Use This Simple Business Plan Outline to Organize Your Plan
12 min. read
Updated October 27, 2023
When starting a business, having a well-thought-out business plan prepared is necessary for success . It helps guide your strategy and prepares you to overcome the obstacles and risks associated with entrepreneurship. In short, a business plan makes you more likely to succeed.
However, like everything in business, starting is often the hardest part. What information do you need? How in-depth should each section be? How should the plan be structured?
All good questions that you can answer by following this business plan outline.
- What is a business plan outline?
A business plan outline is similar to a template for a business plan . It lists the common sections that all business plans should include.
A traditional business plan typically includes an executive summary, an overview of your products and services, thorough market research, a competitive analysis, a marketing and sales strategy, operational and company details, financial projections, and an appendix.
- Why is a business plan outline important?
Starting with a business plan outline helps ensure that you’re including all of the necessary information for a complete business plan.
But, depending on what you intend to do with your plan, you may not need all of this information right away. If you’re going to speak with investors or pursue funding, then yes, you’ll need to include everything from this outline. But, if you’re using your plan to test an idea or help run your business, you may want to opt for a one-page plan . This is a simpler and faster method that is designed to be updated and used day-to-day.
If you’re unsure of which plan is right for you, check out our guide explaining the differences and use cases for each plan type .
- 10 key sections in a standard business plan outline
No matter the type of business plan you create, these are the ten basic sections you should include. Be sure to download your free business plan template to start drafting your own plan as you work through this outline.
1. Executive summary
While it may appear first, it’s best to write your executive summary last. It’s a brief section that highlights the high-level points you’ve made elsewhere in your business plan.
Summarize the problem you are solving for customers, your solution, the target market, your team that’s building the business, and financial forecast highlights. Keep things as brief as possible and entice your audience to learn more about your company.
What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
Keep in mind, this is the first impression your plan and business will make. After looking over your executive summary, your reader is either going to throw your business plan away or keep reading. So make sure you spend the time to get it just right.
2. Products and services
Start the products and services section of your business plan by describing the problem you are solving for your customer. Next, describe how you solve that problem with your product or service.
If you’ve already made some headway selling your solution, detail that progress here—this is called “traction”. You can also describe any intellectual property or patents that you have if that’s an important part of your business.
3. Market analysis
You need to know your target market —the types of customers you are looking for—and how it’s changing.
Use the market analysis section of your business plan to discuss the size of your market—how many potential customers exist for your business—and if your potential customers can be segmented into different groups, such as age groups or some other demographic.
Describe your competition in this section. If you don’t have any direct competitors, describe what your customers currently do to solve the problem that your product fixes.
If you have direct competition, detail what your strengths and weaknesses are in comparison, and how you’ll differentiate from what is already available.
5. Marketing and sales
Use this business plan section to outline your marketing and sales plan —how you’ll reach your target customers and what the process will be for selling to them.
You’ll want to cover your market position, marketing activities, sales channels, and your pricing strategy. This will likely evolve over time, but it’s best to include anything that clearly details how you will sell and promote your products and services.
What’s included in the operations section really depends on the type of business you are planning for. If your business has a physical location or other facilities, you’ll want to describe them here. If your business relies heavily on technology or specific equipment or tools, you should describe that technology or equipment here.
You can also use this section to describe your supply chain if that’s an important aspect of your business.
7. Milestones and metrics
In a business, milestones are important goals that you are setting for your business. They may be important launch dates, or a timeline of when you’ll get regulatory approval—if that’s something you need for your business. Use this section of your plan to describe those milestones and the roadmap you are planning to follow.
You can also describe important metrics for your business, such as the number of sales leads you expect to get each month or the percentage of leads that will become customers.
8. Company overview and team
The company and team section of your plan is an overview of who you are.
It should describe the organization of your business, and the key members of the management team. It should also provide any historical background about your business. For example, you’ll describe when your company was founded, who the owners are, what state your company is registered in and where you do business, and when/if your company was incorporated.
Be sure to include summaries of your key team members’ backgrounds and experience—these should act like brief resumes—and describe their functions with the company. You should also include any professional gaps you intend to fill with new employees.
9. Financial plan and forecasts
Your financial plan should include a sales forecast, profit and loss, cash flow projections, and balance sheet, along with a brief description of the assumptions you’re making with your projections.
If you are raising money or taking out loans, you should highlight the money you need to launch the business. This part should also include a use of funds report—basically an overview of how the funding will be used in business operations.
And while it’s not required, it may be wise to briefly mention your exit strategy . This doesn’t need to be overly detailed, just a general idea of how you may eventually want to exit your business.
The end of your business plan should include any additional information to back up specific elements of your plan. More detailed financial statements, resumes for your management team, patent documentation, credit histories, marketing examples, etc.
- Detailed business plan outline
If you’re looking for greater insight into what goes into specific planning sections, check out the following outline for a business plan. It can help you develop a detailed business plan or provide guidance as to what may be missing from your current plan.
Keep in mind that every business plan will look a bit different because every business is unique. After all, business planning is to help you be more successful, so focus on the sections that are most beneficial to your business and skip the sections that aren’t useful or don’t apply.
To help, we’ve marked sections that are truly optional with an *.
Company purpose / mission statement.
A very brief description of what your business does and/or what its mission is.
Problem We Solve
A summary of the problem you are solving and an identifiable need in the market you are filling.
A description of the product or service you will provide to solve the problem.
A defined customer base who will most likely purchase the product or service.
Briefly describe who is behind the business.
A short overview of revenue goals and profitability timeline.
If you’ve already started selling your product or service, highlight important initial details here.
If you are raising money for your business, describe how much capital you need.
Products & Services
Problem worth solving.
A thorough description of the problem or pain points you intend to solve for your customer base.
A thorough description of your proposed product or service that alleviates the problem for your customer base.
Describe any initial evidence that your customers are excited to spend money on your solution. Initial sales or signed contracts are good signs.
If this is important for your business, outline it here.
If government approval is required for your business, explain the details and timeline.
Future Products and Services*
What products and services might you offer in the future once your initial products and services are successful?
Market Size & Segments
How many potential customers do you have and what potential groups of customers are separated by specific characteristics?
How consumers in your target market tend to act including purchasing habits, financial trends, and any other relevant factors.
The perceived potential increase or decrease in the size of your target market.
If your industry is changing or adjusting over time, describe those changes.
If your business relies on certain important customers, describe who they are here.
A snapshot of the potential market based on the last few sections and how your business strategy works within it.
A list of potential competitors. Identifying the competition isn’t always obvious and it may take some digging on your part.
The strategic advantage(s) that makes your target market more likely to choose you over the competition.
Barriers to Entry*
If there’s anything that makes it more difficult for other people to start competing with you, describe those barriers.
Marketing & Sales
Where do your products or services fit into the market? Are you the low-price leader or the premium option?
Unique value proposition*
What’s special about your offering that makes your customers want to choose it over the competition.
An outline of your marketing and advertising strategy including costs, advertising channels, and goals.
How do you sell your product or service? Self-serve or with a team of sales representatives?
Describe your pricing and how it compares to alternatives in the market.
Describe how your product gets in front of customers. Are you selling in stores and online? Which retailers?
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Location & Facilities
If you have a physical presence, describe where and what it is.
What technology is crucial for your business success?
Equipment & Tools
If special equipment or tools are needed for your business, describe them here.
Sourcing and fulfillment*
If you purchase your products or parts for your products from somewhere else, describe that sourcing and supply chain.
Partners and Resources*
If you have key partners that you work with to make your business a success, describe who they are and what services or products they provide.
Milestones and metrics
A detailed roadmap of specific goals and objectives you plan to achieve will help you manage and steer your business.
Performance measurements that help you gauge the overall performance and health of your business.
Company overview and team
An overview of the legal structure of your business.
Company history and ownership
A summary of your company’s history and how it relates to planning your business.
The team that is starting or running your business and why they are uniquely qualified to make the business a success.
Management team gaps
Key positions that your business will need to fill to make it successful.
Financial plan and forecast
Projected profit and loss.
How much money you will bring in by selling products and/or services and how much profit you will make or lose after accounting for costs and expenses.
Projected cash flow
How and when cash moves in and out of your business. This also includes your overall cash position.
Projected balance sheet
Expected balances for business assets, liabilities, and equity.
Use of funds
If you are raising money either through loans or investment, explain how funds will be used. This is typically meant to be shared with investors or lenders.
A brief explanation of how you intend to eventually exit from your business. This could include selling the business, going public, transitioning the business to a family member/employee, etc.
A repository for any additional information, including charts and graphs, to support your business plan.
Business plan outline FAQ
How do you organize your business plan?
There’s no real established order to business plans, aside from keeping the Executive Summary at the top. As long as you have all of the main business plan components, then the order should reflect your goals.
If this is meant solely for your personal use, lay it out as a roadmap with similar sections grouped together for easy reference. If you’re pitching this to potential investors, lead with the stronger sections to emphasize the pitch. Then if you’re unsure of what order makes sense, then just stick to the outline in this article.
Should you include tables and charts in your business plan?
Every business plan should include bar charts and pie charts to illustrate the numbers. It’s a simple way for you, your team, and investors to visualize and digest complex financial information.
Cash flow is the single most important numerical analysis in a business plan, and a standard cash flow statement or table should never be missing. Most standard business plans also include a sales forecast and income statement (also called profit and loss), and a balance sheet.
How long should your business plan be?
There’s no perfect length for a business plan. A traditional business plan can be anywhere from 10 to 50 pages long depending on how much detail you include in each section. However, as we said before unless you intend to pursue funding, you likely don’t need a lengthy business plan at first.
See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan
Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.
Table of Contents
10 Min. Read
6 Min. Read
Do This One Thing Before You Write Your Business Plan
8 Min. Read
Tools and Resources to Help You Write a Business Plan
3 Min. Read
How to Use TAM, SAM, SOM to Determine Market Size
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Write your business plan
Business plans help you run your business.
A good business plan guides you through each stage of starting and managing your business. You’ll use your business plan as a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your new business. It’s a way to think through the key elements of your business.
Business plans can help you get funding or bring on new business partners. Investors want to feel confident they’ll see a return on their investment. Your business plan is the tool you’ll use to convince people that working with you — or investing in your company — is a smart choice.
Pick a business plan format that works for you
There’s no right or wrong way to write a business plan. What’s important is that your plan meets your needs.
Most business plans fall into one of two common categories: traditional or lean startup.
Traditional business plans are more common, use a standard structure, and encourage you to go into detail in each section. They tend to require more work upfront and can be dozens of pages long.
Lean startup business plans are less common but still use a standard structure. They focus on summarizing only the most important points of the key elements of your plan. They can take as little as one hour to make and are typically only one page.
Traditional business plan
Lean startup plan
Traditional business plan format
You might prefer a traditional business plan format if you’re very detail-oriented, want a comprehensive plan, or plan to request financing from traditional sources.
When you write your business plan, you don’t have to stick to the exact business plan outline. Instead, use the sections that make the most sense for your business and your needs. Traditional business plans use some combination of these nine sections.
Briefly tell your reader what your company is and why it will be successful. Include your mission statement, your product or service, and basic information about your company’s leadership team, employees, and location. You should also include financial information and high-level growth plans if you plan to ask for financing.
Use your company description to provide detailed information about your company. Go into detail about the problems your business solves. Be specific, and list out the consumers, organization, or businesses your company plans to serve.
Explain the competitive advantages that will make your business a success. Are there experts on your team? Have you found the perfect location for your store? Your company description is the place to boast about your strengths.
You'll need a good understanding of your industry outlook and target market. Competitive research will show you what other businesses are doing and what their strengths are. In your market research, look for trends and themes. What do successful competitors do? Why does it work? Can you do it better? Now's the time to answer these questions.
Organization and management
Tell your reader how your company will be structured and who will run it.
Describe the legal structure of your business. State whether you have or intend to incorporate your business as a C or an S corporation, form a general or limited partnership, or if you're a sole proprietor or limited liability company (LLC).
Use an organizational chart to lay out who's in charge of what in your company. Show how each person's unique experience will contribute to the success of your venture. Consider including resumes and CVs of key members of your team.
Service or product line
Describe what you sell or what service you offer. Explain how it benefits your customers and what the product lifecycle looks like. Share your plans for intellectual property, like copyright or patent filings. If you're doing research and development for your service or product, explain it in detail.
Marketing and sales
There's no single way to approach a marketing strategy. Your strategy should evolve and change to fit your unique needs.
Your goal in this section is to describe how you'll attract and retain customers. You'll also describe how a sale will actually happen. You'll refer to this section later when you make financial projections, so make sure to thoroughly describe your complete marketing and sales strategies.
If you're asking for funding, this is where you'll outline your funding requirements. Your goal is to clearly explain how much funding you’ll need over the next five years and what you'll use it for.
Specify whether you want debt or equity, the terms you'd like applied, and the length of time your request will cover. Give a detailed description of how you'll use your funds. Specify if you need funds to buy equipment or materials, pay salaries, or cover specific bills until revenue increases. Always include a description of your future strategic financial plans, like paying off debt or selling your business.
Supplement your funding request with financial projections. Your goal is to convince the reader that your business is stable and will be a financial success.
If your business is already established, include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for the last three to five years. If you have other collateral you could put against a loan, make sure to list it now.
Provide a prospective financial outlook for the next five years. Include forecasted income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. For the first year, be even more specific and use quarterly — or even monthly — projections. Make sure to clearly explain your projections, and match them to your funding requests.
This is a great place to use graphs and charts to tell the financial story of your business.
Use your appendix to provide supporting documents or other materials were specially requested. Common items to include are credit histories, resumes, product pictures, letters of reference, licenses, permits, patents, legal documents, and other contracts.
Example traditional business plans
Before you write your business plan, read the following example business plans written by fictional business owners. Rebecca owns a consulting firm, and Andrew owns a toy company.
Lean startup format
You might prefer a lean startup format if you want to explain or start your business quickly, your business is relatively simple, or you plan to regularly change and refine your business plan.
Lean startup formats are charts that use only a handful of elements to describe your company’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. They’re useful for visualizing tradeoffs and fundamental facts about your company.
There are different ways to develop a lean startup template. You can search the web to find free templates to build your business plan. We discuss nine components of a model business plan here:
Note the other businesses or services you’ll work with to run your business. Think about suppliers, manufacturers, subcontractors, and similar strategic partners.
List the ways your business will gain a competitive advantage. Highlight things like selling direct to consumers, or using technology to tap into the sharing economy.
List any resource you’ll leverage to create value for your customer. Your most important assets could include staff, capital, or intellectual property. Don’t forget to leverage business resources that might be available to women , veterans , Native Americans , and HUBZone businesses .
Make a clear and compelling statement about the unique value your company brings to the market.
Describe how customers will interact with your business. Is it automated or personal? In person or online? Think through the customer experience from start to finish.
Be specific when you name your target market. Your business won’t be for everybody, so it’s important to have a clear sense of whom your business will serve.
List the most important ways you’ll talk to your customers. Most businesses use a mix of channels and optimize them over time.
Will your company focus on reducing cost or maximizing value? Define your strategy, then list the most significant costs you’ll face pursuing it.
Explain how your company will actually make money. Some examples are direct sales, memberships fees, and selling advertising space. If your company has multiple revenue streams, list them all.
Example lean business plan
Before you write your business plan, read this example business plan written by a fictional business owner, Andrew, who owns a toy company.
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How to Write a Business Plan Outline [Examples + Templates]
By Letícia Fonseca , Aug 11, 2023
When venturing into crafting a business plan, the initial hurdle often lies in taking that first step.
So, how can you evade those prolonged hours of staring at a blank page? Initiate your journey with the aid of a business plan outline.
As with any endeavor, an outline serves as the beacon of clarity, illuminating the path to confront even the most formidable tasks. This holds particularly true when composing pivotal documents vital to your triumph, much like a business plan.
Nonetheless, I understand the enormity of a business plan’s scope, which might make the task of outlining it seem daunting. This is precisely why I’ve compiled all the requisite information to facilitate the creation of a business plan outline. No need to break a sweat!
And if you’re seeking further assistance, a business plan maker and readily available business plan templates can offer valuable support in shaping your comprehensive plan.
Read on for answers to all your business plan outline questions or jump ahead for some handy templates.
Click to jump ahead:
What is a business plan outline (and why do you need one), what format should you choose for your business plan outline, what are the key components of a business plan outline.
- Business plan template examples
- Writing tips to ace your outline
A business plan outline is the backbone of your business plan. It contains all the most important information you’ll want to expand on in your full-length plan.
Think of it this way: your outline is a frame for your plan. It provides a high-level idea of what the final plan should look like, what it will include and how all the information will be organized.
Why would you do this extra step? Beyond saving you from blank page syndrome, an outline ensures you don’t leave any essential information out of your plan — you can see all the most important points at a glance and quickly identify any content gaps.
It also serves as a writing guide. Once you know all the sections you want in your plan, you just need to expand on them. Suddenly, you’re “filling in the blanks” as opposed to writing a plan from scratch!
Incidentally, using a business plan template like this one gives you a running head start, too:
Perhaps most importantly, a business plan outline keeps you focused on the essential parts of your document. (Not to mention what matters most to stakeholders and investors.) With an outline, you’ll spend less time worrying about structure or organization and more time perfecting the actual content of your document.
If you’re looking for more general advice, you can read about how to create a business plan here . But if you’re working on outlining your plan, stick with me.
Return to Table of Contents
Most business plans fit into one of two formats.
The format you choose largely depends on three factors: (1) the stage of your business, (2) if you’re presenting the plan to investors and (3) what you want to achieve with your business plan.
Let’s have a closer look at these two formats and why you might choose one over the other.
Traditional business plans are typically long, detailed documents. In many cases, they take up to 50-60 pages, but it’s not uncommon to see plans spanning 100+ pages.
Traditional plans are long because they cover every aspect of your business. They leave nothing out. You’ll find a traditional business plan template with sections like executive summary, company description, target market, market analysis, marketing plan, financial plan, and more. Basically: the more information the merrier.
This business plan template isn’t of a traditional format, but you could expand it into one by duplicating pages:
Due to their high level of detail, traditional formats are the best way to sell your business. They show you’re reliable and have a clear vision for your business’s future.
If you’re planning on presenting your plan to investors and stakeholders, you’ll want to go with a traditional plan format. The more information you include, the fewer doubts and questions you’ll get when you present your plan, so don’t hold back.
Traditional business plans require more detailed outlines before drafting since there’s a lot of information to cover. You’ll want to list all the sections and include bullet points describing what each section should cover.
It’s also a good idea to include all external resources and visuals in your outline, so you don’t have to gather them later.
Lean business plan formats are high level and quick to write. They’re often only one or two pages. Similar to a business plan infographic , they’re scannable and quick to digest, like this template:
This format is often referred to as a “startup” format due to (you guessed it!) many startups using it.
Lean business plans require less detailed outlines. You can include high-level sections and a few lines in each section covering the basics. Since the final plan will only be a page or two, you don’t need to over prepare. Nor will you need a ton of external resources.
Lean plans don’t answer all the questions investors and stakeholders may ask, so if you go this route, make sure it’s the right choice for your business . Companies not yet ready to present to investors will typically use a lean/startup business plan format to get their rough plan on paper and share it internally with their management team.
Here’s another example of a lean business plan format in the form of a financial plan:
Your business plan outline should include all the following sections. The level of detail you choose to go into will depend on your intentions for your plan (sharing with stakeholders vs. internal use), but you’ll want every section to be clear and to the point.
1. Executive summary
The executive summary gives a high-level description of your company, product or service. This section should include a mission statement, your company description, your business’s primary goal, and the problem it aims to solve. You’ll want to state how your business can solve the problem and briefly explain what makes you stand out (your competitive advantage).
Having an executive summary is essential to selling your business to stakeholders , so it should be as clear and concise as possible. Summarize your business in a few sentences in a way that will hook the reader (or audience) and get them invested in what you have to say next. In other words, this is your elevator pitch.
2. Product and services description
This is where you should go into more detail about your product or service. Your product is the heart of your business, so it’s essential this section is easy to grasp. After all, if people don’t know what you’re selling, you’ll have a hard time keeping them engaged!
Expand on your description in the executive summary, going into detail about the problem your customers face and how your product/service will solve it. If you have various products or services, go through all of them in equal detail.
3. Target market and/or Market analysis
A market analysis is crucial for placing your business in a larger context and showing investors you know your industry. This section should include market research on your prospective customer demographic including location, age range, goals and motivations.
You can even include detailed customer personas as a visual aid — these are especially useful if you have several target demographics. You want to showcase your knowledge of your customer, who exactly you’re selling to and how you can fulfill their needs.
Be sure to include information on the overall target market for your product, including direct and indirect competitors and how your industry is performing. If your competitors have strengths you want to mimic or weaknesses you want to exploit, this is the place to record that information.
4. Organization and management
You can think of this as a “meet the team” section — this is where you should go into depth on your business’s structure from management to legal and HR. If there are people bringing unique skills or experience to the table (I’m sure there are!), you should highlight them in this section.
The goal here is to showcase why your team is the best to run your business. Investors want to know you’re unified, organized and reliable. This is also a potential opportunity to bring more humanity to your business plan and showcase the faces behind the ideas and product.
5. Marketing and sales
Now that you’ve introduced your product and team, you need to explain how you’re going to sell it. Give a detailed explanation of your sales and marketing strategy, including pricing, timelines for launching your product and advertising.
This is a major section of your plan and can even live as a separate document for your marketing and sales teams. Here are some marketing plan templates to help you get started .
Make sure you have research or analysis to back up your decisions — if you want to do paid ads on LinkedIn to advertise your product, include a brief explanation as to why that is the best channel for your business.
6. Financial projections and funding request
The end of your plan is where you’ll look to the future and how you think your business will perform financially. Your financial plan should include results from your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow projections.
State your funding requirements and what you need to realize the business. Be extremely clear about how you plan to use the funding and when you expect investors will see returns.
If you aren’t presenting to potential investors, you can skip this part, but it’s something to keep in mind should you seek funding in the future. Covering financial projections and the previous five components is essential at the stage of business formation to ensure everything goes smoothly moving forward.
Any extra visual aids, receipts, paperwork or charts will live here. Anything that may be relevant to your plan should be included as reference e.g. your cash flow statement (or other financial statements). You can format your appendix in whatever way you think is best — as long as it’s easy for readers to find what they’re looking for, you’ve done your job!
Typically, the best way to start your outline is to list all these high-level sections. Then, you can add bullet points outlining what will go in each section and the resources you’ll need to write them. This should give you a solid starting point for your full-length plan.
Business plan outline templates
Looking for a shortcut? Our business plan templates are basically outlines in a box!
While your outline likely won’t go into as much detail, these templates are great examples of how to organize your sections.
Traditional format templates
A strong template can turn your long, dense business plan into an engaging, easy-to-read document. There are lots to choose from, but here are just a few ideas to inspire you…
You can duplicate pages and use these styles for a traditional outline, or start with a lean outline as you build your business plan out over time:
Lean format templates
For lean format outlines, a simpler ‘ mind map ’ style is a good bet. With this style, you can get ideas down fast and quickly turn them into one or two-page plans. Plus, because they’re shorter, they’re easy to share with your team.
Writing tips to ace your business plan outline
Business plans are complex documents, so if you’re still not sure how to write your outline, don’t worry! Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when drafting your business plan outline:
- Ask yourself why you’re writing an outline. Having a clear goal for your outline can help keep you on track as you write. Everything you include in your plan should contribute to your goal. If it doesn’t, it probably doesn’t need to be in there.
- Keep it clear and concise. Whether you’re writing a traditional or lean format business plan, your outline should be easy to understand. Choose your words wisely and avoid unnecessary preambles or padding language. The faster you get to the point, the easier your plan will be to read.
- Add visual aids. No one likes reading huge walls of text! Make room in your outline for visuals, data and charts. This keeps your audience engaged and helps those who are more visual learners. Psst, infographics are great for this.
- Make it collaborative. Have someone (or several someones) look it over before finalizing your outline. If you have an established marketing / sales / finance team, have them look it over too. Getting feedback at the outline stage can help you avoid rewrites and wasted time down the line.
If this is your first time writing a business plan outline, don’t be too hard on yourself. You might not get it 100% right on the first try, but with these tips and the key components listed above, you’ll have a strong foundation. Remember, done is better than perfect.
Create a winning business plan by starting with a detailed, actionable outline
The best way to learn is by doing. So go ahead, get started on your business plan outline. As you develop your plan, you’ll no doubt learn more about your business and what’s important for success along the way.
A clean, compelling template is a great way to get a head start on your outline. After all, the sections are already separated and defined for you!
Explore Venngage’s business plan templates for one that suits your needs. Many are free to use and there are premium templates available for a small monthly fee. Happy outlining!
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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step
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1. Write an executive summary
2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. add additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.
A business plan is a document that outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them. A strong, detailed plan will provide a road map for the business’s next three to five years, and you can share it with potential investors, lenders or other important partners.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing your business plan.
» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .
This is the first page of your business plan. Think of it as your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services offered, and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.
Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.
» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps
Next up is your company description, which should contain information like:
Your business’s registered name.
Address of your business location .
Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.
Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.
Lastly, it should cover the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.
» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan
The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out exactly what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the long term.
If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain why you have a clear need for the funds, how the financing will help your business grow, and how you plan to achieve your growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity presented and how the loan or investment will grow your company.
For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch the new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.
In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.
You should include the following:
An explanation of how your product or service works.
The pricing model for your product or service.
The typical customers you serve.
Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.
Your sales strategy.
Your distribution strategy.
You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.
Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.
Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.
» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing
If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.
You may also include metrics such as:
Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.
Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.
Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.
This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.
» NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:
The best business checking accounts .
The best business credit cards .
The best accounting software .
This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.
Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.
Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.
List any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere, such as resumes of key employees, licenses, equipment leases, permits, patents, receipts, bank statements, contracts and personal and business credit history. If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.
How Much Do You Need?
Here are some tips to help your business plan stand out:
Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business loan at a local bank, the loan officer likely knows your market pretty well. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of loan approval.
Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors, taking their mind off your business and putting it on the mistakes you made. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.
Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. You can search for a mentor or find a local SCORE chapter for more guidance.
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.
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How to Write a Business Plan Outline
A step-by-step guide to your best first impression
Susan Ward wrote about small businesses for The Balance for 18 years. She has run an IT consulting firm and designed and presented courses on how to promote small businesses.
Business Plan Outline
- Organize Your Business Plan
- Title Page and Table of Contents
- Appearance Matters
Adrian Mangel / The Balance
Are you an entrepreneur looking to turn your idea into a business? Do you have a business plan? There is some debate about whether new businesses need a business plan when just starting out, especially if they're not asking for money. According to Carl Schramm, author of "Burn the Business Plan," many large corporations didn't have business plans when they first started:
"If you look at all our older major corporations—U.S. Steel, General Electric, IBM, American Airlines—and then you look at our newer companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, none of these companies ever had a business plan before they got started."
The U.S. Small Business Administration takes a middle-of-the-road approach, recognizing that not all businesses need a comprehensive plan. Instead, it suggests that smaller businesses and startups use a "leaner" and more streamlined version to outline the essentials and highlight strengths. Lean or long, your business plan should cover the basics.
The outline below offers a brief overview of what each section of your business plan should cover. It is not a definitive guide, as you may wish to expand or combine sections, or add extra detail in a way that is customized to your particular venture. Keep in mind the idea is to present your venture in the most attractive and professional way possible.
Though it appears first in the business plan, the executive summary is a section that is usually written last, as it encapsulates the entire plan. It provides an introduction and high-level overview of your business, including your mission statement and details about what product(s) and/or service(s) you offer.
Since the executive summary is your business's first impression, it's critical that it be outstanding, especially if you're seeking funding.
Provide information about the business you're starting, including what sort of problem your products/services solve and your most likely buyers. You can also expand this description by offering an overview of the industry that your business will be a part of, including trends, major players, and estimated sales. This section should give a positive perspective on your place within the industry. Set your business apart from the competition by describing your or your team's expertise, as well as your competitive advantage.
The market analysis is a crucial section of the business plan, as it identifies your best customers or clients. To create a compelling market analysis, thoroughly research the primary target market for your products/services, including geographic location, demographics, your target market's needs, and how these needs are currently being met. Your purpose here is to demonstrate that you have a solid and thorough understanding of the people you are planning to sell your products/services to so that you can make informed predictions about how much they might buy, and convince other interested parties.
In preparing to write the competitive analysis section, you'll learn how successful your direct and indirect competitors are in the marketplace. This section of your business plan includes an assessment of your competition's strengths and weaknesses, any advantages they may have, and the unique qualities that make your business stand out from the competition. It also includes an analysis of how you will overcome any barriers to entry in your chosen market.
The primary goal here is to distinguish your business from the competition, but a strong competitive analysis will be able to persuade potential funding sources that your business can compete in the marketplace successfully . A useful tool to help articulate this section of the plan is sometimes referred to as a SWOT analysis, or a "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats" assessment.
Sales and Marketing Plan
The sales and marketing section offers a detailed explanation of your sales strategy, pricing plan, proposed advertising and promotion activities, and all the benefits of your products/services. This is where to outline your business's unique selling proposition, describe how you plan to get your products/services to market, and how you'll persuade people to buy them.
When developing your unique selling proposition, your goal is to answer the question: Why should people buy from me over my competition?
Ownership and Management Plan
This section outlines your business's legal structure and management resources, including the internal management team, external management resources, and human resources needs. Include any experience or special skills that each person in your management team brings to the business. If the goal of your business plan is to get funding, it's wise to include an advisory board as a management resource.
The operating plan offers detailed information about how your business will be run. It provides your business's physical location, descriptions of facilities and equipment, types of employees needed, inventory requirements, suppliers, and any other applicable operating details that pertain to your precise type of business, such as a description of the manufacturing process, or specialty items needed in day-to-day operations.
Starting a business is usually about making a profit, so it's important to demonstrate that you have a solid sense of your current finances, funding needs, as well as projected income. In the financial section , provide a description of your funding requirements, your detailed financial statements, and a financial statement analysis. This part of the business plan is where you present the three main financial documents of any business: the balance sheet, the income statement, and the cash flow statement, or in the case of a new business, a cash flow projection.
Appendices and Exhibits
In addition to the sections outlined above, at the end of your business plan, include any additional information that will help establish the credibility of your business idea, or bolster your potential success. You may choose to include marketing studies, photographs of your product, permits, patents and other intellectual property rights, credit histories, résumés, marketing materials, and any contracts or other legal agreements pertinent to your business.
How to Organize Your Business Plan
There is no set order to your business plan, the only exception being that the executive summary should always come first. Beyond that, the order depends on your goals.
If your purpose for writing a business plan is to help you organize, gather information, and create a roadmap, organize it in the way that is most intuitive to your process. You might group similar content together, such as all the material relating to markets (industry overview, marketing analysis, competitive analysis, and marketing plan).
If your goal is to seek funding, organize the plan based on what your audience values, and lead with the best, most convincing material first. If you have a stellar group of people serving on your new business's advisory board, put that section directly after the executive summary. Highlighting your new business's strengths will encourage your reader to continue reading your plan.
Add a Title Page and Table of Contents
After completing all the sections, don't forget to insert a title page at the beginning of the plan followed by a table of contents listing each section with page numbers.
The Appearance of Your Business Plan Matters
If you're writing a business plan as an organizational exercise—for your eyes only—feel free to get loose with the style and organization; the simple act of putting all your ideas into a practical template may be a valuable brainstorming tool. However, if you're looking for funding or investors, the business plan is a formal document, so it should look like one. Every aspect of your business plan should impress your potential funding source.
Pay attention to margins and formatting; make sure it's spell-checked and grammatically sound. If you're not good at this, pay a professional to do it.
Hiring a professional to design, edit, or review your business plan may be a good idea, regardless of how skilled you are; a fresh pair of eyes can often spot issues that the original writer missed.
If you need printed copies, get them professionally printed and bound. Keep in mind that you may only have a short amount of time to sell your idea, and first impressions pack a powerful punch.
How Long Should a Business Plan Be?
A good business plan can't be pinned to a minimum or maximum page count. This is because the right length depends on your business. Your business plan should be brief enough to convey the essentials without redundancy or fluff content, yet long enough to demonstrate to your audience that your business is well-researched and fully considered. A simple plan for a modest startup might be around 40 pages, while a more complex business plan may need 100 pages to convey an ambitious financing strategy, product diagrams, industry data, or the full scope of the venture. The goal is to allow for a full explanation of the pertinent information about your business, presented in a concise and well-organized fashion.
Knowledge@Wharton. " Why Creating a Business Plan Is a ‘Waste of Time’ ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
Corporate Finance Institute. " Barriers to Entry ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " SBA Recommended Business Plans and Length ."
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The Perfect Business Plan Layout & Outline for a Great Plan
Written by Dave Lavinsky
The layout of a business plan is not an area where great imagination and creativity is needed or recommended. It should be a more or less straightforward task to layout or outline your plan, using industry standard practices which funders have become familiar with through thousands of business plans. Use the following steps to implement this standard layout and save creativity for your business idea within the plan.
Download our Ultimate Business Plan Template here >
Start by getting your hands on a good business plan template. This will speed your time to completing your plan. Business plans generally start with an executive summary and company overview, move through background research and market analysis, customers, and competition, describe the company’s intended methods in the marketing plan and operation plan, show who’s on the management team , and conclude with the financial plan and appendices featuring full financial statements.
Use the business plan template to guide your understanding of each section and to see how they relate to each other. Don’t assume that any one example should dominate your understanding unless it comes from an extremely trusted source with a reputation for business plan expertise and success.
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Sample Business Plan Outline
1. executive summary.
Your executive summary is the most important part of your plan. It comes at the beginning and is the first thing investors or lenders will read. If they aren’t excited by what they see, they’ll unfortunately stop reading. So make sure your executive summary gives a quick overview of what your company does and explains, in an exciting tone, why your company will be successful.
2. Company Description
In your Company Description, provide background on your company. When did you incorporate? What have you accomplished to date? Here you will let readers know the history of your business.
3. Market Analysis
In the Market Analysis section of your business plan provide background on the industry in which you operate. Conduct market research to make this section concrete and compelling. Answer questions such as: how big is your industry? what trends are affecting it?
4. Customer Analysis
Here you will document your target market. How are they? How many are there? What are their likes and dislikes? Ideally you can provide comprehensive demographic and psychographic profiles of your target customers and show how your company’s product or service are ideally suited to their needs.
5. Competitor Analysis
In this section of your business plan, document your key competitors. Explain their strengths and their weaknesses. Remember that investors and lenders expect you to have direct competitors. They just want to feel confident that despite them, you can still achieve lasting success.
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6. Marketing Plan
Your marketing strategy should primarily focus on the promotional methods you will use to attract new customers. Will you use search engine marketing? Will you employ radio ads? Document each of the promotional methods you will use.
7. Operations Plan
This section of your plan should discuss the key roles that your company must expertly perform and your strategies for operational excellence. You must also outline the long-term milestones your company plans to accomplish and the key dates for each.
8. Management Team
In your Management Team section, detail the key members of your team. Document their backgrounds and how their past experiences make them well suited to succeed in your organization.
9. Financial Plan
Here you will layout the key assumptions used in creating your financial model and then provide topline results from your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow projections. If you are seeking funding, document the amount of funding you seek and the key uses for it.
In your Appendix, you will provide supporting information such as employee or customer agreements, store layouts, etc. You must also include your full, five-year financial model and projections.
By following the above business plan outline, you will ensure your plan is in the format investors and lenders expect.
OR, Let Us Write a Business Plan For You
Since 1999, Growthink has developed business plans for thousands of companies who have gone on to achieve tremendous success.
Click here to see how Growthink’s business plan consulting services can create your business plan for you.
Business Page Layout FAQs
How do i lay out a business plan.
Laying out a business plan is not, and should not, be complicated. You can lay out your business plan using our sample business plan outline discussed here . An organized business plan structure is key to a successful business plan.
What is a business plan outline?
A business plan outline allows you to organize your plan and present it in the format that’s most compelling to readers. Also, by starting with your outline, it’s easier to add the required information into the right sections of your business plan.
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Free Ultimate Guide On Writing A Business Plan
13 Min Read
Imagine this: You have a brilliant business idea. You scribble it down and get to the research immediately. Once you have identified competitors and completed the market research. It is time to reach the right investors with a compelling plan based on an effective business plan outline.
You are all flared up to start a business requirement document. But that is when a question like “how do I start writing?” becomes the roadblock.
This is not just a challenge you face alone; many with the same flare to start a business are subject to the same bottleneck.
The question is, “How do you start building a business plan without a hitch?”
It is simple, you need an outline that helps you create a business plan in the most engaging way possible for investors. To help you create your business plan outline, we’ve laid out a few steps.
But first, let’s understand what it is and why you need to have a business plan outline.
What is a Business Plan Outline?
Why write a business plan outline, how to write a business plan outline, build a complete business plan outline now.
A business plan outline is a framework that helps you cover the essential information around your business idea. Your outline helps define the results of your market analysis, competitor analysis, products/services, etc.
The outline also helps you plan out the best ways to present your idea and to-be-used resources in front of the investors. Briefly, a business plan outline enables you to present your ideas convincingly.
The most effective way to convince any investor about your business idea is to help them get answers to these three critical questions:
- What does your business stand for?
- How is your idea unique compared to competitors?
- What is in it for them?
Your business plan can help you answer these questions.
To avoid such adverse reactions, it is important that you create an outline first. Further, add your researched information in that format to better present your idea to investors.
Now that it is clear why an outline is crucial to writing a business plan, it is time we see what it should cover. Most experts online will encourage you to start with a table of contents or an index. But you can skip this step if you are using a knowledge base.
With Knowledge base software, you can display a table of contents throughout the plan. They can access any point in question at any time. Except, if you are not planning to make your outline virtually using an internal knowledge base solution, it is advised to create an index first.
An index will help you list all the pointers you aim to cover in your business plan. It makes it easier for investors to go back and refer to the data they’ve already read during the review process.
Create an Engaging Executive Summary
First impressions are lasting impressions
No one wishes to take this expression lightly. But here is a fact: there is no way investors will continue reading your business plan if it fails to create an impact that encourages them to read the plan further.
Your executive summary is a critical factor for investors to decide if your project is worth financing or not.
What is an executive summary?
The executive summary is mostly written once you are done writing your entire plan. That’s because it summarizes and offers an introduction to your plan.
Here’s a list of questions your executive summary must answer:
- Who is your target audience ?
- What do you plan to sell?
- How will your offerings evolve over time?
- How much should investors expect to gain post-financing your business?
- What is the initial investment you seek to get your business started?
Describe Your Business with a Detailed Description
The business plan is incomplete without a detailed description. It is similar to an “about us” section. Explain what your business is and why you decided to take up the project. The more detailed it gets the better.
However, it is recommended that you cover sections like:
- Company background & history: Explain what factors compelled you to start this business. Also, explore when you thought of this idea and what was the source of its inspiration.
- Structure & ownership: Let your investors learn about other shareholders who plan to help you gain the necessary resources to build the planned product or service. Let investors know where your company is registered and if you have any legal structure in place. This will help them check your eligibility as a potential business investment.
- Location: Help investors know where you plan to open the office. Make sure to include a map that helps them understand where the location is and what could be the possible expenses to get the needed resources to the location.
- Experience: It is not about your experience and credibility in the market. You also need to stress the experience of those who will help you execute your plan. Let the investors understand that you are backed by experienced individuals in the sector. Also, do not hesitate to share skill gap-related concerns. The sooner they are tackled the better.
- Initiatives & cause: If there is any initiative you wish to support through your business, let your investors learn about it fast. You must stand by a cause that you wish to donate to or support through your business. While this will help you build a positive impression on investors, it is good for branding as well.
Bring Together Your Market Analysis
Market analysis is quite complex. You need to figure out and confirm a lot of factors before you settle on a business plan. To help you get started with the outline of your market analysis section, we’ve listed a few points below.
- Target audience: This is no doubt the first aspect that investors would be interested in learning about. Therefore, it would be a great idea to discuss your target audience first when you start with the market analysis section. As you explain the target audience, make sure you explain why you aim to target them and how will this audience benefit from your offerings.
- Demographics: Share details about the specific demographic you wish to target. These details can be inclusive of age group, location, gender, and more. With a detailed insight into the demographics, they can confirm if you are going to target the right audience or not.
- Segmentation: Once done describing the details on demographics, it will be easier for you to explain which segment you plan to target. You can also segment this audience further into groups of potential buyers and those who will bring more value to your sales.
- The Need: Explain how your products and services will match the growing need of the customers. You also need to explain the possible reasons that encourage customers to make the purchase and if it is something that they will need regularly.
- Market Regulations: Another factor that will need to be discussed at length is market regulation. If you identify which market regulation applies to your business, it will be easier for investors to understand the possible ways you will comply with them.
Identify Your Market Competitors with a Competitive Analysis
Let investors know that you are not behind in your competitive analysis. This section will be a terrific way to introduce your direct and indirect competitors. Elaborate about their strengths, weaknesses, and the USP that helps them stand out in the market.
Other than these crucial factors, you should not miss answering questions like:
- Who is this competitor ? (Name, brand visibility, and where they are located)
- How big is this competitor? (Number of employees, rough customer count, and more)
- Who is their target audience? (Demographics and segmentation)
- What do they offer? (Discuss unique characteristics, services, products, pricing, and more)
Build an Actionable Sales & Marketing Plan
This is a dedicated section to display your numbers. Here is a list of things you can add.
- Milestones: It would be a good start if you show investors the goals plan to achieve . Remember that if they are relevant, achievable, and measurable according to the resources you plan to locate in the business process, the easier it will be to convince investors of your business.
- Risks & Mitigations: Both you and the investors can anticipate risks or roadblocks you may face while bringing the business plan to life. While you do share the possible risks your business might get subjected to in the future, make sure to identify the best ways to overcome them. This will help you increase the investor’s confidence in your idea and foresight.
- Marketing plan: USP is indeed a crucial aspect of any marketing plan. However, that is not the only thing you need to focus on when trying to reach out to your audience. Marketing is about the reach you have once you start as a brand. It is also about identifying the best channels to help you reach as many potential customers as possible. You also need to show what your competitors are doing as they take a step forward to become a brand. More importantly, you need to decide on the marketing initiatives and their stakeholders who will help you implement them successfully.
- Profits: Predicting your sales target is important for any investor. By predicting how many sales you make in a week, month, or quarter, investors can get an idea of when you will start making profits. To predict profits, you need to arrive at the right pricing that gives you a competitive edge over others while being rational about it.
Inform Investors About Operations Plan
In this part of the business plan outline, you need to help investors understand how your organization is planning to function. Here is what you need to include in this section.
- Employment plan: Share your employment plan which is divided into phases. Let investors know how many people you plan to hire in the first phase of your business. Initially, you cannot go all out. Decide task priorities and the resources needed to build a base for your business. Also, highlight the possibility of increasing the workforce as your business grows.
- Suppliers: Let us not forget the suppliers in the operation plan . Give details about the suppliers you plan to work with. Investors can check if the suppliers are reliable sources or not.
- Assets: It is also important that you inform investors about the assets you plan to use or that are crucial for the functioning of your business. Be specific about these assets and explain how they will play a role in the development of your products and services. On top of that, explain how you aim to protect assets or intellectual property that streamlines the functioning of the business.
Show a Realistic Financial Plan
A financial plan plays a crucial role in the decision-making process. Investors need to understand how they plan to allocate the capital received. As you give a bifurcation of the capital in the financial plan, here is a list of things you can start focusing on.
- An Initial/Start-up funding: The first thing you need to cover in this outline is the initial funding you will require to give your business a kick-start. Explain the fund’s allocation and how shareholders may benefit from this initial funding.
- Cost Structure: Your cost structure needs to identify operational risks that a business may potentially face. You can use both breakeven and operating leverage that will allow investors to evaluate operational risks hassle-free.
- Financial Assumptions: Let us not take investors’ assumptions about your financial plan lightly. If you are proposing a business plan for starting your app, the development cost may keep as you grow the app. However, this assumption may not be true in the case of all app-based business ideas. Make sure you identify the assumptions around the revenue you may earn and the cost of implementation. By doing this, you can clarify a lot of doubts that investors may have about the funds you may require to keep the business running.
- Forecast: Another important aspect of your financial plan is to bring the sales forecast to light. You need to include all the key aspects of your business plan outlines like competitor analysis, marketing strategy, sales plan, and more. These crucial factors will help investors understand why you are projecting a certain number of sales and profits in the plan. You can share a forecast for the next three to five years with them.
Prove Why Your Business is a Credible Investment
This is a popular section that goes by the name ‘Appendix.’ This section is your savior. There are a lot of things that you cannot add to other sections of the plan.
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Creating your business plan outline can be confusing, especially if you are making one for the first time. Sadly, a lot of business ideas get rejected by investors because they fail to deliver the right message, or they feel lacking in presentation.
But fret not. Our business plan outline will allow you to bring your idea to life. This detailed and well-structured approach helps you expand on your business values, what you know about the market and your competitors, and more. That is not all.
You can even find ways to add all the additional information you have found during the research and ideation process that helps investors arrive at the right decision.
Concisely, it will work as a guide that will help investors know your idea better and assist your team to align with your direction of work.
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Upmetrics is the #1 business planning software that helps entrepreneurs and business owners create investment-ready business plans using AI. We regularly share business planning insights on our blog. Check out the Upmetrics blog for such interesting reads. Read more
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