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How to Write a Business Plan Using a Template
By Jake Thompson
You have this great idea for a business. It’s been brewing for a couple of years now, and you’re finally ready to act on it.
Fantastic! What’s your business plan?
Many people preparing to start a business — and even some who have already started one — fail to research and write a business plan that tests the feasibility of their idea. Some may think it’s a “waste of time.” They would rather wing it, stick with a pitch deck, or hope for the best.
But hope, unfortunately, isn’t a strategy for success. Writing a solid plan and executing on that plan is.
Three Reasons Why You Need to Write a Business Plan
If you hadn’t considered writing a business plan before now, here are three key reasons why it’s a crucial tool when starting and growing your business.
1. A Business Plan Provides Clarity
One of the easiest ways to gain clarity on your brand messaging and goals is to practice how you communicate them. The more clearly you can describe what problem or need your business addresses and why it’s necessary for your target audience, the stronger your case will be when marketing and selling to said target audience and when you need to apply for or raise funding for your small business. A clear picture of what you’re working to accomplish will help you chart a course to deliver it as promised.
2. A Business Plan Confirms the Math
A lot of ideas sound great on paper or in casual conversations. When you dive into the financials, however, including how you plan to make money and how much it will cost to do so, those ideas can fall apart. Writing a business plan provides you the space to create a financial model and consider best- and worst-case scenarios that validate your idea’s worth.
3. A Business Plan Helps Establish Mini Goals
Writing a business plan helps establish benchmark goals — those that are on your path to the main goal — and determine what you need for your success. Setting mini benchmark goals with deadlines throughout each month, quarter, and year provides you with short-term targets to focus on. Just about every business plan changes as the company grows, but these benchmark targets ensure your company is always moving forward.
Writing a Business Plan Is Not as Difficult as It May Seem
Creating a business plan can seem like an overwhelming project, especially if it’s for your first business or you lack a background in finance or operations. Luckily, there are a number of resources available online, including Trailhead’s “Make a Business Plan” lesson, for writing a business plan. Your options vary based on your specific industry or product offering, but all plans share a similar outline that you can follow when writing your own.
Below, we’ve put together a resource template for creating a thorough business plan. Following a business plan template allows you the opportunity to organize your thoughts and clearly present the plan to prospective partners, investors, or vendors. It can be a lot of trouble to start from scratch. Instead, try using this outline to draft your business plan and turn your napkin scribbles into a solid, well-researched plan that’s ready for financial investment.
How to Write A Business Plan
Nearly every business plan follows the same framework. You can expand this however you’d like, but make sure these essential pieces are in place.
Sales and marketing plan
Business plans open with an executive summary that provides a brief description of the business, a mission statement, the products and services offered, and a summary of plans to succeed in the marketplace. If someone were to ask for a more involved version of your elevator pitch for your business, you’d recite your executive summary.
This is your napkin drawing on steroids. The company overview section is a snapshot of your business:
Your business’s history
A detailed list of products and services
The physical location (if there is one)
The problem/need your product or service addresses
Briefly touch on your target audience and how you plan to attract them, which you’ll go into more detail on later. This is only a snapshot summary for someone to grasp your idea and see the opportunity behind it. You also want to clearly define your company’s goal and strategy for starting or growing in the marketplace.
Your business plan needs to address the industry as a whole, including relevant statistics, current trends, consumer demographics, and any external influences affecting the industry. Use this section to address how your business will fit into this specific industry and what, if any, subsections of the industry you will target.
Who will you battle for customers? The market analysis section requires you to validate that there is enough demand in the market for your business to both enter and grow. Research competitors in the industry, their market share, and how you plan to compete against them.
This is also a great opportunity to describe any industry barriers to entry. You can explain how your company will establish itself — including your unique selling proposition — and share how the barriers will help protect your business from other startups or companies that want to go after your market share.
Sales and Marketing Plan
How will you execute your strategies and reach your goals? Your sales and marketing plan should clearly describe how you will grab the attention of busy consumers and persuade them to buy from your company. Use this opportunity to showcase your strengths, account for how your brand will stand out in the marketplace, and detail how you plan to build long-term customer loyalty for repeat business. Don’t forget to describe your pricing strategy and how it compares to the rest of your market, as well as the advertising strategies you will use during your launch and first year.
Your business team section should focus on your business’ legal structure. Are you a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or other type of business? Introduce your key team members such as managers, board members, and additional owners. Detail who owns what percentage of the company and each team member’s involvement in the business’ day-to-day operations.
Your operating plan gives insight into how your business will function on an ongoing basis and what daily operations will look like. The questions you’ll address in your operating plan may include:
Will you have a physical location?
What responsibilities will the management team shoulder?
What expenses are related to running the business?
This is the money-making section, which can be an exciting part to investigate and budget. The financials portion of your business plan may be the most important because it shows how your business will make money and grow over time. This section is even more crucial if you’re seeking outside financing or investors to help fund your startup. Your financials should outline how your business will generate revenue and profit, and if necessary, how it will repay its loan or investors. Create monthly, annual, and three-to-five-year profit and loss projections and outline anticipated expenses.
Close your business plan with an appendix that provides supporting documentation such as bank statements, employee bios, licenses, agreements, and business credit history. Think of it as your supporting research and reference documents.
What’s Left to Do?
Once you’ve outlined your business plan and gathered all the necessary research and documentation, it’s time to write it. By following this business plan template, you should have no problem taking your great idea from a general idea to real life. Your plan doesn’t have to be as long as War and Peace — it simply has to address each key point referenced above and show that your business addresses a need in the market. Then, after you finish writing your business plan, you can follow its guidance and get started on building your business.
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