checklist of business plan

A Complete Business Plan Checklist - Key Points to include in your Business Plan and Track Progress

Creating an effective business plan requires addressing specific strategic and tactical questions with a high level of detail.

After you complete writing your business plan, how will you make sure that your business plan is complete and you did not miss any important details?

The best and easy way is to check your business plan with a standard business plan checklist.

Business plan checklist is the list of most important sections of the business plan that you should include into your business plan in the same order.

This checklist will guide you through the step-by-step process of writing an effective and successful business plan for your startup.

Business Plan Checklist

Please check the sections that you have included in your business plan from below list and track your  business plan progress .

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Explore our 400+ sample business plans prepared for a wide variety of industries to help you start writing and planning your business plan.

Business plan checklist will also help you to write your business plan table of contents and outline of your business plan.

This business plan checklist is a general guideline for any standard business plan. But you should also keep in mind the purpose of your business plan and include specific details accordingly.

For Example, if you are writing a business plan for a loan from a particular bank, you should learn about their mandatory or specific criteria and must include that details into your business plan.

This business plan checklist prepared here will help you to think through your business and document it in a way that investors and other readers fully understand about your business.

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Business Plan Checklist

Business Plan Checklist

Whether it’s for a bank, investors, validation, and/or a roadmap, your company needs a written business plan to convert your ideas into an organized, professional document. 

The business plan format will change depending on why you’re writing it and who you’re writing it for. If you’re seeking validation, it’s best to start with a simple one-page pitch. On the other hand, if you’re pursuing funding, you’ll need a professional, formal business plan. 

Download our Ultimate Business Plan Template here >

  Regardless of the intentions behind your business plan, having a checklist of what needs to be included is helpful to make sure you’re effectively getting your ideas and strategies down on paper. 

As a baseline, your business plan should include these 10 sections:

Executive Summary

  • Company Overview

Industry Analysis

  • Customer Analysis

Competitive Analysis

Marketing plan, operations plan, management team, financial plan, the essential business plan checklist.

Here, I will explain the different elements you need to include in each section. Use this resource as a business plan questions checklist and mark them off as you go.

Your executive summary should explain the problem you are solving and how you intend to solve it. When reviewing your business plan, address the following:

  • The function of your business
  • Competitors
  • Target customers
  • Key financial highlights
  • Key members of your team
  • Business goals

Essentially, you want to ensure that your executive summary introduces your business in a detailed yet concise form, explaining the key parts of your business and the market.   

Company Overview 

Here, you will give a brief summary of your company as a whole and how it functions. Be certain to include:

  • Company history
  • Founding members
  • Milestones you have achieved
  • The legal structure of your business

    Finish Your Business Plan Today!

Your industry analysis will provide a summary of your market research. After doing your research, include answers to the following questions in your business plan:

  • How big is the market?
  • Where is the market currently: growing or declining? 
  • Who are some of the key competitors? 
  • What is influencing the industry? 

Customer Analysis 

In your customer analysis, you will explain the audience you are targeting and expect to serve. Be sure to focus on your target customers and the customer needs. It should explain the:

  • Demographic profile of your target market
  • Customer segments within that market

Your competitive analysis will address your competition in the market. It should have three subsections as follows:

  • Direct Competitors: other businesses in your market (example: if you own an ice cream shop, other ice cream shops are direct competitors)
  • Indirect Competitors: other businesses that may not specifically be in your business’s market, but provide similar results to that of your company (example: if you own an ice cream shop, grocery stores that sell ice cream are indirect competitors)

For each competitor, identify both their strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to address the following:

  • What features do they offer?
  • What is their pricing? 
  • Who are their customers?
  • What are they good at? 
  • What are their weaknesses?

Describe your competitive advantages or what your business will do better. Here, provide answers to the following questions:

  • Will you offer more or better features?
  • Will you ensure better results for your users?
  • Will you offer better pricing?
  • Will your customer service be more efficient?

Be sure that your competitive analysis describes just how your business will succeed and stand out in its competitive market.   

Your plan should include the following marketing plan sections:

  • Product : detail the specific features of your business’s product
  • Price : identify your business pricing and if there will be different pricing levels (e.g., free, premium) and what exactly those levels will be
  • Place : name where your business will be located
  • Promotions : how you will attract customers to your business (social media advertising, pay-per-click advertising, magazine advertising, public relations, etc.)

Here, you will describe how your company will effectively meet the goals you identified in the earlier sections of your business plan. Your operations plan should have two sections:

  • Every day short-term processes: all necessary daily operations completed simply for the function of your business (providing customer service, writing code, fixing bugs, etc.)
  • Long-term goals: milestones you hope to achieve (reaching $X in sales, having Y amount of employees, etc.)

It is essential to have a strong management team for the function and success of your business. Be sure to include the following:

  • Management team: highlight your key players’ backgrounds and describe their skills and talents
  • Management team gaps: any experience that you think your business will need in order to succeed 
  • Board members 

Your financial plan will document your 5-year financial projections , broken down in monthly or quarterly projections for the first year, and then annually thereafter. Your focus here is to show how much money you need, how much income you will earn, and when you will be profitable. 

Your financial plan should include:

  • Profit & Loss statement 
  • Cash flow statement
  • Balance sheet
  • Sales forecast
  • Personnel plan
  • Break-even analysis

To provide evidence to your numbers, include supporting documentation in your financial plan. 

Your appendix will provide any and all other documentation or information that you believe supports your business plan. If necessary, your appendix can include: 

  • Resumes of key management, blurbs on other management members
  • Job descriptions/titles
  • Copies of forms
  • Copies of licenses
  • Personal and business tax returns (if applying for a loan)
  • Marketing materials 

To ensure that your business plan effectively portrays the mission and potential success of your business, go through this checklist and make sure you have included each concept mentioned. A fill in the blank business plan also includes each of these key sections and can help you quickly and easily complete your business plan.  

Business Plan Checklist FAQs

How do i make a business plan checklist.

We’ve completed the hard work for you! You can download this Business Plan Checklist PDF for quick reference as you complete your business plan.

What are the 10 Components of a Business Plan?

Read our article detailing the 10 Key Components of the Business Plan .

Finish Your Business Plan in Just 1 Day!

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With Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template you can finish your plan in just 8 hours or less!

Click here to finish your business plan today.

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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

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  • 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.

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Free business plan template

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

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Sample business plan library

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

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How to write a business plan FAQ

What is a business plan?

A document that describes your business , the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy, how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.

What are the benefits of a business plan?

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

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

What are the 7 steps of a business plan?

The seven steps to writing a business plan include:

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

What are the 5 most common business plan mistakes?

There are plenty of mistakes that can be made when writing a business plan. However, these are the 5 most common that you should do your best to avoid:

  • 1. Not taking the planning process seriously.
  • Having unrealistic financial projections or incomplete financial information.
  • Inconsistent information or simple mistakes.
  • Failing to establish a sound business model.
  • Not having a defined purpose for your business plan.

What questions should be answered in a business plan?

Writing a business plan is all about asking yourself questions about your business and being able to answer them through the planning process. You’ll likely be asking dozens and dozens of questions for each section of your plan.

However, these are the key questions you should ask and answer with your business plan:

  • How will your business make money?
  • Is there a need for your product or service?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How are you different from the competition?
  • How will you reach your customers?
  • How will you measure success?

How long should a business plan be?

The length of your business plan fully depends on what you intend to do with it. From the SBA and traditional lender point of view, a business plan needs to be whatever length necessary to fully explain your business. This means that you prove the viability of your business, show that you understand the market, and have a detailed strategy in place.

If you intend to use your business plan for internal management purposes, you don’t necessarily need a full 25-50 page business plan. Instead, you can start with a one-page plan to get all of the necessary information in place.

What are the different types of business plans?

While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering.

Traditional business plan: The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used when applying for funding or pitching to investors. This type of business plan follows the outline above and can be anywhere from 10-50 pages depending on the amount of detail included, the complexity of your business, and what you include in your appendix.

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

One-page business plan: This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business. You’ll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences. It’s most useful for those exploring ideas, needing to validate their business model, or who need an internal plan to help them run and manage their business.

Lean Plan: The Lean Plan is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance. It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.

What’s the difference between a business plan and a strategic plan?

A business plan covers the “who” and “what” of your business. It explains what your business is doing right now and how it functions. The strategic plan explores long-term goals and explains “how” the business will get there. It encourages you to look more intently toward the future and how you will achieve your vision.

However, when approached correctly, your business plan can actually function as a strategic plan as well. If kept lean, you can define your business, outline strategic steps, and track ongoing operations all with a single plan.

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

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Home > Business > Business Startup

How To Write a Business Plan

Stephanie Coleman

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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

checklist of business plan

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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?

checklist of 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 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.

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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.

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9 Components of a Strong Business Plan with Checklist

Table of contents.

Creating a strong business plan is essential for outlining your business strategy, securing funding, and guiding your company toward success. Here are the key components, along with detailed descriptions, recommendations, and common pitfalls to avoid for each:

9 Components of a Strong Business Plan With Checklist

1. executive summary.

An overview of your business plan, highlighting the key points.

  • Be concise and compelling.
  • Include your business name, location, and mission statement.
  • Summarize the product/service, market, and financial highlights.
  • Avoid too much detail.
  • Don’t use jargon or technical language.
  • Don’t skip this section; it’s crucial for first impressions.

2. Company Description

Information about your business, what it does, and its goals.

  • Clearly state your business structure and ownership.
  • Describe your business history and current status.
  • Outline your short and long-term goals.
  • Don’t be vague about your objectives.
  • Avoid overly technical descriptions.
  • Don’t neglect the importance of this section for investors.

3. Market Analysis

Research on your industry, market size, expected growth, and target customers.

  • Use reliable sources for your data.
  • Identify your target market and their needs.
  • Analyze your competition and market trends. Business Analytics – Exceediance
  • Don’t base your analysis on assumptions. 15 Important FAQs about Business Analytics – Exceediance
  • Avoid outdated or irrelevant data.
  • Don’t ignore potential market risks.

4. Organization and Management

The organizational structure of your business and details about the ownership and management team.

  • Include an organizational chart.
  • Provide bios of the management team.
  • Highlight relevant experience and skills. :
  • Don’t omit key team members.
  • Avoid generic descriptions of roles.
  • Don’t overlook the importance of team dynamics.

checklist of business plan

5. Products or Services

Description of the products or services your business offers.

  • Clearly explain what you offer and how it benefits customers.
  • Include details on the product lifecycle and any R&D.
  • Highlight what makes your offering unique.
  • Don’t be too technical or complex.
  • Avoid incomplete descriptions.
  • Don’t forget to address customer needs and benefits.

6. Marketing and Sales Strategy

How you plan to attract and retain customers.

  • Outline your marketing strategy, including pricing, promotion, and distribution.
  • Describe your sales process and tactics.
  • Include your branding strategy.
  • Don’t be overly ambitious without justification.
  • Avoid ignoring the costs associated with marketing strategies.
  • Don’t forget to include measurable goals.

7. Funding Request

If seeking funding, detail your funding requirements, potential future funding requirements, and how you will use the funds.

  • Be specific about the amount needed.
  • Explain how funds will be used.
  • Outline your future financial plans.
  • Don’t ask for more than you need without justification.
  • Avoid vague descriptions of fund usage.
  • Don’t neglect repayment or return on investment plans.

8. Financial Projections

Provide financial forecasts including income statements, cash flow statements, and balance sheets for the next three to five years. Recommendations:

  • Base projections on solid data and realistic assumptions.
  • Include a break-even analysis.
  • Explain your assumptions and methodologies.
  • Don’t overestimate revenue or underestimate expenses.
  • Avoid using inconsistent financial figures.
  • Don’t forget to update projections regularly.

9. Appendix

Supplementary information such as resumes, permits, lease agreements, legal documentation, and other pertinent documents.

  • Include only relevant and necessary documents.
  • Organize the appendix logically.
  • Reference the appendix in the main sections of your plan.
  • Don’t overload the appendix with unnecessary information.
  • Avoid including outdated documents.
  • Don’t assume investors will read it without a compelling reason.

A strong business plan is comprehensive yet concise, clearly communicating your business’s strategy, goals, and potential. By following these recommendations and avoiding common pitfalls, you can create a robust plan that guides your business toward success and attracts potential investors.

Overview of your business plan.Be concise, include business name, location, mission, and key points.Avoid too much detail, jargon, and skipping this section.[ ]
Information about your business.Clearly state structure, ownership, history, and goals.Don’t be vague, overly technical, or neglect the importance of this section.[ ]
Research on your industry and target market.Use reliable sources, identify target market needs, analyze competition and trends.Don’t base analysis on assumptions, use outdated data, or ignore market risks.[ ]
Organizational structure and management team details.Include an organizational chart, provide bios, highlight relevant experience and skills.Don’t omit key members, use generic descriptions, or overlook team dynamics.[ ]
Description of what you offer.Clearly explain benefits, product lifecycle, R&D, and uniqueness.Don’t be too technical, incomplete, or forget to address customer benefits.[ ]
How you plan to attract and retain customers.Outline marketing strategy, describe sales process, and include branding strategy.Don’t be overly ambitious, ignore costs, or forget measurable goals.[ ]
Details on your funding needs.Be specific about the amount needed, explain fund usage, and outline future financial plans.Don’t ask for too much without justification, be vague, or neglect repayment plans.[ ]
Financial forecasts including income statements, cash flow, and balance sheets.Base projections on solid data, include break-even analysis, and explain assumptions.Don’t overestimate revenue, underestimate expenses, or use inconsistent figures.[ ]
Supplementary information such as resumes, permits, and legal documents.Include relevant documents, organize logically, and reference in main sections.Don’t overload with unnecessary information, include outdated documents, or assume automatic reading.[ ]

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Business Plan Example and Template

Learn how to create a business plan

What is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a document that contains the operational and financial plan of a business, and details how its objectives will be achieved. It serves as a road map for the business and can be used when pitching investors or financial institutions for debt or equity financing .

Business Plan - Document with the words Business Plan on the title

A business plan should follow a standard format and contain all the important business plan elements. Typically, it should present whatever information an investor or financial institution expects to see before providing financing to a business.

Contents of a Business Plan

A business plan should be structured in a way that it contains all the important information that investors are looking for. Here are the main sections of a business plan:

1. Title Page

The title page captures the legal information of the business, which includes the registered business name, physical address, phone number, email address, date, and the company logo.

2. Executive Summary

The executive summary is the most important section because it is the first section that investors and bankers see when they open the business plan. It provides a summary of the entire business plan. It should be written last to ensure that you don’t leave any details out. It must be short and to the point, and it should capture the reader’s attention. The executive summary should not exceed two pages.

3. Industry Overview

The industry overview section provides information about the specific industry that the business operates in. Some of the information provided in this section includes major competitors, industry trends, and estimated revenues. It also shows the company’s position in the industry and how it will compete in the market against other major players.

4. Market Analysis and Competition

The market analysis section details the target market for the company’s product offerings. This section confirms that the company understands the market and that it has already analyzed the existing market to determine that there is adequate demand to support its proposed business model.

Market analysis includes information about the target market’s demographics , geographical location, consumer behavior, and market needs. The company can present numbers and sources to give an overview of the target market size.

A business can choose to consolidate the market analysis and competition analysis into one section or present them as two separate sections.

5. Sales and Marketing Plan

The sales and marketing plan details how the company plans to sell its products to the target market. It attempts to present the business’s unique selling proposition and the channels it will use to sell its goods and services. It details the company’s advertising and promotion activities, pricing strategy, sales and distribution methods, and after-sales support.

6. Management Plan

The management plan provides an outline of the company’s legal structure, its management team, and internal and external human resource requirements. It should list the number of employees that will be needed and the remuneration to be paid to each of the employees.

Any external professionals, such as lawyers, valuers, architects, and consultants, that the company will need should also be included. If the company intends to use the business plan to source funding from investors, it should list the members of the executive team, as well as the members of the advisory board.

7. Operating Plan

The operating plan provides an overview of the company’s physical requirements, such as office space, machinery, labor, supplies, and inventory . For a business that requires custom warehouses and specialized equipment, the operating plan will be more detailed, as compared to, say, a home-based consulting business. If the business plan is for a manufacturing company, it will include information on raw material requirements and the supply chain.

8. Financial Plan

The financial plan is an important section that will often determine whether the business will obtain required financing from financial institutions, investors, or venture capitalists. It should demonstrate that the proposed business is viable and will return enough revenues to be able to meet its financial obligations. Some of the information contained in the financial plan includes a projected income statement , balance sheet, and cash flow.

9. Appendices and Exhibits

The appendices and exhibits part is the last section of a business plan. It includes any additional information that banks and investors may be interested in or that adds credibility to the business. Some of the information that may be included in the appendices section includes office/building plans, detailed market research , products/services offering information, marketing brochures, and credit histories of the promoters.

Business Plan Template - Components

Business Plan Template

Here is a basic template that any business can use when developing its business plan:

Section 1: Executive Summary

  • Present the company’s mission.
  • Describe the company’s product and/or service offerings.
  • Give a summary of the target market and its demographics.
  • Summarize the industry competition and how the company will capture a share of the available market.
  • Give a summary of the operational plan, such as inventory, office and labor, and equipment requirements.

Section 2: Industry Overview

  • Describe the company’s position in the industry.
  • Describe the existing competition and the major players in the industry.
  • Provide information about the industry that the business will operate in, estimated revenues, industry trends, government influences, as well as the demographics of the target market.

Section 3: Market Analysis and Competition

  • Define your target market, their needs, and their geographical location.
  • Describe the size of the market, the units of the company’s products that potential customers may buy, and the market changes that may occur due to overall economic changes.
  • Give an overview of the estimated sales volume vis-à-vis what competitors sell.
  • Give a plan on how the company plans to combat the existing competition to gain and retain market share.

Section 4: Sales and Marketing Plan

  • Describe the products that the company will offer for sale and its unique selling proposition.
  • List the different advertising platforms that the business will use to get its message to customers.
  • Describe how the business plans to price its products in a way that allows it to make a profit.
  • Give details on how the company’s products will be distributed to the target market and the shipping method.

Section 5: Management Plan

  • Describe the organizational structure of the company.
  • List the owners of the company and their ownership percentages.
  • List the key executives, their roles, and remuneration.
  • List any internal and external professionals that the company plans to hire, and how they will be compensated.
  • Include a list of the members of the advisory board, if available.

Section 6: Operating Plan

  • Describe the location of the business, including office and warehouse requirements.
  • Describe the labor requirement of the company. Outline the number of staff that the company needs, their roles, skills training needed, and employee tenures (full-time or part-time).
  • Describe the manufacturing process, and the time it will take to produce one unit of a product.
  • Describe the equipment and machinery requirements, and if the company will lease or purchase equipment and machinery, and the related costs that the company estimates it will incur.
  • Provide a list of raw material requirements, how they will be sourced, and the main suppliers that will supply the required inputs.

Section 7: Financial Plan

  • Describe the financial projections of the company, by including the projected income statement, projected cash flow statement, and the balance sheet projection.

Section 8: Appendices and Exhibits

  • Quotes of building and machinery leases
  • Proposed office and warehouse plan
  • Market research and a summary of the target market
  • Credit information of the owners
  • List of product and/or services

Related Readings

Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to Business Plans. To keep learning and advancing your career, the following CFI resources will be helpful:

  • Corporate Structure
  • Three Financial Statements
  • Business Model Canvas Examples
  • See all management & strategy resources
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  • Business Plan Checklist

The Business Plan Checklist is a comprehensive guide to help entrepreneurs create an effective business plan. It covers a range of topics, from the basics of business plans to detailed information on each section. It includes a simple set of questions to help entrepreneurs assess if their business plan is complete. Additionally, it provides tips and suggestions for improving the plan and contains links to additional resources. It's an invaluable tool for anyone starting a business or revising their existing business plan. It's easy to follow, and can help entrepreneurs create a plan that meets their needs and get the most out of their business.

  • Executive Summary: Provide a concise overview of your business plan..
  • Business Description: Describe the nature of your business, including the products or services you offer, the target market, and the competitive advantages you possess..
  • Market Analysis: Identify and analyze your target market and assess the potential for your business..
  • Organization and Management: Describe the organization of your business, including its legal structure, ownership, management team and key personnel..
  • Products and Services: Describe the products and services you offer, how they are priced, and how you will promote them..
  • Marketing Plan: Describe your marketing strategy, including how you will attract and retain customers..
  • Financial Plan: Provide an overview of your financial projections, including your income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, and break-even analysis..
  • Funding Request: Outline your funding needs and how you plan to use the funds..
  • Appendix: Include any additional information or supporting documents that you believe are necessary..

Checklist Category

  • Startup Essentials

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a business plan, a business plan is a written document that outlines a company's goals, plans and strategies for achieving them. it is typically created by the company's founders or management team and outlines the company's vision, mission, financial projections, and other important considerations., what information should be included in a business plan, a business plan should include a detailed description of the business, its product or service, its target market, its competitive advantage, its financial projections, and its management team. it should also include a detailed timeline for achieving the goals outlined in the plan., how do i create a business plan, the best way to create a business plan is to start by outlining the company's objectives and goals. from there, you can develop a detailed strategy for achieving those goals. finally, you can include financial projections and other details to help support the plan., when should i review my business plan, business plans should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they remain effective and up-to-date. it is important to review the plan on a regular basis to ensure that it is still in line with the company's goals and objectives..

Business Plan Checklist

Business Plan Checklist

Write a Business Plan, a detailed outline of what you plan to do and how you plan to achieve it, and one of the most important documents for your new venture. You’ve had this amazing, and you’re finally ready to take the big step to start a new business.

Before you do anything, you need to write a business plan. A business plan aims to determine the probability that a business idea will be successful in the marketplace.

Why write a business plan?

A place to set out your business proposition, identify the market you are aiming for, who your potential customers are and research of competitors in the market.

A business plan helps clearly identify the opportunity, what success will look like, and what you need to make it happen, and it can also be key document when talking to investors like angels, banks, and venture capitalists.

Ask yourself lots of questions:

  • How will you make this new business succeed?
  • How will you generate revenue?
  • What will the overheads be?
  • Industry standards or certifications needed?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses within the plan?
  • Will you need staff?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • How will you stand out from the crowd? What makes you a better choice?
  • How much potential profit could you make?

Important elements of a business plan like goals, strategies, marketing and sales, financial forecasts and management structure.

Writing and documenting your business plan on a computer or simply with a pen to paper can help identify problems you hadn’t previously considered. Identify priorities for launch and stages where additional ideas would start to be implemented to achieve the goals and objectives.

Define business goals, objectives and strategies

A business plan defines the business’s goals, objectives and strategies for achieving them.

Research has shown the writing a business plan makes your startup more likely to succeed .

Successful start-ups created their business plan a year to six months before starting their business. According to them, “writing a plan in this timeframe increased the probability of venture viability success by 8%.”

Business plans can identify “Where you are now?” “Where you want to get to?” and “How are you going to get there?”

It also gives you a great way of explaining your business idea to others especially potential investors.

Checklist Step  - Define the Opportunity

Define and map out your products and services.

Checklist Step  - Define Unique Selling Point (USP)

What differentiates your products or services from competitors.

Checklist Step  - Research

Understand the market, potential market size and share and what competitive advantage to you have over competitors.

Competitive Analysis: How are you going to succeed despite established competitors?

Market analysis: Why will you succeed in this market?

Checklist Step  - Target Audience and market

Identify who, what and where you will find your target market.

Checklist Step  - Find Business Mentor

Right mentor to provide much-needed business advice.

Checklist Step  - Create Business Plan

Written document that describes your core business objectives.

Checklist Step  - Outline A Plan

Outline how you’ll execute the plan.

What needs to be done and when.

Checklist Step  - Milestones or Goals

Map out business milestones or goals.

Set the plan tactics into practical milestones. Milestones are what you use to convert your business strategy and tactics into action. Example include launch dates.

Checklist Step  - Company Overview

Overview of the most important points about your company.

Checklist Step  - Financial Projections

Planning out and working on your company’s financial projections enables you budget for your new business.

Checklist Step  - Running Costs

Your new business will have specific costs. Having an idea of the cost of running a the business is fundamental.

Checklist Step  - Business Structure

Set Up Your Business Structure.

Deciding on which formal business structure to use and register.

Writing a business plan can give you a clear idea of the stages of your business’ journey over a timeframe.

Now think about Marketing a New Business Basics.

Why is a Checklist Important?

Does the running of your business include several repetitive tasks? If there’s no guidance or procedure in place, it’s possible for some of the steps in the process to get forgotten. This is why checklists are important.

People get distracted, and when something gets forgotten, it’s much harder to recover than if they’d completed the task right in the first place.

Guidance every step of the way makes sure something is completed perfectly every time.

Read More: Why is a Checklist Important?

Checklist To Reduce Mistakes

We all carry enormous knowledge and experience that we want to apply effectively, but we are all prone to make mistakes. There’s only so much we can store in our heads without forgetting something. How to maximise our use of knowledge?

The simple answer to this problem is to use checklists.

Read More:  Power Of A Simple Checklist To Reduce Mistakes

What types of checklist are there?

How many types of checklists are there? Two. What are the two types of checklists? Read-Do and Do-Confirm checklists are about how you use checklists.

Read More: Types of checklist: What are the two most powerful Checklist Types?

Checklist Software

A checklist is a way to document each step needed to complete a task. A detailed set of instructions, a guide of how something is done. 

Checklist software allows you to document every step of a process to be used over and over again.

Read More: Checklist Software

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12 Key Elements of a Business Plan (Top Components Explained)

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Starting and running a successful business requires proper planning and execution of effective business tactics and strategies .

You need to prepare many essential business documents when starting a business for maximum success; the business plan is one such document.

When creating a business, you want to achieve business objectives and financial goals like productivity, profitability, and business growth. You need an effective business plan to help you get to your desired business destination.

Even if you are already running a business, the proper understanding and review of the key elements of a business plan help you navigate potential crises and obstacles.

This article will teach you why the business document is at the core of any successful business and its key elements you can not avoid.

Let’s get started.

Why Are Business Plans Important?

Business plans are practical steps or guidelines that usually outline what companies need to do to reach their goals. They are essential documents for any business wanting to grow and thrive in a highly-competitive business environment .

1. Proves Your Business Viability

A business plan gives companies an idea of how viable they are and what actions they need to take to grow and reach their financial targets. With a well-written and clearly defined business plan, your business is better positioned to meet its goals.

2. Guides You Throughout the Business Cycle

A business plan is not just important at the start of a business. As a business owner, you must draw up a business plan to remain relevant throughout the business cycle .

During the starting phase of your business, a business plan helps bring your ideas into reality. A solid business plan can secure funding from lenders and investors.

After successfully setting up your business, the next phase is management. Your business plan still has a role to play in this phase, as it assists in communicating your business vision to employees and external partners.

Essentially, your business plan needs to be flexible enough to adapt to changes in the needs of your business.

3. Helps You Make Better Business Decisions

As a business owner, you are involved in an endless decision-making cycle. Your business plan helps you find answers to your most crucial business decisions.

A robust business plan helps you settle your major business components before you launch your product, such as your marketing and sales strategy and competitive advantage.

4. Eliminates Big Mistakes

Many small businesses fail within their first five years for several reasons: lack of financing, stiff competition, low market need, inadequate teams, and inefficient pricing strategy.

Creating an effective plan helps you eliminate these big mistakes that lead to businesses' decline. Every business plan element is crucial for helping you avoid potential mistakes before they happen.

5. Secures Financing and Attracts Top Talents

Having an effective plan increases your chances of securing business loans. One of the essential requirements many lenders ask for to grant your loan request is your business plan.

A business plan helps investors feel confident that your business can attract a significant return on investments ( ROI ).

You can attract and retain top-quality talents with a clear business plan. It inspires your employees and keeps them aligned to achieve your strategic business goals.

Key Elements of Business Plan

Starting and running a successful business requires well-laid actions and supporting documents that better position a company to achieve its business goals and maximize success.

A business plan is a written document with relevant information detailing business objectives and how it intends to achieve its goals.

With an effective business plan, investors, lenders, and potential partners understand your organizational structure and goals, usually around profitability, productivity, and growth.

Every successful business plan is made up of key components that help solidify the efficacy of the business plan in delivering on what it was created to do.

Here are some of the components of an effective business plan.

1. Executive Summary

One of the key elements of a business plan is the executive summary. Write the executive summary as part of the concluding topics in the business plan. Creating an executive summary with all the facts and information available is easier.

In the overall business plan document, the executive summary should be at the forefront of the business plan. It helps set the tone for readers on what to expect from the business plan.

A well-written executive summary includes all vital information about the organization's operations, making it easy for a reader to understand.

The key points that need to be acted upon are highlighted in the executive summary. They should be well spelled out to make decisions easy for the management team.

A good and compelling executive summary points out a company's mission statement and a brief description of its products and services.

Executive Summary of the Business Plan

An executive summary summarizes a business's expected value proposition to distinct customer segments. It highlights the other key elements to be discussed during the rest of the business plan.

Including your prior experiences as an entrepreneur is a good idea in drawing up an executive summary for your business. A brief but detailed explanation of why you decided to start the business in the first place is essential.

Adding your company's mission statement in your executive summary cannot be overemphasized. It creates a culture that defines how employees and all individuals associated with your company abide when carrying out its related processes and operations.

Your executive summary should be brief and detailed to catch readers' attention and encourage them to learn more about your company.

Components of an Executive Summary

Here are some of the information that makes up an executive summary:

  • The name and location of your company
  • Products and services offered by your company
  • Mission and vision statements
  • Success factors of your business plan

2. Business Description

Your business description needs to be exciting and captivating as it is the formal introduction a reader gets about your company.

What your company aims to provide, its products and services, goals and objectives, target audience , and potential customers it plans to serve need to be highlighted in your business description.

A company description helps point out notable qualities that make your company stand out from other businesses in the industry. It details its unique strengths and the competitive advantages that give it an edge to succeed over its direct and indirect competitors.

Spell out how your business aims to deliver on the particular needs and wants of identified customers in your company description, as well as the particular industry and target market of the particular focus of the company.

Include trends and significant competitors within your particular industry in your company description. Your business description should contain what sets your company apart from other businesses and provides it with the needed competitive advantage.

In essence, if there is any area in your business plan where you need to brag about your business, your company description provides that unique opportunity as readers look to get a high-level overview.

Components of a Business Description

Your business description needs to contain these categories of information.

  • Business location
  • The legal structure of your business
  • Summary of your business’s short and long-term goals

3. Market Analysis

The market analysis section should be solely based on analytical research as it details trends particular to the market you want to penetrate.

Graphs, spreadsheets, and histograms are handy data and statistical tools you need to utilize in your market analysis. They make it easy to understand the relationship between your current ideas and the future goals you have for the business.

All details about the target customers you plan to sell products or services should be in the market analysis section. It helps readers with a helpful overview of the market.

In your market analysis, you provide the needed data and statistics about industry and market share, the identified strengths in your company description, and compare them against other businesses in the same industry.

The market analysis section aims to define your target audience and estimate how your product or service would fare with these identified audiences.

Components of Market Analysis

Market analysis helps visualize a target market by researching and identifying the primary target audience of your company and detailing steps and plans based on your audience location.

Obtaining this information through market research is essential as it helps shape how your business achieves its short-term and long-term goals.

Market Analysis Factors

Here are some of the factors to be included in your market analysis.

  • The geographical location of your target market
  • Needs of your target market and how your products and services can meet those needs
  • Demographics of your target audience

Components of the Market Analysis Section

Here is some of the information to be included in your market analysis.

  • Industry description and statistics
  • Demographics and profile of target customers
  • Marketing data for your products and services
  • Detailed evaluation of your competitors

4. Marketing Plan

A marketing plan defines how your business aims to reach its target customers, generate sales leads, and, ultimately, make sales.

Promotion is at the center of any successful marketing plan. It is a series of steps to pitch a product or service to a larger audience to generate engagement. Note that the marketing strategy for a business should not be stagnant and must evolve depending on its outcome.

Include the budgetary requirement for successfully implementing your marketing plan in this section to make it easy for readers to measure your marketing plan's impact in terms of numbers.

The information to include in your marketing plan includes marketing and promotion strategies, pricing plans and strategies , and sales proposals. You need to include how you intend to get customers to return and make repeat purchases in your business plan.

Marketing Strategy vs Marketing Plan

5. Sales Strategy

Sales strategy defines how you intend to get your product or service to your target customers and works hand in hand with your business marketing strategy.

Your sales strategy approach should not be complex. Break it down into simple and understandable steps to promote your product or service to target customers.

Apart from the steps to promote your product or service, define the budget you need to implement your sales strategies and the number of sales reps needed to help the business assist in direct sales.

Your sales strategy should be specific on what you need and how you intend to deliver on your sales targets, where numbers are reflected to make it easier for readers to understand and relate better.

Sales Strategy

6. Competitive Analysis

Providing transparent and honest information, even with direct and indirect competitors, defines a good business plan. Provide the reader with a clear picture of your rank against major competitors.

Identifying your competitors' weaknesses and strengths is useful in drawing up a market analysis. It is one information investors look out for when assessing business plans.

Competitive Analysis Framework

The competitive analysis section clearly defines the notable differences between your company and your competitors as measured against their strengths and weaknesses.

This section should define the following:

  • Your competitors' identified advantages in the market
  • How do you plan to set up your company to challenge your competitors’ advantage and gain grounds from them?
  • The standout qualities that distinguish you from other companies
  • Potential bottlenecks you have identified that have plagued competitors in the same industry and how you intend to overcome these bottlenecks

In your business plan, you need to prove your industry knowledge to anyone who reads your business plan. The competitive analysis section is designed for that purpose.

7. Management and Organization

Management and organization are key components of a business plan. They define its structure and how it is positioned to run.

Whether you intend to run a sole proprietorship, general or limited partnership, or corporation, the legal structure of your business needs to be clearly defined in your business plan.

Use an organizational chart that illustrates the hierarchy of operations of your company and spells out separate departments and their roles and functions in this business plan section.

The management and organization section includes profiles of advisors, board of directors, and executive team members and their roles and responsibilities in guaranteeing the company's success.

Apparent factors that influence your company's corporate culture, such as human resources requirements and legal structure, should be well defined in the management and organization section.

Defining the business's chain of command if you are not a sole proprietor is necessary. It leaves room for little or no confusion about who is in charge or responsible during business operations.

This section provides relevant information on how the management team intends to help employees maximize their strengths and address their identified weaknesses to help all quarters improve for the business's success.

8. Products and Services

This business plan section describes what a company has to offer regarding products and services to the maximum benefit and satisfaction of its target market.

Boldly spell out pending patents or copyright products and intellectual property in this section alongside costs, expected sales revenue, research and development, and competitors' advantage as an overview.

At this stage of your business plan, the reader needs to know what your business plans to produce and sell and the benefits these products offer in meeting customers' needs.

The supply network of your business product, production costs, and how you intend to sell the products are crucial components of the products and services section.

Investors are always keen on this information to help them reach a balanced assessment of if investing in your business is risky or offer benefits to them.

You need to create a link in this section on how your products or services are designed to meet the market's needs and how you intend to keep those customers and carve out a market share for your company.

Repeat purchases are the backing that a successful business relies on and measure how much customers are into what your company is offering.

This section is more like an expansion of the executive summary section. You need to analyze each product or service under the business.

9. Operating Plan

An operations plan describes how you plan to carry out your business operations and processes.

The operating plan for your business should include:

  • Information about how your company plans to carry out its operations.
  • The base location from which your company intends to operate.
  • The number of employees to be utilized and other information about your company's operations.
  • Key business processes.

This section should highlight how your organization is set up to run. You can also introduce your company's management team in this section, alongside their skills, roles, and responsibilities in the company.

The best way to introduce the company team is by drawing up an organizational chart that effectively maps out an organization's rank and chain of command.

What should be spelled out to readers when they come across this business plan section is how the business plans to operate day-in and day-out successfully.

10. Financial Projections and Assumptions

Bringing your great business ideas into reality is why business plans are important. They help create a sustainable and viable business.

The financial section of your business plan offers significant value. A business uses a financial plan to solve all its financial concerns, which usually involves startup costs, labor expenses, financial projections, and funding and investor pitches.

All key assumptions about the business finances need to be listed alongside the business financial projection, and changes to be made on the assumptions side until it balances with the projection for the business.

The financial plan should also include how the business plans to generate income and the capital expenditure budgets that tend to eat into the budget to arrive at an accurate cash flow projection for the business.

Base your financial goals and expectations on extensive market research backed with relevant financial statements for the relevant period.

Examples of financial statements you can include in the financial projections and assumptions section of your business plan include:

  • Projected income statements
  • Cash flow statements
  • Balance sheets
  • Income statements

Revealing the financial goals and potentials of the business is what the financial projection and assumption section of your business plan is all about. It needs to be purely based on facts that can be measurable and attainable.

11. Request For Funding

The request for funding section focuses on the amount of money needed to set up your business and underlying plans for raising the money required. This section includes plans for utilizing the funds for your business's operational and manufacturing processes.

When seeking funding, a reasonable timeline is required alongside it. If the need arises for additional funding to complete other business-related projects, you are not left scampering and desperate for funds.

If you do not have the funds to start up your business, then you should devote a whole section of your business plan to explaining the amount of money you need and how you plan to utilize every penny of the funds. You need to explain it in detail for a future funding request.

When an investor picks up your business plan to analyze it, with all your plans for the funds well spelled out, they are motivated to invest as they have gotten a backing guarantee from your funding request section.

Include timelines and plans for how you intend to repay the loans received in your funding request section. This addition keeps investors assured that they could recoup their investment in the business.

12. Exhibits and Appendices

Exhibits and appendices comprise the final section of your business plan and contain all supporting documents for other sections of the business plan.

Some of the documents that comprise the exhibits and appendices section includes:

  • Legal documents
  • Licenses and permits
  • Credit histories
  • Customer lists

The choice of what additional document to include in your business plan to support your statements depends mainly on the intended audience of your business plan. Hence, it is better to play it safe and not leave anything out when drawing up the appendix and exhibit section.

Supporting documentation is particularly helpful when you need funding or support for your business. This section provides investors with a clearer understanding of the research that backs the claims made in your business plan.

There are key points to include in the appendix and exhibits section of your business plan.

  • The management team and other stakeholders resume
  • Marketing research
  • Permits and relevant legal documents
  • Financial documents

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

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

More From Forbes

Business plan outline - 23 point checklist for success.

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If you’re looking for funding for a new or existing business, you need a business plan. Your business plan gives lenders and investors the information they need to determine whether or not they should consider your company.

Your business plan outline is the first step in organizing your thoughts. And, when you follow the outline below, you ensure your business plan is in the format that prompts investors and lenders to take action.

In the business plan outline below, you will see the ten (10) sections common to business plans, and the twenty-three (23) sub-sections you must complete. Also, to help you out, here is my proven business plan template , that allows you to quickly and easily complete all the sections of your business plan.

Section I - Executive Summary

1 - Executive Summary

The Executive Summary is the most important part of your business plan. Because if it doesn’t interest readers, they’ll never even get to the rest of your plan.

Start your Executive Summary with a brief and concise explanation of what your company does. Next, explain why your company is uniquely qualified to succeed. For example, does your management team have unique competencies? Do you have any patents? Are you the first mover in your market? Does a huge, unmet market opportunity exist? Etc.

Finally, include a synopsis of your financial projections in your Executive Summary. Specifically, include your expected revenues, expenses and profits for each of the next five years, how much funding you are seeking, and the key uses of these funds.

Section II - Company Overview

2 - Company Overview

The Company Overview section provides a brief history of your company.

Here you will answer questions such as when and how your organization was formed, what type of legal entity you are, and accomplishments to date.

Importantly, your past accomplishments are perhaps the best indicator of potential future success, so be sure to identify and include all key milestones your company has achieved to date.

Section III - Industry Analysis

Your Industry Analysis section has two sub-sections as follows:

3 - Market Overview

The Market Overview section discusses the size and characteristics of your market. For example, if you are a restaurant, you would include the size of the restaurant market, a brief discussion of sectors (e.g., fast food versus fine dining) and market trends.

4 - Relevant Market Size

The relevant market size is a much more specific calculation of your market size. It is the annual revenue your company could attain if it attained 100% market share. Your relevant market size is calculated by multiplying 1) the number of customers who might be interested in purchasing your products and/or services each year and 2) the amount these customers might be willing to spend, on an annual basis, on your products and/or services.

Section IV - Customer Analysis

Your Customer Analysis section has two sub-sections as follows:

5 - Target Customers

Your Target Customers section precisely identifies your current and/or intended customers. Include as much demographic data on your target customers as possible, such as their gender, age, salary, geography, marital status and education.

6 - Customer Needs

In this section of your business plan, specify why customers want or need your products and/or services. For example, do customers care most about speed, quality, location, reliability, comfort, price, value, etc.?

Section V - Competitive Analysis

Your Competitive Analysis section has three sub-sections as follows:

7 - Direct Competitors

Direct competitors are companies that fill the same customer need you fill with the same solution. For example, if you operate an Italian restaurant, other Italian restaurants would be direct competitors.

In this section of your business plan, outline who your direct competitors are, and their strengths and weaknesses.

8 - Indirect Competitors

Indirect competitors are companies that fill the same customer need you fill with a different solution. For example, if you operate an Italian restaurant, a French restaurant would be an indirect competitor.

In this section of your business plan, outline who your indirect competitors are, and their strengths and weaknesses.

9 - Competitive Advantages

Importantly, identify your Competitive Advantages in this section. Specifically, state what is it about your company that will allow you to effectively compete (and win) against both direct and indirect competitors.

Section VI - Marketing Plan

Your Marketing Plan section has four sub-sections as follows:

10 - Products & Services

Here is where you give the details of the products and/or services your company offers.

11 - Pricing

Detail your pricing here. In particular, discuss how your pricing relates to competition. For example, are you the premium brand? The low cost brand?

Discuss your expected branding based on your chosen pricing model.

12 - Promotions Plan

Your promotions plan details the tactics you will use to attract new customers. For example, you might choose radio advertising, or online pay-per-click ads, or press releases, and so on. In this section, detail each form of promotions you will use.

13 - Distribution Plan

Your Distribution Plan outlines the ways in which customers can buy from you. In many cases, they can only buy directly from you, perhaps at your physical location or web address. In other cases, you might have distributors or partners who sell your products or services. In such a case, detail this structure.

Section VII - Operations Plan

Your Operations Plan section has two sub-sections as follows:

14 - Key Operational Processes

Your Key Operational Processes are the daily functions your business must conduct. In this section, you will detail these functions. For example, will you maintain a Customer Service department? If so, what specific role will it fill?

By completing this section, you’ll get great clarity on the organization you hope to build.

15 - Milestones

In this section of your business plan, list the key milestones you hope to achieve in the future and the target dates for achieving them.

Here is where you set goals for specific and critical undertakings, such as when a new product will be created and launched, by when you plan to execute new partnerships, etc.

Section VIII - Management Team

Your Management Team section has three sub-sections as follows:

16 - Management Team Members

This section details the current members of your management team and their backgrounds.

17 - Management Team Gaps

Particularly if you’re a startup venture, you will have holes in your team; roles that you’d like to fill later. Identify such roles here, and the qualifications of the people you will seek later to fill them.

18 - Board Members

If you maintain a Board of Advisors or Board of Directors, detail your Board members and their bios in this section.

Section IX - Financial Plan

Your Financial Plan section has four sub-sections as follows:

19 - Revenue Model

As simple as it seems, this section of your business plan gives clarity on how you generate revenues. Do you sell products? Do you sell advertising space? Do you sell by-products, like data? Do you sell all of the above?

20 -  Financial Highlights

Your full financial model (income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement) belong in your Appendix, but in this section you’ll include the highlights. For instance, include your revenues, key expenses, and projected net income for the next five years.

21 - Funding Requirements/Use of Funds

If you are seeking funding for your company, detail the amount here, and importantly for what you will use the funds.

22 - Exit Strategy

Particularly if you are seeking equity funding, detail your expected exit strategy. The most likely exit strategy is to sell your company to a larger firm. If so, detail the types of firms that might be interested in purchasing you and why. List the specific names of potential acquirers if applicable.

Section X - Appendix

23 - Supporting Documentation

As mentioned above, your full financial model (income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement) belong in your appendix.

Likewise, include any supporting documentation that will help convince readers your company will succeed. For example, include customer lists, awards, and patents received among others.

I hope this business plan outline has helped you organize your thoughts and answer the key questions needed to start and grow a successful business. While twenty-three sections seems like a lot, if you complete them one at a time, you can make progress and finish your entire plan quickly and effectively. Likewise, feel free to use my proven business plan template to complete your business plan.

Dave Lavinsky

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Get business loan options in minutes with Fast Capital 360

As a small business owner, you’re no stranger to goal setting. Bolster your business for an even better year by preparing a sound business plan to help you achieve greater success in 2024.

Hand holding a document that says "The Must-Have Business Plan Checklist"

What Is a Business Plan?

A business plan lists your company’s objectives and the steps you’ll take to achieve your short- and long-term goals. It’s an invaluable tool you shouldn’t be without.

Why Should You Have One?

Having a business plan is crucial to preparing for the future. Indeed, according to a Harvard Business Review study , 16% of entrepreneurs who develop formal business plans are more likely to have viable companies. 

Without question, a business plan can help you better target the right customers and identify the specific ways you’ll go about reaching them. A business plan can also prove invaluable when you need to access capital to keep your business going strong.

Achieve Objectives

Your business plan is a way to document your company goals for the year in one place. It’s a benchmark you can use to track the progress of your business activities, by individual departments and as a whole. Refer back to this document when you consider how certain investments may (or may not) contribute to the goals you’ve set forth.

Assess the Market and Industry

While you likely have a broad view of your target customers, dig deeper to identify what’s going on in your market and industry and include this information in your business plan. Research your competitors and better pinpoint your ideal clientele .

Outline Your Marketing Plan

Your business plan is a place to document what promotional avenues and methods you’ll leverage to reach your target customers. It’s also where you can notate the budget you anticipate and can afford to spend. Refer back to this periodically to make sure you haven’t veered off course.

Access Financing and Attract Investors

Whether you’re a new or established business, there comes a time when you need a boost of funds to get your company where you want it to be. Lenders, investors and potential partners will want to look at your business plan to determine if it’s worthwhile to invest in your venture. 

See Your Loan Options

When Should You Develop a Business Plan?

You should develop a business plan when you have a vision of where you want to take your company and could benefit from plotting a map to guide you toward that destination. A business plan can prove beneficial whether you’re a business owner who’s been running your operation for years or a startup entrepreneur beginning a new venture.

With the start of a new year, there will undoubtedly be new opportunities you’ll want to take advantage of. Creating a business plan can help set your business in the right direction. 

Keep in mind, as your business changes and grows, you’ll want to adjust accordingly.

What Information Should Be Included?

While business plans can vary in format, one thing’s for sure, lenders and investors will want to see several key details. 

This information provides insight as to where your business is today, how it got there and where it’s heading in the future: 

  • Industry overview and forecasts
  • Breakdown of customer segments
  • Summary of the competition 
  • Current business and sales data
  • Business forecasts for your company
  • Business performance over the past 2 years
  • Comparison of business performance to upcoming year’s projections

The Must-Have Business Plan Checklist document from Fast Capital 360 with a graphic of a woman holding a notepad and a list of items to check off when writing a business plan

Ready to start planning? Get our Business Plan Checklist .

How Do You Write a Business Plan?

When you’re drafting your business plan, you’ll want to address these elements. Be sure to create a compelling and detailed summary of your efforts to date and your anticipated trajectory.

1. Executive Summary

Think of this section as a book summary. In a few paragraphs, briefly touch on what you will cover in each section of your business plan. 

2. Company Overview

In this section, discuss your business history and the role of your company.

3. Mission and Goals

Clue investors, lenders and your team into why you started your business and where you see your business going. 

4. Market and Competitive Analysis

In this section, detail what’s happening in your industry, including market fluctuations, historical performance and projections. Also, identify your competition. Who are you up against for a share of the market you’re in? 

5. Operations and Management Plan

Explain how components of your company will contribute to your overall business plan objectives. 

6. Products and Services

Use this section to introduce your business’s product or service offering in detail. What do you sell and what customer pain point(s) does it address?

7. Marketing and Sales Plan

Detail how your marketing and sales plan will help you reach the goals you’ve set for the year. 

8. Financial Information

  • Profit-and-loss statements
  • Balance sheet  
  • Cash-flow statement
  • Expected expenses 
  • Budget for anticipated expenses
  • Best-case projections 
  • Worst-case projections

Be sure your business plan projections can be supported by research or proven results.

9. Additional Supporting Documentation

Create an appendix for any relevant information not included elsewhere, such as charts, contracts, patents and permits. 

When Should You Use a Business Plan?

A business plan is an informative tool to map out a company’s growth strategy. It’s also an important resource owners and management can reference before making major business decisions. 

Additionally, it’s a critical document investors and lenders review when considering whether to provide a small business with capital for business development or expansion.   

Keep in mind, a business plan is not meant to be a static document. Adjust it as needed to reflect the evolution of your business. Here’s to your success!

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  • Business Plan Checklist

Introduction to Business Plan Checklist:

checklist of business plan

Small Business Economics  found that  entrepreneurs that take the time to turn their idea into a structured plan are 152 percent more likely to start their business.

Are you bursting with ideas and eager to get the ball rolling on your business venture?

If so, you have come to the right place. 

This business plan checklist will help you transform all of those brilliant ideas into a coherent, organized, and professional business plan. 

Having a business plan will add legitimacy to your idea and will guide you in taking the appropriate steps to enable your business to blossom. 

Writing a business plan shouldn’t be complicated and we are here to help with the whole process.

Before you get stuck in, here is a little bit about us:

Process Street is super-powered checklists. It’s the easiest way to manage your recurring tasks , procedures, and workflows.

Create a checklist template and run individual checklists for each member of your team. You can check tasks off as you work through them, set deadlines, add approvals , assign tasks , and track each team member's progress .

You can also connect to thousands of Apps through Zapier and automate your workflows even more.

Let's get started. 

Complete the following tasks in a step-by-step fashion and you will see how quick (and easy) it is to write a professional business plan. 

Enter your basic information

Update this plan on a Q uarterly Basis. If you are running this checklist as a result of a drastic change within your business then run the checklist as though you are creating a new business plan from scratch. 

Having an up-to-date business plan is CRITICAL for the smooth running of any business. 

We recommend running through this checklist every few months and updating it whenever a change of plan occurs. 

Even if you haven't made any changes it is important to consistently check-in with your mission, values, and goals.  

The following tasks help to keep a record of who is editing the plan and how often. 

One-Page-Pitch:

checklist of business plan

A One-Page-Pitch is the simplest business plan you can write. 

Think of it as a one-page executive summary of your business. 

It is a great way to sort through all of your thoughts and get them down on paper before you begin writing a standard plan (this comes later in this business plan checklist). 

If you already have a One-Page-Pitch then upload it in the following task.

If not then no worries, just follow the checklist below.

Prepare one-page-pitch

Select the appropriate option from the dropdown below. 

If you have not yet created a OPP then create a document on your computer or on Google Docs. Then follow the subtasks below when creating the OPP.

  • 1 Describe your business in one sentence
  • 2 Describe the problem your potential customers have
  • 3 Describe your solution to the problem
  • 4 Explain who your target market/ ideal customer is
  • 5 Describe your competitive advantage
  • 6 Describe how you will sell to your customers
  • 7 Describe what marketing activities you will use to attract customers
  • 8 Detail your business model, what are your revenue streams
  • 9 List your startup costs
  • 10 List your primary goals and milestones that you want to accomplish over the next few months
  • 11 Outline whether you wish to run the business alone or with a team/ freelancers
  • 12 List any partners and resources you need to help you launch.

Whether you have just created a OPP or you already had one, upload it to this checklist for safe keeping.

Link OR Upload One-Page-Pitch below:

Standard Business Plan:

Why create a Standard Business Plan alongside a One-Page-Pitch?

Whilst a One-Page-Pitch is GREAT for getting your ideas on paper it lacks the components that make a business plan actionable. 

The Standard Business Plan delves deeper into the ways you plan on making your business happen. Most importantly, this plan is what investors and banks will expect to see. 

Are you ready to legitimize and set the infrastructure for your business? 

Remember to follow the tasks in a linear  fashion. 

Let's build your business. 

Define the opportunity

checklist of business plan

Use the opportunity section of your business plan to demonstrate what sets your product or solution apart from the crowd .

Explain the problem that you’re solving, your solution, who you plan to sell to, and how your product or service fits into the existing competitive landscape.

This section will also give you the opportunity to identify future plans and the vision for your business. 

Determine your mission

Bear all of your previous answers in mind and write a brief mission statement.

Consider the problem you are solving; the customer's needs; your solution to the problem; and how you will benefit. 

Identify future plans

A  vision statement determines the current and future objectives and plans of your business.

A business's vision guides your business in making decisions that should align with its values and goals.  A good vision statement  is short, simple, specific to your business, and leaves nothing open to interpretation. 

Use this section to validate your ideas and identify your future plans.

Prepare your vision statement

Now, briefly summarize your idea, future plans, and what you wish to accomplish with a vision statement. 

Write the Market Analysis:

A target market is a set of individuals sharing similar needs or characteristics that you and your business intend to serve. 

checklist of business plan

Because markets are constantly changing we have created sub-tasks within this section that allow you to quickly update the marketing analysis of your business plan. 

If this is your first time completing this checklist select:  first run-through from the dropdown menu below. 

If you have already completed this checklist but your business has witnessed big changes then run the checklist from scratch: as though it were the first time. 

Alternatively, select  check-in from the dropdown menu for any recent changes. This selection will save time and will not require you to go through the entire list of tasks within this section. 

  • 1 First time

Identify customers

Pinpoint who your customers are.

The first step in ascertaining your place within your target market is forming a relationship with your future customers.

Like any relationship, the more you know about someone the more likely you are to know what they want and how they want it. 

Get personal , picture your future customer in detail:

How old are they? What sex do they identify themselves as? What are their tastes? What are their spending habits? 

There are lots more questions you can ask to REALLY get to know your target market.

Remember, the more questions you ask, the closer you get to identify your customer's wants and needs. 

Do some research, then tick each of the boxes once you have the data: 

  • 1 Do you know how old your customers are?
  • 2 Do you know what sex they identify as?
  • 3 Do you know their tastes?
  • 4 Do you know their spending habits?

Highlight competitors

Establish your place within the industry. 

Before you embark on your venture you need to know what industry your business falls into; who your competitors are; and where you and slot into the mix. 

Unsure of your industry or your place within it?

A thorough Google search should provide plenty of information for your market analysis. There are websites for business analysis, financial statistics, demographics, trade associations, and just about everything you'll need to complete this checklist and your business plan. 

This section of your business plan requires regular updating. All industries are fluent, ever-changing, and growing. Good business management involves consistent industry analysis. To stay on top of the game you need to know who the key players are. 

Consider what buying factors make a difference in the success or failure of your competitors:

Is it price? Product features? Service? Support? Website? Branding? Online presence? Delivery dates?

Establish keys to success

checklist of business plan

Consider all the data you have gathered in relation to your customers and your competitors. 

Given the data, what do you think are the vital components in ensuring your business's success? Ideally, you will have between four and six keys to success (KTS).  

Struggling to narrow down your ideas? Here are a couple of examples:

• Excellent product and service that will build and maintain customer loyalty.

• A commitment to continuous improvement and total quality services.

Calculate TAM SAM SOM

checklist of business plan

TAM – Your total addressable market refers to the overall demand for the products or services your company provides.

SAM – Your serviceable available market refers to the segment of your TAM which you can reach.

SOM – Your serviceable obtainable market is kind of like your actual goal. This is how much of the market in your location you can realistically reach.

For more information on this topic check out this Process Street blog post: What is TAM SAM SOM? How to Calculate and Use It in Your Business.

Use the form fields below to record TAM SAM SOM data.

Risk Assessment:

checklist of business plan

“A major lesson in risk management is that a 'receding sea' is not a lucky offer of an extra piece of free beach, but the warning sign of an upcoming tsunami.” ―  Jos Berkemeijer

Business risk can be understood as the factors and events that can impact a company's operational and financial performance.

From tsunamis to employees quitting; to pandemics and system failure. Risks can occur at any time and at varying degrees of disastrousness. 

In fact, a lack of risk management strategies causes over 50% of startups to fail within their first four years.

However, all is not lost. 

A thorough risk assessment of the environment surrounding your business is vital in mitigating risks. 

By considering possible risks you develop short and long-term plans that promote the steadfastness of your business. 

Consider any external risks

There are three main components of risk assessment:

  • Identifying the specific risks that your business faces.
  • Determining the potential impact of each type of risk identified. This is done by comparing the likelihood of occurrence vs. the extent of consequences faced.
  • Evaluating how your current resources and expertise can deal with the most significant risks you face 

External factors

Economic Risk: Remember the financial crisis of 2007/8? That is the type of thing you consider when assessing economic risks, along with all changes in the market.

Natural Risk: Think of the tsunami example, this is a natural risk. Natural risk factors include natural disasters that affect normal business operations.

Political Risk: The 2010 crisis in Venezuela shows how political decisions take by governmental leaders can influence your business. Think taxes; currency valuation; trade tariffs or barriers; investment; wage levels; labor laws; environmental regulations and development priorities, can affect your business conditions and profitability.

For guidance on managing risk click here

Consider any internal risks

Internal risks.

Internal risks happen from within your organization.

Human-factor Risk:  All things relating to you or your staff and your ability to work.

Human-factor risks include:

Union strikes

Dishonest employees

Ineffective management or leadership

Failure within the production and supply streams

Failure to pay by clients/customers

Technological risk:  unforeseen changes in the manufacturing, delivery, or distribution of a company's product or service.

Technological risks include:

Failure of systems

Lack of skilled IT staff

Software and server problems

Dated technology and systems

Physical risk: is simply the loss or damage of assets  belonging to a company. 

Market and risk check-in

Consider any changes or developments  within your target market or risk enviroment.

Be sure to consider the following questions. 

  • 1 Who are my potential customers?
  • 2 What are their buying and shopping habits?
  • 3 How many of them are there?
  • 4 How much will they pay?
  • 5 Who is my competition?
  • 6 What have their challenges and successes been?
  • 7 What are the internal and external risks?

Accessing the Target Market:

Complete the marketing strategy.

A quick note on the difference between marketing strategy and marketing plan: The marketing strategy informs the marketing plan, which is a document that details the specific types of marketing activities your business conducts.

Get out there. 

You've established who your target market is and who your key competitors are. The next move is to establish how you plan to reach your customers.

What is a marketing strategy? Y our business's game plan  for reaching your target market. 

A marketing strategy contains:

Value proposition: how your product or service solves/improves problems, what benefits customers can expect, and why customers should buy from you over your competitors.

Key brand messaging:  refers to conveying the value proposition and the language used in your content. It’s what makes buyers relate to your brand. 

  • Nike : Just do it.
  • Subway : Eat fresh.
  • Levis : Quality never goes out of style.

Once you have determined your marketing strategy , complete the form fields below.

Data on target customer demographics:  we touched on this when researching the target market. Demographics are subsets of a target market that share particular attributes.

Understand the marketing plan

A marketing plan is operational and outlines a detailed advertising strategy. It details how your business plans to reach customers.

The plan includes details on promotional campaigns you plan to run and how you plan to monitor the effectiveness of these initiatives.

Whilst the following tasks cover the most important steps for a marketing plan there is a lot more you can do to increase your outreach. If you wish to delve deeper into the realm of marketing and planning then click here .

Components of a marketing plan:

  • Market research to support pricing decisions and new market entries.
  • Platform selection for connecting with customers and promoting your product or service.
  • Tailored messaging that targets the demographics within your market.
  • Metrics that measure the results of marketing efforts and their reporting timelines.

Plan how to communicate with customers

"The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits them and sells itself." - Peter Drucker, These 10 Peter Drucker Quotes May Change Your World.

Be creative in determining how to communicate with your customers. Think online, digital, radio, trade magazines, blogs, newsletters.

If you are looking for inspiration then have a read through this blog : 

Or this one .. . 

This is also interesting

Definitely check this out.  

*that'll do* 

Once you feel suitably inspired, fill out the tasks below.

  • 1 Instagram
  • 4 Telephone

Consider tailored messaging

Consider your value proposition and take the same tone that you did when deciding your brand messaging. 

Ever had something tailor-made? Remember the effort that went into customizing that item to be your perfect fit. 

This is what you want to do for each and everyone one of your customers, make them feel as though  you are the perfect fit for them. 

A tailored message is customized for each and every customer. They are great for creating a personal connection with customers and generating new business. 

Identify milestones

Milestones make your business plan specific, and concrete.

Milestones are dates, deadlines, tasks, and budgets.

Examples of milestones:

  • When you launch the product/service.
  • Open the new store.
  • Hire a new person (or expand in general).
  • Change locations online or offline.
  • Start a new marketing campaign.

Milestones list and categorize what’s supposed to happen—and when it’s supposed to happen.

They include launch dates, review dates, prototype availabilities, advertising, social media, website development, and programs to generate leads and traffic.

The milestones set the plan tactics into practical, concrete terms with real budgets, deadlines, and management responsibilities. They are the building blocks of strategy and tactics. They are essential to  your ongoing plan-vs-actual management and analysis,  which is what turns your planning into management.

As you need tactics to execute strategy, so too you need milestones to execute tactics. Normally you’ll look for a close match between tactics and milestones.

You develop your milestones by thinking through strategy, tactics, and actions you need to take. 

Once you have determined your milestones, use the form fields below to record them. 

Identify metrics

Metrics are performance measurements that you track as part of your regular planning process. 

They are numbers that you gather to analyze and compare. 

The most obvious metrics are in financial reports: sales, cost of sales, expenses, and so on.

Understanding and managing financial reports and numbers closely helps to build accountability in your business.

Identify Product Details:

Input data concerning your product or service.

Hopefully, by this stage in your business plan, you know what your product or service is. In which case the following steps should be self-explanatory. 

Use this section to outline the details of your product.

Write sourcing strategy

When considering where you are going to source your products it is  really important  that you consider three things:

  • Delivery time
  • Quality control

Another thing to consider is  sustainability.

Climate conscious brands are becoming increasingly popular. Being a sustainable brand means that you can positively influence the environment whilst growing your business at the same time! 

Determine pricing strategy

Pricing strategy  refers to the method you use to  price  your products or services.

A good approach to take is to base the price of your product on production, labor, and advertising expenses and then add on a certain percentage so that you can make a profit.

Use the form field below to input your pricing strategy.

Indicate location and facilities

Consider where your business is based:

  • Will your business have an online presence?
  • Will you require the use of any extra facilities?
  • How do you plan to distribute your product?

Establish Your Financials:

Assess your financial needs. 

What do you need to get your business off the ground? 

The following tasks feature checklists that guide you in getting your finances planned, documented, and organized. 

Remember to upload the final document to this checklist so that everything is stored securely in one place. 

Establish funding requirements

Use the form fields below to determine your business's financial needs.

Complete projected balance sheet

If you already have a projected balance sheet then upload it below and move on to the next task.

If not then follow this checklist to create your Balance Sheet Statement and upload the final document:

Determine your cash flow planning process

If you already have a cash flow then upload it below and move on to the next task.

If not then follow this checklist on The Financial Planning Process and upload/link the final document:

Legalize your business

The legal requirements for launching a business vary depending on your location, the size of the business, the number of employees you have, and so on. 

Research the specific requirements for your business and considering the following: 

  • 1 Appropriate licenses and permits
  • 2 Sales tax permit
  • 3 Business License
  • 4 Accounting and record-keeping system
  • 5 Insurance

Write the Executive Summary:

Remember the One-Page-Pitch you wrote, this is a re-draft of that. 

Take everything that you have inputted thus far into account when writing your executive summary. 

Talk about the problem you are solving, what your solution is (your product or service usually), the market, the competition, and some key financial highlights. 

Prepare executive summary

Use this task to guide you in preparing your executive summary.

Utilize the subtasks below to ensure you include all of the required information. 

  • 1 A summary of my business.
  • 2 A summary of my products/services.
  • 3 Your mission statement.
  • 4 Your vision statement.
  • 5 Summary of your organizational structure.
  • 6 Summary of your target market and ideal customer.
  • 7 Evaluation of the external and internal risks.
  • 8 Summary of the future of my business and my industry.
  • 9 Summary of my financial data and projections.
  • 10 Summary of legalities.

Upload your executive summary in the appropriate form field below. 

Your Standard Business Plan:

Create a standard business lan.

Create a document either in Google Docs or on your computer.

Input the following headings into the document to organize your business plan:

Opportunity

Market analysis, risk assessment, marketing strategy and plan, product details, executive summary.

The following steps will gather all the data from this checklist. Copy and paste the data from each of the sections into your document.

Then upload or link the document. 

Basic Information

{{form.Your_name}}

{{form.Role_within_the_business}}

{{form.Today's_date}}

{{form.Problem_to_be_solved}}

{{form.Unmet_customer_needs}}

{{form.Customer_benefits_of_solving_problem}}

{{form.Proposed_solution_to_the_problem}}

{{form.Business_benefits_of_solving_the_problem}}

{{form.Mission_statement}}

{{form.Validate_idea_2}}

{{form.Identify_future_plans_2}}

{{form.Four_things_to_accomplish}}

{{form.Vision_statement}}

{{form.Potential_customers_2}}

{{form.Customers_buying_habits}}

{{form.Amount_of_customers_in_your_target_market}}

{{form.Amount_customers_are_willing_to_pay}}

{{form.Your_industry}}

{{form.Current_size_of_your_industry_2}}

{{form.Competitors_within_your_industry_2}}

{{form.Identify_lead_competitors_2}}

{{form.Competitors_challenges/successes}}

{{form.Buying_factors_within_your_industry}}

{{form.Calculate_TAM}}

{{form.Calculate_SAM}}

{{form.Calculate_SOM}}

{{form.Identify_KTS}}

{{form.Internal_risks}}

{{form.Impact_of_internal_risks}}

{{form.How_internal_risks_will_be_managed}}

{{form.External_risks}}

{{form.Impact_of_external_risks}}

{{form.How_external_risks_will_be_managed}}

{{form.Recent_changes_or_developments_within_your_industry}}

{{form.Value_proposition}}

{{form.Ideas_for_branding_message}}

{{form.Customer_demographics}}

{{form.Summarize_data_to_include_in_plan}}

{{form.Select_which_social_media_platforms_you_will_use}}

{{form.Social_media_strategies_you_intend_to_use}}

{{form.Select_direct_communication_methods}}

{{form.Use_of_alternative_communication_methods}}

{{form.Plans_for_promotional_campaigns}}

{{form.Establish_product_offerings}}

{{form.Messaging_you_will_use}}

{{form.Product_or_service}}

{{form.Competitive_advantage_of_product}}

{{form.Sourcing_strategy}}

{{form.Pricing_structure}}

{{form.Location}}

{{form.Facilities}}

{{form.Plans_for_distribution}}

{{form.Will_your_business_require_extra_funding?}}

{{form.Source_of_funds}}

{{form.Use_of_funds}}

{{form.Financial_strategy_for_the_future}}

{{form.Legal_requirements_and_measures_to_be_taken}}

{{form.Copy_and_paste_executive_summary}}

Use the form field below to upload your first d

Send business plan for review

Utilize the email widget to send the document for review. Getting someone to review your business plan is a key step in creating a professional and error free document. 

Upload final sstandard business plan

Congratulations!

You have completed the checklist and created your business plan.

Once you have finished editing the document be sure to upload/link it here so that it is stored in a safe place. 

  • Bplans Blog - How to Write a Business Plan: Use This Checklist to Keep Yourself on Task 
  • Sba.gov - How to Write A Business Plan
  • Bplans Blog - Industry Analysis: Know Your Industry Before You Start Your Business 

Lori Hubbard - Why Is Identifying the Target Market so Important to a Company?

  • Bplans Blog - How to Write a Market Analysis 
  • Effectuation.org - The Multiple Effects of Business Planning on New Venture Performance
  • Larry Myler - 7 Ways To Make Your Business Stand Out In A Crowd Of Competitors 
  • AppSuccess - Bussiness Plan PDF
  • Minutehack - Why Your Startup Should Use A Risk Assessment 
  • Investopedia - How Companies Can Reduce Internal and External Business Risk 
  • Process Street - Marketing Process Toolkit: 10 Checklists to Crush Your Competition | Process Street | Checklist, Workflow , and SOP Software
  • Neil Patel - 20 Uncommon Marketing Strategies That'll Kickstart Your Startup 

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checklist of business plan

Small Business UK

Small Business UK

Advice and Ideas for UK Small Businesses and SMEs

checklist of business plan

Checklist: what should be in your business plan

checklist of business plan

Put together your business plan with our tips.

Alan Dobie

Your business plan is key to keeping your mind on long-term strategic goals while dealing with the day-to-day problems. Here's what it should contain.

Writing a business plan encapsulates long-term targets, estimates and forecasts. Remember though that it is not set in stone and will most likely change as your business progresses, so regular reviews are necessary. Here’s a list of the issues to get down on paper.

1. Summary of your plan (one to two pages)

Highlighting the attractions of your business

a) What is the business? b) What is the market? c) Potential for business d) Forecast profit figures e) How much money is needed? f) Prospects for the investor/lender

2. The past (one page plus an appendix)

a) When the business started. b) Summary of past performance (last three years’ accounts in Appendix). c) Indication of how relevant or not past performance is to future progress.

3. Management (as many pages as needed)

This is the crucial section

a) Your past employment and business record. Identify achievements, not just a chronological statement b) The record of other people working with you. c) If there are obvious weaknesses in management, how you’ll deal with them.

4. The product or service (two pages plus an appendix)

a) A simple description of what it does. Avoid technical words – if essential, technical descriptions can go in the appendix. b) Why the product is unique or distinct. c) Brief survey of the competition. d) How the products will be developed, what new products are being considered, when replacement will be needed for the existing product range, what competitive products may emerge. e) Any patents applied for.

5. Marketing (three or four pages with detailed statistics in an appendix)

The market: a) Its size, its past and future growth. b) Analysis of market into sectors; identify sector your business is aimed at. c) Likely customers: who, type (industrial or consumer), size, how they buy. d) Your competitors: who, their size, position in market, likely response to your challenge.

Selling: a) How you will sell (Internet, direct mail, phone, intermediaries, and so on). b) Who will sell. c) Some idea of your sales pitch (for example, benefits of your product). d) How you will price.

6. Operational details (length depends on nature of business)

a) Where you will be based – location, premises. b) Suppliers. c) Manufacturing facilities. d) Equipment needed. e) Information technology strategy.

7. Financial analysis (two to three pages; data in optional appendix)

a) Summary of forecasts. b) Monthly profit and loss forecast for two years. c) Profit forecast for further three years. d) Monthly cash flow forecast for two years. e) Cash flow forecast for further three years (optional). f) Forecast balance sheet for two years. g) Audited accounts for last three years (if available). h) The assumptions behind your forecasts. i) What are the principal risks which could affect figures? j) SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

8. The prospects (one or two pages)

a) Your objectives – short-term, long-term. b) The finance needed and what it is needed for. c) Shareholdings suggested (if appropriate). d) Prospects for the investor or lender (if appropriate, including possible value of business if floated on the stock market or sold, so investors may cash in).

Also see: Business plan creation advice and tips

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of smallbusiness.co.uk) before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the... More by Alan Dobie

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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  • What is a 529 plan?
  • How does a 529 plan work?
  • How much can you contribute to a 529 plan?

Tax deductions for 529 plan contributions

  • Potential drawbacks to 529 plans

What is a 529 Plan? A Comprehensive Guide to Saving for College

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  • 529 plans are state-run, tax-advantaged accounts earmarked for educational expenses.
  • 529 plan account earnings and withdrawals are tax-free; some states also allow deductions on contributions.
  • 529 plan funds can affect financial aid and can incur tax penalties if withdrawn for the wrong uses.

You can use a 529 plan to invest and earn money tax-free, then pay for eligible academic expenses — not just college, but a range of schools — without owing any taxes.

In a sense, it's like a specialized Roth IRA : Your funds are targeted towards a purpose, then grow and can be withdrawn tax-free. Also, you could be penalized for ineligible withdrawals or uses of the money. 

You can also check out Business Insider's roundup of the best 529 plans available. 

Understanding 529 plans

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged financial account for educational expenses. Money contributed to it grows tax-deferred within the account.

"The 529 plan offers income tax-deferred investing, and if distributions from the plan are for expenses that meet IRS criteria, tax-free investing," says Sandi Bragar, CFA and chief client officer at Aspiriant .

Qualifying expenses for 529 plan savings

Withdrawals are tax-free when used for appropriate ("qualified" in IRS-speak) educational expenses, such as:

  • Tuition for college, graduate school, or vocational school
  • K-12 tuition and fees
  • Book and other school supplies
  • Room and board
  • Campus meal plans
  • Student loan payments

Traditionally, these accounts were designed solely to fund secondary education (i.e., a four-year college or university) tuition and related expenses. However, in recent years legislation expanded their uses to apply to K-12 tuition and fees, as well as technical schools, trade schools, and apprenticeships offered through community colleges. 

ABLE savings plans

Similar to a 529 plan, ABLE Saving plans (otherwise referred to as 529A accounts) are municipal fund securities. ABLE plans and 529 plans are regulated by the Municipal Securities Board . ABLE plans are designed for disabled individuals to save for disability-related expenses (such as job training, health care, and education) without interfering with Medicaid and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits. 

If need be, funds from a 529 plan can be rolled over to an eligible ABLE Savings account. See our list of ABLE Savings plans by state.

How 529 plans work

While named for a section of the federal tax code, 529 plans are run by the states. You can establish one at a bank or financial services/investment company like Fidelity , Vanguard , or T. Rowe Price. 

A 529 plan usually offers several investment options (typically mutual funds or ETFs , ranging from conservative to aggressive). Many also offer pre-defined portfolios, like target-date funds , that are age-based: They grow more conservative the closer your child gets to college age.

Plans are either advisor-sold (offered through a licensed financial advisor) or direct-sold (offered through the state and/or financial institution). From there, 529 plans come in various forms: 

  • Education savings plan: This is the most common type of plan. Money is invested in a pre-selection of investment options (usually mutual funds or ETFs from one or more investment firms).
  • Prepaid tuition plan: This type of plan can function differently depending on the state it is issued out of. Generally, prepaid plans allow you to pay for the cost of tuition or credits at the current rate, and its value grows over time. 

529 plan contribution rules and taxation

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 $18,000 per child, for $36,000 per year.

Here's why: Contributions to a 529 plan are considered gifts, so most people plan their deposits to dovetail the annual gift tax exclusion of $18,000 per recipient in 2024. The annual gift tax exclusion allows people to give money, getting out of their taxable estate, without having to pay any gift tax. 

For those who can afford it, it is possible to supersize contributions using the five-year election strategy. With this move, you can make five years' worth of contributions in a single year.

"When it fits with their goals and circumstances, we'll recommend clients take advantage of a special election which allows them to contribute up to five years' of annual exclusive gifts," Bragar says.

This strategy provides an immediate reduction in your estate and enables more money to start growing tax-free in the 529 accounts right away.

You contribute to a 529 plan with after-tax dollars — that is, you don't get a federal income tax deduction on the contribution at the time you make it. That's the trade-off for the balance growing tax-free.

However, you might qualify for a tax break on your state income tax return. Some 36 states allow at least some sort of deduction of your contribution. The amounts allowed by the state vary widely and the maximum deductions range from a flat figure (like $5,000 per taxpayer) to a percentage of the contribution (like a 20% tax credit), to the full dollar amount of the contribution. 

In these states, a 529 plan offers triple tax benefits. Your contributions are tax-deductible, the money grows tax-free, and withdrawals for eligible expenses are tax-free.

You may be able to establish a 529 plan outside of your home state. But as a non-resident, you won't qualify for any state tax deductions or credits. 

Disadvantages of 529 plans

As advantageous as 529 plans can be, there are some drawbacks to this college savings tool. You can face penalties for withdrawing the money for the wrong uses, the balances may affect financial aid, and it can get complicated if college plans change.

There's also a chance that your 529 plan doesn't perform as well as you expected or could even decline in value. 

Penalties for unqualified withdrawals

If you withdraw the money for an ineligible use — or withdraw too much money (in cases where you're limited to $10,000 a year), and the IRS finds out, you pay a 10% penalty on the amount withdrawn. Plus, you will have to pay taxes on any gains.

"Fortunately, the excess funds remain available for the beneficiary, " says Bragar. "And, beginning in 2024, if the 529 plan has been open for 15 years and the beneficiary is eligible to make Roth IRA contributions, the beneficiary may roll over funds over a period of years."

How 529 plans affect financial aid

Yes, 529 plan accounts do factor into financial aid and scholarship considerations. The good news is that plans owned by a parent or another adult factor less into the equation of financial assistance than if the student owned the plan. 

Also, the plan money counts as assets; overall, a parent's income weighs more heavily into the calculation for financial aid eligibility than assets do. No more than 5.6% of parental assets are included, compared to 22% to 47% of a parent's income.

Assets held in someone else's name, like a grandparent, are considered income for the beneficiary and may affect financial aid.

"If a student will be relying on financial aid for college funding, it's a good idea to address the 529 plan account ownership situation before the student's senior year of high school. This allows some time to evaluate and execute a change to the 529 plan owner if that's desirable to maximize financial aid," says Bragar.

If the child has won scholarships for their undergraduate degree, 529 money can be saved for graduate school or additional qualified education expenses later in life. Or to pay off student loans, if they incurred them.

What happens if your child doesn't go to college

Since the use of 529 funds is earmarked for education, a child not attending or dropping out of school could be a problem. 

However, there are options. The money can continue to grow tax-deferred in the 529 plan to be used later — there's no time limit to them. 

Also, a 529 plan can be transferred to another beneficiary, including yourself. As long as the new beneficiary is an immediate family member or family member's spouse, they qualify for a tax-free transfer of the 529 plan. 

Most 529 plans allow the beneficiary to change once per year.

There are some disadvantages to opening a 529 plan. Owning a 529 plan account can factor into any financial aid or scholarship considerations, but household income affects these considerations more. You could also be charged a 10% penalty if you were to withdraw for an ineligible use or even withdraw too much at once. 

A 529 plan is a good idea to save for future education expenses, like college tuition or student loans. Funds from a 529 plan are withdrawn tax-free, and you may be eligible for a tax deduction benefit from your state. 

You should not use a 529 plan for investing purposes other than educational goals. Funds from a 529 plan should only be withdrawn for eligible expenses such as tuition, books, supplies, private schools, and room and board. 

If the beneficiary wins a scholarship or doesn't go to college, you won't lose the funds from your 529 plan. If a scholarship covers the cost of your tuition, you can still use the funds for other educational expenses like books and necessary supplies. A 529 plan can also be transferred to a new eligible beneficiary.

As long as you're of legal age and meet the state's residency requirement, anyone can open a 529 plan. The 529 plan account is opened and owned by an adult on behalf of the child, who's deemed the account beneficiary. It does not have to be owned by the child's parent — grandparents are common 529 account holders — but personal information for the child (e.g., date of birth and Social Security number) is necessary to open the account.

You can have more than one 529 plan at a time, and there's no limit to the number of accounts you can have for one beneficiary. However, the IRS says you can't contribute more to a 529 plan than is necessary to pay the higher education costs for the beneficiary. It's not usually practical to open more than one 529 plan for a single beneficiary. But if you feel it is necessary to receive certain benefits, the option is available.

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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.

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What Is Project 2025, and Why Is Trump Disavowing It?

The Biden campaign has attacked Donald J. Trump’s ties to the conservative policy plan that would amass power in the executive branch, though it is not his official platform.

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Kevin Roberts, wearing a dark suit and blue tie and speaking into a microphone at a lectern. The lectern says, “National Religious Broadcasters, nrb.org.”

By Simon J. Levien

Donald J. Trump has gone to great lengths to distance himself from Project 2025, a set of conservative policy proposals for a future Republican administration that has outraged Democrats. He has claimed he knows nothing about it or the people involved in creating it.

Mr. Trump himself was not behind the project. But some of his allies were.

The document, its origins and the interplay between it and the Trump campaign have made for one of the most hotly debated questions of the 2024 race.

Here is what to know about Project 2025, and who is behind it.

What is Project 2025?

Project 2025 was spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation and like-minded conservative groups before Mr. Trump officially entered the 2024 race. The Heritage Foundation is a think tank that has shaped the personnel and policies of Republican administrations since the Reagan presidency.

The project was intended as a buffet of options for the Trump administration or any other Republican presidency. It’s the latest installment in the Heritage Foundation’s Mandate for Leadership series, which has compiled conservative policy proposals every few years since 1981. But no previous study has been as sweeping in its recommendations — or as widely discussed.

Kevin Roberts, the head of the Heritage Foundation, which began putting together the latest document in 2022, said he thought the American government would embrace a more conservative era, one that he hoped Republicans would usher in.

“We are in the process of the second American Revolution,” Mr. Roberts said on Real America’s Voice, a right-wing cable channel, in early July, adding pointedly that the revolt “will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.”

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From rides to road closures: What to know if you go to the Ohio State Fair

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Do you have a constant craving for corn dogs? Are visions of sugar waffles dancing in your head? Or maybe you're looking for the rush of a roller coaster ride?

If you answered yes to any of the above, your hankerings have come at the perfect time since the Ohio State Fair is coming up.

The fair, which begins July 24 and runs through Aug. 4 at the Ohio Expo Center and Ohio State Fair, 717 E. 17th Ave., will bring a bounty of foods, both traditional and unconventional, thrill rides, arts and crafts, animal and livestock shows, live entertainment and of course, the udderly adored butter cow and other jaw-dropping dairy sculptures.

The fare at the Ohio State Fair: From heavenly to 'huh?!,' here's the rundown on Ohio State Fair food

If you're hoping this what-to-know story will give you the scoop on this year's butter-sculpture theme, you're out of luck. Officials are keeping mum until the official unveiling at noon Tuesday, according to Jenny Crabtree, senior vice president of communications for the American Dairy Association Mideast.

"What I can tell you is that this year’s butter cow display will not disappoint, and I think fairgoers will love it!" Crabtree said.

2023 look back: Ohio State Fair unveils butter cow display. Here's the theme

What we can tell you is that, in addition to the beloved bovine, there's a lot to love about the Ohio State Fair! If you're planning to go, here are some things you should know.

What are the Ohio State Fair's hours each day?

Admission gates open daily at 7 a.m. However, most food vendors, activities, entertainment and buildings do not open until later.

Fair hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, except on Aug. 4, when admission gates close at 6 p.m.

Video: Attorney Sean Alto seeks justice for Ohio State fair Fire Ball disaster victim

Where is the Ohio State Fair located?

The Ohio State Fair is located at the  Ohio Expo Center and State Fairgrounds  at 717 E 17th Ave, Columbus, OH 43211.

Navigating the fair: See a full map of the 2024 Ohio State Fair here

How much is admission?

Advance tickets are on sale through July 23 for $8 at ticketmaster.com or ohiostatefair.com/p/visit/pricing-hours .

Gate admission is $12 for ages 13-59 and $10 for ages 6-12 and 60-plus. Admission is free for children 5 and younger, as well as veterans, military members and first responders with appropriate ID.

What time do rides open?

Midway hours are:

  • 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. - July 24, July 26, July 29-Aug. 2
  • 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. - July 25, July 27-28, Aug. 3
  • 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. - Aug. 4

There will be a sensory-friendly morning from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 25.

New fun at the Ohio State Fair: From food to entertainment, see what's new at the 2024 Ohio State Fair

How much do rides cost?

All rides require three or more credits, which cost $1 each, or fairgoers can buy a ride-all-day wristband at the fair for $36 or in advance (through July 23) for $33 at ohiostatefair.com/p/visit/pricing-hours .

All rides and games are cashless. Instead, reloadable RFID (radio frequency identification) Magic Money cards or wristbands will be scanned at each ride or game.

What are some rides fairgoers can enjoy?

The Mountain Dew Midway will offer more than 60 rides, plus the small fry can venture into Kiddieland for rides developed just for children, including miniature coasters, a carousel and bumper boats.

The famous Sky Glider, one of the world's longest portable sky rides, will take fairgoers on a half-mile journey high above the fairgrounds from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily. Tickets for this attraction are $5 per rider for a one-way ride or $8 for a round-trip ride.

Roller coasters include the Crazy Mouse, Dragon's Nest, Iron Dragon, the Orient Express and the Ring of Fire, a 360-degree looping coaster that takes riders upside down.

For a full list of rides with height and ticket requirements, go to ohiostatefair.com/p/visit/rides .

Will there be any special days at the fair?

In addition to the aforementioned sensory-friendly morning, the Ohio State Fair will offer WOSU Kids Day on Thursday , giving children a chance to meet some of their favorite PBS KIDS characters.

There are several other special days, including:

  • July 28: Veterans & Military Day - Veterans and active military members will be honored.
  • July 29: NBC4 Family Discount Day - Adults will be admitted for $10 and children 12 and younger will be admitted for free all day. Also, fairgoers can purchase ride-all-day wristbands for $19 until 5 p.m.
  • July 30: AmeriHealth Caritas Ohio Senior Day - Admission to the fair is free for those 60 and older, plus there will be health education, activities and giveaways.
  • Aug. 1: College Student Day - Students attending any college or post-secondary career or technical school will be admitted for $10 with a student ID.
  • Aug. 2: Telhio and Ronald McDonald House Charities Day - Bring a "wish list" item to a booth outside the admission gates and you'll get a voucher that's good for buy-one, get-one admission tickets before 6 p.m. For a list of needed items, visit ohiostatefair.com/p/visit/special-days .

Who's performing at the fair?

This year's concert lineup consists of: KIDZ BOP  at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday (tickets $32); Alabama  at 7 p.m. on Thursday ($65, $75);  Stone Temple Pilots  at 7:30 p.m. on Friday ($37, $47);  Boyz II Men  at 7 p.m. on Saturday ($38, $48);  La Zenda Nortena  at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday ($20);  Lauren Daigle  at 7 p.m. on Monday ($58, $68);  Ice Cube at 7 p.m. on July 30 ($52, $62); Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias  at 7 p.m. on July 31 ($55 and $65);  Stephen Sanchez  at 7 p.m. on Aug. 1 ($50 and $40); Ohio Players & Midnight Star at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 2 ($23, $33); Jamey Johnson at 7 p.m. on Aug. 3 ($38, $48).

Tickets for these concerts can be purchased at ticketmaster.com/OhioStateFair .

In addition, two free concerts included in fair admission are scheduled. The All-Ohio State Fair Band & Youth Choir is to perform at 1 p.m. on Sunday and Hotel California, an Eagles tribute, is set for 1 p.m. July 30.

All concerts are held in the indoor, air-conditioned WCOL Celeste Center. 

The fair over the years: Relive decades of Ohio State Fair history in photos

What can parents do at the fair without their kids?

"Entertainment at the Ohio State Fair is family-friendly but can be enjoyed by fairgoers of all ages," said Jess West, public information officer for the Ohio Expo Center and Ohio State Fair.

"For example, there is live music at several stages across the grounds including the new Taste of Ohio Pavilion stage featuring daily acoustic acts. This is the perfect place to grab an Ohio brew or glass of Ohio wine and enjoy free live music."

West listed many other attractions adults can enjoy, including one of the largest art galleries in the state in the Cox Fine Arts Center. "This year, the show features 362 pieces, as well as a brand-new 'Tiny Art Show.' Each accepted artist has the opportunity to submit an additional piece of art (costing less than $250) to be featured in the Tiny Art Show," she said.

"Collecting art can be an expensive hobby; however, this is a great way to add beautiful, local pieces to a collection while on a budget."

How can kids stay safe at the fair?

"Safety is always the top priority of the Ohio State Fair. As state property and a state government agency, we are fortunate to have the expertise of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which oversees the security on our property to ensure the safety of all guests," West explained.

More: Ohio State Fair enacts new safety policy: No unaccompanied minors after 6

She also said there are safety measures such as the Lost Kids Booth just inside the main Cardinal Gate and the OHIO Gate, where parents can fill out a sticker in case a child gets separated from their parent or guardian. Also, there are many air-conditioned spaces across the grounds to sit and cool down during hot days at the fair, including the infant care and station trailer in Kiddieland.

Will there be any road closures during the fair?

Several streets surrounding the Ohio Expo Center have been closed since July 11 for the Goodguys 26th Summit Racing Nationals and will remain closed throughout the Ohio State Fair. The following streets are closed:

  • 17th Avenue from Clara Street on the east to Dora Drive on the west
  • Velma Avenue between 17th and Maynard avenues
  • Silver Drive between 17th and 20th avenues

These streets are scheduled to reopen at 9 p.m. on Aug. 6.

For more information about the Ohio State Fair, visit ohiostatefair.com .

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