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What Is a Business Plan?

Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, elements of a business plan, special considerations.

Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How To Write One

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

what does an actual business plan look like

Investopedia / Ryan Oakley

A business plan is a document that defines in detail a company's objectives and how it plans to achieve its goals. A business plan lays out a written road map for the firm from marketing , financial, and operational standpoints. Both startups and established companies use business plans.

A business plan is an important document aimed at a company's external and internal audiences. For instance, a business plan is used to attract investment before a company has established a proven track record. It can also help to secure lending from financial institutions.

Furthermore, a business plan can serve to keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and on target for meeting established goals.

Although they're especially useful for new businesses, every company should have a business plan. Ideally, the plan is reviewed and updated periodically to reflect goals that have been met or have changed. Sometimes, a new business plan is created for an established business that has decided to move in a new direction.

Key Takeaways

Want Funding? You Need a Business Plan

A business plan is a fundamental document that any new business should have in place prior to beginning operations. Indeed, banks and venture capital firms often require a viable business plan before considering whether they'll provide capital to new businesses.

Operating without a business plan usually is not a good idea. In fact, very few companies are able to last very long without one. There are benefits to creating (and sticking to) a good business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and working through potential obstacles to success.

A good business plan should outline all the projected costs and possible pitfalls of each decision a company makes. Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they can have the same basic elements, such as an executive summary of the business and detailed descriptions of its operations, products and services, and financial projections. A plan also states how the business intends to achieve its goals.

While it's a good idea to give as much detail as possible, it's also important that a plan be concise to keep a reader's attention to the end.

A well-considered and well-written business plan can be of enormous value to a company. While there are templates that you can use to write a business plan, try to avoid producing a generic result. The plan should include an overview and, if possible, details of the industry of which the business will be a part. It should explain how the business will distinguish itself from its competitors.

Start with the essential structure: an executive summary, company description, market analysis, product or service description, marketing strategy, financial projections, and appendix (which include documents and data that support the main sections). These sections or elements of a business plan are outlined below.

When you write your business plan, you don’t have to strictly follow a particular business plan outline or template. Use only those sections that make the most sense for your particular business and its needs.

Traditional business plans use some combination of the sections below. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making. Regardless, try to keep the main body of your plan to around 15-25 pages.

The length of a business plan varies greatly from business to business. Consider fitting the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Then, other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and included as appendices.

As mentioned above, no two business plans are the same. Nonetheless, they tend to have the same elements. Below are some of the common and key parts of a business plan.

Unique Business Plans Help

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

Types of Business Plans

Business plans help companies identify their objectives and remain on track to meet goals. They can help companies start, manage themselves, and grow once up and running. They also act as a means to attract lenders and investors.

Although there is no right or wrong business plan, they can fall into two different categories—traditional or lean startup. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the most common. It contains a lot of detail in each section. These tend to be longer than the lean startup plan and require more work.

Lean startup business plans, on the other hand, use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans aren't as common in the business world because they're short—as short as one page—and lack detail. If a company uses this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or lender requests it.

Financial Projections

A complete business plan must include a set of financial projections for the business. These forward-looking financial statements are often called pro-forma financial statements or simply the " pro-formas ." They include an overall budget, current and projected financing needs, a market analysis, and the company's marketing strategy.

Other Considerations for a Business Plan

A major reason for a business plan is to give owners a clear picture of objectives, goals, resources, potential costs, and drawbacks of certain business decisions. A business plan should help them modify their structures before implementing their ideas. It also allows owners to project the type of financing required to get their businesses up and running.

If there are any especially interesting aspects of the business, they should be highlighted and used to attract financing, if needed. For example, Tesla Motors' electric car business essentially began only as a business plan.

Importantly, a business plan shouldn't be a static document. As a business grows and changes, so too should the business plan. An annual review of the company and its plan allows an entrepreneur or group of owners to update the plan, based on successes, setbacks, and other new information. It provides an opportunity to size up the plan's ability to help the company grow.

Think of the business plan as a living document that evolves with your business.

A business plan is a document created by a company that describes the company's goals, operations, industry standing, marketing objectives, and financial projections. The information it contains can be a helpful guide in running the company. What's more, it can be a valuable tool to attract investors and obtain financing from financial institutions.

Why Do Business Plans Fail?

Even if you have a good business plan, your company can still fail, especially if you do not stick to the plan! Having strong leadership with focus on the plan is always a good strategy. Even when following the plan, if you had poor assumptions going into your projections, you can be caught with cash flow shortages and out of control budgets. Markets and the economy can also change. Without flexibility built in to your business plan, you may be unable to pivot to a new course as needed.

What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?

The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers a quick explanation of its business. The company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide since it's just getting started.

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

Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."

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How to Write a Business Plan Outline [2022 Guide & Format]

what does an actual business plan look like

When starting a business, having a well-thought-out business plan prepared is necessary for success. It serves as the foundation of your business, helps guide your strategy, and prepares you to overcome the obstacles and risks associated with entrepreneurship. In short, a business plan makes you more like to succeed.

However, like everything in business, starting is often the hardest part. What information do you need? How in-depth should each section be? How should the plan be structured?

All good questions that you can answer by following this business plan outline. 

What is a business plan outline?

Starting with a business plan outline helps ensure that you’re covering all of the necessary information to complete your plan. A traditional business plan typically includes—an executive summary, an overview of your products and services, thorough market and industry research, a marketing and sales strategy, operational details, financial projections, and an appendix. 

Depending on what you intend to do with your plan, you may not need all of this information right away. If you’re going to speak with investors or pursue funding, then yes, you’ll need to include everything from this outline. But, if you’re using your plan to test an idea or help you run your business, you may want to opt for a lean plan. This is a simpler and faster method that is designed to be updated and used day-to-day. 

If you’re unsure of which plan is right for you, check out our guide explaining the differences and use cases for each . 

What are the 7 essential parts of a business plan?

No matter the type of business plan you create, these are the seven basic sections you should include. Be sure to download your free business plan template so that you can start drafting your own plan as you work through this outline.

1. Executive summary

While it may appear first, it’s best to write your executive summary last. It’s a brief section that highlights the high-level points you’ve made elsewhere in your business plan.

Summarize the problem you are solving for customers, your solution, the target market, the founding team, and financial forecast highlights. Keep things as brief as possible and entice your audience to learn more about your company. 

Keep in mind, this is the first impression your plan and business will make. After looking over your executive summary, your target reader is either going to throw your business plan away or keep reading. So make sure you spend the time to get it just right.

2. Product and services

This is really the opportunity section of your business plan, with the products and services being how you plan to take advantage of the opportunity. You’ll need to describe the problem that you solve for your customers and the solution that you are selling. 

Lastly, if there are any major competitive products or services already in the market, it may be valuable to mention them here. Detail how you differ, what your strengths and weaknesses are in comparison, and how you’ll differentiate from what is already available. If you have any intellectual property or patents that help strengthen your position list them here as well.

3. Market analysis 

You need to know your target market —the types of customers you are looking for—and how it’s changing, and your market analysis summary will help you get clear on it. 

Use this business plan component to discuss your customers’ needs, where your customers are, how to reach them and how to deliver your product to them.

You’ll also need to know who your competitors are and how you stack up against them—why are you sure there’s room for you in this market?

4. Marketing and sales

Use this business plan section to outline your marketing plan, your sales plan, and the other logistics involved in actually running your business.

You’ll want to cover your sales channels, broad marketing activities, your pricing strategy, as well as your intended market position. This will likely evolve over time, but it’s best to include anything that clearly details how you will sell and promote your products and services. 

5. Organization and management

The company and management section is an overview of who you are.

It should describe the organization of your business, and the key members of the management team . It should also provide any historical background about your business. When your company was founded, who is/are the owner(s), what state your company is registered in and where you do business, and when/if your company was incorporated for example.

Be sure to include summaries of your managers’ backgrounds and experience—these should act like brief resumes—and describe their functions with the company. You should also include any professional gaps you intend to fill, as well as projected milestones for your business.

6. Financial projections and metrics

At the very least this section should include your projected sales forecast , profit and loss , cash flow projections, and balance sheet , along with a brief description of the assumptions you’re making with your projections.

Finally, if you are raising money or taking out loans, you should highlight the money you need to launch the business. This part should also include a use of funds report—basically an overview of how the funding will be used in business operations. 

And while it’s not required, it may be wise to briefly mention your exit strategy. This doesn’t need to be overly detailed, just a general idea of how you may eventually want to exit your business. 

7. Appendix

The end of your business plan should include any additional information to back up specific elements of your plan. More detailed financial statements, resumes for your management team, patent documentation, credit histories, marketing examples, etc. Basically, include anything that can promote your credibility as a business owner.

Free business plan template

Business plan outline template

If you’re looking for greater insight into what goes into specific planning sections, check out the following outline. It can help you develop a detailed business plan or provide guidance as to what may be missing in your current plan. 

Keep in mind that each business plan will look different depending on numerous factors , including the type of business and what you will be using the plan for. Consider the following outline to be a master version to reference and consider. Just be sure to focus on the plan type and sections that are most beneficial to your business, pitch, or overall strategic planning .

1.0 Executive Summary

1.1 problem.

A summary of the problem you are solving and an identifiable need in the market you are filling.

1.2 Solution

A description of the product or service you will provide to solve the problem.

1.3 Target Market

A defined customer base who will most likely purchase the product or service. For info on how to define your target market, check out our guide on the subject.

1.4 Competition

The current alternatives or substitutes in the market that you and your business will be competing against.

1.5 Financial Summary

Key highlights of your financial plan that covers costs, sales, and profitability.

1.6 Funding Requirements

A brief outline of the amount of money you will need to start your business. Include this if you plan on pitching to investors. 

1.7 Milestones and Traction

A roadmap of where you currently are and specific milestones you plan to hit.

2.0 Product and services

2.1 problem worth solving.

A thorough description of the problem or pain point you intend to solve for your customer base. 

2.2 Our Solution

A thorough description of your proposed product or service that alleviates the problem of your customer base.

2.3 Validation of Problem and Solution

Any data or relative information that supports your solution. If you’ve already run tests that verify your idea , this is the place to include your results.

2.4 Product Overview

A description of your product and/or service that explains what it does, who its for, and how it benefits your customers.

2.5 Competition

Any information explaining current competitive offerings and how your product differs from them.

2.6 Roadmap/Future Plans

A list of steps taken so far, along with an outline of steps you plan to take in establishing or growing your business.

3.0 Market Analysis 

3.1 market segmentation.

Potential groups of customers separated by specific characteristics.

3.2 Target market segment strategy

Your ideal customer who would most likely benefit from your business.

3.2.1 Market needs

A description of how your target market is not effectively served and how your business fulfills a need.

3.2.2 Market trends

How consumers in your target market tend to act including purchasing habits, financial trends, and any other relevant factors.

3.2.3 Market growth

The perceived potential increase or decrease in the size of your target market.

3.3 Key customers

Your ideal customer archetype who will be the main advocate for your business.

3.4 Future markets

A snapshot of the potential market based on the last few sections and how your business strategy works within it.

3.5 Competition

A list of potential competitors. Identifying the competition isn’t always obvious and it may take some digging on your part .

3.5.1 Competitors and alternatives

A list of potential indirect competitors that provide products or services that are alternatives to your business.

3.5.2 Competitive advantage 

The strategic advantage(s) that makes your target market more likely to choose you over the competition. 

4.0 Marketing and Sales

4.1 marketing plan.

An outline of your marketing and advertising strategy including costs, advertising channels, and goals.

4.2 Sales plan

An estimate of the number of sales you anticipate based on market conditions, capacity, pricing strategy, and other factors.

4.3 Location and facilities

Details of your physical business location (if necessary) including location and costs of operation.

4.4 Technology

An explanation of any new technology that defines your business.

4.5 Equipment and tools

Any required production equipment or tools and the cost associated with purchasing or renting them.

5.0 Organization and management

5.1 organizational structure.

An overview of the structure of your business including roles and responsibilities of specific employees and the flow of information between levels of the organization.

5.2 Management team

A list of potential candidates you anticipate taking on high-level management roles within your company.

5.3 Management team gaps

Any positions or areas of expertise that you currently do not have candidates ready to fill those roles.

5.4 Personnel plan

A list of potential positions that you expect to require in order to run your business effectively.

5.5 Company history and ownership

A summary of your company’s history and how it relates to planning your business.

5.6 Milestones

A detailed roadmap of specific goals and objectives you plan to achieve that will help you manage and steer your business.

5.7 Key metrics

Performance measurements that help you gauge the overall performance and health of your business.

6.0 Financial projections and metrics

Standard financial documentation that showcases the current and projected health of your business.

6.1 Revenue and sales forecast

Expected revenue and sales for the next 1-3 years, broken down into month-by-month increments for at least the first year.

6.2 Expenses

Expected or incurred costs necessary to start and operate your business.

6.3 Projected profit and loss

How much money you will bring in by selling products and/or services and how much profit you will make or lose after accounting for production costs.

6.4 Projected cash flow

Money that is expected to cycle in and out of your business. This can also include your overall cash position and cash runway.

6.5 Projected balance sheet

Expected balances for business assets, liabilities, and equity.

6.6 Personnel plan

Outline of how and who you intend to hire, what compensation will be, and how employees will fit into business operations.

6.7 Use of funds

Explanation of how funds were or will be used. This is typically meant to be shared with investors or lenders.

6.8 Exit strategy

A brief description of how you intend to eventually exit from your business. Acquisition, selling, passing along to a family member/employee, etc.

7.0 Appendix

A repository for any additional information , including charts and graphs, to support your business plan.

How to organize your business plan

There’s no real established order to business plans, aside from keeping the Executive Summary at the top. As long as you have all of the main business plan components, then the order should reflect your goals . 

If this is meant solely for your personal use, lay it out as a roadmap with similar sections grouped together for easy reference. If you’re pitching this to potential investors, lead with the stronger sections to emphasize the pitch. Then if you’re unsure of what order makes sense, then just stick to the outline in this article.

Should you include tables and charts in your business plan?

Every business plan should include bar charts and pie charts to illustrate the numbers. It’s a simple way for you, your team, and investors to visualize and digest complex financial information.

Cash flow is the single most important numerical analysis in a business plan, and a standard cash flow statement or table should never be missing. Most standard business plans also include a sales forecast and income statement (also called profit and loss), and a balance sheet .

How long should your business plan be?

There’s no perfect length for a business plan . A traditional business plan can be anywhere from 10 to 50 pages long depending on how much detail you include in each section. However, as we said before unless you intend to pursue funding, you likely don’t need a lengthy business plan at first.

Instead, you can start with a lean plan that can be completed in as little as 30-minutes. This one-page business plan is designed to help you get the core information down about your business. It encourages you to focus on your financials and functions moreso as a long-term management tool that’s easy to review and update regularly. 

So, if you’re pursuing funding check out our full guide on how to write a traditional business plan . If you’re looking for a faster, easier, and more effective long-term planning method, check out this guide from LivePlan on how to write a lean plan in under an hour .

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry .

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18 Best Sample Business Plans & Examples to Help You Write Your Own

Clifford Chi

Published: December 01, 2022

Reading sample business plans is essential when you’re writing your own. As you explore business plan examples from real companies and brands, you’ll learn how to write one that gets your business off on the right foot, convinces investors to provide funding, and ensures your venture is sustainable for the long term.

Business plan sample: Image shows a hand writing a plan and a notepad.

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But what does a business plan look like? And how do you write one that is viable and convincing? Let's review the ideal business plan formal, then take a look at business plan samples you can use to inspire your own.

Business Plan Format

Ask any successful sports coach how they win so many games, and they’ll tell you they have a unique plan for every single game. The same logic applies to business. If you want to build a thriving company that can pull ahead of the competition, you need to prepare for battle before breaking into a market.

Business plans guide you along the rocky journey of growing a company. Referencing one will keep you on the path toward success. And if your business plan is compelling enough, it can also convince investors to give you funding.

With so much at stake, you might be wondering, "Where do I start? How should I format this?"

Typically, a business plan is a document that will detail how a company will achieve its goals.

Free Business Plan Template

Fill out the form to get your free template..

Most business plans include the following sections:

1. Executive Summary

The executive summary is arguably the most important section of the entire business plan. Essentially, it's the overview or introduction, written in a way to grab readers' attention and guide them through the rest of the business plan (which may be dozens or hundreds of pages long).

Most executive summaries include:

However, many of these topics will be covered in more detail later on in the business plan, so keep the executive summary clear and brief, including only the most important take-aways.

If you’re planning to start or expand a small business, preparing a business plan is still very crucial. The plan should include all the major factors of your business. You can check out this small business pdf to get an idea of how to create one for your business.

business plan sample: Executive Summary Example
  • What demographics will most likely need/buy your product or service?
  • What are the psychographics of this audience? (Desires, triggering events, etc.)
  • Why are your offerings valuable to them?

It can be helpful to build a buyer persona to get in the mindset of your ideal customers and be crystal clear on why you're targeting them.

5. Marketing Strategy

Here, you'll discuss how you'll acquire new customers with your marketing strategy. You might consider including information on:

  • The brand positioning vision and how you'll cultivate it
  • The goal targets you aim to achieve
  • The metrics you'll use to measure success
  • The channels and distribution tactics you'll use

It can help to already have a marketing plan built out to help you inform this component of your business plan.

6. Key Features and Benefits

At some point in your business plan, you'll review the key features and benefits of your products and/or services. Laying these out can give readers an idea of how you're positioning yourself in the market and the messaging you're likely to use . It can even help them gain better insight into your business model.

7. Pricing and Revenue

This is where you'll discuss your cost structure and various revenue streams. Your pricing strategy must be solid enough to turn a profit while staying competitive in the industry. For this reason, you might outline:

  • The specific pricing breakdowns per product or service
  • Why your pricing is higher or lower than your competition's
  • (If higher) Why customers would be willing to pay more
  • (If lower) How you're able to offer your products or services at a lower cost
  • When you expect to break even, what margins do you expect, etc?

8. Financials

This section is particularly informative for investors and leadership teams to determine funding strategies, investment opportunities, etc. According to Forbes , you'll want to include three main things:

  • Profit/Loss Statement - This answers the question of whether your business is currently profitable.
  • Cash Flow Statement - This details exactly how much cash is incoming and outgoing to provide insight into how much cash a business has on hand.
  • Balance Sheet - This outlines assets, liabilities, and equity, which gives insight into how much a business is worth.

While some business plans might include more or less information, these are the key details you'll want to include.

Keep in mind that each of these sections will be formatted differently. Some may be in paragraph format, while others will be in charts.

Sample Business Plan Templates

Now that you know what's included and how to format a business plan, let's review some templates.

1. HubSpot's One-Page Business Plan

Download a free, editable one-page business plan template..

The business plan linked above was created here at HubSpot and is perfect for businesses of any size — no matter how many strategies we still have to develop.

Fields such as Company Description, Required Funding, and Implementation Timeline gives this one-page business plan a framework for how to build your brand and what tasks to keep track of as you grow. Then, as the business matures, you can expand on your original business plan with a new iteration of the above document.

Why We Like It

This one-page business plan is a fantastic choice for the new business owner who doesn’t have the time or resources to draft a full-blown business plan. It includes all the essential sections in an accessible, bullet-point-friendly format. That way, you can get the broad strokes down before honing in on the details.

2. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

Sample business plan: hubspot free editable pdf

One of the major business expenses is marketing. How you handle your marketing reflects your company’s revenue. We included this business plan to show you how you can ensure your marketing team is aligned with your overall business plan to get results. The plan also shows you how to track even the smallest metrics of your campaigns, like ROI and payback periods instead of just focusing on big metrics like gross and revenue.

Fintech startup, LiveFlow, allows users to sync real-time data from its accounting services, payment platforms, and banks into custom reports. This eliminates the task of pulling reports together manually, saving teams time and helping automate workflows.

When it came to including marketing strategy into its business plan, LiveFlow created a separate marketing profit and loss statement (P&L) to track how well the company was doing with its marketing initiatives. This is a great approach, allowing businesses to focus on where their marketing dollars are making the most impact.

“Using this framework over a traditional marketing plan will help you set a profitable marketing strategy taking things like CAC, LTV, Payback period, and P&L into consideration,” explains LiveFlow co-founder, Lasse Kalkar .

Having this information handy will enable you to build out your business plan’s marketing section with confidence. LiveFlow has shared the template here . You can test it for yourself.

2. Lula Body

Business plan example: Lula body

This fictional business plan for an art supply store includes everything one might need in a business plan: an executive summary, a company summary, a list of services, a market analysis summary, and more. Due to its comprehensiveness, it’s an excellent example to follow if you’re opening a brick-and-mortar store and need to get external funding to start your business .

One of its most notable sections is its market analysis summary, which includes an overview of the population growth in the business’ target geographical area, as well as a breakdown of the types of potential customers they expect to welcome at the store. This sort of granular insight is essential for understanding and communicating your business’s growth potential. Plus, it lays a strong foundation for creating relevant and useful buyer personas .

It’s essential to keep this information up-to-date as your market and target buyer changes. For that reason, you should carry out market research as often as possible to ensure that you’re targeting the correct audience and sharing accurate information with your investors.

6. Curriculum Companion Suites (CSS)

business plan examples: curriculum companion suites

If you’re looking for a SaaS business plan example, look no further than this business plan for a fictional educational software company called Curriculum Companion Suites. Like the business plan for the NALB Creative Center, it includes plenty of information for prospective investors and other key stakeholders in the business.

One of the most notable features of this business plan is the executive summary, which includes an overview of the product, market, and mission. The first two are essential for software companies because the product offering is so often at the forefront of the company’s strategy. Without that information being immediately available to investors and executives, then you risk writing an unfocused business plan.

It’s also essential to front-load your company’s mission if it explains your “Why?” In other words, why do you do what you do, and why should stakeholders care? This is an important section to include if you feel that your mission will drive interest in the business and its offerings.

7. Culina Sample Business Plan

sample business plan: Culina

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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

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

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
  • NEW CFI Template Marketplace
  • See all management & strategy resources
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How to Write a Killer Business Plan: Your Step-by-Step Guide

By Danine Alati

How to write a business plan illustration

If you're wondering how to write a business plan, you’ve likely been considering launching your own design firm for quite a while. You have a ton of ideas—you’ve seen how others have done it, and you’re ready to take a crack at striking out on your own. But where to begin? When getting your new business off the ground, one of your initial steps should be learning how to write a business plan. It’s crucial to structure your ideas formally into a road map for your firm’s success. If you plan to seek funding for your company, you’ll need to draft a traditional business plan; if you’re self-funding, a simple outline will suffice. Scroll on to find AD PRO’s guide, filled with strategies and details on what to include.

Typically, business plans fall into one of three categories:

1. A one-page business plan

This document summarizes your business goals in a simplified format. It’s ideal for introducing your concept to potential investors, who may not have time to peruse a lengthy document. This easy-to-read format, viewable at a glance, is perfect for initial meetings, and it offers a substantial jumping-off point—though you may need a more detailed plan in the future.

2. A lean startup plan

Slightly longer than the one-page plan, this one includes a summary and a bulleted list that contains your firm’s financial information, business strategies, metrics, and forecasts. Since this type of business plan mainly functions as an internal tool, it’s not necessary to include all the sections and information of a formal traditional business plan (see below). This simple-to-navigate five- to 10-page document should contain your strategy, the tasks you need to complete to achieve your goals and their due dates, projected sales, spending, and cash flow. It’s advisable to update this plan regularly (at least twice a year), as it is intended to guide the growth of your company—and help keep all internal members of your team in the loop. As such, it should evolve organically as your business does.

3. An external business plan (a.k.a. a traditional standard plan)

You'll need to create a more formal business plan if you intend to share company information with key players: potential investors to fund your endeavor, banks to support loan applications, or even future employees. Since you’ll be using this document to explain your strategies for your business with those who may finance or join your company, you’ll want to clearly delineate your plan in detailed sections.

Where to begin?

Your business plan is a living document that will evolve with your business. It should plot out how your business will operate, state your goals, and precisely express your vision for your company. Regardless of the type of plan you opt to create, check out these solid tips before you begin drafting the document.

1. Keep it simple

No need to complicate the already stressful process of starting your own business by constructing a convoluted plan. Create a simple bulleted plan that cites goals and your strategies for achieving them, then update it as your company grows. If you choose to draft a traditional business plan, keep it to less than 40 pages. If you’re having trouble distilling the essence of your company down to 30-35 pages, consider hiring an expert to help you write it. Fit Small Business lists Wise Business Plans as its top-choice service, but keep in mind this argument about why it’s often better to do the writing yourself.

Even if you go with a traditional, external business plan, keep it concise. Cut to the chase as quickly and efficiently as possible—you don’t want to lose a potential investor out of boredom! And don’t spend too much time making your business plan pretty. As a designer, your instinct may be to focus on stunning graphics, and while they can indeed enhance the appearance of the document, the actual content is what’s most important. Use graphs, charts, and photos to break up the text and illustrate your message without obscuring it.

2. Know your audience

Tailor your business plan to suit your needs, and craft it so that the intended audience can clearly understand it. Avoid using lingo only an A&D professional would understand—especially if you intend to use the plan as a pitch to investors or for a loan application. Use straightforward rather than insider-y language to avoid alienating your target audience.

3. Know your competition

Never speak disparagingly about your competitors. Get familiar with who they are, know what they are doing well (and poorly), and make it evident in your business plan how you will distinguish your brand from the rest. What makes your company stand out against the competition? Perhaps your firm offers online design services, specializes in custom millwork, or provides clients with assistance from a personal account director. Highlight whatever sets you apart transparently in your business plan.

4. Keep it real

Keep your expectations in check and never inflate your financials. While we encourage you to think positively and believe that your business will succeed financially, do not overestimate your earning potential and revenue forecast. What services will you offer, and how much will you bill for them? What do comparable companies bill for similar services? Make your projections realistic, particularly if you are seeking funding. Explain your business model and how you plan to earn money, as well as the reasoning behind your figures. And be certain to root all financial information in solid facts.

5. Work backward

Figure out what you want to accomplish and by what date, and then backtrack from there. Consider: Where would you like your company to be financially one year from now? What revenue goals would you like to achieve by that time? Then determine what you must do in 12 months, six months, and three months to arrive at your objective in a timely fashion. Work these milestones into your business plan. You'll be pleased as you see results accumulate throughout the year—even more so when you realize your objective by your firm’s one-year anniversary.

6. Just get it started

Don’t let the task of drafting your business plan paralyze you. If you sit down to write and come up empty, start jotting down your ideas—remembering what inspired you to launch your company in the first place—and worry about shaping your formal business plan later.

If it helps you to get started, begin with a simple one-page plan; you can always use that document as an outline and go back and fill in more details later. Remember: No one knows your business better than you do. Let your passion for starting your new company motivate you as you begin writing and don’t be afraid to let that emotion to come through in the final document. It will better convey your vision and help your readers understand what your small business is all about.

The essential components of a business plan

Now that you have an idea of what type of business plan will be right for your company and understand how to approach the task, the question remains: What do you need to include in your business plan? Entrepreneurs have varying ideas on what’s essential and what you can skip. But when starting your first-ever business, consider following the advice of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and make sure that your business plan contains these nine recommended sections.

1. Executive summary

As the single most important part of your business plan, the executive summary should pique the curiosity of your audience. It should be a brief synopsis of your company’s mission, your immediate as well as long-term goals, and your strategies for attaining these goals. Make it evident what exactly your business is: What’s the product or service? Why will your company be successful? What sets it apart from the competition? What do you plan to do differently? Get this information out there immediately. Also, include basic facts about your employees, leadership team, location, and financial statistics.

Sometimes investors will ask to see only your executive summary as they consider whether or not to grant you funding. If they are intrigued by what they read, they will ask for your entire business plan. So be sure to hit the highlights in the executive summary. And while this summary appears first in the document, it’s actually smart to write it last, since it encompasses all components of your plan, whittled down to a brief synopsis. Think of it as the whole document in a nutshell. Don’t let it exceed a page or two.

2. Company overview

Here’s where you go into detail about the concept behind your business, what you do, and what you plan to accomplish. What problem does your firm address? And what are your solutions? What target audience will your small business serve? Name specific businesses, design firms, organizations, and/or clients. Explain what you have to offer and what you’re selling. Be sure to use concrete examples and eliminate superfluous language. Outline what makes your company distinct from the competition. You’ve touched on this point in the executive summary, but go into specific detail in this section. It’s the place where you can toot your own horn—tastefully and succinctly, of course—so take advantage of the opportunity, play up your strengths, and sell your company.

3. Market research

Demonstrate that you understand your industry by doing comprehensive market analysis. Look for emerging trends and themes in the marketplace. Have a crystal-clear picture of who your customer is. Research your potential competitors, see what their strengths and weaknesses are, and determine how you can create more effective solutions. It’s critical that you stay on top of what the competition is offering.

When attempting to discern who your target audience is and who your ideal consumers are, a strong small business plan will identify market segments, the size of each, and additional segments that could be interested in your business. The typical way to distinguish market segments is to use a method called the TAM, SAM, and SOM approach, defined as:

• TAM: Your Total Available or Addressable Market. This group includes everyone you wish to reach with your product/service.

• SAM: Your Segmented Addressable Market or Served Available Market. This is the portion of the total available market you will target.

• SOM: Your Share of the Market. This is a category within your SAM that you will realistically reach in the early days of your business.

Once you establish your market segments, figure out who your ideal customer, or “buyer persona,” is within each segment. In this exercise, you should attribute specific demographics to your buyer persona—for example, a name, gender, income level, and preferences in the marketplace. This fictitious persona of your ideal customer will help you to better understand your consumer base, create stronger marketing and sales tools targeted to your consumer, and be able to attract the right type of client to your business.

4. Organization and management

Delineate your company’s business structure—whether it’s set up as a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, C-corp, or S-corp. Explain who is in charge, list your employees by job function, and elaborate on each person’s responsibilities. If you already have staff in place, include employees’ names and experiences, describe what each of your workers is contributing to your small firm, and how each will help it succeed. This is your opportunity to demonstrate how you’ve amassed a stellar team or explain your strategy for attracting and retaining one.

You know the old axiom: A company is only as good as its employees. Kathryn Minshew, CEO and cofounder of career-planning platform The Muse, elaborates on this tenet in a widely circulated piece of advice that was published in Colleen DeBaise's book, Inc.: Start a Successful Business : “The hard part is actually building the team that will embody your company culture and propel you forward.” This is a critical point: You must hire good people who understand your vision and who are dedicated to helping your small business flourish.

5. Description of products or services

Outline the products or services your company offers as specifically as possible. Focus first on what you will initially bring to market, rather than long-term plans. Though it’s exciting to speculate on just how big your company can become—after all, it’s that type of guts, vision, and big thinking that enabled you to launch your own business in the first place—there's no point in focusing too heavily on the distant future in the initial business plan.

You do, however, need to illustrate exactly what your company is offering, so spend a few paragraphs expanding on your concept for products and services. Discuss your service or product’s life cycle, be very specific about how it will impact consumers, and divulge whether you plan to file for copyrights or patents. Also, describe the research and development you plan to do to enhance your offerings in the near future.

6. Marketing and sales

Spelling out your complete sales and marketing strategy will provide you with a point of reference for the future. You’ll likely refer to this section and continue to tweak and update it as your company grows. Here, discuss how you plan to reach your target audience. Be sure that you have your buyer persona explicitly defined before doing this (see number 3 above).

Within the marketing strategy portion of your business plan, delineate how you plan to position your company to consumers and how you will deliver the goods and/or services you will offer. Include a positioning statement that expresses your essential value proposition and distinguishes your competitive edge. According to Bplans , a free online resource for entrepreneurs, your positioning statement needn’t be lengthy; Bplans recommends using this simple formula to construct your statement: “For [target market description] who [target market need], [this product] [how it meets the need]. Unlike [key competition], it [most important distinguishing feature].”

This sales and marketing section is the place to address product and service pricing. Although there is no exact science to setting your pricing, consider the following:

• You must break even. Plan to charge customers enough to cover your costs in creating and delivering goods or services.

• Plan for primary and secondary profit center pricing. You may decide to sell your product or services at cost or less-than-cost to offer an appealing price— but then require support or maintenance that would push the price over the amount that would make it profitable for you.

• Adhere to market rate. Your pricing should be aligned with what your audience expects. You’ll walk a fine line here: You don’t want to alienate potential customers with high pricing, yet you shouldn’t devalue your offerings with pricing that’s too low.

How you will promote and advertise your business should also be addressed in this section. Do you plan to rely on traditional advertising avenues, such as print media? Would an online platform better suit your business and reach your target audience? How about public relations? Outline how you'll get the word out about your new company.

You can also market yourself online through social media channels. It’s a business necessity to have an online presence, and deciding which social media platform will serve you best depends on your target audience. Consider your consumer demographic when deciding on where to focus your time and efforts. You’ll want to make sure to keep your brand message and voice consistent across all marketing, advertising, and promotional materials—in print and online.

7. Funding request

If you’re using your plan to seek funding, this section is where you clearly express how much you need and how you will use it. Will you opt for debt or equity? This is a question you should ponder ahead of time: Are you willing to relinquish equity in your company for the funds to get your business off the ground? What are the terms you’re seeking? What is the length of time in business that your request will cover? Make note of collateral you have to put against loans, if any. Be prepared to explain to potential investors in depth how you will use their funds. Paint them a picture in broad strokes, and highlight the major areas that need funding (for example, purchasing an inventory, funding a marketing budget, etc.).

8. Financial projections

Follow up your funding request with a detailed explanation of future financial plans. Investors want to believe they’re making a sound decision by supporting your business. When do you plan to pay off debt? Do you intend to build up your business and then sell it? Include projections for the next five years.

Don’t fret if you do not have a solid foundation in finance. It’s not as complex to create these financial projections as you might assume. This section is where you might employ some of your design savvy to create visuals such as charts and graphs to spice up otherwise dull financial details.

Your financial forecast should include the following (this information can be projected if your business is not yet established enough to have the actual documents):

• Income statement (a.k.a., profit and loss or P&L): This document essentially shows whether you’re making money. It includes a compilation of all your numbers and data, and shows your expenses deducted from your earnings to reveal whether you’re poised to be profitable.

• Cash flow statement: This statement differs from your P&L in that it’s the record of how much money you have in the bank at any given moment. In this document, you’ll calculate cash you have plus cash you receive minus cash you pay out, which equals your total cash flow. This cash flow statement helps you to understand at what points you may be low on cash (for example, while you’re waiting for a client to pay a bill), indicating that it may not be the optimal time to spend on non-urgent expenses. This document can help you determine how much funding you may need to get your small business up and running.

• Balance sheet: This statement helps determine the net worth of your company. It subtracts your assets and equity from your liabilities to arrive at your company’s net worth. From this balance sheet, investors can see the overall financial picture of your endeavor.

9. Appendix

Here you’ll include any requested documentation, such as résumés, reference letters, credit reports, permits, licenses, contracts, patents, or other legal paperwork. It’s also where you can add any supplemental information that an investor might want or need when considering whether or not to help you with funding.

Keeping these strategies in mind, you should be ready to get started on your business plan. This documentation is essential to plotting the future of your company, so it's important to spend time on it and make sure it represents you and your business in the best way possible.

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