A well-crafted business plan is the foundation of any successful company. If you want to start a business, writing a business plan is necessary to define the goals of the business you intend to create. A good business plan will help you to build an effective and appropriate marketing strategy, but that is just the start.
What is a Business Plan?
A business plan is a document that describes the products or services the business will offer, and how it will earn its money. It describes the style, type, and organization of the leadership that runs the business, its operating model, staffing, financing, and numerous other details about the proposed business. Taking this description into consideration, it is easy to see why a business plan is important. Let's just take a quick look at the most common business plan components:
- Business type
- Product or service offered
- Unique value proposition
- Description and estimate of existing market demand
- Staffing type and structure
- Leadership type and structure
- Financing model
Looking at all these elements at a glance, it is easy to imagine how they might (or might not) fit together nicely to create a functional business that has good market viability.
A good and successful business can be compared to an animal living in its environment. A well-adapted animal has a body type that fits nicely into the environment. There is food in the environment (demand), and the animal has the right adaptations to catch, acquire, and consume that food.
The animal will have fur and body fat that is optimized to protect it from the elements or know how to build shelter. Good business is very much like this. It has to be adapted to the market it intends to operate in. But not only this, it has to have the agility to change as the environment (market) changes around it.
Many people believe they can simply jump into the market without a plan, or even a marketing strategy. It is the rare entrepreneur who is lucky or talented enough to do that, and good business people do not like to bet on luck. We want to bet on proven strategies that have been shown to work, and for that, you need a plan.
Why You Need to Write a Business Plan
A well-written business plan will help you to secure funding. Whether you seek funding from a financial institution or from a venture capitalist, a good business plan lays out in clear black and white your core value proposition and how you intend to deliver that value. It also shows that there is an existing demand for the value you intend to offer. That is to say, people want it.
Your business plan should communicate whether or not your idea is worth an investor's money. It will set and communicate your goals. Any good business plan is built around an accurate vision of the present and the future. By establishing your goals in writing, you will be more likely to achieve them.
A good business plan can prove that your idea is viable in the market. Usually, when this is the case it is because the plan is based on quality market research. A good business plan will represent a response to trends and a reasonable vision of the future.
Your business plan will help you to avoid failure. Failure can happen if the market offers no demand for the product or service proposed. It will fail if the necessary amount of capital has not been taken into account. If the market is already saturated with the product or service offered, failure is likely. Naturally, if prices are too high, failure is once again, a predictable consequence.
Finally, a good business plan will reduce the risk your company is exposed to. Risky decisions are part of almost any successful business plan, but a good one will minimize the risks, making success more likely.
As you read through this guide on how to write a business plan, keep these four tips in mind. Let them act as your guidelines as you consider and draft your own business plan.
How to create a business plan
The hardest part of writing a good business plan is getting started. Your plan should begin with a product or service that you want to sell. That product or service needs to be something that you are uniquely positioned to offer.
Then, you need to have talent (or access to talented people), you need capital (or access to capital) and you need to find a market, that is a place and people, where your product or service is needed or wanted. Finally, you need a unique value proposition (UVP). That is a special and unusual way that you are able to deliver the product or service you offer. Your UVP represents your ability to offer your product or service in a way that few or none can match. In other words, why are your customers going to you and not to someone else? Remember the four tips.
With that in mind, let's look at some of the most common business plan formats that we might choose from or use as guides.
Most businesses are based on a traditional business plan. Traditional business plans are based on structures and methods that are time-tested and proven to work. They take longer to write because the history of proven business methods is long. So if you choose to follow this path, you have some pretty big shoes to fill. But in general, traditional business plans take fewer risks and are very attractive to many investors for that reason.
This kind of business is designed to generate a benefit for the community at large. They tend to be based on traditional business plan structuring, except that it is based on donations from the community. These could be a traditional nonprofit, like a homeless shelter. It could also be an organization that proposes to create a product that will help people with disabilities, such as a novel, electric, self-balancing mobility device, for example.
This type of business model is an abbreviated version of a traditional business plan. It follows the same or a similar format but it only includes only the most essential information about the proposed business. Businesses based on a lean model are designed to onboard new people or modify the plan to suit a specific market. This type of plan might also be referred to as an Agile business plan since it depends on an ability to adapt to new or changing circumstances as the business entity emerges.
How to write a business plan
We're not going to lie. Sitting over that blank page and expecting to deliver the goods is intimidating. But you can do it! Here's how. Remember, this is only a draft. You can look it over, think about it, sleep on it, and make changes in your own time. So take a deep breath, and let's get started.
1. Draft your executive summary
Your executive summary is a high-level overview of the business plan designed to persuade potential investors. You can think of it as the elevator pitch version of your overall plan. On paper, it will look like a five or six-line paragraph centered on the page.
2. Describe the company
In this portion, you need to describe who you are and what you do. This is not about convincing a major investor during an elevator ride. It is only meant to give a script to answer the question, "What is your business about?" In it, you explain your essential branding idea and why the market will beat down your door to get what you offer.
3. Do a market analysis
Now, this is where the rubber meets the road. A market analysis is a research-based, detailed examination of the environment your business proposes to survive and thrive in. A market analysis is going to be exploratory if you have not found the market you plan to work in yet. Conversely, if you believe you have found your market, it should prove why that is the right market for your company. It should explain how big the potential market is, and how much demand for your UVP it contains.
4. Outline organization and management
This section outlines who will be running your company. It should give details as to the legal structure of the business management system. You will need to communicate whether you intend to incorporate the business as an S corporation, form a limited partnership, or a sole proprietorship. This part of your business plan can look like a flow chart. That's usually a good way to start drafting this component of your plan.
5. List products and services
This should be easy. Your product and service descriptions should be compelling and concise. It is a good idea to use images and offer critical details about what makes your offerings special and attractive.
6. Describe and categorize customer demographics
You can think of this portion of your business plan as an extension of your market analysis. Here, you want to profile the people who will be buying what you're selling. It should answer the following questions:
- Where do they live?
- What is their age range?
- What is their level of education?
- What are some common behavior patterns?
- How do they spend their free time?
- Where do they work?
- What kinds of technology do they use?
- How much do they earn?
- Where are they often employed?
- What are their values, beliefs, and opinions?
After you complete these questions for a given demographic, you then want to outline another demographic that will also be interested in what your business offers. One group might buy higher-end versions of your products, and the other a lower-end version. One might use your products for work while the other may use them on vacation.
Once you have defined these demographics, you will find that it is very helpful in developing an email marketing strategy.
7. Define your marketing plan
Unless you plan to erect a kiosk in front of the home of each person in your customer demographic, you need a marketing plan. Here, you will develop a plan to sell and promote your business. You need a branding scheme. You need to describe your pricing, products, promotional channels, and places where your promotional materials will appear. If you are to have an effective marketing strategy, you will need all these things in reality. So it is a good idea to plan for them early.
8. Logistics and operations plan
This part of your plan outlines the details of how your business will function, giving details on the following:
- Suppliers: Who supplies what you need to operate?
- Production: How you make your products
- Facility: Where you produce products
- Equipment: What you need to actuate production
- Fulfillment & shipping: How your products will reach your customers
- Inventory: What and how much do you need to keep on hand, store, and move
9. Draft a financial plan
This is the part where you show that, at the end of the day, it is worthwhile to do business with you. The amount of detail needed in your financial plan depends on who you are pitching to, your goals, their goals, and what they expect.
5 Tips for crafting a small business plan
Know your audience
Chances are you will have to pitch to several different investors, groups of investors, or capital finance lenders. When you speak to one, you will pitch in a certain way meant to appeal to their needs and perspective. There is a very real chance that when you move on to another, you will have to alter your business plan to appeal to them. Be ready for this. Do NOT expect every investor to fall in love with your idea at first sight, or at all. That simply does not happen in the real world.
Have clear goals
Your plan should be clear. You should understand it so well that you can phrase it simply and quickly. Your goals should match or resonate with those of potential investors.
Do your research
Have facts and figures on hand ready to go. Know what your product is worth and what your customer demographics are willing and able to pay for it. Know how your marketing scheme will work, where, and to whom it will be presented. Automated SMART goals are a good way to fill out a functional marketing plan. You should have an answer to every question, and those answers should include facts and figures that will pan out when investors look into it for themselves.
Keep it simple. Yes, you are laying out some complex ideas. But you need to be able to communicate with them rapidly, easily, and effectively. Start your draft simply. Keep it very bare bones. Add to it only as needed, and be ready to strip away any excess material before performing your pitch.
Use business plan drafting software
You will find there are some quality business plans drafting software products out there that will help you enormously. They will give you useful templates and help you follow a clean organizational format. Best of all, you won't be able to call it finished until you have filled out everything your business plan needs to work.
Common pitfalls to avoid when writing a business plan
Before you get started, understand that your business plan is not a sure thing. Far from it. There are deadly mistakes you can make that will kill your business. This is true about every living thing. Even the most powerful and established creatures can fall off a cliff, get poisoned, or encounter a bigger, hungrier fish.
1. Bad business ideas
You should know by now that most businesses fail. Most successful entrepreneurs have failed many times. If you expect your business to take off like a rocket, you probably aren't being as careful as you should be.
2. Lack of an exit strategy
Knowing that most businesses fail, it would be prudent to have a plan for that very possibility. What will you do if it fails? How will you live? Do not put all your eggs into one entrepreneurial basket. Investors will spot a missing exit strategy and be turned off by it.
3. Team imbalance
Think of TV sitcoms. What makes them good, above all else, is the cast. You could take a weak business idea and make it work with a great team. But you cannot do anything with a poorly cast or badly balanced team.
4. Inaccurate financial projections
If you are missing projections or your projections are not well researched, investors will walk out of the room. Have a fulsome, complete, and well-written balance sheet. It's okay to be marginally wrong about one projection or another. But it is unacceptable to have missed a necessary projection entirely.
5. Bad writing
Many people gauge their self-worth by the number of things they look down their noses at. When it comes to any written document, a spelling error or a grammatical error is all the excuse many people need to turn off. Make sure your business plan is grammatically impeccable with equally impeccable spelling.
No one writes a perfect first draft
Remember to go easy on yourself in the drafting phase. Go ahead and write down everything that comes to mind, knowing you will firm it all up with facts, figures, and stunning research after you have your draft.
Use business plan software to make things easier. Take your time refining your plan, your pitch, and your numbers. Think of those pitch meetings as a Broadway performance that could launch you into stardom. Rehearse your pitch. Refine your plan, and get ready to shine!