The Best Small Business Plan Templates
A Guide to Using Templates to Create a Great Business Plan
You are not alone if you’ve been wondering how to write a small business plan. Writing a business plan is done tens of thousands of times each year, and many resources are available to help. Getting started can be challenging.
When you are considering how to write a business plan, know that there are several common approaches to transforming your business ideas into an action plan:
- Writing a business plan entirely on your own, starting with a blank screen
- Using a business plan outline for general guidance
- Using a business plan template for even more guidance
- Subscribing to business plan software services
- Paying someone to write your business plan
As you can see, the range is from starting with a blank piece of paper to getting help from various methods to paying someone to do it for you. This article will primarily focus on using a business plan template and compare and contrast it to other options.
Yes, You Really Do Need a Business Plan
There’s no getting around it; having a business plan will significantly increase your chances of success. This is especially true in the early stages when you’ll be looking for funding, establishing relationships with vendors and suppliers, and hiring people. A business needs a plan.
A business plan serves as a roadmap for your company. Nobody benefits more from a business plan than the founder who creates it. Writing a business plan will force critical thinking into your goals and strategies.
When complete, it will provide a comprehensive overview of your business.
Creating a business plan may seem daunting, but several small business plan templates are available that can make the process easier and more efficient.
Benefits of Using Small Business Plan Templates
Creating a business plan from scratch can be a time-consuming and overwhelming task. However, using a small business plan template can make the process faster, easier, and less expensive. There are several benefits.
When you look at a small business plan outline, you can tell in minutes where you’re prepared and where you will need to dig in. At a minimum, you’ll go from not knowing what you don’t know, to knowing what you don’t know. That’s a big step forward and the foundation for confidence, even if there’s much work to do.
The structured approach provided by a business plan template lets you know from the beginning about the work ahead. You’ll have a measured sense of completion and you’ll develop an understanding of how the pieces fit together.
You will save time by starting with a template, mainly because you won’t spend much time wondering if you’re on the right track. Many well-written templates will include sections that do not apply to your business. For example, if you’re starting a restaurant, you probably won’t need a section on research and development or intellectual property. You might–but you’ll know when you see how they are addressed in the template.
Many free and low-cost business plan templates are available on the internet, so you’ll save time and money. Compared with services that will write your plan for you, or even business plan software, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Best of all, writing your business plan using a professional template will guide you into critical thinking about your business that others will surely ask. Even if things don’t go as planned, you’ll be equipped first to see that and, secondly, to pivot appropriately.
What is a Business Plan Template?
Business plan templates are plentiful on the internet. Some are simple lists with 10 to 12 section titles and a few bullet point items. That’s a business plan outline, not a template. That’s fine if it’s all you need, but a business plan template is more.
Business Plan Template Definition
A business plan template is a document that provides a framework for a complete business plan. A professional template will include headings and subheadings, with detailed line items to cover everything in each section. Beyond a simple outline, a template will prompt how to write each item, what to include, and what to avoid. A well-written business plan template is like having a business coach in your corner.
How to Find and Use a Business Plan Template
Step 1: Find a Template
“Business plan template” is searched 60,000 times every month on Google. Finding a business plan template is not hard, but finding a highly credible one takes a little more effort.
We provide templates with step-by-step instructions for every section of your business plan, free, right on the website. From the home page, using the Templates top menu item , go directly to any section of your plan. Or, you can download the free business plan template that covers every section in order.
Step 2: Customize the Template for Your Type of Business
Once you have your template, review it with the specifics of your business in mind. Delete the sections that don’t apply to your business or industry. Where necessary (and that should be limited), add line items in sections where you’ll want to expand.
After just a short time of customizing the template to fit your needs, you should be able to look at the template and see precisely how your business plan will take shape.
Step 3: Write Your Plan
Go through the template and start creating your plan. Follow the prompts that are provided in each section. If there are good and bad examples, be sure to understand the differences.
You do not have to write the sections in any specific order. It’s essential to understand how the entire plan will come together, but you do not need to write the sections in the order that they will appear. You’ll motivate yourself if you start with the areas that come easily to you.
As that progress needle in your mind moves from left to right, you’ll gain confidence and momentum to carry you through. If you need to turn to others for help with specific sections, which is very common, you’ll feel proud that you have already made significant progress.
Step 4: Review and Revise
After you’ve gone through the entire template and drafted your complete business plan, step away and clear your mind. Then, return to your document and read it with a fresh perspective. How does it flow? What is the tone? Does it sound like you wrote it?
Now is the time to make your business plan sound like you. Consider replacing words that might have been provided in the template that don’t sound like something you would say. Replace them with words and phrases that are comfortable to you and perhaps more appropriate to your business.
Most word processors today go beyond spell-check and grammar check and can even make suggestions. Be sure to use the tools you have to polish your plan.
When this step is done, you have YOUR business plan!
Step 5: Take Your Business Plan for a Spin
Now that you’ve completed your business plan show it to a trusted advisor before you put it in front of your primary target audience. Your accountant, attorney, or friend, who is a successful business owner, would all be good examples.
Naturally, it’s okay to show your business plan to your significant other or a good friend. Yet, ask yourself, Do they have the perspective to offer sound advice on the business itself or the drafting of the plan?
There’s not much upside to showing your business plan to those who will feel compelled to tell you how great it is, even if they have no idea.
Step 6: Do What You Set Out to Do
Why were you writing your business plan? To get funding? To solicit partnerships? To hire key people? Now it’s time to show your document to those people and let it do its job. Whenever you send your business plan, follow these guidelines:
- Let them know it is coming and why you are sending it.
- At the same time you send the plan, ask to schedule a time to discuss their thoughts, allowing enough time for them to read it
- Follow through on the “What are your thoughts” meeting and be open-minded. Many very successful entrepreneurs tell stories of sending their plan to five, ten, twenty or more people before achieving their objective. Stay positive, be open-minded, and carry on. That’s what successful entrepreneurs do.
Step 7: Don’t let Your Business Plan Get Stale
Keep your business plan up to date as time goes by. Even if you don’t think you’ve made any changes to your business, go back and review the plan at least annually. Even if you have not changed things in your business, the world around us is changing faster and faster.
It’s essential to consider your business plan from the perspective of how things are today.
What Should a Business Plan Template Include
Some people ask how to write a business plan that you know is good if you’re using someone else’s template. First, be sure to select a source for your template that is credible. Next, compare their template to the business plan format below.
Any modern business plan template would have detailed templates for all of the sections below at a minimum:
- Executive Summary: A summary of your business plan that can be read very quickly. One to two pages is typical. More than five is too long. Provide an overview of your business, including a compelling statement about the value you bring to the market, your strategies and your goals.
- Company Description: The company description provides a more detailed overview of your business, including its history or a statement indicating it is a startup, current ownership structure, and the type of legal entity you’ve selected.
- Market Analysis: Provide an overview of your target market, including its size, demographics, and buying habits. Include an analysis of your competition.
- Products and Services: This section provides a detailed description of your products and services. It should include details on your pricing, delivery, and production.
- Marketing Plan and Sales Strategies: The marketing and sales strategies section outlines how you plan to market and sell your products and services. This is often called your go-to-market strategy. Include a detailed analysis of your target audience and your marketing channels.
- Management Team: Provide min-bios on the management team, including their experience, qualifications, and responsibilities.
- Operating Plan: Demonstrate that you have a vision for how your people will deliver on everything required to source or create your products, market your services to your prospective customers, and support your customers. The operating plan is where it all comes together.
- Financial Statements and Projections: The financial projections section of your business plan provides a detailed analysis, complete with spreadsheet tables in printed form, of your business’s financial projections. Every business plan should include an income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow analysis. A sources and uses of funds table is also beneficial for your overall financial plan.
Should I Use Business Plan Software?
Using business plan software to generate your plan has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the pros and cons to consider:
- Convenience: Business plan software can be a convenient solution for entrepreneurs who don’t have the time or expertise to create a plan from scratch. Most software programs offer templates and pre-populated sections that can help you get started quickly.
- Professional look: Business plan software can help you create a professional-looking document with charts, graphs, and other visual aids that can impress potential investors or lenders.
- Guidance: Many business plan software programs offer guidance and tips for creating an effective plan, including advice on financial projections, market research, and marketing strategies.
- Collaboration: Some business plan software programs allow multiple users to collaborate on a single plan, making it easier for teams to work together to create a comprehensive document.
- Cost: Business plan software can be expensive, with some programs costing several hundred dollars per year. Recently, most providers have gone to charging monthly recurring fees. For entrepreneurs on a tight budget, there are other options.
- Limited customization: While templates can be convenient, they may not be customizable enough to fit the specific needs of your business. This could lead to a generic, cookie-cutter plan that doesn’t accurately represent your vision.
- Learning curve: Business plan software can have a learning curve. Just when you’re trying to learn to write a business plan, now you must learn a new software program too.
- Over-reliance: Relying too heavily on business plan software can lead to a lack of critical thinking and understanding of your business. It’s important to remember that your business plan should be a reflection of your unique business and vision, not just a generic template.
Remember the Business Plan Software You Already Have
The two most important software programs that will help you write your business plan, you probably already have! Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel are the two most common tools to draft, fine-tune and finish your business plan.
When you start with a business plan outline or template, your next steps are to use Word and Excel to craft your plan. You’ll be getting the help you need on writing the business plan and using the software you already own and know how to use.
It’s hard enough to write a business plan, without having to learn how to use and pay for a new software program at the same time. Start with what you have.
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