans result in higher sales and profits.

So don't simply plan to spend money on a variety of advertising efforts. Do your homework and create a smart marketing program .

Here are some of the basic steps involved in creating your marketing plan:

  • Focus on your target market. Who are your customers? Who will you target? Who makes the decisions? Determine how you can best reach potential customers.
  • Evaluate your competition. Your marketing plan must set you apart from your competition, and you can't stand out unless you  know  your competition. (It's hard to stand out from a crowd if you don't know where the crowd stands.) Know your competitors by gathering information about their products, service, quality, pricing, and advertising campaigns. In marketing terms, what does your competition do that works well? What are their weaknesses? How can you create a marketing plan that highlights the advantages you offer to customers?
  • Consider your brand. How customers perceive your business makes a dramatic impact on sales. Your marketing program should consistently reinforce and extend your brand. Before you start to market your business, think about how you want your marketing to reflect on your business and your products and services. Marketing is the face of your to potential customers--make sure you put your best face forward.
  • Focus on benefits. What problems do you solve? What benefits do you deliver? Customers don't think in terms of products--they think in terms of benefits and solutions. Your marketing plan should clearly identify benefits customers will receive. Focus on what customers  get  instead of on what you provide. (Take Dominos; theoretically they're in the pizza business, but really they're a delivery business.)
  • Focus on differentiation. Your products and services have to stand out from the competition in some way. How will you compete in terms of price, product, or service?

Then focus on providing detail and backup for your marketing plan.

  • What is your budget for sales and marketing efforts? 
  • How will you determine if your initial marketing efforts are successful? In what ways will you adapt if your initial efforts do not succeed?
  • Will you need sales representatives (inside or external) to promote your products?
  • Can you set up public relations activities to help market your business?

The Sales and Marketing section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Target Market

The target market for Blue Mountain Cycling Rentals is western VA, eastern WV, southwestern MD, and northern NC. While customers in the counties surrounding the George Washington National Forest make up 35 percent of our potential customer base, much of our market travels from outside that geographic area.

Marketing Strategy

Our marketing strategy will focus on three basic initiatives:

  • Road signage. Access to the forest is restricted to a few primary entrances, and visitors reach those entrances after traveling on one of several main roadways. Since customers currently rent bicycles in the local town of Harrisonburg, road signage will communicate our value proposition to all potential customers.
  • Web initiatives. Our website will attract potential visitors to the resort. We will partner with local businesses that serve our target market to provide discounts and incentives.
  • Promotional events. We will hold regular events with professional cyclists, like demonstrations and autograph signings, to bring more customers to the store as well as to extend the athletes' "brand" to our brand.

Pricing Strategy

We will not be the low-cost provider for our target market. Our goal is to provide mid- to high-end equipment. However, we will create web-based loyalty programs to incent customers to set up online profiles and reserve and renew equipment rentals online, and provide discounts for those who do. Over time we will be able to market specifically to those customers.

Just as in the Market Opportunity section, you may want to include a few more categories. For example, if your business involves a commission-compensated sales force, describe your Sales Programs and incentives. If you distribute products to other companies or suppliers and those distribution efforts will impact your overall marketing plans, lay out your Distribution Strategy.

The key is to show you understand your market and you understand how you will reach your market. Marketing and promotions must result in customers--your goal is to thoroughly describe how you will acquire and keep your customers.

Also keep in mind you may want to include examples of marketing materials you have already prepared, like website descriptions, print ads, web-based advertising programs, etc. While you don't need to include samples, taking the time to create actual marketing materials might help you better understand and communicate your marketing plans and objectives.

Make sure your Sales and Marketing section answers the "How will I reach my customers?" question.

Competitive Advantage

The Competitive Analysis section of your business plan is devoted to analyzing your competition--both your current competition and potential competitors who might enter your market.

Every business has competition. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your competition--or potential competition--is critical to making sure your business survives and grows. While you don't need to hire a private detective, you do need to thoroughly assess your competition on a regular basis even if you plan to run only a small business.

In fact, small businesses can be especially vulnerable to competition, especially when new companies enter a marketplace.

Competitive analysis can be incredibly complicated and time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be. Here is a simple process you can follow to identify, analyze, and determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competition.

Profile  Current  Competitors

First, develop a basic profile of each of your current competition. For example, if you plan to open an office supply store, you may have three competing stores in your market.

Online retailers will also provide competition, but thoroughly analyzing those companies will be less valuable unless you also decide you want to sell office supplies online. (Although it's also possible that they--or, say, Amazon--are your  real  competition. Only you can determine that.)

To make the process easier, stick to analyzing companies you will directly compete with. If you plan to set up an accounting firm, you will compete with other accounting firms in your area. If you plan to open a clothing store, you will compete with other clothing retailers in your area.

Again, if you run a clothing store, you also compete with online retailers, but there is relatively little you can do about that type of competition other than to work hard to distinguish yourself in other ways: great service, friendly salespeople, convenient hours, truly understanding your customers, etc.

Once you identify your main competitors, answer these questions about each one. And be objective. It's easy to identify weaknesses in your competition, but less easy (and a lot less fun) to recognize how they may be able to outperform you:

  • What are their strengths? Price, service, convenience, and extensive inventory are all areas where you may be vulnerable.
  • What are their weaknesses? Weaknesses are opportunities you should plan to take advantage of.
  • What are their basic objectives? Do they seek to gain market share? Do they attempt to capture premium clients? See your industry through their eyes. What are they trying to achieve?
  • What marketing strategies do they use? Look at their advertising, public relations, etc.
  • How can you take market share away from their business?
  • How will they respond when you enter the market?

While these questions may seem like a lot of work to answer, in reality the process should be fairly easy. You should already have a feel for the competition's strengths and weaknesses--if you know your market and your industry.

To gather information, you can also:

  • Check out their websites and marketing materials. Most of the information you need about products, services, prices, and company objectives should be readily available. If that information is not available, you may have identified a weakness.
  • Visit their locations. Take a look around. Check out sales materials and promotional literature. Have friends stop in or call to ask for information.
  • Evaluate their marketing and advertising campaigns. How a company advertises creates a great opportunity to uncover the objectives and strategies of that business. Advertising should help you quickly determine how a company positions itself, who it markets to, and what strategies it employs to reach potential customers.
  • Browse. Search the Internet for news, public relations, and other mentions of your competition. Search blogs and Twitter feeds as well as review and recommendation sites. While most of the information you find will be anecdotal and based on the opinion of just a few people, you may at least get a sense of how some consumers perceive your competition. Plus you may also get advance warning about expansion plans, new markets they intend to enter, or changes in management.

Keep in mind competitive analysis does more than help you understand your competition. Competitive analysis can also help you identify changes you should make to  your  business strategies. Learn from competitor strengths, take advantage of competitor's weaknesses, and apply the same analysis to your own business plan.

You might be surprised by what you can learn about your business by evaluating other businesses.

Identify  Potential  Competitors

It can be tough to predict when and where new competitors may pop up. For starters, regularly search for news on your industry, your products, your services, and your target market.

But there are other ways to predict when competition may follow you into a market. Other people may see the same opportunity you see. Think about your business and your industry, and if the following conditions exist, you may face competition does the road:

  • The industry enjoys relatively high profit margins
  • Entering the market is relatively easy and inexpensive
  • The market is growing--the more rapidly it is growing the greater the risk of competition
  • Supply and demand is off--supply is low and demand is high
  • Very little competition exists, so there is plenty of "room" for others to enter the market

In general terms, if serving your market seems easy you can safely assume competitors will enter your market. A good business plan anticipates and accounts for new competitors.

Now distill what you've learned by answering these questions in your business plan:

  • Who are my current competitors? What is their market share? How successful are they?
  • What market do current competitors target? Do they focus on a specific customer type, on serving the mass market, or on a particular niche?
  • Are competing businesses growing or scaling back their operations? Why? What does that mean for your business?
  • How will your company be different from the competition? What competitor weaknesses can you exploit? What competitor strengths will you need to overcome to be successful?
  • What will you do if competitors drop out of the marketplace? What will you do to take advantage of the opportunity?
  • What will you do if new competitors enter the marketplace? How will you react to and overcome new challenges?

The Competitive Analysis section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Primary Competitors

Our nearest and only competition is the bike shops in Harrisonburg, VA. Our next closest competitor is located over 100 miles away.

The in-town bike shops will be strong competitors. They are established businesses with excellent reputations. On the other hand, they offer inferior-quality equipment and their location is significantly less convenient.

Secondary Competitors

We do not plan to sell bicycles for at least the first two years of operation. However, sellers of new equipment do indirectly compete with our business since a customer who buys equipment no longer needs to rent equipment.

Later, when we add new equipment sales to our operation, we will face competition from online retailers. We will compete with new equipment retailers through personalized service and targeted marketing to our existing customer base, especially through online initiatives.

Opportunities

  • By offering mid- to high-end quality equipment, we provide customers the opportunity to "try out" bikes they may wish to purchase at a later date, providing additional incentive (besides cost savings) to use our service.
  • Offering drive-up, express rental return services will be seen as a much more attractive option compared with the hassle of renting bikes in Harrisonburg and transporting them to intended take-off points for rides.
  • Online initiatives like online renewals and online reservations enhances customer convenience and positions us as a cutting-edge supplier in a market largely populated, especially in the cycling segment, by customers who tend to be early technology adapters.
  • Renting bikes and cycling equipment may be perceived by some of our target market as a commodity transaction. If we do not differentiate ourselves in terms of quality, convenience, and service, we could face additional competition from other entrants to the market.
  • One of the bike shops in Harrisonburg is a subsidiary of a larger corporation with significant financial assets. If we, as hoped, carve out a significant market share, the corporation may use those assets to increase service, improve equipment quality, or cut prices.

While your business plan is primarily intended to convince  you  that your business makes sense, keep in mind most investors look closely at your competitive analysis. A common mistake made by entrepreneurs is assuming they will simply "do it better" than any competition.

Experienced businesspeople know you will face stiff competition: showing you understand your competition, understand your strengths and weaknesses relative to that competition, and that you understand you will have to adapt and change based on that competition is critical.

And, even if you do not ever plan to seek financing or bring in investors, you absolutely must know your competition.

The Competitive Analysis section helps you answer the "Against whom?" question.

The next step in creating your business plan is to develop an Operations Plan that will serve your customers, keep your operating costs in line, and ensure profitability . Your ops plan should detail strategies for managing, staffing, manufacturing, fulfillment, inventory--all the stuff involved in operating your business on a day-to-day basis.

Fortunately, most entrepreneurs have a better handle on their operations plan than on any other aspect of their business. After all, while it may not seem natural to analyze your market or your competition, most budding entrepreneurs tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how they will  run  their businesses.

Your goal is to answer the following key questions:

  • What facilities, equipment, and supplies do you need?
  • What is your organizational structure? Who is responsible for which aspects of the business?
  • Is research and development required, either during start up or as an ongoing operation? If so, how will you accomplish this task?
  • What are your initial staffing needs? When and how will you add staff?
  • How will you establish business relationships with vendors and suppliers? How will those relationships impact your day-to-day operations?
  • How will your operations change as the company grows? What steps will you take to cut costs if the company initially does not perform up to expectations?

Operations plans should be highly specific to your industry, your market sector, and your customers. Instead of providing an example like I've done with other sections, use the following to determine the key areas your plan should address:

Location and Facility Management

In terms of location, describe:

  • Zoning requirements
  • The type of building you need
  • The space you need
  • Power and utility requirements
  • Access: Customers, suppliers, shipping, etc.
  • Specialized construction or renovations
  • Interior and exterior remodeling and preparation

Daily Operations

  • Production methods
  • Service methods
  • Inventory control
  • Sales and customer service
  • Receiving and Delivery
  • Maintenance, cleaning, and re-stocking
  • Licenses and permits
  • Environmental or health regulations
  • Patents, trademarks, and copyrights

Personnel Requirements

  • Typical staffing
  • Breakdown of skills required
  • Recruiting and retention
  • Policies and procedures
  • Pay structures
  • Anticipated inventory levels
  • Turnover rate
  • Seasonal fluctuations in demand
  • Major suppliers
  • Back-up suppliers and contingency plans
  • Credit and payment policies

Sound like a lot? It can be, but not all of the above needs to be in your business plan.

You should think through and create a detailed plan for each category, but you won't need to share the results with the people who read your business plan

Working through each issue and developing concrete operations plans helps you in two major ways:

  • If you don't plan to seek financing or outside capital, you can still take advantage of creating a comprehensive plan that addresses all of your operational needs.
  • If you do seek financing or outside capital, you may not include all the detail in your business plan--but you will have answers to any operations questions at your fingertips.

Think of Operations as the "implementation" section of your business plan. What do you need to do? How will you get it done? Then create an overview of that plan to make sure your milestones and timeline make sense.

That way the operations section answers the "How?" question.

Many investors and lenders feel the quality and experience of the management team is one of the most important factors used to evaluate the potential of a new business.

But putting work into the Management Team section will not only benefit people who may read your plan. It will also help  you  evaluate the skills, experiences, and resources your management team will need . Addressing your company's needs during implementation will make a major impact on your chances for success.

  • Who are the key leaders? (If actual people have not been identified, describe the type of people needed.) What are their experiences, educational backgrounds, and skills?
  • Do your key leaders have industry experience? If not, what experience do they bring to the business that is applicable?
  • What duties will each position perform? (Creating an organization chart might be helpful.) What authority is granted to and what responsibilities are expected in each position?
  • What salary levels will be required to attract qualified candidates for each position? What is the salary structure for the company, by position?

The Management Team section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

Jim Rouleur, Owner and Manager

Joe has over 20 years experience in the cycling business. He served for 10 years as a product manager for Acme Bikes. After that he was the operations manager of Single Track Cycles, a full-service bike shop located in Bend, Oregon. He has an undergraduate degree in marketing from Duke University and an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University. (A complete resume for Mr. Rouleur can be found in the Appendix.)

Mary Gearset, Assistant Manager

Mary was the 2009 U.S. Mountain Biking National Champion. She worked in product development for High Tec frames, creating custom frames and frame modifications for professional cyclists. She also has extensive customer service and sales experience, having worked for four years as the online manager of Pro Parts Unlimited, an online retailer of high-end cycling equipment and accessories.

In some instances you may also wish to describe your staffing plans.

For example, if you manufacture a product or provide a service and will hire a key skilled employee, describe that employee's credentials. Otherwise, include staffing plans in the Operations section.

One key note: Don't be tempted to add a "name" to your management team in hopes of attracting investors. Celebrity management team members may attract the attention of your readers, but experienced lenders and investors will immediately ask what role that person will actually play in the running of the business--and in most cases those individuals won't play any meaningful role.

If you don't have a lot of experience--but are willing to work hard to overcome that lack of experience--don't be tempted to include people in your plan who will not actually work in the business.

If you can't survive without help, that's okay. In fact, that's expected; no one does anything worthwhile on their own. Just make plans to get help from the  right  people.

Finally, when you create your Management section, focus on credentials but pay extra attention to what each person actually will  do . Experience and reputation are great, but action is everything.

That way your Management section will answer the "Who is in charge?" question.

Numbers tell the story. Bottom line results indicate the success or failure of any business.

Financial projections and estimates help entrepreneurs, lenders, and investors or lenders objectively evaluate a company's potential for success. If a business seeks outside funding, providing comprehensive financial reports and analysis is critical.

But most important, financial projections tell you whether your business has a chance of being viable--and if not let you know you have more work to do.

Most business plans include at least five basic reports or projections:

  • Balance Sheet: Describes the company cash position including assets, liabilities, shareholders, and earnings retained to fund future operations or to serve as funding for expansion and growth. It indicates the financial health of a business.
  • Income Statement: Also called a Profit and Loss statement, this report lists projected revenue and expenses. It shows whether a company will be profitable during a given time period.
  • Cash Flow Statement: A projection of cash receipts and expense payments. It shows how and when cash will flow through the business; without cash, payments (including salaries) cannot be made.
  • Operating Budget: A detailed breakdown of income and expenses; provides a guide for how the company will operate from a "dollars" point of view.
  • Break-Even Analysis: A projection of the revenue required to cover all fixed and variable expenses. Shows when, under specific conditions, a business can expect to become profitable.

It's easy to find examples of all of the above. Even the most basic accounting software packages include templates and samples. You can also find templates in Excel and Google Docs. (A quick search like "google docs profit and loss statement" yields plenty of examples.)

Or you can work with an accountant to create the necessary financial projections and documents. Certainly feel free to do so, but first play around with the reports yourself. While you don't need to be an accountant to run a business, you do need to understand your numbers, and the best way to understand your numbers is usually to actually work with your numbers.

But ultimately the tools you use to develop your numbers are not as important as whether those numbers are as accurate as possible--and whether those numbers help you decide whether to take the next step and put your business plan into action.

Then Financial Analysis can help you answer the most important business question: "Can we make a profit?"

Some business plans include less essential but potentially important information in an Appendix section. You may decide to include, as backup or additional information:

  • Resumes of key leaders
  • Additional descriptions of products and services
  • Legal agreements
  • Organizational charts
  • Examples of marketing and advertising collateral
  • Photographs of potential facilities, products, etc.
  • Backup for market research or competitive analysis
  • Additional financial documents or projections

Keep in mind creating an Appendix is usually only necessary if you're seeking financing or hoping to bring in partners or investors. Initially the people reading your business plan don't wish to plow through reams and reams of charts, numbers, and backup information. If one does want to dig deeper, fine--he or she can check out the documents in the Appendix.

That way your business plan can share your story clearly and concisely.

Otherwise, since you created your business plan, you should already have the backup.

Tying It All Together

While you may use your business plan to attract investors, partners, suppliers, etc., never forget that the goal of your business plan is to convince  you  that your idea makes sense. 

Because ultimately it's your time, your money, and your effort on the line.

The Daily Digest for Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders

Privacy Policy

You might be using an unsupported or outdated browser. To get the best possible experience please use the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Microsoft Edge to view this website.

How To Start A Business In 11 Steps (2024 Guide)

Katherine Haan

Updated: Apr 7, 2024, 1:44pm

How To Start A Business In 11 Steps (2024 Guide)

Table of Contents

Before you begin: get in the right mindset, 1. determine your business concept, 2. research your competitors and market, 3. create your business plan, 4. choose your business structure, 5. register your business and get licenses, 6. get your finances in order, 7. fund your business, 8. apply for business insurance, 9. get the right business tools, 10. market your business, 11. scale your business, what are the best states to start a business, bottom line, frequently asked questions (faqs).

Starting a business is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences you can have. But where do you begin? There are several ways to approach creating a business, along with many important considerations. To help take the guesswork out of the process and improve your chances of success, follow our comprehensive guide on how to start a business. We’ll walk you through each step of the process, from defining your business idea to registering, launching and growing your business .

Featured Partners

ZenBusiness

$0 + State Fees

Varies By State & Package

ZenBusiness

On ZenBusiness' Website

LegalZoom

On LegalZoom's Website

Northwest Registered Agent

$39 + State Fees

Northwest Registered Agent

On Northwest Registered Agent's Website

$0 + State Fee

On Formations' Website

The public often hears about overnight successes because they make for a great headline. However, it’s rarely that simple—they don’t see the years of dreaming, building and positioning before a big public launch. For this reason, remember to focus on your business journey and don’t measure your success against someone else’s.

Consistency Is Key

New business owners tend to feed off their motivation initially but get frustrated when that motivation wanes. This is why it’s essential to create habits and follow routines that power you through when motivation goes away.

Take the Next Step

Some business owners dive in headfirst without looking and make things up as they go along. Then, there are business owners who stay stuck in analysis paralysis and never start. Perhaps you’re a mixture of the two—and that’s right where you need to be. The best way to accomplish any business or personal goal is to write out every possible step it takes to achieve the goal. Then, order those steps by what needs to happen first. Some steps may take minutes while others take a long time. The point is to always take the next step.

Most business advice tells you to monetize what you love, but it misses two other very important elements: it needs to be profitable and something you’re good at. For example, you may love music, but how viable is your business idea if you’re not a great singer or songwriter? Maybe you love making soap and want to open a soap shop in your small town that already has three close by—it won’t be easy to corner the market when you’re creating the same product as other nearby stores.

If you don’t have a firm idea of what your business will entail, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you love to do?
  • What do you hate to do?
  • Can you think of something that would make those things easier?
  • What are you good at?
  • What do others come to you for advice about?
  • If you were given ten minutes to give a five-minute speech on any topic, what would it be?
  • What’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but lacked resources for?

These questions can lead you to an idea for your business. If you already have an idea, they might help you expand it. Once you have your idea, measure it against whether you’re good at it and if it’s profitable.

Your business idea also doesn’t have to be the next Scrub Daddy or Squatty Potty. Instead, you can take an existing product and improve upon it. You can also sell a digital product so there’s little overhead.

What Kind of Business Should You Start?

Before you choose the type of business to start, there are some key things to consider:

  • What type of funding do you have?
  • How much time do you have to invest in your business?
  • Do you prefer to work from home or at an office or workshop?
  • What interests and passions do you have?
  • Can you sell information (such as a course), rather than a product?
  • What skills or expertise do you have?
  • How fast do you need to scale your business?
  • What kind of support do you have to start your business?
  • Are you partnering with someone else?
  • Does the franchise model make more sense to you?

Consider Popular Business Ideas

Not sure what business to start? Consider one of these popular business ideas:

  • Start a Franchise
  • Start a Blog
  • Start an Online Store
  • Start a Dropshipping Business
  • Start a Cleaning Business
  • Start a Bookkeeping Business
  • Start a Clothing Business
  • Start a Landscaping Business
  • Start a Consulting Business
  • Start a Photography Business
  • Start a Vending Machine Business

Most entrepreneurs spend more time on their products than they do getting to know the competition. If you ever apply for outside funding, the potential lender or partner wants to know: what sets you (or your business idea) apart? If market analysis indicates your product or service is saturated in your area, see if you can think of a different approach. Take housekeeping, for example—rather than general cleaning services, you might specialize in homes with pets or focus on garage cleanups.

Primary Research

The first stage of any competition study is primary research, which entails obtaining data directly from potential customers rather than basing your conclusions on past data. You can use questionnaires, surveys and interviews to learn what consumers want. Surveying friends and family isn’t recommended unless they’re your target market. People who say they’d buy something and people who do are very different. The last thing you want is to take so much stock in what they say, create the product and flop when you try to sell it because all of the people who said they’d buy it don’t because the product isn’t something they’d buy.

Secondary Research

Utilize existing sources of information, such as census data, to gather information when you do secondary research. The current data may be studied, compiled and analyzed in various ways that are appropriate for your needs but it may not be as detailed as primary research.

Conduct a SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Conducting a SWOT analysis allows you to look at the facts about how your product or idea might perform if taken to market, and it can also help you make decisions about the direction of your idea. Your business idea might have some weaknesses that you hadn’t considered or there may be some opportunities to improve on a competitor’s product.

how does the business plan work

Asking pertinent questions during a SWOT analysis can help you identify and address weaknesses before they tank your new business.

A business plan is a dynamic document that serves as a roadmap for establishing a new business. This document makes it simple for potential investors, financial institutions and company management to understand and absorb. Even if you intend to self-finance, a business plan can help you flesh out your idea and spot potential problems. When writing a well-rounded business plan, include the following sections:

  • Executive summary: The executive summary should be the first item in the business plan, but it should be written last. It describes the proposed new business and highlights the goals of the company and the methods to achieve them.
  • Company description: The company description covers what problems your product or service solves and why your business or idea is best. For example, maybe your background is in molecular engineering, and you’ve used that background to create a new type of athletic wear—you have the proper credentials to make the best material.
  • Market analysis: This section of the business plan analyzes how well a company is positioned against its competitors. The market analysis should include target market, segmentation analysis, market size, growth rate, trends and a competitive environment assessment.
  • Organization and structure: Write about the type of business organization you expect, what risk management strategies you propose and who will staff the management team. What are their qualifications? Will your business be a single-member limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation ?
  • Mission and goals: This section should contain a brief mission statement and detail what the business wishes to accomplish and the steps to get there. These goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, action-orientated, realistic and time-bound).
  • Products or services: This section describes how your business will operate. It includes what products you’ll offer to consumers at the beginning of the business, how they compare to existing competitors, how much your products cost, who will be responsible for creating the products, how you’ll source materials and how much they cost to make.
  • Background summary: This portion of the business plan is the most time-consuming to write. Compile and summarize any data, articles and research studies on trends that could positively and negatively affect your business or industry.
  • Marketing plan: The marketing plan identifies the characteristics of your product or service, summarizes the SWOT analysis and analyzes competitors. It also discusses how you’ll promote your business, how much money will be spent on marketing and how long the campaign is expected to last.
  • Financial plan: The financial plan is perhaps the core of the business plan because, without money, the business will not move forward. Include a proposed budget in your financial plan along with projected financial statements, such as an income statement, a balance sheet and a statement of cash flows. Usually, five years of projected financial statements are acceptable. This section is also where you should include your funding request if you’re looking for outside funding.

Learn more: Download our free simple business plan template .

Come Up With an Exit Strategy

An exit strategy is important for any business that is seeking funding because it outlines how you’ll sell the company or transfer ownership if you decide to retire or move on to other projects. An exit strategy also allows you to get the most value out of your business when it’s time to sell. There are a few different options for exiting a business, and the best option for you depends on your goals and circumstances.

The most common exit strategies are:

  • Selling the business to another party
  • Passing the business down to family members
  • Liquidating the business assets
  • Closing the doors and walking away

Develop a Scalable Business Model

As your small business grows, it’s important to have a scalable business model so that you can accommodate additional customers without incurring additional costs. A scalable business model is one that can be replicated easily to serve more customers without a significant increase in expenses.

Some common scalable business models are:

  • Subscription-based businesses
  • Businesses that sell digital products
  • Franchise businesses
  • Network marketing businesses

Start Planning for Taxes

One of the most important things to do when starting a small business is to start planning for taxes. Taxes can be complex, and there are several different types of taxes you may be liable for, including income tax, self-employment tax, sales tax and property tax. Depending on the type of business you’re operating, you may also be required to pay other taxes, such as payroll tax or unemployment tax.

Start A Limited Liability Company Online Today with ZenBusiness

Click to get started.

When structuring your business, it’s essential to consider how each structure impacts the amount of taxes you owe, daily operations and whether your personal assets are at risk.

An LLC limits your personal liability for business debts. LLCs can be owned by one or more people or companies and must include a registered agent . These owners are referred to as members.

  • LLCs offer liability protection for the owners
  • They’re one of the easiest business entities to set up
  • You can have a single-member LLC
  • You may be required to file additional paperwork with your state on a regular basis
  • LLCs can’t issue stock
  • You’ll need to pay annual filing fees to your state

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

An LLP is similar to an LLC but is typically used for licensed business professionals such as an attorney or accountant. These arrangements require a partnership agreement.

  • Partners have limited liability for the debts and actions of the LLP
  • LLPs are easy to form and don’t require much paperwork
  • There’s no limit to the number of partners in an LLP
  • Partners are required to actively take part in the business
  • LLPs can’t issue stock
  • All partners are personally liable for any malpractice claims against the business

Sole Proprietorship

If you start a solo business, you might consider a sole proprietorship . The company and the owner, for legal and tax purposes, are considered the same. The business owner assumes liability for the business. So, if the business fails, the owner is personally and financially responsible for all business debts.

  • Sole proprietorships are easy to form
  • There’s no need to file additional paperwork with your state
  • You’re in complete control of the business
  • You’re personally liable for all business debts
  • It can be difficult to raise money for a sole proprietorship
  • The business may have a limited lifespan

Corporation

A corporation limits your personal liability for business debts just as an LLC does. A corporation can be taxed as a C corporation (C-corp) or an S corporation (S-corp). S-corp status offers pass-through taxation to small corporations that meet certain IRS requirements. Larger companies and startups hoping to attract venture capital are usually taxed as C-corps.

  • Corporations offer liability protection for the owners
  • The life span of a corporation is not limited
  • A corporation can have an unlimited number of shareholders
  • Corporations are subject to double taxation
  • They’re more expensive and complicated to set up than other business structures
  • The shareholders may have limited liability

Before you decide on a business structure, discuss your situation with a small business accountant and possibly an attorney, as each business type has different tax treatments that could affect your bottom line.

Helpful Resources

  • How To Set Up an LLC in 7 Steps
  • How To Start a Sole Proprietorship
  • How To Start a Corporation
  • How To Start a Nonprofit
  • How To Start a 501(c)(3)

There are several legal issues to address when starting a business after choosing the business structure. The following is a good checklist of items to consider when establishing your business:

Choose Your Business Name

Make it memorable but not too difficult. Choose the same domain name, if available, to establish your internet presence. A business name cannot be the same as another registered company in your state, nor can it infringe on another trademark or service mark that is already registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Business Name vs. DBA

There are business names, and then there are fictitious business names known as “Doing Business As” or DBA. You may need to file a DBA if you’re operating under a name that’s different from the legal name of your business. For example, “Mike’s Bike Shop” is doing business as “Mike’s Bikes.” The legal name of the business is “Mike’s Bike Shop,” and “Mike’s Bikes” is the DBA.

You may need to file a DBA with your state, county or city government offices. The benefits of a DBA include:

  • It can help you open a business bank account under your business name
  • A DBA can be used as a “trade name” to brand your products or services
  • A DBA can be used to get a business license

Register Your Business and Obtain an EIN

You’ll officially create a corporation, LLC or other business entity by filing forms with your state’s business agency―usually the Secretary of State. As part of this process, you’ll need to choose a registered agent to accept legal documents on behalf of your business. You’ll also pay a filing fee. The state will send you a certificate that you can use to apply for licenses, a tax identification number (TIN) and business bank accounts.

Next, apply for an employer identification number (EIN) . All businesses, other than sole proprietorships with no employees, must have a federal employer identification number. Submit your application to the IRS and you’ll typically receive your number in minutes.

Get Appropriate Licenses and Permits

Legal requirements are determined by your industry and jurisdiction. Most businesses need a mixture of local, state and federal licenses to operate. Check with your local government office (and even an attorney) for licensing information tailored to your area.

  • Best LLC Services
  • How To Register a Business Name
  • How To Register a DBA
  • How To Get an EIN for an LLC
  • How To Get a Business License

Start an LLC Online Today With ZenBusiness

Click on the state below to get started.

Open a Business Bank Account

Keep your business and personal finances separate. Here’s how to choose a business checking account —and why separate business accounts are essential. When you open a business bank account, you’ll need to provide your business name and your business tax identification number (EIN). This business bank account can be used for your business transactions, such as paying suppliers or invoicing customers. Most times, a bank will require a separate business bank account to issue a business loan or line of credit.

Hire a Bookkeeper or Get Accounting Software

If you sell a product, you need an inventory function in your accounting software to manage and track inventory. The software should have ledger and journal entries and the ability to generate financial statements.

Some software programs double as bookkeeping tools. These often include features such as check writing and managing receivables and payables. You can also use this software to track your income and expenses, generate invoices, run reports and calculate taxes.

There are many bookkeeping services available that can do all of this for you, and more. These services can be accessed online from any computer or mobile device and often include features such as bank reconciliation and invoicing. Check out the best accounting software for small business, or see if you want to handle the bookkeeping yourself.

Determine Your Break-Even Point

Before you fund your business, you must get an idea of your startup costs. To determine these, make a list of all the physical supplies you need, estimate the cost of any professional services you will require, determine the price of any licenses or permits required to operate and calculate the cost of office space or other real estate. Add in the costs of payroll and benefits, if applicable.

Businesses can take years to turn a profit, so it’s better to overestimate the startup costs and have too much money than too little. Many experts recommend having enough cash on hand to cover six months of operating expenses.

When you know how much you need to get started with your business, you need to know the point at which your business makes money. This figure is your break-even point.

In contrast, the contribution margin = total sales revenue – cost to make product

For example, let’s say you’re starting a small business that sells miniature birdhouses for fairy gardens. You have determined that it will cost you $500 in startup costs. Your variable costs are $0.40 per birdhouse produced, and you sell them for $1.50 each.

Let’s write these out so it’s easy to follow:

This means that you need to sell at least 456 units just to cover your costs. If you can sell more than 456 units in your first month, you will make a profit.

  • The Best Business Checking Accounts
  • The Best Accounting Software for Small Business
  • How To Open a Bank Account

There are many different ways to fund your business—some require considerable effort, while others are easier to obtain. Two categories of funding exist: internal and external.

Internal funding includes:

  • Personal savings
  • Credit cards
  • Funds from friends and family

If you finance the business with your own funds or with credit cards, you have to pay the debt on the credit cards and you’ve lost a chunk of your wealth if the business fails. By allowing your family members or friends to invest in your business, you are risking hard feelings and strained relationships if the company goes under. Business owners who want to minimize these risks may consider external funding.

External funding includes:

  • Small business loans
  • Small business grants
  • Angel investors
  • Venture capital
  • Crowdfunding

Small businesses may have to use a combination of several sources of capital. Consider how much money is needed, how long it will take before the company can repay it and how risk-tolerant you are. No matter which source you use, plan for profit. It’s far better to take home six figures than make seven figures and only keep $80,000 of it.

Funding ideas include:

  • Invoice factoring: With invoice factoring , you can sell your unpaid invoices to a third party at a discount.
  • Business lines of credit: Apply for a business line of credit , which is similar to a personal line of credit. The credit limit and interest rate will be based on your business’s revenue, credit score and financial history.
  • Equipment financing: If you need to purchase expensive equipment for your business, you can finance it with a loan or lease.
  • Small Business Administration (SBA) microloans: Microloans are up to $50,000 loans that can be used for working capital, inventory or supplies and machinery or equipment.
  • Grants: The federal government offers grants for businesses that promote innovation, export growth or are located in historically disadvantaged areas. You can also find grants through local and regional organizations.
  • Crowdfunding: With crowdfunding , you can raise money from a large group of people by soliciting donations or selling equity in your company.

Choose the right funding source for your business by considering the amount of money you need, the time frame for repayment and your tolerance for risk.

  • Best Small Business Loans
  • Best Startup Business Loans
  • Best Business Loans for Bad Credit
  • Business Loan Calculator
  • Average Business Loan Rates
  • How To Get a Business Loan

You need to have insurance for your business , even if it’s a home-based business or you don’t have any employees. The type of insurance you need depends on your business model and what risks you face. You might need more than one type of policy, and you might need additional coverage as your business grows. In most states, workers’ compensation insurance is required by law if you have employees.

Work With an Agent To Get Insured

An insurance agent can help determine what coverages are appropriate for your business and find policies from insurers that offer the best rates. An independent insurance agent represents several different insurers, so they can shop around for the best rates and coverage options.

Basic Types of Business Insurance Coverage

  • Liability insurance protects your business against third-party claims of bodily injury, property damage and personal injury such as defamation or false advertising.
  • Property insurance covers the physical assets of your business, including your office space, equipment and inventory.
  • Business interruption insurance pays for the loss of income if your business is forced to close temporarily due to a covered event such as a natural disaster.
  • Product liability insurance protects against claims that your products caused bodily injury or property damage.
  • Employee practices liability insurance covers claims from employees alleging discrimination, sexual harassment or other wrongful termination.
  • Workers’ compensation insurance covers medical expenses and income replacement for employees who are injured on the job.
  • Best Small Business Insurance
  • Best Commercial Auto Insurance
  • How To Get Product Liability Insurance
  • Your Guide to General Liability Insurance
  • 13 Types of Small Business Insurance

Business tools can help make your life easier and make your business run more smoothly. The right tools can help you save time, automate tasks and make better decisions.

Consider the following tools in your arsenal:

  • Accounting software : Track your business income and expenses, prepare financial statements and file taxes. Examples include QuickBooks and FreshBooks.
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software : This will help you manage your customer relationships, track sales and marketing data and automate tasks like customer service and follow-ups. Examples include Zoho CRM and monday.com.
  • Project management software : Plan, execute and track projects. It can also be used to manage employee tasks and allocate resources. Examples include Airtable and ClickUp.
  • Credit card processor : This will allow you to accept credit card payments from customers. Examples include Stripe and PayPal.
  • Point of sale (POS) : A system that allows you to process customer payments. Some accounting software and CRM software have POS features built-in. Examples include Clover and Lightspeed.
  • Virtual private network (VPN) : Provides a secure, private connection between your computer and the internet. This is important for businesses that handle sensitive data. Examples include NordVPN and ExpressVPN.
  • Merchant services : When customers make a purchase, the money is deposited into your business account. You can also use merchant services to set up recurring billing or subscription payments. Examples include Square and Stripe.
  • Email hosting : This allows you to create a professional email address with your own domain name. Examples include G Suite and Microsoft Office 365.

Many business owners spend so much money creating their products that there isn’t a marketing budget by the time they’ve launched. Alternatively, they’ve spent so much time developing the product that marketing is an afterthought.

Create a Website

Even if you’re a brick-and-mortar business, a web presence is essential. Creating a website doesn’t take long, either—you can have one done in as little as a weekend. You can make a standard informational website or an e-commerce site where you sell products online. If you sell products or services offline, include a page on your site where customers can find your locations and hours. Other pages to add include an “About Us” page, product or service pages, frequently asked questions (FAQs), a blog and contact information.

Optimize Your Site for SEO

After getting a website or e-commerce store, focus on optimizing it for search engines (SEO). This way, when a potential customer searches for specific keywords for your products, the search engine can point them to your site. SEO is a long-term strategy, so don’t expect a ton of traffic from search engines initially—even if you’re using all the right keywords.

Create Relevant Content

Provide quality digital content on your site that makes it easy for customers to find the correct answers to their questions. Content marketing ideas include videos, customer testimonials, blog posts and demos. Consider content marketing one of the most critical tasks on your daily to-do list. This is used in conjunction with posting on social media.

Get Listed in Online Directories

Customers use online directories like Yelp, Google My Business and Facebook to find local businesses. Some city halls and chambers of commerce have business directories too. Include your business in as many relevant directories as possible. You can also create listings for your business on specific directories that focus on your industry.

Develop a Social Media Strategy

Your potential customers are using social media every day—you need to be there too. Post content that’s interesting and relevant to your audience. Use social media to drive traffic back to your website where customers can learn more about what you do and buy your products or services.

You don’t necessarily need to be on every social media platform available. However, you should have a presence on Facebook and Instagram because they offer e-commerce features that allow you to sell directly from your social media accounts. Both of these platforms have free ad training to help you market your business.

  • Best Website Builders
  • How To Make a Website for Your Business
  • The Best E-Commerce Platforms
  • Best Blogging Platforms
  • Best Web Hosting Services

ZenBusiness

To scale your business, you need to grow your customer base and revenue. This can be done by expanding your marketing efforts, improving your product or service, collaborating with other creators or adding new products or services that complement what you already offer.

Think about ways you can automate or outsource certain tasks so you can focus on scaling the business. For example, if social media marketing is taking up too much of your time, consider using a platform such as Hootsuite to help you manage your accounts more efficiently. You can also consider outsourcing the time-consumer completely.

You can also use technology to automate certain business processes, including accounting, email marketing and lead generation. Doing this will give you more time to focus on other aspects of your business.

When scaling your business, it’s important to keep an eye on your finances and make sure you’re still profitable. If you’re not making enough money to cover your costs, you need to either reduce your expenses or find ways to increase your revenue.

Build a Team

As your business grows, you’ll need to delegate tasks and put together a team of people who can help you run the day-to-day operations. This might include hiring additional staff, contractors or freelancers.

Resources for building a team include:

  • Hiring platforms: To find the right candidates, hiring platforms, such as Indeed and Glassdoor, can help you post job descriptions, screen résumés and conduct video interviews.
  • Job boards: Job boards such as Craigslist and Indeed allow you to post open positions for free.
  • Social media: You can also use social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook to find potential employees.
  • Freelance platforms: Using Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr can help you find talented freelancers for one-time or short-term projects. You can also outsource certain tasks, such as customer service, social media marketing or bookkeeping.

You might also consider partnering with other businesses in your industry. For example, if you’re a wedding planner, you could partner with a florist, photographer, catering company or venue. This way, you can offer your customers a one-stop shop for all their wedding needs. Another example is an e-commerce store that partners with a fulfillment center. This type of partnership can help you save money on shipping and storage costs, and it can also help you get your products to your customers faster.

To find potential partnerships, search for businesses in your industry that complement what you do. For example, if you’re a web designer, you could partner with a digital marketing agency.

You can also search for businesses that serve the same target market as you but offer different products or services. For example, if you sell women’s clothing, you could partner with a jewelry store or a hair salon.

  • Best Recruiting Software
  • How To Hire Employees
  • Where To Post Jobs
  • Best Applicant Tracking Systems

To rank the best states to start a business in 2024, Forbes Advisor analyzed 18 key metrics across five categories to determine which states are the best and worst to start a business in. Our ranking takes into consideration factors that impact businesses and their ability to succeed, such as business costs, business climate, economy, workforce and financial accessibility in each state. Check out the full report .

Starting a small business takes time, effort and perseverance. But if you’re willing to put in the work, it can be a great way to achieve your dreams and goals. Be sure to do your research, create a solid business plan and pivot along the way. Once you’re operational, don’t forget to stay focused and organized so you can continue to grow your business.

How do I start a small business with no money?

There are several funding sources for brand-new businesses and most require a business plan to secure it. These include the SBA , private grants, angel investors, crowdfunding and venture capital.

What is the best business structure?

The best business structure for your business will depend entirely on what kind of company you form, your industry and what you want to accomplish. But any successful business structure will be one that will help your company set realistic goals and follow through on set tasks.

Do I need a business credit card?

You don’t need one, but a business credit card can be helpful for new small businesses. It allows you to start building business credit, which can help you down the road when you need to take out a loan or line of credit. Additionally, business credit cards often come with rewards and perks that can save you money on business expenses.

Do I need a special license or permit to start a small business?

The answer to this question will depend on the type of business you want to start and where you’re located. Some businesses, such as restaurants, will require a special permit or license to operate. Others, such as home daycare providers, may need to register with the state.

How much does it cost to create a business?

The cost of starting a business will vary depending on the size and type of company you want to create. For example, a home-based business will be less expensive to start than a brick-and-mortar store. Additionally, the cost of starting a business will increase if you need to rent or buy commercial space, hire employees or purchase inventory. You could potentially get started for free by dropshipping or selling digital goods.

How do I get a loan for a new business?

The best way to get a loan for a new business is to approach banks or other financial institutions and provide them with a business plan and your financial history. You can also look into government-backed loans, such as those offered by the SBA. Startups may also be able to get loans from alternative lenders, including online platforms such as Kiva.

Do I need a business degree to start a business?

No, you don’t need a business degree to start a business. However, acquiring a degree in business or a related field can provide you with the understanding and ability to run an effective company. Additionally, you may want to consider taking some business courses if you don’t have a degree to learn more about starting and running a business. You can find these online and at your local Small Business Administration office.

What are some easy businesses to start?

One of the easiest businesses to start also has the lowest overhead: selling digital goods. This can include items such as e-books, online courses, audio files or software. If you have expertise in a particular area or niche, this is a great option for you. Dropshipping is also a great option because you don’t have to keep inventory. You could also buy wholesale products or create your own. Once you create your product, you can sell it through your own website or third-party platforms such as Amazon or Etsy.

What is the most profitable type of business?

There is no one answer to this question because the most profitable type of business will vary depending on a number of factors, such as your industry, location, target market and business model. However, some businesses tend to be more profitable than others, such as luxury goods, high-end services, business-to-business companies and subscription-based businesses. If you’re not sure what type of business to start, consider your strengths and interests, as well as the needs of your target market, to help you choose a profitable business idea.

  • Best Registered Agent Services
  • Best Trademark Registration Services
  • Top LegalZoom Competitors
  • Best Business Loans
  • Best Business Plan Software
  • ZenBusiness Review
  • LegalZoom LLC Review
  • Northwest Registered Agent Review
  • Rocket Lawyer Review
  • Inc. Authority Review
  • Rocket Lawyer vs. LegalZoom
  • Bizee Review (Formerly Incfile)
  • Swyft Filings Review
  • Harbor Compliance Review
  • Sole Proprietorship vs. LLC
  • LLC vs. Corporation
  • LLC vs. S Corp
  • LLP vs. LLC
  • DBA vs. LLC
  • LegalZoom vs. Incfile
  • LegalZoom vs. ZenBusiness
  • LegalZoom vs. Rocket Lawyer
  • ZenBusiness vs. Incfile
  • How to Set Up an LLC
  • How to Get a Business License
  • LLC Operating Agreement Template
  • 501(c)(3) Application Guide
  • What is a Business License?
  • What is an LLC?
  • What is an S Corp?
  • What is a C Corp?
  • What is a DBA?
  • What is a Sole Proprietorship?
  • What is a Registered Agent?
  • How to Dissolve an LLC
  • How to File a DBA
  • What Are Articles Of Incorporation?
  • Types Of Business Ownership

Next Up In Business

  • Best Online Legal Services
  • How To Write A Business Plan
  • How To Start A Candle Business
  • Starting An S-Corp
  • LLC Vs. C-Corp
  • How Much Does It Cost To Start An LLC?
  • How To Start An Online Boutique
  • Most Recession-Proof Businesses In 2024

Best Massachusetts Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best Massachusetts Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Katherine Haan

Best Pennsylvania Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best Utah Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best Utah Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best New Mexico Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best New Mexico Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best Maine Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best Maine Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best Nebraska Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Best Nebraska Registered Agent Services Of 2024

Katherine Haan is a small business owner with nearly two decades of experience helping other business owners increase their incomes.

  • Contact sales

Start free trial

What Is a Work Plan? How to Make a Work Plan In 7 Steps

ProjectManager

Before you can accomplish your project goals, you need to plan how to reach them. A work plan creates a clear path project teams can follow to reach their desired goals and objectives. Along that path will be resources, constraints and other work management elements that need to be described in your work plan.

What Is a Work Plan?

As its name suggests, a work plan is an action plan that helps project teams achieve their goals. Work plans factor in key project planning elements such as tasks, milestones, deliverables, resources, budgetary requirements and a timeline to weave it all together.

The work plan won’t be written and initiated by a single person and it should be submitted to board members and stakeholders for approval. Once approved, you can continue building out the rest of your work plan.

how does the business plan work

Get your free

Work Plan Template

Use this free Work Plan Template for Word to manage your projects better.

Why Do You Need a Work Plan?

As we mentioned, your work plan acts as your roadmap for the entire project execution. Not only will it keep you and your team organized, but it’ll ensure that you get buy-in from key stakeholders, related departments, relevant accountability/risk leaders and more.

Additionally, it helps manage expectations on both the stakeholder level as well as on the managerial and team member level—everyone that starts off on the right foot has a better chance of landing on the right foot, too.

Work plans guide project teams in a similar way project plans do. However, there’s a big difference between these two important project management documents .

Work Plan vs. Project Plan

Work plans are not as comprehensive as project plans , which have a wider scope and involve more components. The main difference between them is that project plans are created from a high-level view and address every aspect of project management. On the other hand, work plans focus on helping project teams achieve smaller objectives.

If you build your work plan in project management software like ProjectManager , then it’s easy to continue to iterate on your plan and make improvements over time. You can use robust project planning tools such as Gantt charts, kanban boards, project dashboards and much more. Get started today for free.

screenshot of a work plan on a Gantt chart

How to Make a Work Plan in 7 Steps

While work plans might take many forms, here are some simple work planning steps you can follow to make one.

1. Set Goals & Objectives

Before anything, it’s important to write down the goals and objectives that’ll be achieved through your work plan. These will describe the purpose of your plan. It’s important to use SMART goals : create goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-related. This should help you start your plan off on the right foot.

Your goals might sound like your purpose, but they’re more specific in that they’re more long-term oriented — i.e., your team learned more about the process of launching a bug fix or how to respond more directly to customer or market feedback.

Similarly, your project objectives should be measurable. For example, the objective of this project after launch is to create an increase of xx% of active monthly subscribers, or a certain dollar amount in revenue generated.

2. Define the Scope of Your Work Plan

Once you’ve identified your work plan goals, you should use a work breakdown structure (WBS) to identify all the tasks that must be executed to achieve them, which is your project scope. By breaking down your project scope, you can start assembling a team, estimating costs, creating a budget and drafting a project schedule.

Free WBS template

3. Estimate What Resources Are Needed

When you break down your project scope using a WBS, you can better estimate what resources are needed for each task in your work plan. Make sure to include different types of project resources, such as human resources, raw materials, machinery, subcontractors or anything else that you might need for the execution of your work plan.

4. Assign Roles & Responsibilities

Now, assemble a project team and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each member. Communicate with them and make sure they understand what their job is and how they can collaborate with each other.

RACI chart example in ProjectManager

5. Estimate Costs & Create a Budget

Once you have a clear idea of what resources are needed for your work plan, it’s time to estimate their costs and create a budget . To do so, simply establish a measurement unit for your labor, materials and other resources to then assign a price to them.

Free project budget template

6. Create a Project Schedule

There are different tools and techniques you can use to create a project schedule for your work plan. In fact, most project managers use Gantt charts, project calendars, kanban boards.

Gantt Chart template for Microsoft Excel

7. List Any Risks, Constraints and Assumptions

Remember that your work plan is the action plan that’ll guide your project, so the more details you have about constraints and potential risks, the better your team will perform their tasks to produce deliverables and achieve the goals and objectives.

Maybe some of your team members take a few sick days during this period of time; maybe unexpected tasks have to be executed; maybe some of your tools crash that requires more money pulled from the budget. Whatever your project constraints may be, factor in anything that might feel like a risk that can lead to a full-blown constraint, which may affect the completion of deliverables or even the goals and objectives of your project.

Free Work Plan Template

Our work plan template can help you document the steps explained above. Be sure to constantly monitor your template and update it as changes occur in your planning process. Or, if you’re looking for more dynamic project planning tools, you can use Gantt charts.

Free work plan template in ProjectManager

A work plan template can help you organize your thoughts, but in order to create your action plan and execute it, you’ll need dynamic project management software to help you throughout the planning, execution and monitoring phases.

Work Plan Example

Here’s a basic example to better illustrate how a work plan works. Let’s imagine you’re a business owner who wants to increase your production output by 25 percent by acquiring new machinery and hiring more production employees. While this project doesn’t involve producing tangible deliverables , you’ll still need a work plan.

Goals & Objectives It’s important to define one primary goal and then some smaller, more specific objectives needed for the completion of that goal.

Main Work Plan Goal Increase production output by 25 percent.

Work Plan Objectives

  • Improve the company’s production capacity by acquiring new machinery
  • Fill skill gaps in the production planning team
  • Make sure machinery is well-maintained

Scope of the Work Plan Now, you should list individual activities that must be completed in order to achieve your goal and objectives. Here’s a simple breakdown of activities.

  • Inspect the production line
  • Perform preventive maintenance
  • Optimize plant layout
  • Acquire new machinery
  • Assess the current team
  • Hire new personnel

Resources/Roles & Responsibilities In this case, you’ll need a production manager, HR manager and maintenance team. They’re responsible for executing the tasks listed above.

Work Plan Budget Your budget should cover both the labor costs as well as the cost of the new equipment. Your labor costs will be the salaries of the production manager, HR manager and maintenance team. Make sure you estimate your project costs accurately before creating a budget.

Work Plan Schedule Define a timeframe for the analysis of your production line, the procurement of new machinery, preventive maintenance and hiring.

Risk, Assumptions & Constraints Think about any risks, assumptions or constraints that might affect your work plan. The best place to start is the triple constraint of time, budget and resources.

Creating a Work Plan With Project Management Software

To learn more about how project management tools such as Gantt charts , kanban boards and project dashboards can help you make the perfect work plan, watch the short video below. We’ll quickly show you all the ways that project planning software can improve your planning, execution and reporting—so you can make that work plan with confidence.

Project management training video (kkuo0lgcxf)

ProjectManager Can Help You With Your Work Plan

Getting every detail of a work plan sorted is no easy task—from managing your team to managing your stakeholders. It requires a delicate balance of understanding your project timeline, the tasks that make up the project scope, potential risks , balancing a budget and allocating resources. Not to mention, you’ll have to do this while keeping the customers’ ultimate needs and the project goals and objectives in mind.

With ProjectManager , our online Gantt charts let you schedule your entire project timeline, assign tasks, create dependencies and oversee tracking. Additionally, we have team collaboration features that allow your staff and managers to comment on tasks, attach necessary files, and interact with each other no matter where they’re located.

ProjectManager's team management features

ProjectManager also features resource management tools that let you balance the hours worked across your team. This helps ensure that your time, tools and resources are balanced no matter what.

Related Work Management Content

  • What Is Work Management? Creating a Work Management System
  • Best Work Management Software of 2024 for Remote Teams
  • What is a Statement of Work? Definition & Examples
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Creating a work plan and don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered. With ProjectManager , you’ll get access to online software that helps you to better track your work plan from milestone to milestone. Start your free 30-day trial with ProjectManager  today.

Click here to browse ProjectManager's free templates

Deliver your projects on time and on budget

Start planning your projects.

How to know if you were affected by the AT&T data breach and what to do next

The call and text message records of nearly all of AT&T's cellular customers were exposed in a data breach , the company said Friday.

The company said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission it learned in April that customer data was illegally downloaded from an AT&T workspace on a third-party cloud platform.

The company said it is working with law enforcement to arrest those involved in the incident, and that at least one person has been apprehended.

"We have an ongoing investigation into the AT&T breach and we're coordinating with our law enforcement partners," the Federal Communications Commission said on social media Friday morning.

Here's what else to know about the massive data breach, if you were affected and what to do if you are concerned about possible exposure of sensitive information.

AT&T data breach: Do users need to do anything?

Who was affected by the AT&T breach?

In the SEC filing, AT&T said the threat actors exfiltrated files containing records of customer call and text interactions that occurred approximately between May 1 and October 31, 2022. The company said the compromised data also includes records from January 2, 2023 for a "very small number of customers."

In addition to cellular customers, customers of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) using AT&T's wireless network and AT&T landline customers who interacted with these cellular numbers were also affected.

AT&T said it will contact affected customers by text, email or U.S. mail. Customers can also check their accounts online to see if they were affected.

What type of data was exposed?

AT&T said in a news release Friday that "the data does not contain the content of calls or texts, personal information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, or other personally identifiable information."

"It also does not include some typical information you see in your usage details, such as the time stamp of calls or texts," the company added.

AT&T also said that while the compromised data also does not include customer names, there are often ways, using publicly available online tools, to find the name associated with a specific telephone number.

"At this time, we do not believe that the data is publicly available," the company said in the news release.

AT&T data breach: AT&T says nearly all of its cell customers' call and text records were exposed in massive breach

What should AT&T customers do?

AT&T said that as a general rule, customers should remain cautious of any phone call or text request asking you for personal, account or credit card details. If you suspect:

  • Suspicious text activity: Do not reply. Forward the text to AT&T so they can assist you. Forwarded messages are free and won't count toward your text plan.
  • You are a target of fraud on your AT&T wireless number: Report it to AT&T's fraud team . If you suspect fraud on another account, call the customer service number on your bill for help.

AT&T also says customers should only open text messages from people you know and trust, and shouldn't reply to a text from an unknown sender with personal details.

What to do if your Social Security number has been exposed

While AT&T says Social Security numbers were not exposed in the data breach, customers who are concerned about being exposed can follow this guidance from the Federal Trade Commission :

  • Take advantage of free credit monitoring, if offered by the company responsible.
  • Get free credit reports and check them for accounts or charges you don't recognize.
  • Place a free credit freeze or fraud alert.  A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open an account in your name. However, it will require a few extra steps to briefly unlock the freeze if you apply for something that requires a credit check. A fraud alert requires businesses to verify your identity before they issues new credit in your name.
  • Continue to monitor your credit reports at  annualcreditreport.com , where you can check them weekly for free.

What to do if your credit card number or bank account information is compromised

While AT&T said that "personally identifiable information" wasn't involved with the data breach, if you suspect your banking information has been leaked, the FTC suggests:

  • Contacting your bank to close your account or cancel your credit or debit card and get a new one.
  • Reviewing transactions regularly to check for fraudulent charges.
  • Updating any automatic payments with your new account information.

Contributing: Chad Murphy, USA TODAY Network

Gabe Hauari is a national trending news reporter at USA TODAY. You can follow him on X  @GabeHauari  or email him at [email protected].

Watch CBS News

Project 2025 would overhaul the U.S. tax system. Here's how it could impact you.

By Aimee Picchi

Edited By Anne Marie Lee

Updated on: July 12, 2024 / 1:42 PM EDT / CBS News

Project 2025, a 900-page blueprint for the next Republican president, is gaining attention for its proposals to overhaul the federal government. Among those changes: a major restructuring of the U.S. tax code. 

President Biden and Democrats have been citing Project 2025 in recent weeks as they seek to highlight what could be in store if former President Donald Trump wins at the polls in November and retakes the White House in January.  Many of the blueprint's proposals touch on economic matters that could impact millions of Americans, as well as social issues such as abortion and diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, topics. 

Project 2025 , overseen by the conservative Heritage Foundation, is spearheaded by two ex-Trump administration officials: project director Paul Dans, who was chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management, and Spencer Chretien, former special assistant to Trump who is now the project's associate director.

Trump: "I know nothing about Project 2025"

For his part, Trump has distanced himself from the blueprint, writing on Truth Social early Thursday that he isn't familiar with the plan. His campaign has proposed its own goals through " Agenda 47 ," which tends to focus on social and political issues such as homelessness and immigration rather than taxes.

"I know nothing about Project 2025. I have not seen it, have no idea who is in charge of it, and, unlike our very well received Republican Platform, had nothing to do with it," Trump wrote  Thursday.

His pushback comes after Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts opined in a podcast interview that the U.S. is "in the process of the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be." 

According to Project 2025's website, its goal is to have "a governing agenda and the right people in place, ready to carry this agenda out on day one of the next conservative administration."

A shift to two brackets

The tax proposals of Project 2025, if enacted, would likely affect every adult in the U.S. by tossing out the nation's long-standing system of multiple tax brackets, which is designed to help lower-income Americans pay a smaller share of their income in federal taxes compared with middle- or high-income workers. 

Currently, there are seven tax brackets — 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37% — with each based on income thresholds. For instance, a married couple pays 10% in federal income tax on their first $23,200 of income, and then 12% on earnings from $23,201 to $94,300, and so on. Married couples need to earn over $487,450 this year to hit the top tax rate of 37%.

Project 2025 argues that the current tax system is too complicated and expensive for taxpayers to navigate. To remedy those problems, it proposes just two tax rates: a 15% flat tax for people earning up to about $168,000, and a 30% income tax for people earning above that, according to the document . It also proposes eliminating "most deductions, credits and exclusions," although the blueprint doesn't specify which ones would go and which would stay.

"The federal income tax system is progressive, and people who make more money pay a higher marginal tax rate than people who make less money," Brendan Duke, senior director for economic policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, told CBS MoneyWatch. "Conservatives look at that, and they feel that that's unfair to the wealthy to ask them to pay a greater share of their income in taxes than lower income families."

The Project 2025 proposal "is a dramatic reform of how we fund our government, where we ask the wealthy to pitch in more than lower income families," he said. "This shifts taxes from the wealthy to the middle class, full stop."

Project 2025 didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In a statement, the Heritage Foundation said it will ultimately be up to the next conservative president do decide which recommendations to implement, adding "As we've been saying for more than two years now, Project 2025 does not speak for any candidate or campaign." 

Project 2025's tax rates 

Millions of low- and middle-class households would likely face significantly higher taxes under the Project 2025's proposals.

He estimated that a middle-class family with two children and an annual income of $100,000 would pay $2,600 in additional federal income tax if they faced a 15% flat tax on their income due to the loss of the 10% and 12% tax brackets. If the Child Tax Credit were also eliminated, they would pay an additional $6,600 compared with today's tax system, Duke said. 

By comparison, a married couple with two children and earnings of $5 million a year would enjoy a $325,000 tax cut, he estimated. 

"That 15% bracket is a very big deal in terms of raising taxes on middle-class families," Duke said. 

Millions of U.S. households earning less than $168,000 would likely face higher taxes with a 15% rate. Currently, the bottom half of American taxpayers, who earn less than $46,000 a year, pay an effective tax rate of 3.3%  — which reflects their income taxes after deductions, tax credits and other benefits. 

Among other tax and economic changes proposed by Project 2025: 

  • Cutting the corporate tax rate to 18% from its current 21%, which was enacted in 2017's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Prior to the TCJA, the corporate tax rate stood at 35%.
  • Reducing the capital gains tax to 15%. Currently, high-income earners pay a tax of 20% on their capital gains.
  • Eliminating credits for green energy projects created by the Inflation Reduction Act.
  • Considering the introduction of a U.S. consumption tax, such as a national sales tax. 
  • Eliminating the Federal Reserve's mandate to maintain full employment in the labor market.

To be sure, overhauling the tax system would require lawmakers to approve changes to the tax code, which could be difficult if either the House or Senate is controlled by the opposing party. For instance, Trump was able to get his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by a Republican-led Congress, even though no Democrats voted in support of the measure. 

What does Trump say about taxes?

Trump hasn't yet proposed any concrete tax plans, but analysts expect that he would seek to extend the tax cuts enacted through the TCJA if he is reelected. Currently, many of the provisions of the TCJA, including lower tax brackets, are set to expire at the end of 2025. 

One likely scenario if Trump is reelected is that Republican lawmakers would extend the TJCA's tax cuts, while seeking to fund the reduction in tax revenue by repealing some of the clean energy and climate-related provisions in the Biden administration's Inflation Reduction Act, according to an April report from Oxford Economics. Lawmakers could also seek to cut spending on social benefits to offset the tax cuts, the research firm added.

Trump has suggested a proposal to create a 10% tariff for all imports and a 60% tariff for Chinese imports that could raise enough money to eliminate the federal income tax. 

Tax experts also say the math doesn't work out because money raised from new tariffs would fall far short of replacing the more than $2 trillion in individual income taxes collected by the IRS each year. Consumers are also likely to pay more in higher costs for imported consumer goods and services with tariffs tacked onto them, experts note.

"A tariff is a consumption tax, and there is a throughline between [Project 2025's] tax reform and what Trump has talked about, getting rid of taxes in favor of a consumption tax," Duke noted. 

  • Donald Trump

Aimee Picchi is the associate managing editor for CBS MoneyWatch, where she covers business and personal finance. She previously worked at Bloomberg News and has written for national news outlets including USA Today and Consumer Reports.

More from CBS News

Highlights from the 2024 Republican National Convention

At Trump's GOP Convention, there's little to be heard on health care

2024 RNC Day 3 fact check of the Republican National Convention

Investors are putting their money on the "Trump trade."

  • Step 1: Figure out your goals 
  • Step 2: Determine your budget 
  • Step 3: Get acquainted with various stocks and funds 

Step 4: Define your investing strategy

  • Step 5: Choose your investing account 
  • Step 6: Manage your portfolio 
  • Best stocks for beginners

Should you invest in stocks?

Frequently asked questions (faq), how interest rates affect the stock market, how to invest in stocks: a step-by-step guide for beginners.

Paid non-client promotion: Affiliate links for the products on this page are from partners that compensate us (see our advertiser disclosure with our list of partners for more details). However, our opinions are our own. See how we rate investing products to write unbiased product reviews.

  • You can start investing in stocks through a brokerage account or by using a robo-advisor.
  • But you should establish goals, review your financial situation, and determine your risk tolerance first.
  • Rebalancing your portfolio periodically will help you keep your investments in good shape.

Looking to maximize your money and beat the cost of inflation ? You want to invest in the stock market to get higher returns than your average savings account. But learning how to invest in stocks can be daunting for someone just getting started. 

When you invest in stocks , you're purchasing a share of a company. They're basically a slice of ownership in a company that can yield returns if it's successful. There are various ways to invest and leverage your money. But there's a lot to know before you get started investing in stocks. 

Investing for Beginners

Step 1: Figure out your goals 

It's important to know what your fundamental goals are and why you want to start investing in the first place. Knowing this will help you to set clear goals to work toward. This is a crucial first step to take when you're looking to create an investing strategy later on. 

If you're unsure of your goals, first review your financial situation, such as how much debt you have, your after-tax income, and your expected retirement goal date. Knowing when you plan to retire can let you know your overall time horizon — or how much time you plan to hold onto your investments to reach your financial goal. 

Based on that information, you can start figuring out your investing goals. Do you want to invest for the short or long term? Are you saving for a down payment on a house? Or are you trying to build your nest egg for retirement? All of these situations will affect how much — and how aggressively — to invest.

Finally, investing, like life, is inherently risky And you can lose money as easily as you can earn it. For your financial and mental well-being, you want to consider your appetite for risk. This is typically referred to as "risk tolerance" or how much risk you can reasonably take on given your financial situation and feelings about risk. 

Step 2: Determine your budget 

Once you've got some solid goals set, it's time to review your budget. Here are some things to consider:

  • Your current after-tax income. Many people look at their pre-tax income, but you want to know how much money you're working with after taxes which can help you create a realistic budget. 
  • Your expenses. How much are your monthly expenses? How much do you have left over each month? Is it possible to reduce or cut some expenses? 
  • Overall debt. How much debt do you have? List out your monthly payments and compare that against what you're making.
  • Net worth. Your net worth is your total assets minus your liabilities. This number can give you an idea of where you're at financially and will allow you to get a "big-picture" snapshot of your financial health. 
  • Financial goals. As we mentioned before, knowing your goals is important as it gives your money a purpose. 
  • Risk tolerance. How much risk do you feel comfortable taking on? Calculating this will give you a clearer idea of what you can afford to lose.
  • Time horizon . How much time do you have before you want to reach your investing goals? This is key to mapping out your finances to ensure you're keeping pace with when and how to invest without disrupting your budget or other goals not related to trading securities.

All of these are key ingredients that can help you determine your budget. 

One last thing to consider: when you expect to retire. For example, if you have 30 years to save for retirement, you can use a retirement calculator to assess how much you might need and how much you should save each month. When setting a budget, make sure you can afford it and that it is helping you reach your goals. 

Step 3: Get acquainted with various stocks and funds 

Now it's time to start doing research on what to invest in. There are different ways to invest in the stock market and there's a lot to know so doing your research is well worth your time. As a regular person who is investing (not a professional trader, accredited trader, or institution), you're what's called a "retail investor." 

Stocks are a good option to consider if you want to invest in specific companies. Just keep in mind that you should look into the company itself and how it's performing over time:

  • Stocks — A stock is a security that gives stockholders the opportunity to buy a fractional share of ownership in a particular company. There are many different types of stocks to choose from, such as blue-chip stocks, growth stocks, and penny stocks , so make sure you understand your options, what they offer, and what matches with your budget and investing goals.

"If you're going to pick a stock, look at the [company's] financial statements and select the stock based on the "bucket" you're trying to fill in your portfolio. For example, are you looking for a dividend stock? Look at the dividend history. Are you looking for a growth stock? Look at the earnings per share : Is it showing consistent growth? [Consider] how these indicators measure against [its] peer group," says Amy Irvine, a CFP® professional at Rooted Planning Group. 

So you want to take steps to look at your income and expense balance sheets and make sure you're hitting the right bucket — which refers to the grouping of related assets or categories — for your investing needs. For example, investing in small-cap, mid-cap, or large-cap stocks, are a way to invest in different-sized companies with varying market capitalizations and degrees of risk. 

If you're looking to go the DIY route or want the option to have your securities professionally managed, you can consider ETFs, mutual funds, or index funds:

  • Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) — ETFs are a type of exchange-traded investment product that must register with the SEC and allows investors to pool money and invest in stocks, bonds, or assets that are traded on the US stock exchange . There are two types of ETFs: Index-based ETFs and actively managed ETFs. Index-based ETFs track a particular securities index like the S&P 500 and invest in those securities contained within that index. Actively managed ETFs aren't based on an index and instead aim to achieve an investment objective by investing in a portfolio of securities that will meet that goal and are managed by an advisor. 
  • Mutual funds — this investment vehicle also allows investors to pool their money to invest in various assets, and are similar to some ETFs in that way. However, mutual funds are always actively managed by a fund manager. Most mutual funds fall into one of four main categories: bond funds, money market funds, stock funds, and target-date funds. 
  • Index funds — this type of investment vehicle is a mutual fund that's designed to track a particular index such as the S&P 500. Index funds invest in stocks or bonds of various companies that are listed on a particular index. 

You want to get familiar with the various types of investing vehicles and understand the risks and rewards of each type of security. For example, stocks can be lucrative but also very risky. As we mentioned before, mutual funds are actively managed, whereas index-based ETFs and index funds are passively managed. 

This is important to keep in mind because your costs and responsibilities vary depending on an active versus passive approach. Mutual funds are professionally managed and may have higher fees. With ETFs and index funds, you can purchase them yourself and may have lower fees. Having a diverse portfolio can help you prepare for the risk and not have all of your eggs in one basket. 

"You can choose to invest in individual stocks, a stock mutual fund, or an ETF. ETFs are somewhat similar to mutual funds in that they invest in many stocks, but trade more similarly to an individual stock," explains Kenny Senour, CFP® professional at Millennial Wealth Management. "For example, let's say you open a brokerage account with $1,000. You can use that money to purchase a certain number of shares in ABC Company, the underlying price of which fluctuates while the stock market is open. Or you could choose to invest it in a stock mutual fund, which invests in many different stocks and is priced at the close of each market at the end of the day." 

The main things to consider when defining your investment strategy are your time horizon, your financial goals, risk tolerance, tax bracket, and your time constraints. Based on this information, there are two main approaches to investing.

  • Passive investing — an investing strategy that takes a buy-and-hold approach, passive investing is a way to DIY your investments for maximum efficiency over time. In other words, you can do it yourself instead of working with a professional. A buy-and-hold strategy focuses on buying investments and holding on to them as long as possible. Instead of trying to "time" the market, you focus on "time in the market."
  • Active investing — an active approach to investing that requires buying and selling, based on market conditions. You can do this yourself or have a professional manager managing your investments. Active investing takes the opposite approach, hoping to maximize gains by buying and selling more frequently and at specific times.

Step 5: Choose your investing account 

After choosing your investment strategy, you want to choose an investing account that can help you get started. Decide if you want to do it yourself or get a professional to help out. 

If you want to be a passive investor and DIY, you can look into:

  • Robo-advisors like Betterment or Wealthfront, which uses algorithms to invest for you
  • Open a brokerage account with Vanguard, Fidelity, or similar 

If you want to get started with active investing, you can use:

  • Use Vanguard actively managed funds
  • Use Fidelity actively managed funds 
  • Trade using Public 

When considering active versus passive investing and if you should DIY it or get a professional, you want to consider several factors. Look at total fees, the time commitment involved and any account minimums as well. 

The easiest way for many people to get started with investing is to utilize their employer-sponsored 401(k). Talk to your employer about getting started and see if they'll match part of your contributions. 

The key is to choose an investment account that fits with your budget and investment strategy, open an account, and then submit an initial deposit. Just know that when you submit money, it's in a cash settlement account and not yet actively invested (I made this mistake when I first started investing!) 

Step 6: Manage your portfolio 

Now it's time to start managing your portfolio. So that means buying stocks, ETFs, or index funds with their appropriate codes from your account. That is when your money is actually invested. 

But it doesn't stop there — you also want to continue to add to your portfolio so consider setting up auto-deposits each month. You can also re-invest any earnings or dividends to help build growth over time.  

Diversify your portfolio by investing in different types of investment vehicles and industries. A buy-and-hold approach is typically better for beginner investors. It can be tempting to try out day trading, but that can be very risky. 

Lastly, you'll want to rebalance your portfolio at least once a year. As your portfolio grows and dips, your asset allocation — or how much you've invested in stocks, bonds, and cash — will have shifted. Rebalancing is basically resetting that to the proportion you want. 

"Rebalancing is the practice of periodically selling and buying investments in your underlying portfolio to make sure certain target weights are stable over time. For example, let's say you are an aggressive investor with 90% of your portfolio in stocks and 10% of your portfolio in bonds. Over time, as stocks and bonds perform differently, those weights will drift," explains Senour.  

"Without periodic rebalancing, your portfolio could become 95% stocks and 5% bonds which may not be in line with your intended financial goals for the account. There's no "perfect" time frame for rebalancing as some financial professionals suggest doing so every quarter, but conventional wisdom says at a minimum rebalancing at least once per year can make sense."

Continuing to invest money and rebalance your portfolio periodically will help you keep your investments in good shape. 

Stocks for beginners

Choosing stocks can be overwhelming for beginners — but you don't have to just invest in individual stocks. It can be less risky (and good for diversifying your portfolio) to invest in funds.

You may choose to invest in an index fund, which is a group of assets that tracks an index such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Investing in individual stocks can be useful. However, you should thoroughly research the company before doing so. And as a beginner, you'll probably want to seek advice from an expert like a financial advisor .

Learning how to invest in stocks can be overwhelming, especially if you're just getting started. Figuring out your goals and determining a budget are the first steps to take.

After that, get acquainted with various investment vehicles and choose the right ones for your financial goals and risk tolerance.

The key is to get started and be consistent. The best investment strategy is the one you'll stick with. Just be aware all investing comes with risk and do your research on any related fees. 

What are the main types of investments? 

Investments come in many forms. If you want to start investing, understanding the main types of investments is helpful. 

You may hear the breakdown of investment types as asset classes. Here's a look at some of the most common types of investments.

  • Stocks : A stock is an investment that indicates fractional ownership in a company. When you buy stocks, you have an opportunity to grow your investment if the value of a company's stock increases. Additionally, some stocks pay dividends to their investors. 
  • Bonds : A bond represents a loan to a particular entity with set repayment terms. When you buy a bond, the entity agrees to repay you with interest. Both companies and governments can issue bonds. 
  • Commodities : Commodities are tangible assets, like natural resources, that are publicly traded. Generally, commodities are considered high-risk due to heightened volatility. 
  • Mutual funds : A mutual fund represents a portfolio of investments that uses money from many investors to purchase a selection of securities. Mutual funds are commonly actively managed with the goal of outperforming the market. 
  • ETFs : An exchange-traded fund (ETF) represents a selection of securities. You can invest in index-based ETFs or actively managed ETFs. But many ETFs are index-based that track a particular index, like the S&P 500. 
  • Real estate : Real estate investing is a broad option that covers investments based on physical property. You can buy individual properties to rent out or shares in a real estate investment trust ( REIT ).

How to invest for inflation

Over time, inflation can erode the purchasing power of your dollar, and also chip away at your investment returns. But with some foresight and planning, it's possible to protect your money. The solution is investing for inflation — choosing investments that will give you a return greater than the current rate of inflation — or at least keep up with it.

Several asset classes in particular lend themselves to inflation-oriented investing. 

  • Appreciation-oriented assets: Go for investments that offer growth, or appreciation — not simply income. Company stock is a prime example. 
  • Real assets: Inflation devalues nominal assets, like CDs and traditional bonds, because they're priced based on the fixed interest they pay, which will lose value when inflation is increasing. In contrast, real assets are tangible things with fundamental value. So their worth floats up together with inflation.
  • Variable interest-rate assets: If something pays a fixed rate, you'll lose money in an inflationary environment. Assets with fluctuating interest rates give your money more of a fighting chance, as they'll also rise with inflation.

Growth stocks vs value stocks

Growth stocks are shares of companies that are expected to experience high growth rates in both their revenue and returns to investors. Growth stocks are those that investors believe will have higher-than-average returns in the short term, while value stocks are those that investors feel are overlooked by the market at large. They are more volatile than value stocks, but they also have the potential to generate higher returns.

Value stocks, on the other hand, are shares of companies that trade at a lower price relative to the company's financial performance. They are measured and defined by their financial performance, such as sales, earnings, and select financial ratios. 

Another way of looking at the difference between the two: Growth stocks would be the expensive designer jacket, value stocks would be the jacket at the thrift store. 

The Fed meets eight times per year to discuss the federal funds rate, and investors tend to react to what occurs once the notes of the meeting have been released. During these meetings, the Fed uses economic data like the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the unemployment rate, and more to determine what the Fed Funds rate should be.

The stock market reacts to the changes in the interest rates because it generally signals whether or not the economy is strong. It could also have an impact on a company's cost to doing business, thus changing how investors may value a company. This is because of the impact that interest rates have on the stock market.   

Here are the ways interest rates affect the stock market:

1. When rates rise, stocks tend to fall — when rates fall, stocks rise

"When interest rates are low, companies can assume debt at a low cost, which they may use to add team members or expand into new ventures," says Harrison. "When rates rise, it's harder for companies to borrow and more costly to manage what debt they already have, which impacts their ability to grow," he adds. These higher costs may result in lower revenues, thus negatively impacting the value of the company.

Also keep in mind that as rates fall on savings accounts and certificates of deposit, investors generally seek out higher paying investments like stocks and are generally seen as a catalyst for growth in the market; in a rising rate environment investors tend to shift away from stock to places with less risk and safer returns. 

2. The rates impacts bonds

Most traditional bonds pay a fixed interest rate through maturity. For example, if you own a 10 year bond paying 3% per year, the 3% annual payment will not fluctuate. However, if interest rates are cut during the life of the bond, the value of the bond rises. This is because as new bonds are issued, it is unlikely that they will be as attractive financially. The opposite is true in a rising rate environment. 

3. Investor expectations can cause volatility

In some cases, how investors feel about the prospects of an interest rate hike or cut can cause the market to swing. Due to announcements by the Fed and other economic data, investors may anticipate a threat of rising rates and begin selling causing short term volatility. This was the case at various points in 2018 and 2021. Investors can do the same and expect a drop in interest rates. In either case, the market can react simply to these expectations of a change in rates without the Fed actually making a move.  

Stock trading vs investing

Trading and investing are two different ways of approaching the stock market. With trading, you're hoping to earn quick returns based on short-term fluctuations in the market. Long-term investors, in contrast, tend to build diversified portfolios of assets and stay in them through the ups and downs of the market.

Trading can be a thrilling way to earn quick cash. However, like with gambling, it can also quickly lead to big losses. Investing usually means smaller short-term wins, but also fewer severe losses.

If you're comfortable with the risks, trading with a portion of your money can be enjoyable and could lead to profits. If reducing risk and exposure to volatility are your main goals, you'll want to stick with long-term investing. But if you're saving for a financial goal you hope to reach by a specific time, a slow-and-steady investing approach is usually best.

The first step is choosing a brokerage account. It may be important to you to use a large, widely recognized company like Charles Schwab or Vanguard. Or you might prefer a robo-advisor, like Wealthfront or Betterment. You'll also want to look at which types of assets you can invest in with a brokerage, and how much each of your top options charges in fees.

Once you've chosen your brokerage, you should be able to apply online. Open the account, deposit money into it, then invest that money in stocks or other assets.

Investing as a beginner can be safe if you do your due diligence. Funds, rather than individual stocks, tend to be safer investments. You can also use a robo-advisor or in-person advisor for a fee to help you decide how to invest. It's important to look at the best financial advisors to ensure you're making wise decisions with your investments.

Yes, it can be worth it. More and more brokerages are starting to offer fractional shares. Let's say a share of a stock costs $100, but you only have $20. With a fractional share, you can buy $20 worth of that share.

Investing in the stock market always comes with risks — it's possible to lose any money you put in. But there's also a chance that your money will grow. If you invest a small amount now, that amount might not be so tiny later.

Investing is the process of putting your money to work for you. Investors buy an asset with the hopes of making money from it either from increases in the price or through regular interest or other income. While investing comes with risks, it offers an opportunity to grow your funds. 

Investors purchase an asset with the hopes that it will appreciate in value or generate income.   Appreciation happens when an asset, like a share of stock, grows in value over time. Many investors purchase assets with the goal of creating an income stream, like a property to producing rental income or securities that make regular payments to the holders. Investors interested in income generation might be drawn to stocks that pay dividends or fixed-income assets like bonds that make regular interest payments.

Also known as ordinary stock, common stock is a type of investment asset or security. Each share of stock represents a tiny portion of ownership of a company. Although you can own shares in any sort of company or investment enterprise, the term "common stock" mainly refers to stock in a publicly traded company, as opposed to a privately held one.

Preferred stock is a type of equity (ownership) security issued by companies to raise money. Preferred stocks pay a higher, fixed dividend than common stock, but their share prices don't appreciate as much as common shares do. Preferreds are best for institutional investors or sophisticated individuals who want them for tax reasons and can weather the risk of the shares being recalled.

A shareholder is an individual or entity — such as a company or organization — that owns stocks in a particular company. If you invest in the stock market, you're already considered a shareholder, or what is also referred to as a stockholder. Shareholders, as part owners of a company, also have the right to vote in some cases regarding matters of the company and can receive dividend payouts when the company is doing well financially. 

Impact investing is buying shares in a company that's designed to have a positive effect on society. These companies have a "double bottom line," focused both on turning a financial profit and making a measurable, positive impact on a social need in the process. This could be through generating renewable energy, making only eco-friendly and sustainably produced products, or financially empowering workers in emerging economies. 

Passive investing, also known as passive management, says that, while the stock market does experience drops and bumps, it inevitably rises over the long haul. So, rather than try to outsmart it, the best course is to mirror the market in your portfolio — usually with investments based on indexes of stocks — and then sit back and enjoy the ride. Simple to understand and easy to execute, passive investing has become the go-to approach for many investors. 

how does the business plan work

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Read our editorial standards .

Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.

**Enrollment required.

how does the business plan work

  • Main content

Advertisement

What Is CrowdStrike?

CrowdStrike’s cybersecurity software is used by scores of industries, including airlines, hospitals and retailers, to prevent hacks and data breaches.

  • Share full article

CrowdStrike’s logo seen over a red background.

By Kate Conger and Claire Moses

  • July 19, 2024 Updated 12:04 p.m. ET

On Friday morning, flights were canceled, broadcasters went off air, trains didn’t run and medical procedures were delayed around the world. Frustrated workers were confronted with blue computer screens and no obvious way to get back online.

The root of the problem? CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity company dedicated to preventing exactly this sort of global outage.

CrowdStrike, which was founded in 2011, is a cloud-based cybersecurity platform whose software is used by scores of industries around the world to protect against hackers and outside breaches.

Its software secures computers at many Fortune 500 companies, and the company has built a reputation over the years as one that can solve even the toughest security problems. CrowdStrike was tapped to investigate the hack of Sony Pictures in 2014, which resulted in the release of confidential data from the movie studio, and the hack of the Democratic National Committee in 2016, which exposed Hillary Clinton’s emails. CrowdStrike serves about 29,000 customers and has about $4 billion in annual sales.

Cybersecurity software like CrowdStrike’s has broad privileges to run across a computer system, including into sensitive areas. That means when errors occur, the ripple effect can be significant.

CrowdStrike updates its security software automatically and silently. A flawed update on Friday morning, of its Falcon Sensor software, resulted in crashes of machines running Microsoft Windows operating system and caused the worldwide chaos.

We’re deeply sorry for the impact that we’ve caused to customers,” George Kurtz, the chief executive of CrowdStrike, said in an interview on the “Today” show. “We know what the issue is. We’re resolving and have resolved the issue now.”

Mr. Kurtz said the outages were not the result of a security incident or cyberattack.

An updated fix of the software has been sent to computers, but experts said outages would most likely persist as CrowdStrike customers worked to reboot computers that had already been affected. Some systems were able to automatically install the fix, Mr. Kurtz said, while others would require manual intervention from I.T. specialists.

CrowdStrike, which went public in 2019, is worth about $76 billion. Its stock fell dramatically on Friday after news of the outage, and remained down about eight percent that morning.

“This is an unprecedented event and not something we or anyone had in their cards,” analysts for Evercore, an investment banking firm, wrote in a note to investors. “This event clearly proves that cyber needs to be diversified and the idea of relying on one or two vendors will come under scrutiny.”

Kate Conger is a technology reporter based in San Francisco. She can be reached at [email protected]. More about Kate Conger

Claire Moses is a Times reporter in London, focused on coverage of breaking and trending news. More about Claire Moses

Find anything you save across the site in your account

What Is Project 2025? How the Conservative Plan Would Restrict Women’s Rights

how does the business plan work

By now, you may be asking yourself, what is Project 2025? The plan from the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation aims to remake society under the next conservative president. Over 100 conservative groups contributed to the Project 2025 book, Mandate for Leadership , which lays out a detailed plan of action over its nearly 1,000 pages, including many policy proposals that have the potential to relegate women back to second-class status.

“Today, the American family is in crisis,” the document claims in the introduction. “Forty percent of all children are born to unmarried mothers, including more than 70% of black children. There is no government program that can replace the hole in a child’s soul cut out by the absence of a father. Fatherlessness is one of the principal sources of American poverty, crime, mental illness, teen suicide, substance abuse, rejection of the church, and high school dropouts.”

In an effort to presumably “rescue” their nuclear, heterosexual, married family ideal, Project 2025 would further curtail reproductive rights , make childcare and applying for welfare benefits more difficult for single parents, and introduce “marriage and relationship education” to federally funded family planning programs.

“If implemented, Project 2025 would be the latest attack in Donald Trump’s full-on assault on reproductive freedom,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a recent speech .

Perhaps the scariest part is that the book makes it pretty clear that this is only phase one.

Here are some of the proposed policies that they envision:

Gender Equality

Starting off strong, the Project 2025 book states, “​​The president should immediately revoke Executive Order 14020 and every policy, including sub-regulatory guidance documents, produced on behalf of or related to the establishment or promotion of the Gender Policy Council and its subsidiary issues.”

Executive Order 14020 , signed into law by President Joe Biden, established a White House Gender Policy Council, whose purpose is to, “advance gender equity and equality, with sensitivity to the experiences of those who suffer discrimination based on multiple factors, including membership in an underserved community.”

In February of 2023, the council released its first progress report on its efforts to improve gender equality, which included introducing protections for pregnant workers and addressing gender-based violence.

Reproductive Rights

The Dobbs v. Jackson decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a big political win for the far right, and Project 2025 shows that they have every intention of curtailing reproductive rights further. The document does not call for a nationwide abortion ban, as some conservative politicians have put forward. Instead, it lays out a strategy for using existing laws to further hamper people’s ability to access abortion.

One particularly frightening policy suggestion in the Project 2025 book is to substantially increase nationwide abortion surveillance. Currently, state health departments report abortion data to the CDC on a voluntary basis. Project 2025’s plan would make abortion data reporting mandatory, and in far greater detail, explicitly to address “abortion tourism.”

“Because liberal states have now become sanctuaries for abortion tourism, HHS should use every available tool, including the cutting of funds, to ensure that every state reports exactly how many abortions take place within its borders, at what gestational age of the child, for what reason, the mother’s state of residence, and by what method,” the document states.

For years, Republicans have made sure that no federal funding is used for abortion care through the Hyde Amendment . This plan would take that even further, making sure that no federal funds could be used to assist anyone traveling to a different state for an abortion, and defunding all “abortion providers,” starting with Planned Parenthood.

Project 2025 would also revive the attempt to force the FDA to rescind its approval of the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol and, as a “bare-minimum” interim measure, ban prescribing the pills through telehealth.

Furthermore, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that Project 2025 imagines would, “Ensure that training for medical professionals (doctors, nurses, etc.) and doulas is not being used for abortion training.”

Contraception

Currently, the HRSA-supported Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines , in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), recommends that adult women have full access to all forms of contraception, including surgery and emergency contraception.

Project 2025 wants coverage of what it calls the “week after pill” removed from the guidelines, as they claim it is a “potential abortifacient.” They are referring here to Ella, a morning-after pill that is not an abortifacient , but can be effective up to five days after unprotected sex. Project 2025 then goes a step farther, and even calls for the elimination of the “male condom” from the guidelines.

None of this amounts to an outright ban on contraception, but it does show a serious effort to limit the availability of all kinds of birth control.

Numerous studies have shown that access to affordable childcare is critical to women’s success in the workplace, and that universal childcare leads to better overall employment and financial outcomes for women. While a long way from true universal childcare, the government’s Head Start programs offer free, federally funded pre-K to children of low-income parents.

Project 2025 proposes eliminating Head Start altogether, stating, “Research has demonstrated that federal Head Start centers, which provide preschool care to children from low-income families, have little or no long-term academic value for children. Given its unaddressed crisis of rampant abuse and lack of positive outcomes, this program should be eliminated along with the entire OHS.”

However, the Brookings Institute found in 2016 that participation in Head Start programs improved educational outcomes, helped with social and behavioral development, and promoted positive parenting.

But Project 2025 doesn’t just want to do away with Head Start. It also rejects the notion of universal childcare altogether in favor of incentivizing “home-based” childcare solutions.

“Instead of providing universal day care, funding should go to parents either to offset the cost of staying home with a child or to pay for familial, in-home childcare,” it reads.

The Best Probiotics, According to Registered Dietitians

While these policies would not explicitly eject women from the workforce, it is reasonable to predict that they would naturally drive many women to choose the more affordable, stay-at-home option.

Project 2025 asserts that families with two married, heterosexual partners lead to “objectively” better outcomes for children, and so suggests tying federal assistance to marriage.

For instance, it proposes diverting child welfare funds to a conservative Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) program, even though a recent 2022 study found that such programs have “non-significant effects” on child well-being.

In a section on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the document just stops short of calling for these benefits to be contingent on marital status.

“Additionally, TANF priorities are not implemented in an equally weighted way,” the book states. “Marriage, healthy family formation, and delaying sex to prevent pregnancy are virtually ignored in terms of priorities, yet these goals can reverse the cycle of poverty in meaningful ways. CMS should require explicit measurement of these goals.”

Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Divorce

What is Project 2025’s goals for these issues? Unclear. The plan has no policy goals or recommendations that directly address any of these issues, only a consistent conviction that heterosexual marriage must be incentivized and promoted wherever possible.

The cumulative total of these policies, if enacted, would only be to make it more difficult for women to leave a dangerous or abusive marriage than it already is.

IMAGES

  1. 9 Key Elements of an Effective Business Plan

    how does the business plan work

  2. A Complete Guide On Small Business Plan Examples (2022)

    how does the business plan work

  3. Simple business plan template for startup founders

    how does the business plan work

  4. One-Page Business Plan: The Step-By-Step Guide

    how does the business plan work

  5. How to Create a Business Plan in 1 Day [Updated 2022]

    how does the business plan work

  6. How to Write a Business Plan

    how does the business plan work

VIDEO

  1. WORK FROM HOME MLM NETWORK MARKETING BUSINESS UNITY META UBIT QUIN 1 STAR 7976797204

  2. Business Plan Presentation Part About Discussion || Types Of Business Plan Presentation||

  3. MORNETIC HERBAL HINDI

  4. Business Plan Presentation Part About Discussion || Types Of Business Plan Presentation||

  5. Business Model vs Business Plan

  6. How To Go From 4A to 6A in 3-9 Months

COMMENTS

  1. How To Write A Business Plan (2024 Guide)

    Describe Your Services or Products. The business plan should have a section that explains the services or products that you're offering. This is the part where you can also describe how they fit ...

  2. Write your business plan

    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.

  3. Business Plan: What it Is, How to Write One

    Learn about the best business plan software. 1. Write an executive summary. This is your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services your ...

  4. Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How to Write One

    Business Plan: A business plan is a written document that describes in detail how a business, usually a new one, is going to achieve its goals. A business plan lays out a written plan from a ...

  5. How to Write a Business Plan: Guide + Examples

    Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. These set sales goals, budget for expenses, and predict profits and cash flow. A good business plan is much more than just a document that you write once and forget about. It's also a guide that helps you outline and achieve your goals. After completing your plan, you can ...

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

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

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

    A business plan provides a detailed roadmap for your company's future. It outlines your objectives, strategies, and the specific actions you need to achieve your goals. When you define your path forward, a business plan helps you stay focused and on track, even when you face challenges or distractions.

  8. How To Write a Business Plan

    Step 2: Do your market research homework. The next step in writing a business plan is to conduct market research. This involves gathering information about your target market (or customer persona), your competition, and the industry as a whole. You can use a variety of research methods such as surveys, focus groups, and online research to ...

  9. How To Make A Business Plan: Step By Step Guide

    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.

  10. How to Write a Business Plan: Step-by-Step Guide

    3. Write your company description. Every business plan needs a company description—aka a summary of the company's purpose, what they do/offer, and what makes it unique. Company descriptions should be clear and concise, avoiding the use of jargon, Cobello says. Ideally, descriptions should be a few paragraphs at most.

  11. How to Write a Business Plan: Beginner's Guide (& Templates)

    Step #3: Conduct Your Market Analysis. Step #4: Research Your Competition. Step #5: Outline Your Products or Services. Step #6: Summarize Your Financial Plan. Step #7: Determine Your Marketing Strategy. Step #8: Showcase Your Organizational Chart. 14 Business Plan Templates to Help You Get Started.

  12. How to Write a Business Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide

    Step 7: Financial Analysis and Projections. It doesn't matter if you include a request for funding in your plan, you will want to include a financial analysis here. You'll want to do two things here: Paint a picture of your business's performance in the past and show it will grow in the future.

  13. How to Write a Business Plan (Plus Examples & Templates)

    How to Write a Business Plan Step 1. Create a Cover Page. The first thing investors will see is the cover page for your business plan. Make sure it looks professional. A great cover page shows that you think about first impressions. A good business plan should have the following elements on a cover page:

  14. How to Write a Business Plan (Tips, Templates, Examples)

    1. Executive Summary. While your executive summary is the first page of your business plan, it's the section you'll write last. That's because it summarizes your entire business plan into a succinct one-pager. Begin with an executive summary that introduces the reader to your business and gives them an overview of what's inside the ...

  15. How to Write a Business Plan

    Add in the company logo and a table of contents that follows the executive summary. 2. Executive summary. Think of the executive summary as the SparkNotes version of your business plan. It should ...

  16. How to Write a Simple Business Plan

    A traditional business plan follows the standard structure — because these plans encourage detail, they tend to require more work upfront and can run dozens of pages. A Lean business plan is less common and focuses on summarizing critical points for each section. These plans take much less work and typically run one page in length.

  17. How Business Plans Work

    First off is your Cover Sheet. Make sure you include at a minimum the company name and the title of the document (yes, actually call it a "business plan"), include the addresses and telephone numbers of the business or the principals, and include the name of the person who wrote the plan (in other words, you!).

  18. How to write a business plan in seven simple steps

    This is typically one of the first pieces of the plan to be written. 3. Market analysis and opportunity. Research is key in completing a business plan and, ideally, more time should be spent on research and analysis than writing the plan itself. Understanding the size, growth, history, future potential, and current risks inherent to the wider ...

  19. How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

    Early on, your business is more of an idea than a reality, so your business plan can help prospective employees understand your goals--and, more important, their place in helping you achieve those ...

  20. How To Start A Business In 11 Steps (2024 Guide)

    The best way to accomplish any business or personal goal is to write out every possible step it takes to achieve the goal. Then, order those steps by what needs to happen first. Some steps may ...

  21. What Is a Work Plan? How to Make a Work Plan In 7 Steps

    1. Set Goals & Objectives. Before anything, it's important to write down the goals and objectives that'll be achieved through your work plan. These will describe the purpose of your plan. It's important to use SMART goals: create goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-related.

  22. What Is a 529 Plan? Pros, Cons, and How to Withdrawal

    The IRS does not technically limit how much you can contribute to a 529 plan. Most people limit their annual 529 plan contributions to $18,000 per child. Married couples can each contribute ...

  23. AT&T data breach: Were you affected? Here's what to do.

    Suspicious text activity: Do not reply.Forward the text to AT&T so they can assist you. Forwarded messages are free and won't count toward your text plan. You are a target of fraud on your AT&T ...

  24. Project 2025 would overhaul the U.S. tax system. Here's how it could

    Tax experts also say the math doesn't work out because money raised from new tariffs would fall far short of replacing the more than $2 trillion in individual income taxes collected by the IRS ...

  25. How to Invest in Stocks: a Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

    Step 1: Figure out your goals . It's important to know what your fundamental goals are and why you want to start investing in the first place. Knowing this will help you to set clear goals to work ...

  26. Biden unveils plan to cap rent hikes

    The plan would apply only to larger landlords who have more than 50 units in their portfolio, though that counts for more than 20 million rental units across the country, according to the White House.

  27. Biden Administration Pauses Student Loan Payments for Millions

    The Biden administration is pausing student loan payments for eight million borrowers enrolled in its new repayment plan, known as SAVE, after a federal appellate court issued a ruling temporarily ...

  28. What Is CrowdStrike?

    CrowdStrike's cybersecurity software is used by scores of industries, including airlines, hospitals and retailers, to prevent hacks and data breaches. By Claire Moses Until Friday morning, many ...

  29. How Project 2025 Would Restrict Women's Rights

    Over 100 conservative groups contributed to the Project 2025 book, Mandate for Leadership, which lays out a detailed plan of action over its nearly 1,000 pages, including many policy proposals ...

  30. Work from home could lead to more homes in vacant offices

    Most Americans know the No. 1 rule in real estate: "location, location, location." But for some developers, there's a new winning strategy: "recycle, recycle, recycle."

$500 for the first month
40 cents per birdhouse
$1.50
$500/($1.50 - 40 cents)