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What Is a Business Plan?
Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, common elements of a business plan, how often should a business plan be updated, the bottom line, business plan: what it is, what's included, and how to write one.
Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
A business plan is a document that details a company's goals and how it intends to achieve them. Business plans can be of benefit to both startups and well-established companies. For startups, a business plan can be essential for winning over potential lenders and investors. Established businesses can find one useful for staying on track and not losing sight of their goals. This article explains what an effective business plan needs to include and how to write one.
- A business plan is a document describing a company's business activities and how it plans to achieve its goals.
- Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
- For established companies, a business plan can help keep the executive team focused on and working toward the company's short- and long-term objectives.
- There is no single format that a business plan must follow, but there are certain key elements that most companies will want to include.
Investopedia / Ryan Oakley
Any new business should have a business plan in place prior to beginning operations. In fact, banks and venture capital firms often want to see a business plan before they'll consider making a loan or providing capital to new businesses.
Even if a business isn't looking to raise additional money, a business plan can help it focus on its goals. A 2017 Harvard Business Review article reported that, "Entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than the otherwise identical nonplanning entrepreneurs."
Ideally, a business plan should be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect any goals that have been achieved or that may have changed. An established business that has decided to move in a new direction might create an entirely new business plan for itself.
There are numerous benefits to creating (and sticking to) a well-conceived business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and highlighting any potential obstacles to success. A company might also share its business plan with trusted outsiders to get their objective feedback. In addition, a business plan can help keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and priorities.
Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they often have some of the same basic elements, as we describe below.
While it's a good idea to provide as much detail as necessary, it's also important that a business plan be concise enough to hold a reader's attention to the end.
While there are any number of templates that you can use to write a business plan, it's best to try to avoid producing a generic-looking one. Let your plan reflect the unique personality of your business.
Many business plans use some combination of the sections below, with varying levels of detail, depending on the company.
The length of a business plan can vary greatly from business to business. Regardless, it's best to fit the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and attached as appendices.
These are some of the most common elements in many business plans:
- Executive summary: This section introduces the company and includes its mission statement along with relevant information about the company's leadership, employees, operations, and locations.
- Products and services: Here, the company should describe the products and services it offers or plans to introduce. That might include details on pricing, product lifespan, and unique benefits to the consumer. Other factors that could go into this section include production and manufacturing processes, any relevant patents the company may have, as well as proprietary technology . Information about research and development (R&D) can also be included here.
- Market analysis: A company needs to have a good handle on the current state of its industry and the existing competition. This section should explain where the company fits in, what types of customers it plans to target, and how easy or difficult it may be to take market share from incumbents.
- Marketing strategy: This section can describe how the company plans to attract and keep customers, including any anticipated advertising and marketing campaigns. It should also describe the distribution channel or channels it will use to get its products or services to consumers.
- Financial plans and projections: Established businesses can include financial statements, balance sheets, and other relevant financial information. New businesses can provide financial targets and estimates for the first few years. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making.
The best business plans aren't generic ones created from easily accessed templates. A company should aim to entice readers with a plan that demonstrates its uniqueness and potential for success.
2 Types of Business Plans
Business plans can take many forms, but they are sometimes divided into two basic categories: traditional and lean startup. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the more common of the two.
- Traditional business plans : These plans tend to be much longer than lean startup plans and contain considerably more detail. As a result they require more work on the part of the business, but they can also be more persuasive (and reassuring) to potential investors.
- Lean startup business plans : These use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans are short—as short as one page—and provide only the most basic detail. If a company wants to use this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or a lender requests it.
Why Do Business Plans Fail?
A business plan is not a surefire recipe for success. The plan may have been unrealistic in its assumptions and projections to begin with. Markets and the overall economy might change in ways that couldn't have been foreseen. A competitor might introduce a revolutionary new product or service. All of this calls for building some flexibility into your plan, so you can pivot to a new course if needed.
How frequently a business plan needs to be revised will depend on the nature of the business. A well-established business might want to review its plan once a year and make changes if necessary. A new or fast-growing business in a fiercely competitive market might want to revise it more often, such as quarterly.
What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?
The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers to give a quick explanation of its business. For example, a brand-new company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide yet.
Sections can include: a value proposition ; the company's major activities and advantages; resources such as staff, intellectual property, and capital; a list of partnerships; customer segments; and revenue sources.
A business plan can be useful to companies of all kinds. But as a company grows and the world around it changes, so too should its business plan. So don't think of your business plan as carved in granite but as a living document designed to evolve with your business.
Harvard Business Review. " Research: Writing a Business Plan Makes Your Startup More Likely to Succeed ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
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Nine reasons why you need a business plan
Building a great business plan helps you plan, strategize and succeed. Presented by Chase for Business .
Making the decision to create a new business is an exciting yet stressful experience. Starting a business involves many tasks and obstacles, so it’s important to focus before you take action. A solid business plan can provide direction, help you attract investors and ensure you maintain momentum.
No matter what industry you plan on going into, a business plan is the first step for any successful enterprise. Building your business plan helps you figure out where you want your business to go and identify the necessary steps to get you there. This is a key document for your company to both guide your actions and track your progress.
What is the purpose of a business plan?
Think of a business plan like a roadmap. It enables you to solve problems and make key business decisions, such as marketing and competitive analysis, customer and market analysis and logistics and operations plans.
It can also help you organize your thoughts and goals, as well as give you a better idea of how your company will work. Good planning is often the difference between success and failure.
Here are nine reasons your company needs a business plan.
1. Prove your idea is viable
Through the process of writing a business plan, you can assess whether your company will be successful. Understanding market dynamics, as well as competitors, will help determine if your idea is viable.
This is also the time to develop financial projections for your business plan, like estimated startup costs, a profit and loss forecast, a break-even analysis and a cash flow statement . By taking time to investigate the viability of your idea, you can build goals and strategies to support your path to success.
A proper business plan proves to all interested parties—including potential investors, customers, employees, partners and most importantly yourself — that you are serious about your business.
2. Set important goals
As a business owner, the bulk of your time will mostly likely be spent managing day-to-day tasks. As a result, it might be hard to find time after you launch your business to set goals and milestones. Writing a business plan allows you to lay out significant goals for yourself ahead of time for three or even five years down the road. Create both short- and long-term business goals.
3. Reduce potential risks
Prevent your business from falling victim to unexpected dangers by researching before you break ground. A business plan opens your eyes to potential risks that your business could face. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions that may need research and analysis to answer. This is also good practice in how your business would actually manage issues when they arise. Incorporate a contingency plan that identifies risks and how you would respond to them effectively.
The most common reasons businesses fail include:
- Lack of capital
- Lack of market impact or need
- Unresearched pricing (too high or low)
- Explosive growth that drains all your capital
- Stiff competition
Lack of capital is the most prevalent reason why businesses fail. To best alleviate this problem, take time to determine how your business will generate revenue. Build a comprehensive model to help mitigate future risks and long-term pain points. This can be turned into a tool to manage growth and expansion.
4. Secure investments
Whether you’re planning to apply for an SBA loan , build a relationship with angel investors or seek venture capital funding, you need more than just an elevator pitch to get funding. All credible investors will want to review your business plan. Although investors will focus on the financial aspects of the plan, they will also want to see if you’ve spent time researching your industry, developed a viable product or service and created a strong marketing strategy.
While building your business plan, think about how much raised capital you need to get your idea off the ground. Determine exactly how much funding you’ll need and what you will use it for. This is essential for raising and employing capital.
5. Allot resources and plan purchases
You will have many investments to make at the launch of your business, such as product and services development, new technology, hiring, operations, sales and marketing. Resource planning is an important part of your business plan. It gives you an idea of how much you’ll need to spend on resources and it ensures your business will manage those resources effectively.
A business plan provides clarity about necessary assets and investment for each item. A good business plan can also determine when it is feasible to expand to a larger store or workspace.
In your plan, include research on new products and services, where you can buy reliable equipment and what technologies you may need. Allocate capital and plan how you’ll fund major purchases, such as with a Chase small business checking account or business credit card .
6. Build your team
From seasoned executives to skilled labor, a compelling business plan can help you attract top-tier talent, ideally inspiring management and employees long after hiring. Business plans include an overview of your executive team as well as the different roles you need filled immediately and further down the line.
Small businesses often employ specialized consultants, contractors and freelancers for individual tasks such as marketing, accounting and legal assistance. Sharing a business plan helps the larger team work collectively in the same direction.
This will also come into play when you begin working with any new partners. As a new business, a potential partner may ask to see your business plan. Building partnerships takes time and money, and with a solid business plan you have the opportunity to attract and work with the type of partners your new business needs.
7. Share your vision
When you start a business, it's easy to assume you'll be available to guide your team. A business plan helps your team and investors understand your vision for the company. Your plan will outline your goals and can help your team make decisions or take action on your behalf. Share your business plan with employees to align your full staff toward a collective goal or objective for the company. Consider employee and stakeholder ownership as a compelling and motivating force.
8. Develop a marketing strategy
A marketing strategy details how you will reach your customers and build brand awareness. The clearer your brand positioning is to investors, customers, partners and employees, the more successful your business will be.
Important questions to consider as you build your marketing strategy include:
- What industry segments are we pursuing?
- What is the value proposition of the products or services we plan to offer?
- Who are our customers?
- How will we retain our customers and keep them engaged with our products or services and marketing?
- What is our advertising budget?
- What price will we charge?
- What is the overall look and feel of our brand? What are our brand guidelines?
- Will we need to hire marketing experts to help us create our brand?
- Who are our competitors? What marketing strategies have worked (or not worked) for them?
With a thoughtful marketing strategy integrated into your business plan, your company goals are significantly more in reach.
9. Focus your energy
Your business plan determines which areas of your business to focus on while also avoiding possible distractions. It provides a roadmap for critical tradeoffs and resource allocation.
As a business owner, you will feel the urge to solve all of your internal and customers’ problems, but it is important to maintain focus. Keep your priorities at the top of your mind as you set off to build your company.
As a small business owner, writing a business plan should be one of your first priorities. Read our checklist for starting a business, and learn how to take your business from a plan to reality. When you’re ready to get started, talk with a Chase business banker to open a Chase business checking or savings account today.
For Informational/Educational Purposes Only: The views expressed in this article may differ from other employees and departments of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Views and strategies described may not be appropriate for everyone and are not intended as specific advice/recommendation for any individual. You should carefully consider your needs and objectives before making any decisions and consult the appropriate professional(s). Outlooks and past performance are not guarantees of future results.
JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. Member FDIC. Equal Opportunity Lender, ©2023 JPMorgan Chase & Co
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What are the advantages and disadvantages of a business plan?
Almost every business starts with a business plan. These documents are used to map out the steps you want to take to get your business off the ground. However, do these strategy documents work for all businesses?
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an investor, business plans are considered an essential part of starting a new business . For business owners and other stakeholders, it acts as a manual that can be used to chart a business’ success. Similarly, business plans can generate confidence, helping to convince potential lenders that investment is a risk worth taking.
However, business plans can also be expensive and time-consuming to create. Additionally, there is also no guarantee that a business will succeed just because a sound plan has been put in place.
To help you decide if a business plan would benefit your new venture, this guide runs through the main advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages of a business plan
Although a business plan takes time and money to create, it can help save both in the future if done properly. Below we take a look at some of the key advantages of creating a business plan:
1. It helps you forecast future steps The primary purpose of a business plan is to give you (and investors) an idea of whether your business has the potential to be successful. By mapping out your next steps and setting milestones, you can spot strengths and weaknesses in your ideas and set targets. This is helpful as it may prevent you from proceeding with a business idea that may end up costing you money.
On the other hand, these initial forecasts may provide the positive projections you need to actually get started and even attract outside investment. Even if your business plan produces an uncertain forecast, it still provides a small glimpse of the direction your business wants to head in and how it may perform on the way. This is valuable information, both for business owners and third-party stakeholders.
2. It is required if you want to apply for credit In order to secure a business loan from an official lender, a business plan is essential. Most banks will not even meet with you to discuss financing unless you have a business plan to present. This is because financial institutions like banks and credit unions need a way to accurately gauge their lending risks.
A well-thought-out business plan gives you the opportunity to show lenders how organised and prepared you are. It should explain how your business will use any capital you are lent and how you intend to make repayments. This level of detail can help to instil confidence in your business by persuading lenders you are a good risk.
3. It helps you to identify future cash flow issues A business plan should contain detailed cash flow forecasts and analysis. This shows potential lenders how money is expected to travel in and out of your business. It can also be useful for owners to determine if/when the business is expected to have cash flow problems under certain strategies. Having this information at hand can make it easier to financially plan, ensuring the business is always properly funded.
4. It helps you to allocate resources One of the biggest challenges for new business owners is resource management. From how much inventory you should buy to setting initial budgets, these decisions can be difficult. A business plan encourages you to create a workable budget and allocate resources before you start spending. This ensures you can afford everything you need and you don’t overspend before your business can start making money.
5. It helps you better understand your competition Creating a business plan requires a great deal of industry research. While you may think you have a strong handle on what you want your business to achieve, only by analysing your competition will you be able to see the full picture. A business plan can help you produce highly valuable insights into competitor demographics. This includes existing consumer trends and preferences, as well as costing insights. These findings are not always viable without conducting business plan competitor analysis.
6. It can help to secure talent In order for a business to be successful, attracting talented workers is crucial. A business plan can help to secure this talent by setting out a clear vision for the business. From management to skilled entry level staff, by showing individuals the direction and potential of the business, you can start to build a strong and coherent team.
The disadvantages of a business plan
Business plans can be time-consuming and expensive to produce. On top of this, there is also no guarantee that they will be accurate or help you to achieve the investment you are looking for. With this in mind, below we outline a number of disadvantages when it comes to creating a business plan:
1. It may not be accurate Putting together credible business plans is a highly skilled process. For this reason, many businesses seek the help of experienced business advisors when creating one. However, even with the help of a broad range of expert opinions, there is no guarantee that what is produced will be accurate. Industries and even wider business climates can change very quickly. This means that even taking the time and money to create an in-depth business plan can be risky.
2. It can make you become ‘tunnel-visioned’ In a world where nothing is 100% certain, treating your business plan as an uncompromising manual is a bad idea. The fact is, they are nothing more than a set of forecasts. If followed religiously, these strategy documents can ultimately do more harm than good. This is especially true if you become tunnel-visioned by your business plan and fail to adapt when market forces and changing economic environments demand it.
3. It can waste precious time and money Creating a business plan can take a lot of time and money to produce. It may require the help of third-party experts, such as business advisors, lawyers and accountants, all of which will charge for their services. Additionally, it can also take you and other employees away from the day-to-day tasks involved with launching a new business. This can lead to precious resources being wasted on a task whose cost may exceed its benefits.
The above points show that although business plans represent an essential component for most new businesses, comprehensive plans may not be 100% necessary in all circumstances. Luckily, if you are looking to put one together but are struggling to know where to start, the Markel Law Hub can help. We have a simple, easy-to-follow business plan template for you to download. To learn how you can access the Markel Law Hub, click here .
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Do You Really Need a Business Plan?
The art of storytelling, from net margin to sales.
Why is a business plan important?
- Who will the reader be?
- What do you want their response to be?
Four Reasons to Write a Business Plan
1. To raise money for your business
2. To make sound decisions
3. To help you identify any potential weaknesses
4. To communicate your ideas with stakeholders
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How to Write a Business Plan for Your Small Business
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Reasons Why a Business Plan Is Important for Entrepreneurs
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in September 2018 and has been updated with new content that highlights the importance of proper business planning in 2021's economy.
What is a business plan? For people who are just starting out and forming their own company, whether it's a small freelance business at home or a new venture with an office and a starting pool of employees, there's a lot of importance to a business plan. It is a road map, an outline, a document that explains what your business is, what the goals of the enterprise are, and how exactly it will set about achieving those goals. So beyond being a document that identifies your business, what else does such a plan do for you?
1. Target Your Problems
2. Get Better Advice
The importance of a business plan to entrepreneurship can also be in the way it crystallizes just what kind of help you need. Merely telling a friend or potential business mentor you're aiming to start with ten employees, for example, is not an exceptionally detailed statement. Showing a business plan that outlines the exact duties, salaries, and expectations you have for employees gives far more information for people to provide advice about.
3. Organize Your Resources
A business plan is also essential as the primary guide for how you will structure and allocate your resources. It's here that you will see just how feasible it is to open an office, hire employees, and look at operating costs. The business plan can quickly show you whether you will be making a profit or running at a loss, and it shows how much those losses may be every month.
4. Approach Investors
For some, this may be critical. Investors want to know that you know what you’re doing. A business plan can often be the single most important document you can present to your investors that will provide the structure and confidence that they need to make decisions about funding and supporting your company.
5. Create Milestones
A business plan is also a plan of action. By laying out milestones, you now have targets to shoot for in the short, mid and long term. These goals also mean that you can "course correct" with greater agility if you have targets and realize that you may need to make some changes in order to meet them.
The importance of a business plan can be critical for entrepreneurs. Business may have some artistry to it, but real success comes from having a vision and being organized in the way you strive towards that vision. A business plan will help you immensely and in so many ways!
Template for a Business Plan for Entrepreneurs
To determine whether you have a solid business idea, you will need to do thorough research and create a business plan to see if your idea is feasible. Here is a simple business plan template that is broken into sections that include the key elements for what goes into each step of the process to help get you started.
Section 1: Executive Summary
Write an executive summary. The purpose of the executive summary is to give readers a high-level view of the company and the market before delving into the details. It appears first but is written last and provides a snapshot of your company explaining who you are, what you do, and why. The executive summary provides a short, concise, and optimistic overview of your business to capture the reader's attention and create a need to learn more.
Section 2: Business/Industry Overview
Describe your company and business model by summarizing what your company does, your mission statement, location details, business structure and business owner details, the marketplace needs that your business is trying to meet, and how your products/services meet those needs. Define your business's purpose (mission) and a statement based on your perception of the company's growth potential (vision). Include specific business goals and objectives. Provide background information about the company, including a brief history of the business and a list of fundamental company principles.
Section 3: Market Analysis and Competition
Analyze your market's conditions. The market will ultimately determine how successful your business will be. You will need to demonstrate that you have thoroughly analyzed your target market and have a high-enough demand for your products/services to make your business viable. The competitive analysis should include a comprehensive assessment of your competition and how your business will compete in the sector. Describe the industry within which your business will operate, identify and provide a general profile of your target market, and describe what share of the market you currently have or anticipate. Include both an analysis of research done by others, along with primary research you have collected yourself — whether via customer surveys, interviews, or other methods. Outline the strengths and weaknesses of potential competitors and strategies that will give you a competitive advantage.
Section 4: Sales and Marketing Plan
Design a marketing and sales strategy. Here is where you can plan out your comprehensive marketing and sales strategies to cover how you plan on selling your product. Before working on your marketing and sales plan, you will need to have your market analysis completely fleshed out and choose your target client personas, i.e., your ideal customers. Talk about the competitive landscape. Describe how you intend to entice customers to buy your products or services, including advertising and promotion, sales and distribution, pricing strategy, and post-sales support.
Section 5: Ownership and Management Plan
Outline all operations and management roles. This section describes the ownership, legal structure, and your business's management and staffing requirements. Use this section to outline your company's unique organizational and management structure. Describe how your company is organized, including its legal structure (sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation); identify any special licenses or permits your business operates with; provide a brief bio of key managers within your company; include an organization chart.
Section 6: Operating Plan
The operating plan outlines your business's physical requirements, such as office, warehouse, retail space, equipment, inventory and supplies, and labor. For a one-person, home-based consulting firm, the operating plan may be short and straightforward. However, for businesses such as restaurants or manufacturers that require custom facilities, supply chains, multiple employees, and specialized equipment, the operating plan may need to be very detailed.
Section 7: Financial Plan
This section is the most crucial part of the business plan, especially if you need debt financing or want to attract investors. The financial plan must demonstrate your business' growth and profitability potential. To do this, you will need to provide projected income statements, cash flow statements, and balance sheets. For new businesses, these are forecasts. A golden rule of thumb is to underestimate revenues and overestimate expenses. Outline your financial model, including your business costs, revenue projections, and a funding request if you pitch to investors. Your start-up cost refers to the resources you will need to get your business up and running — and an estimate of how much each of those resources will cost.
Section 8: Appendices and Exhibits
Summarize the above with an appendix. The appendices and exhibits section should contain any detailed information needed to support other areas of the plan, including company brochures, resumes of key employees, a list of business equipment, copies of press articles and advertisements, pictures of your business location and products, any applicable information about your industry or products, key business agreements such as lease, and contracts.
Who Needs a Business Plan?
Start-up Businesses : The most classic business planning scenario is for a start-up, for which the plan helps the founders break down uncertainty into meaningful pieces, like the sales projection, expense budget, milestones, and tasks. When you realize you do not know how much money you need or when you need it without first laying out projected sales, costs, expenses, and payment timing, the need becomes apparent. And that is for all start-ups, whether they need to convince investors, banks, or family and friends to part with their money and fund the new venture. Existing Businesses : Established businesses use business plans to manage and steer their business strategies to address changes in their markets and take advantage of new opportunities. They often use plans to reinforce strategy, establish metrics, track results, manage responsibilities and goals, plan and manage critical resources such as cash flow, and set regular review and revision schedules. Business plans can be a powerful driver of growth for existing businesses.
Finding the Right Plan for You
Considering that business plans serve diverse purposes, it is no surprise that they come in various forms. But before you even start writing your business plan, you need to think about who the audience is and your plan's goals. While there are standard components found in almost every business plan, such as sales forecasts and marketing strategy, business plan formats can differ depending on the audience and business type. For example, if you are building a biotech firm plan, your plan will detail government approval processes. If you are writing a restaurant plan, details about location and renovations might be critical factors. The language you would use in the biotech firm's business plan would be much more technical than the language you would use in the restaurant plan. Plans can also differ significantly in length, detail, and presentation. Those that never leave the office and are used only for internal strategic planning and management may often use more casual language and might not have much visual polish. On the other end of the spectrum, a plan destined for a top venture capitalist's desk will have a high polish and focus on the business' high-growth aspects and the experienced team to deliver desirable results.
Elements of a Business Plan
While the plans may vary by type, certain key elements appear in virtually all business plans. These components include the review schedule, strategy summary, milestones, responsibilities, metrics (numerical goals that can be tracked), and basic projections. The projections include sales, costs, expenses, and cash flow. These core elements grow organically for the actual purpose needed for the business.
Developing a High Power Business Plan
The business plan development process described here can provide the guidance entrepreneurs require for developing a business plan best suited for their needs; a high power business plan.
The Stages of Development
There are six stages involved in developing a high-power business plan.
Essential Initial Research
This stage requires you to analyze the environment in which you anticipate operating at each of the societal, market, industry, and firm levels of analysis. In this planning stage, the essential initial research is a necessary first step for better understanding the trends that affect their business and their decisions to lay the groundwork for and improve their potential for success.
Inherent to any business plan is a description of the entrepreneur's chosen business model that will best ensure success. Based upon your essential initial research of the setting in which you anticipate starting your business (your analysis from stage one), you should determine how each element of your business model might fit together to improve the potential success of your business venture. These elements include their revenue streams, cost structure, customer segments, value propositions, key activities, and key partners.
Initial Business Plan Draft
This stage involves taking the knowledge and ideas developed during the first two stages and integrating them into a business plan format. A suggested approach is to create a complete draft of the business plan with all the sections, including the front part with the business description, values, vision, mission, value proposition statement, a preliminary set of goals, table of contents, and lists of tables and figures set up using the software features enabling their automatic generation. Writing all the operations, human resources, marketing, and financial plans as part of the first draft ensures that all these necessary parts can be appropriately integrated. The business plan should tell the story of a planned business start-up in two ways: using primarily words, along with charts and graphs in the operations, human resources, and marketing plans, and through the financial plan. Both approaches must tell the same story.
Making Business Plan Realistic
The first draft of a business plan will seldom be realistic. As you write the plan, it will naturally change as new information is gathered. Another factor that commonly renders the first draft unrealistic is the difficulty in ensuring that the written section—in the front part of the plan and the operations, human resources, and marketing plans—tells the same story as the financial part does. This working stage involves making the necessary adjustments to the plan to make it as realistic as possible.
Making Plan Appeal to Stakeholders and Desirable to the Entrepreneur
A business plan can be realistic without appealing to potential investors or other external stakeholders, such as suppliers, employees, and needed business partners. It may also be realistic and possibly appealing to stakeholders without necessarily being desirable to the entrepreneur. During this stage, try to keep it as realistic as possible when adjusting the plan to appeal to potential investors and yourself.
Finishing the Business Plan
The final stage involves putting all the essential finishing touches on the business plan so it will present well to potential investors and alike. This step involves ensuring that the math and links between the written and financial sections are accurate. It also involves ensuring that all the needed corrections are made to the formatting, spelling, and grammar. The ultimate set of goals should be written to appeal to targeted readers and reflect what the business plan specifies. An executive summary should be written and included as the final step.
FAQs about Business Plans
What are the 4 types of business plans.
1. Mini-plan : A mini-plan may comprise one to 10 pages and include at least cursory attention to such critical matters as business concepts, financing needs, marketing plans, and financial statements, especially cash flow, balance sheet, and income projections. It is a great way to quickly test a business concept or measure the interest of a potential partner or minor investor. It could also serve as a valuable prelude to a full-length plan later on.
2. Working Plan : A working plan is a tool to operate your business. It should be lengthy in detail but may be short on presentation. As with a mini-plan, you can probably afford a somewhat higher degree of candor and informality when preparing a working plan.
3. Presentation Plan : If you take a working plan, with its low stress on cosmetic appeal and impression, and twist the lever to boost the amount of attention paid to its visual appearance, you will end up with a presentation plan. This plan is suitable for showing to financiers, investors, stakeholders, and others outside the company.
4. Electronic Plan : Most business plans are composed on a computer, then printed out and presented in hard copy. However, more and more business information transferred between parties only on paper can now be sent electronically, so you may find it convenient to have an electronic version of your plan available. An electronic plan can be useful for presentations to groups using a computer-driven overhead projector, for instance, or for satisfying the demands of discriminating investors who want to delve deeply into the underpinnings of complex spreadsheets.
What are the 3 main purposes of a business plan?
1. Establish a business focus : The primary purpose of a business plan is to establish your plans for your business's future. These plans should include goals and milestones alongside detailed steps on how the business will reach each step. Creating a roadmap to your goals will help determine your business focus and pursue growth.
2. Secure funding : One of the first things private investors, banks, and other lenders look for before investing in your business is a well-researched business plan. Investors and stakeholders want to know how you operate your business, revenue and expense projections, and how they will receive a return on their investment.
3. Attract executives : As your business grows, you will likely need to add executives to your team. The business plan helps you attract executive talent and determine whether they are a good fit for your company.
What are the 5 elements of a business plan?
1. Business concept : Describes the business, its products/services, and the market it will serve. It should point out exactly what will be sold, to whom, and why your business will hold a competitive advantage.
2. Financial features : Highlights the important financial points of the company, including sales, cash flows, profits, and return on investment.
3. Financial requirements : Clearly state the capital needed to start the business and expand. It should detail how capital will be used and the equity that will be provided for funding. If the loan for initial capital is based on security instead of equity, also specify the source of collateral.
4. Current business position : Furnishes relevant information about the business, its legal form of operation, the principal owners, when it was formed, and key personnel.
5. Major achievements : Details of any developments within the company essential to the business's success. Major achievements include patents, prototypes, location of a facility, any binding contracts that need to be in place for product development, or any test marketing results.
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14 Reasons Why You Need a Business Plan
10 min. read
Updated October 27, 2023
There’s no question that starting and running a business is hard work. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. And, one of the most important things you can do to increase your chances of success is to have a business plan.
A business plan is a foundational document that is essential for any company, no matter the size or age. From attracting potential investors to keeping your business on track—a business plan helps you achieve important milestones and grow in the right direction.
A business plan isn’t just a document you put together once when starting your business. It’s a living, breathing guide for existing businesses – one that business owners should revisit and update regularly.
Unfortunately, writing a business plan is often a daunting task for potential entrepreneurs. So, do you really need a business plan? Is it really worth the investment of time and resources? Can’t you just wing it and skip the whole planning process?
Good questions. Here’s every reason why you need a business plan.
- 1. Business planning is proven to help you grow 30 percent faster
Writing a business plan isn’t about producing a document that accurately predicts the future of your company. The process of writing your plan is what’s important. Writing your plan and reviewing it regularly gives you a better window into what you need to do to achieve your goals and succeed.
You don’t have to just take our word for it. Studies have proven that companies that plan and review their results regularly grow 30 percent faster. Beyond faster growth, research also shows that companies that plan actually perform better. They’re less likely to become one of those woeful failure statistics, or experience cash flow crises that threaten to close them down.
- 2. Planning is a necessary part of the fundraising process
One of the top reasons to have a business plan is to make it easier to raise money for your business. Without a business plan, it’s difficult to know how much money you need to raise, how you will spend the money once you raise it, and what your budget should be.
Investors want to know that you have a solid plan in place – that your business is headed in the right direction and that there is long-term potential in your venture.
A business plan shows that your business is serious and that there are clearly defined steps on how it aims to become successful. It also demonstrates that you have the necessary competence to make that vision a reality.
Investors, partners, and creditors will want to see detailed financial forecasts for your business that shows how you plan to grow and how you plan on spending their money.
- 3. Having a business plan minimizes your risk
When you’re just starting out, there’s so much you don’t know—about your customers, your competition, and even about operations.
What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
As a business owner, you signed up for some of that uncertainty when you started your business, but there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk . Creating and reviewing your business plan regularly is a great way to uncover your weak spots—the flaws, gaps, and assumptions you’ve made—and develop contingency plans.
Your business plan will also help you define budgets and revenue goals. And, if you’re not meeting your goals, you can quickly adjust spending plans and create more realistic budgets to keep your business healthy.
- 4. Crafts a roadmap to achieve important milestones
A business plan is like a roadmap for your business. It helps you set, track and reach business milestones.
For your plan to function in this way, your business plan should first outline your company’s short- and long-term goals. You can then fill in the specific steps necessary to reach those goals. This ensures that you measure your progress (or lack thereof) and make necessary adjustments along the way to stay on track while avoiding costly detours.
In fact, one of the top reasons why new businesses fail is due to bad business planning. Combine this with inflexibility and you have a recipe for disaster.
And planning is not just for startups. Established businesses benefit greatly from revisiting their business plan. It keeps them on track, even when the global market rapidly shifts as we’ve seen in recent years.
- 5. A plan helps you figure out if your idea can become a business
To turn your idea into reality, you need to accurately assess the feasibility of your business idea.
You need to verify:
- If there is a market for your product or service
- Who your target audience is
- How you will gain an edge over the current competition
- If your business can run profitably
A business plan forces you to take a step back and look at your business objectively, which makes it far easier to make tough decisions down the road. Additionally, a business plan helps you to identify risks and opportunities early on, providing you with the necessary time to come up with strategies to address them properly.
Finally, a business plan helps you work through the nuts and bolts of how your business will work financially and if it can become sustainable over time.
- 6. You’ll make big spending decisions with confidence
As your business grows, you’ll have to figure out when to hire new employees, when to expand to a new location, or whether you can afford a major purchase.
These are always major spending decisions, and if you’re regularly reviewing the forecasts you mapped out in your business plan, you’re going to have better information to use to make your decisions.
- 7. You’re more likely to catch critical cash flow challenges early
The other side of those major spending decisions is understanding and monitoring your business’s cash flow. Your cash flow statement is one of the three key financial statements you’ll put together for your business plan. (The other two are your balance sheet and your income statement (P&L).
Reviewing your cash flow statement regularly as part of your regular business plan review will help you see potential cash flow challenges earlier so you can take action to avoid a cash crisis where you can’t pay your bills.
- 8. Position your brand against the competition
Competitors are one of the factors that you need to take into account when starting a business. Luckily, competitive research is an integral part of writing a business plan. It encourages you to ask questions like:
- What is your competition doing well? What are they doing poorly?
- What can you do to set yourself apart?
- What can you learn from them?
- How can you make your business stand out?
- What key business areas can you outcompete?
- How can you identify your target market?
Finding answers to these questions helps you solidify a strategic market position and identify ways to differentiate yourself. It also proves to potential investors that you’ve done your homework and understand how to compete.
- 9. Determines financial needs and revenue models
A vital part of starting a business is understanding what your expenses will be and how you will generate revenue to cover those expenses. Creating a business plan helps you do just that while also defining ongoing financial needs to keep in mind.
Without a business model, it’s difficult to know whether your business idea will generate revenue. By detailing how you plan to make money, you can effectively assess the viability and scalability of your business.
Understanding this early on can help you avoid unnecessary risks and start with the confidence that your business is set up to succeed.
- 10. Helps you think through your marketing strategy
A business plan is a great way to document your marketing plan. This will ensure that all of your marketing activities are aligned with your overall goals. After all, a business can’t grow without customers and you’ll need a strategy for acquiring those customers.
Your business plan should include information about your target market, your marketing strategy, and your marketing budget. Detail things like how you plan to attract and retain customers, acquire new leads, how the digital marketing funnel will work, etc.
Having a documented marketing plan will help you to automate business operations, stay on track and ensure that you’re making the most of your marketing dollars.
- 11. Clarifies your vision and ensures everyone is on the same page
In order to create a successful business, you need a clear vision and a plan for how you’re going to achieve it. This is all detailed with your mission statement, which defines the purpose of your business, and your personnel plan, which outlines the roles and responsibilities of current and future employees. Together, they establish the long-term vision you have in mind and who will need to be involved to get there.
Additionally, your business plan is a great tool for getting your team in sync. Through consistent plan reviews, you can easily get everyone in your company on the same page and direct your workforce toward tasks that truly move the needle.
- 12. Future-proof your business
A business plan helps you to evaluate your current situation and make realistic projections for the future.
This is an essential step in growing your business, and it’s one that’s often overlooked. When you have a business plan in place, it’s easier to identify opportunities and make informed decisions based on data.
Therefore, it requires you to outline goals, strategies, and tactics to help the organization stay focused on what’s important.
By regularly revisiting your business plan, especially when the global market changes, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever challenges come your way, and pivot faster.
You’ll also be in a better position to seize opportunities as they arise.
- 13. Tracks your progress and measures success
An often overlooked purpose of a business plan is as a tool to define success metrics. A key part of writing your plan involves pulling together a viable financial plan. This includes financial statements such as your profit and loss, cash flow, balance sheet, and sales forecast.
By housing these financial metrics within your business plan, you suddenly have an easy way to relate your strategy to actual performance. You can track progress, measure results, and follow up on how the company is progressing. Without a plan, it’s almost impossible to gauge whether you’re on track or not.
Additionally, by evaluating your successes and failures, you learn what works and what doesn’t and you can make necessary changes to your plan. In short, having a business plan gives you a framework for measuring your success. It also helps with building up a “lessons learned” knowledge database to avoid costly mistakes in the future.
- 14. Your business plan is an asset if you ever want to sell
Down the road, you might decide that you want to sell your business or position yourself for acquisition. Having a solid business plan is going to help you make the case for a higher valuation. Your business is likely to be worth more to a buyer if it’s easy for them to understand your business model, your target market, and your overall potential to grow and scale.
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- Writing your business plan
By taking the time to create a business plan, you ensure that your business is heading in the right direction and that you have a roadmap to get there. We hope that this post has shown you just how important and valuable a business plan can be. While it may still seem daunting, the benefits far outweigh the time investment and learning curve for writing one.
Luckily, you can write a plan in as little as 30 minutes. And there are plenty of excellent planning tools out there if you’re looking for more step-by-step guidance. Whatever it takes, write your plan and you’ll quickly see how useful it can be.
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
9 Min. Read
10 Qualities of a Good Business Plan Explained
2 Min. Read
What to Include in Your Business Plan Appendix
How to Write a Business Plan for a Service Business
6 Min. Read
How to Write a Fix-and-Flip Business Plan + Free Template PDF
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