Business Plan Help

Apr 16, 2023

What is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a written document that covers all the essential elements of starting, growing and sustaining a business.  A business plan is for more than just seeking a loan or investment.  A properly written plan ensures that the founders have thought through the critical aspects of the business, ideally before they start the business.

You can think of a business plan as the blueprint for your business. Just as a builder would never start without a set of plans (a blueprint) a business owner should always start with a well-written plan.

Who Needs a Business Plan?

If you’re planning to look for a business loan, or to raise capital, you’ll certainly need a business plan. While it is an essential document for seeking funding, that’s just one use-case.

Business plans are not just for founders.  If you’re thinking of buying a business, already an existing business, or are working in a family business that you’re likely to take over one day—you would be well served to have a plan.

Is there a Traditional Business Plan Format?

There is not a universal format that all business plans must follow.  However, there are standard sections that should be included traditional business plans. Yet, take comfort that there is much written (including on this site) about what should be included, there is not a single, specific formula that should apply to all plans.

Follow the templates and outlines we provide and expand on those sections that are unique to your business.

How do I Know Where to Expand and Where to Cover the Basics?

Depending on the type of business, a given section of your plan might warrant considerably more detail than someone else’s plan.

For example, if you are starting a business that will sell a product or service that doesn’t exist today, you’ll need to explain why people will want to buy your product or service. You’ll need to go into details to make a strong case for why people will spend their money to get something they are getting by without today. Most importantly, your plan will need to support the idea that you and your team can develop the product or service.  An investor will want to be convinced of all these things.

On the other hand, if you’re starting a restaurant, nobody will need to be convinced that people will buy food every day.  You’ll just need to cover why they’ll eat at your restaurant.

The simple examples above are meant to call out that your plan will need to expand in areas that are less intuitively understood, or riskier to a potential investor, partner, or even key employees. 

Is a One Page Business Plan Acceptable?

The idea of a one-page business plan is popular on the internet.  However, few founders ever secured funding with a one-page plan.

A business plan executive summary, covered above, is a short synopsis of the business and typically would be just a few pages, or even a single page.

We encourage business founders to focus on the executive summary -as part of a full plan- rather than the idea of a single page as an entire plan.  The idea of either one is to have the reader invest just a few minutes and want to learn more.  The phrase “one page business plan” implies, “That’s it, that’s my plan,” whereas, an executive summary conveys that this is a summary of a more comprehensive business plan.

What Should Be included In a Detailed Business Plan?

One of the most common questions we hear is, “What should my business plan include?”  The information below lists the key sections every plan should include. You’ll find that our simple business plan outline will keep you on track for writing a business plan for almost any type of small business.

Business Plan Executive Summary

A business plan executive summary is a brief overview of a company’s entire plan that highlights its key points and goals. It is typically the first section of the plan and serves as a snapshot of the entire document, allowing readers to quickly understand the most important aspects of the company and its plan.

A business plan executive summary is different from a lean business plan. A lean business plan is more of an operational plan that is focused on how to run the business, not a more comprehensive plan that would be suitable for investors or lenders.

The executive summary typically includes information about the company’s products or services, target market, competition, marketing strategy, financial projections, and management team. It should provide enough detail to give readers a sense of the company’s potential, but not so much detail that it becomes overwhelming.

This section should be well-written and engaging, as it is often the only section of the business plan that investors or potential partners will read. It should capture the reader’s attention and encourage them to continue reading the rest of the plan.

Sales and Marketing Plan

The sales and marketing section of plan should provide a detailed overview of the products or services being offered, the target market, and the sales plan for reaching customers. This section should cover the unique selling proposition of the product or service and how it meets the needs of the target market. Market research should a market analysis that provides information on the size of the target market, the competition, and the marketing strategies that will be used to promote the product or service.

 

Operating Plan

The operating section should outline how the company will operate and achieve its goals. This section should cover the management team and their relevant experience, highlighting their skills and accomplishments. The section should also include a go-to-market plan that details the distribution strategy, pricing strategy, and promotional activities.

In addition, the operating section should include a SWOT analysis, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The SWOT analysis provides an overview of the internal and external factors that can affect the success of the business. It should cover the company’s strengths and weaknesses, such as its competitive advantage or operational challenges, as well as opportunities and threats, such as emerging markets or changes in industry regulations.

The operating section should also include information on the company’s organizational structure, including the roles and responsibilities of each member of the management team. It should provide details on the business processes, such as inventory management and quality control, and discuss the key performance indicators that will be used to measure success. Overall, the operating section should provide a comprehensive overview of how the company will function and grow over time. 

Research & Development

The research and development (R&D) section should cover the company’s plans for developing new products, services, or technologies. This section is particularly important for businesses in industries that require significant investment in R&D, such as software, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and other technology sectors.

The R&D section should describe the company’s timelines and expected outcomes. It should also cover the company’s R&D budget and any partnerships or collaborations with other organizations.

In addition to covering R&D efforts, the section may also include information on intellectual property protection, such as patents or trademarks, and any relevant regulatory requirements.

An R&D section should include its own market analysis, focused on competing technologies that are already available.

 

Does Your Plan Need an R&D Section?

Not all businesses need an R&D section in their plan. For example, service-based businesses such as consulting firms may not require significant investment in R&D. Similarly, retail or hospitality businesses may not have significant R&D efforts.

If your business success is not based on the R&D work that will be done you and your team, then an R&D section is probably not required. A similar way to look at this, is that if your business is not based on unique intellectual property developed by your company, then this section can likely be omitted. 

Financials

The financial section should include a range of financial forecasts and information that provides a detailed picture of the company’s financial health and viability.

Key Financial Statements:

  • Income Statement (Profit and Loss)
  • Balance Sheet
  • Cash Flow Statement
  • Sources and Uses of Funds
This section should include projected financial statements, including an income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows.  If the business is already operating, historical statements should also be included.

The income statement should show the company’s revenue and expenses over a specific period of time, typically three years is sufficient for a startup business plan. Be sure to provide a clear picture of the company’s path to profitability.

The balance sheet should detail the company’s assets, liabilities, and equity at a specific point in time, providing an overview of the company’s financial position.

The statement of cash flows should outline the company’s sources and uses of cash, including operating activities, investing activities, and financing activities.

In addition, the financial section should include a statement of sources and uses of funds, which provides a detailed breakdown of the funds the company will need to start or grow the business. This statement should cover the sources of funding, such as equity or debt financing, and the intended uses of those funds, such as purchasing inventory or investing in technology.

Closing Details

Exit Strategy or Payback Analysis

The final section of your plan should include narrative about how the investors (even if it is the founders) will get their money back.  Often this is called an exit strategy.

An exit strategy refers to a plan to either go public or be acquired.  The reality is that by a factor of more than 20 to 1, a business is more likely to be acquired than to go public.

Your exit strategy should address when and why your business will be attractive to be acquired, and by what type of company.

You might plan to be in this business for the long haul and not have a strong desire to go public or sell the business.  If that’s the case, you will still need to address how an investor will get their money back, plus a return on their investment.

If the “investor” is a lender, well, first they are a creditor not an investor.  Lenders will want to see that the business will generate enough cash flow to repay their loans with interest.

Equity investors will expect a viable plan for return of capital as well.  If you do not have a plan to build a business that will one day be attractive to an acquirer, investors would expect to see cash flow that would support dividend payments.

Notices and Disclaimers

Your plan document should also include a statement of confidentiality and key disclaimers. See the template examples for the notices and disclaimers section for more details.

 

Do I Need to have a Professional Write My Plan?

Spoiler Alert: No.

A business plan written by the founder will be more impressive than one that was outsourced.  The plan should be an extension of your thinking and a demonstration of your knowledge of the business and its challenges.

You may be saying, “I’m not a good writer”, “English is not my first language”, or “I’m a proven business operator, and I know when to delegate.”   Those are all valid.  The most important part is that you, as the founder, need to be very involved in the business planning process and the critical thinking behind the plan.  It’s less important who selects and pens the words.

Don’t give up on writing it yourself just yet!  There are numerous business plan templates, outlines and examples that can help you write your business plan, by yourself, in as little as one day.  Even if such a plan is not your final plan, the exercise will serve you well.

At SmallBusinessPlans.com we’ve helped thousands of new business owners create their business plan using the resources on this website.

You Can Write Your Own Business Plan

It’s all here! Use the shortcut buttons above to get detailed information, free business plan templates and outlines for each section. You’ll find it easy to create an effective yet simple business plan. Your plan will have you ready to start, grow and succeed in your new business. The number one reason people don’t start (or finish) their business plan is because they just aren’t sure where to begin. Now you’ve found it!

You can write the various sections of your business plan in any order. Start with those that you’re most comfortable with and your momentum will carry you through!

You can do it. It’s easy with our simple business plan template. To get started click on the major section titles that start with roman numerals.

Or click any section below the main heading titles. You’ll quickly find what you’re looking for. Each section starts with a detailed description. Then, you will find a complete overview of what you need to include, mistakes to avoid, and important considerations. Follow the examples in each section.

You will learn how to write a business plan that makes you look like a pro! The small business plan outline for each section will show you how to create a professional plan quickly and easily. Whether you need to learn how to write a business plan for the first time or you just need a refresher, we’re confident you’ll find what you need right here.

The Fastest, Easiest Way to Write Your Business Plan

Start with a Business Plan Template

A business plan template is an editable document that provides the proper sequence and structure for your business plan. A good business plan template will ensure that you include all the sections and content that should be included in a business plan.

Don’t think you’re “copping out” by using a business plan template! Chances are, you know way more about your business than you do about writing a business plan. A good template will help you express your idea in a traditional business plan format.

A free business plan template is not a complete “fill-in-the-blank business plan”. You’ll need to know and understand the details behind your ideas. If you find that the information being requested is not something you know, at least you’ll know where you need to dig in more and sharpen your plan.

It’s well worth the time to create a complete and proper plan and a template will help you get started and get finished fast. You’ll be able to complete some sections very quickly, leaving more time for the areas that need more research.

You Can Write a Great Business Plan - cover of 60 page booklet

Ready to complete your business plan in just 1 day?

Click GET STARTED to learn more about our fill-in-the-blank business plan template.  We'll step you through all the details you need to develop a professional business plan in just one day!

Successfully used by thousands of people starting a business and writing a business plan.  It will work for you too!

Get Your Ideas On Paper

Sometimes you have a good idea but don’t know where to start. Use our resources to put your ideas to paper and create a solid foundation for your business.

No Idea is Too Big or Small

Even the biggest businesses start with a plan. By writing a business plan you are giving yourself the best opportunity to succeed.

Finish Your Plan in 1 Day

Our fill in the blank template can help you get started with your new business venture quickly. We guarantee you can finish our business plan template in one day!

Where Can I Find Free Business Plan Templates?

You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking for a free business plan template. We’ve broken down a standard business plan, section-by-section, providing clear guidelines. Both good and bad examples are provided. A free business plan template will help you quickly form a picture of your plan and create a great draft in no time!

Use the menu items from the top menu bar to quickly focus on the section where you need help. Every section is included in a logical order.  You can use these resources to finish a particular section, or to create your entire plan.

 

Free Business Plan Template for Every Section of Your Plan

At SmallBusinessPlans.com we provide a free business plan template for every section of your plan. See them all on the free templates page linked here.

 

Business Plan Outline

A solid business plan outline shows the sections that should be included in a business plan. A complete business plan outline will help you know exactly what should be included and in what order. A good outline will include sub-sections to make the job of creating your full plan much easier.  It’s always best to start with an outline!

You can think of your business plan outline as your future table of contents. In fact, you’ll find that by writing your table of contents first (your outline) your plan will flow smoothly and logically.

A business plan outline is different from a business plan template. An outline, as described above, shows the content and sequence. A business plan template takes it to the next step by providing sample paragraphs that you can modify to fit your plan. Many business plan templates are provided in a fill-in-the-blank format.

Business Plan Examples

A business plan example is typically a fictional plan that provides a great example of what a plan should contain, how it should be structured and how it should be presented.

It can be very helpful to review business plan examples, but in the end, your plan should be a reflection of you. With a little effort, you can learn about the traditional business plan format and then put together your plan in your own style. 

This website, SmallBusinessPlans.com contains many templates and examples for every section of a business plan. We encourage you to use the top menu bar to see examples and templates for any section of your plan.

 

Sample Business Plans for Fictitious Businesses

The Small Business Administration makes business plan examples available, which you see here:

SBA Plan Example One

SBA Plan Example Two

Actual Business Plans Used for Funding

The opportunity to review a number of actual plans can help you gain perspective on how your plan should be written. Even if you’re reviewing plans from other industries, you’ll soon see common approaches used in many plans. One of the best libraries of actual plans that we have found is from the site ReferenceforBusiness.com. Here you’ll find over 100 actual business plans that were used to apply for funding.

Templates

Discover great templates and information for every aspect of your Small Business Plan.

Resources

Learn to build your business around your small business plan with our resources and guides.

Blog

Explore articles that dig into various aspects of Small Business Plans to enhance your skill set.
You Can Write a Great Business Plan - cover of 60 page booklet

Ready to complete your business plan in just 1 day?

Click GET STARTED to learn more about our fill-in-the-blank business plan template.  We'll step you through all the details you need to develop a professional business plan in just one day!

Successfully used by thousands of people starting a business and writing a business plan.  It will work for you too!