How to Write a Business Plan: Step-by-Step Guide + Examples

Determined female African-American entrepreneur scaling a mountain while wearing a large backpack. Represents the journey to starting and growing a business and needing to write a business plan to get there.

Noah Parsons

24 min. read

Updated February 2, 2024

Writing a business plan doesn’t have to be complicated. 

In this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn how to write a business plan that’s detailed enough to impress bankers and potential investors, while giving you the tools to start, run, and grow a successful business.

  • The basics of business planning

If you’re reading this guide, then you already know why you need a business plan . 

You understand that planning helps you: 

  • Raise money
  • Grow strategically
  • Keep your business on the right track 

As you start to write your plan, it’s useful to zoom out and remember what a business plan is .

At its core, a business plan is an overview of the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy: how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.

Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. These set sales goals, budget for expenses, and predict profits and cash flow. 

A good business plan is much more than just a document that you write once and forget about. It’s also a guide that helps you outline and achieve your goals. 

After completing your plan, you can use it as a management tool to track your progress toward your goals. Updating and adjusting your forecasts and budgets as you go is one of the most important steps you can take to run a healthier, smarter business. 

We’ll dive into how to use your plan later in this article.

There are many different types of plans , but we’ll go over the most common type here, which includes everything you need for an investor-ready plan. However, if you’re just starting out and are looking for something simpler—I recommend starting with a one-page business plan . It’s faster and easier to create. 

It’s also the perfect place to start if you’re just figuring out your idea, or need a simple strategic plan to use inside your business.

Dig deeper : How to write a one-page business plan

What’s your biggest business challenge right now?

  • What to include in your business plan

Executive summary

The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally just one to two pages. Most people write it last because it’s a summary of the complete business plan.

Ideally, the executive summary can act as a stand-alone document that covers the highlights of your detailed plan. 

In fact, it’s common for investors to ask only for the executive summary when evaluating your business. If they like what they see in the executive summary, they’ll often follow up with a request for a complete plan, a pitch presentation , or more in-depth financial forecasts .

Your executive summary should include:

  • A summary of the problem you are solving
  • A description of your product or service
  • An overview of your target market
  • A brief description of your team
  • A summary of your financials
  • Your funding requirements (if you are raising money)

Dig Deeper: How to write an effective executive summary

Products and services description

This is where you describe exactly what you’re selling, and how it solves a problem for your target market. The best way to organize this part of your plan is to start by describing the problem that exists for your customers. After that, you can describe how you plan to solve that problem with your product or service. 

This is usually called a problem and solution statement .

To truly showcase the value of your products and services, you need to craft a compelling narrative around your offerings. How will your product or service transform your customers’ lives or jobs? A strong narrative will draw in your readers.

This is also the part of the business plan to discuss any competitive advantages you may have, like specific intellectual property or patents that protect your product. If you have any initial sales, contracts, or other evidence that your product or service is likely to sell, include that information as well. It will show that your idea has traction , which can help convince readers that your plan has a high chance of success.

Market analysis

Your target market is a description of the type of people that you plan to sell to. You might even have multiple target markets, depending on your business. 

A market analysis is the part of your plan where you bring together all of the information you know about your target market. Basically, it’s a thorough description of who your customers are and why they need what you’re selling. You’ll also include information about the growth of your market and your industry .

Try to be as specific as possible when you describe your market. 

Include information such as age, income level, and location—these are what’s called “demographics.” If you can, also describe your market’s interests and habits as they relate to your business—these are “psychographics.” 

Related: Target market examples

Essentially, you want to include any knowledge you have about your customers that is relevant to how your product or service is right for them. With a solid target market, it will be easier to create a sales and marketing plan that will reach your customers. That’s because you know who they are, what they like to do, and the best ways to reach them.

Next, provide any additional information you have about your market. 

What is the size of your market ? Is the market growing or shrinking? Ideally, you’ll want to demonstrate that your market is growing over time, and also explain how your business is positioned to take advantage of any expected changes in your industry.

Dig Deeper: Learn how to write a market analysis

Competitive analysis

Part of defining your business opportunity is determining what your competitive advantage is. To do this effectively, you need to know as much about your competitors as your target customers. 

Every business has some form of competition. If you don’t think you have competitors, then explore what alternatives there are in the market for your product or service. 

For example: In the early years of cars, their main competition was horses. For social media, the early competition was reading books, watching TV, and talking on the phone.

A good competitive analysis fully lays out the competitive landscape and then explains how your business is different. Maybe your products are better made, or cheaper, or your customer service is superior. Maybe your competitive advantage is your location – a wide variety of factors can ultimately give you an advantage.

Dig Deeper: How to write a competitive analysis for your business plan

Marketing and sales plan

The marketing and sales plan covers how you will position your product or service in the market, the marketing channels and messaging you will use, and your sales tactics. 

The best place to start with a marketing plan is with a positioning statement . 

This explains how your business fits into the overall market, and how you will explain the advantages of your product or service to customers. You’ll use the information from your competitive analysis to help you with your positioning. 

For example: You might position your company as the premium, most expensive but the highest quality option in the market. Or your positioning might focus on being locally owned and that shoppers support the local economy by buying your products.

Once you understand your positioning, you’ll bring this together with the information about your target market to create your marketing strategy . 

This is how you plan to communicate your message to potential customers. Depending on who your customers are and how they purchase products like yours, you might use many different strategies, from social media advertising to creating a podcast. Your marketing plan is all about how your customers discover who you are and why they should consider your products and services. 

While your marketing plan is about reaching your customers—your sales plan will describe the actual sales process once a customer has decided that they’re interested in what you have to offer. 

If your business requires salespeople and a long sales process, describe that in this section. If your customers can “self-serve” and just make purchases quickly on your website, describe that process. 

A good sales plan picks up where your marketing plan leaves off. The marketing plan brings customers in the door and the sales plan is how you close the deal.

Together, these specific plans paint a picture of how you will connect with your target audience, and how you will turn them into paying customers.

Dig deeper: What to include in your sales and marketing plan

Business operations

The operations section describes the necessary requirements for your business to run smoothly. It’s where you talk about how your business works and what day-to-day operations look like. 

Depending on how your business is structured, your operations plan may include elements of the business like:

  • Supply chain management
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Equipment and technology
  • Distribution

Some businesses distribute their products and reach their customers through large retailers like, Walmart, Target, and grocery store chains. 

These businesses should review how this part of their business works. The plan should discuss the logistics and costs of getting products onto store shelves and any potential hurdles the business may have to overcome.

If your business is much simpler than this, that’s OK. This section of your business plan can be either extremely short or more detailed, depending on the type of business you are building.

For businesses selling services, such as physical therapy or online software, you can use this section to describe the technology you’ll leverage, what goes into your service, and who you will partner with to deliver your services.

Dig Deeper: Learn how to write the operations chapter of your plan

Key milestones and metrics

Although it’s not required to complete your business plan, mapping out key business milestones and the metrics can be incredibly useful for measuring your success.

Good milestones clearly lay out the parameters of the task and set expectations for their execution. You’ll want to include:

  • A description of each task
  • The proposed due date
  • Who is responsible for each task

If you have a budget, you can include projected costs to hit each milestone. You don’t need extensive project planning in this section—just list key milestones you want to hit and when you plan to hit them. This is your overall business roadmap. 

Possible milestones might be:

  • Website launch date
  • Store or office opening date
  • First significant sales
  • Break even date
  • Business licenses and approvals

You should also discuss the key numbers you will track to determine your success. Some common metrics worth tracking include:

  • Conversion rates
  • Customer acquisition costs
  • Profit per customer
  • Repeat purchases

It’s perfectly fine to start with just a few metrics and grow the number you are tracking over time. You also may find that some metrics simply aren’t relevant to your business and can narrow down what you’re tracking.

Dig Deeper: How to use milestones in your business plan

Organization and management team

Investors don’t just look for great ideas—they want to find great teams. Use this chapter to describe your current team and who you need to hire . You should also provide a quick overview of your location and history if you’re already up and running.

Briefly highlight the relevant experiences of each key team member in the company. It’s important to make the case for why yours is the right team to turn an idea into a reality. 

Do they have the right industry experience and background? Have members of the team had entrepreneurial successes before? 

If you still need to hire key team members, that’s OK. Just note those gaps in this section.

Your company overview should also include a summary of your company’s current business structure . The most common business structures include:

  • Sole proprietor
  • Partnership

Be sure to provide an overview of how the business is owned as well. Does each business partner own an equal portion of the business? How is ownership divided? 

Potential lenders and investors will want to know the structure of the business before they will consider a loan or investment.

Dig Deeper: How to write about your company structure and team

Financial plan

Last, but certainly not least, is your financial plan chapter. 

Entrepreneurs often find this section the most daunting. But, business financials for most startups are less complicated than you think, and a business degree is certainly not required to build a solid financial forecast. 

A typical financial forecast in a business plan includes the following:

  • Sales forecast : An estimate of the sales expected over a given period. You’ll break down your forecast into the key revenue streams that you expect to have.
  • Expense budget : Your planned spending such as personnel costs , marketing expenses, and taxes.
  • Profit & Loss : Brings together your sales and expenses and helps you calculate planned profits.
  • Cash Flow : Shows how cash moves into and out of your business. It can predict how much cash you’ll have on hand at any given point in the future.
  • Balance Sheet : A list of the assets, liabilities, and equity in your company. In short, it provides an overview of the financial health of your business. 

A strong business plan will include a description of assumptions about the future, and potential risks that could impact the financial plan. Including those will be especially important if you’re writing a business plan to pursue a loan or other investment.

Dig Deeper: How to create financial forecasts and budgets

This is the place for additional data, charts, or other information that supports your plan.

Including an appendix can significantly enhance the credibility of your plan by showing readers that you’ve thoroughly considered the details of your business idea, and are backing your ideas up with solid data.

Just remember that the information in the appendix is meant to be supplementary. Your business plan should stand on its own, even if the reader skips this section.

Dig Deeper : What to include in your business plan appendix

Optional: Business plan cover page

Adding a business plan cover page can make your plan, and by extension your business, seem more professional in the eyes of potential investors, lenders, and partners. It serves as the introduction to your document and provides necessary contact information for stakeholders to reference.

Your cover page should be simple and include:

  • Company logo
  • Business name
  • Value proposition (optional)
  • Business plan title
  • Completion and/or update date
  • Address and contact information
  • Confidentiality statement

Just remember, the cover page is optional. If you decide to include it, keep it very simple and only spend a short amount of time putting it together.

Dig Deeper: How to create a business plan cover page

How to use AI to help write your business plan

Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can speed up the business plan writing process and help you think through concepts like market segmentation and competition. These tools are especially useful for taking ideas that you provide and converting them into polished text for your business plan.

The best way to use AI for your business plan is to leverage it as a collaborator , not a replacement for human creative thinking and ingenuity. 

AI can come up with lots of ideas and act as a brainstorming partner. It’s up to you to filter through those ideas and figure out which ones are realistic enough to resonate with your customers. 

There are pros and cons of using AI to help with your business plan . So, spend some time understanding how it can be most helpful before just outsourcing the job to AI.

Learn more: How to collaborate with AI on your business plan

  • Writing tips and strategies

To help streamline the business plan writing process, here are a few tips and key questions to answer to make sure you get the most out of your plan and avoid common mistakes .  

Determine why you are writing a business plan

Knowing why you are writing a business plan will determine your approach to your planning project. 

For example: If you are writing a business plan for yourself, or just to use inside your own business , you can probably skip the section about your team and organizational structure. 

If you’re raising money, you’ll want to spend more time explaining why you’re looking to raise the funds and exactly how you will use them.

Regardless of how you intend to use your business plan , think about why you are writing and what you’re trying to get out of the process before you begin.

Keep things concise

Probably the most important tip is to keep your business plan short and simple. There are no prizes for long business plans . The longer your plan is, the less likely people are to read it. 

So focus on trimming things down to the essentials your readers need to know. Skip the extended, wordy descriptions and instead focus on creating a plan that is easy to read —using bullets and short sentences whenever possible.

Have someone review your business plan

Writing a business plan in a vacuum is never a good idea. Sometimes it’s helpful to zoom out and check if your plan makes sense to someone else. You also want to make sure that it’s easy to read and understand.

Don’t wait until your plan is “done” to get a second look. Start sharing your plan early, and find out from readers what questions your plan leaves unanswered. This early review cycle will help you spot shortcomings in your plan and address them quickly, rather than finding out about them right before you present your plan to a lender or investor.

If you need a more detailed review, you may want to explore hiring a professional plan writer to thoroughly examine it.

Use a free business plan template and business plan examples to get started

Knowing what information you need to cover in a business plan sometimes isn’t quite enough. If you’re struggling to get started or need additional guidance, it may be worth using a business plan template. 

If you’re looking for a free downloadable business plan template to get you started, download the template used by more than 1 million businesses. 

Or, if you just want to see what a completed business plan looks like, check out our library of over 550 free business plan examples . 

We even have a growing list of industry business planning guides with tips for what to focus on depending on your business type.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re writing your business plan. Some entrepreneurs get sucked into the writing and research process, and don’t focus enough on actually getting their business started. 

Here are a few common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Not talking to your customers : This is one of the most common mistakes. It’s easy to assume that your product or service is something that people want. Before you invest too much in your business and too much in the planning process, make sure you talk to your prospective customers and have a good understanding of their needs.

  • Overly optimistic sales and profit forecasts: By nature, entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. But it’s good to temper that optimism a little when you’re planning, and make sure your forecasts are grounded in reality. 
  • Spending too much time planning: Yes, planning is crucial. But you also need to get out and talk to customers, build prototypes of your product and figure out if there’s a market for your idea. Make sure to balance planning with building.
  • Not revising the plan: Planning is useful, but nothing ever goes exactly as planned. As you learn more about what’s working and what’s not—revise your plan, your budgets, and your revenue forecast. Doing so will provide a more realistic picture of where your business is going, and what your financial needs will be moving forward.
  • Not using the plan to manage your business: A good business plan is a management tool. Don’t just write it and put it on the shelf to collect dust – use it to track your progress and help you reach your goals.
  • Presenting your business plan

The planning process forces you to think through every aspect of your business and answer questions that you may not have thought of. That’s the real benefit of writing a business plan – the knowledge you gain about your business that you may not have been able to discover otherwise.

With all of this knowledge, you’re well prepared to convert your business plan into a pitch presentation to present your ideas. 

A pitch presentation is a summary of your plan, just hitting the highlights and key points. It’s the best way to present your business plan to investors and team members.

Dig Deeper: Learn what key slides should be included in your pitch deck

Use your business plan to manage your business

One of the biggest benefits of planning is that it gives you a tool to manage your business better. With a revenue forecast, expense budget, and projected cash flow, you know your targets and where you are headed.

And yet, nothing ever goes exactly as planned – it’s the nature of business.

That’s where using your plan as a management tool comes in. The key to leveraging it for your business is to review it periodically and compare your forecasts and projections to your actual results.

Start by setting up a regular time to review the plan – a monthly review is a good starting point. During this review, answer questions like:

  • Did you meet your sales goals?
  • Is spending following your budget?
  • Has anything gone differently than what you expected?

Now that you see whether you’re meeting your goals or are off track, you can make adjustments and set new targets. 

Maybe you’re exceeding your sales goals and should set new, more aggressive goals. In that case, maybe you should also explore more spending or hiring more employees. 

Or maybe expenses are rising faster than you projected. If that’s the case, you would need to look at where you can cut costs.

A plan, and a method for comparing your plan to your actual results , is the tool you need to steer your business toward success.

Learn More: How to run a regular plan review

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How to write a business plan FAQ

What is a business plan?

A document that describes your business , the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy, how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.

What are the benefits of a business plan?

A business plan helps you understand where you want to go with your business and what it will take to get there. It reduces your overall risk, helps you uncover your business’s potential, attracts investors, and identifies areas for growth.

Having a business plan ultimately makes you more confident as a business owner and more likely to succeed for a longer period of time.

What are the 7 steps of a business plan?

The seven steps to writing a business plan include:

  • Write a brief executive summary
  • Describe your products and services.
  • Conduct market research and compile data into a cohesive market analysis.
  • Describe your marketing and sales strategy.
  • Outline your organizational structure and management team.
  • Develop financial projections for sales, revenue, and cash flow.
  • Add any additional documents to your appendix.

What are the 5 most common business plan mistakes?

There are plenty of mistakes that can be made when writing a business plan. However, these are the 5 most common that you should do your best to avoid:

  • 1. Not taking the planning process seriously.
  • Having unrealistic financial projections or incomplete financial information.
  • Inconsistent information or simple mistakes.
  • Failing to establish a sound business model.
  • Not having a defined purpose for your business plan.

What questions should be answered in a business plan?

Writing a business plan is all about asking yourself questions about your business and being able to answer them through the planning process. You’ll likely be asking dozens and dozens of questions for each section of your plan.

However, these are the key questions you should ask and answer with your business plan:

  • How will your business make money?
  • Is there a need for your product or service?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How are you different from the competition?
  • How will you reach your customers?
  • How will you measure success?

How long should a business plan be?

The length of your business plan fully depends on what you intend to do with it. From the SBA and traditional lender point of view, a business plan needs to be whatever length necessary to fully explain your business. This means that you prove the viability of your business, show that you understand the market, and have a detailed strategy in place.

If you intend to use your business plan for internal management purposes, you don’t necessarily need a full 25-50 page business plan. Instead, you can start with a one-page plan to get all of the necessary information in place.

What are the different types of business plans?

While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering.

Traditional business plan: The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used when applying for funding or pitching to investors. This type of business plan follows the outline above and can be anywhere from 10-50 pages depending on the amount of detail included, the complexity of your business, and what you include in your appendix.

Business model canvas: The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea.

One-page business plan: This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business. You’ll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences. It’s most useful for those exploring ideas, needing to validate their business model, or who need an internal plan to help them run and manage their business.

Lean Plan: The Lean Plan is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance. It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.

What’s the difference between a business plan and a strategic plan?

A business plan covers the “who” and “what” of your business. It explains what your business is doing right now and how it functions. The strategic plan explores long-term goals and explains “how” the business will get there. It encourages you to look more intently toward the future and how you will achieve your vision.

However, when approached correctly, your business plan can actually function as a strategic plan as well. If kept lean, you can define your business, outline strategic steps, and track ongoing operations all with a single plan.

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Content Author: Noah Parsons

Noah is the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. He started his career at Yahoo! and then helped start the user review site From there he started a software distribution business in the UK before coming to Palo Alto Software to run the marketing and product teams.

writing a business plan 101

Table of Contents

  • Use AI to help write your plan
  • Common planning mistakes
  • Manage with your business plan
  • Templates and examples

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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step

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1. Write an executive summary

2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. add additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.

A business plan is a document that outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them. A strong, detailed plan will provide a road map for the business’s next three to five years, and you can share it with potential investors, lenders or other important partners.


Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing your business plan.

» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .

This is the first page of your business plan. Think of it as your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services offered, and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.

Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.

» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps

Next up is your company description, which should contain information like:

Your business’s registered name.

Address of your business location .

Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.

Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.

Lastly, it should cover the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.

» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan

writing a business plan 101

The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out exactly what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the long term.

If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain why you have a clear need for the funds, how the financing will help your business grow, and how you plan to achieve your growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity presented and how the loan or investment will grow your company.

For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch the new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.

In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.

You should include the following:

An explanation of how your product or service works.

The pricing model for your product or service.

The typical customers you serve.

Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.

Your sales strategy.

Your distribution strategy.

You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.

Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.

Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.

» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing

If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.

You may also include metrics such as:

Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.

Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.

Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.

This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.

» NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:

The best business checking accounts .

The best business credit cards .

The best accounting software .

This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.

Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.

Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.

List any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere, such as resumes of key employees, licenses, equipment leases, permits, patents, receipts, bank statements, contracts and personal and business credit history. If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.

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We’ll start with a brief questionnaire to better understand the unique needs of your business.

Once we uncover your personalized matches, our team will consult you on the process moving forward.

Here are some tips to help your business plan stand out:

Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business loan at a local bank, the loan officer likely knows your market pretty well. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of loan approval.

Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors, taking their mind off your business and putting it on the mistakes you made. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.

Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. You can search for a mentor or find a local SCORE chapter for more guidance.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Simple Business Plan

By Joe Weller | October 11, 2021

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A business plan is the cornerstone of any successful company, regardless of size or industry. This step-by-step guide provides information on writing a business plan for organizations at any stage, complete with free templates and expert advice. 

Included on this page, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan and a chart to identify which type of business plan you should write . Plus, find information on how a business plan can help grow a business and expert tips on writing one .

What Is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a document that communicates a company’s goals and ambitions, along with the timeline, finances, and methods needed to achieve them. Additionally, it may include a mission statement and details about the specific products or services offered.

A business plan can highlight varying time periods, depending on the stage of your company and its goals. That said, a typical business plan will include the following benchmarks:

  • Product goals and deadlines for each month
  • Monthly financials for the first two years
  • Profit and loss statements for the first three to five years
  • Balance sheet projections for the first three to five years

Startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses all create business plans to use as a guide as their new company progresses. Larger organizations may also create (and update) a business plan to keep high-level goals, financials, and timelines in check.

While you certainly need to have a formalized outline of your business’s goals and finances, creating a business plan can also help you determine a company’s viability, its profitability (including when it will first turn a profit), and how much money you will need from investors. In turn, a business plan has functional value as well: Not only does outlining goals help keep you accountable on a timeline, it can also attract investors in and of itself and, therefore, act as an effective strategy for growth.

For more information, visit our comprehensive guide to writing a strategic plan or download free strategic plan templates . This page focuses on for-profit business plans, but you can read our article with nonprofit business plan templates .

Business Plan Steps

The specific information in your business plan will vary, depending on the needs and goals of your venture, but a typical plan includes the following ordered elements:

  • Executive summary
  • Description of business
  • Market analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Description of organizational management
  • Description of product or services
  • Marketing plan
  • Sales strategy
  • Funding details (or request for funding)
  • Financial projections

If your plan is particularly long or complicated, consider adding a table of contents or an appendix for reference. For an in-depth description of each step listed above, read “ How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step ” below.

Broadly speaking, your audience includes anyone with a vested interest in your organization. They can include potential and existing investors, as well as customers, internal team members, suppliers, and vendors.

Do I Need a Simple or Detailed Plan?

Your business’s stage and intended audience dictates the level of detail your plan needs. Corporations require a thorough business plan — up to 100 pages. Small businesses or startups should have a concise plan focusing on financials and strategy.

How to Choose the Right Plan for Your Business

In order to identify which type of business plan you need to create, ask: “What do we want the plan to do?” Identify function first, and form will follow.

Use the chart below as a guide for what type of business plan to create:

Is the Order of Your Business Plan Important?

There is no set order for a business plan, with the exception of the executive summary, which should always come first. Beyond that, simply ensure that you organize the plan in a way that makes sense and flows naturally.

The Difference Between Traditional and Lean Business Plans

A traditional business plan follows the standard structure — because these plans encourage detail, they tend to require more work upfront and can run dozens of pages. A Lean business plan is less common and focuses on summarizing critical points for each section. These plans take much less work and typically run one page in length.

In general, you should use a traditional model for a legacy company, a large company, or any business that does not adhere to Lean (or another Agile method ). Use Lean if you expect the company to pivot quickly or if you already employ a Lean strategy with other business operations. Additionally, a Lean business plan can suffice if the document is for internal use only. Stick to a traditional version for investors, as they may be more sensitive to sudden changes or a high degree of built-in flexibility in the plan.

How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step

Writing a strong business plan requires research and attention to detail for each section. Below, you’ll find a 10-step guide to researching and defining each element in the plan.

Step 1: Executive Summary

The executive summary will always be the first section of your business plan. The goal is to answer the following questions:

  • What is the vision and mission of the company?
  • What are the company’s short- and long-term goals?

See our  roundup of executive summary examples and templates for samples. Read our executive summary guide to learn more about writing one.

Step 2: Description of Business

The goal of this section is to define the realm, scope, and intent of your venture. To do so, answer the following questions as clearly and concisely as possible:

  • What business are we in?
  • What does our business do?

Step 3: Market Analysis

In this section, provide evidence that you have surveyed and understand the current marketplace, and that your product or service satisfies a niche in the market. To do so, answer these questions:

  • Who is our customer? 
  • What does that customer value?

Step 4: Competitive Analysis

In many cases, a business plan proposes not a brand-new (or even market-disrupting) venture, but a more competitive version — whether via features, pricing, integrations, etc. — than what is currently available. In this section, answer the following questions to show that your product or service stands to outpace competitors:

  • Who is the competition? 
  • What do they do best? 
  • What is our unique value proposition?

Step 5: Description of Organizational Management

In this section, write an overview of the team members and other key personnel who are integral to success. List roles and responsibilities, and if possible, note the hierarchy or team structure.

Step 6: Description of Products or Services

In this section, clearly define your product or service, as well as all the effort and resources that go into producing it. The strength of your product largely defines the success of your business, so it’s imperative that you take time to test and refine the product before launching into marketing, sales, or funding details.

Questions to answer in this section are as follows:

  • What is the product or service?
  • How do we produce it, and what resources are necessary for production?

Step 7: Marketing Plan

In this section, define the marketing strategy for your product or service. This doesn’t need to be as fleshed out as a full marketing plan , but it should answer basic questions, such as the following:

  • Who is the target market (if different from existing customer base)?
  • What channels will you use to reach your target market?
  • What resources does your marketing strategy require, and do you have access to them?
  • If possible, do you have a rough estimate of timeline and budget?
  • How will you measure success?

Step 8: Sales Plan

Write an overview of the sales strategy, including the priorities of each cycle, steps to achieve these goals, and metrics for success. For the purposes of a business plan, this section does not need to be a comprehensive, in-depth sales plan , but can simply outline the high-level objectives and strategies of your sales efforts. 

Start by answering the following questions:

  • What is the sales strategy?
  • What are the tools and tactics you will use to achieve your goals?
  • What are the potential obstacles, and how will you overcome them?
  • What is the timeline for sales and turning a profit?
  • What are the metrics of success?

Step 9: Funding Details (or Request for Funding)

This section is one of the most critical parts of your business plan, particularly if you are sharing it with investors. You do not need to provide a full financial plan, but you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • How much capital do you currently have? How much capital do you need?
  • How will you grow the team (onboarding, team structure, training and development)?
  • What are your physical needs and constraints (space, equipment, etc.)?

Step 10: Financial Projections

Apart from the fundraising analysis, investors like to see thought-out financial projections for the future. As discussed earlier, depending on the scope and stage of your business, this could be anywhere from one to five years. 

While these projections won’t be exact — and will need to be somewhat flexible — you should be able to gauge the following:

  • How and when will the company first generate a profit?
  • How will the company maintain profit thereafter?

Business Plan Template

Business Plan Template

Download Business Plan Template

Microsoft Excel | Smartsheet

This basic business plan template has space for all the traditional elements: an executive summary, product or service details, target audience, marketing and sales strategies, etc. In the finances sections, input your baseline numbers, and the template will automatically calculate projections for sales forecasting, financial statements, and more.

For templates tailored to more specific needs, visit this business plan template roundup or download a fill-in-the-blank business plan template to make things easy. 

If you are looking for a particular template by file type, visit our pages dedicated exclusively to Microsoft Excel , Microsoft Word , and Adobe PDF business plan templates.

How to Write a Simple Business Plan

A simple business plan is a streamlined, lightweight version of the large, traditional model. As opposed to a one-page business plan , which communicates high-level information for quick overviews (such as a stakeholder presentation), a simple business plan can exceed one page.

Below are the steps for creating a generic simple business plan, which are reflected in the template below .

  • Write the Executive Summary This section is the same as in the traditional business plan — simply offer an overview of what’s in the business plan, the prospect or core offering, and the short- and long-term goals of the company. 
  • Add a Company Overview Document the larger company mission and vision. 
  • Provide the Problem and Solution In straightforward terms, define the problem you are attempting to solve with your product or service and how your company will attempt to do it. Think of this section as the gap in the market you are attempting to close.
  • Identify the Target Market Who is your company (and its products or services) attempting to reach? If possible, briefly define your buyer personas .
  • Write About the Competition In this section, demonstrate your knowledge of the market by listing the current competitors and outlining your competitive advantage.
  • Describe Your Product or Service Offerings Get down to brass tacks and define your product or service. What exactly are you selling?
  • Outline Your Marketing Tactics Without getting into too much detail, describe your planned marketing initiatives.
  • Add a Timeline and the Metrics You Will Use to Measure Success Offer a rough timeline, including milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to measure your progress.
  • Include Your Financial Forecasts Write an overview of your financial plan that demonstrates you have done your research and adequate modeling. You can also list key assumptions that go into this forecasting. 
  • Identify Your Financing Needs This section is where you will make your funding request. Based on everything in the business plan, list your proposed sources of funding, as well as how you will use it.

Simple Business Plan Template

Simple Business Plan Template

Download Simple Business Plan Template

Microsoft Excel |  Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF  | Smartsheet

Use this simple business plan template to outline each aspect of your organization, including information about financing and opportunities to seek out further funding. This template is completely customizable to fit the needs of any business, whether it’s a startup or large company.

Read our article offering free simple business plan templates or free 30-60-90-day business plan templates to find more tailored options. You can also explore our collection of one page business templates . 

How to Write a Business Plan for a Lean Startup

A Lean startup business plan is a more Agile approach to a traditional version. The plan focuses more on activities, processes, and relationships (and maintains flexibility in all aspects), rather than on concrete deliverables and timelines.

While there is some overlap between a traditional and a Lean business plan, you can write a Lean plan by following the steps below:

  • Add Your Value Proposition Take a streamlined approach to describing your product or service. What is the unique value your startup aims to deliver to customers? Make sure the team is aligned on the core offering and that you can state it in clear, simple language.
  • List Your Key Partners List any other businesses you will work with to realize your vision, including external vendors, suppliers, and partners. This section demonstrates that you have thoughtfully considered the resources you can provide internally, identified areas for external assistance, and conducted research to find alternatives.
  • Note the Key Activities Describe the key activities of your business, including sourcing, production, marketing, distribution channels, and customer relationships.
  • Include Your Key Resources List the critical resources — including personnel, equipment, space, and intellectual property — that will enable you to deliver your unique value.
  • Identify Your Customer Relationships and Channels In this section, document how you will reach and build relationships with customers. Provide a high-level map of the customer experience from start to finish, including the spaces in which you will interact with the customer (online, retail, etc.). 
  • Detail Your Marketing Channels Describe the marketing methods and communication platforms you will use to identify and nurture your relationships with customers. These could be email, advertising, social media, etc.
  • Explain the Cost Structure This section is especially necessary in the early stages of a business. Will you prioritize maximizing value or keeping costs low? List the foundational startup costs and how you will move toward profit over time.
  • Share Your Revenue Streams Over time, how will the company make money? Include both the direct product or service purchase, as well as secondary sources of revenue, such as subscriptions, selling advertising space, fundraising, etc.

Lean Business Plan Template for Startups

Lean Business Plan Templates for Startups

Download Lean Business Plan Template for Startups

Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF

Startup leaders can use this Lean business plan template to relay the most critical information from a traditional plan. You’ll find all the sections listed above, including spaces for industry and product overviews, cost structure and sources of revenue, and key metrics, and a timeline. The template is completely customizable, so you can edit it to suit the objectives of your Lean startups.

See our wide variety of  startup business plan templates for more options.

How to Write a Business Plan for a Loan

A business plan for a loan, often called a loan proposal , includes many of the same aspects of a traditional business plan, as well as additional financial documents, such as a credit history, a loan request, and a loan repayment plan.

In addition, you may be asked to include personal and business financial statements, a form of collateral, and equity investment information.

Download free financial templates to support your business plan.

Tips for Writing a Business Plan

Outside of including all the key details in your business plan, you have several options to elevate the document for the highest chance of winning funding and other resources. Follow these tips from experts:.

  • Keep It Simple: Avner Brodsky , the Co-Founder and CEO of Lezgo Limited, an online marketing company, uses the acronym KISS (keep it short and simple) as a variation on this idea. “The business plan is not a college thesis,” he says. “Just focus on providing the essential information.”
  • Do Adequate Research: Michael Dean, the Co-Founder of Pool Research , encourages business leaders to “invest time in research, both internal and external (market, finance, legal etc.). Avoid being overly ambitious or presumptive. Instead, keep everything objective, balanced, and accurate.” Your plan needs to stand on its own, and you must have the data to back up any claims or forecasting you make. As Brodsky explains, “Your business needs to be grounded on the realities of the market in your chosen location. Get the most recent data from authoritative sources so that the figures are vetted by experts and are reliable.”
  • Set Clear Goals: Make sure your plan includes clear, time-based goals. “Short-term goals are key to momentum growth and are especially important to identify for new businesses,” advises Dean.
  • Know (and Address) Your Weaknesses: “This awareness sets you up to overcome your weak points much quicker than waiting for them to arise,” shares Dean. Brodsky recommends performing a full SWOT analysis to identify your weaknesses, too. “Your business will fare better with self-knowledge, which will help you better define the mission of your business, as well as the strategies you will choose to achieve your objectives,” he adds.
  • Seek Peer or Mentor Review: “Ask for feedback on your drafts and for areas to improve,” advises Brodsky. “When your mind is filled with dreams for your business, sometimes it is an outsider who can tell you what you’re missing and will save your business from being a product of whimsy.”

Outside of these more practical tips, the language you use is also important and may make or break your business plan.

Shaun Heng, VP of Operations at Coin Market Cap , gives the following advice on the writing, “Your business plan is your sales pitch to an investor. And as with any sales pitch, you need to strike the right tone and hit a few emotional chords. This is a little tricky in a business plan, because you also need to be formal and matter-of-fact. But you can still impress by weaving in descriptive language and saying things in a more elegant way.

“A great way to do this is by expanding your vocabulary, avoiding word repetition, and using business language. Instead of saying that something ‘will bring in as many customers as possible,’ try saying ‘will garner the largest possible market segment.’ Elevate your writing with precise descriptive words and you'll impress even the busiest investor.”

Additionally, Dean recommends that you “stay consistent and concise by keeping your tone and style steady throughout, and your language clear and precise. Include only what is 100 percent necessary.”

Resources for Writing a Business Plan

While a template provides a great outline of what to include in a business plan, a live document or more robust program can provide additional functionality, visibility, and real-time updates. The U.S. Small Business Association also curates resources for writing a business plan.

Additionally, you can use business plan software to house data, attach documentation, and share information with stakeholders. Popular options include LivePlan, Enloop, BizPlanner, PlanGuru, and iPlanner.

How a Business Plan Helps to Grow Your Business

A business plan — both the exercise of creating one and the document — can grow your business by helping you to refine your product, target audience, sales plan, identify opportunities, secure funding, and build new partnerships. 

Outside of these immediate returns, writing a business plan is a useful exercise in that it forces you to research the market, which prompts you to forge your unique value proposition and identify ways to beat the competition. Doing so will also help you build (and keep you accountable to) attainable financial and product milestones. And down the line, it will serve as a welcome guide as hurdles inevitably arise.

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Business Plans 101

Whether you're in startup mode or your need financing to expand your business, writing a business plan is essential. Here's how.

business plan

Whether you’re thinking about starting a business or looking for financing to expand one you’re already running , you’ll find writing a business plan beneficial, if not essential.

Many lenders won’t give you money unless they know you have a well-thought out strategy for where you’re going and how you’ll get there. Even if you’re approaching friends and family for money, people who won’t require you to have a plan, it will be helpful to write one. Simply by going through all the necessary steps to put one together, you’ll wind up with a clearer idea of what you’re trying to accomplish and many of the challenges you might face along the way. Certainly, if you’re going to try to get money from a bank, a government-backed lender, a venture capitalist, or a community development financial institution (CDFI), you will need a formal business plan.

This article is part of a series that will teach you how to write the perfect business plan – discussing why you should have one, the different types of business plans you can develop, and what goes into each section. Before we get into the how-to, let’s take a deeper look into what writing a plan will do for you.

The first clue comes right in the description of what a business plan is: a roadmap for your business that outlines your goals and spells out how you aim to achieve them. In other words, it’s a guide for how to set up your business and run it on a daily basis to help you reach your long term goals. And as we said, it’s a worthwhile investment of time and effort even if you don’t need to present it to potential investors.

Nine Benefits of Writing a Business Plan

Writing a business plan will help you gather all of your ideas in one place, hone your message and crystallize your vision. This will keep you from getting scattered, sidetracked, or pulled away from what’s likely to make you the most successful.

2) Research

The knowledge you’ll gain as you explore the industry you’re working in will be invaluable. You’ll get a much better understanding of the niche you hope to fill and where you fit into the market.

3) Commitment

Taking a look at expense projections, sales and revenue forecasts, and all the other dollars and cents aspects of your business will help keep you on track as you move forward, and serve as a built-in warning system if you’re not where you’re supposed to be.

4) Exploration

It’s easy to get so focused on the nuts and bolts of your business that you lose sight of the bigger picture. A business plan will help ground you, but also figure out where you fit within the greater whole, things you may not have taken the time to consider.

5) Objectivity

Talking to friends and family about your great idea can make it seem like a can’t-miss proposition. The supportive environment can make it difficult to anticipate real-world bumps and business realities. Doing the actual math while putting your plan together will help you see whether your idea is truly sustainable or needs some work. It’s vitally important to catch things early before you invest too much time or money.

6) Teamwork

Even solo businesses have team members, whether it’s a supportive spouse or a professional accountant or attorney. Larger companies may have someone to manage sales, another person for marketing, and one for operations. No matter how many people are on your team, it’s important to share the same goals and values as you work toward the future. A business plan will serve to get everyone on the same page as you move forward.

7) Accountability

Business plans have a fairly standardized set of components. Doing the work to put the plan together will make sure you think about all of the important facets you need to cover, and give you standards to hold yourself to as you start to put the plan into effect.

8) Measurement

Laying out your goals and ideas in advance gives you something to check in with along the way to see how you’re doing. Where are you exceeding your expectations? In which areas might you be falling short? While it’s important to see your business plan as flexible, it’s great to have something in writing that helps keep you honest with yourself about your performance.

9) Recruitment

When you’re looking to attract top talent, your business plan will help give potential employees an overview of what you’re all about, and their reaction to the plan will help you know if they’re a good fit. Do they grasp the key issues involved with your business? Fill a slot you need to move forward? Great employees will appreciate how you’ve taken the time to assess your place in the market — as will lenders and investors when you need to raise money.

What Are the Different Types of Business Plans?

Okay, you’re sold. You understand the benefits of having a business plan and you’re committed to writing one. What comes next? Decide on what type to create.

Just as your goals and business will not look exactly the same as someone else’s, your business plan will be unique to you. Some elements belong in each one, and we’ll explain each of those below, but your presentation might be completely different. Most importantly, think about who the audience is and what the goals are for the plan. Most business plans will take one of the following shapes:

As its name suggests, a miniplan isn’t a lengthy document. It can be as short as two to 10 pages, as long as it covers your concept for the business, how you’ll finance and market it, and financial information such as operating expenses, cash flow, income projections and a balance sheet. It’s a great way to lay out your concept or have basic information to show to potential partners or investors. Know your audience, though. A miniplan isn’t a substitute for a longer, full-length document. If it’s for your own personal use, this might suffice. An investor or lender may be looking for something more.

Internal Working Plan

If the primary purpose of your plan is to use it to run your business, it doesn’t have to be nearly as formal as a traditional, full-scale business plan. You’ll want it chock full of details about your finances and objectives, but you can leave out the parts that would mostly be necessary for outsiders, like resumes of key executives and photos of products or prototypes.

Your final presentation can also be a bit less fancy. No need to print it out on nice stock and put it in a beautiful binder. You don’t even have to print it at all, if it’s on your computer. What’s in the plan is far more important than what it looks like. Like the old, oft-folded road maps we kept in the glove compartment before the days of smartphone GPS apps, this is a document you’ll live with, something that will help guide you and keep you on the right path.

A Formal Presentation Plan

This is likely the kind document that originally came to mind when we started talking about business plans. This is the real deal, the one that’ll take the longest, probably be the longest, and will be suitable for showing to lenders, investors and anyone else you need to impress outside the company. When we detail the components below, plan to include all of them in your final document. And pay attention to presentation, spelling and grammar. As opposed to your own in-house plan, a formal presentation plan requires recognized business language and should avoid slang, jargon and shorthand only you will understand. It must be well-written and consistent, especially where numbers and finances are concerned.

Your presentation plan should be printed on high-quality paper, with color, especially if you’ve included product photographs. It should include charts, graphs, tables and illustrations, and be professionally bound.

While having a printed document is still recommended, and may even be required by a potential lender or investor, many business documents are transmitted electronically today, so it’s smart to have a version of your plan that looks great as an electronic document. This could be a simple PDF of what you’ve had printed or something more elaborate, with clickable spreadsheets to manipulate projections. As with each of the above plans, let your needs dictate what kind of document you create.

Elements of a Business Plan

A formal plan will include all of the following items, and less formal plans, like mini or working plans, will include many of them. We’ll touch on them briefly here, and expand on each throughout the series in its own separate article.

Click on each header to open the full article.


An overview of what you want to accomplish. This is usually the first page of your plan after the title page. However, you might want to save writing it until last, as it sums up all you’ve presented.


A description of your company and its industry, along with the current outlook and possibilities for the future.


Explain how your company will be structured. What does the management team look like? How many employees will you need? Will you have other individuals in charge of certain functions, or run everything yourself? Which tasks will be assigned to each division? What are the expenses related to operating the business?


What, exactly, are you selling or providing? This is where you fully explain your concept. Include a description, the suppliers you’ll use (if any), what your costs are, how you determined them, and how your product or service is different from what’s already available.


A look at who your competitors are, how you are different, your strengths and weaknesses compared to the competition, what kind of market share you’re hoping for, and how you will position yourself to get there.


Given what you know about the existing business conditions, how will you market your product or company? How will you sell? Will you have a sales force or use outside representatives? How will you build the company, handle expansion, and recruit and compensate your employees?


If the main purpose of the plan is to help you raise money, whether from investors or through a loan, this is where you’ll spell out what you need. How much are you looking for right now? How might that change over the next five years? What do you plan to do with the money?


This section will be imperative if you’re looking for money, but it’s important no matter what. Spelling out your sales projections for the future will help you closely examine costs, decide how you’ll allocate your resources, and whether you actually have a viable idea.

This is optional, but would be the place to include information like the resumes of your key management team, reference letters, product photos, copies of major contracts and other pertinent legal documents.

How to Best Use Your Business Plan

Most importantly, actually USE it, even if it’s not being submitted to a financial institution. You’ve done all the research, the thinking, the projecting, and the writing. Don’t just toss it all in a drawer and forget about it. Take it out on a regular basis, read it, and see how you’re doing.

Remember, it’s called a plan, and things don’t always go as planned, so if you see you’re veering off course, whether intentionally or inadvertently, now is the time to make whatever adjustments are necessary. A business plan is only a snapshot of where you were at the time you wrote it, and it needs regular attention and revising to stay relevant and valuable.

With all the work you did to put it together, you’re already a giant step ahead of most of your competitors. Keep it current to reflect what’s going on now, along with the knowledge about your market you’ve picked up along the way. If a sales strategy isn’t working, eliminate it and find another. When a particular marketing tool produces gangbuster results, allocate more resources that way. As the plan grows and changes with you, it will be an even better guide to your future strategy and success.

Now that you have the gist of a business plan, start working on it and revisit us over the next few weeks for a better understanding of the elements that go into it. There is more to come so stay-tuned!

Next Article: Business Plan Section 1 – Executive Summary

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writing a business plan 101

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Business Plan 101: How to Prepare the Perfect Business Plan

Reports on paper and tablet scattered on a table with two cups of coffee hands and pens

We’re told that every successful business starts with a great idea. That’s a half-truth. Our nine-year track record of transforming exceptional entrepreneurs into successful CEOs shows us that great companies start with great ideas — and a great business plan.

Our business plan consultants have developed more than 4,000 perfect and simple business plan templates for a diverse array of companies who have gone on to raise more than $2.5 billion. Our clients, early stage and middle market companies, just like yours, are engaged in every type of business, from building boutique hotels to wifi-hotspots.

The following five concepts, based on a recent Business Week Online interview with Growthink partner Dave Lavinsky, are critical to building a successful business plan — and most importantly — a successful business:

1. Why You Need a Business Plan

A business plan is the marketing document telling the story of your company: its purpose, achievements and objectives. A business plan helps you obtain investment capital. Ideally, your business plan should be 15-25 pages long and it should include an executive summary of between 2-4 pages, depending on the complexity of the business and the purpose of the plan, which answers the two questions asked by every experienced investor::

  • What are the key value propositions of your business to your targeted marketplace(s)?
  • Why and how will an investor receive a return on their invested dollars?

Your business plan should also include an operating plan . In addition to other components, the operating plan contains milestones — the list of business objectives your company will achieve by a certain date.

2. Research, Research, Research

Entrepreneurs of the world: do your homework . Investors reading your business plan want to see that you’ve thought long and hard about the potential promise — and pitfalls — of starting or expanding your company. Your dutiful due diligence must supply answers to these questions potential investors are asking themselves — and willask you:

  • Who are your competitors?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What companies have succeeded or failed in your sector?
  • Why fund your company now, rather than a year from now? Or a year ago?

Here’s the blunt bottom line: If your business plan doesn’t include research that helps you present a clear, compelling case to potential investors, why should anyone trust you with their money?

3. Investor Insight: Experience Over Speed

Ah, the days of 1999, when we believed that First Mover Advantage, like Venture Incubators, was the key to success. Well, we’ve been burned and we’ve learned that, for a range of ventures, from e-tailing ( anyone?) to streaming networks (, RIP), that being first doesn’t mean finishing first among your competitors.

Many investors now want to see a track record — for example,a history of revenue and customers. Have you been running your business for awhile or is it still just a great idea, looking for capital? This change in investor strategy makes for longer funding cycles: that period between presenting your business plan to potential investors and receiving an initial round of funding. Longer funding cycles are frustrating for emerging stage business owners who need investment capital sooner, rather than later.

4. Seek Specialist Funding

Does your company generate annual revenues over $1 million dollars? Are you an early stage company or a pre-revenue concern that owns its intellectual property? Well, there are investors seeking to fund companies justlike yours. Growthink’s capital partners represent a wide range of investment mandates. Thousands of companies have come to Growthink for the capital and counsel critical to their success.

5. Get Great Advisors — And Listen To Them

Your business plan should include the creation of an advisory board . The advisory board is a group of external experts who are not involved with the day to day business operations. A good advisory board helps keep your team on track towards achieving the milestones contained in your operating plan and alerts you to the changes and opportunities occurring in your target market.

6. Have Questions? We Have The Answers

Founded in 1999, Growthink is a leading business plan consulting firm and middle market investment bank .  Our professional business plan writers and investment bankers have assisted more than 1,500 clients in launching and growing their businesses, and raising more than $1 billion in growth financing.

Need assistance with your business plan? 

Consult our professional business plan consultants .

Raising a private placement round?

Speak with our private placement memorandum experts.

  • Or, if you’re creating your own PPM, save time and money with Growthink’s sample private placement memorandum .

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Business Plan 101

All the answers to your questions about how to write a business plan from the professionals who write them every day.

Almost everyone is familiar with the term “ business plan. ” However, for some reason, this crucial foundational business document is shrouded in mystery. No longer.

Below is a list of frequently asked questions from our clients, which we hope will provide insights into your business planning journey. And if we missed something, please send us an email with your business plan question and we will get back to you (and perhaps even add your question to our list).

How much does it cost to start a business?

The cost of launching a business varies greatly depending on the type of business, location, and a variety of other factors. Some businesses can be started with very little money, whereas others require a substantial investment. Here are the most common types of startup costs for new businesses:

  • Business registration: These may include the cost of registering your business name, obtaining any required licenses and permits, and establishing any legal structures such as a corporation or LLC (see "What business structure should I use?").
  • Business insurance: Business insurance safeguards your company in the event of a lawsuit or other unforeseen event. Businesses may require various types of insurance, including general liability insurance, errors and omissions insurance, property insurance, and vehicle insurance.
  • Physical space: If you intend to open a physical location for your company, you will have to pay for rent, utilities, and any necessary renovations or remodeling (usually referred to as "buildout"). Even if you do not require a separate location for your business, any changes you make to your home are covered here.
  • Equipment: Depending on the type of business you plan to launch, it may be necessary to purchase equipment. Equipment includes computers and all other fixed assets, such as machinery and vehicles.
  • Fixtures & Furniture: In addition to equipment, fixtures and furniture are often required as additional fixed assets (these three items are frequently grouped together as "FF&E"). In most cases, a fixture is something that is permanently attached to the space, whereas furniture can be easily moved. A built-in shelving unit, for example, is a fixture, whereas a free-standing desk is furniture.
  • Inventory: If you sell any type of product, you will need to purchase (and maintain) inventory, which includes finished goods that you buy at wholesale prices as well as raw materials that you use to make finished goods. The amount of inventory you require will depend on the type of business you have and is considered a current asset.
  • Marketing and advertising: Most businesses need some sort of online presence, most often in the form of a website. Additionally, the majority of businesses will create a formal brand that represents their values or products. The costs of marketing and advertising can vary greatly. Some businesses sell their products on well-known platforms such as Etsy, which requires little to no upfront payment, whereas others may require a full-fledged ecommerce website, which can cost thousands of dollars. Other industries may require extensive television advertising campaigns.
  • Professional fees: These include any legal, accounting, or consulting you need to launch your business.

Curious about what it typically costs to start different kinds of companies? Masterplans analyzed SBA data to figure out the average startup cost of the top 10 most common new businesses (you can also download our startup costs infographic ).

Is a business plan necessary to get funding?

We’ve all heard apocryphal stories about Amazon getting funded based on a diagram scribbled on the back of a napkin over lunch with a potential investor. And the term “elevator pitch” implies that you can just pitch an idea to an investor in an elevator and get money on the spot. But the chances of this happening are so slim as to be laughable, and you certainly wouldn’t want to stake your business’ potential success on a napkin diagram. If you’re serious about your idea, you need to treat it seriously, and that means taking the requisite steps to show that you’re worthy of investment.

What are the different ways to fund a business?

While there are numerous ways for an entrepreneur to fund a business, the following is a summary of the most common methods. Remember that your company does not have to choose just one method; many of the most successful startups combine multiple funding types depending on the amount, timing, and initiative, and so on.


Many entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses with their own savings and investments. Self-funded businesses frequently rely on credit cards and small loans from family and friends to supplement their own funds. Bootstrapping allows entrepreneurs to grow their businesses organically, but it can be difficult due to a lack of cash flow.

Pros of bootstrapping:

  • Full control
  • Flexibility
  • Faster startup

Cons of bootstrapping:

  • Limited funding
  • Slower growth (due to lower capititalization)
  • Personal risk
  • No access to mentorship and advice

Business loans

Banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions provide a range of business loans, including term loans, lines of credit, and SBA loans. The most common loan type is a term loan, in which a business receives a lump sum of money and repays it with interest and principal payments over a set period of time. SBA loans are a specific type of term loan designed to provide small businesses with greater access to capital. SBA loans are partially guaranteed by the government, making them ideal for entrepreneurs who may be unable to obtain a conventional term loan. A second type of loan is a line of credit (LOC), which functions similarly to a credit card. The company is given a credit limit that it can use as needed while only paying interest on the amount borrowed. The final type of loan, known as invoice financing or merchant advance loans, is a hard money loan that provides cash up front against unpaid business. The interest rates on these loans are extremely high.

Pros of bank loans:

  • Maintain ownership
  • Provide capital to start or expand
  • Consistent repayment schedule
  • Establishes credit history

Cons of bank loans:

  • Strict qualifications (credit score, etc.)
  • High interest (especially on hard money loans)
  • Long-term commitment
  • Requires down payment


The introduction of platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo has increased the popularity of crowdfunding, especially for consumer goods. Typically, the entrepreneur establishes a campaign goal and offers incentives in exchange for contributions, which are frequently in the form of early access to or perks for the company's product. Equity crowdfunding is less common, in which individual investors contribute to the business in the form of equity and eventually receive dividends from the company's profits.

Pros of crowdfunding:

  • No equity dilution
  • Validates products or service
  • Connect with potential customers

Cons of crowdfunding:

  • No funding guarantee
  • Platform fees
  • Expensive rewards
  • Legal and regulation requirements

Angel Investors

An angel investor is a high-net-worth individual (HNWI) who provides capital to early-stage or startup companies in exchange for ownership equity or convertible debt. Individual angel investors, as opposed to institutional investors, typically invest their own money. Angel investors typically provide seed capital to entrepreneurs and startups at an early stage when traditional lending sources are unavailable. Angel investors seek high returns on their investment (i.e., outperforming the stock market), and therefore are willing to take on more risk than, say, a bank would. Angels can also offer mentoring, expertise, and access to professional networks to assist entrepreneurs in growing their startups.

Pros of angel investors:

  • Typically passive investors
  • Less focused on exit
  • Mentorship and networking

Cons of angel investors:

  • Seek high returns
  • Can be difficult to find
  • Dilutes ownership equity
  • Legal requirements

Venture Capital

Venture capital firms (VCs), like angel investors, invest money in exchange for equity in the company. However, venture capitalists are typically institutional investors who pool funds from pension funds, endowments, and other business groups. VCs are looking for startups and early-stage businesses with high growth potential, and usually prefer companies that have already established themselves and are ready to scale. Because VC firms are compensated based on the success of their investments, they play an active role in the strategic direction of the companies in which they invest.

Pros of venture capital:

  • Large investments (typically in the millions)
  • Mentorship & expertise
  • Typical path for companies that eventually go public

Cons of venture capital:

  • High expectations
  • Loss of control
  • Strict milestones and performance targets

Incubators and accelerators

An incubator is a program that helps startups and early-stage companies grow and develop by giving them resources like office space, mentorship, and access to a network of people in the industry. They usually focus on a specific industry or type of business, such as technology or biotechnology. Similarly, an accelerator is a program that provides mentorship, usually over a specific amount of time, usually culminating in a demo day where the different members of the cohort present their companies to potential investors. Like incubators, accelerators can be focused on a specific industry, or they can be more generalized.

Pros of incubators and accelerators:

  • Product validation and refinement

Cons of incubators and accelerators:

  • Competitive application process
  • Can require fees in the form of equity, services, and memberships

Grants are a type of funding provided by government agencies, non-profit organizations, private foundations, and industry-specific groups that allow businesses to start or expand operations without incurring debt. They are most often awarded to established companies (as in, not startups) that meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being minority- or veteran-owned businesses. As a result, grants are frequently tied to a specific purpose, such as research and development, hiring and training employees, expanding into new markets, and environmental sustainability initiatives. Working with a professional grant writer is a good way to improve your chances of success.

Pros of grant funding:

  • No repayment (free money!)
  • Targeted funding
  • Validation of business

Cons of grant funding:

  • Competitive
  • Strict eligibility requirements
  • Complex applications
  • Limited use of funding
  • Usually not for startups

What other purposes can a business plan serve aside from funding?

Most professional business plans are written with the goal of obtaining funding, typically from lenders or investors (see “What are the different ways to fund a business?”). However, there are several cases in which an entrepreneur might need a business plan.

Strategic Vision: A strategic business plan isn't all that different from a funding business plan. It should still contain nearly all of the same sections, with the exception of the request for and use of funds. It should be noted, though, that many strategic business plans are for expanding an existing business with a new initiative or department. If internal funding is required, it would make sense to have a detailed list of sources and uses of funding. Typically, company leaders and stakeholders use a strategic business plan to align their visions, inform decision-making, and track the company's progress toward meeting the objectives.

Immigration: There are a number of ways for prospective immigrants to the United States to obtain work visas and even permanent residency through starting their own businesses. These "investor visas" include the E-2, L1-A, EB-5, and EB-2, to name a few. For these immigration cases, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires (or strongly recommends) a business plan. Each visa type has different requirements, but in general, an immigration business plan should make a clear and compelling case to immigration authorities that the business venture will provide economic benefit to the United States, such as by creating job opportunities.

Licencing: Some industries require a business plan as part of the licensing or permit application process. The cannabis industry is a well-known example: almost every state that has legalized adult-use or medical marijuana has a limited number of licenses available that require a business plan as part of the (ultra) competitive application process. Similar requirements may apply to beer and liquor stores, pharmacies, group homes, and other types of residential facilities. Check with your state and municipality to determine what specific regulations and laws govern licensing to operate for any business that you believe may be regulated, and make sure to address those in the business plan.

Recruiting: A well-thought-out business plan makes it much easier to attract business partners and top talent. If you have a great idea for a SaaS application and have industry knowledge, you might need to hire a CTO who has previously worked in a software development role to supplement your skillset. A detailed explanation of the opportunity in a business plan is an excellent way to reach out to these potential stakeholders and get them excited about the company's potential.

Communication: There are several specific situations in which a company may need to communicate its vision and strategy to outside stakeholders. Commercial landlords are increasingly requiring tenants to provide a business plan as part of the leasing process. Property owners have a vested interest in the success of their tenants. Obviously, a tenant going out of business would result in lost rent and the need to find a new tenant. However, reputation is far more significant. If a tenant goes out of business, it may indicate to future tenants that there is a problem with the location. 

How long should a business plan be?

It should be as long as it needs to be and as short as possible. Your business plan should cover all relevant details about your business that anyone outside the company would want to know before giving you money or letting you use their physical space. But keep your reader in mind and ask yourself: when was the last time I enjoyed reading an encyclopedia? We strive to make our plans vastly more interesting than an encyclopedia, but part of that is making sure that they’re a heck of a lot shorter. Let’s face it, people have a limited attention span, which seems to be exacerbated when reading non-fiction. So the best thing you can do is keep your business plan short while covering all of the main topics in detail. There is no maximum or minimum page count, owing to the fact that there is a wide gulf between the information needed for a used book store versus a major multinational chemical manufacturing company with multiple divisions. As a very basic guideline, most traditional business plans are between 25-50 pages long. We have compiled a collection of example business plans that you can access and use as a reference for the format and length

How do I structure a business plan?

If you’re going to DIY this project, we recommend starting out by making an outline that includes the following sections:

  • Company Ownership
  • Company Location
  • Use of Funds

Company Overview

  • Market Segmentation
  • Industry Analysis
  • Market Need
  • Competitors
  • Competitive Edge

Strategy & Implementation Summary

  • Marketing Strategy

Management Summary

  • Biographies of key personnel

Financial Projections

  • Financial Assumptions

Appendix: First Year Financials

It’s a lot to cover, but don’t get discouraged! You can do this. At Masterplans we like to use Bishop Desmond Tutu’s quote about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time ! So don’t get too discouraged by that daunting list. 

The next thing you’re going to do is start gathering information and just put it down on paper as each piece falls into place. 

Now it’s time to begin drafting. The first thing you need to know is that the Executive Summary comes last, so don’t even worry about it right now! See, things are moving along faster than you expected already. 

You can focus on whichever section you feel most interested in. If the market conditions are what’s inspiring you, start there. Just research it and write about it. Make sure to use footnotes for each hard fact that you cite, and remember that there needs to be hard facts in this section! And don’t forget to use reputable sources . 

Work on each section one-by one until you’re done. A business plan won’t get done in a day if you’re a novice, so be gracious to yourself. We know this is a lot of work – we do this all day long. So if you hit a wall and realize you need help, give us a call . But know that you can do this with enough time and effort. It doesn’t take a genius; it takes someone passionate and dedicated. Luckily, that’s you.

How do I write a business plan for an existing business?

It’s essentially the same steps as writing a business plan for a start-up, only you probably need to spend less time on steps like deciding what your business structure should be. You still need to gather information from the various places that it’s kept. For example, if you’ve outsourced bookkeeping, you’ll need to reach out to your bookkeeper for the numbers you’ll need to run your financial model. The steps are the same; all that is really different is that you have past performance that needs to be included in your plan. The primary difference between a business plan for an existing business is that it contains charts to show past performance, which a start-up obviously doesn’t have.

How do I write a business plan for a small business?

When you’re starting a very small business, such as a side-hustle , it can be very tempting to ask yourself “do I really need a business plan?” You might end up just skipping this step. We strongly caution against that. Every business needs a business plan, no matter how small. Use the steps outlined above under the FAQ “How do I write a business plan for a startup?” 

How do I write a business plan for a non-profit organization?

Non-profit organizations are still businesses, even though their funding typically comes from different sources. You still need a business plan, and it should still follow the same steps outlined in “How do I write a business plan for a startup?” What’s different here is that your business will be registered as a 501(c)3 corporation, and instead of owners, you’ll have a board of directors. Additionally, though you can use your business plan for funding, you will likely be applying for grants as well, and they tend to have their own detailed requirements for what needs to be included, that vary based on the organization giving the grants. Having your business plan already written can help when it comes to applying for those grants. You can simply copy and paste the sections that apply to the grant submission requirements, saving yourself time over the long term.

When working on your organization’s financials, it’s important to note a terminology change from for-profit businesses. Instead of “profit,” you will have “surplus” and your “revenue” is called “funding.” Thus, instead of a “Profit & Loss” statement, a non-profit will have a “Surplus & Deficit” statement.

How do I write a business plan for a franchise?

Franchises often claim to provide you with your own business plan, but what they really provide is a document called an FDD (Franchise Disclosure Document). You will still need to follow all the steps outlined above under the FAQ “How do I write a business plan for a startup?” What’s different for you is that you will benefit from a range of support services, like location selection, marketing support, and maybe even market analysis help, depending on the franchise in question. In the end, a franchise is just like any other type of business, and you need to be able to speak in-depth about each of the core topics of a business plan.

How long does the SBA loan process take?

If you’re applying for an SBA-backed loan, don’t expect to get your money tomorrow. You have to go through a process that includes the application review, underwriting, loan agreement, and closing. It should take a minimum of 30 days, but it can take as long as 90 days and even longer, provided you have found a lender who wants to fund your business plan.

Where do business plan financials come from?

A business plan has extensive financial charts and tables to help your lender or investor understand your business model. The numbers you use when calculating your profit and loss statement and balance sheet should be real-world numbers based on research that you’ve done. The financials include start-up costs , cash flow statement , balance sheet, profit and loss, personnel costs, and a month-by-month forecast for your first year of operations.

For example, don’t just guess what your lease will be! Look at a website like Loopnet to see what properties are currently available in your desired neighborhood by size and property type. You don’t have to lease a space to write a business plan (you often need a business plan to lease a space!), but it can be a good plan to average the rent cost from the three places you like best. 

For personnel costs, look at in your area to see what the average hourly rate is for the positions you need to hire. Don’t set your prices out of thin air either. Research your closest competitors and find out what they charge for similar products and services. It’s up to you to decide where you want to sit in terms of pricing; whether you’re offering an economy option or premium pricing, but knowing what your competitors charge can help you decide what’s a fair price for what you offer. 

There are two primary methods for creating a revenue forecast: top-down and bottom-up . A top-down revenue projection model begins with the market and works its way down, whereas a bottom-up model begins with the business and works its way up. Choosing which method to use varies by industry, but Masterplans' financial modelers usually find a way to incorporate both techniques .

There will be times when you just don’t know a number that is needed to create your financials. It’s ok (and even can be ideal) to use industry standard data. Here at Masterplans, we have access to market research tools with detailed financial benchmarks for a broad range of industries, which helps us find good data when our clients just don’t know the answer. Whenever we get the question, “where did these numbers come from?,” the answer is usually IBISWorld , which we highly recommend. You can buy individual industry reports and look at the Key Statistics to find out about things like profit margins, financial ratios, wages, and revenue per employee.

What business structure should I use? ?

This is a great question for an accountant and/or lawyer, and you should definitely consult with one before making this decision. Your options are sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company, S-Corporation, and C-Corporation. 

  • Sole proprietorship: We generally discourage use of the sole proprietorship for our customers, because the taxation is the same as your personal taxes, offering your business no benefits, and because this structure maximizes your liability if anything goes wrong. 
  • Partnerships: There are several different types of partnership that you can choose, but we rarely see these come across our desks, because they do not offer the same tax benefits as an LLC. 
  • Limited Liability Corporation (LLC): LLC is the king of business structures for a start-up, because it is superbly flexible, offers tax benefits, and has liability protection. You can even start an LLC as the sole owner and employee of your company! 
  • Corporation: Sometimes when we ask clients what their company structure is, they just say it’s a corporation without specifying what type. But there are two types, and which one you have matters. While both types allow you to issue shares, one of the primary differences is that with S-corps, you are limited to 100 shareholders and with C-corps, you aren’t limited in that way. How does this matter? Well, if you eventually decide to go public, you probably want more than 100 shareholders!

If you want to learn more about the different types of business structures, talk to a professional and read what the SBA has to say about it .

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24 of My Favorite Sample Business Plans & Examples For Your Inspiration

Clifford Chi

Published: February 06, 2024

Free Business Plan Template

writing a business plan 101

The essential document for starting a business -- custom built for your needs.

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I believe that reading sample business plans is essential when writing your own.

sample business plans and examples

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As you explore business plan examples from real companies and brands, it’s easier for you to learn how to write a good one.

But what does a good business plan look like? And how do you write one that’s both viable and convincing. I’ll walk you through the ideal business plan format along with some examples to help you get started.

Table of Contents

Business Plan Format

Business plan types, sample business plan templates, top business plan examples.

Ask any successful sports coach how they win so many games, and they’ll tell you they have a unique plan for every single game. To me, the same logic applies to business.

If you want to build a thriving company that can pull ahead of the competition, you need to prepare for battle before breaking into a market.

Business plans guide you along the rocky journey of growing a company. And if your business plan is compelling enough, it can also convince investors to give you funding.

With so much at stake, I’m sure you’re wondering where to begin.

writing a business plan 101

  • Outline your idea.
  • Pitch to investors.
  • Secure funding.
  • Get to work!

You're all set!

Click this link to access this resource at any time.

Fill out the form to get your free template.

First, you’ll want to nail down your formatting. Most business plans include the following sections.

1. Executive Summary

I’d say the executive summary is the most important section of the entire business plan. 

Why? Essentially, it's the overview or introduction, written in a way to grab readers' attention and guide them through the rest of the business plan. This is important, because a business plan can be dozens or hundreds of pages long.

There are two main elements I’d recommend including in your executive summary:

Company Description

This is the perfect space to highlight your company’s mission statement and goals, a brief overview of your history and leadership, and your top accomplishments as a business.

Tell potential investors who you are and why what you do matters. Naturally, they’re going to want to know who they’re getting into business with up front, and this is a great opportunity to showcase your impact.

Need some extra help firming up those business goals? Check out HubSpot Academy’s free course to help you set goals that matter — I’d highly recommend it

Products and Services

To piggyback off of the company description, be sure to incorporate an overview of your offerings. This doesn’t have to be extensive — just another chance to introduce your industry and overall purpose as a business.

In addition to the items above, I recommend including some information about your financial projections and competitive advantage here too.:

Keep in mind you'll cover many of these topics in more detail later on in the business plan. So, keep the executive summary clear and brief, and only include the most important takeaways.

Executive Summary Business Plan Examples

This example was created with HubSpot’s business plan template:

business plan sample: Executive Summary Example

This executive summary is so good to me because it tells potential investors a short story while still covering all of the most important details.

Business plans examples: Executive Summary

Image Source

Tips for Writing Your Executive Summary

  • Start with a strong introduction of your company, showcase your mission and impact, and outline the products and services you provide.
  • Clearly define a problem, and explain how your product solves that problem, and show why the market needs your business.
  • Be sure to highlight your value proposition, market opportunity, and growth potential.
  • Keep it concise and support ideas with data.
  • Customize your summary to your audience. For example, emphasize finances and return on investment for venture capitalists.

Check out our tips for writing an effective executive summary for more guidance.

2. Market Opportunity

This is where you'll detail the opportunity in the market.

The main question I’d ask myself here is this: Where is the gap in the current industry, and how will my product fill that gap?

More specifically, here’s what I’d include in this section:

  • The size of the market
  • Current or potential market share
  • Trends in the industry and consumer behavior
  • Where the gap is
  • What caused the gap
  • How you intend to fill it

To get a thorough understanding of the market opportunity, you'll want to conduct a TAM, SAM, and SOM analysis and perform market research on your industry.

You may also benefit from creating a SWOT analysis to get some of the insights for this section.

Market Opportunity Business Plan Example

I like this example because it uses critical data to underline the size of the potential market and what part of that market this service hopes to capture.

Business plans examples: Market Opportunity

Tips for Writing Your Market Opportunity Section

  • Focus on demand and potential for growth.
  • Use market research, surveys, and industry trend data to support your market forecast and projections.
  • Add a review of regulation shifts, tech advances, and consumer behavior changes.
  • Refer to reliable sources.
  • Showcase how your business can make the most of this opportunity.

3. Competitive Landscape

Since we’re already speaking of market share, you'll also need to create a section that shares details on who the top competitors are.

After all, your customers likely have more than one brand to choose from, and you'll want to understand exactly why they might choose one over another.

My favorite part of performing a competitive analysis is that it can help you uncover:

  • Industry trends that other brands may not be utilizing
  • Strengths in your competition that may be obstacles to handle
  • Weaknesses in your competition that may help you develop selling points
  • The unique proposition you bring to the market that may resonate with customers

Competitive Landscape Business Plan Example

I like how the competitive landscape section of this business plan below shows a clear outline of who the top competitors are.

Business plans examples: Competitive Landscape

It also highlights specific industry knowledge and the importance of location, which shows useful experience in this specific industry. 

This can help build trust in your ability to execute your business plan.

Tips for Writing Your Competitive Landscape

  • Complete in-depth research, then emphasize your most important findings.
  • Compare your unique selling proposition (USP) to your direct and indirect competitors.
  • Show a clear and realistic plan for product and brand differentiation.
  • Look for specific advantages and barriers in the competitive landscape. Then, highlight how that information could impact your business.
  • Outline growth opportunities from a competitive perspective.
  • Add customer feedback and insights to support your competitive analysis.

4. Target Audience

Use this section to describe who your customer segments are in detail. What is the demographic and psychographic information of your audience?

If your immediate answer is "everyone," you'll need to dig deeper. Here are some questions I’d ask myself here:

  • What demographics will most likely need/buy your product or service?
  • What are the psychographics of this audience? (Desires, triggering events, etc.)
  • Why are your offerings valuable to them?

I’d also recommend building a buyer persona to get in the mindset of your ideal customers and be clear on why you're targeting them.

Target Audience Business Plan Example

I like the example below because it uses in-depth research to draw conclusions about audience priorities. It also analyzes how to create the right content for this audience.

Business plans examples: Target Audience

Tips for Writing Your Target Audience Section

  • Include details on the size and growth potential of your target audience.
  • Figure out and refine the pain points for your target audience , then show why your product is a useful solution.
  • Describe your targeted customer acquisition strategy in detail.
  • Share anticipated challenges your business may face in acquiring customers and how you plan to address them.
  • Add case studies, testimonials, and other data to support your target audience ideas.
  • Remember to consider niche audiences and segments of your target audience in your business plan.

5. Marketing Strategy

Here, you'll discuss how you'll acquire new customers with your marketing strategy. I’d suggest including information:

  • Your brand positioning vision and how you'll cultivate it
  • The goal targets you aim to achieve
  • The metrics you'll use to measure success
  • The channels and distribution tactics you'll use

I think it’s helpful to have a marketing plan built out in advance to make this part of your business plan easier.

Marketing Strategy Business Plan Example

This business plan example includes the marketing strategy for the town of Gawler.

In my opinion, it really works because it offers a comprehensive picture of how they plan to use digital marketing to promote the community.

Business plans examples: Marketing Strategy

Tips for Writing Your Marketing Strategy

  • Include a section about how you believe your brand vision will appeal to customers.
  • Add the budget and resources you'll need to put your plan in place.
  • Outline strategies for specific marketing segments.
  • Connect strategies to earlier sections like target audience and competitive analysis.
  • Review how your marketing strategy will scale with the growth of your business.
  • Cover a range of channels and tactics to highlight your ability to adapt your plan in the face of change.

6. Key Features and Benefits

At some point in your business plan, you'll need to review the key features and benefits of your products and/or services.

Laying these out can give readers an idea of how you're positioning yourself in the market and the messaging you're likely to use. It can even help them gain better insight into your business model.

Key Features and Benefits Business Plan Example

In my opinion, the example below does a great job outlining products and services for this business, along with why these qualities will attract the audience.

Business plans examples: Key Features and Benefits

Tips for Writing Your Key Features and Benefits

  • Emphasize why and how your product or service offers value to customers.
  • Use metrics and testimonials to support the ideas in this section.
  • Talk about how your products and services have the potential to scale.
  • Think about including a product roadmap.
  • Focus on customer needs, and how the features and benefits you are sharing meet those needs.
  • Offer proof of concept for your ideas, like case studies or pilot program feedback.
  • Proofread this section carefully, and remove any jargon or complex language.

7. Pricing and Revenue

This is where you'll discuss your cost structure and various revenue streams. Your pricing strategy must be solid enough to turn a profit while staying competitive in the industry. 

For this reason, here’s what I’d might outline in this section:

  • The specific pricing breakdowns per product or service
  • Why your pricing is higher or lower than your competition's
  • (If higher) Why customers would be willing to pay more
  • (If lower) How you're able to offer your products or services at a lower cost
  • When you expect to break even, what margins do you expect, etc?

Pricing and Revenue Business Plan Example

I like how this business plan example begins with an overview of the business revenue model, then shows proposed pricing for key products.

Business plans examples: Pricing and Revenue

Tips for Writing Your Pricing and Revenue Section

  • Get specific about your pricing strategy. Specifically, how you connect that strategy to customer needs and product value.
  • If you are asking a premium price, share unique features or innovations that justify that price point.
  • Show how you plan to communicate pricing to customers.
  • Create an overview of every revenue stream for your business and how each stream adds to your business model as a whole.
  • Share plans to develop new revenue streams in the future.
  • Show how and whether pricing will vary by customer segment and how pricing aligns with marketing strategies.
  • Restate your value proposition and explain how it aligns with your revenue model.

8. Financials

To me, this section is particularly informative for investors and leadership teams to figure out funding strategies, investment opportunities, and more.

 According to Forbes , you'll want to include three main things:

  • Profit/Loss Statement - This answers the question of whether your business is currently profitable.
  • Cash Flow Statement - This details exactly how much cash is incoming and outgoing to give insight into how much cash a business has on hand.
  • Balance Sheet - This outlines assets, liabilities, and equity, which gives insight into how much a business is worth.

While some business plans might include more or less information, these are the key details I’d include in this section.

Financials Business Plan Example

This balance sheet is a great example of level of detail you’ll need to include in the financials section of your business plan.

Business plans examples: Financials

Tips for Writing Your Financials Section

  • Growth potential is important in this section too. Using your data, create a forecast of financial performance in the next three to five years.
  • Include any data that supports your projections to assure investors of the credibility of your proposal.
  • Add a break-even analysis to show that your business plan is financially practical. This information can also help you pivot quickly as your business grows.
  • Consider adding a section that reviews potential risks and how sensitive your plan is to changes in the market.
  • Triple-check all financial information in your plan for accuracy.
  • Show how any proposed funding needs align with your plans for growth.

As you create your business plan, keep in mind that each of these sections will be formatted differently. Some may be in paragraph format, while others could be charts or graphs.

The formats above apply to most types of business plans. That said, the format and structure of your plan will vary by your goals for that plan. 

So, I’ve added a quick review of different business plan types. For a more detailed overview, check out this post .

1. Startups

Startup business plans are for proposing new business ideas.

If you’re planning to start a small business, preparing a business plan is crucial. The plan should include all the major factors of your business.

You can check out this guide for more detailed business plan inspiration .

2. Feasibility Studies

Feasibility business plans focus on that business's product or service. Feasibility plans are sometimes added to startup business plans. They can also be a new business plan for an already thriving organization.

3. Internal Use

You can use internal business plans to share goals, strategies, or performance updates with stakeholders. In my opinion, internal business plans are useful for alignment and building support for ambitious goals.

4. Strategic Initiatives

Another business plan that's often for sharing internally is a strategic business plan. This plan covers long-term business objectives that might not have been included in the startup business plan.

5. Business Acquisition or Repositioning

When a business is moving forward with an acquisition or repositioning, it may need extra structure and support. These types of business plans expand on a company's acquisition or repositioning strategy.

Growth sometimes just happens as a business continues operations. But more often, a business needs to create a structure with specific targets to meet set goals for expansion. This business plan type can help a business focus on short-term growth goals and align resources with those goals.

Now that you know what's included and how to format a business plan, let's review some of my favorite templates.

1. HubSpot's One-Page Business Plan

Download a free, editable one-page business plan template..

The business plan linked above was created here at HubSpot and is perfect for businesses of any size — no matter how many strategies we still have to develop.

Fields such as Company Description, Required Funding, and Implementation Timeline give this one-page business plan a framework for how to build your brand and what tasks to keep track of as you grow.

Then, as the business matures, you can expand on your original business plan with a new iteration of the above document.

Why I Like It

This one-page business plan is a fantastic choice for the new business owner who doesn’t have the time or resources to draft a full-blown business plan. It includes all the essential sections in an accessible, bullet-point-friendly format. That way, you can get the broad strokes down before honing in on the details.

2. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

Sample business plan: hubspot free editable pdf

We also created a business plan template for entrepreneurs.

The template is designed as a guide and checklist for starting your own business. You’ll learn what to include in each section of your business plan and how to do it.

There’s also a list for you to check off when you finish each section of your business plan.

Strong game plans help coaches win games and help businesses rocket to the top of their industries. So if you dedicate the time and effort required to write a workable and convincing business plan, you’ll boost your chances of success and even dominance in your market.

This business plan kit is essential for the budding entrepreneur who needs a more extensive document to share with investors and other stakeholders.

It not only includes sections for your executive summary, product line, market analysis, marketing plan, and sales plan, but it also offers hands-on guidance for filling out those sections.

3. LiveFlow’s Financial Planning Template with built-in automation

Sample Business Plan: LiveFLow

This free template from LiveFlow aims to make it easy for businesses to create a financial plan and track their progress on a monthly basis.

The P&L Budget versus Actual format allows users to track their revenue, cost of sales, operating expenses, operating profit margin, net profit, and more.

The summary dashboard aggregates all of the data put into the financial plan sheet and will automatically update when changes are made.

Instead of wasting hours manually importing your data to your spreadsheet, LiveFlow can also help you to automatically connect your accounting and banking data directly to your spreadsheet, so your numbers are always up-to-date.

With the dashboard, you can view your runway, cash balance, burn rate, gross margins, and other metrics. Having a simple way to track everything in one place will make it easier to complete the financials section of your business plan.

This is a fantastic template to track performance and alignment internally and to create a dependable process for documenting financial information across the business. It’s highly versatile and beginner-friendly.

It’s especially useful if you don’t have an accountant on the team. (I always recommend you do, but for new businesses, having one might not be possible.)

4. ThoughtCo’s Sample Business Plan

sample business plan: ThoughtCo.

One of the more financially oriented sample business plans in this list, BPlan’s free business plan template dedicates many of its pages to your business’s financial plan and financial statements.

After filling this business plan out, your company will truly understand its financial health and the steps you need to take to maintain or improve it.

I absolutely love this business plan template because of its ease-of-use and hands-on instructions (in addition to its finance-centric components). If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of writing an entire business plan, consider using this template to help you with the process.

6. Harvard Business Review’s "How to Write a Winning Business Plan"

Most sample business plans teach you what to include in your business plan, but this Harvard Business Review article will take your business plan to the next level — it teaches you the why and how behind writing a business plan.

With the guidance of Stanley Rich and Richard Gumpert, co-authors of " Business Plans That Win: Lessons From the MIT Enterprise Forum ", you'll learn how to write a convincing business plan that emphasizes the market demand for your product or service.

You’ll also learn the financial benefits investors can reap from putting money into your venture rather than trying to sell them on how great your product or service is.

This business plan guide focuses less on the individual parts of a business plan, and more on the overarching goal of writing one. For that reason, it’s one of my favorites to supplement any template you choose to use. Harvard Business Review’s guide is instrumental for both new and seasoned business owners.

7. HubSpot’s Complete Guide to Starting a Business

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know writing a business plan is one of the most challenging first steps to starting a business.

Fortunately, with HubSpot's comprehensive guide to starting a business, you'll learn how to map out all the details by understanding what to include in your business plan and why it’s important to include them. The guide also fleshes out an entire sample business plan for you.

If you need further guidance on starting a business, HubSpot's guide can teach you how to make your business legal, choose and register your business name, and fund your business. It will also give small business tax information and includes marketing, sales, and service tips.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process of starting a business, in addition to writing your business plan, with a high level of exactitude and detail. So if you’re in the midst of starting your business, this is an excellent guide for you.

It also offers other resources you might need, such as market analysis templates.

8. Panda Doc’s Free Business Plan Template

sample business plan: Panda Doc

PandaDoc’s free business plan template is one of the more detailed and fleshed-out sample business plans on this list. It describes what you should include in each section, so you don't have to come up with everything from scratch.

Once you fill it out, you’ll fully understand your business’ nitty-gritty details and how all of its moving parts should work together to contribute to its success.

This template has two things I love: comprehensiveness and in-depth instructions. Plus, it’s synced with PandaDoc’s e-signature software so that you and other stakeholders can sign it with ease. For that reason, I especially love it for those starting a business with a partner or with a board of directors.

9. Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

sample business plan: Small Business Administration

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several free business plan templates that can be used to inspire your own plan.

Before you get started, you can decide what type of business plan you need — a traditional or lean start-up plan.

Then, you can review the format for both of those plans and view examples of what they might look like.

We love both of the SBA’s templates because of their versatility. You can choose between two options and use the existing content in the templates to flesh out your own plan. Plus, if needed, you can get a free business counselor to help you along the way.

I’ve compiled some completed business plan samples to help you get an idea of how to customize a plan for your business.

I chose different types of business plan ideas to expand your imagination. Some are extensive, while others are fairly simple.

Let’s take a look.

1. LiveFlow

business plan example: liveflow

One of the major business expenses is marketing. How you handle your marketing reflects your company’s revenue.

I included this business plan to show you how you can ensure your marketing team is aligned with your overall business plan to get results. The plan also shows you how to track even the smallest metrics of your campaigns, like ROI and payback periods instead of just focusing on big metrics like gross and revenue.

Fintech startup, LiveFlow, allows users to sync real-time data from its accounting services, payment platforms, and banks into custom reports. This eliminates the task of pulling reports together manually, saving teams time and helping automate workflows.

"Using this framework over a traditional marketing plan will help you set a profitable marketing strategy taking things like CAC, LTV, Payback period, and P&L into consideration," explains LiveFlow co-founder, Lasse Kalkar .

When it came to including marketing strategy in its business plan, LiveFlow created a separate marketing profit and loss statement (P&L) to track how well the company was doing with its marketing initiatives.

This is a great approach, allowing businesses to focus on where their marketing dollars are making the most impact. Having this information handy will enable you to build out your business plan’s marketing section with confidence. LiveFlow has shared the template here . You can test it for yourself.

2. Lula Body

Business plan example: Lula body

Sometimes all you need is a solid mission statement and core values to guide you on how to go about everything. You do this by creating a business plan revolving around how to fulfill your statement best.

For example, Patagonia is an eco-friendly company, so their plan discusses how to make the best environmentally friendly products without causing harm.

A good mission statement  should not only resonate with consumers but should also serve as a core value compass for employees as well.

Patagonia has one of the most compelling mission statements I’ve seen:

"Together, let’s prioritise purpose over profit and protect this wondrous planet, our only home."

It reels you in from the start, and the environmentally friendly theme continues throughout the rest of the statement.

This mission goes on to explain that they are out to "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to protect nature."

Their mission statement is compelling and detailed, with each section outlining how they will accomplish their goal.

4. Vesta Home Automation

business plan example: Vesta executive summary

This executive summary for a smart home device startup is part of a business plan created by students at Mount Royal University .

While it lacks some of the sleek visuals of the templates above, its executive summary does a great job of demonstrating how invested they are in the business.

Right away, they mention they’ve invested $200,000 into the company already, which shows investors they have skin in the game and aren’t just looking for someone else to foot the bill.

This is the kind of business plan you need when applying for business funds. It clearly illustrates the expected future of the company and how the business has been coming along over the years.

5. NALB Creative Center

business plan examples: nalb creative center

This fictional business plan for an art supply store includes everything one might need in a business plan: an executive summary, a company summary, a list of services, a market analysis summary, and more.

One of its most notable sections is its market analysis summary, which includes an overview of the population growth in the business’ target geographical area, as well as a breakdown of the types of potential customers they expect to welcome at the store. 

This sort of granular insight is essential for understanding and communicating your business’s growth potential. Plus, it lays a strong foundation for creating relevant and useful buyer personas .

It’s essential to keep this information up-to-date as your market and target buyer changes. For that reason, you should carry out market research as often as possible to ensure that you’re targeting the correct audience and sharing accurate information with your investors.

Due to its comprehensiveness, it’s an excellent example to follow if you’re opening a brick-and-mortar store and need to get external funding to start your business .

6. Curriculum Companion Suites (CSS)

business plan examples: curriculum companion suites

If you’re looking for a SaaS business plan example, look no further than this business plan for a fictional educational software company called Curriculum Companion Suites. 

Like the business plan for the NALB Creative Center, it includes plenty of information for prospective investors and other key stakeholders in the business.

One of the most notable features of this business plan is the executive summary, which includes an overview of the product, market, and mission.

The first two are essential for software companies because the product offering is so often at the forefront of the company’s strategy. Without that information being immediately available to investors and executives, then you risk writing an unfocused business plan.

It’s essential to front-load your company’s mission if it explains your "Why?" and this example does just that. In other words, why do you do what you do, and why should stakeholders care? This is an important section to include if you feel that your mission will drive interest in the business and its offerings.

7. Culina Sample Business Plan

sample business plan: Culina

Culina's sample business plan is an excellent example of how to lay out your business plan so that it flows naturally, engages readers, and provides the critical information investors and stakeholders need. 

You can use this template as a guide while you're gathering important information for your own business plan. You'll have a better understanding of the data and research you need to do since Culina’s plan outlines these details so flawlessly for inspiration.

8. Plum Sample Business Plan

Sample business plan: Plum

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How to Write a Business Plan

  • Last Updated: March 27, 2023
  • By: Greg Bouhl

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writing a business plan 101

The usual reason most people write a business plan is because the bank won’t even consider lending them money until they have one.  While getting the loan is a major milestone in starting a business, the business plan can be much more valuable than just getting the loan.

A business plan is a roadmap that helps to research an opportunity, see if that opportunity is profitable and then identify the steps needed to capitalize on the opportunity.  It is an entrepreneur’s roadmap for taking them from where they are today and where they want to be.  The business plan can be a formal document if you need financing or it can be written on the back of a napkin but the mere act of writing the idea down forces the idea out of the entrepreneur’s head and putting it on paper which helps find hidden business flaws and opportunities.

Writing a business plan is something anyone can do, even if you don’t know anything about business or finances. Once upon a time, if an entrepreneur was looking for financing, business plans needed to be 50 + page documents full of fluff and useless information.  Today, unless your business is in a complicated industry, short and to the point is what bankers are looking for.  Many entrepreneurs procrastinate when it comes to preparing a written plan, but is imperative to start now as it will take time to prepare the plan and being successful will be limited without it. Just as a builder won’t begin construction without a blueprint, entrepreneurs shouldn’t rush into new ventures without a plan. The old saying that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail” is very relevant when talking about starting a business. SBA’s statistics claim over half of new businesses fail in the first three years and common factors are poor planning or under-capitalization (which is also poor planning).

We highly recommend the entrepreneur writing their own plan.  Why?  Because the entrepreneur has to meet with the bank to go over the business plan.  If the lender has questions that can’t be answered, the lender won’t have the confidence to make a loan.  We have worked with many entrepreneurs that discount their education or time in an industry as reasons as to why they can’t write a business plan and the fact is nobody can write this better than them.  All that’s needed is some direction as the process is new.

To help with writing a business plan, here are some free business plan templates to help get started .

  • SBA business plan template
  • Our business plan template

If more guidance is needed, there are a few software programs that will help through the process.  These give step by step guides and also have access to industry information to make the job a bit easier and include 500 templates to cover most industries.

Live Plan Business Plan Pro  

Also see writing a business plan in 30 minutes .

Also, you want to be sure your business plan is free of grammatical issues. Use a free program like Grammarly that will eliminate mistakes and give suggestions on making your writing easier to read.

Getting Started

The first step in creating a business plan is just getting started. Writing the business plan may seem overwhelming at first, but by breaking the plan’s sections into bite sized pieces and work on one section at a time it won’t seem as daunting.  Begin with what you know first and write about the opportunity and product & services. Work towards the more difficult subjects such as marketing, operations and financials later. Don’t worry about it being perfect now, just get the concepts on paper – expand and refine later. If you get stuck on a section in the plan, skip it for now and come back later when you have more details.

Who is your audience?

A business plan should be tailored to the audience it is intended for. Why? A plan for the bank will be less interested in the exit strategy and return on investment than one for equity investors. Additionally, a plan for written for internal use will be different than one looking for financing as a bank is not necessarily interested in detailed operations of the business.

Business Plan Structure

While there is not a format that all business plans follow, there are generally accepted guidelines that most follow as the order in which the subjects flow are not random. The Business Description of a business plan is aimed at painting a picture of the business and why this business will be successful. The Marketing and Management sections are researched and a strategy of how the business will compete and operate is developed. Last Financial Projections show in numbers what were explained in the business plan.

In addition to these sections, a business plan should also have a title page, table of contents and appendix.

How Long Should a Business Plan Be?

The answer that nobody liked in school applies to a business plan which is, “as long as it needs to be”. The more complex a business or the more sophisticated investors or funds requested will increase the length of a plan. Most business plan narratives tend to be around 4-10 pages plus financials and appendix items.

Business Plan Outline

Executive summary.

The executive summary is the first part of the business plan but is the last to be written. It gives the reader a quick glance of what the business proposal is about and what is being asked for. This part is critical for lenders as they will scan this section and quickly decide whether it is a project they can lend to.

The executive summary should typically be about one-half of a page in length and include what would be included in an elevator pitch such as:

  • A condensed version of the business concept
  • Product description or service proposition
  • Industry trends
  • Customer demographics
  • Management team
  • Anticipated start date
  • Owner’s equity position
  • How much in funds are being requested and how they will be used

Concise is the key in the executive summary. More detail will be included in later sections.

Learn more about writing an effective executive summary .

Business Description

The purpose of the business description is to objectively describe and justify what the business concept is and will often include:

  • What the business does
  • Description of services and/or products
  • Industry information & trends
  • Business Structure
  • Status of the business (start-up, expansion or purchasing)
  • Current and future goals

Any facts or figures should be noted and sources included in the business plan. This information is important in order to back up assumptions in the plan.

Think of the business description as being the section to paint a picture of the potential along with any facts of why it will succeed.

Try to inject energy and excitement to get the reader enthusiastic about why this business is going to be great, without going overboard of course.

After describing what the business does, it is time to describe the products and services. Keep in mind that it is important to show how these products and services are better than the competition (which will be covered later). If you don’t have an answer as to why your business will be better than the competition, this is a good time to rethink the reasons for going into business.  Being cheaper shouldn’t be one of them as competition can easily reduce price.  What is it about your business that is better or different from the competition? Will you offer a premium product, offer a better atmosphere, better delivery, …?

A very important, but often overlooked section of the business plan is the marketing. Regardless of the quality of the product or service, a business will be lost in the clutter of advertising without knowing who the customers are. If you don’t know your customers, how will they ever find you? All of this begins with doing some research.

Several entrepreneurs don’t spend enough time in this section and then wonder why they have no customers when they open.  We recommend spending the most time in this section because, without customers, there will be no business.

Check out this article for some low-cost marketing tips  for a new business.

Customers: Who Is Your Market

The first step is to determine who the core groups of people that the business wants to sell to and what common characteristics they share.  Characteristics can include things like age, income, race, religion, education, hobbies, interests and/or geographic locations. While everyone may, in fact, need a particular product or service, the question is how to market to get the best return on the advertising investment.  By determining the group or groups of people who are most likely to come buy, advertising dollars can be strategically spent. While ads can be placed in every type of media to reach an entire geographical market, can it be done and still make a profit?  Even though everybody likes to eat and restaurants are a popular (but difficult) business to make money at, advertising at the groups MOST likely to shop will improve the likelihood the advertising dollars are well spent.

What a new businesses shouldn’t want is opening their doors without a marketing plan as once those doors are opened, every advertising rep from television, radio, newspaper, etc will come selling. Without knowing who the intended market is, a lot of advertising dollars may be wasted.

This section will also help determine how many of these core customers there are and later we can use this information to see if there are enough of them to support a business.  A free tool to help gather demographic data –


In today’s ultracompetitive marketplace, there is going to be competition, no matter how creative a business concept is. Attempting to run a business more efficiently than the competition may be a difficult challenge as a startup, so it may be better to focus on planning on being different and competing with them less directly. Can you market differently? Is there particular market niche that isn’t being looked at? Is there a way to add more value?  Even without direct competition in your area, meaning a business selling a similar product or service, there will be indirect competition from many different types of businesses.  For example, while there may be no artisanal, organic, pasture raised hamburger restaurants in your town, there is likely a McDonalds down the street.  While this is an extreme example and there isn’t a direct competitor, all businesses at least face indirect competition.    Business plan tip: don’t indicate there is no competition in the plan as it will be viewed that there is either no market for that product or service or the business owner has not done their research.

Don’t underestimate the difficulty of changing the habits of where people currently shop. If there aren’t clear benefits to the customer to change where they currently shop, it may be difficult to capture those customers.

At least three but no more than five direct competitors should be evaluated. List information about who they are, how long they have been in business, location, services offered, perception on pricing, quality, etc. and compare the advantages and disadvantages of your business. If the information you are looking for is not available online, be a secret shopper and ask questions of the competition.

Promotional Strategy

With the above steps researched, the promotional strategy should fall into place.  Knowing who the core group(s) of customers are, research needs to be done on what types of media they are likely to spend time with.  While it’s not always this obvious, you probably wouldn’t want to market to college students in the newspaper or the elderly on Facebook.  While there usually isn’t the best way to market in a particular industry, knowing your customers will be the first step.  There will likely need to be refinement of the promotional strategy over time.

Something to consider when developing a promotional strategy is that advertising is expensive and is sometimes difficult to tell if it is bringing people in the door.  Any method to track the advertising, whether it is a coupon or asking customers at checkout about how they heard about the business, provide data whether a marketing channel is worth discontinuing or investing more into.

Sales Projections

One of the more difficult areas of the business plan is coming up with sales projections. This number is probably going to be wrong and that’s ok. What is needed are figures backed up with reasonable and justifiable data. Just grabbing a number out of the air saying sales will be $300,000 in the first year won’t work. There are many sources to help come up with this number including:

  •  Industry journals
  •  Trade groups
  •  Industry experts
  •  Average household spending
  •  Census data

While this number will likely be wrong, it is important to do this research.  Later in the plan when preparing the financial projections, this number can help determine the feasibility of a business.  One example of what we don’t want to see is that in a given area, maybe there are 10,000 potential core customers for a particular product or service and that it would take a large percentage of them to make a business worthwhile.  The entrepreneurs comfort with this percentage is going to vary between competition, industry and other factors, but gives a data point to confirm whether a business is worth investing in.


The effects of seasonality are significant in some businesses and not so much in others but is important to estimate because it will show if additional investment is needed.  Take landscapers for instance.  Spring and fall are typically great months in most areas because of the weather.  Estimating seasonality will give information whether enough money was made in those good months to keep the business open the rest of the year.  Starting out, cash is very critical and what we don’t want to see is a business that opens and is underfunded because it may be doomed to fail from the start.   A business plan may have provided this information and better planning could have been done.

To come up with seasonality, estimate the percentage of sales by month.  These percentages will eventually go to the cash flow statement .  Reach out to industry associations, forums, business owners in other states (where you won’t be a competitor) to get some estimates.  Negative numbers in the cash flow statement of the financial projections will indicate the need for additional investment.

The effects of pricing play a large role on how a product or service is perceived in the marketplace. Price too low compared to the competition and a product could be perceived as cheap and unreliable. Price too high without having the premium features and benefits the market wants and few customers will come through the door. While this is a complex issue, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Basing pricing on the competition is not always the best method. There may be a competitor that has operated for many years and can operate at a lower cost since the equipment has been paid off.  The flip side is that this equipment is old and new equipment that offers more benefits are what customers really want and are willing to pay for.  Another trap is thinking that a competitor with a low price is making money when in reality they may not.
  • New businesses wanting to start with lower costs to get their foot in the door is common, especially with construction-related businesses. It may be better to promote at full price and offer discounts or coupons until the business is better known. It’s harder to raise prices after customers are used to low ones.
  • Entrepreneurs can be bad about appropriately valuing their time. Be sure when evaluating expenses to price your time doing the work.  If the expansion of the business is a goal, your job as an entrepreneur is to set up processes for others to do the work and expand beyond yourself.  If pricing isn’t factored as an expense to have others do the work, this may never be an option.
  • Pricing is the easiest part of marketing to change. Business doesn’t work in a vacuum and a competitor may lower their price if a new business opens its doors in an attempt to make them go out of business.  Another reason to be different than the competition.

While a lot of new businesses struggle with pricing, don’t be afraid to charge more for a product or service than the competition if you have something better to offer.   Before doing so, be sure there are enough customers that want the premium offering.

Management & Operations

In this section, describe who is going to manage the business as well as fill the positions to deliver the product or service.  These may initially be the entrepreneur, but have a plan for the staff needed in the future.

If looking for funding, include a bio and resume for key individuals and owners of the business.  The resumes should be included in the appendix.  Try to show how the experience and education of these people will be able to successfully operate the business. Many times the owner may not have the specific experience so it is very important to explain how the unrelated experience is a fit or to hire the right people.  A very common example is someone who likes to cook and they want to open a restaurant.  It turns out they may have never even worked in a restaurant.  Restaurants are one of the most common types of businesses to fail (even though everyone likes to eat).  Lenders place a large weight on the experience of the team when evaluating a business loan as there is a correlation between the owner’s experience and successful businesses.

A few things to include in this section:

  • What positions need to be filled
  • When these positions need to be filled (This is important in developing financial projections as employees may be hired after starting)
  • How much they get paid (Be sure to add payroll taxes too, estimate 15% if not sure)

Financial Projections

Financial projections are placed at the end of the business plan, but before the appendix.  Projections are a very critical piece to the plan and the biggest area that entrepreneurs struggle with.  This is what makes software like  Live Plan  or  Business Plan Pro  so attractive as they help generate these numbers.

There are three primary financial statements that a lender is going to look at: cash flow statement, a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet. The information provided previously in the narrative portion of the business plan must match the financial projections.

Cash Flow Statement – The projected cash flow statement is one of the most important pieces of a business plan. Similar to a checkbook register, it shows a schedule of the money coming into the business and expenses that need to be paid and whether there is enough cash to sustain the business based on the assumptions. Every part of the business plan is important, but none of it means a thing if cash runs out. Should this number be negative, sales need to be increased, expenses reduced or have more starting cash.

Profit & Loss Statement – This statement, while similar to the cash flow statement, is displayed annually and takes an after-tax view of the businesses financial results.

Balance Sheet – The balance sheet is a summary of the value of all assets, liabilities and equity for an organization at the end of each year. A balance sheet is often described as a “snapshot” of a company’s financial condition and will show the value of the business over time.

Some other items that are needed with financial projections include:

Initial Expenses – These are all costs prior to opening or expanding a business. It is recommended to have quotes available or in the appendix for the larger items (above $500). Also include a miscellaneous line (around 10% of the total project costs) available as there are always unexpected expenses that were not accounted for.  While additional funds may not be needed, it’s not a fun conversation to go back to the bank for money.

Sources and Uses of Funds – This section details how the loan money will be used (inventory, equipment, machines, repairs and improvements, working capital, etc) and who is providing it (bank, investor or owner). As a startup, prepare to inject 20% of personal money and maybe more into the project depending on the risk assessment of the business and personal credit.

Personal Financial Statement – If looking at bank financing, a personal financial statement will be needed for every person with a 20% or more ownership position.   Here is a link to the SBA personal financial statement    This statement will show your assets (checking & savings accounts, CD, IRA, 401K, valuables, home, vehicle, etc) as well as assets (mortgages, credit card bills, installment accounts, etc).

Appendix items are various pieces of information that help back up claims in the business plan but would take up too much room to do so in the narrative.  Some examples:

  • Quotes for items over $500
  • Resumes of the management team
  • Industry research
  • Demographic data and trends
  • Maps/floorplans/blueprints of location
  • Leases and contracts
  • Letters of support

There is a lot to writing a business plan but in addition to getting a loan will definitely make the business stronger (or even decide it’s not worth doing). While it may seem easier to have someone else write your plan, there is no substitute for writing it yourself. This is your business and by writing it yourself you will have a better understanding of your business and strategies for success.

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Tips for Writing a Business Plan

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A business plan describes your company’s future. This essential document usually looks ahead for three to five years and sets out the methods the company plans to use to grow and increase revenues. It’s important to use the right data when creating it. Exactly what information you must include depends on who your target audience is. Here are some tips for putting together a business plan to be proud of.

Keep Your Audience in Mind

Calling a business plan the road map for your company’s future is the truth, but not the whole truth. A business plan helps you to see where you’re about to go, but it can also serve to entice banks, venture capitalists or others to invest in your company’s future. It can also convince other companies to take part in joint projects with you. 

Keep your audience in mind as you start creating your plan. You may need separate business plans for each group, tailored to accomplishing a particular end and specifically addressed to the people who will be reading them.

Make Conservative Claims and Offer Proof

It’s far better to give conservative estimates and announce later that you exceeded them than to start out being wildly optimistic and have to backpedal. Potential investors appreciate enthusiasm, but they won’t like it if you’re totally off base. If you win 65 percent of the market share in the first year, that’s fabulous news … unless you’ve wooed investors with promises of 85 percent. 

And, just like fiction writers, your rule must be to show, don’t tell. If you say your head of operations is first rate, provide info about her education and experience. If you project your business to be a leader in its field in the first year, provide the data to back that up. Otherwise, it just looks like a pipe dream.

Beef Up Your Team

A company is only as good as the team that manages it, so make sure you have good people on board with excellent credentials and lots of experience. You’ll need to sell your team members in your business plan. If they don’t have experience in your company’s precise activity, relate their prior jobs to the skills your venture requires for success. If your team isn’t quite up to the task, bring in an advisory panel of experts or board of directors. The U.S. Small Business Association recommends that you should also include their business background, “positions, extent of involvement with the company and historical and future contribution to the company’s success” in your business plan.

Edit Out the Fluff

You know better than to use meaningless terms like “awesome,” but read and reread your plan draft to get rid of other fluff. Redline superlatives like “the very greatest,” and avoid dramatic adjectives, like “outstanding,” “amazing” and “fabulous.” 

For the same reason, eliminate overly optimistic projections and time frames. In fact, hire an accountant to do the financial projections, so the numbers look conservative, professional and serious. Nothing says “amateur” like unprofessional number crunching.

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Home » Learn » Writing a Business Plan

Writing a Business Plan

Writing a business plan is an essential part of building a successful business. At its core, a business plan is a road map for your project: it establishes your purpose, it sets goals and expectations, and it forecasts the relationship between cost and revenue. Business plans exist in many forms: some formal and some informal.

Ultimately you’re seeking to answer the same basic set of questions—either for yourself, your team or an outside investor. The following list of questions, which is adapted from The Wharton School Entrepreneurship Workshop “Business Plan Writing 101,” serves as a good starting point:

 Take a look at the video below as well as the guide & infographic for more insights 🙂

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