Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Simple Business Plan

By Joe Weller | October 11, 2021

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A business plan is the cornerstone of any successful company, regardless of size or industry. This step-by-step guide provides information on writing a business plan for organizations at any stage, complete with free templates and expert advice. 

Included on this page, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan and a chart to identify which type of business plan you should write . Plus, find information on how a business plan can help grow a business and expert tips on writing one .

What Is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a document that communicates a company’s goals and ambitions, along with the timeline, finances, and methods needed to achieve them. Additionally, it may include a mission statement and details about the specific products or services offered.

A business plan can highlight varying time periods, depending on the stage of your company and its goals. That said, a typical business plan will include the following benchmarks:

  • Product goals and deadlines for each month
  • Monthly financials for the first two years
  • Profit and loss statements for the first three to five years
  • Balance sheet projections for the first three to five years

Startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses all create business plans to use as a guide as their new company progresses. Larger organizations may also create (and update) a business plan to keep high-level goals, financials, and timelines in check.

While you certainly need to have a formalized outline of your business’s goals and finances, creating a business plan can also help you determine a company’s viability, its profitability (including when it will first turn a profit), and how much money you will need from investors. In turn, a business plan has functional value as well: Not only does outlining goals help keep you accountable on a timeline, it can also attract investors in and of itself and, therefore, act as an effective strategy for growth.

For more information, visit our comprehensive guide to writing a strategic plan or download free strategic plan templates . This page focuses on for-profit business plans, but you can read our article with nonprofit business plan templates .

Business Plan Steps

The specific information in your business plan will vary, depending on the needs and goals of your venture, but a typical plan includes the following ordered elements:

  • Executive summary
  • Description of business
  • Market analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Description of organizational management
  • Description of product or services
  • Marketing plan
  • Sales strategy
  • Funding details (or request for funding)
  • Financial projections

If your plan is particularly long or complicated, consider adding a table of contents or an appendix for reference. For an in-depth description of each step listed above, read “ How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step ” below.

Broadly speaking, your audience includes anyone with a vested interest in your organization. They can include potential and existing investors, as well as customers, internal team members, suppliers, and vendors.

Do I Need a Simple or Detailed Plan?

Your business’s stage and intended audience dictates the level of detail your plan needs. Corporations require a thorough business plan — up to 100 pages. Small businesses or startups should have a concise plan focusing on financials and strategy.

How to Choose the Right Plan for Your Business

In order to identify which type of business plan you need to create, ask: “What do we want the plan to do?” Identify function first, and form will follow.

Use the chart below as a guide for what type of business plan to create:

Is the Order of Your Business Plan Important?

There is no set order for a business plan, with the exception of the executive summary, which should always come first. Beyond that, simply ensure that you organize the plan in a way that makes sense and flows naturally.

The Difference Between Traditional and Lean Business Plans

A traditional business plan follows the standard structure — because these plans encourage detail, they tend to require more work upfront and can run dozens of pages. A Lean business plan is less common and focuses on summarizing critical points for each section. These plans take much less work and typically run one page in length.

In general, you should use a traditional model for a legacy company, a large company, or any business that does not adhere to Lean (or another Agile method ). Use Lean if you expect the company to pivot quickly or if you already employ a Lean strategy with other business operations. Additionally, a Lean business plan can suffice if the document is for internal use only. Stick to a traditional version for investors, as they may be more sensitive to sudden changes or a high degree of built-in flexibility in the plan.

How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step

Writing a strong business plan requires research and attention to detail for each section. Below, you’ll find a 10-step guide to researching and defining each element in the plan.

Step 1: Executive Summary

The executive summary will always be the first section of your business plan. The goal is to answer the following questions:

  • What is the vision and mission of the company?
  • What are the company’s short- and long-term goals?

See our  roundup of executive summary examples and templates for samples. Read our executive summary guide to learn more about writing one.

Step 2: Description of Business

The goal of this section is to define the realm, scope, and intent of your venture. To do so, answer the following questions as clearly and concisely as possible:

  • What business are we in?
  • What does our business do?

Step 3: Market Analysis

In this section, provide evidence that you have surveyed and understand the current marketplace, and that your product or service satisfies a niche in the market. To do so, answer these questions:

  • Who is our customer? 
  • What does that customer value?

Step 4: Competitive Analysis

In many cases, a business plan proposes not a brand-new (or even market-disrupting) venture, but a more competitive version — whether via features, pricing, integrations, etc. — than what is currently available. In this section, answer the following questions to show that your product or service stands to outpace competitors:

  • Who is the competition? 
  • What do they do best? 
  • What is our unique value proposition?

Step 5: Description of Organizational Management

In this section, write an overview of the team members and other key personnel who are integral to success. List roles and responsibilities, and if possible, note the hierarchy or team structure.

Step 6: Description of Products or Services

In this section, clearly define your product or service, as well as all the effort and resources that go into producing it. The strength of your product largely defines the success of your business, so it’s imperative that you take time to test and refine the product before launching into marketing, sales, or funding details.

Questions to answer in this section are as follows:

  • What is the product or service?
  • How do we produce it, and what resources are necessary for production?

Step 7: Marketing Plan

In this section, define the marketing strategy for your product or service. This doesn’t need to be as fleshed out as a full marketing plan , but it should answer basic questions, such as the following:

  • Who is the target market (if different from existing customer base)?
  • What channels will you use to reach your target market?
  • What resources does your marketing strategy require, and do you have access to them?
  • If possible, do you have a rough estimate of timeline and budget?
  • How will you measure success?

Step 8: Sales Plan

Write an overview of the sales strategy, including the priorities of each cycle, steps to achieve these goals, and metrics for success. For the purposes of a business plan, this section does not need to be a comprehensive, in-depth sales plan , but can simply outline the high-level objectives and strategies of your sales efforts. 

Start by answering the following questions:

  • What is the sales strategy?
  • What are the tools and tactics you will use to achieve your goals?
  • What are the potential obstacles, and how will you overcome them?
  • What is the timeline for sales and turning a profit?
  • What are the metrics of success?

Step 9: Funding Details (or Request for Funding)

This section is one of the most critical parts of your business plan, particularly if you are sharing it with investors. You do not need to provide a full financial plan, but you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • How much capital do you currently have? How much capital do you need?
  • How will you grow the team (onboarding, team structure, training and development)?
  • What are your physical needs and constraints (space, equipment, etc.)?

Step 10: Financial Projections

Apart from the fundraising analysis, investors like to see thought-out financial projections for the future. As discussed earlier, depending on the scope and stage of your business, this could be anywhere from one to five years. 

While these projections won’t be exact — and will need to be somewhat flexible — you should be able to gauge the following:

  • How and when will the company first generate a profit?
  • How will the company maintain profit thereafter?

Business Plan Template

Business Plan Template

Download Business Plan Template

Microsoft Excel | Smartsheet

This basic business plan template has space for all the traditional elements: an executive summary, product or service details, target audience, marketing and sales strategies, etc. In the finances sections, input your baseline numbers, and the template will automatically calculate projections for sales forecasting, financial statements, and more.

For templates tailored to more specific needs, visit this business plan template roundup or download a fill-in-the-blank business plan template to make things easy. 

If you are looking for a particular template by file type, visit our pages dedicated exclusively to Microsoft Excel , Microsoft Word , and Adobe PDF business plan templates.

How to Write a Simple Business Plan

A simple business plan is a streamlined, lightweight version of the large, traditional model. As opposed to a one-page business plan , which communicates high-level information for quick overviews (such as a stakeholder presentation), a simple business plan can exceed one page.

Below are the steps for creating a generic simple business plan, which are reflected in the template below .

  • Write the Executive Summary This section is the same as in the traditional business plan — simply offer an overview of what’s in the business plan, the prospect or core offering, and the short- and long-term goals of the company. 
  • Add a Company Overview Document the larger company mission and vision. 
  • Provide the Problem and Solution In straightforward terms, define the problem you are attempting to solve with your product or service and how your company will attempt to do it. Think of this section as the gap in the market you are attempting to close.
  • Identify the Target Market Who is your company (and its products or services) attempting to reach? If possible, briefly define your buyer personas .
  • Write About the Competition In this section, demonstrate your knowledge of the market by listing the current competitors and outlining your competitive advantage.
  • Describe Your Product or Service Offerings Get down to brass tacks and define your product or service. What exactly are you selling?
  • Outline Your Marketing Tactics Without getting into too much detail, describe your planned marketing initiatives.
  • Add a Timeline and the Metrics You Will Use to Measure Success Offer a rough timeline, including milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to measure your progress.
  • Include Your Financial Forecasts Write an overview of your financial plan that demonstrates you have done your research and adequate modeling. You can also list key assumptions that go into this forecasting. 
  • Identify Your Financing Needs This section is where you will make your funding request. Based on everything in the business plan, list your proposed sources of funding, as well as how you will use it.

Simple Business Plan Template

Simple Business Plan Template

Download Simple Business Plan Template

Microsoft Excel |  Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF  | Smartsheet

Use this simple business plan template to outline each aspect of your organization, including information about financing and opportunities to seek out further funding. This template is completely customizable to fit the needs of any business, whether it’s a startup or large company.

Read our article offering free simple business plan templates or free 30-60-90-day business plan templates to find more tailored options. You can also explore our collection of one page business templates . 

How to Write a Business Plan for a Lean Startup

A Lean startup business plan is a more Agile approach to a traditional version. The plan focuses more on activities, processes, and relationships (and maintains flexibility in all aspects), rather than on concrete deliverables and timelines.

While there is some overlap between a traditional and a Lean business plan, you can write a Lean plan by following the steps below:

  • Add Your Value Proposition Take a streamlined approach to describing your product or service. What is the unique value your startup aims to deliver to customers? Make sure the team is aligned on the core offering and that you can state it in clear, simple language.
  • List Your Key Partners List any other businesses you will work with to realize your vision, including external vendors, suppliers, and partners. This section demonstrates that you have thoughtfully considered the resources you can provide internally, identified areas for external assistance, and conducted research to find alternatives.
  • Note the Key Activities Describe the key activities of your business, including sourcing, production, marketing, distribution channels, and customer relationships.
  • Include Your Key Resources List the critical resources — including personnel, equipment, space, and intellectual property — that will enable you to deliver your unique value.
  • Identify Your Customer Relationships and Channels In this section, document how you will reach and build relationships with customers. Provide a high-level map of the customer experience from start to finish, including the spaces in which you will interact with the customer (online, retail, etc.). 
  • Detail Your Marketing Channels Describe the marketing methods and communication platforms you will use to identify and nurture your relationships with customers. These could be email, advertising, social media, etc.
  • Explain the Cost Structure This section is especially necessary in the early stages of a business. Will you prioritize maximizing value or keeping costs low? List the foundational startup costs and how you will move toward profit over time.
  • Share Your Revenue Streams Over time, how will the company make money? Include both the direct product or service purchase, as well as secondary sources of revenue, such as subscriptions, selling advertising space, fundraising, etc.

Lean Business Plan Template for Startups

Lean Business Plan Templates for Startups

Download Lean Business Plan Template for Startups

Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF

Startup leaders can use this Lean business plan template to relay the most critical information from a traditional plan. You’ll find all the sections listed above, including spaces for industry and product overviews, cost structure and sources of revenue, and key metrics, and a timeline. The template is completely customizable, so you can edit it to suit the objectives of your Lean startups.

See our wide variety of  startup business plan templates for more options.

How to Write a Business Plan for a Loan

A business plan for a loan, often called a loan proposal , includes many of the same aspects of a traditional business plan, as well as additional financial documents, such as a credit history, a loan request, and a loan repayment plan.

In addition, you may be asked to include personal and business financial statements, a form of collateral, and equity investment information.

Download free financial templates to support your business plan.

Tips for Writing a Business Plan

Outside of including all the key details in your business plan, you have several options to elevate the document for the highest chance of winning funding and other resources. Follow these tips from experts:.

  • Keep It Simple: Avner Brodsky , the Co-Founder and CEO of Lezgo Limited, an online marketing company, uses the acronym KISS (keep it short and simple) as a variation on this idea. “The business plan is not a college thesis,” he says. “Just focus on providing the essential information.”
  • Do Adequate Research: Michael Dean, the Co-Founder of Pool Research , encourages business leaders to “invest time in research, both internal and external (market, finance, legal etc.). Avoid being overly ambitious or presumptive. Instead, keep everything objective, balanced, and accurate.” Your plan needs to stand on its own, and you must have the data to back up any claims or forecasting you make. As Brodsky explains, “Your business needs to be grounded on the realities of the market in your chosen location. Get the most recent data from authoritative sources so that the figures are vetted by experts and are reliable.”
  • Set Clear Goals: Make sure your plan includes clear, time-based goals. “Short-term goals are key to momentum growth and are especially important to identify for new businesses,” advises Dean.
  • Know (and Address) Your Weaknesses: “This awareness sets you up to overcome your weak points much quicker than waiting for them to arise,” shares Dean. Brodsky recommends performing a full SWOT analysis to identify your weaknesses, too. “Your business will fare better with self-knowledge, which will help you better define the mission of your business, as well as the strategies you will choose to achieve your objectives,” he adds.
  • Seek Peer or Mentor Review: “Ask for feedback on your drafts and for areas to improve,” advises Brodsky. “When your mind is filled with dreams for your business, sometimes it is an outsider who can tell you what you’re missing and will save your business from being a product of whimsy.”

Outside of these more practical tips, the language you use is also important and may make or break your business plan.

Shaun Heng, VP of Operations at Coin Market Cap , gives the following advice on the writing, “Your business plan is your sales pitch to an investor. And as with any sales pitch, you need to strike the right tone and hit a few emotional chords. This is a little tricky in a business plan, because you also need to be formal and matter-of-fact. But you can still impress by weaving in descriptive language and saying things in a more elegant way.

“A great way to do this is by expanding your vocabulary, avoiding word repetition, and using business language. Instead of saying that something ‘will bring in as many customers as possible,’ try saying ‘will garner the largest possible market segment.’ Elevate your writing with precise descriptive words and you'll impress even the busiest investor.”

Additionally, Dean recommends that you “stay consistent and concise by keeping your tone and style steady throughout, and your language clear and precise. Include only what is 100 percent necessary.”

Resources for Writing a Business Plan

While a template provides a great outline of what to include in a business plan, a live document or more robust program can provide additional functionality, visibility, and real-time updates. The U.S. Small Business Association also curates resources for writing a business plan.

Additionally, you can use business plan software to house data, attach documentation, and share information with stakeholders. Popular options include LivePlan, Enloop, BizPlanner, PlanGuru, and iPlanner.

How a Business Plan Helps to Grow Your Business

A business plan — both the exercise of creating one and the document — can grow your business by helping you to refine your product, target audience, sales plan, identify opportunities, secure funding, and build new partnerships. 

Outside of these immediate returns, writing a business plan is a useful exercise in that it forces you to research the market, which prompts you to forge your unique value proposition and identify ways to beat the competition. Doing so will also help you build (and keep you accountable to) attainable financial and product milestones. And down the line, it will serve as a welcome guide as hurdles inevitably arise.

Streamline Your Business Planning Activities with Real-Time Work Management in Smartsheet

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When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.  Try Smartsheet for free, today.

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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 needing to write a business plan to get there.

Noah Parsons

24 min. read

Updated February 2, 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

What’s your biggest business challenge right now?

  • 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: How to collaborate with AI on your business plan

  • Writing tips and strategies

To help streamline the business plan writing process, here are a few tips and key questions to answer to make sure you get the most out of your plan and avoid common mistakes .  

Determine why you are writing a business plan

Knowing why you are writing a business plan will determine your approach to your planning project. 

For example: If you are writing a business plan for yourself, or just to use inside your own business , you can probably skip the section about your team and organizational structure. 

If you’re raising money, you’ll want to spend more time explaining why you’re looking to raise the funds and exactly how you will use them.

Regardless of how you intend to use your business plan , think about why you are writing and what you’re trying to get out of the process before you begin.

Keep things concise

Probably the most important tip is to keep your business plan short and simple. There are no prizes for long business plans . The longer your plan is, the less likely people are to read it. 

So focus on trimming things down to the essentials your readers need to know. Skip the extended, wordy descriptions and instead focus on creating a plan that is easy to read —using bullets and short sentences whenever possible.

Have someone review your business plan

Writing a business plan in a vacuum is never a good idea. Sometimes it’s helpful to zoom out and check if your plan makes sense to someone else. You also want to make sure that it’s easy to read and understand.

Don’t wait until your plan is “done” to get a second look. Start sharing your plan early, and find out from readers what questions your plan leaves unanswered. This early review cycle will help you spot shortcomings in your plan and address them quickly, rather than finding out about them right before you present your plan to a lender or investor.

If you need a more detailed review, you may want to explore hiring a professional plan writer to thoroughly examine it.

Use a free business plan template and business plan examples to get started

Knowing what information you need to cover in a business plan sometimes isn’t quite enough. If you’re struggling to get started or need additional guidance, it may be worth using a business plan template. 

If you’re looking for a free downloadable business plan template to get you started, download the template used by more than 1 million businesses. 

Or, if you just want to see what a completed business plan looks like, check out our library of over 550 free business plan examples . 

We even have a growing list of industry business planning guides with tips for what to focus on depending on your business type.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re writing your business plan. Some entrepreneurs get sucked into the writing and research process, and don’t focus enough on actually getting their business started. 

Here are a few common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Not talking to your customers : This is one of the most common mistakes. It’s easy to assume that your product or service is something that people want. Before you invest too much in your business and too much in the planning process, make sure you talk to your prospective customers and have a good understanding of their needs.

  • Overly optimistic sales and profit forecasts: By nature, entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. But it’s good to temper that optimism a little when you’re planning, and make sure your forecasts are grounded in reality. 
  • Spending too much time planning: Yes, planning is crucial. But you also need to get out and talk to customers, build prototypes of your product and figure out if there’s a market for your idea. Make sure to balance planning with building.
  • Not revising the plan: Planning is useful, but nothing ever goes exactly as planned. As you learn more about what’s working and what’s not—revise your plan, your budgets, and your revenue forecast. Doing so will provide a more realistic picture of where your business is going, and what your financial needs will be moving forward.
  • Not using the plan to manage your business: A good business plan is a management tool. Don’t just write it and put it on the shelf to collect dust – use it to track your progress and help you reach your goals.
  • Presenting your business plan

The planning process forces you to think through every aspect of your business and answer questions that you may not have thought of. That’s the real benefit of writing a business plan – the knowledge you gain about your business that you may not have been able to discover otherwise.

With all of this knowledge, you’re well prepared to convert your business plan into a pitch presentation to present your ideas. 

A pitch presentation is a summary of your plan, just hitting the highlights and key points. It’s the best way to present your business plan to investors and team members.

Dig Deeper: Learn what key slides should be included in your pitch deck

Use your business plan to manage your business

One of the biggest benefits of planning is that it gives you a tool to manage your business better. With a revenue forecast, expense budget, and projected cash flow, you know your targets and where you are headed.

And yet, nothing ever goes exactly as planned – it’s the nature of business.

That’s where using your plan as a management tool comes in. The key to leveraging it for your business is to review it periodically and compare your forecasts and projections to your actual results.

Start by setting up a regular time to review the plan – a monthly review is a good starting point. During this review, answer questions like:

  • Did you meet your sales goals?
  • Is spending following your budget?
  • Has anything gone differently than what you expected?

Now that you see whether you’re meeting your goals or are off track, you can make adjustments and set new targets. 

Maybe you’re exceeding your sales goals and should set new, more aggressive goals. In that case, maybe you should also explore more spending or hiring more employees. 

Or maybe expenses are rising faster than you projected. If that’s the case, you would need to look at where you can cut costs.

A plan, and a method for comparing your plan to your actual results , is the tool you need to steer your business toward success.

Learn More: How to run a regular plan review

Free business plan templates and examples

Kickstart your business plan writing with one of our free business plan templates or recommended tools.

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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.

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

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.

how to draw a business plan step by step

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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BUSINESS STRATEGIES

Free business plan template for small businesses

  • Cecilia Lazzaro Blasbalg
  • Dec 7, 2023

Free business plan template for your new business

Creating a successful business is about more than launching a business website or hanging a shingle on your front door. It requires a well-crafted plan that keeps you on track, anticipates obstacles and acts as a concrete roadmap for launching or improving your small business.

Business planning allows you to clarify your vision while providing information to both intrigue and reassure potential investors. The process may seem daunting, but creating a business plan isn’t difficult—and templates like the one below can help simplify the process even further.

Ready to launch your business? Create a website today.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is used by small business owners and entrepreneurs when starting a new business venture. It’s a strategic document that outlines the goals, objectives and strategies of your new or expanding business, including the company's vision, target market, financial projections and operational plans.

A business plan can attract potential partners, convince investors and banks to help you raise capital, and serve as a resource for future growth. Most importantly, you’ll be able to use your business plan as a roadmap for how to structure, operate and manage your new venture, whether it’s a sole proprietorship, a partnership or something larger.

Who needs a business plan?

Every business owner needs a business plan. They’re an essential tool for any person or entity interested in starting a business . There are many benefits, including:

Defining your business idea

Clarifying the market and competitive landscape

Outlining your marketing strategy

Stating your value proposition

Identifying/anticipating potential risks

Seeking investments from banks and other sources

Setting benchmarks, goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)

A business plan also gives you a way to assess the viability of a business before investing too much time or money into it. While all business involves risk, taking the time to create a plan can help mitigate fallout and avoid potentially costly mistakes.

When creating a business plan, it's important to establish your business goals up front and be prepared to spend time researching the market, performing a competitor analysis and understanding your target market .

Download Wix’s free business plan template

Creating a successful business plan is no easy feat. That’s why we’ve put together a simple, customizable, and free-to-download business plan template that takes the guesswork out of getting started. Use it to create a new business plan or to refresh an existing one.

Download your free Wix business plan template

Lean startup versus traditional business plan formats

In terms of types of business plans , there are two main formats to choose from: traditional and lean.

Traditional business plan format

A traditional business plan includes every detail and component that defines a business and contributes to its success. It's typically a sizable document of about 30 to 50 pages that includes:

Executive summary: The executive summary contains a high-level overview of everything included in the plan. It generally provides a short explanation of your business and its goals (e.g., your elevator pitch ). Many authors like to write this section last after fleshing out the sections below.

Company description: A company description should include essential details like your business name, the names of your founders, your locations and your company’s mission statement . Briefly describe your core services (or products if you’re writing an eCommerce business plan ), but don't go into too much detail since you’ll elaborate on this in the service/product section. Wix offers some helpful mission statement examples if you get stuck. It’s also a good idea to create a vision statement . While your mission statement clarifies your company’s purpose, a vision statement outlines what you want your company to achieve over time.

Market analysis: One of the most extensive sections of the business plan, this section requires that you conduct market research and write your conclusions. Include findings for the following: industry background, a SWOT analysis , barriers/obstacles, target market and your business differentiators.

Organization and management: This is where you outline how your business is structured and who's in charge, including founders, executive team members, board members, employees and key stakeholders. To this end, it can be helpful to create a visual layout (e.g., org chart) to illustrate your company structure.

Service or product line: Create a detailed list of your current and future products and services. If you’re still working on your idea, create a concept statement to describe your idea or product. You should also include a proof of concept (POC), which demonstrates the feasibility of your idea. Wherever applicable, include diagrams, product images and other visual components to illustrate the product life cycle.

Marketing and sales: Detail how your business idea translates into selling and delivering your offerings to potential customers. You can start by outlining your brand identity, which includes the colors and fonts you plan to use, your marketing and advertising strategy, and details about planned consumer touchpoints (like your website, mobile app or physical storefront).

Financial projections and funding requests: Include financial statements, such as a balance sheet, profit-and-loss statement (P&L), cash flow statement and break-even analysis. It's not uncommon for a business plan to include multiple pages of financial projections and information. You’ll also want to mention how much funding you seek and what you plan to do with it. If you’ve already secured funding, provide details about your investments.

essential parts of a business plan

Lean startup business plan format

A lean startup business plan—also referred to as a “lean canvas”—is presented as a problem/solution framework that provides a high-level description of your business idea. A lean plan is a single-page document that provides a basic overview of the most essential aspects of your business. It’s a good way to dip a toe into business planning since it doesn't require the same level of detail as a traditional plan. This includes:

Problem: What problem does your product or service solve, or what need does it fulfill?

Solution: How do you intend to solve it?

Unique value proposition (UVP): Why should people use your product or service versus someone else’s?

Unfair advantage: What do you have that other companies don’t?

Customers: Who are your ideal customers?

Channels: How will those customers find you?

Key metrics: How do you define success? How will you track and measure it?

Revenue streams: How will your business make money?

Cost structure: What will you spend money on (fixed and variable costs)?

Benefits of a business plan template

Business plan templates offer numerous benefits for entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners. Here are some key advantages:

1. Save time and effort: Templates provide a pre-defined structure, eliminating the need to start from scratch. This frees up valuable time and effort that can be invested in other crucial aspects of business development.

2. Improve structure: Templates ensure a consistent and organized approach to presenting your business plan. This makes it easier for potential investors, lenders and advisors to understand your vision and evaluate the feasibility of your business. 3. Enhance professionalism: Using a well-designed template demonstrates professionalism and seriousness to external stakeholders. This can significantly impact their perception of your business and increase their confidence in your venture. 4. Guide your thought process: Templates act as a helpful framework, prompting you to consider all the key elements of your business plan and ensuring you haven't overlooked any critical areas. 5. Ensure completeness: Templates often include checklists and prompts to ensure you cover all essential information, minimizing the risk of missing crucial details. 6. Standardize formatting: Templates ensure a consistent and uniform appearance throughout your business plan, contributing to a more polished and professional presentation. 7. Access to expert knowledge: Many templates are developed by experienced business professionals or organizations, incorporating best practices and insights gained from successful ventures. 8. Adaptability and customization: While templates offer a basic structure, they can be easily customized to reflect the unique characteristics and needs of your specific business. 9. Cost-effectiveness: Templates are generally available for free or at a low cost, making them an accessible and budget-friendly option for entrepreneurs. 10. Increased success rate: Studies have shown that businesses with well-developed plans are more likely to succeed. Templates can help you create a comprehensive and persuasive plan, increasing your chances of securing funding and achieving your business goals.

Tips for filling out your business plan template

The hardest part of a journey is always the first step, or so the saying goes. Filling out your business plan template can be daunting, but the template itself is meant to get you over that crucial first hurdle—getting started. We’ve provided some tips aimed at helping you get the most from our template.

These are best practices—they’re not rules. Do what works for you. The main thing to remember is that these tips can help you move more easily through the planning process, so that you can advance onto the next (exciting) step, which is launching your business.

Consider your goals: What is the purpose of your business? Are you looking to expand, launch a new product line or fund a specific project? Identifying your goals helps you prioritize important information in your business plan.

Fill out what you can: You may already have a vague—or specific—idea of what you want your business to achieve. Go through each section of the template and fill out what you can. We suggest leaving the executive summary blank for now, since it'll be the last thing you write.

Be realistic: Even though this document is meant to serve as a marketing tool for potential investors, don't exaggerate any numbers or make any false promises.

Dig into the research: Nothing's more motivating than getting some intel about your competitors and your market. If you're truly stuck, a little research can help motivate you and provide valuable insight about what direction to take your business. For example, if you plan to start a landscaping business, learn about the specific pricing offered in your area so that you can differentiate your services and potentially offer better options.

Get help from others: Bouncing your ideas off a friend, mentor or advisor is a great way to get feedback and discover approaches or products to incorporate into your plan. Your network can also give you valuable insight about the industry or even about potential customers. Plus, it's nice to be able to talk through the challenges with someone who understands you and your vision.

Revise and review: Once complete, step back from your plan and let it "cook." In a day or two, review your plan and make sure that everything is current. Have other people review it too, since having another set of eyes can help identify areas that may be lacking detail or need further explanation.

Once you’ve completed your business plan template, it can become a meaningful resource for developing your mission statement, writing business proposals and planning how to move forward with the marketing, distribution and growth of your products and services.

After launch, you can also analyze your value chain to identify key factors that create value for your customers and maximum profitability for you. This can help you develop a more effective business plan that considers the entire value chain, from research and development to sales and customer support.

Business plan template FAQ

What is the easiest way to write a business plan.

The easiest way to write a business plan is to utilize a template. Templates provide a structured format and guide you through each section, simplifying the process of creating a comprehensive plan.

Is there a template for how to write a business plan?

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business plan

How to Write a Business Plan in 2023: The Ultimate Guide for Every Entrepreneur

Are you starting a new business or trying to get a loan for your existing venture? If so, you’re going to need to know how to write a business plan. Business plans give entrepreneurs the opportunity to formally analyze and define every aspect of their business idea .

In this post, you’ll learn how to put together a business plan and find the best resources to help you along the way.

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What is a Business Plan? 

A business plan is a formal document that outlines your business’s goals and how you will achieve those goals. Entrepreneurs who start out with business plans are 16 percent more likely to build successful companies , according to the Harvard Business Review.  Developing a business plan ensures sustainable success, guiding you as you grow your business, legitimizing your venture, and helping you secure funding (among countless other benefits). 

What Are the Main Purposes of a Business Plan?

Most financial institutions and service providers require you to submit a detailed business plan to obtain funding for your business. Online businesses will likely have a low overhead to start, so they may not need funding and therefore may not feel the need to write a business plan. That said, writing a business plan is still a good idea as it can help you secure a drastic increase limit on your credit card as your business grows or open a business account. This varies per bank.

If you’re growing your business, use it to help you raise expansion capital, create a growth strategy, find opportunities, and mitigate risks.Palo Alto software found that companies who make business plans are twice as likely to secure funding . .

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If you’re just starting your business, making a business plan can help you  identify your strengths and weaknesses, communicate your vision to others, and develop accurate forecasts.

business plan format

How to Make a Business Plan: The Prerequisites 

Here are the prerequisites to creating a solid business plan:

  • Establish goals
  • Understand your audience
  • Determine your business plan format
  • Get to writing! 

Establish Goals

There are two key questions to ask here: 

  • What are you hoping to accomplish with your business?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish with your business plan?

Approaching your business plan through that lens will help you focus on the end goal throughout the writing process. These also provide metrics to measure success against. 

Before writing your business plan, gather the content and data needed to inform what goes in it. This includes researching your market and industry – spanning everything from customer research to legalities you’ll need to consider. It’s a lot easier to start with the information already in front of you instead of researching each section individually as you go. 

Turn to guides, samples, and small business plan templates to help. Many countries have an official administration or service dedicated to providing information, resources, and tools to help entrepreneurs and store owners plan, launch, manage, and grow their businesses. 

The following will take you to online business plan guides and templates for specific countries.

  • United States Small Business Administration (SBA) – The “write your business plan page” includes traditional and lean startup business plan formats, three downloadable sample business plans, a template, and a step-by-step build a business plan tool.
  • Australian Government – The “business plan template” page includes a downloadable template, guide, and business plan creation app.
  • UK Government Business and Self-Employed – The “write a business plan” page includes links to a downloadable business plan template and resources from trusted UK businesses. .
  • Canada Business Network – The “writing your business plan” page includes a detailed guide to writing your business plan and links to business plan templates from Canadian business development organizations and banks.

These business resource sites also offer a wealth of valuable information for entrepreneurs including local and regional regulations, structuring, tax obligations, funding programs, market research data, and much more. Visit the sites above or do the following Google searches to find official local business resources in your area:

  • your country government business services
  • your state/province government business services
  • your city government business services

Some Chamber of Commerce websites offer resources for business owners, including business plan guides and templates. Check your local chapter to see if they have any.

Banks that offer business funding also often have a resource section for entrepreneurs. Do a Google search to find banks that offer business funding as well as business plan advice to see the business plans that get funding. If your bank doesn’t offer any advice, search for the largest banks in your area:

  • business plan guide bank name
  • business plan samples bank name
  • business plan template bank name

If you’re looking for more sample business plans, Bplans has over 500 free business plan samples organized by business type as well as a business plan template. Their collection includes 116 business plans for retail and online stores. Shopify also offers business plan templates intended to help small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs identify functional areas of a business they may not have considered.

how to draw a business plan step by step

Understand Your Audience

Because business plans serve different purposes, you’re not always presenting it to the same audience. It’s important to understand who’s going to be reading your business plan, what you’re trying to convince them to do, and what hesitations they might have. 

That way, you can adapt your business plan accordingly. As such, your audience also determines which type of business plan format you use. Which brings us to our next point…

Which Business Plan Format Should You Use? 

The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) presents two business plan formats: 

  • The traditional business plan format is for entrepreneurs who want to create a detailed plan for themselves or for business funding. 
  • The lean startup business plan format, on the other hand, is for business owners that want to create a condensed, single-page business plan.

If the business plan is just for you and internal folks, draft a lean startup business plan or a customized version of the traditional business plan with only the sections you need. If you need it for business funding or other official purposes, choose the formal business plan and thoroughly complete the required sections while paying extra attention to financial projections.

If your business operates outside the U.S., clarify the preferred format with your bank.

How to Create a Business Plan: Questions to Ask Yourself

As you write a business plan, take time to not only analyze your business idea, but yourself as well. Ask the following questions to help you analyze your business idea along the way:

  • Why do I want to start or expand my business?
  • Do my goals (personal and professional) and values align with my business idea?
  • What income do I need to generate for myself?
  • What education, experience, and skills do I bring to my business?

how to draw a business plan step by step

How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step

According to the business plan template created by SCORE, Deluxe, and the SBA , a traditional business plan encompasses the following sections. 

  • Executive summary
  • Company description
  • Products & services
  • Market analysis
  • Marketing & sales
  • Management & organization
  • Funding request
  • Financial projections
  • SWOT analysis

Since not everyone is aware of the key details to include in each section, we’ve listed information you can copy to fill in your business plan outline. Here’s how to build a business plan step by step.  

Executive Summary

The Executive Summary is the first part of your business plan, so this is where you need to hook readers in. Every business plan starts this way — even a simple business plan template should kick off with the Executive Summary. Summarize your entire business plan in a single page, highlighting details about your business that will excite potential investors and lenders. 

Explain what your business has to offer, your target market , what separates you from the competition, a little bit about yourself and the core people behind your business, and realistic projections about your business’ success.

While this is the first section of your business plan, write it after you’ve completed the rest of your business plan. It’s a lot easier because you can pull from the sections you’ve already written, and it’s easier to identify the best parts of your business plan to include on the first page.

Company Description

In the Company Description, share 411 about your business. Include basic details like: 

  • Legal structure (sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, etc.)
  • Business and tax ID numbers
  • When the business started
  • Ownership information
  • Number of employees

Your mission statement , philosophy and values, vision, short- and long-term goals, and milestones along with a brief overview of your industry, market, outlook, and competitors should also be in the Company Description.

Pro tip: These are the details you’ll use each time you create a business profile, whether that's on social media, business directories, or other networks. Keep your information consistent to reduce confusion and instill more confidence in potential customers. 

Products & Services

The Products & Services section details what you plan to sell to customers. For a dropshipping business , this section should explain which trending products you’re going to sell, the pain points your products solve for customers, how you’ll price your products compared to your competitors, expected profit margin, and production and delivery details.

Remember to include any unique selling points for specific products or product groupings, such as low overhead, exclusive agreements with vendors, the ability to obtain products that are in short supply / high demand based on your connections, personalized customer service, or other advantages.

For dropshipping businesses selling hundreds or even thousands of products, detail the main categories of products and the number of products you plan to offer within each category. By doing this, it’s easier to visualize your business offerings as a whole to determine if you need more products in one category to fully flesh out your online store.

Market Analysis

The Market Analysis section of your business plan allows you to share the research you have done to learn about your target audience — the potential buyers of your products. People requesting a business plan will want to know that you have a solid understanding of your industry, the competitive landscape, who’s most likely to become your customers. It’s important to demonstrate that  there’s a large enough market for your product to make it profitable and/or to make a strong return on investment .

To complete the Market Analysis component of your business plan, check out the following resources for industry, market, and local economic research:

  • U.S. Embassy websites in most countries have a business section with information for people who want to sell abroad. Business sections include a basic “getting started” guide, links to economic and data reports, trade events, and additional useful business links for a particular region.
  • IBISWorld is a provider of free and paid industry research and procurement research reports for the United States , United Kingdom , Australia , and New Zealand .  
  • Statista offers free and paid statistics and studies from over 18,000 sources including industry reports, country reports, market studies, outlook reports, and consumer market reports.   

Use these websites and others to learn about the projected growth of your industry and your potential profitability. You can also use social media tools like Facebook Audience Insights to estimate the size of your target market on the largest social network

Another way to research your market and products is through Google Trends . This free tool will allow you to see how often people search for the products your business offers over time. Be sure to explain how your business plans to capitalize on increasing and decreasing search trends accordingly.

Marketing & Sales

Knowing your target market is half the battle. In the Marketing & Sales section, share how you plan to reach and sell products to your target market. Outline the marketing and advertising strategies you intend to use to market your product to potential customers – search marketing , social media marketing , email marketing , and influencer marketing methods .

If you’re unsure how to market your business’ products, analyze your competitors for some inspiration. Discovering your competition’s marketing tactics will help you customize your own strategy for building a customer base and ultimately taking your business to the next level. 

Do a Google search for your competitor’s business name to find the websites, social accounts, and content they’ve created to market their products. Look at the ways your competitor uses each online entity to drive new customers to their website and product pages.

Then come up with a plan to convert a similar audience with your marketing and advertising messages. For dropshipping businesses, conversions will typically take place on your website as people purchase your products and/or by phone if you take orders over the phone. 

Management & Organization

In the Management & Organization piece of your business plan, describe the structure of your business. In terms of legal structure and incorporation, most businesses are classified as sole proprietorships (one owner), partnerships (two or more owners), corporations, or S corporations.

Draft a condensed resume for each of the key members of your business. If you’re a solopreneur , include how your past education and work experience will help you run each aspect of your business. If you have one or more partner(s) and employee(s), include their relevant education and experience as well.

Think of this as a great way to evaluate the strengths of each individual running your business. When self-evaluating, you’ll be able to identify the aspects of your business that’ll be easier to manage and which ones to delegate to freelancers, contractors, employees, and third-party services. This also makes it easier to find the best way to utilize their strengths for business growth.

Funding Request

Chances are, you don’t have a funding request for a startup dropshipping business since the appeal to dropshipping is the low upfront investment . If you’re looking for a loan, however, this would be the section where you outline the dollar amount you need, what you plan to invest in, and how you see the return on your investment.

Another way to use this section is to analyze the investment you have or plan to make when starting or growing your business. This should include everything from the computer you use to run your website to the monthly fee for business services.

Financial Projections

In Financial Projections, share your projected revenue and expenses for the first or next five years of your business. The idea here is to demonstrate that the revenue you’re anticipating will easily lead to a return on any investment, whether from your personal finances or a capital lending service.

how to draw a business plan step by step

If you’re looking for funding, you’ll need to go into detail with projected income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. If you aren’t looking for funding, it won’t hurt to create these types of financial projections so you can realistically plan for the future of your business.

The Appendix of your business plan includes any supplemental documents needed throughout the sections of your business plan. These may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Credit histories
  • Product brochures
  • Legal forms
  • Supplier contracts

If you’re submitting your business plan for funding, contact the lender to see what documentation they want included with your funding request.

SWOT Analysis

In addition to the above sections, some business plans also include a SWOT Analysis. This is a one-page summary of your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The strengths and weaknesses you include will be internal, whereas opportunities and threats you include will be external. 

Depending on the revelations of this section, you may or may not want to make a SWOT analysis when submitting your business plan formally unless it is requested.

how to draw a business plan step by step

Summary: How to Create a Business Plan

As you can see, creating a business plan for your dropshipping business is a great way to validate your business idea , discover your business’s strengths and weaknesses, and make a blueprint for your business's future.

In summary, here are the sections you will need to write for your business plan, step by step:

  • SWOT analysis (Optional)

If you haven’t already, take the time to create a business plan to launch or grow your business in 2023!

Want to Learn More?

  • How to Start a Dropshipping Business
  • How to Register a Business in the USA
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  • 30+ Amazing Startup Business Ideas That’ll Make You Money

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From entrepreneurs with the seed of a great idea to established companies, every business needs a business plan.

But what is a business plan exactly? Is it worth the time and effort to write one?

Let’s take a look at why your organization needs this business roadmap and how it can set you up for long-term success.

What Is a Business Plan?

The easy answer, of course, is right there in the name—it’s a plan for your business. It serves as a guide for how you manage your organization.

Considered a basic business principle for startups, business plans are helpful for all kinds of companies.

For example, a plan for a startup might be a simple one or two-page document, sometimes referred to as a lean plan. It lays out only the essential information, immediate milestones the firm wants to reach and how to secure funding to meet those goals.

For a larger or established company, the plan might be more comprehensive in a traditional format . It typically includes areas such as financial data, a marketing overview and future plans for each department in the organization.

In either case, the intent is to provide a map for your business. You want to answer questions like how the business works, what your goals are and how your team will reach them.

Business plans can be internal or external, meaning it is used as a guide to get your team on the same page or an overview for those with whom you do business or to pitch to those who want to invest in your ideas.

Why Do You Need a Business Plan?

As with the plan itself, the need and purpose for one vary between businesses.

Let’s take a look at two scenarios, involving ownership of rental property.

1. Growing Business

Imagine you own and rent a handful of condominium properties. You have plans to acquire more and turn it from a hobby to a full-time pursuit. This means a lot is going on in the early stages of your organization’s development. A business plan breaks down the moving pieces into more manageable portions.

For your growing real estate portfolio, those pieces include acquisition and capital improvement costs. Also important are income projections and growth or financial benchmarks. Plus, many tasks exist with finding a property, securing loans and closing deals.

One of the central uses of most startup business plans is for raising investment funds . A business plan conveys what the new company needs and convinces others to help fund its growth. For banks, lenders or investors, the business plan shows them the who, what and how of the business operations. Then it communicates why the new business is a solid investment.

2. Established Firm

A second scenario involves an already established real estate firm. You own several different types of properties and rent and manage them with an in-house team.

A business plan for an existing company takes on a much different purpose than for the startup.

Even if profitable, your company still needs a pathway to future growth. You need strategies for responding to a changing market or tracking current projects. You also want to establish goals or metrics to define your success.

An established owner might use a business plan to determine what it takes to move into a new market. You might tweak that same plan in response to new competition entering the market.

For firms currently on solid footing, the business plan helps assess where they stand. It can then detail their next steps for achieving further success and how to accomplish more, faster.

Updating Your Plan

After writing a plan, one of the key questions becomes how often do you update it. The answer is—it depends.

There are times when you might need a “one-off” version. For instance, those that are provided to a specific shareholder or future partner.

In other cases, you may develop a plan for the fiscal year 2020. Then that plan will serve as the basis for your 2021 plan, then the 2022 plan and so on.

You should approach your plan as a living, breathing document. Create a master business plan, one kept up to date based on your company’s activity. You can then tailor that plan to a specific request or need without having to recreate it from scratch.

Elements of a Business Plan

Contrary to popular belief, business plans don’t need to be thousand-page documents. The critical factor is that they meet the needs of your business.

Business plans themselves come in various forms. As we noted, startups might use a one-page document to ask for initial funding. A legacy company might use a 10-page analysis to showcase its financial health.

Both could even be for the same audience , such as a financial institution. Or it could be used for customers or suppliers. Whoever it’s directed toward, the narrative of the plan serves the company that is creating it.

Despite a difference in style or purpose, every business plan includes a handful of central elements.

View these as your jumping-off point when writing the first draft of your plan. Hone in on the information that’s important to your organization to create a plan that reflects your company’s needs.

Executive Summary

The one universal aspect for every plan is the inclusion of an executive summary . This is your plan’s introduction to the reader, so be sure it’s well-constructed.

The key to your executive summary is providing meaningful, relevant information in a brief description. Your main points should cover:

  • Why your company’s expertise provides the best solution in your particular field.
  • Why your specific area of focus is a favorable market in which to take part.
  • Why your firm is best positioned to meet the market’s needs in this area.

To stand out, allow your introduction to mirror your firm’s culture and voice. If you produce and sell skateboards, let your passion for those unique boards shine through in the summary. If your organization is a financial services company, your summary should reflect a firm grasp of investment trends and customer needs.

To captivate your audience, both internal and external, start out with a compelling summary.

Company Overview

This second section in a business plan is straightforward and includes the background and history of your organization. Keep your firm’s bio short and to the point. Summarize your location(s), history, significant accomplishments and ownership or legal data.

If your group has a mission statement , include it in this section as well.

Some internal plans often leave out the company bio. Write one anyway. It’s good practice to convey your organization’s story. Plus, if you have it written, it’s ready to go should you ever need to publicly share it.

Product or Service Information

In this section, you’ll detail what your company does. This includes the goods you produce and sell or the services you provide. Make this section effective by capturing the following:

  • How your solution is a benefit to customers.
  • How you produce that solution, such as the lifecycle of product production or philosophy and method behind a service.
  • Is your solution proprietary? Does it feature copyrights or patents?
  • What is your company’s market advantage in what you do?

With product details, it’s best to paint a picture of the marketplace then detail how your business is positioned as a leader in that specific market.

Marketing or Sales Plan

Within your business plan, it’s not necessary to drill down into the finer details of every area. This is most true with your marketing or sales strategy. You don’t have to list every advertising source, but you should convey a grasp of your target demographics and how to reach them. You can include key points such as:

  • How you price your offerings.
  • How you promote and generate interest and sales from new customers.
  • How you will keep those customers.

While product data shows your current market position, marketing data focus on your tactics to keep and grow that market share .

For potential investors to know whether or not to invest, they need to know financial information. While the level of financial detail varies based on the audience’s need, the best financial plans feature the following:

  • Financial forecast—this varies with industry but should include at least a five-year forecast.
  • Income statement.
  • Balance sheet.
  • Cash flow statement.
  • Capital expense expectations.
  • Financials show both the current monetary health of your firm and what your future success may look like.

If you’ve got a lot of good data, don’t hold it back. This is especially true if the plan is to attract investors. The more comprehensive your financial data, the better.

Organizational Team

Your team summary is an extension of your company bio. The goal is to clearly define your company’s hierarchy and the key players at the top. This induces any influential department heads or partnerships you’ve built.

You also want to identify the principles that govern your company’s management style. Company culture is an underrated aspect of today’s business climate. Placing importance on it in your business plan will set yours apart from those that don’t. This is also a good spot to detail any personnel plans or challenges to consider.

Additional Elements

Depending on the purpose of the business plan or its intended audience, there are two other sections worth noting.

In creating a comprehensive plan, you may need to include supporting documentation. The appendix helps organize requested materials or information that did not fit within your primary plan. These inclusions may consist of the following:

  • Contracts or legal documents.
  • References.
  • Permits or licenses.
  • Product specs or images.
  • Organizational charts.
  • Detailed financial reports.

Funding Request

For startups, or even established firms, seeking investment, you’ll want to include a dedicated section that outlines the request . You should specify the type of funding you need, how you’ll apply the funds and over what timeframe. It also helps to include a note on the financial endgame for your organization.

Final Thoughts

Whether for securing funding or getting your established team on the same page, business plans are invaluable for providing a pathway to success.

Develop a plan that best serves your company and its future growth. Keep it up to date and focused on the elements vital to your success, including where you’ve been, where you want to go and how you plan to get there.

A great business plan doesn’t need to be expertly written to be effective. It should, however, be written so you can expertly execute it.

Advance Your Business Expertise

In a degree program at PGS, you’ll expand your knowledge, skills and experiences in practical areas such as developing a business plan. Check out business programs from the associate to master’s level to discover your next step in growing your career and achieving your business goals.

Learn more about our adult programs

Learn more about our graduate programs

how to draw a business plan step by step

Kacey Spencer

Kacey Spencer (B.S. ’12, MBA ’20) previously served as development coordinator for Cornerstone University’s WCSG Radio. She also served as an enrollment counselor for Cornerstone University’s Professional & Graduate Studies division. She graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s in business management. She enjoys cooking, reading, event planning and being outside in nature.

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Free business plan template (with examples)

Alan Bradley

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Starting a business can be a daunting undertaking. As with so many large projects, one of the most difficult challenges is just getting started, and one of the best ways to start is by putting together a plan. A plan is also a powerful tool for communication and can serve as a cornerstone for onboarding new partners and employees or for demonstrating your philosophy and priorities to potential collaborators. 

A solid business plan will not only provide a framework for your business going forward but will also give you an early opportunity to organize and refine your thoughts and define your mission statement, providing a guidepost that can serve as a beacon for your business for years to come. We’ve provided a business plan template below to help guide you in the creation of your new enterprise.

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Business plan template

What should a business plan include?

Regardless of the type of business you own or the products and services you provide, every business plan should include some core elements:

  • Mission statement. The definition and executive summary of your business.
  • Market analysis. A breakdown of the market segment and customers you hope to reach, built through primary (gathered by you) and secondary (gathered from outside sources) research.
  • Organization and logistics. The nuts and bolts of how your business is operated
  • Products or services. What your company provides its customers.
  • Advertising and marketing. How you intend to get your products in front of your customers.
  • Forecasting. Revenue forecasting for partners or potential investors.

Why do you need a business plan?

A business plan is a framework for success. It provides a number of key benefits:

  • Structure. The outline around which to design your business.
  • Operational guidance. A signpost for how to run your business from day to day.
  • Expansion. A vision for the future growth of your enterprise.
  • Definition. A platform to consider every element of your business and how best to execute your plans for them.
  • Collaboration. A synopsis of what’s exceptional about your business and a way to attract funding, investment or partnerships.
  • Onboarding. An efficient summary of your business for new or potential employees.

Business plan examples

We’ve created two fictional companies to illustrate how a business might use a business plan to sketch out goals and opportunities as well as forecast revenue.

Bling, Incorporated

Our first hypothetical example is a jewelry and accessory creator called Bling, Incorporated. A hybrid business that manufactures its products for sale both online and through physical retail channels, Bling’s mission statement is focused on transforming simple, inexpensive ingredients into wearable statement pieces of art. 

Market analysis includes gathering data around sourcing sustainable, inexpensive components, aesthetic trends in fashion and on which platforms competitors have had success in advertising jewelry to prospective customers. Logistics include shipping products, negotiating with retailers, establishing an e-commerce presence and material and manufacturing costs. 

Bling, Incorporated advertises initially through social platforms like TikTok and Facebook, as well as with Google AdSense, with plans to eventually expand to television advertising. Revenue forecasting is structured around a low overhead on the basis of inexpensive materials, no dedicated storefront and broad reach through digital platforms.

Phaeton Custom Cars

Phaeton is a custom car builder and classic car restoration business with a regional focus and reach. Its mission statement defines it as a local, family-owned business serving a community of auto enthusiasts and a broader regional niche of collectors. 

Market analysis breaks down the location and facilities of other competitor shops in the region as well as online communities of regional car enthusiasts likely to spend money on custom modifications or restoration projects. It also examines trends in valuations for custom parts and vintage cars. Logistics include pricing out parts and labor, finding skilled or apprentice laborers and mortgaging a garage and equipment. 

Phaeton advertises in regional publications, at local events and regional car shows and online through Facebook and Instagram, with an emphasis on a social presence highlighting their flashiest builds. Revenue forecasting is built around a growing reputation and high-value commissions.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

A business plan may not be a prerequisite for every type of business, but there are few businesses that wouldn’t benefit from one. It can serve as an important strategic tool and help crystalize a vision of your business and its future.

Business plans do just that: they help you plan the future of your business, serve as a platform to brainstorm ideas and think through your vision and are a great tool for showcasing why your business works to potential investors or partners.

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

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

Alan Bradley

Alan is an experienced culture and tech writer with a background in newspaper reporting. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine, The Escapist, PC Mag, PC Gamer, and a multitude of other outlets. He has over twenty years of experience as a journalist and editor and is the author of the urban fantasy novel The Sixth Borough.

Sierra Campbell is a small business editor for USA Today Blueprint. She specializes in writing, editing and fact-checking content centered around helping businesses. She has worked as a digital content and show producer for several local TV stations, an editor for U.S. News & World Report and a freelance writer and editor for many companies. Sierra prides herself in delivering accurate and up-to-date information to readers. Her expertise includes credit card processing companies, e-commerce platforms, payroll software, accounting software and virtual private networks (VPNs). She also owns Editing by Sierra, where she offers editing services to writers of all backgrounds, including self-published and traditionally published authors.

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

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

Business Eric Rosenberg

A close up photograph of entrepreneurs looking at charts.

How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: 10 Essential Steps

Whether you’re starting a new small business or are already years into operating one, a business plan is one of the best ways to clarify your long-term vision. Follow our step-by-step guide to writing a highly effective business plan.

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hether you’re starting a new small business or are already years into operating one, a business plan is one of the best ways to clarify your long-term vision. While every business plan is different, there are several key elements to consider that will benefit you in the long run. 

Follow our step-by-step guide to writing a highly effective business plan. 

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a document that outlines your business goals and how you plan to achieve them. Ideally, this will become your roadmap for marketing, sales, finance, and growth. 

In other words, a business plan is...

  • An explanation of your overall vision.
  • A valuable tool to plan and track your business fundamentals.
  • An overview of your path to profitability, which can help get funding for your company.

Do You Need A Business Plan?

While it’s not a requirement, having a business plan is strongly recommended. In a recent QuickBooks survey , nearly 70% of current business owners recommended writing a business plan.

Creating a business plan is especially useful in the following scenarios:

  • Applying for business loans
  • Seeking additional rounds of funding or investors 
  • Growing your employee headcount  
  • Attracting top-level management candidates 
  • Looking for opportunities to scale your business

10 Steps To Creating A Comprehensive Business Plan

While not every business plan is the same, there are a few key steps you should take to create an effective and comprehensive document:

1. Create an executive summary

Think of an executive summary as your company's elevator pitch in written form. It should be 1 to 2 pages in length and summarize important information about your company and goals. If you are pitching your business plan to get funding, you should ensure your executive summary appeals to investors.

What should you include in an executive summary?

  • An overview of your business
  • Your company mission statement
  • A concise description of products or services offered
  • A description of your target market and customer demographics
  • A brief analysis of your competition
  • Financial projections and funding requirements
  • Information about your management team
  • Future plans and growth opportunities
  • An overall summary of your business plan

2. Write your company description

Your company description is a more detailed and comprehensive explanation of your business. It should provide a thorough overview of your company, including your company history, your mission, your objectives, and your vision. A company description should help the reader understand the context and background of the business, as well as the key factors that contribute to its success.

What should you include in your company description?

  • Official company name 
  • Type of business structure
  • Physical address(es)
  • Company history and background information
  • Mission statement and core values
  • Management team members and their qualifications
  • Products and services offered
  • Target market and customer segmentation
  • Marketing and sales strategy
  • Goals (both short- and long-term)
  • Vision statement

Novo Note : The company description is your chance to expound on the pain points your company solves. It should also give a reader an accurate impression of who you are. 

3. Conduct and outline market analysis

This is one of the most important steps in building a business plan. Here, you will assess the size and dynamics of the market your business operates in.

How to conduct a market analysis

Market analyses include both quantitative and qualitative data. You may want to conduct surveys or lean on existing industry research to gather this information. You’ll want to answer:

  • What is the size of the market?
  • How much revenue does your industry generate?
  • What trends are impacting this industry?
  • Where are opportunities for innovation?
  • What are the most well-known companies in the industry? What tactics do they use to sell to customers? How do they price their offering?
  • Where are there gaps in the market? 
  • What are your customer demographics? What problems do they have that need solving? What are their values, desires, and purchasing habits?
  • What barriers to entry, if any, exist? These could include startup costs, legal requirements, environmental conditions that impact consumer behavior, and market saturation.

What is your target market?

In this section, you will specify the customer segment(s) you’re targeting . You can divide customers into small segments organized by age, location, income, and lifestyle. The goal is to describe what type of consumer will be most interested in your offering.

Novo Note : Regardless of your company’s size, understanding the trends and opportunities within your target market enables you to build a more effective marketing plan to distinguish yourself from the marketplace and grow your business. This analysis might also help you find potential customers or new products you could offer. 

4. Analyze your competitors

After conducting a market analysis, you need to do a deep dive into your competitors. Look at how the competition is succeeding or failing and how each competitor has positioned itself. For example, you might want to evaluate your competitors’ brand, pricing, and distribution strategies. 

How to conduct a competitive analysis

You’ll want to research your competitors and ask the following questions:

  • What are their strengths?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What are their customer reviews like?
  • How do they price their offering(s)?
  • What are their value propositions?
  • What marketing and sales channels do they leverage?
  • How are they growing and evolving?

Novo Note : After you develop a strong understanding of the competitive landscape, consider how your business is unique. Solidifying your competitive advantage can help you appeal to your target audience.  

5. Describe your products or services

This is your chance to go into more detail about the products and services you offer! Use this opportunity to note where your offering or service differs from others in the industry. Highlight the standout features of your product, your company’s unique ability to solve customer problems, and your product roadmap.

What to include:

  • Your product catalog
  • Key differentiating features
  • Information about the production process
  • The resources required for production
  • Plans for future product releases

6. Define your marketing and sales strategy

Your marketing plan describes your strategy for connecting with your target market and generating leads. It doesn't need to be full-fledged at this point, but it should answer who you're trying to sell to and how you plan to target them. Investors also want to know how you plan on selling your brand and breaking into the market, so make sure to consider their perspective as you develop your marketing strategy.

  • Your sales and marketing budget
  • Your key sales and marketing objectives
  • Details about your sales process and sales goals
  • Platforms or strategies you’ll employ to reach your target audience
  • PR initiatives, content ideas, and social media strategies

7. Gather your business financials and outline financial projections

Your financials section lays out your company's past and current performance. You can also include a roadmap that dives into financial projections for your business. Aim to include projections for the next five years at a minimum.

  • Income statements
  • Cash flow statements
  • Balance sheets
  • Explanation of any significant changes

Novo Note : Novo offers integrations with accounting software like Quickbooks and Xero , allowing you to seamlessly access all your financial information within your business checking account .

sign up for Novo: powerfully simple business banking with no hidden fees

8. Describe your organization

Your business plan should also include an organizational chart that maps your company’s structure. 

What to include :

  • Company’s management structure
  • Other key personnel, along with their roles and responsibilities
  • Expertise of your team (feature any specialists or experts)

Novo Note : This is also a good place to explain the legal structure of your company — for example, if you are an LLC , a corporation, or a sole proprietorship . 

9. Outline your funding requests

If you’re looking for business funding, include an outline of any funding requests and requirements.

  • Why you are requesting funding
  • What the funding will be used for specifically
  • Desired terms and conditions of funding
  • The length of time over which the funding will be used
  • Type of funding required (for example, debt or equity)

Novo Note : Propose a five-year funding plan, and aim to be as detailed as possible about how you will utilize the funds to grow your business. 

10. Create an appendix

The last section, the appendix, includes supporting documents and additional information not listed elsewhere in your business plan. Not all of these items are necessary to include, so you’ll need to evaluate which are most relevant to your business. You might also want to include a table of contents to help keep the appendix organized.

Items to consider including:

  • Bank statements
  • Business credit history
  • Legal documents
  • Letters of reference

Sample Business Plans

Need an example to help you through the process? Check out the Small Business Administration’s downloadable examples or this even more in-depth one from Harvard Business School.

Tips For Creating A Great Business Plan

Here are some of our favorite tips for creating the most effective and efficient business plan:

  • Keep it short and sweet : You want to be sure people will actually read your business plan, so stay on topic and to the point.
  • Make it digestible : No need to use the fanciest terminology or draft up the most complex graphs. Keep wording and ideas simple and straightforward — it’s the most impactful way to get your information across.
  • Triple-check your work : There’s nothing worse than noticing a grammar, spelling, or mathematical error when you’re presenting your vision. So proofread… and then proofread again!
  • Start early : It’s never too late to write a business plan, but the earlier you do it, the stronger your strategy for growth and expansion will be from the start.
  • Reference credible sources : If you are going to reference third-party research in your business plan, lean on sources that are widely recognized as authorities. Try tapping into trade associations and government resources, like U.S. Census data or data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Set yourself apart : Wherever you can, explain why your product or service stands out and how it can solve a problem.
  • Be objective : Avoid the instinct to only showcase the good. Stakeholders and investors want to know that you are realistic and have a contingency plan if you hit a bump in the road.

Updating Your Business Plan

As with most situations in business (and life), things change! So don’t think that your business plan has to be set in stone after you create it. Instead, you should plan to return to it once a year and make updates.

Be sure to do the following when you review and update your business plan:

  • Analyze your progress: Review your original business plan and compare it to your actual financial data. Are you moving in the right direction, or do you need to reevaluate your strategy?
  • Consider whether your product offerings need to be adjusted: For example, decide if you want to diversify your product offerings or scale back and focus on a singular product. 
  • Reassess your overall goals: Perhaps your sales goals have changed with your new marketing strategy. Or maybe your customer’s needs have changed. In any case, be flexible where needed. 

We know there’s a lot that goes into creating a business plan, but it’s worth it. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for developing a business plan, but our steps outlined above will put you on the right track for developing a comprehensive, investor-friendly document.

Take time to review your business plan annually and make changes as your needs and goals change.

Novo Platform Inc. strives to provide accurate information but cannot guarantee that this content is correct, complete, or up-to-date. This page is for informational purposes only and is not financial or legal advice nor an endorsement of any third-party products or services. All products and services are presented without warranty. Novo Platform Inc. does not provide any financial or legal advice, and you should consult your own financial, legal, or tax advisors.

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Blog / Small business tips / How to create a business plan: A complete guide to writing your company roadmap

how to draw a business plan step by step

How to create a business plan: A complete guide to writing your company roadmap

A business plan is a roadmap that outlines what your business does, how it’s going to work and how you’re going to achieve your goals. 

According to Bplans , who worked with the University of Oregon to analyse academic research around planning, entrepreneurs who take the time to create a plan for their business idea are 152% more likely to start that business.

Further, 129% are more likely to push forward with it beyond the start-up phase. And companies that strategically plan grow 30% faster than those that don’t. 

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through how to write a business plan that helps your company start, build and achieve success.   

Table of contents

What is a business plan and why do you need one, the nine key components of a business plan and how to write them.

  • Five top tips for writing a compelling business plan

📹 Masterclass video: How to write the perfect business plan

Wrapping up.

A business plan is a document that guides you through the various stages of building, launching and running your business. Essentially, it helps you put the building blocks in place to make your company a success.

If you’re bringing a new small business to market, a business plan will be crucial in:

  • Securing funding or loans
  • Achieving investment or raising venture capital
  • Attracting talent or business partners
  • Guiding your go-to-market strategy

All banks and most investors and venture capitalists will only invest in a business if they can see that they’ll get their money back. They want to know that you have the business idea, team, scalability and planned sales growth to succeed. A business plan gives financiers the details they need to make informed decisions. 

Similarly, for talent or prospective partners, a business plan is your assurance to them that your business matches their short and long-term career ambitions. 

A business plan also keeps you focused on what you need to do to accomplish your goals. If you’re not meeting your targets, you can turn to your business plan to help guide you on changes that need to be made. It’s the drawing board you can always go back to. 

Because of this, having a business plan is as important for existing businesses as it is for start-ups. 

Top Tip: Business plans also apply to side hustles. Even if you have a full-time job or already run a small business, a side hustle can be a great way to pull in extra income or capitalise on a hobby. But just because it doesn’t take up all of your time doesn’t mean it should lack structure. To learn more about how to effectively run a side business, read our guide to 5 side businesses you can start quickly and affordably 💡

How long should a business plan be?

According to Growthink surveys, 15 to 25 pages is the optimum business plan length. But the number of pages isn’t the ideal way to measure length. 

As Bplans points out: “A 20-page business plan with dense text and no graphics is much longer than a 35-page plan broken up into readable bullet points, useful illustrations of locations or products, and business charts to illustrate important projections.”

Instead, Bplans says that your business plan should: 

  • Take no longer than 15 minutes to skim read . Make sure that key information in each section is easy for readers to find.
  • Mirror the length of its audience . The length is directly tied to the intent. If the purpose is for outsiders who know nothing about your business to gain a deeper understanding, it must include detailed executive summaries and team descriptions. If the intent is to procure investment, it must be built to withstand legal scrutiny and include any information a bank would look for in a business loan application. Know your audience, and work backwards to create the ideal business plan to match that scenario (we’ll dive into exactly how to do this in a later section).

How to present your business plan?

Your business plan is designed to evolve as your business grows. It’s a living document that should be consistently tweaked to match the health and goals of your company. Because of this, it’s best to keep your plan as a digital document that can be easily updated and sent to third parties as a PDF. 

That said, there may be times when your plan needs to be presented to investors or bank managers in person, so it should always be print-ready with a front cover that includes your:

  • Company name
  • Company logo and colour scheme
  • Business name and date
  • Contact information

It should also have a contents page, with numbered pages and sections so that readers can easily find what they’re looking for.

When you are ready – register your business with Tide for FREE ! Registering your business with Tide is incredibly fast, easy and free. You not only get to officially start your company, but you get a free business bank account at the same time, which is the best way to ensure you’re keeping your finances in order from day one. Be your own boss and register your company with Tide !

A business plan features nine main sections related to your business operations, structure and finances: 

  • Executive summary
  • Company description

Market analysis

  • Management and company structure
  • Service or product information
  • Marketing and sales strategy
  • Funding information
  • Financial projections

Let’s take a closer look at each. 

1. Executive summary

The executive summary is a top-level look at your business that summarises the detailed information found in the rest of the sections.

It’s also your elevator pitch—a chance for you to immediately captivate the reader by portraying your mission, vision, goals, product, leadership, finance information and growth plans.

Picture yourself in a lift for 45 seconds with a potential investor. How would you sell your business? Think about that when writing this section. Be concise and compelling with your words.

Because it is a summary, it’s often easier to write this section last after you’ve fleshed out the finer details of your business plan .

Writing your executive summary

Start with the basic information:

  • Your company name
  • Company address
  • Names of all owners and partners

Then, get into the business information. 

  • Value proposition . Describe in one sentence what your company does and why it’s great. This is your value proposition. For example, Uber’s value proposition is “The smartest way to get around”. For email marketing platform MailChimp it’s “Send Better Email”. For Dollar Shave Club it’s “A great shave for a few bucks a month”.
  • Problem and solution . In a paragraph, briefly explain the problem customers are facing and how your product or service solves it.
  • Target customers. Who is your ideal customer? Be extremely specific. For example, if you’re selling men’s suits, your audience won’t simply be every man because every man wears suits. That doesn’t hold true. It’s more likely to be targeted towards ‘fashion-conscious men’ or ‘businessmen’.
  • Competitors . List other companies that are solving the same problems you are and how they’re solving them.
  • Team . A sentence or two on why your team is the best team to bring your product or service to market.
  • Finances . Focus on the key aspects of your financial plan–your planned costs and how you will make money.
  • Funding . Details of your start-up costs and how much you need to raise to get your business off the ground. 
  • Milestones . Briefly mention what you’ve achieved so far and what goals you plan to achieve. This lets potential investors, talent or partners know how serious you are in building a successful business. 

As mentioned above, before you can write this section you have to flesh out all of your company details, including who you are, who you’re selling to, how you’re going to sell your product or service, what your financial goals are, how you will reach those financial goals, and so on. 

The rest of this article will inform you on how to do just that. 

2. Company description

The company description is your story. It digs deeper into your value proposition, looking at how you came to be and what you intend to achieve.

Break your description down into three sections: 

Mission statement

Company profile, business objectives.

An example of a target, mission, and values

Your mission statement is a sentence or short paragraph that describes why your business exists.

To create your mission statement, answer the following questions:

  • What does my business do?
  • How do we do it?
  • Who do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing to customers?

For example, Patagonia’s mission statement is “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

In a single sentence, they get across their aims and ambitions, their value to the market (safe, quality products) and their value to people and the world (helping the environment). 

Use this as inspiration to come up with a statement that captures the heart and soul of your business.

Top Tip: Your company description will also help to inform your business culture. You will carry these core values throughout all of your business behaviours and they will also influence how you make future business decisions. Because of this, it’s crucial to devote the necessary time and energy to get this right. To learn exactly how to do that, read our guide on why business culture matters & how to get it right from the start ☀️

In a paragraph or two, your company profile should detail your: 

  • Founding date
  • Company location
  • Products or services
  • Number of employees
  • Details of company leaders and their roles
  • Company milestones

The information is the most important thing here, so approach it like a business profile and stick to the facts and figures.

In a paragraph or two explain what you want to achieve as a business. This needs to be a realistic aim that investors can get behind and your team members can work towards. 

The SMART goals method can help you to ensure your goals are practical.

SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. 

Infographic describing SMART goals

Use graphs to add weight to your objectives. For example, if you aim to increase revenue from £100,000 in year one to £500,000 by year five, create a chart that plots your growth. The visual aspect helps to grab attention whilst providing readers with key information they may miss if skim reading. 

This chart from an example business plan does just that:

Example of 5 year net revenue projections

You’re immediately drawn to the planned-growth projections and want to learn about how they’ll reach such high goals. We will get into the specifics of how to create accurate sales and revenue forecasts in a later section.

Top Tip: To learn more about how to establish practical SMART goals that will inform your business strategy and help you effectively market your brand, read our beginners guide to digital marketing strategy . 

3. Market analysis

Marketing analysis focuses on three areas:

  • Your target market (the industry your selling in)
  • Your customers (who you’re selling to)
  • Your competitors (who you’re selling against)

By detailing information about the themes and trends within your industry, you’ll be able to show that the appetite for your product or service exists. Outlining information about your ideal customer helps you to identify the marketing and sales tactics you can use to attract them. And highlighting your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses gives you a chance to showcase what you do better than the rest. 

Market analysis should identify the market as a whole, as well as your addressable market and your share of the market. From this information, you can begin to get an idea of your target market, which informs your messaging, positioning and unique selling point (USP).

Venn diagram demonstrating how to find your USP

Start by researching the current state of your industry and where the market is heading in terms of size, trends and projected growth.

Your approach here will depend on your business. For example, if you’re opening a small local shop, you should assess the market around your shop. If you’re starting an ecommerce business and selling UK-wide, you’ll need to analyse the market at a national level. 

When estimating market size, look at:

  • Volume . The number of potential customers
  • Value . The value of the market

You can find this information by searching for publicly available data or by commissioning a market research report. If you’re searching on a national level, you may find figures published online. On a local level, data might not be as easy to come by, which is where you’ll need to carry out your own research. 

Top Tip: Conducting market research takes time, but it’s important that you get a full picture of your audience to ensure your message and USP resonates. To learn more, read our detailed guide on how to conduct market research for your business idea ⚡️

Once you have the information, you can use TAM SAM SOM to work out your business’ relationship to the market size.

  • TAM stands for Total Addressable Market
  • SAM stands for Serviceable Addressable Market
  • SOM stands for Serviceable Obtainable Market

Infographic describing TAM SAM SOM

  • To calculate your TAM, work out how many people have a need for your business. For example, let’s say you’re opening a shop selling custom-designed women’s clothes in a town of 100,000 people. Market research shows that 50% (50,000) of residents are women. Your total addressable market would be 50,000 people. 
  • To calculate your SAM, take your TAM and discount all the people that fall outside of your target market. Let’s say your target market is women between 18 and 35, with disposable income. This discounts 30,000 people, which means your serviceable addressable market is 40% (20,000) of your total addressable market. 
  • To calculate your SOM, work out how many of your SAM you can realistically serve. Your shop offers a measuring service and design consultation but only to people in a five-mile radius, which means you can serve 200 people a month. That would mean serving 2,400 people a year, which makes your SOM around 12% of your SAM.

Ideal customer

Your ideal customer is the person your product or service is aimed at. In the above example of the women’s clothes shop, the ideal customer is between 18 and 35, with disposable income. 

Customer analysis digs deeper than this, looking at your target customers’ education, income, job, relationship, buying concerns, interests and more.

You’ll find methods to help you discover your ideal customer and create customer personas in our guide on how to create a go-to-market strategy . 

Competitors

Competitive analysis is the process of identifying gaps in the market that your product or service can fill. It’s about finding out what the competition does so you gain a competitive advantage. 

In our guide on how to run a competitive analysis , we walk you through the process of analysing the finer details of your rivals in five steps:

Step 1: Identify & segment your competitors

Step 2: Analyse their market positioning

Step 3: Review their content & social media

Step 4: Check out what their customers are saying

Step 5: Walk through their customer journey

Use this information to show potential investors and talent that your business is going places. Our competitive analysis matrix template is a great starting point.

Screenshot showing competitor analysis matrix template with examples

Once complete, take it a step further and create a simple visual that clearly shows where your company outperforms the competition. Here is a basic example of how to build out this visual.

Example competitive analysis matrix

It’s hard to ignore a chart that checks all of the boxes. 

4. Management and company structure

This section goes into detail on how your company is structured and who is running it. 

The structure here means two different things:

Team structure

Company structure.

First, you need to show your management structure: what each leader’s role is within the company. 

The simplest way to show your company hierarchy is with an organisational chart like this example:

Example organisational chart

For each member of your team, give details on their background and credentials with a bio that includes their:

  • Professional background
  • Achievements

Including this information gives readers assurances that the team you have in place is well-positioned to take the company forward. 

If there are any roles yet to be filled, give details on those positions.

Company structure is your legal structure. For example, limited company or sole trader.

Top Tip: If you’re yet to decide on a business structure, you can weigh up the pros and cons for setting up as a sole trader or limited company in our sole trader vs limited company guide.

how to draw a business plan step by step

If you plan on changing the structure of your company in the future, include details on this as well. For example, you may start as a private limited company (Ltd), but grow to become a public limited company with shares offered to members of the public. 

5. Service or product information

Here is where you get to wax lyrical about your offer and why it’s better than anything currently on the market. 

This section should include: 

  • A description of your product or service . Details on what it is and what it does.
  • How your product or service will be priced . Do you offer tiered pricing or a subscription model, for example.

Top Tip: Choosing the right pricing strategy is another key part of your go-to-market strategy. Will you price higher, lower, or similar to your competitors? What does the market demand? How does your pricing strategy reflect the value of your products and services? To learn more about how to answer these questions, read our 6-step guide on how to price a product and achieve profitable markups 💷

  • How your products compare to competitors . List several competitor products along with their pros and cons.
  • The production process . Details on how your products are created, how your source materials, quality control management, supply chain, inventory and bookkeeping.
  • Product lifecycle . Details on upsells and cross-sells, research and development plans and time between purchases.
  • Orders . Details on how you process and fulfil orders.
  • Legal aspects . Details on any intellectual property or trademarks you own.
  • Future products or services . If you plan on expanding your offer, give details on the offer and any research and development plans.

While there are formal and practical details to get across, the main point of this section is to get the reader excited about your product. To do this:

  • Focus on the benefits . Describe how features give value to the customer. Here are some examples of features turned into benefits:
  • Highlight your features. Get across what features your product or service has that the competition doesn’t. For example, your product might be the cheapest on the market or your turnaround time might be quicker or your expertise might allow you to offer a better level of service. 
  • Get across why you’re needed . Shine the light on why your product or service is important to the market. This will be especially crucial if your startup is bringing a new invention to the market, or you’re creating an entirely new market. 

6. Marketing and sales strategy

If your business is going to be a success, you need a marketing strategy and sales plan that takes customers on a journey from awareness to purchase.

Diagram of the marketing funnel from awareness stage to advocacy

This section of your business plan should include:

  • Your target market . Reiterating the information from the market analysis section.
  • Which marketing channels you’ll use and which you’ll prioritise . For example, social media, word of mouth, Google Ads, print or radio advertising, exhibition stands or fairs, or referrals.
  • Your plan to attract customers at launch . For example, you might run an opening discount offer to people who share your post on social media. Or give a voucher to every customer who refers a friend.
  • Your plan to retain customers . For example, you may offer reward programs that allow customers to collect points for every purchase that can be redeemed for free or discounted products.
  • Your expected results . What you hope to achieve from your marketing and how it will help you grow your business in terms of sales and visibility. If you’ve already started marketing your business, give details on what you’ve done and how it’s benefited the business.

7. Funding information 

Funding information is all about how much money you need to start your business, why you need it and how you’ll use any capital. 

The most critical part of this is your startup costs, which detail:

  • The cost of producing your product or service
  • Your fixed outgoings
  • The cost of equipment, premises, supplies, insurance and other necessities required to run your business

Top Tip: If you’re yet to work out how much capital you need, check out our guide on how much it costs to start a business in the UK 📌

If you have the figures in place, you can set out presenting them. 

This section should be broken down into three parts: 

Current and future funding requirements

How funds will be used, current and future financial plans.

Include how much money you need to get your business off the ground, along with any funding you’ll need in the foreseeable future (up to five years). Be clear about why you’re requesting a loan or investment and outline what your needs are based on in your financial forecasts (we’ll get onto those soon). 

If you’re offering equity in exchange for investment, provide details on how an investor will be paid, as well as how and when they can cash out. For most small businesses, investors are paid in dividends (a share of company profits).

This part should explain how you plan to use the funds so that investors can determine if your business is a worthwhile investment. If you plan on using capital for several things, list and provide costs for each.

Again, putting these numbers into a visual format will help to more clearly outline your vision.

Example funding allocation

Finally, if applicable, provide information on any current investments and/or outstanding loan repayment plans. 

If you’re seeking investment or a loan for the first time, most lenders will have their own repayment schedules. However, you should detail any factors that may affect lenders, such as any plans to relocate or sell the business. 

Unlike other sections, funding information will need to be tailored to each financier. Investors will be interested in return on investment (ROI), whereas lenders will be interested in loan repayments. Create separate reports so that information is relevant to the reader. 

Top Tip: Investors and banks will also be interested in your business credit report (if you have one). To learn more about why your business credit score is important and how it’s determined, read our guide to everything you need to know about your business credit score (and how to improve it) 🙌

8. Financial projections

Financial projections supplement your funding information by showing potential lenders and investors that your business has a positive financial outlook.

This section should include the following key information: 

  • Sales forecast. The amount of money you expect to raise from sales.
  • Cash flow statement. Your cash flow balance and monthly cash flow patterns–how much is coming in and going out of your business every month.
  • Balance sheet. An overview of the financial health of your business.
  • Profit and loss statement . Your profit level and how much you expect to make based on projected sales, minus the cost of overheads and providing goods or services. 

Top Tip: Unless you’re an accountant, this part of the business plan can be overwhelming. To learn more about the fundamentals of accounting and how to create each of the aforementioned statements, read our complete guide to accounting for startups 📣 

If your business is already established, you’ll need to include financial figures from the last three years (or however long you’ve been trading if it’s less than three years) for all of the above, other than your sales forecast. 

If you’re a new business, your financial figures need to be predicted.

We’ve built several spreadsheet templates to help you generate the below financial reports:

  • Three main financial statements (balance sheet, profit and loss statement, cash flow statement)
  • Cash flow forecast
  • Estimated sales

Forecasting your finances

Sales forecast.

Use your market analysis and knowledge of industry trends to estimate your future sales. For the first year, break these figures down into monthly sales, detailing what you’re selling, price points and how much you expect to sell. Moving into the second and third year of business, reduce forecasting to quarterly sales.

Cash flow statement

As a startup, your cash flow statement becomes a cash flow forecast based on your sales forecast, minus your expenses. Your expenses are the: 

  • Fixed costs . Expenses that are the same or close the same every month (e.g. rent, insurance and utilities).
  • Variable costs . Expenses that vary every month depending on demand (e.g.costs for raw materials, production costs, shipping and advertising).

Provide monthly cash flow patterns for the first 36 months. Keep in mind that, depending on your business, you may need to account for a lag in revenue. For example, if you provide a service to a client, their payment terms might dictate the invoice is paid 60 days after being sent.

Top Tip: To learn more about the various types of expenses and how to manage them, read our guide to small business expense management 🙌

Balance sheet

Create a balance sheet by calculating company assets, minus company liabilities.  

Company assets include:

  • Property you own
  • Equipment you own
  • Unsold inventory
  • Company vehicles you own
  • Outstanding invoices

Company liabilities include:

  • The amount you owe on a business loan
  • The amount you owe unpaid invoices

Your balance is the difference between your assets total and your liabilities total.

Profit and loss statement

Use the figures from your sales forecast, expenses and cash flow statement to forecast how much you expect in profit and losses for your first three years in business. 

Your statement needs profit and loss projections for each year, as well as a total figure for the three years and should include a breakdown of:

  • Sales . Based on figures from your sales forecast.
  • Cost of goods sold (COGS) . The total cost of selling your product or service. If you need help with this, check out our guide on everything you need to know about cost of sales .
  • Gross margin . Your sales minus your COGS. This is usually listed as a percentage, which you can calculate as: 

Gross margin (total revenue – COGS / total revenue x 100

For example, £500,000 total revenue, minus £300,000 leaves a gross margin of £200,000. 

£200,000 / £500,000 x 100 = 40%

  • Operating expenses . A list of all your expenses, minus COGS (which you’ve already included), tax, amortisation and depreciation. List each expense individually and include a total sum. 
  • Operating income statement . Your total operating expenses minus your COGS, before interest, tax, amortisation and depreciation.
  • Total expenses . Your expenses including interest, tax, amortisation and depreciation.
  • Net profit . Your monthly and yearly bottom line.

List financial figures using bullet points and include graphs to show how you predict your business will grow over your first three years of trading.

9. Appendix 

The appendix is the place to include any supporting documents. If a lender or investor hasn’t requested additional documentation, you can choose to leave this section out. But it’s a good place to strengthen your business plan, by including: 

  • Reference letters
  • Credit reports
  • Permits and licences
  • Client contracts or customer purchase orders
  • Legal documents
  • Associations and memberships  

Format the appendix with a clear table of contents and sections that correspond to the business plan section.

5 top tips for writing a compelling business plan 

  • Keep it concise . Say what you need to say using simple language (no jargon) in as few words as possible. Your business plan only needs to get the key information across. The intricacies can come later. 
  • Make it easy on the eye . Most lenders and investors will skim read your business plan, picking out relevant information as they go. Use headings to define sections and make key data stand out on each page by using bullet points for lists, bolding important sentences and using graphs and charts to add weight to financial figures. 
  • Think about your audience . Consider who your business plan is aimed at and write with them in mind. If it’s an internal plan, think about what your team would want to gain from reading the document. If it’s for a lender or investor, think about the questions they might ask and which information is of particular interest to them. 
  • Get the figures right. If you’re forecasting costs, sales and expenses, numbers will never be 100% accurate and it’s better to overestimate than underestimate. However, figures must be realistic and they must add up. Expect lenders and investors to scrutinise your calculations. Always double and triple check the numbers. 
  • Proofread and proofread again . Don’t let your hard work be undone by something as simple as a typo or grammar mistake. Proofread your document from start to finish and then finish to start. Have someone you trust look over it too.

You now know what goes into a strong business plan, but you might be wondering what tools and frameworks you can use to bring it to life.

In this Tide Masterclass, our Events Manager Cuan Hawker is joined by Tom Horbye , Head of Campaigns Development at Seedrs .

Seedrs connects investors and businesses. They help startups raise capital and grow a supportive community. As they put it, it’s “equity crowdfunding done properly”. It’s unlikely anyone has seen and improved more business plans than Tom!

Tom will explain:

  • Why you need a business plan 📘
  • How to structure your plan 📃 Two tried-and-tested structures that work.
  • What to include in your plan 📋 And what to leave out.
  • Tools, help and next steps 🛠

This Masterclass is useful for anyone thinking about starting their own business in the UK.

A business plan is the cornerstone of your company. By clearly detailing your business objectives, strategies, marketing and sales plans, and financial forecasts you’ll be able to set out your business goals and keep track of your progress. 

Use this guide to complete the key components and put together a plan that a) brings clarity to your team, and b) provides assurances to lenders and investors that your business is a safe bet.

Set up your business with Tide for free

Photo by William Ivan, published on Unsplash

Valentine Hutchings

Valentine Hutchings

Head of Community and small business enthusiast

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How to write a business plan in seven simple steps

When written effectively, a business plan can help raise capital, inform decisions, and draw new talent.

WeWork 511 West 25th St in New York.

Companies of all sizes have one thing in common: They all began as small businesses.  Starting small  is the corner for those just getting off the ground. Learn about how to make that first hire, deal with all things administrative, and set yourself up for success.

Writing a business plan is often the first step in transforming your business from an idea into something tangible . As you write, your thoughts begin to solidify into strategy, and a path forward starts to emerge. But a business plan is not only the realm of startups; established companies can also benefit from revisiting and rewriting theirs. In any case, the formal documentation can provide the clarity needed to motivate staff , woo investors, or inform future decisions.  

No matter your industry or the size of your team, the task of writing a business plan—a document filled with so much detail and documentation—can feel daunting. Don’t let that stop you, however; there are easy steps to getting started. 

What is a business plan and why does it matter? 

A business plan is a formal document outlining the goals, direction, finances, team, and future planning of your business. It can be geared toward investors, in a bid to raise capital, or used as an internal document to align teams and provide direction. It typically includes extensive market research, competitor analysis, financial documentation, and an overview of your business and marketing strategy. When written effectively, a business plan can help prescribe action and keep business owners on track to meeting business goals. 

Who needs a business plan?

A business plan can be particularly helpful during a company’s initial growth and serve as a guiding force amid the uncertainty, distractions, and at-times rapid developments involved in starting a business . For enterprise companies, a business plan should be a living, breathing document that guides decision-making and facilitates intentional growth.

“You should have a game plan for every major commitment you’ll have, from early-stage founder agreements to onboarding legal professionals,” says Colin Keogh, CEO of the Rapid Foundation—a company that brings technology and training to communities in need—and a WeWork Labs mentor in the UK . “You can’t go out on funding rounds or take part in accelerators without any planning.”

How to make a business plan and seven components every plan needs

While there is no set format for writing a business plan, there are several elements that are typically included. Here’s what’s important to consider when writing your business plan. 

1. Executive summary 

No longer than half a page, the executive summary should briefly introduce your business and describe the purpose of the business plan. Are you writing the plan to attract capital? If so, specify how much money you hope to raise, and how you’re going to repay the loan. If you’re writing the plan to align your team and provide direction, explain at a high level what you hope to achieve with this alignment, as well as the size and state of your existing team.

The executive summary should explain what your business does, and provide an introductory overview of your financial health and major achievements to date.  

2. Company description 

To properly introduce your company, it’s important to also describe the wider industry. What is the financial worth of your market? Are there market trends that will affect the success of your company? What is the state of the industry and its future potential? Use data to support your claims and be sure to include the full gamut of information—both positive and negative—to provide investors and your employees a complete and accurate portrayal of your company’s milieu. 

Go on to describe your company and what it provides your customers. Are you a sole proprietor , LLC, partnership, or corporation? Are you an established company or a budding startup? What does your leadership team look like and how many employees do you have? This section should provide both historical and future context around your business, including its founding story, mission statement , and vision for the future. 

It’s essential to showcase your point of difference in your company description, as well as any advantages you may have in terms of expert talent or leading technology. This is typically one of the first pieces of the plan to be written.

3. Market analysis and opportunity

Research is key in completing a business plan and, ideally, more time should be spent on research and analysis than writing the plan itself. Understanding the size, growth, history, future potential, and current risks inherent to the wider market is essential for the success of your business, and these considerations should be described here. 

In addition to this, it’s important to include research into the target demographic of your product or service. This might be in the form of fictional customer personas, or a broader overview of the income, location, age, gender, and buying habits of your existing and potential customers. 

Though the research should be objective, the analysis in this section is a good place to reiterate your point of difference and the ways you plan to capture the market and surpass your competition.

4. Competitive analysis 

Beyond explaining the elements that differentiate you from your competition, it’s important to provide an in-depth analysis of your competitors themselves.

This research should delve into the operations, financials, history, leadership, and distribution channels of your direct and indirect competitors. It should explore the value propositions of these competitors, and explain the ways you can compete with, or exploit, their strengths and weaknesses. 

5. Execution plan: operations, development, management 

This segment provides details around how you’re going to do the work necessary to fulfill this plan. It should include information about your organizational structure and the everyday operations of your team, contractors, and physical and digital assets.

Consider including your company’s organizational chart, as well as more in-depth information on the leadership team: Who are they? What are their backgrounds? What do they bring to the table? Potentially include the résumés of key people on your team. 

For startups, your execution plan should include how long it will take to begin operations, and then how much longer to reach profitability. For established companies, it’s a good idea to outline how long it will take to execute your plan, and the ways in which you will change existing operations.

If applicable, it’s also beneficial to include your strategy for hiring new team members and scaling into different markets. 

6. Marketing plan 

It’s essential to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place as you scale operations or kick off a new strategy—and this should be shared with your stakeholders and employees. This segment of your business plan should show how you’re going to promote your business, attract customers, and retain existing clients.

Include brand messaging, marketing assets, and the timeline and budget for engaging consumers across different channels. Potentially include a marketing SWOT analysis into your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Evaluate the way your competitors market themselves, and how your target audience responds—or doesn’t respond—to these messages.

WeWork 222 Exhibition Street in Melbourne, Australia.

7. Financial history and projections  

It’s essential to disclose all finances involved in running your company within your business plan. This is so your shareholders properly understand how you’re projected to perform going forward, and the progress you’ve made so far. 

You should include your income statement, which outlines annual net profits or losses; a cash flow statement, which shows how much money you need to launch or scale operations; and a balance sheet that shows financial liabilities and assets. 

“An income statement is the measure of your financial results for a certain period and the most accurate report of business activities during that time, [whereas a balance sheet] presents your assets, liabilities, and equity,” Amit Perry, a corporate finance expert, explained at a WeWork Labs educational session in Israel.

It’s crucial to understand the terms correctly so you know how to present your finances when you’re speaking to investors. Amit Perry, CEO and founder of Perryllion Ltd.

In addition, if you’re asking for funding, you will need to outline exactly how much money you need as well as where this money will go and how you plan to pay it back. 

12 quick tips for writing a business plan 

Now that you know what components are traditionally included in a business plan, it’s time to consider how you’ll actually construct the document.

Here are 12 key factors to keep in mind when writing a business plan. These overarching principles will help you write a business plan that serves its purpose (whatever that may be) and becomes an easy reference in the years ahead. 

1. Don’t be long-winded

Use clear, concise language and avoid jargon. When business plans are too long-winded, they’re less likely to be used as intended and more likely to be forgotten or glazed over by stakeholders. 

2. Show why you care

Let your passion for your business shine through; show employees and investors why you care (and why they should too). 

3. Provide supporting documents

Don’t be afraid to have an extensive list of appendices, including the CVs of team members, built-out customer personas, product demonstrations, and examples of internal or external messaging. 

4. Reference data

All information regarding the market, your competitors, and your customers should reference authoritative and relevant data points.  

5. Research, research, research

The research that goes into your business plan should take you longer than the writing itself. Consider tracking your research as supporting documentation. 

6. Clearly demonstrate your points of difference

At every opportunity, it’s important to drive home the way your product or service differentiates you from your competition and helps solve a problem for your target audience. Don’t shy away from reiterating these differentiating factors throughout the plan. 

7. Be objective in your research

As important as it is to showcase your company and the benefits you provide your customers, it’s also important to be objective in the data and research you reference. Showcase the good and the bad when it comes to market research and your financials; you want your shareholders to know you’ve thought through every possible contingency. 

8. Know the purpose of your plan

It’s important you understand the purpose of your plan before you begin researching and writing. Be clear about whether you’re writing this plan to attract investment, align teams, or provide direction. 

9. Identify your audience

The same way your business plan must have a clearly defined purpose, you must have a clearly defined audience. To whom are you writing? New investors? Current employees? Potential collaborators? Existing shareholders? 

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10. Avoid jargon

Avoid using industry-specific jargon, unless completely unavoidable, and try making your business plan as easy to understand as possible—for all potential stakeholders. 

11. Don’t be afraid to change it

Your business plan should evolve with your company’s growth, which means your business plan document should evolve as well. Revisit and rework your business plan as needed, and remember the most important factor: having a plan in place, even if it changes.

A business plan shouldn’t just be a line on your to-do list; it should be referenced and used as intended going forward. Keep your business plan close, and use it to inform decisions and guide your team in the years ahead. 

Creating a business plan is an important step in growing your company 

Whether you’re just starting out or running an existing operation, writing an effective business plan can be a key predictor of future success. It can be a foundational document from which you grow and thrive . It can serve as a constant reminder to employees and clients about what you stand for, and the direction in which you’re moving. Or, it can prove to investors that your business, team, and vision are worth their investment. 

No matter the size or stage of your business, WeWork can help you fulfill the objectives outlined in your business plan—and WeWork’s coworking spaces can be a hotbed for finding talent and investors, too. The benefits of coworking spaces include intentionally designed lounges, conference rooms, and private offices that foster connection and bolster creativity, while a global network of professionals allows you to expand your reach and meet new collaborators. 

Using these steps to write a business plan will put you in good stead to not only create a document that fulfills a purpose but one that also helps to more clearly understand your market, competition, point of difference, and plan for the future. 

For more tips on growing teams and building a business, check out all our articles on  Ideas by WeWork.

Caitlin Bishop is a writer for WeWork’s  Ideas by WeWork , based in New York City. Previously, she was a journalist and editor at  Mamamia  in Sydney, Australia, and a contributing reporter at  Gotham Gazette .

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

  • 3 years ago

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

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

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

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

What Is a Business Plan?

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

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

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

Get a Business Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conduct Market Analysis

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

Product and Service Demand

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

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

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

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

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

Identify Demographics of Target Market

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

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

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

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

How to Write a Business Plan

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

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

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

SWOT Analysis

  • Competitor Data
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Marketing Expenses Strategy 

Pricing Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike told us,

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

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

It consists of three basic parts:

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

Example of an informal executive summary 

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

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

What should I include in an executive summary for investors?

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

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

Successful business plan examples

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

Here’s the interview with the owner of Urbanity:

When to write an executive summary?

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

What mistakes do people make when writing an executive summary?

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

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

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

How to Write a Business Plan Step 4. Company Description

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

  • Mission statement
  • Philosophy and vision
  • Company goals

Target market

  • Legal structure

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

Mission Statement

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

Company Philosophy and Vision

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

What makes your company different?

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

Examples of core values

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

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

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

What is a vision statement?

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

Example vision statements

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

A world without Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia.

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

Business Goals

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

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

How far in advance should a business plan?

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

Example of great business goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Industry resources

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

  • Trade Associations
  • Federal Reserve
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics

Legal Structure

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

  • Sole proprietorships
  • Limited Liability Companies (LLC)

Partnerships

Corporations.

  • Franchises.

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

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

Sole Proprietorship

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

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

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to answer about your products and services

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

  • How will you be selling the product? (in person, ecommerce, wholesale, direct to consumer)?
  • How do you let them know they need a product?
  • How do you communicate the message?
  • How will you do transactions?
  • How much will you be selling it for?
  • How many do you think you’ll sell and why?

Make sure to use the worksheet on our business plan template .

How to Write a Business Plan Step 6. Sales and Marketing Plan

The marketing and sales plan is focused on the strategy to bring awareness to your company and guides how you will get the product to the consumer.  It should contain the following sections:

SWOT Analysis stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Not only do you want to identify them, but you also want to document how the business plans to deal with them.

Business owners need to do a thorough job documenting how their service or product stacks up against the competition.

If proper research isn’t done, investors will be able to tell that the owner hasn’t researched the competition and is less likely to believe that the team can protect its service from threats by the more well-established competition. This is one of the most common parts of a presentation that trips up business owners presenting on Shark Tank .

SWOT Examples

Examples of strengths and weaknesses could be things like the lack of cash flow, intellectual property ownership, high costs of suppliers, and customers’ expectations on shipping times.

Opportunities could be ways to capitalize on your strengths or improve your weaknesses, but may also be gaps in the industry. This includes:

  • Adding offerings that fit with your current small business
  • Increase sales to current customers
  • Reducing costs through bulk ordering
  • Finding ways to reduce inventory
  •  And other areas you can improve

Threats will normally come from outside of the company but could also be things like losing a key member of the team. Threats normally come from competition, regulations, taxes, and unforeseen events.

The management team should use the SWOT analysis to guide other areas of business planning, but it absolutely has to be done before a business owner starts marketing. 

Include Competitor Data in Your Business Plan

When you plan a business, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the competition is key to navigating the field. Providing an overview of your competition and where they are headed shows that you are invested in understanding the industry.

For smaller businesses, you’ll want to search both the company and the owners names to see what they are working on. For publicly held corporations, you can find their quarterly and annual reports on the SEC website .

What another business plans to do can impact your business. Make sure to include things that might make it attractive for bigger companies to outsource to a small business.

Marketing Strategy

The marketing and sales part of business plans should be focused on how you are going to make potential customers aware of your business and then sell to them.

If you haven’t already included it, Mike recommends:

“They’ll want to know about Demographics, ages, and wealth of your target market.”

Make sure to include the Total addressable market .  The term refers to the value if you captured 100% of the market.

Advertising Strategy

You’ll explain what formats of advertising you’ll be using. Some possibilities are:

  • Online: Facebook and Google are the big names to work with here.
  • Print : Print can be used to reach broad groups or targeted markets. Check out this for tips .
  • Radio : iHeartMedia is one of the best ways to advertise on the radio
  • Cable television : High priced, hard to measure ROI, but here’s an explanation of the process
  • Billboards: Attracting customers with billboards can be beneficial in high traffic areas.

You’ll want to define how you’ll be using each including frequency, duration, and cost. If you have the materials already created, including pictures or links to the marketing to show creative assets.

Mike told us “Most businesses are marketing digitally now due to Covid, but that’s not always the right answer.”

Make sure the marketing strategy will help team members or external marketing agencies stay within the brand guidelines .

This section of a business plan should be focused on pricing. There are a ton of pricing strategies that may work for different business plans. Which one will work for you depends on what kind of a business you run.

Some common pricing strategies are:

  • Value-based pricing – Commonly used with home buying and selling or other products that are status symbols.
  • Skimming pricing – Commonly seen in video game consoles, price starts off high to recoup expenses quickly, then reduces over time.
  • Competition-based pricing – Pricing based on competitors’ pricing is commonly seen at gas stations.
  • Freemium services –  Commonly used for software, where there is a free plan, then purchase options for more functionality.

HubSpot has a great calculator and blog on pricing strategies.

Beyond explaining what strategy your business plans to use, you should include references for how you came to this pricing strategy and how it will impact your cash flow.

Distribution Plan

This part of a business plan is focused on how the product or service is going to go through the supply chain. These may include multiple divisions or multiple companies. Make sure to include any parts of the workflow that are automated so investors can see where cost savings are expected and when.

Supply Chain Examples

For instance, lawn care companies  would need to cover aspects such as:

  • Suppliers for lawn care equipment and tools
  • Any chemicals or treatments needed
  • Repair parts for sprinkler systems
  • Vehicles to transport equipment and employees
  • Insurance to protect the company vehicles and people.

Examples of Supply Chains

These are fairly flat supply chains compared to something like a clothing designer where the clothes would go through multiple vendors. A clothing company might have the following supply chain:

  • Raw materials
  • Shipping of raw materials
  • Converting of raw materials to thread
  • Shipping thread to produce garments
  • Garment producer
  • Shipping to company
  • Company storage
  • Shipping to retail stores

There have been advances such as print on demand that eliminate many of these steps. If you are designing completely custom clothing, all of this would need to be planned to keep from having business disruptions.

The main thing to include in the business plan is the list of suppliers, the path the supply chain follows, the time from order to the customer’s home, and the costs associated with each step of the process.

According to BizPlanReview , a business plan without this information is likely to get rejected because they have failed to research the key elements necessary to make sales to the customer.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 7. Company Organization and Operational Plan

This part of the business plan is focused on how the business model will function while serving customers.  The business plan should provide an overview of  how the team will manage the following aspects:

Quality Control

  • Legal environment

Let’s look at each for some insight.

Production has already been discussed in previous sections so I won’t go into it much. When writing a business plan for investors, try to avoid repetition as it creates a more simple business plan.

If the organizational plan will be used by the team as an overview of how to perform the best services for the customer, then redundancy makes more sense as it communicates what is important to the business.

Quality control policies help to keep the team focused on how to verify that the company adheres to the business plan and meets or exceeds customer expectations.

Quality control can be anything from a standard that says “all labels on shirts can be no more than 1/16″ off center” to a defined checklist of steps that should be performed and filled out for every customer.

There are a variety of organizations that help define quality control including:

  • International Organization for Standardization – Quality standards for energy, technology, food, production environments, and cybersecurity
  • AICPA – Standard defined for accounting.
  • The Joint Commission – Healthcare
  • ASHRAE – HVAC best practices

You can find lists of the organizations that contribute most to the government regulation of industries on Open Secrets . Research what the leaders in your field are doing. Follow their example and implement it in your quality control plan.

For location, you should use information from the market research to establish where the location will be. Make sure to include the following in the location documentation.

  • The size of your location
  • The type of building (retail, industrial, commercial, etc.)
  • Zoning restrictions – Urban Wire has a good map on how zoning works in each state
  • Accessibility – Does it meet ADA requirements?
  • Costs including rent, maintenance, utilities, insurance and any buildout or remodeling costs
  • Utilities – b.e.f. has a good energy calculator .

Legal Environment

The legal requirement section is focused on defining how to meet the legal requirements for your industry. A good business plan should include all of the following:

  • Any licenses and/or permits that are needed and whether you’ve obtained them
  • Any trademarks, copyrights, or patents that you have or are in the process of applying for
  • The insurance coverage your business requires and how much it costs
  • Any environmental, health, or workplace regulations affecting your business
  • Any special regulations affecting your industry
  • Bonding requirements, if applicable

Your local SBA office can help you establish requirements in your area. I strongly recommend using them. They are a great resource.

Your business plan should include a plan for company organization and hiring. While you may be the only person with the company right now, down the road you’ll need more people. Make sure to consider and document the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the current leadership structure and what will it look like in the future?
  • What types of employees will you have? Are there any licensing or educational requirements?
  • How many employees will you need?
  • Will you ever hire freelancers or independent contractors?
  • What is each position’s job description?
  • What is the pay structure (hourly, salaried, base plus commission, etc.)?
  • How do you plan to find qualified employees and contractors?

One of the most crucial parts of a business plan is the organizational chart. This simply shows the positions the company will need, who is in charge of them and the relationship of each of them. It will look similar to this:

Our small business plan template has a much more in-depth organizational chart you can edit to include when you include the organizational chart in your business plan.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 8. Financial Statements 

No business plan is complete without financial statements or financial projections. The business plan format will be different based on whether you are writing a business plan to expand a business or a startup business plan. Let’s dig deeper into each.

Provide All Financial Income from an Existing Business

An existing business should use their past financial documents including the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement to find trends to estimate the next 3-5 years.

You can create easy trendlines in excel to predict future revenue, profit and loss, cash flow, and other changes in year-over-year performance. This will show your expected performance assuming business continues as normal.

If you are seeking an investment, then the business is probably not going to continue as normal. Depending on the financial plan and the purpose of getting financing, adjustments may be needed to the following:

  • Higher Revenue if expanding business
  • Lower Cost of Goods Sold if purchasing inventory with bulk discounts
  • Adding interest if utilizing financing (not equity deal)
  • Changes in expenses
  • Addition of financing information to the cash flow statement
  • Changes in Earnings per Share on the balance sheet

Financial modeling is a challenging subject, but there are plenty of low-cost courses on the subject. If you need help planning your business financial documentation take some time to watch some of them.

Make it a point to document how you calculated all the changes to the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement in your business plan so that key team members or investors can verify your research.

Financial Projections For A Startup Business Plan

Unlike an existing business, a startup doesn’t have previous success to model its future performance. In this scenario, you need to focus on how to make a business plan realistic through the use of industry research and averages.

Mike gave the following advice in his interview:

Financial Forecasting Mistakes

One of the things a lot of inexperienced people use is the argument, “If I get one percent of the market, it is worth $100 million.” If you use this, investors are likely to file the document under bad business plan examples.

Let’s use custom t-shirts as an example.

Credence Research estimated in 2018 there were 11,334,800,000 custom t-shirts sold for a total of $206.12 Billion, with a 6% compound annual growth rate.

With that data,  you can calculate that the industry will grow to $270 Billion in 2023 and that the average shirt sold creates $18.18 in revenue.

Combine that with an IBIS World estimate of 11,094 custom screen printers and that means even if you become an average seller, you’ll get .009% of the market.

Here’s a table for easier viewing of that information.

The point here is to make sure your business proposal examples make sense.

You’ll need to know industry averages such as cost of customer acquisition, revenue per customer, the average cost of goods sold, and admin costs to be able to create accurate estimates.

Our simple business plan templates walk you through most of these processes. If you follow them you’ll have a good idea of how to write a business proposal.

How to Write a Business Plan Step 9. Business Plan Example of Funding Requests

What is a business plan without a plan on how to obtain funding?

The Small Business Administration has an example for a pizza restaurant that theoretically needed nearly $20k to make it through their first month.

In our video, How to Start a $500K/Year T-Shirt Business (Pt. 1 ), Sanford Booth told us he needed about $200,000 to start his franchise and broke even after 4 months.

Freshbooks estimates it takes on average 2-3 years for a business to be profitable, which means the fictitious pizza company from the SBA could need up to $330k to make it through that time and still pay their bills for their home and pizza shop.

Not every business needs that much to start, but realistically it’s a good idea to assume that you need a fairly large cushion.

Ways to get funding for a small business

There are a variety of ways to cover this. the most common are:

  • Bootstrapping – Using your savings without external funding.
  • Taking out debt – loans, credit cards
  • Equity, Seed Funding – Ownership of a percentage of the company in exchange for current funds
  • Crowdsourcing – Promising a good for funding to create the product

Keep reading for more tips on how to write a business plan.

How funding will be used

When asking for business financing make sure to include:

  • How much to get started?
  • What is the minimum viable product and how soon can you make money?
  • How will the money be spent?

Mike emphasized two aspects that should be included in every plan, 

How to Write a Business Plan Resources

Here are some links to a business plan sample and business plan outline. 

  • Sample plan

It’s also helpful to follow some of the leading influencers in the business plan writing community. Here’s a list:

  • Wise Plans –  Shares a lot of information on starting businesses and is a business plan writing company.
  • Optimus Business Plans –  Another business plan writing company.
  • Venture Capital – A venture capital thread that can help give you ideas.

How to Write a Business Plan: What’s Next?

We hope this guide about how to write a simple business plan step by step has been helpful. We’ve covered:

  • The definition of a business plan
  • Coming up with a business idea
  • Performing market research
  • The critical components of a business plan
  • An example business plan

In addition, we provided you with a simple business plan template to assist you in the process of writing your startup business plan. The startup business plan template also includes a business model template that will be the key to your success.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our business hub .

Have you written a business plan before? How did it impact your ability to achieve your goals?

Brandon Boushy

Brandon Boushy lives to improve people’s lives by helping them become successful entrepreneurs. His journey started nearly 30 years ago. He consistently excelled at everything he did, but preferred to make the rules rather than follow him. His exploration of self and knowledge has helped him to get an engineering degree, MBA, and countless certifications. When freelancing and rideshare came onto the scene, he recognized the opportunity to play by his own rules. Since 2017, he has helped businesses across all industries achieve more with his research, writing, and marketing strategies. Since 2021, he has been the Lead Writer for UpFlip where he has published over 170 articles on small business success.

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How to Write a Detailed Business Plan, Step-by-Step (Free Templates)

Posted november 14, 2022 by noah parsons.

how to write a business plan step by step

Writing a business plan is one of the most valuable things you can do for your business. Study after study proves that business planning significantly improves your chances of success by up to 30 percent . That’s because the planning process helps you think about all aspects of your business and how your business will operate and grow.

In fact, writing a business plan is one of the only free things you can do to greatly impact the success and growth of your business. Ready to write your own detailed business plan? Here’s everything you need ( along with a free template ) to create your plan.

Before you write a detailed business plan, start with a one-page business plan

Despite the benefit of planning, it’s easy to procrastinate writing a business plan. Most people would prefer to work hands-on in their business rather than think about business strategy. That’s why, to make things easier, we recommend you start with a simpler and shorter one-page business plan .

With a one-page plan, there’s no need to go into a lot of details or dive deep into financial projections—you just write down the fundamentals of your business and how it works. A one-page plan should cover:

  • Value proposition
  • Market need
  • Your solution

Competition

Target market.

  • Sales and marketing
  • Budget and sales goals
  • Team summary
  • Key partners
  • Funding needs

A one-page business plan is a great jumping-off point in the planning process. It’ll give you an overview of your business and help you quickly refine your ideas.

If you’re ready to work on your one-page plan, check out our guide to writing a one-page business plan . It has detailed instructions, examples, and even a free downloadable template .

When do you need a more detailed business plan?

A one-page plan doesn’t always capture all the information that you need, however. If that’s the case, then it may be time to expand into a more detailed business plan.

There are several reasons for putting together a detailed business plan:

Flesh out the details 

A one-page business plan is just a summary of your business. If you want to document additional details such as market research, marketing and sales strategies, or product direction—you should expand your plan into a longer, more detailed plan. 

Build a more detailed financial forecast

A one-page plan only includes a summary of your financial projections. A detailed plan includes a full financial forecast, including a profit and loss statement , balance sheet , and cash flow forecast —one of the most important forecasts for any business.

Be prepared for lenders and investors

While investors might not ask to actually read your business plan, they will certainly ask detailed questions about your business. Planning is the only way to be well-prepared for these investor meetings.

Selling your business

If you’re selling your business, a detailed business plan presentation will be part of your sales kit. Potential buyers will want to know the details of how your business works, from marketing details to your product roadmap.

A powerful, data-driven process anyone can use. Explore Growth Planning

How to write a detailed business plan

When you do need to write a detailed business plan, focus on the parts most important to you and your business. If you plan on distributing your plan to outsiders, you should complete every section. But, if your plan is just for internal use, focus on the areas that will help you right now.

For example, if you’re struggling with marketing, spend time working on your target market section and marketing strategy and skip the sections covering the company organization.

Let’s go step-by-step through the sections you should include in your business plan:

1. Executive summary

Yes, the executive summary comes first in your plan, but you should write it last, once you know all the details of your business plan. It is truly just a summary of all the details in your plan, so be careful not to be too repetitive—just summarize and try to keep it to one or two pages at most. If you’ve already put together a one-page business plan, you can use that here instead of writing a new executive summary.

Your executive summary should be able to stand alone as a document because it’s often useful to share just the summary with potential investors. When they’re ready for more detail, they’ll ask for the full business plan.

For existing businesses, write the executive summary for your audience—whether it’s investors, business partners, or employees. Think about what your audience will want to know and just hit the highlights.

The key parts of your plan that you’ll want to highlight in your executive summary are:

  • Your opportunity: This is a summary of what your business does, what problem it solves, and who your customers are. This is where you want readers to get excited about your business
  • Your team: For investors, your business’s team is often even more important than what the business is. Briefly highlight why your team is uniquely qualified to build the business and make it successful.
  • Financials: What are the highlights of your financial forecast ? Summarize your sales goals , when you plan to be profitable, and how much money you need to get your business off the ground.

2. Opportunity

The “opportunity” section of your business plan is all about the products and services that you are creating. The goal is to explain why your business is exciting and the problems that it solves for people. You’ll want to cover:

Mission statement

A mission statement is a short summary of your overall goals. It’s a short summary of how you hope to improve customers’ lives with your products and services. It’s a summary of the aspirations of your business and the guiding north star for you and your team. 

Problem & solution

Most successful businesses solve a problem for their customers. Their products and services make people’s lives easier or fill an unmet need in the marketplace. In this section, you’ll want to explain the problem that you solve, whom you solve it for, and what your solution is. This is where you go in-depth to describe what you do and how you improve the lives of your customers.

In the previous section, you summarized your target customer. Now you’ll want to describe them in much greater detail. You’ll want to cover things like your target market’s demographics (age, gender, location, etc.) and psychographics (hobbies and other behaviors). Ideally, you can also estimate the size of your target market so you know how many potential customers you might have.

Every business has competition , so don’t leave this section out. You’ll need to explain what other companies are doing to serve your customers or if your customers have other options for solving the problem you are solving. Explain how your approach is different and better than your competitors, whether it’s better features, better pricing, or a better location. Explain why a customer would come to you instead of going to another company. 

3. Execution

This section of your business plan dives into how you’re going to accomplish your goals. While the Opportunity section discussed what you’re doing, you now need to explain the specifics of how you’re going to do it.

Marketing & sales

What marketing tactics do you plan to use to get the word out about your business? You’ll want to explain how you get customers to your door and what the sales process looks like. For businesses that have a sales force, explain how the sales team gets leads and what the process is like for closing a sale.

Depending on the type of business that you are starting, the operations section needs to be customized to meet your needs. If you are building a mail-order business you’ll want to cover how you source your products and how fulfillment will work .

If you’re building a manufacturing business, explain the manufacturing process and the facilities you need to use. This is where you’ll talk about how your business “works,” meaning, you should explain what day-to-day functions and processes are needed to make your business successful.

Milestones & metrics

Until now, your business plan has mostly discussed what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it. The milestones and metrics section is all about timing. Your plan should highlight key dates and goals that you intend to hit. You don’t need extensive project planning in this section, just key milestones that you want to hit and when you plan to hit them. You should also discuss key metrics: the numbers you will track to determine your success.

Use the Company section of your business plan to explain the overall structure of your business and the team behind it.

Organizational structure

Describe your location, facilities, and anything else about your physical location that is relevant to your business. You’ll also want to explain the legal structure of your business—are you an S-corp, C-corp, or an LLC? What does company ownership look like?

Arguably one of the most important parts of your plan when seeking investment is the “Team” section. This should explain who you are and who else is helping you run the business. Focus on experience and qualifications for building the type of business that you want to build. 

It’s OK if you don’t have a complete team yet. Just highlight the key roles that you need to fill and the type of person you hope to hire for each role.

5. Financial plan and projections

Your business plan has now covered the “what”, the “how”, and the “when” for your business. Now it’s time to talk about money. What revenue do you plan on bringing in and when? What kind of expenses will you have?

Financial Forecasts

Your sales forecast should cover at least the first 12 months of your business and ideally contain educated guesses at the following two years in annual totals. Some investors and lenders might want to see a five-year forecast, but three years is usually enough.

You’ll want to cover sales, expenses, personnel costs, asset purchases, and more. You’ll end up with three key financial statements: An Income Statement (also called Profit and Loss), a Cash Flow Statement , and a Balance Sheet .

If you’re raising money for your business, the Financing section is where you describe how much you need. Whether you’re getting loans or investments, you should highlight what you need, and when you need it. Ideally, you’ll also want to summarize the specific ways that you’ll use the cash once you have it in hand.

6. Appendix 

The final section of your business plan is the appendix. Include detailed financial forecasts here as well as any other key documentation for your business. If you have product schematics, patent information, or any other details that aren’t appropriate for the main body of the plan but need to be included for reference.

Download a business plan template

Are you ready to write your business plan? Get started by downloading our free business plan template . With that, you will be well on your way to a better business strategy, with all of the necessary information expected in a more detailed plan.

If you want to elevate your ability to build a healthy, growing business, you may want to consider LivePlan.

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

Using your plan to grow your business

Your business plan isn’t just a document to attract investors or close a bank loan. It’s a tool that helps you better manage and grow your business. And you’ll get the most value from your business plan if you use it as part of a growth planning process . 

With growth planning, you’ll easily create and execute your plan, track performance, identify opportunities and issues, and consistently revise your strategy. It’s a flexible process that encourages you to build a plan that fits your needs.  So, whether you stick with a one-page plan or expand into a more detailed business plan—you’ll be ready to start growth planning. 

Ready to try it for yourself? Learn how LivePlan can help you use this modern business planning method to write your plan and consistently grow your business.

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How to write a business plan in 12 steps (2024 edition) Add Add

How to write a business plan in 12 steps (2024 edition).

Updated 08 January 2024 • 12 min read

This guide breaks down how to write a business plan, step-by-step, detailing what your document needs to include and what you need to think about to make your business plan as persuasive as possible.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is an essential document that can provide immense value for new and existing companies of all sizes. It is an overview that includes an outline of your business, its key objectives and plan for achieving important goals.

This information can be used to communicate strategic actions to internal teams and also attract interest from potential partners and investors . However, writing a business plan can be a lengthy and involved process. For many, using a business plan template can be a good way to get started.

For best results, you’ll need to do a lot of thinking and planning before you start writing your business plan. This way you have all the information and resources you need at your fingertips and won’t be under time pressure to come up with something at the last minute. After all, a well-thought-out business plan can help you avoid generic information and set your company up for success.

Download your free business plan template .

Why write a business plan?

Writing your business plan helps to get your strategy nailed down and onto the page. A plan that stays in your head is probably going to be full of unrealistic assumptions and biases, whereas a strategically thought-out and organised approach forces you to notice your blind spots and find a way forward.

If you’re looking for financing, a bank or investor needs to be persuaded by your business proposal and the opportunity to work with you. Therefore, a well-written business plan can help provide potential financial partners with the confidence that your business can become profitable. Your business plan gives them a comprehensive view of all aspects of your business and details your strategy for achieving your goals.

What are the main sections of a business plan?

Whatever your line of work, your business plan will generally need to provide the following:

An executive summary

A business overview

The market opportunity

Your products/services

How to write a business plan

Make sure you cover each of the following steps when preparing your document:

1. Write an executive summary

This section of your business plan should be 1–2 pages in length and enables potential financiers or partners to get an overview of what your business does and – most importantly — what the opportunity is for them. If they’re interested in the opportunity, they’ll conduct their own due diligence - and this will start with going through your business plan and financials.

It’s a good idea to write your executive summary last, when you’ve clarified your thinking around every section of the document. As an overview section, you don’t want to add any new content that isn’t in your business plan. Aim to keep this summary succinct and engaging by using simple, plain language, as this is much more persuasive than complicated or academic wording.

Use sub-headings and bullet points to help your most important information stand out, especially as busy executives may simply scan your executive summary and use this to decide whether they want to find out more.

What to include in an executive summary?

Make sure you include details on:

What your business does

What the opportunity is

What your unique selling points / differentiators are

How much funding you’re looking for

What the funding will be used for

How you'll succeed

Remember, you’re providing the big picture overview of your business - the detail is in the rest of the document and in the appendices.

2. Write your business overview

This section of your business plan needs to be more than just a list of what your business does. Its purpose is to excite those you’re hoping will work with you or help to fund your business.

Information to address includes:

What's the purpose of your business?

What problem does your business’ product or service solve?

What niche could it fill?

What’s different about your offering?

How are you better than anyone else at what you do?

Consider what your customer value proposition is by deciding what you want to achieve and what your number 1 benefit is for your customer.

3. Identify your USP

Think about what your unique selling points (USP) or differentiators are, and what proof-points you can provide to back them up.

For example, you can use terms like “market-leading” but if you don’t provide any evidence to back up your claims, your reader will take them with a big pinch of salt!

You should certainly reference any awards or endorsements that position you as the best person to provide your product or service, as well as any client testimonials. Make sure you include any education or experience that makes you an expert in your field as well.

4. Describe the market opportunity

Show you understand your industry, market and where you fit in it. While no-one can predict the future, offer up where you think the opportunity is for your business and make sales projections based on that. 

For example, imagine your business is selling personalised cookies - there's little competition in your area and you see your market opportunity to create designs for all calendar and holiday events. You expect to increase sales by 30% in one year and 50% in three years, driven primarily by word-of-mouth referrals.

Make sure you also consider macro trends that may create opportunities for you, such as social, environmental, or technological changes that may affect buying behaviour.

5. Include a SWOT analysis

Whatever your business strengths or opportunities, they’ll always be known and unknown weaknesses and threats; there’s no such thing as certainty in business or in life!

However, you can demonstrate that you’ve examined your business through different lenses and have a thorough understanding of it by doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

Don’t worry about drawing attention to your business’ shortcomings - every opportunity has them and it’ll give investors and partners confidence in you that you won't bury your head in the sand. Naturally, it's important that you specify what you’re going to do to address these weaknesses and counter these threats.

Here are some areas you can think about to get started: reputation, technology, location, experience, staff, overheads, competition, suppliers and price.

6. Present a competitor analysis

Let’s face it, no matter what industry you’re in, or what you’re selling, there’s going to be other businesses offering the same thing. But instead of worrying about the competition, use this as a positive opportunity to up your game and work out the unique advantages you have that will keep you competitive.

Identify your top 3 competitors and analyse what they're doing well and where they’re coming up short. Try to be as objective as possible and identify how to differentiate yourself from them.

You should also look into who the industry leaders are and what the benchmarks are for your industry so that you can set yourself targets for continuous improvement.

7. Create a customer persona

A customer persona is a fictional person who represents your company's ideal customer. Naturally, the persona can be based on a real person - the more you get to know your ideal customer, the more targeted and successful your marketing efforts will be.

To create a customer persona, you need to conduct research into your ideal customer’s age, sex, income, employment, daily activities, interests and hobbies. If you’re feeling unsure about your customer persona, you may need to give your ideal customer further thought and download the customer persona template to get started.

8. Write your marketing strategy

When you’ve created your customer persona, you need to work out how you’re going to reach them. Do they hang out on social media apps, like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or LinkedIn? Or are they more used to local, traditional marketing like free local papers or high foot traffic areas?

Once you’ve figured where your audience is likely to hang out, you can outline your strategies for promoting and advertising your products or services in the next 12 months.

Make a list of the marketing channels you’ll use to achieve your advertising strategy and be sure to include your budget. How much can you set aside for advertising? And where are you most likely to see a return on your efforts? Paid ads on Facebook? Half or full paid spreads in an industry magazine? Or even a direct mail out? 

For more structured help around this, check out free course: Business 101 | Get social with your business on Facebook . 

9. Design your customer retention strategy

Business success relies heavily on the relationship you’re able to build with your customers. What techniques will you use to keep them coming back? Consider the following:

What can your business do to increase the number of repeat customers? 

Does your business have a referral or loyalty program? 

Do you have a post-purchase follow up in place?

Will you use surveys to track customer satisfaction?

What ways can you continue delivering outstanding service?

Is there a way to continue educating and adding value to your customers?

10. Present your financials

Most people who are looking at investing their time and/or money in your business will want to see your financial statements - your performance to date and your projections over the short and medium term. They'll also want to know how much you’ve received in funding to date and what these other sources of funding are - including your own investment.

Current finances

You need to show how your business has performed financially over the last year, highlighting metrics such as positive cashflow , net profit and assets.

Financial forecasts

You should also provide a balance forecast projecting total assets, total liabilities and net assets over 1, 2 and 3 years, and a profit and loss forecast for the same periods detailing gross profit/net sales, total expenses and net profit/loss. Finally, you should also provide a cashflow forecast month by month over the next year.

It’s also a good idea to speak to an expert like an accountant or bookkeeper about your finances and get advice on how best to present them in this all-important section of your business plan.

11. Detail how much funding is needed

Naturally, you also need to be very clear about how much money you’re looking for and what you plan to do with it. If you’re looking for a loan , you need to detail what it’s for, over what period it’ll be repaid, and what collateral you have to secure it.

12. Propose an exit strategy

Any financial stakeholder in your business will want a return on investment. If you’re pursuing this type of funding, you should include some detail on your proposed exit strategy . For example, do you want to sell the company at some point or go public?

Similarly, you should outline your succession plan so the business can continue to operate if you decide to step away from it. Likewise, you need a plan for what happens if the business loses money and can’t sustain itself. Documenting this means that everyone is on the same page and potential investors have this information upfront.

Frequently asked questions about writing a business plan:

When to write a business plan.

Typically, entrepreneurs write their business plans within the first year of operations. A business plan is a tool that helps business owners refine their strategy, attract partners and financiers, and grow their business.

If a business plan is written too soon, it may lack the substance that comes with time in the market. However, it’s important to note that a business plan isn't a static document - it can and should change as the business evolves.

How long should your business plan be?

There are no hard and fast rules around how long your business plan should be - it just needs to include all the relevant information. Aim for clear, concise sections and build a business plan that is as easy to read and navigate as possible.

Using a business plan template can help you make sure you have everything covered off, while also having a document that looks as professional as possible. Make sure you run a spelling and grammar check too - any sloppy errors can undermine your credibility.

What’s a business plan on a page?

It’s important to write your business plan as it helps to embed your strategy - as well as communicate what you’re about to potential partners or investors. When you have a comprehensive business plan you can easily adapt it to suit different audiences. For example, a full business plan is essential for raising capital but a business plan on a page may be enough for potential partners or employees.

What do venture capitalists look for in a business plan?

Venture capitalists invest money into businesses with the goal of achieving a return on their investment within the short to medium term. As a result, they’re looking for an attractive market opportunity, a clear point of differentiation, a strong management team, a proven track record, solid financials and, importantly, an exit opportunity.

Where to go for help or more information?

There are many great resources out there to help you fine-tune your business strategy and write your business plan. The Australian Government has a comprehensive website dedicated to supporting businesses at all stages of their journey.

You can also get help from Business Enterprise Centres , business advisors, accountants and fellow business owners. MYOB also has a list of business advisors who can give you feedback on your business plan, so your venture has the very best chance of success. 

Related Guides

How to get a business loan arrow right, how to find investors: a guide for startups arrow right, business models: definitions, types and key components arrow right.

Business Tips from SCORE: A business plan gives owners a guide to their operations

One of the sure ways of launching a business that will fail is not to plan its launch and growth.

Most budding entrepreneurs’ eyes roll back in their head when they hear “business plan.” It doesn’t have to be complicated or voluminous. It might be as simple as a one-page Business Model Canvas – BMC − plan or if needed a deeper dive with a full business plan . But there’s no better way to think through important issues and gain focus in your business than by creating a guide.

Not only will building a business plan help you get a better handle on where you are and how you’ll grow, but it’s an absolute necessity if you seek outside investment.

A business model is a way of describing how the enterprise will make money.  Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas is a 9-block process that explores, initially, value proposition (your offer, but not what you are selling), customer segments (to whom are you making the offer(s)), communication channels (how will you reach your customer segments). Then validate your assumptions. Then follow-up with customer relationships , activities, resource and strategic partners , expenses and revenue streams . The right side of the BMC canvas focuses on the customer and market or external factors that are not totally under your control. The left side focuses on the internal that is mostly in your control. The middle is the value proposition that represents the exchange of value between your customers and your business.

Here’s an easy guide on how to build a business plan step-by-step.

Step 1: Describe the “Big Idea” in an executive summary

Think of the executive summary as an explanation of your unique selling proposition. You want someone to be able to immediately grasp what your company does and the value you bring to the market.

This section should include a mission statement, brief explanations of the products or services you plan to offer, a basic introduction of key team members and where your company is located. If you’re seeking financing, you’ll also need to include basic information about your finances and plans for use of borrowed funds.

Step 2: Conduct a market analysis

This is where you’ll get into more detail by describing your industry and where your business fits into its landscape. Some questions to answer:

  • What exactly does your business do? 
  • What do you sell and why do you sell it? 
  • Why is your product or service needed? 
  • Who’s going to benefit from the products or services you provide?

Step 3: Introduce your team with a company description

In this section, include information like the legally registered name of your company, your business address, the company’s legal structure (LLC, sole proprietorship, etc.) and key team members. 

If your company is large, consider using an organizational chart to show who’s in charge of what. Also, include any special skills or unique experience your team has that will help advance your mission.

Step 4: Describe the value of your products and services

Piggyback on what you wrote in your market analysis to give details about your products and/or services. Give a thorough explanation of what your product or service does, how it works, your pricing structure, your ideal customer and your distribution strategy.

If you have intellectual property like patents, copyrights or trademarks, mention those as well, along with any research you plan to conduct or have completed.

Step 5: Describe your “go to market” strategy with a marketing and sales plan

How are you going to acquire customers? How are you going to create loyalty? There’s no right or wrong strategy here, only the strategy that makes sense given your current circumstances, the market and your customers’ attitudes. Over time, this may evolve, which is fine!

You can describe your sales process, how you’ll initially attract prospects, how you’ll deepen that attraction into a purchase, what a typical sales cycle might look like, what happens after the sale and so on. 

Step 6: Dive into the numbers with a financial analysis

Depending on how long you’ve been in business, you may not have a lot of concrete numbers for this section. Or, you may have a lot.

If you’re a startup, you’ll have to supply financial projections — forecasted income statements and balance sheets, for example. Be detailed for the first year, breaking down your projections quarterly or, even better, monthly.

If you’re established and are writing the plan to guide your growth strategy, you should include profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, a section for metrics like profit margin and a statement of your total assets and debts. This is also a great place to include any charts and graphs that help tell the financial story of your business. 

Step 7: If you need funding, explain why and for what 

If you’re seeking outside investment, use this section to provide details about your capital needs. How much do you anticipate needing over the next three to five years, what will it be used for, what are the terms you’re seeking, what opportunities will it allow you to exploit, and how will it help you meet your growth targets? And, don’t forget to include your “skin in the game” investment.  A critical step for lender evaluations.

Step 8: Anything else to include?

If you want to include additional information — resumes, leases, permits, bank statements, contracts, photos, charts, diagrams, etc. — include them at the end of your plan in an appendix.

Regardless of which format you select remember that a business plan is a guide, compass and companion for you to reach your business objectives.

Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, Certified Mentor, SCORE Cape Cod & the Islands, www.score.org/capecod , 508-775-4884.  A SCORE Mentor Can Help You Build a Detailed Business Plan.  Sources: ASK Score 2023, An Easy Guide to the Business Model Canvas, Creately Blog, May 18, 2022.

  Thanks to our subscribers, who help make this coverage possible. If you are not a subscriber, please consider supporting quality local journalism with a Cape Cod Times subscription.  Here are our subscription plans.    

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  2. A Step-by-Step Outline on How to Write a Business Plan

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    1. Executive summary Even though it appears first in the official plan, write this section last so you can condense essential ideas from the other nine sections. For now, leave it as a placeholder. What is an executive summary? The executive summary lays out all the vital information about your business within a relatively short space.

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