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How to Write a Business Plan Outline [Examples + Templates]
By Letícia Fonseca , Aug 11, 2023
When venturing into crafting a business plan, the initial hurdle often lies in taking that first step.
So, how can you evade those prolonged hours of staring at a blank page? Initiate your journey with the aid of a business plan outline.
As with any endeavor, an outline serves as the beacon of clarity, illuminating the path to confront even the most formidable tasks. This holds particularly true when composing pivotal documents vital to your triumph, much like a business plan.
Nonetheless, I understand the enormity of a business plan’s scope, which might make the task of outlining it seem daunting. This is precisely why I’ve compiled all the requisite information to facilitate the creation of a business plan outline. No need to break a sweat!
And if you’re seeking further assistance, a business plan maker and readily available business plan templates can offer valuable support in shaping your comprehensive plan.
Read on for answers to all your business plan outline questions or jump ahead for some handy templates.
Click to jump ahead:
What is a business plan outline (and why do you need one), what format should you choose for your business plan outline, what are the key components of a business plan outline.
- Business plan template examples
- Writing tips to ace your outline
A business plan outline is the backbone of your business plan. It contains all the most important information you’ll want to expand on in your full-length plan.
Think of it this way: your outline is a frame for your plan. It provides a high-level idea of what the final plan should look like, what it will include and how all the information will be organized.
Why would you do this extra step? Beyond saving you from blank page syndrome, an outline ensures you don’t leave any essential information out of your plan — you can see all the most important points at a glance and quickly identify any content gaps.
It also serves as a writing guide. Once you know all the sections you want in your plan, you just need to expand on them. Suddenly, you’re “filling in the blanks” as opposed to writing a plan from scratch!
Incidentally, using a business plan template like this one gives you a running head start, too:
Perhaps most importantly, a business plan outline keeps you focused on the essential parts of your document. (Not to mention what matters most to stakeholders and investors.) With an outline, you’ll spend less time worrying about structure or organization and more time perfecting the actual content of your document.
If you’re looking for more general advice, you can read about how to create a business plan here . But if you’re working on outlining your plan, stick with me.
Return to Table of Contents
Most business plans fit into one of two formats.
The format you choose largely depends on three factors: (1) the stage of your business, (2) if you’re presenting the plan to investors and (3) what you want to achieve with your business plan.
Let’s have a closer look at these two formats and why you might choose one over the other.
Traditional business plans are typically long, detailed documents. In many cases, they take up to 50-60 pages, but it’s not uncommon to see plans spanning 100+ pages.
Traditional plans are long because they cover every aspect of your business. They leave nothing out. You’ll find a traditional business plan template with sections like executive summary, company description, target market, market analysis, marketing plan, financial plan, and more. Basically: the more information the merrier.
This business plan template isn’t of a traditional format, but you could expand it into one by duplicating pages:
Due to their high level of detail, traditional formats are the best way to sell your business. They show you’re reliable and have a clear vision for your business’s future.
If you’re planning on presenting your plan to investors and stakeholders, you’ll want to go with a traditional plan format. The more information you include, the fewer doubts and questions you’ll get when you present your plan, so don’t hold back.
Traditional business plans require more detailed outlines before drafting since there’s a lot of information to cover. You’ll want to list all the sections and include bullet points describing what each section should cover.
It’s also a good idea to include all external resources and visuals in your outline, so you don’t have to gather them later.
Lean business plan formats are high level and quick to write. They’re often only one or two pages. Similar to a business plan infographic , they’re scannable and quick to digest, like this template:
This format is often referred to as a “startup” format due to (you guessed it!) many startups using it.
Lean business plans require less detailed outlines. You can include high-level sections and a few lines in each section covering the basics. Since the final plan will only be a page or two, you don’t need to over prepare. Nor will you need a ton of external resources.
Lean plans don’t answer all the questions investors and stakeholders may ask, so if you go this route, make sure it’s the right choice for your business . Companies not yet ready to present to investors will typically use a lean/startup business plan format to get their rough plan on paper and share it internally with their management team.
Here’s another example of a lean business plan format in the form of a financial plan:
Your business plan outline should include all the following sections. The level of detail you choose to go into will depend on your intentions for your plan (sharing with stakeholders vs. internal use), but you’ll want every section to be clear and to the point.
1. Executive summary
The executive summary gives a high-level description of your company, product or service. This section should include a mission statement, your company description, your business’s primary goal, and the problem it aims to solve. You’ll want to state how your business can solve the problem and briefly explain what makes you stand out (your competitive advantage).
Having an executive summary is essential to selling your business to stakeholders , so it should be as clear and concise as possible. Summarize your business in a few sentences in a way that will hook the reader (or audience) and get them invested in what you have to say next. In other words, this is your elevator pitch.
2. Product and services description
This is where you should go into more detail about your product or service. Your product is the heart of your business, so it’s essential this section is easy to grasp. After all, if people don’t know what you’re selling, you’ll have a hard time keeping them engaged!
Expand on your description in the executive summary, going into detail about the problem your customers face and how your product/service will solve it. If you have various products or services, go through all of them in equal detail.
3. Target market and/or Market analysis
A market analysis is crucial for placing your business in a larger context and showing investors you know your industry. This section should include market research on your prospective customer demographic including location, age range, goals and motivations.
You can even include detailed customer personas as a visual aid — these are especially useful if you have several target demographics. You want to showcase your knowledge of your customer, who exactly you’re selling to and how you can fulfill their needs.
Be sure to include information on the overall target market for your product, including direct and indirect competitors and how your industry is performing. If your competitors have strengths you want to mimic or weaknesses you want to exploit, this is the place to record that information.
4. Organization and management
You can think of this as a “meet the team” section — this is where you should go into depth on your business’s structure from management to legal and HR. If there are people bringing unique skills or experience to the table (I’m sure there are!), you should highlight them in this section.
The goal here is to showcase why your team is the best to run your business. Investors want to know you’re unified, organized and reliable. This is also a potential opportunity to bring more humanity to your business plan and showcase the faces behind the ideas and product.
5. Marketing and sales
Now that you’ve introduced your product and team, you need to explain how you’re going to sell it. Give a detailed explanation of your sales and marketing strategy, including pricing, timelines for launching your product and advertising.
This is a major section of your plan and can even live as a separate document for your marketing and sales teams. Here are some marketing plan templates to help you get started .
Make sure you have research or analysis to back up your decisions — if you want to do paid ads on LinkedIn to advertise your product, include a brief explanation as to why that is the best channel for your business.
6. Financial projections and funding request
The end of your plan is where you’ll look to the future and how you think your business will perform financially. Your financial plan should include results from your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow projections.
State your funding requirements and what you need to realize the business. Be extremely clear about how you plan to use the funding and when you expect investors will see returns.
If you aren’t presenting to potential investors, you can skip this part, but it’s something to keep in mind should you seek funding in the future. Covering financial projections and the previous five components is essential at the stage of business formation to ensure everything goes smoothly moving forward.
Any extra visual aids, receipts, paperwork or charts will live here. Anything that may be relevant to your plan should be included as reference e.g. your cash flow statement (or other financial statements). You can format your appendix in whatever way you think is best — as long as it’s easy for readers to find what they’re looking for, you’ve done your job!
Typically, the best way to start your outline is to list all these high-level sections. Then, you can add bullet points outlining what will go in each section and the resources you’ll need to write them. This should give you a solid starting point for your full-length plan.
Business plan outline templates
Looking for a shortcut? Our business plan templates are basically outlines in a box!
While your outline likely won’t go into as much detail, these templates are great examples of how to organize your sections.
Traditional format templates
A strong template can turn your long, dense business plan into an engaging, easy-to-read document. There are lots to choose from, but here are just a few ideas to inspire you…
You can duplicate pages and use these styles for a traditional outline, or start with a lean outline as you build your business plan out over time:
Lean format templates
For lean format outlines, a simpler ‘ mind map ’ style is a good bet. With this style, you can get ideas down fast and quickly turn them into one or two-page plans. Plus, because they’re shorter, they’re easy to share with your team.
Writing tips to ace your business plan outline
Business plans are complex documents, so if you’re still not sure how to write your outline, don’t worry! Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when drafting your business plan outline:
- Ask yourself why you’re writing an outline. Having a clear goal for your outline can help keep you on track as you write. Everything you include in your plan should contribute to your goal. If it doesn’t, it probably doesn’t need to be in there.
- Keep it clear and concise. Whether you’re writing a traditional or lean format business plan, your outline should be easy to understand. Choose your words wisely and avoid unnecessary preambles or padding language. The faster you get to the point, the easier your plan will be to read.
- Add visual aids. No one likes reading huge walls of text! Make room in your outline for visuals, data and charts. This keeps your audience engaged and helps those who are more visual learners. Psst, infographics are great for this.
- Make it collaborative. Have someone (or several someones) look it over before finalizing your outline. If you have an established marketing / sales / finance team, have them look it over too. Getting feedback at the outline stage can help you avoid rewrites and wasted time down the line.
If this is your first time writing a business plan outline, don’t be too hard on yourself. You might not get it 100% right on the first try, but with these tips and the key components listed above, you’ll have a strong foundation. Remember, done is better than perfect.
Create a winning business plan by starting with a detailed, actionable outline
The best way to learn is by doing. So go ahead, get started on your business plan outline. As you develop your plan, you’ll no doubt learn more about your business and what’s important for success along the way.
A clean, compelling template is a great way to get a head start on your outline. After all, the sections are already separated and defined for you!
Explore Venngage’s business plan templates for one that suits your needs. Many are free to use and there are premium templates available for a small monthly fee. Happy outlining!
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Whether you’re a seasoned business owner or a new entrepreneur, a business plan is crucial to the success and growth of your business, but it can feel like an overwhelming task.
A business plan should act as a “compass,” according to Danielle Langton, a business strategist and coach based in Austin, Texas. It can help you maintain focus as you navigate the market, silence internal and external distractions, and secure business financing .
A well-written business plan will also create confidence, clarity, direction and alignment for a business owner and their team. To help you navigate the process, two business advisors share their best tips for writing a business plan.
1. Think big picture
Rather than diving into a 60-page business plan template, start by conceptualizing your business, recommends Oren Shani, a certified business advisor at Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit community development financial institution based in California.
For new businesses, that means thinking about what differentiating value you bring to the market and how to turn that value into revenue, says Shani. For operating businesses, Langton says, it means understanding what worked the previous year and what didn’t.
Once you have this “bird’s-eye view,” you can more easily narrow down your action steps, which will vary based on your business, says Shani. “A lot of businesses find that they don’t need that 60-pager,” he says, noting that some businesses really only need a one-page mini-plan, or “lean plan.”
2. Factor in your lifestyle
Langton’s main advice to her clients is to prioritize the balance between business and their personal lives. Understanding and outlining your priorities outside of the business gives you clarity on how you can spend time with your business, which can ultimately make you a more efficient and effective business owner. “As you are creating a living,” she asks her clients, “are you actually also enjoying the life that it is providing, or are you just so focused on the revenue?”
To create this clarity, she recommends starting with your “nonnegotiables,” or things that you aren’t willing to sacrifice in your daily life to run your business. From there, you can build what your ideal week looks like and work your business schedule around that.
3. Make the time
As for actually sitting down to write your business plan , consider both your schedule and how you work best. For those who prefer to focus on one task at a time, Langton suggests setting aside a week, even blocking the time on your calendar if you’re having trouble making it a priority. Consider a change of scenery to clear any mental blocks or provide extra inspiration.
However, if feeling overwhelmed has kept you from starting in the first place, Shani advises against compartmentalizing. Getting something on paper, even if it’s just a bulleted list to start, is more effective than waiting for a free day with no distractions, he says. Plus, working on your business plan while running your business can provide benefits too, as real-time analysis can enhance your strategy as you go.
Langton adds that perfectionism and business plans don’t go hand in hand, especially for new business owners.
4. Embrace the living business plan
Whether you’re a new business owner or 20-year veteran, a business plan is never truly done, according to both Shani and Langton. As your understanding of your business, the market, and your customer base changes and adapts, so should your business plan.
The lengthiest part of the business plan process is the learning, rather than actually getting it on paper, says Shani. Every time a sale is made or not made, for instance, a business owner should seek to understand why or why not. This will help them identify their customers’ purchasing behaviors and how their customers engage with the business’s brand and products.
For some business owners, a monthly or quarterly cadence to check in, reprioritize and shed the things that aren’t working may make the most sense. Others may find it more useful to revisit their plan when there are new insights or significant changes to the market, such as new regulations, nearby real estate developments or fresh competitors, says Shani.
5. Leverage your busy season
For business owners expecting an upcoming holiday rush , this can be good news for your business plan, in addition to your bottom line. Leaning in during your busy season can be one of the best ways to collect data about your business, and capitalizing on that information at the end of the year can set you up well for the next, says Langton.
Not everything has to be buttoned up by the first of the year, but making observations and mental notes now will set you up to make meaningful updates to your business plan in January, she says.
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How to Write a Business Plan Outline
A step-by-step guide to your best first impression
Susan Ward wrote about small businesses for The Balance for 18 years. She has run an IT consulting firm and designed and presented courses on how to promote small businesses.
Business Plan Outline
- Organize Your Business Plan
- Title Page and Table of Contents
- Appearance Matters
Adrian Mangel / The Balance
Are you an entrepreneur looking to turn your idea into a business? Do you have a business plan? There is some debate about whether new businesses need a business plan when just starting out, especially if they're not asking for money. According to Carl Schramm, author of "Burn the Business Plan," many large corporations didn't have business plans when they first started:
"If you look at all our older major corporations—U.S. Steel, General Electric, IBM, American Airlines—and then you look at our newer companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, none of these companies ever had a business plan before they got started."
The U.S. Small Business Administration takes a middle-of-the-road approach, recognizing that not all businesses need a comprehensive plan. Instead, it suggests that smaller businesses and startups use a "leaner" and more streamlined version to outline the essentials and highlight strengths. Lean or long, your business plan should cover the basics.
The outline below offers a brief overview of what each section of your business plan should cover. It is not a definitive guide, as you may wish to expand or combine sections, or add extra detail in a way that is customized to your particular venture. Keep in mind the idea is to present your venture in the most attractive and professional way possible.
Though it appears first in the business plan, the executive summary is a section that is usually written last, as it encapsulates the entire plan. It provides an introduction and high-level overview of your business, including your mission statement and details about what product(s) and/or service(s) you offer.
Since the executive summary is your business's first impression, it's critical that it be outstanding, especially if you're seeking funding.
Provide information about the business you're starting, including what sort of problem your products/services solve and your most likely buyers. You can also expand this description by offering an overview of the industry that your business will be a part of, including trends, major players, and estimated sales. This section should give a positive perspective on your place within the industry. Set your business apart from the competition by describing your or your team's expertise, as well as your competitive advantage.
The market analysis is a crucial section of the business plan, as it identifies your best customers or clients. To create a compelling market analysis, thoroughly research the primary target market for your products/services, including geographic location, demographics, your target market's needs, and how these needs are currently being met. Your purpose here is to demonstrate that you have a solid and thorough understanding of the people you are planning to sell your products/services to so that you can make informed predictions about how much they might buy, and convince other interested parties.
In preparing to write the competitive analysis section, you'll learn how successful your direct and indirect competitors are in the marketplace. This section of your business plan includes an assessment of your competition's strengths and weaknesses, any advantages they may have, and the unique qualities that make your business stand out from the competition. It also includes an analysis of how you will overcome any barriers to entry in your chosen market.
The primary goal here is to distinguish your business from the competition, but a strong competitive analysis will be able to persuade potential funding sources that your business can compete in the marketplace successfully . A useful tool to help articulate this section of the plan is sometimes referred to as a SWOT analysis, or a "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats" assessment.
Sales and Marketing Plan
The sales and marketing section offers a detailed explanation of your sales strategy, pricing plan, proposed advertising and promotion activities, and all the benefits of your products/services. This is where to outline your business's unique selling proposition, describe how you plan to get your products/services to market, and how you'll persuade people to buy them.
When developing your unique selling proposition, your goal is to answer the question: Why should people buy from me over my competition?
Ownership and Management Plan
This section outlines your business's legal structure and management resources, including the internal management team, external management resources, and human resources needs. Include any experience or special skills that each person in your management team brings to the business. If the goal of your business plan is to get funding, it's wise to include an advisory board as a management resource.
The operating plan offers detailed information about how your business will be run. It provides your business's physical location, descriptions of facilities and equipment, types of employees needed, inventory requirements, suppliers, and any other applicable operating details that pertain to your precise type of business, such as a description of the manufacturing process, or specialty items needed in day-to-day operations.
Starting a business is usually about making a profit, so it's important to demonstrate that you have a solid sense of your current finances, funding needs, as well as projected income. In the financial section , provide a description of your funding requirements, your detailed financial statements, and a financial statement analysis. This part of the business plan is where you present the three main financial documents of any business: the balance sheet, the income statement, and the cash flow statement, or in the case of a new business, a cash flow projection.
Appendices and Exhibits
In addition to the sections outlined above, at the end of your business plan, include any additional information that will help establish the credibility of your business idea, or bolster your potential success. You may choose to include marketing studies, photographs of your product, permits, patents and other intellectual property rights, credit histories, résumés, marketing materials, and any contracts or other legal agreements pertinent to your business.
How to Organize Your Business Plan
There is no set order to your business plan, the only exception being that the executive summary should always come first. Beyond that, the order depends on your goals.
If your purpose for writing a business plan is to help you organize, gather information, and create a roadmap, organize it in the way that is most intuitive to your process. You might group similar content together, such as all the material relating to markets (industry overview, marketing analysis, competitive analysis, and marketing plan).
If your goal is to seek funding, organize the plan based on what your audience values, and lead with the best, most convincing material first. If you have a stellar group of people serving on your new business's advisory board, put that section directly after the executive summary. Highlighting your new business's strengths will encourage your reader to continue reading your plan.
Add a Title Page and Table of Contents
After completing all the sections, don't forget to insert a title page at the beginning of the plan followed by a table of contents listing each section with page numbers.
The Appearance of Your Business Plan Matters
If you're writing a business plan as an organizational exercise—for your eyes only—feel free to get loose with the style and organization; the simple act of putting all your ideas into a practical template may be a valuable brainstorming tool. However, if you're looking for funding or investors, the business plan is a formal document, so it should look like one. Every aspect of your business plan should impress your potential funding source.
Pay attention to margins and formatting; make sure it's spell-checked and grammatically sound. If you're not good at this, pay a professional to do it.
Hiring a professional to design, edit, or review your business plan may be a good idea, regardless of how skilled you are; a fresh pair of eyes can often spot issues that the original writer missed.
If you need printed copies, get them professionally printed and bound. Keep in mind that you may only have a short amount of time to sell your idea, and first impressions pack a powerful punch.
How Long Should a Business Plan Be?
A good business plan can't be pinned to a minimum or maximum page count. This is because the right length depends on your business. Your business plan should be brief enough to convey the essentials without redundancy or fluff content, yet long enough to demonstrate to your audience that your business is well-researched and fully considered. A simple plan for a modest startup might be around 40 pages, while a more complex business plan may need 100 pages to convey an ambitious financing strategy, product diagrams, industry data, or the full scope of the venture. The goal is to allow for a full explanation of the pertinent information about your business, presented in a concise and well-organized fashion.
Knowledge@Wharton. " Why Creating a Business Plan Is a ‘Waste of Time’ ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
Corporate Finance Institute. " Barriers to Entry ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " SBA Recommended Business Plans and Length ."
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Free business plan template—and how to write your own
I wrote my first business plan when I was six. I've learned a lot since then, and in hindsight, I can see why the investors around my family's Christmas table didn't take my space Marine cowboy ranch pitch seriously. I didn't put a lot of thought into what it would take to make the idea work, and I certainly didn't do the market research. Also, it was a space Marine cowboy ranch business.
My point is that thinking about the outcome before considering the many variables that pave the way is counterproductive. A business plan may not seem like the most critical or complicated document, but it can guide an entire organization, keeping success at the top of everyone's mind. It's the difference between a successful investor pitch and crying on Christmas.
To show you what I mean, I've put together a simple business plan template to get you started.
Table of contents:
What is a business plan?
What makes a business plan so important, key components of a business plan, types of business plans, making the business plan template your own, future-proofing your business plan, simple business plan template + example.
This simple business plan template outlines key business objectives , strategies, and financial projections. Compiling this information into one document will not only prepare you for the realities of running a business but will also guide your team, business partners, and investors as they navigate the plan.
After some good old-fashioned data entry, you should have a polished business plan that's ready to share. Regardless of what stage your business is in, this template is flexible enough to accommodate your needs.
Here's a business plan example I put together using the template above, to give you an idea of what it might look like once it's complete.
A business plan is a document that clearly defines your company's goals, strategies, and operational details. It's essentially a roadmap for your team and investors. Think of it as boiling your entire business (concept, vision, dreams, and everything in between) down to one document.
A formal business plan will include an overview of your products or services, marketing and sales strategies, targeted markets, financial details, and even a description of what you're building.
Of course, business plans are unique snowflakes, so there's no one size fits all. Depending on what you're trying to do—attract investors, guide project expansion, align team members—your plan will look a little different. I'll dig into the different types of business plans in a bit.
In its simplest form, a business plan turns your concept into a reality. In more tangible terms, it also helps you achieve necessary business goals like securing funding. You'll have a hard time finding investors if you show up to a pitch meeting with only a winning smile and a can-do attitude—a strong business plan can show them a clear path to a return on their investment.
Investors and their judgmental silence aside, this document is critical for guiding internal decision-making, setting goals, and providing a clear direction for the business and its vision.
Before your business partners can understand your vision, you need to make sure you do. Before you start putting your business plan together, ask yourself whether your idea is feasible, whether it's different from what's already out there, if there are any competitors, and if they're doing something unique. Also consider your prices and customer base.
You likely already know most of the answers to these questions. My Christmas pitch all those years ago could have gone differently if I'd put crayon to paper and answered these questions myself. My family couldn't follow my spur-of-the-moment speech, and neither will your team or investors—they need it spelled out as clearly as possible.
While no two business plans will look the same, there's a handful of key components virtually all good business plans have in common. So, if you haven't already looked through the template with the optimism that my six-year-old self lost that Christmas, here's what you can expect to find.
Title page: Impress readers with a unique presentation. This is your first opportunity to showcase your brand.
Table of contents: No one likes being lost in a document. A TOC can help readers navigate the various sections and get an overview of what's inside.
Executive summary: Provide an overview of the business, summarizing its mission, goals, and key highlights.
Market analysis: Include your research and data on the target market. Make sure to outline industry trends, competition, and customer demographics.
Products/services: Detail your services or products. You'll want to expand on your unique selling points and customer benefits.
Marketing and sales strategy: Outline your plans for promoting your business. If you've already identified marketing and sales channels, include those, too.
Financial plan: Define all financial details, from required funding and business budget to projected income and profit.
The organization: Showcase how your business will function on a structural level. Make sure to talk about your team's different positions and functions, and how it will all be managed.
Let's say you have a well-established construction manufacturing business. If you're looking to expand the business into a new location, you don't want to repurpose the same simple startup business plan. You'd want to build on it (pun intended) with an expansion business plan.
Unlike your original business plan, which outlined your original milestones and goals, an expansion plan would include an analysis of your expansion and its development, purpose, feasibility, market, and reasoning. It would still outline your overarching goals for the business as a whole, but with additional information about the expansion and what that entails.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. For example, internal and strategic business plans serve an internal purpose. These are the types that are written for your team rather than your business partners. They're created to pin down the long-term game plan and keep team members aligned.
Not all businesses are in the same stage, so be sure to find a business plan that fits your current needs. A new startup's checklist is different from that of an expanding business, and so is its business plan.
A business idea and a feasible business plan are two very different things. Follow these steps to solidify your ideas into a clear roadmap.
1. Define your mission statement
A mission statement is a way for you to tell your company's story and communicate the vision you have for it. It should reflect your values, goals, and what you hope to achieve, setting the tone for your entire business plan. Ask yourself if your mission statement makes your business sound credible, feasible, and profitable.
2. Outline a detailed company description
Don't be shy about the details. Provide your readers with a comprehensive overview of your company, its history, founders, legal structure, location, and the concept it's all built around. You might even include photos and illustrations for an extra flair.
3. Set your business goals
Set out your short- and long-term business goals. Be as specific as you can, and use the SMART technique , outlining goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Make sure these goals align with your mission statement.
4. Detail your services/products
Describe your services or products and lean heavily on their unique selling points. Discuss benefits, features, and the problems they solve for the target market you're aiming to reach. Include some visuals of your product or service to really drive the point home.
5. Analyze your target audience
Describe the market you're targeting and the audience demographics you've identified in your research. Understanding your future customers is essential for marketing and sales strategies. Put together ICPs to define your ideal customer base and create buyer personas to keep your team on track.
6. Set milestones for marketing and sales
Showcasing that you've identified your target audience isn't enough. You need to prove that you know how to speak to it and how to appeal to it while promoting your products and services. Some businesses set up milestones such as X amount of sales, Y number of acquired clients, or, in my case, the successful integration of Cowboy Ranch into the International Space Station.
7. Perform a financial analysis
Conduct a thorough financial analysis that includes details such as income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. Outline your financial projections and your funding requirements. This section should prove how financially feasible your business concept is.
Once you have these points outlined and fleshed out, it's only a matter of representing each and every one of them in detail, ensuring that the voice and tone of your business plan reflect your brand and embody the unique concept you want to get across.
In summary: investors are not mind readers, and cowboys should stay on Earth.
Your business plan is the sum of your ideas, passion, vision, and the lessons you learn as your business develops. Over the years, it will likely go through a few iterations and changes, but the plan you write today will guide you through the beginning stages.
As your business plan grows out of its infancy, you can start looking into other useful tools like revenue growth plans to start preparing for the challenges ahead. And when those challenges come, Zapier can help growing businesses like yours tackle them with no-code automation that scales with you.
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Hachem is a writer and digital marketer from Montreal. After graduating with a degree in English, Hachem spent seven years traveling around the world before moving to Canada. When he's not writing, he enjoys Basketball, Dungeons and Dragons, and playing music for friends and family.
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Powerful business plan templates
Plan for the future, no matter what your business plans are or the size of your business with these designs and templates. whether it's just one big project or an entire organization's worth of dreams, these templates will keep you and your company on track from ideation to completion..
Put your ideas to work with simple templates for every business plan
Every successful business took a lot of planning to get there, and these templates will be cornerstones of your future success. Whether you're looking to attract new business, pitch your services or reimagine your company, with these simple, customizable templates at your fingertips you can turn complexity into something tangible. These templates can become marketing assets or simply remain internal touchpoints for your team. And as your dreams change, you'll always have this template to refer to – it's easy to change what exists on paper. If you're a small business, focusing on your niche can help you dominate in your field, and you can forge a plan to figure out exactly what that niche might be and how to target your ideal customer . When it's time to share your vision with stakeholders, craft a presentation that outlines your plan succinctly and with style. Let these templates from Microsoft Designer be your partner in business strategy for years to come.
The Perfect Business Plan Layout & Outline for a Great Plan
Written by Dave Lavinsky
The layout of a business plan is not an area where great imagination and creativity is needed or recommended. It should be a more or less straightforward task to layout or outline your plan, using industry standard practices which funders have become familiar with through thousands of business plans. Use the following steps to implement this standard layout and save creativity for your business idea within the plan.
Download our Ultimate Business Plan Template here >
Start by getting your hands on a good business plan template. This will speed your time to completing your plan. Business plans generally start with an executive summary and company overview, move through background research and market analysis, customers, and competition, describe the company’s intended methods in the marketing plan and operation plan, show who’s on the management team , and conclude with the financial plan and appendices featuring full financial statements.
Use the business plan template to guide your understanding of each section and to see how they relate to each other. Don’t assume that any one example should dominate your understanding unless it comes from an extremely trusted source with a reputation for business plan expertise and success.
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Sample Business Plan Outline
1. executive summary.
Your executive summary is the most important part of your plan. It comes at the beginning and is the first thing investors or lenders will read. If they aren’t excited by what they see, they’ll unfortunately stop reading. So make sure your executive summary gives a quick overview of what your company does and explains, in an exciting tone, why your company will be successful.
2. Company Description
In your Company Description, provide background on your company. When did you incorporate? What have you accomplished to date? Here you will let readers know the history of your business.
3. Market Analysis
In the Market Analysis section of your business plan provide background on the industry in which you operate. Conduct market research to make this section concrete and compelling. Answer questions such as: how big is your industry? what trends are affecting it?
4. Customer Analysis
Here you will document your target market. How are they? How many are there? What are their likes and dislikes? Ideally you can provide comprehensive demographic and psychographic profiles of your target customers and show how your company’s product or service are ideally suited to their needs.
5. Competitor Analysis
In this section of your business plan, document your key competitors. Explain their strengths and their weaknesses. Remember that investors and lenders expect you to have direct competitors. They just want to feel confident that despite them, you can still achieve lasting success.
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6. Marketing Plan
Your marketing strategy should primarily focus on the promotional methods you will use to attract new customers. Will you use search engine marketing? Will you employ radio ads? Document each of the promotional methods you will use.
7. Operations Plan
This section of your plan should discuss the key roles that your company must expertly perform and your strategies for operational excellence. You must also outline the long-term milestones your company plans to accomplish and the key dates for each.
8. Management Team
In your Management Team section, detail the key members of your team. Document their backgrounds and how their past experiences make them well suited to succeed in your organization.
9. Financial Plan
Here you will layout the key assumptions used in creating your financial model and then provide topline results from your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow projections. If you are seeking funding, document the amount of funding you seek and the key uses for it.
In your Appendix, you will provide supporting information such as employee or customer agreements, store layouts, etc. You must also include your full, five-year financial model and projections.
By following the above business plan outline, you will ensure your plan is in the format investors and lenders expect.
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Business Page Layout FAQs
How do i lay out a business plan.
Laying out a business plan is not, and should not, be complicated. You can lay out your business plan using our sample business plan outline discussed here . An organized business plan structure is key to a successful business plan.
What is a business plan outline?
A business plan outline allows you to organize your plan and present it in the format that’s most compelling to readers. Also, by starting with your outline, it’s easier to add the required information into the right sections of your business plan.
Other Helpful Business Plan Articles & Templates
On This Page
What is a one-page business plan?
What to include in your one-page plan, why you should start with a one-page plan, resources to help write your one-page plan.
How to Write a One-Page Business Plan
What’s the most challenging part of writing a business plan? Getting started. That’s why you should create a one-page plan as a starting point.
The one-page business plan is simple to create, easy to update, and built for adaptation. It includes all of the essential components of a traditional plan but is far briefer and more focused.
Think of it like you’re tweeting about your business. You have a limited number of characters to work with and are intentionally making it easy to digest. If you need additional support, try downloading our free one-page plan template .
The one-page business plan is a simplified version of traditional operational plans that focuses on the core aspects of your business. While it may be a shorter business plan, it still follows the structure of a standard business plan and serves as a beefed-up pitch document.
There’s really not a lot of difference between a single-page business plan and a good executive summary. In fact, as you create a more detailed plan you may even be able to use it as your executive summary .
Here are the eight necessary sections to include when developing your one-page business plan.
Try and keep each section limited to 1-2 sentences or 3-4 bullet points to ensure that you stay within one page. It’s always easier to add more later rather than cutting back from lengthy sections.
A description of the problem or need your customers have and any relevant data that supports your claim.
Your product or service and how it solves the problem.
How you will make money—including the costs of production and selling, and the price that customers will pay.
Who is your customer and how many of them are there? Define your ideal customer by starting with a broad audience and narrowing it down. This provides investors with a clear picture of your thought process and understanding of the greater consumer market.
What makes you different from the competition? Explain how this will lead to greater success, customer loyalty, etc.
The management structure of your business, including currently filled roles, ideal candidates, and any management gaps.
Key financial metrics include your profit and loss, cash flow, balance sheet, and sales forecast. This section may be the most difficult part to condense, so try and focus on visualization and standard business ratios to get the point across. You can always share broader financial information if requested.
Have what funding total you need front and center to clearly display what you are asking from investors.
There are plenty of good reasons to write a business plan . There are even more reasons why your first step should be writing a one-page plan.
1. It’s faster
Instead of slogging away for hours, days, or even weeks tackling a formal business plan—the one-page format helps you get your ideas down much faster. It removes the complex formatting,
2. A great format for feedback
Need quick feedback from business partners, colleagues, potential customers, or your spouse? Provide them with a one-page plan instead of a lengthy in-depth version for better results.
The one-page plan is more likely to be read and reviewed. And since all of your business information is available at a glance, you’ll receive far more valuable and timely feedback.
3. Easy to update
Entrepreneurs never get things right the first time. You’ll constantly be learning and receiving feedback—requiring you to iterate and revise your business concept. Instead of updating a large document every time, you can do it in minutes with a one-page plan.
4. Direct and to-the-point
Learning to communicate your ideas clearly and directly is critical. You need to be sure that anyone can really understand the essence of your business. Delivering your entire business concept on a single page is a great way to practice this, as it forces you to be succinct.
5. Works as an idea validation tool
Initially, your business is just a set of assumptions that you need to validate. Do your potential customers have the problem you assume they have? Do they like your solution and are they willing to pay for it? What marketing and sales tactics will work?
As you validate these assumptions, you leave them in your plan. But, assumptions that end up being wrong will quickly fall off the page.
6. Becomes an outline for your detailed plan
By “detailed” we don’t mean “long.” If you do need to create a detailed business plan document for investors or business partners, you can use your one-page plan as your core outline. You will just expand and provide more details for each section.
7. No one really reads long business plans
A common problem with traditional business plans is that they are simply too long and overly complex. Even when investors ask for a detailed document, chances are that they won’t actually read every word. They may read certain sections, but often just want to see if you’ve thought through the details of your business, how it will operate, and how it will grow.
8. Useful for any business stage
A one-page plan is useful for business owners that are mulling over ideas, just starting, actively managing, or looking to grow a business. It can help validate a business idea, work as an internal strategy document, or as a flexible management tool that can be adapted over time.
Check out our guide for quickly writing a one-page plan and download our free one-page plan template to kickstart the writing process.
How to write your one-page plan in under an hour
Still feeling a bit overwhelmed about creating a business plan? Check out this step-by-step guide to write a useful one-page business plan in as little as 30 minutes.
One-page business plan template
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One-page business plan FAQ
What is a one-page plan?
A one-page plan is a single-page overview of your business strategy, operations, and direction. It includes the same core components of a traditional business plan but in a far more condensed format that is easier and quicker to write or update.
Can a business plan really be one page?
Yes, a viable and useful business plan can be written on one page. Creating a one-page plan is actually a very valuable exercise for any small business owner. It forces you to keep your messaging brief and identify the critical aspects of your business that you, your partners, employees, or investors should know about.
How do you write a one-page plan?
Focus on being fast and to the point when writing a one-page plan. Stick to single sentences, bullet points, and visuals that get the point across. The intention is not for the plan to be perfect, but to help you get all of your ideas and information down so that you can quickly test, refine, and rework your plan.
What is in a one-page plan?
A one-page plan is made up of eight sections—the problem, solution, business model, target market, competitive advantage, management team, financial summary, and your funding request.
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You've been dreaming of starting your own business. You've started with some concrete steps, and you're ready to put your proposal together. But how do you start, and how do you know when you have the right information?
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What is a Business Plan? Definition, Tips, and Templates
Published: June 07, 2023
In an era where more than 20% of small enterprises fail in their first year, having a clear, defined, and well-thought-out business plan is a crucial first step for setting up a business for long-term success.
Business plans are a required tool for all entrepreneurs, business owners, business acquirers, and even business school students. But … what exactly is a business plan?
In this post, we'll explain what a business plan is, the reasons why you'd need one, identify different types of business plans, and what you should include in yours.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a documented strategy for a business that highlights its goals and its plans for achieving them. It outlines a company's go-to-market plan, financial projections, market research, business purpose, and mission statement. Key staff who are responsible for achieving the goals may also be included in the business plan along with a timeline.
The business plan is an undeniably critical component to getting any company off the ground. It's key to securing financing, documenting your business model, outlining your financial projections, and turning that nugget of a business idea into a reality.
What is a business plan used for?
The purpose of a business plan is three-fold: It summarizes the organization’s strategy in order to execute it long term, secures financing from investors, and helps forecast future business demands.
Business Plan Template [ Download Now ]
Working on your business plan? Try using our Business Plan Template . Pre-filled with the sections a great business plan needs, the template will give aspiring entrepreneurs a feel for what a business plan is, what should be in it, and how it can be used to establish and grow a business from the ground up.
Purposes of a Business Plan
Chances are, someone drafting a business plan will be doing so for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Securing financing from investors.
Since its contents revolve around how businesses succeed, break even, and turn a profit, a business plan is used as a tool for sourcing capital. This document is an entrepreneur's way of showing potential investors or lenders how their capital will be put to work and how it will help the business thrive.
All banks, investors, and venture capital firms will want to see a business plan before handing over their money, and investors typically expect a 10% ROI or more from the capital they invest in a business.
Therefore, these investors need to know if — and when — they'll be making their money back (and then some). Additionally, they'll want to read about the process and strategy for how the business will reach those financial goals, which is where the context provided by sales, marketing, and operations plans come into play.
2. Documenting a company's strategy and goals.
A business plan should leave no stone unturned.
Business plans can span dozens or even hundreds of pages, affording their drafters the opportunity to explain what a business' goals are and how the business will achieve them.
To show potential investors that they've addressed every question and thought through every possible scenario, entrepreneurs should thoroughly explain their marketing, sales, and operations strategies — from acquiring a physical location for the business to explaining a tactical approach for marketing penetration.
These explanations should ultimately lead to a business' break-even point supported by a sales forecast and financial projections, with the business plan writer being able to speak to the why behind anything outlined in the plan.
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Fill out the form to access your free business plan., 3. legitimizing a business idea..
Everyone's got a great idea for a company — until they put pen to paper and realize that it's not exactly feasible.
A business plan is an aspiring entrepreneur's way to prove that a business idea is actually worth pursuing.
As entrepreneurs document their go-to-market process, capital needs, and expected return on investment, entrepreneurs likely come across a few hiccups that will make them second guess their strategies and metrics — and that's exactly what the business plan is for.
It ensures an entrepreneur's ducks are in a row before bringing their business idea to the world and reassures the readers that whoever wrote the plan is serious about the idea, having put hours into thinking of the business idea, fleshing out growth tactics, and calculating financial projections.
4. Getting an A in your business class.
Speaking from personal experience, there's a chance you're here to get business plan ideas for your Business 101 class project.
If that's the case, might we suggest checking out this post on How to Write a Business Plan — providing a section-by-section guide on creating your plan?
What does a business plan need to include?
- Business Plan Subtitle
- Executive Summary
- Company Description
- The Business Opportunity
- Competitive Analysis
- Target Market
- Marketing Plan
- Financial Summary
- Funding Requirements
1. Business Plan Subtitle
Every great business plan starts with a captivating title and subtitle. You’ll want to make it clear that the document is, in fact, a business plan, but the subtitle can help tell the story of your business in just a short sentence.
2. Executive Summary
Although this is the last part of the business plan that you’ll write, it’s the first section (and maybe the only section) that stakeholders will read. The executive summary of a business plan sets the stage for the rest of the document. It includes your company’s mission or vision statement, value proposition, and long-term goals.
3. Company Description
This brief part of your business plan will detail your business name, years in operation, key offerings, and positioning statement. You might even add core values or a short history of the company. The company description’s role in a business plan is to introduce your business to the reader in a compelling and concise way.
4. The Business Opportunity
The business opportunity should convince investors that your organization meets the needs of the market in a way that no other company can. This section explains the specific problem your business solves within the marketplace and how it solves them. It will include your value proposition as well as some high-level information about your target market.
5. Competitive Analysis
Just about every industry has more than one player in the market. Even if your business owns the majority of the market share in your industry or your business concept is the first of its kind, you still have competition. In the competitive analysis section, you’ll take an objective look at the industry landscape to determine where your business fits. A SWOT analysis is an organized way to format this section.
6. Target Market
Who are the core customers of your business and why? The target market portion of your business plan outlines this in detail. The target market should explain the demographics, psychographics, behavioristics, and geographics of the ideal customer.
7. Marketing Plan
Marketing is expansive, and it’ll be tempting to cover every type of marketing possible, but a brief overview of how you’ll market your unique value proposition to your target audience, followed by a tactical plan will suffice.
Think broadly and narrow down from there: Will you focus on a slow-and-steady play where you make an upfront investment in organic customer acquisition? Or will you generate lots of quick customers using a pay-to-play advertising strategy? This kind of information should guide the marketing plan section of your business plan.
8. Financial Summary
Money doesn’t grow on trees and even the most digital, sustainable businesses have expenses. Outlining a financial summary of where your business is currently and where you’d like it to be in the future will substantiate this section. Consider including any monetary information that will give potential investors a glimpse into the financial health of your business. Assets, liabilities, expenses, debt, investments, revenue, and more are all useful adds here.
So, you’ve outlined some great goals, the business opportunity is valid, and the industry is ready for what you have to offer. Who’s responsible for turning all this high-level talk into results? The "team" section of your business plan answers that question by providing an overview of the roles responsible for each goal. Don’t worry if you don’t have every team member on board yet, knowing what roles to hire for is helpful as you seek funding from investors.
10. Funding Requirements
Remember that one of the goals of a business plan is to secure funding from investors, so you’ll need to include funding requirements you’d like them to fulfill. The amount your business needs, for what reasons, and for how long will meet the requirement for this section.
Types of Business Plans
- Startup Business Plan
- Feasibility Business Plan
- Internal Business Plan
- Strategic Business Plan
- Business Acquisition Plan
- Business Repositioning Plan
- Expansion or Growth Business Plan
There’s no one size fits all business plan as there are several types of businesses in the market today. From startups with just one founder to historic household names that need to stay competitive, every type of business needs a business plan that’s tailored to its needs. Below are a few of the most common types of business plans.
For even more examples, check out these sample business plans to help you write your own .
1. Startup Business Plan
As one of the most common types of business plans, a startup business plan is for new business ideas. This plan lays the foundation for the eventual success of a business.
The biggest challenge with the startup business plan is that it’s written completely from scratch. Startup business plans often reference existing industry data. They also explain unique business strategies and go-to-market plans.
Because startup business plans expand on an original idea, the contents will vary by the top priority goals.
For example, say a startup is looking for funding. If capital is a priority, this business plan might focus more on financial projections than marketing or company culture.
2. Feasibility Business Plan
This type of business plan focuses on a single essential aspect of the business — the product or service. It may be part of a startup business plan or a standalone plan for an existing organization. This comprehensive plan may include:
- A detailed product description
- Market analysis
- Technology needs
- Production needs
- Financial sources
- Production operations
According to CBInsights research, 35% of startups fail because of a lack of market need. Another 10% fail because of mistimed products.
Some businesses will complete a feasibility study to explore ideas and narrow product plans to the best choice. They conduct these studies before completing the feasibility business plan. Then the feasibility plan centers on that one product or service.
3. Internal Business Plan
Internal business plans help leaders communicate company goals, strategy, and performance. This helps the business align and work toward objectives more effectively.
Besides the typical elements in a startup business plan, an internal business plan may also include:
- Department-specific budgets
- Target demographic analysis
- Market size and share of voice analysis
- Action plans
- Sustainability plans
Most external-facing business plans focus on raising capital and support for a business. But an internal business plan helps keep the business mission consistent in the face of change.
4. Strategic Business Plan
Strategic business plans focus on long-term objectives for your business. They usually cover the first three to five years of operations. This is different from the typical startup business plan which focuses on the first one to three years. The audience for this plan is also primarily internal stakeholders.
These types of business plans may include:
- Relevant data and analysis
- Assessments of company resources
- Vision and mission statements
It's important to remember that, while many businesses create a strategic plan before launching, some business owners just jump in. So, this business plan can add value by outlining how your business plans to reach specific goals. This type of planning can also help a business anticipate future challenges.
5. Business Acquisition Plan
Investors use business plans to acquire existing businesses, too — not just new businesses.
A business acquisition plan may include costs, schedules, or management requirements. This data will come from an acquisition strategy.
A business plan for an existing company will explain:
- How an acquisition will change its operating model
- What will stay the same under new ownership
- Why things will change or stay the same
- Acquisition planning documentation
- Timelines for acquisition
Additionally, the business plan should speak to the current state of the business and why it's up for sale.
For example, if someone is purchasing a failing business, the business plan should explain why the business is being purchased. It should also include:
- What the new owner will do to turn the business around
- Historic business metrics
- Sales projections after the acquisition
- Justification for those projections
6. Business Repositioning Plan
When a business wants to avoid acquisition, reposition its brand, or try something new, CEOs or owners will develop a business repositioning plan.
This plan will:
- Acknowledge the current state of the company.
- State a vision for the future of the company.
- Explain why the business needs to reposition itself.
- Outline a process for how the company will adjust.
Companies planning for a business reposition often do so — proactively or retroactively — due to a shift in market trends and customer needs.
For example, shoe brand AllBirds plans to refocus its brand on core customers and shift its go-to-market strategy. These decisions are a reaction to lackluster sales following product changes and other missteps.
7. Expansion or Growth Business Plan
When your business is ready to expand, a growth business plan creates a useful structure for reaching specific targets.
For example, a successful business expanding into another location can use a growth business plan. This is because it may also mean the business needs to focus on a new target market or generate more capital.
This type of plan usually covers the next year or two of growth. It often references current sales, revenue, and successes. It may also include:
- SWOT analysis
- Growth opportunity studies
- Financial goals and plans
- Marketing plans
- Capability planning
These types of business plans will vary by business, but they can help businesses quickly rally around new priorities to drive growth.
Getting Started With Your Business Plan
At the end of the day, a business plan is simply an explanation of a business idea and why it will be successful. The more detail and thought you put into it, the more successful your plan — and the business it outlines — will be.
When writing your business plan, you’ll benefit from extensive research, feedback from your team or board of directors, and a solid template to organize your thoughts. If you need one of these, download HubSpot's Free Business Plan Template below to get started.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
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2 Essential Templates For Starting Your Business
Access our collection of user-friendly templates for business planning, finance, sales, marketing, and management, designed to assist you in developing strategies for either launching a new business venture or expanding an existing one.
You can use the templates below as a starting point to create your startup business plan or map out how you will expand your existing business. Then meet with a SCORE mentor to get expert business planning advice and feedback on your business plan.
If writing a full business plan seems overwhelming, start with a one-page Business Model Canvas. Developed by Founder and CEO of Strategyzer, Alexander Osterwalder, it can be used to easily document your business concept.
Download this template to fill out the nine squares focusing on the different building blocks of any business:
- Value Proposition
- Customer Segments
- Customer Relationships
- Key Activities
- Key Resources
- Key Partners
- Cost Structure
- Revenue Streams
For help completing the Business Model Canvas Template, contact a SCORE business mentor for guidance
From creating a startup budget to managing cash flow for a growing business, keeping tabs on your business’s finances is essential to success. The templates below will help you monitor and manage your business’s financial situation, create financial projections and seek financing to start or grow your business.
This interactive calculator allows you to provide inputs and see a full estimated repayment schedule to plan your capital needs and cash flow.
Marketing helps your business build brand awareness, attract customers and create customer loyalty. Use these templates to forecast sales, develop your marketing strategy and map out your marketing budget and plan.
How healthy is your business? Are you missing out on potential growth opportunities or ignoring areas of weakness? Do you need to hire employees to reach your goals? The following templates will help you assess the state of your business and accomplish important management tasks.
Whether you are starting your business or established and looking to grow, our Business Healthcheck Tool will provide practical information and guidance.
Learn how having a SCORE mentor can be a valuable asset for your business. A SCORE mentor can provide guidance and support in various areas of business, including finance, marketing, and strategy. They can help you navigate challenges and make important decisions based on their expertise and experience. By seeking out a SCORE mentor, you can gain the guidance and support you need to help grow your business and achieve success.
SCORE offers free business mentoring to anyone that wants to start, currently owns, or is planning to close or sell a small business. To initiate the process, input your zip code in the designated area below. Then, complete the mentoring request form on the following page, including as much information as possible about your business. This information is used to match you with a mentor in your area. After submitting the request, you will receive an email from your mentor to arrange your first mentoring session.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.