Your business plan is the document to help you go from idea to execution. You’ll likely depend on your business plan to organize your thoughts, strategize for success and stay focused. You might also write a business plan to secure funding.
If you want to write a winning business plan, read this comprehensive guide. We’re sharing step-by-step tips on how to write a business plan.
Related: Take a look at our comprehensive guide on how to start a small business.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a document that you use to strategize for your business’ future. The business plan includes an overview of your business, its goals and your marketing strategy. The document will also include financial forecasting.
Need help deciding on a business to start? Check out this list of small business ideas that are easy to launch on a low budget. You might also consider other online business ideas that require minimal upfront investments.
Related: Discover how you can create an llc from our step-by-step guide.
In this article:
- Why do you need a business plan?
- How to write a business plan
- Business plan format
- Tips for writing a small business plan
- Business plan FAQ
Why do you need a business plan
You need a business plan to outline your business goals and the strategy to achieve them. Your business plan is also your first opportunity to create something tangible from your ideas. By putting ideas on paper, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to properly think through your plan and vet its likely effectiveness for business success.
In face, studies have shown that a business plan creates a 30% greater chance of growth.
Outside of your personal reasons for writing a business plan, you will need this document if you need to convince funders or investors that your business is legitimate and likely to return a profit. You would be expected to provide investors with a well-thought-out business plan demonstrating market awareness and financial planning.
How to write a business plan
If you’re ready to get stuck in and write your business plan, the next steps will greatly help. You want to be thorough at every step, especially if you’re sharing the plan with potential stakeholders. But remember, this is your business; your plan will be unique to you.
1. Create an executive summary
Your executive summary is essentially your first impression to investors. In a few sentences, it needs to grab attention and explain what you/your business does. It wants to grab the reader's attention, so they’re compelled to read on.
2. Describe your company
Your business plan will include a description of your company. Think about your elevator pitch and write your company description into your plan. Be very clear here, think about what you do, who you do it for, and exactly what problem you are solving.
You’re likely not the first person to create a company solving a particular problem for your audience, so try and detail what it is that makes your company stand out.
3. Introduce team members
If you have any particularly credible or expert team members, be sure to introduce them within your business plan. Write a short bio with key credentials and how they contribute to your new business.
4. State your company goals
Every business needs goals, and deciding exactly what yours are might not be so obvious. Yes, your company needs to make a profit, but the goals need to be broken down into more measurable and actionable steps.
Start with desired business goals. Then decide what you need to achieve to make each goal a success. For example, for your company to meet your projected revenue goal, then what do you need to achieve? What marketing goals does the business need to meet to satisfy business goals?
5. Detail values and a mission statement
Of course, your business is here to make money and provide the lifestyle that you want. When writing a business plan, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the data and the money, but your why is the lifeblood of your business.
Take some time to create a page that digs into the meaningful element of your business. What larger problem are you trying to solve? What values will you hold the business to? How will you create a truly meaningful layer within your business?
This section should be very useful for you as a business owner since this is what will keep you going. But, it can also be used to help onboard a team later and better understand your connection with your audience.
6. List products or services
When you write your business plan, you must include your products or services.
Within this section, write:
- What the product or service is
- How it helps your audience
- How it stands out in the marketplace
For product-based businesses, include:
- A brief introduction to costs (you’ll expand on this later)
- Where products are sourced
- Quantity of products owned
7. Do market research
Every business must conduct market research. You need to think about the local market and if you’re starting an online business, you must consider the digital market. You may have different competitors in each marketplace.
It’s crucial that you can develop comprehensive market research that shows a deep understanding of competitors and your place amongst them.
Your market research will help you determine if your business venture is justified and also act as support to your proposition which is especially useful when pitching to investors.
The market research section will help you see where the gaps are between your business and competitors, and it will form the beginning of your sales and marketing plan as you strategize to close the gap on leading competitors.
8. Create a marketing and sales plan
Your marketing and sales plan will generally be built from your competitor research. You can use competitive data to get a feel for what’s working. However, it’s important to remember that your brand and its audience are unique.
Also, when it comes to marketing, you are better off doing less better than trying to do more poorly, so you must factor in your budgets.
Your marketing plan should be in support of the business goals outlined previously. Your marketing plan should have a clear goal and a strategy to help achieve it. As a business owner, you are not necessarily expected to know the ins and outs of marketing, so if you need support here, you can get it. You may need to reach out to your marketing team or other professionals who can help you decipher what the business needs to succeed.
9. Create a financial projection
When it comes down to it, finances determine a successful business from an unsuccessful one.
If you’re seeking investment, your financial forecast is everything. If there’s one thing that investors need to know very clearly is the financial estimations and performance of your business over time.
In your projection, plan for:
- Expenses including wages
- Pricing of products and/or services
- Contingency for unexpected finances
Related: Check out our guide and discover what is the average cost to start a business.
10. Add an appendix
It’s not enough to simply write a business plan; every claim you make needs to be well-documented and supported. So, include an appendix.
Your appendix is a compilation of supporting documentation and/or evidence. Items that might be included in the appendix include:
- Resumes of key team members
- Documentation supporting your market research and analysis. If your plan summarizes findings, include the marketing research and data here.
- Legal documents, such as incorporation papers, patents, or trademarks
- Marketing materials, such as brochures or flyers
- Customer testimonials or case studies. New businesses might not have this, but if you have conducted research or focus groups, you can include findings here.
- Product prototypes or lab tests if you have them
- Any other relevant supporting documentation that was referenced in the main body of the plan.
Business plan format
There are three types of business plans, traditional, lean, and nonprofit. Whilst this article focuses primarily on the most common business plan format, the traditional plan, it helps to know what might be involved in other formats.
The traditional format provides a detailed business overview and is useful for presenting to investors or lenders. In a traditional plan, you will likely write more than you would in a lean plan. Some businesses might opt for a traditional plan and then create a lean version for specific functions.
The lean business plan format is, as you would expect, a leaner (simplified) version of a traditional business plan. The lean business plan format includes the most critical aspects of the business. If you’re writing a lean business plan and you want to pitch to investors, then you must include key sections like market analysis, revenue forecasts, etc.
The nonprofit business plan is similar to the traditional business plan, but naturally, it differs as it includes items that are required to run a nonprofit organization. For example, if you were writing a nonprofit business plan, you would likely include all elements of the traditional plan, plus fundraising and development, governance, and financials.
You may also have research from the local area you’re serving to help with that market analysis section. Your aim will be to prove that there’s a public need for your nonprofit.
Tips for writing a small business plan
Before you start writing your small business plan, read through these tips that might not be so obvious.
Use a business plan template.
Business plans are not new, so why not start with a tried and tested template? There’s plenty of space to turn the template into something unique that feels like yours. Using a template avoids overwhelm and provides structure. Check out this free business plan template you can download and customize in a cinch.
Write for yourself, not just investors.
Your business plan is yours. Writing your business plan is your chance to organize your thoughts and get your ideas on paper. Upon completion, you should feel satisfied with your robust roadmap to success. Of course, consider your audience and investors and give them everything they need, but don’t forget to satisfy your own intent. Remember the business plan formats; you can always start with a traditional plan for you, then provide the investors with the lean version.
Demonstrate what makes you unique.
You’re likely joining a busy marketplace, and you want to go in ready to disrupt and stand out. Clearly articulate what sets your business apart from the competition, and explain why customers should choose your products or services.
Use concrete data and examples.
Your business plan is no longer your place to dream. Writing your plan takes dreams and helps you turn them into something tangible and achievable. Within the business plan, you should be able to support your ideas with concrete data and real-world examples. You need to prove to yourself - and investors - that this business is viable.
Be realistic in your projections.
As above, writing your business plan is about creating something achievable, You must be realistic with your projections. Whilst being optimistic is exciting — and you can still be optimistic — you must be realistic in your plan.
Realistic projects are better for you mentally, too. If you’re more likely to achieve your goals, you’re less likely to get overwhelmed. Plus, goals that are not realistic will heap pressure on you and your team, and that’s the last thing a new business needs.
A business plan is just one part of the journey of starting a new business, for the entire step by step process check out our guide on how to start an online business.
Business plan FAQ
Here are your most asked questions, answered.
How do I write a simple business plan?
You will write a simple business plan if you keep focused and aim to be thorough but concise. Aim to cover all important aspects and don’t over-plan. Focus on shorter time frames and be realistic about what can be done. Rely on research and data to help shape the plan.
Can I write a business plan myself?
Yes, you can write a business plan yourself. That said, if your plan covers areas of business where you’re not so strong, you might need support.
How long should a business plan be?
Your business plan will be as long as it needs to be, but the aim here is to create something thorough but concise. As a guide, aim for around 15 to 20 pages.
How long should it take to write a business plan?
Writing your business plan will probably take a few days, but you’ll need to do a lot of research behind the scenes. You also need to step away from the plan, return and edit it to ensure it is accurate and void of errors. A business plan should take three months from beginning to end.