If you're planning on starting a business, congratulations! You've just taken the first step on an exciting journey. Now what comes next? You'll need to write a business plan to ensure you stay on track and hold yourself accountable. This document will help you organize your thoughts, flesh out your ideas, and write them down in a format that pushes you to take action.
Otherwise, your business idea might remain just a dream, or you may execute your vision haphazardly without a roadmap and wonder why your business isn't growing as quickly as you'd like. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about writing a business plan, including what to include, examples, and tips for success.
A business plan is a living document that projects your business's future over the next 3-5 years, detailing the route your company intends to take to grow revenues and achieve its goals.
To communicate that vision, your business plan should include:
Most importantly, a business plan is a roadmap for business success that helps you track your progress, identify obstacles early on, and make course corrections as you go. Every successful business has a well-crafted business plan to thank for its early successes.
Just like anything else, not all business plans are created equal. Some are clear and concise, while others are long-winded and hard to follow. The best business plans share the traits listed below.
The best business plans are tailored to their audience and purpose.
For instance, if you're writing a business plan to raise investments, you'll need to ensure your document is laser-focused on convincing potential investors that your business is worth their time and money. That will mean including information like your company's growth potential, unique selling points, and financial forecasts.
On the other hand, if you're writing a business plan to provide to your bank as part of a small business loan application, you'll need to make sure your document focuses on demonstrating your business's creditworthiness and ability to repay the loan. You'll want to include your company's history, current financial situation, and projected future cash flow.
You get the idea—always keep your audience in mind when crafting your business plan, and ensure the document is as targeted as possible.
The executive summary is the first section of your business plan, but it's often the last thing you write. That's because it's a distillation of everything that comes after it in your business plan. So, before you start writing your business plan, sit down and think about what you want your executive summary to say.
Your executive summary should:
If you tick all of those boxes, you'll have an executive summary that gives potential investors, partners, and other interested parties a clear overview of your business and its prospects for success.
A comprehensive business plan will include all aspects of running your company, from identifying opportunities to growth and funding sources. Think about what's important for understanding your business, and include sections on:
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you a good sense of the type of information you should include in your business plan. Anything you feel would be helpful for understanding your business should be fair game.
Now that we've gone over what goes into a business plan, we’ll walk you through writing one so you can get started.
As we mentioned earlier, your executive summary should be a brief overview of your business plan—no more than two pages. Generally speaking, it should give readers a clear idea of your business, what it does, why it will be successful, and how you plan to achieve your goals.
Most importantly, your executive summary should also pinpoint what you need to succeed in your business plan. That could be funding, partnerships, customers, or anything else you need to get your business off the ground.
Keep that goal in mind as you write your executive summary so it's as targeted as possible. That way, you'll give readers a reason to keep reading.
Here's a sample of the information you might include in your executive summary:
The idea is to give readers a snapshot of your business and its potential for success. But remember, this is just the executive summary. You'll go into more detail later in your business plan.
Next is the business overview section will provide more detail on your company's products or services, target market, and competitive landscape. This section should also be no longer than two pages.
As you write, remember that your goal is to give readers a clear understanding of your business and how it fits into the broader market. That means being as specific as possible about what your company does and its target customers.
Some things you might want to include in your business overview are:
For each point you make, go deep into the details so readers understand exactly what your business does, why it does it, and how you'll be successful.
Naturally, your organization's products or services are the foundation of your business plan. After all, it's what you're selling that will generate revenue and profits.
So if you haven't already, now's the time to look closely at your product or service line. Here are some questions you'll want to answer:
Your answers to these questions will help you develop a clearer picture of your product or service line. Remember that success is contingent upon your products or services meeting the needs of your target market. They must also be priced appropriately and be available when and where your customers want them.
If these conditions aren't met, it'll be harder for your company to succeed in its pursuit of profits and revenues.
The success of a business highly depends on the market it's operating in. That's why your business plan should include a detailed market analysis, which will give readers a better understanding of the industry you're operating in and the specific market you're targeting.
When writing your market analysis, be sure to answer the following questions:
Then, you'll want to detail how you will gain market share and why you believe your company will succeed in that industry. Be sure to base your claims on data and research rather than your own opinion, because hard facts make your market analysis credible.
You'll also want to describe your target market, including demographics such as age group or gender. But don't stop there—you should also detail what needs or problems your target market has that your business can solve.
In doing so, you'll demonstrate how you plan on competing with other businesses in the same space and what will make your company successful in the long run.
A marketing plan isn't just a description of how you'll market your business; it's a roadmap that details what you'll do, when you'll do it, and how much it will cost.
Your marketing plan should always be based on a solid understanding of your target market and your business's unique selling points (USPs). Once you have that information, you can start developing a marketing mix—a.k.a. the 4Ps of marketing—detailing how you'll execute your marketing strategy.
The 4Ps of marketing are:
Remember that each P should be based on what's most important to your target market. For example, if you're selling a high-end product, price might not be as important as promotion. If you're selling a product only available online, the place won't be as important as the price.
Based on that, here's what you'll want to include in your marketing plan:
Your marketing plan should be thoughtfully planned and based on a deep understanding of your target market. It should also be realistic, considering both your budget and the resources you have available. That way, when it's time to assess your progress, you'll be able to see whether or not you're on track.
Pro Tip: In marketing communications, it's essential to focus on the customer, not your business. Communicate how your product or service benefits the customer, not just its features. Copy.ai's Feature-Advantage-Benefit tool can help you brainstorm messaging that resonates with your target market.
Next, you'll want to include a sales strategy in your business plan. This details how you plan to generate revenue and achieve your sales goals.
For instance, if you're selling a product, your sales strategy will detail how many units you need to sell to turn a profit. Your sales strategy will detail how many clients you need to acquire to reach your financial goals if you're providing a service.
Then, once you have that information, you can start developing a sales plan—a.k.a. a roadmap for achieving your sales goals. This includes the following:
You could also be specific about the techniques you'll use to generate sales. For example, if you're selling a product, will you use direct marketing, online advertising, or a mix of both? And if you're providing a service, will you focus on cold-calling, networking, or online marketing?
The key is developing a sales strategy based on your target market and the specific products or services you sell. That way, you can be sure you're using the most effective methods to reach your target market and close sales.
In this section, you'll provide an overview of your company's organizational structure and any relevant information on the management team running it.
This is important because investors will want to know that your business has a solid foundation and is run by competent individuals. Having a team also shows that your business is more than just a one-person operation, which can instill confidence in potential investors.
When writing this section, include the following information:
This may seem like a lot of information to include, but it's important to give readers a clear understanding of who’s running your business and why they're qualified to do so.
Finally, you'll want to include a financial analysis in your business plan. This will provide potential investors and other interested parties with an overview of your company's finances.
Specifically, your financial analysis should include:
By detailing your company's financial situation, you'll be able to provide potential investors and other interested parties with a clear understanding of your business's profitability. And that, in turn, will help them make more informed decisions about whether or not to invest in your company.
A business plan is a key tool that can help you evaluate the feasibility of your new business and make informed decisions about how to move forward. That doesn't just apply to you—if you're seeking funding from investors or lenders, they'll also want to see a business plan.
Keep in mind that a business plan is a living document. As your business grows and changes, so too should your business plan. Review it at least once a year to ensure it's still on track and relevant to your business's current situation.
If you need help writing your business plan, Copy.ai's Business Plan Templates can give you a head start on creating a professional business plan quickly and easily. Our AI-powered writing tools will take the guesswork out of formatting and messaging so you can focus on getting your business up and running.
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