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Whether you’re just starting a business or expanding a business you’ve run for quite some time, you need a business plan. In many ways, your it is your roadmap—it not only guides you and other key stakeholders as you grow your business, but it also shows investors, lenders, or potential partners where your business is headed. Therefore, a successful business requires a well-thought-out business plan. If you’ve never created such a plan before, however, you may find yourself wondering exactly how to write a business plan.
Although the prospect of writing a business plan may seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. As long as you take some time, include essential information, and follow a handful of simple steps, you’ll be on your way to creating the perfect plan. And to help you through the process, we’ve created this guide on how to write one, step by step. We’ll take you through each step and section involved with writing a business plan so that you’ll be able to get yours completed in no time.
Before we dive into the deep, more thorough steps involved with writing a business plan, there are a few initial steps you can take to make the process easier.
First, you can do some research regarding different business plan templates and get a sense of what type of plan you want to write for your company. Although there is a relatively standard process, as we’ll discuss shortly, for how to write a business plan, you may also decide to opt for a more industry-specific business plan, or, if you need to expedite the process, you might choose to write yours in what the SBA calls a “lean” or “startup” format.
According to Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, a lean business plan can be about a page long and cover key areas such as your business’s value proposition, key partnerships, customer segments and channels, and revenue streams. This format may not be sufficient if you need to present your business plan to lenders or investors, but it can be an efficient format to use if you’re short on time or if you think you’ll be changing your business plan frequently.
Secondly, you can decide if you want to use business plan software. This type of software can give you guided and structured assistance with writing your business plan. This software will also likely include examples of templates for you to consult. On the other hand, you may choose to simply write your business plan using an easily editable writing tool like Google Docs.
Finally, before you get started writing your business plan, you’ll want to keep in mind two important pointers that will be crucial to your development process:
Now that we’ve discussed these initial steps, you’re ready to start actually writing and putting your plan together. Although your business plan and the process you go through to create it will be unique, there are a set of traditional steps you can follow to tackle this project. Generally, a business plan can be broken into eight core sections. The best way to approach these sections, especially if this is your first time writing a business plan, is to take each section as a step to walk through one at a time.
Max Babych, CEO at SpdLoad, agrees with this approach on how to write a business plan, saying: “A business plan can simply be considered as answers to a number of questions. Try to answer only a few questions at a time. Preparing a small part of a business plan at a time is easier than locking yourself in your office for several weeks to complete the job immediately and completely.”
Then, once you’ve completed each section, step by step, your end result will be a comprehensive analysis of your company, as it is now and as you hope it will be in the future. Let’s dive into the details.
The first step you’ll want to take when writing a business plan is to create your executive summary. This executive summary will be the first chapter in your business plan—it will explain what your business does, where your business currently stands, where you want to take your business in three to five years, and why you’ll be successful.
Although this seems like a significant amount of information, the executive summary doesn’t need to be more than one or two pages in length. However, just because this is a short section of your plan doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. In fact, it might be the most important part of your business plan. Some investors might only ask for your executive summary when deciding whether to work with your business—so you’ll want to ensure that it can stand on its own.
So, how do you include all the necessary information about your business, while also keeping to a one or two-page maximum?
First, you can keep in mind that any information that doesn’t answer the “what, where, and why” questions we listed above shouldn’t be in your executive summary. Second, you can make this step of your business plan simpler by sticking to the following six pieces of information, as recommended by the SBA:
Remember—although it may seem extensive, this is first and foremost, a summary, so you’ll want to keep it short and sweet. At this point, you still have seven steps left to complete, so you’ll have plenty of time to get into the details later. With this first step, you’re showing readers what they’re getting into. However, it’s also important to remember that as the first step—and a brief one—every word of your executive summary counts. If you haven’t put enough thought into your business plan, it will show.
As a pro tip, if you’re struggling with writing your executive summary right off the bat, try working on it after you’re done writing your business plan from start to finish—that way, you’ll have a solid grasp of the details and will be better equipped to summarize them.
The second step you’ll want to take when writing a business plan is to add your company overview. Although this step may sound similar to what you just wrote in the executive summary, the company overview is a top-level look into the structure of your business and what you do.
When writing your company overview, therefore, you can think about breaking it down like this:
Remember, just like the executive summary, you’ll want to keep your company overview short—again, this isn’t the section to dive deep into the details. Essentially, a business plan’s company overview gives a quick—but catchy—pitch about what you do, who you serve, and why you’ll be able to serve them. Plus, this section also includes a brief look into the existing legal and ownership structure of your business so potential investors know what they’re getting into.
Moving further along describing the process of how to write a business plan, your next step is to perform an in-depth analysis of your industry, market, and competitors. Whereas the first two sections were high-level overviews, this section is where you’ll start to get into the details.
The purpose of the market analysis section is to allow readers and investors to come away feeling confident that you, the business owner, have a solid understanding of the dynamics of your industry, market, and competitors.
To display this understanding, your market analysis should include the following sections:
Due to the data, research, and amount of information involved in this section, when you’re writing a business plan, this step may very well take the longest. However, as such a crucial piece to your overall business plan, you’ll want to be sure it contains all the necessary details, is well-researched, and will show readers that you’re knowledgable about your specific market and your business’s role in that market.
When we talked to business owner Athan Slotkin, about his top tips on how to write a business plan, he highlighted the importance of this section: “You need to clearly spell out the logic for why you are attacking a market opportunity in a certain way—part of that is derived from customers’ needs—and the other part from the fact that your competitors aren’t meeting these needs. Help your audience see what you see.”
What’s the next step in our how to write a business plan guide? Defining your business’s organization and management structure.
This section explains who does what in your business, what everyone’s background is, and what their past experiences bring to the team.
Here’s what you need to break down:
After you’ve described your business’s organizational structure, it’s time to dive into the product or service your business provides. With this step, your goal is to lay out your plans for positioning your product.
When writing a business plan, you can start off this part by describing your service or product and who it’s intended for. What need does it specifically fulfill?
To break this down further, here’s exactly what this section should contain:
Ultimately, this is the section of your business plan reserved for letting the core of your business—your product or service—shine.
Now that you’ve given all the crucial details of your core product offering, the next step in writing a business plan is to explain how you’ll market and sell your product or service.
Let’s start with the marketing side. How will you create customers and get them interested in your business?
In general, here’s what the marketing part of this section might look like:
Once you have a marketing framework explained, now dive into your sales plan:
Although you might not know exactly how your sales and marketing will play out just yet, or which channels will be most successful for you, you’ll nevertheless want to give a clear and concise overview of how you plan on selling your product.
As Phil Strazzulla, founder of SelectSoftware, told us with regard to his top tip for how to write a business plan: “The most important part of any business plan is listing the key hypothesis that need to be proven for the new venture to work, as well as the tests that will be run to prove or disprove these hypotheses.” Therefore, as your business progresses and can test your sales and marketing hypothesis and as you learn more, you can come back to this section and change or adjust information as necessary.
Although this section comes at the end of your business plan, it can be the most important part of the entire document. With this step, therefore, you’ll detail your financial plan and projections—giving a look into the current state of your finances and mapping out where you’d like to be financially in the future.
If you’ve been in business for a little while now, you’ll use financial data from past performance in this section. If you have previous data to show, you should include the following financial statements:
Even if you don’t have any previous financial data from your company, you need to include financial projections in this section. Financial projections are either supported by your past data, or they’re determined by research and analysis on the industry and your top competitors.
This being said, when you’re forecasting your business’s financials, you’ll want to include these essential documents:
Typically, a thorough business plan has financial projections for the first 12 months of business, but also takes a longer outlook and illustrates a plan for the next three to five years. To get into all of the details involved with creating a financial projection, you might decide to consult a business accountant or other financial advisor.
The last part of your financial plan should include any funding needs your business has or will have in the future.
Whether you plan to get funding through equity financing with angel investors or venture capital firms, or through debt financing with small business loans, here’s what you need to include in a funding request:
With this piece of your financial plan, a potential investor reading your business plan will be able to determine exactly how any financial contributions they make will impact the business.
Finally, as the SBA reminds us in their guide on how to write a business plan, this is also the section where you’ll want to include graphs and charts to visually illustrate your business’s current financial situation and plans for the future.
When you look at all of the steps involved in writing a business plan, this final step may seem inconsequential—however, that’s not the case. Although the appendix will be at the very end of your business plan, it will also hold all of the supporting information you didn’t include thus far in your document.
Specifically, if you have any additional data points, charts, footnotes, or further explanations that are essential to creating a complete plan, you’ll include those in the appendix. You might also add any contracts, legal documents, permits, and product pictures in this section.
Moreover, the appendix is also a great place to insert your own resume and resumes of any key members of your management team—that way your readers can refer to the appendix if they need more—but aren’t distracted by long text explanations or confusing numbers while parsing through the plan.
As small business expert and consultant Sophia Sunwoo explained to us with regard to how to write a business plan: “Remember that you are telling a story of your unique vision. There’s nothing more disruptive to a great story than a bunch of tables, graphs, historical context, and images that snap the reader out of the world your story is creating. Any additional information that is ‘nice to have’ but not completely aligned with the core purpose of the business plan should be pushed to the Appendix, where the reader can choose to digest this additional information at will.”
Logistically, therefore, the appendix should begin with a table of contents that breaks down the sections of your business plan, followed by the additional information that corresponds to each section.
Now that we’ve gone through our step-by-step guide on how to write a business plan, let’s discuss some examples.
Sometimes, the best way to get inspiration for writing a business plan is to see examples from other businesses. One of the benefits, therefore, of using software is that most of these platforms include a library of samples representing a range of industries. However, even if you don’t use business plan software, there are numerous examples you can research and find from different resources online.
Here are a few examples showing how to write a business plan for particular, popular industries:
Or, if you want to look at an example that’s not industry-specific, you can also download Fundera’s own business plan template here.
Even if you use these or another online template as a starting point, you’ll always want to seek input from business partners, management, key employees, and industry experts when writing a business plan. Although you ultimately might be the one who’s actually putting the words on paper, writing a plan is a team effort. After all, your team members might know certain parts of the business better than you—by talking to them, you’ll make sure you hit all the key points in your business plan.
There you have it—as we’ve broken down our eight sections, step-by-step, you now know how to write a business plan. Plus, you not only know how to write one, but it is also one that’s complete, comprehensive, and hopefully, effective.
As we mentioned earlier, although writing a business plan might seem overwhelming at first, it can be much more manageable if you take it one step at a time. After all, this is going to be the roadmap that your business uses and continues to refer to as you progress, and therefore, you should make sure that you give it the time and attention it needs.
This being said, the best place to start is to thoroughly research your industry, competitors, and financials so that you’ll have the bulk of information you’ll need to reference and include in your business plan available as sit down to write it.
Finally, if all else fails, you can remember these three tips with regard to how to write a business plan:
Our final tip? Dive right in. This crucial business document won’t write itself, so it’s time to get going—and once you’re done, this will be one more thing you can check of your starting a business checklist. Good luck!