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How To Write the Perfect Business Plan in 9 Steps (2023)

How to write a business plan: everything you need to know

A great business plan can help you clarify your strategy, identify potential roadblocks, decide what you’ll need in the way of resources, and evaluate the viability of your idea or your growth plans before you start a business .

Not every successful business launches with a formal business plan, but many founders find value in taking time to step back, research their idea and the market they’re looking to enter, and understand the scope and the strategy behind their tactics. That’s where writing a business plan comes in.

Table of Contents

What is a business plan?

Why write a business plan, business plan formats, how to write a business plan in 9 steps, tips for creating a small business plan, common mistakes when writing a business plan, prepare your business plan today, business plan faq.

A business plan is a document describing a business, its products or services, how it earns (or will earn) money, its leadership and staffing, its financing, its operations model, and many other details essential to its success.

We had a marketing background but not much experience in the other functions needed to run a fashion ecommerce business, like operations, finance, production, and tech. Laying out a business plan helped us identify the “unknowns” and made it easier to spot the gaps where we’d need help or, at the very least, to skill up ourselves. Jordan Barnett, Kapow Meggings

Investors rely on business plans to evaluate the feasibility of a business before funding it, which is why business plans are commonly associated with getting a loan. But there are several compelling reasons to consider writing a business plan, even if you don’t need funding.

If you’re looking for a structured way to lay out your thoughts and ideas, and to share those ideas with people who can have a big impact on your success, a business plan is an excellent starting point.

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Business planning is often used to secure funding, but plenty of business owners find writing a plan valuable, even if they never work with an investor. That’s why we put together a free business plan template to help you get started.

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Business plans can span from one page to multiple pages with detailed graphs and reports. There’s no one way to create a business plan. The goal is to convey the most important information about your company for readers.

Common types of business plans we see include, but are not limited to, the following:

Check out real-world examples of different business plans by reading The Road to Success: Business Plan Examples to Inspire Your Own .

Few things are more intimidating than a blank page. Starting your business plan with a structured outline and key elements for what you’ll include in each section is the best first step you can take.

Since an outline is such an important step in the process of writing a business plan, we’ve put together a high-level overview you can copy into your blank document to get you started (and avoid the terror of facing a blank page). You can also start with a free business plan template and use it to inform the structure of your plan.

Once you’ve got your business plan outline in place, it’s time to fill it in. We’ve broken it down by section to help you build your plan step by step.

1. Draft an executive summary

A good executive summary is one of the most crucial sections of your plan—it’s also the last section you should write.

The executive summary’s purpose is to distill everything that follows and give time-crunched reviewers (e.g., potential investors and lenders) a high-level overview of your business that persuades them to read further.

Again, it’s a summary, so highlight the key points you’ve uncovered while writing your plan. If you’re writing for your own planning purposes, you can skip the summary altogether—although you might want to give it a try anyway, just for practice.

Screenshot of an executive summary by FIGS

An executive summary shouldn’t exceed one page. Admittedly, that space constraint can make squeezing in all of the salient information a bit stressful—but it’s not impossible. Here’s what your business plan’s executive summary should include:

2. Describe your company

This section of your business plan should answer two fundamental questions: who are you, and what do you plan to do? Answering these questions with a company description provides an introduction to why you’re in business, why you’re different, what you have going for you, and why you’re a good investment bet. For example, clean makeup brand Saie shares a letter from its founder on the company’s mission and why it exists.

A letter from the Saie founder next to a picture of a woman putting on mascara

Clarifying these details is still a useful exercise, even if you’re the only person who’s going to see them. It’s an opportunity to put to paper some of the more intangible facets of your business, like your principles, ideals, and cultural philosophies.

Here are some of the components you should include in your company description:

Some of these points are statements of fact, but others will require a bit more thought to define, especially when it comes to your business’s vision, mission, and values. This is where you start getting to the core of why your business exists, what you hope to accomplish, and what you stand for.

This is where you start getting to the core of why your business exists, what you hope to accomplish, and what you stand for.

To define your values, think about all the people your company is accountable to, including owners, employees, suppliers, customers, and investors. Now consider how you’d like to conduct business with each of them. As you make a list, your core values should start to emerge.

Once you know your values, you can write a mission statement . Your statement should explain, in a convincing manner, why your business exists, and should be no longer than a single sentence.

As an example, Shopify’s mission statement is “Making commerce better for everyone.” It’s the “why” behind everything we do and clear enough that it needs no further explanation.

What impact do you envision your business having on the world once you’ve achieved your vision?

Next, craft your vision statement: what impact do you envision your business having on the world once you’ve achieved your vision? Phrase this impact as an assertion—begin the statement with “We will” and you’ll be off to a great start. Your vision statement, unlike your mission statement, can be longer than a single sentence, but try to keep it to three at most. The best vision statements are concise.

Finally, your company description should include both short- and long-term goals. Short-term goals, generally, should be achievable within the next year, while one to five years is a good window for long-term goals. Make sure all your goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

3. Perform a market analysis

No matter what type of business you start, it’s no exaggeration to say your market can make or break it. Choose the right market for your products—one with plenty of customers who understand and need your product—and you’ll have a head start on success. If you choose the wrong market, or the right market at the wrong time, you may find yourself struggling for each sale.

Market analysis is a key section of your business plan, whether or not you ever intend for anyone else to read it.

This is why market research and analysis is a key section of your business plan, whether or not you ever intend for anyone else to read it. It should include an overview of how big you estimate the market is for your products, an analysis of your business’s position in the market, and an overview of the competitive landscape. Thorough research supporting your conclusions is important both to persuade investors and to validate your own assumptions as you work through your plan.

How big is your potential market?

The potential market is an estimate of how many people need your product. While it’s exciting to imagine sky-high sales figures, you’ll want to use as much relevant independent data as possible to validate your estimated potential market.

Since this can be a daunting process, here are some general tips to help you begin your research:

Some sources to consult for market data include government statistics offices, industry associations, academic research, and respected news outlets covering your industry.

SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis looks at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. What are the best things about your company? What are you not so good at? What market or industry shifts can you take advantage of and turn into opportunities? Are there external factors threatening your ability to succeed?

These breakdowns often are presented as a grid, with bullet points in each section breaking down the most relevant information—so you can probably skip writing full paragraphs here. Strengths and weaknesses—both internal company factors—are listed first, with opportunities and threats following in the next row. With this visual presentation, your reader can quickly see the factors that may impact your business and determine your competitive advantage in the market.

Here’s an example:

SWOT analysis

Free: SWOT Analysis Template

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Competitive analysis.

There are three overarching factors you can use to differentiate your business in the face of competition:

To understand which is the best fit, you’ll need to understand your business as well as the competitive landscape.

You’ll always have competition in the market, even with an innovative product, so it’s important to include a competitive overview in your business plan. If you’re entering an established market, include a list of a few companies you consider direct competitors and explain how you plan to differentiate your products and business from theirs.

You’ll always have competition in the market, even with an innovative product.

For example, if you’re selling jewelry, your competitive differentiation could be that, unlike many high-end competitors, you donate a percentage of your profits to a notable charity or pass savings on to your customers.

If you’re entering a market where you can’t easily identify direct competitors, consider your indirect competitors—companies offering products that are substitutes for yours. For example, if you’re selling an innovative new piece of kitchen equipment, it’s too easy to say that because your product is new, you have no competition. Consider what your potential customers are doing to solve the same problems your product solves.

4. Outline management and organization

A woman does research on a laptop sitting on the floor

The management and organization section of your business plan should tell readers about who’s running your company. Detail the legal structure of your business. Communicate whether you’ll incorporate your business as an S corporation or create a limited partnership or sole proprietorship.

If you have a management team, use an organizational chart to show your company’s internal structure, including the roles, responsibilities, and relationships between people in your chart. Communicate how each person will contribute to the success of your startup.

5. List your products and services

Your products or services will feature prominently in most areas of your business plan, but it’s important to provide a section that outlines key details about them for interested readers.

If you sell many items, you can include more general information on each of your product lines; if you only sell a few, provide additional information on each. For example, bag shop BAGGU sells a large selection of different types of bags, in addition to home goods and other accessories. Its business plan would list out those bags and key details about each.

Screenshot of BAGGU reusable bags on its website

Describe new products you’ll launch in the near future and any intellectual property you own. Express how they’ll improve profitability.

It’s also important to note where products are coming from—handmade crafts are sourced differently than trending products for a dropshipping business, for instance.

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6. perform customer segmentation.

A man looks at graphs on an ipad

Your ideal customer, also known as your target market, is the foundation of your marketing plan , if not your business plan as a whole. You’ll want to keep this person in mind as you make strategic decisions, which is why an overview of who they are is important to understand and include in your plan.

To give a holistic overview of your ideal customer, describe a number of general and specific demographic characteristics. Customer segmentation often includes:

This information will vary based on what you’re selling, but you should be specific enough that it’s unquestionably clear who you’re trying to reach—and more importantly, why you’ve made the choices you have based on who your customers are and what they value.

For example, a college student has different interests, shopping habits, and pricing sensitivity than a 50-year-old executive at a Fortune 500 company. Your business plan and decisions would look very different based on which one was your ideal customer.

7. Define a marketing plan

A screenshot of a tweet about a marketing plan

Your marketing efforts are directly informed by your ideal customer. Your marketing plan should outline your current decisions and your future strategy, with a focus on how your ideas are a fit for that ideal customer.

If you’re planning to invest heavily in > Instagram marketing , for example, it might make sense to include whether Instagram is a leading platform for your audience—if it’s not, that might be a sign to rethink your marketing plan.

Most marketing plans include information on four key subjects. How much detail you present on each will depend on both your business and your plan’s audience.

Promotion may be the bulk of your plan since you can more readily dive into tactical details, but the other three areas should be covered at least briefly—each is an important strategic lever in your marketing mix.

8. Provide a logistics and operations plan

Brown boxes stacked to the ceiling in a warehouse

Logistics and operations are the workflows you’ll implement to make your ideas a reality. If you’re writing a business plan for your own planning purposes, this is still an important section to consider, even though you might not need to include the same level of detail as if you were seeking investment.

Cover all parts of your planned operations, including:

This section should signal to your reader that you’ve got a solid understanding of your supply chain and strong contingency plans in place to cover potential uncertainty. If your reader is you, it should give you a basis to make other important decisions, like how to price your products to cover your estimated costs, and at what point you plan to break even on your initial spending.

9. Make a financial plan

A laptop sits open with numbers and graphs on the screen

No matter how great your idea is, and regardless of the effort, time, and money you invest, a business lives or dies based on its financial health. At the end of the day, people want to work with a business they expect to be viable for the foreseeable future.

The level of detail required in your financial plan will depend on your audience and goals, but typically you’ll want to include three major views of your financials: an income statement, a balance sheet, and a cash-flow statement. It also may be appropriate to include financial data and projections.

Here’s a spreadsheet template that includes everything you’ll need to create an income statement, balance sheet, and cash-flow statement, including some sample numbers. You can edit it to reflect projections if needed.

Income statement

Your income statement is designed to give readers a look at your revenue sources and expenses over a given time period. With those two pieces of information, they can see the all-important bottom line or the profit or loss your business experienced during that time. If you haven’t launched your business yet, you can project future milestones of the same information.

Balance sheet

Your balance sheet offers a look at how much equity you have in your business. On one side, you list all your business assets (what you own), and on the other side, all your liabilities (what you owe). This provides a snapshot of your business’s shareholder equity, which is calculated as:

Assets - Liabilities = Equity

Cash flow statement

Your cash flow statement is similar to your income statement, with one important difference: it takes into account when revenues are collected and when expenses are paid.

When the cash you have coming in is greater than the cash you have going out, your cash flow is positive. When the opposite scenario is true, your cash flow is negative. Ideally, your cash flow statement will help you see when cash is low, when you might have a surplus, and where you might need to have a contingency plan to access funding to keep your business solvent .

It can be especially helpful to forecast your cash-flow statement to identify gaps or negative cash flow and adjust operations as required. Here’s a full guide to working through cash-flow projections for your business.

Download your copy of these templates to build out these financial statements for your business plan.

Know your audience

When you know who will be reading your plan—even if you’re just writing it for yourself to clarify your ideas—you can tailor the language and level of detail to them. This can also help you make sure you’re including the most relevant information and figure out when to omit sections that aren’t as impactful.

Have a clear goal

You’ll need to put in more work and deliver a more thorough plan if your goal is to secure funding for your business versus working through a plan for yourself or even your team.

Invest time in research

Sections of your business plan will primarily be informed by your ideas and vision, but some of the most crucial information you’ll need requires research from independent sources. This is where you can invest time in understanding who you’re selling to, whether there’s demand for your products, and who else is selling similar products or services.

Keep it short and to the point

No matter who you’re writing for, your business plan should be short and readable—generally no longer than 15 to 20 pages. If you do have additional documents you think may be valuable to your audience and your goals, consider adding them as appendices.

Keep the tone, style, and voice consistent

This is best managed by having a single person write the plan or by allowing time for the plan to be properly edited before distributing it.

Use a business plan software

Writing a business plan isn’t the easiest task for business owners. But it’s important for anyone starting or expanding a business. Fortunately, there are tools to help with everything from planning, drafting, creating graphics, syncing financial data, and more. Business plan software also have templates and tutorials to help you finish a comprehensive plan in hours, rather than days.

A few curated picks include:

For a more in-depth look at the available options, read Get Guidance: 6 Business Plan Software to Help Write Your Future .

Other articles on business plans would never tell you what we’re about to tell you: your business plan can fail. The last thing you want is for time and effort to go down the drain. Avoid these common mistakes:

Read through the following business plan example. You can download a copy in Microsoft Word or Google Docs and use it to inspire your own business planning.

Download sample business plan example (.doc)

A business plan can help you identify clear, deliberate next steps for your business, even if you never plan to pitch investors—and it can help you see gaps in your plan before they become issues. Whether you’ve written a business plan for a new online business idea , a retail storefront, growing your established business, or purchasing an existing business , you now have a comprehensive guide and the information you need to help you start working on the next phase of your own business.

Illustrations by Rachel Tunstall

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What Is a Business Plan?

Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, elements of a business plan, special considerations.

Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How To Write One

Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

plans of business

Investopedia / Ryan Oakley

A business plan is a document that defines in detail a company's objectives and how it plans to achieve its goals. A business plan lays out a written road map for the firm from marketing , financial, and operational standpoints. Both startups and established companies use business plans.

A business plan is an important document aimed at a company's external and internal audiences. For instance, a business plan is used to attract investment before a company has established a proven track record. It can also help to secure lending from financial institutions.

Furthermore, a business plan can serve to keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and on target for meeting established goals.

Although they're especially useful for new businesses, every company should have a business plan. Ideally, the plan is reviewed and updated periodically to reflect goals that have been met or have changed. Sometimes, a new business plan is created for an established business that has decided to move in a new direction.

Key Takeaways

Want Funding? You Need a Business Plan

A business plan is a fundamental document that any new business should have in place prior to beginning operations. Indeed, banks and venture capital firms often require a viable business plan before considering whether they'll provide capital to new businesses.

Operating without a business plan usually is not a good idea. In fact, very few companies are able to last very long without one. There are benefits to creating (and sticking to) a good business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and working through potential obstacles to success.

A good business plan should outline all the projected costs and possible pitfalls of each decision a company makes. Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they can have the same basic elements, such as an executive summary of the business and detailed descriptions of its operations, products and services, and financial projections. A plan also states how the business intends to achieve its goals.

While it's a good idea to give as much detail as possible, it's also important that a plan be concise to keep a reader's attention to the end.

A well-considered and well-written business plan can be of enormous value to a company. While there are templates that you can use to write a business plan, try to avoid producing a generic result. The plan should include an overview and, if possible, details of the industry of which the business will be a part. It should explain how the business will distinguish itself from its competitors.

Start with the essential structure: an executive summary, company description, market analysis, product or service description, marketing strategy, financial projections, and appendix (which include documents and data that support the main sections). These sections or elements of a business plan are outlined below.

When you write your business plan, you don’t have to strictly follow a particular business plan outline or template. Use only those sections that make the most sense for your particular business and its needs.

Traditional business plans use some combination of the sections below. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making. Regardless, try to keep the main body of your plan to around 15-25 pages.

The length of a business plan varies greatly from business to business. Consider fitting the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Then, other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and included as appendices.

As mentioned above, no two business plans are the same. Nonetheless, they tend to have the same elements. Below are some of the common and key parts of a business plan.

Unique Business Plans Help

The best business plans aren't generic ones created from easily accessed templates. A company should entice readers with a plan that demonstrates its singularity and potential for success.

Types of Business Plans

Business plans help companies identify their objectives and remain on track to meet goals. They can help companies start, manage themselves, and grow once up and running. They also act as a means to attract lenders and investors.

Although there is no right or wrong business plan, they can fall into two different categories—traditional or lean startup. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the most common. It contains a lot of detail in each section. These tend to be longer than the lean startup plan and require more work.

Lean startup business plans, on the other hand, use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans aren't as common in the business world because they're short—as short as one page—and lack detail. If a company uses this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or lender requests it.

Financial Projections

A complete business plan must include a set of financial projections for the business. These forward-looking financial statements are often called pro-forma financial statements or simply the " pro-formas ." They include an overall budget, current and projected financing needs, a market analysis, and the company's marketing strategy.

Other Considerations for a Business Plan

A major reason for a business plan is to give owners a clear picture of objectives, goals, resources, potential costs, and drawbacks of certain business decisions. A business plan should help them modify their structures before implementing their ideas. It also allows owners to project the type of financing required to get their businesses up and running.

If there are any especially interesting aspects of the business, they should be highlighted and used to attract financing, if needed. For example, Tesla Motors' electric car business essentially began only as a business plan.

Importantly, a business plan shouldn't be a static document. As a business grows and changes, so too should the business plan. An annual review of the company and its plan allows an entrepreneur or group of owners to update the plan, based on successes, setbacks, and other new information. It provides an opportunity to size up the plan's ability to help the company grow.

Think of the business plan as a living document that evolves with your business.

A business plan is a document created by a company that describes the company's goals, operations, industry standing, marketing objectives, and financial projections. The information it contains can be a helpful guide in running the company. What's more, it can be a valuable tool to attract investors and obtain financing from financial institutions.

Why Do Business Plans Fail?

Even if you have a good business plan, your company can still fail, especially if you do not stick to the plan! Having strong leadership with focus on the plan is always a good strategy. Even when following the plan, if you had poor assumptions going into your projections, you can be caught with cash flow shortages and out of control budgets. Markets and the economy can also change. Without flexibility built in to your business plan, you may be unable to pivot to a new course as needed.

What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?

The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers a quick explanation of its business. The company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide since it's just getting started.

Sections can include: a value proposition, a company's major activities and advantages, resources such as staff, intellectual property, and capital, a list of partnerships, customer segments, and revenue sources.

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How to Write a Winning Business Plan

The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won’t even grant an interview. And the plan must be outstanding if it is to win investment funds. Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat […]

The Idea in Brief

You’ve got a great idea for a new product or service—how can you persuade investors to support it? Flashy PowerPoint slides aren’t enough; you need a winning business plan. A compelling plan accurately reflects the viewpoints of your three key constituencies: the market , potential investors , and the producer (the entrepreneur or inventor of the new offering).

But too many plans are written solely from the perspective of the producer. The problem is that, unless you’ve got your own capital to finance your venture, the only way you’ll get the funding you need is to satisfy the market’s and investors’ needs.

Here’s how to grab their attention.

The Idea in Practice

Emphasize Market Needs

To make a convincing case that a substantial market exists, establish market interest and document your claims.

Establish market interest. Provide evidence that customers are intrigued by your claims about the benefits of the new product or service:

Document your claims. You’ve established market interest. Now use data to support your assertions about potential growth rates of sales and profits.

Address Investor Needs

Cashing out. Show when and how investors may liquidate their holdings. Venture capital firms usually want to cash out in three to seven years; professional investors look for a large capital appreciation.

Making sound projections. Give realistic, five-year forecasts of profitability. Don’t skimp on the numbers, get overly optimistic about them, or blanket your plan with a smog of figures covering every possible variation.

The price. To figure out how much to invest in your offering, investors calculate your company’s value on the basis of results expected five years after they invest. They’ll want a 35 to 40% return for mature companies—up to 60% for less mature ventures. To make a convincing case for a rich return, get a product in the hands of representative customers—and demonstrate substantial market interest.

The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won’t even grant an interview. And the plan must be outstanding if it is to win investment funds.

Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to their door. A good mousetrap is important, but it’s only part of meeting the challenge. Also important is satisfying the needs of marketers and investors. Marketers want to see evidence of customer interest and a viable market. Investors want to know when they can cash out and how good the financial projections are. Drawing on their own experiences and those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum, the authors show entrepreneurs how to write convincing and winning business plans.

A comprehensive, carefully thought-out business plan is essential to the success of entrepreneurs and corporate managers. Whether you are starting up a new business, seeking additional capital for existing product lines, or proposing a new activity in a corporate division, you will never face a more challenging writing assignment than the preparation of a business plan.

Only a well-conceived and well-packaged plan can win the necessary investment and support for your idea. It must describe the company or proposed project accurately and attractively. Even though its subject is a moving target, the plan must detail the company’s or the project’s present status, current needs, and expected future. You must present and justify ongoing and changing resource requirements, marketing decisions, financial projections, production demands, and personnel needs in logical and convincing fashion.

Because they struggle so hard to assemble, organize, describe, and document so much, it is not surprising that managers sometimes overlook the fundamentals. We have found that the most important one is the accurate reflection of the viewpoints of three constituencies.

1. The market, including both existing and prospective clients, customers, and users of the planned product or service.

2. The investors, whether of financial or other resources.

3. The producer, whether the entrepreneur or the inventor.

Too many business plans are written solely from the viewpoint of the third constituency—the producer. They describe the underlying technology or creativity of the proposed product or service in glowing terms and at great length. They neglect the constituencies that give the venture its financial viability—the market and the investor.

Take the case of five executives seeking financing to establish their own engineering consulting firm. In their business plan, they listed a dozen types of specialized engineering services and estimated their annual sales and profit growth at 20%. But the executives did not determine which of the proposed dozen services their potential clients really needed and which would be most profitable. By neglecting to examine these issues closely, they ignored the possibility that the marketplace might want some services not among the dozen listed.

Moreover, they failed to indicate the price of new shares or the percentage available to investors. Dealing with the investor’s perspective was important because—for a new venture, at least—backers seek a return of 40% to 60% on their capital, compounded annually. The expected sales and profit growth rates of 20% could not provide the necessary return unless the founders gave up a substantial share of the company.

In fact, the executives had only considered their own perspective—including the new company’s services, organization, and projected results. Because they had not convincingly demonstrated why potential customers would buy the services or how investors would make an adequate return (or when and how they could cash out), their business plan lacked the credibility necessary for raising the investment funds needed.

We have had experience in both evaluating business plans and organizing and observing presentations and investor responses at sessions of the MIT Enterprise Forum. We believe that business plans must deal convincingly with marketing and investor considerations. This reading identifies and evaluates those considerations and explains how business plans can be written to satisfy them.

The MIT Enterprise Forum

Organized under the auspices of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alumni Association in 1978, the MIT Enterprise Forum offers businesses at a critical stage of development an opportunity to obtain counsel from a panel of experts on steps to take to achieve their goals.

In monthly evening sessions the forum evaluates the business plans of companies accepted for presentation during 60- to 90-minute segments in which no holds are barred. The format allows each presenter 20 minutes to summarize a business plan orally. Each panelist reviews the written business plan in advance of the sessions. Then each of four panelists—who are venture capitalists, bankers, marketing specialists, successful entrepreneurs, MIT professors, or other experts—spends five to ten minutes assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the plan and the enterprise and suggesting improvements.

In some cases, the panelists suggest a completely new direction. In others, they advise more effective implementation of existing policies. Their comments range over the spectrum of business issues.

Sessions are open to the public and usually draw about 300 people, most of them financiers, business executives, accountants, lawyers, consultants, and others with special interest in emerging companies. Following the panelists’ evaluations, audience members can ask questions and offer comments.

Presenters have the opportunity to respond to the evaluations and suggestions offered. They also receive written evaluations of the oral presentation from audience members. (The entrepreneur doesn’t make the written plan available to the audience.) These monthly sessions are held primarily for companies that have advanced beyond the start-up stage. They tend to be from one to ten years old and in need of expansion capital.

The MIT Enterprise Forum’s success at its home base in Cambridge, Massachusetts has led MIT alumni to establish forums in New York, Washington, Houston, Chicago, and Amsterdam, among other cities.

Emphasize the Market

Investors want to put their money into market-driven rather than technology-driven or service-driven companies. The potential of the product’s markets, sales, and profit is far more important than its attractiveness or technical features.

You can make a convincing case for the existence of a good market by demonstrating user benefit, identifying marketplace interest, and documenting market claims.

Show the User’s Benefit

It’s easy even for experts to overlook this basic notion. At an MIT Enterprise Forum session an entrepreneur spent the bulk of his 20-minute presentation period extolling the virtues of his company’s product—an instrument to control certain aspects of the production process in the textile industry. He concluded with some financial projections looking five years down the road.

The first panelist to react to the business plan—a partner in a venture capital firm—was completely negative about the company’s prospects for obtaining investment funds because, he stated, its market was in a depressed industry.

Another panelist asked, “How long does it take your product to pay for itself in decreased production costs?” The presenter immediately responded, “Six months.” The second panelist replied, “That’s the most important thing you’ve said tonight.”

The venture capitalist quickly reversed his original opinion. He said he would back a company in almost any industry if it could prove such an important user benefit—and emphasize it in its sales approach. After all, if it paid back the customer’s cost in six months, the product would after that time essentially “print money.”

The venture capitalist knew that instruments, machinery, and services that pay for themselves in less than one year are mandatory purchases for many potential customers. If this payback period is less than two years, it is a probable purchase; beyond three years, they do not back the product.

The MIT panel advised the entrepreneur to recast his business plan so that it emphasized the short payback period and played down the self-serving discussion about product innovation. The executive took the advice and rewrote the plan in easily understandable terms. His company is doing very well and has made the transition from a technology-driven to a market-driven company.

Find out the Market’s Interest

Calculating the user’s benefit is only the first step. An entrepreneur must also give evidence that customers are intrigued with the user’s benefit claims and that they like the product or service. The business plan must reflect clear positive responses of customer prospects to the question “Having heard our pitch, will you buy?” Without them, an investment usually won’t be made.

How can start-up businesses—some of which may have only a prototype product or an idea for a service—appropriately gauge market reaction? One executive of a smaller company had put together a prototype of a device that enables personal computers to handle telephone messages. He needed to demonstrate that customers would buy the product, but the company had exhausted its cash resources and was thus unable to build and sell the item in quantity.

The executives wondered how to get around the problem. The MIT panel offered two possible responses. First, the founders might allow a few customers to use the prototype and obtain written evaluations of the product and the extent of their interest when it became available.

Second, the founders might offer the product to a few potential customers at a substantial price discount if they paid part of the cost—say one-third—up front so that the company could build it. The company could not only find out whether potential buyers existed but also demonstrate the product to potential investors in real-life installations.

In the same way, an entrepreneur might offer a proposed new service at a discount to initial customers as a prototype if the customers agreed to serve as references in marketing the service to others.

For a new product, nothing succeeds as well as letters of support and appreciation from some significant potential customers, along with “reference installations.” You can use such third-party statements—from would-be customers to whom you have demonstrated the product, initial users, sales representatives, or distributors—to show that you have indeed discovered a sound market that needs your product or service.

You can obtain letters from users even if the product is only in prototype form. You can install it experimentally with a potential user to whom you will sell it at or below cost in return for information on its benefits and an agreement to talk to sales prospects or investors. In an appendix to the business plan or in a separate volume, you can include letters attesting to the value of the product from experimental customers.

Document Your Claims

Having established a market interest, you must use carefully analyzed data to support your assertions about the market and the growth rate of sales and profits. Too often, executives think “If we’re smart, we’ll be able to get about 10% of the market” and “Even if we only get 1% of such a huge market, we’ll be in good shape.”

Investors know that there’s no guarantee a new company will get any business, regardless of market size. Even if the company makes such claims based on fact—as borne out, for example, by evidence of customer interest—they can quickly crumble if the company does not carefully gather and analyze supporting data.

One example of this danger surfaced in a business plan that came before the MIT Enterprise Forum. An entrepreneur wanted to sell a service to small businesses. He reasoned that he could have 170,000 customers if he penetrated even 1% of the market of 17 million small enterprises in the United States. The panel pointed out that anywhere from 11 million to 14 million of such so-called small businesses were really sole proprietorships or part-time businesses. The total number of full-time small businesses with employees was actually between 3 million and 6 million and represented a real potential market far beneath the company’s original projections—and prospects.

Similarly, in a business plan relating to the sale of certain equipment to apple growers, you must have U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics to discover the number of growers who could use the equipment. If your equipment is useful only to growers with 50 acres or more, then you need to determine how many growers have farms of that size, that is, how many are minor producers with only an acre or two of apple trees.

A realistic business plan needs to specify the number of potential customers, the size of their businesses, and which size is most appropriate to the offered products or services. Sometimes bigger is not better. For example, a saving of $10,000 per year in chemical use may be significant to a modest company but unimportant to a Du Pont or a Monsanto.

Such marketing research should also show the nature of the industry. Few industries are more conservative than banking and public utilities. The number of potential customers is relatively small, and industry acceptance of new products or services is painfully slow, no matter how good the products and services have proven to be. Even so, most of the customers are well known and while they may act slowly, they have the buying power that makes the wait worthwhile.

At the other end of the industrial spectrum are extremely fast-growing and fast-changing operations such as franchised weight-loss clinics and computer software companies. Here the problem is reversed. While some companies have achieved multi-million-dollar sales in just a few years, they are vulnerable to declines of similar proportions from competitors. These companies must innovate constantly so that potential competitors will be discouraged from entering the marketplace.

You must convincingly project the rate of acceptance for the product or service—and the rate at which it is likely to be sold. From this marketing research data, you can begin assembling a credible sales plan and projecting your plant and staff needs.

Address Investors’ Needs

The marketing issues are tied to the satisfaction of investors. Once executives make a convincing case for their market penetration, they can make the financial projections that help determine whether investors will be interested in evaluating the venture and how much they will commit and at what price.

Before considering investors’ concerns in evaluating business plans, you will find it worth your while to gauge who your potential investors might be. Most of us know that for new and growing private companies, investors may be professional venture capitalists and wealthy individuals. For corporate ventures, they are the corporation itself. When a company offers shares to the public, individuals of all means become investors along with various institutions.

But one part of the investor constituency is often overlooked in the planning process—the founders of new and growing enterprises. By deciding to start and manage a business, they are committed to years of hard work and personal sacrifice. They must try to stand back and evaluate their own businesses in order to decide whether the opportunity for reward some years down the road truly justifies the risk early on.

When an entrepreneur looks at an idea objectively rather than through rose-colored glasses, the decision whether to invest may change. One entrepreneur who believed in the promise of his scientific-instruments company faced difficult marketing problems because the product was highly specialized and had, at best, few customers. Because of the entrepreneur’s heavy debt, the venture’s chance of eventual success and financial return was quite slim.

The panelists concluded that the entrepreneur would earn only as much financial return as he would have had holding a job during the next three to seven years. On the downside, he might wind up with much less in exchange for larger headaches. When he viewed the project in such dispassionate terms, the entrepreneur finally agreed and gave it up.

Investors’ primary considerations are:

Cashing out

Entrepreneurs frequently do not understand why investors have a short attention span. Many who see their ventures in terms of a lifetime commitment expect that anyone else who gets involved will feel the same. When investors evaluate a business plan, they consider not only whether to get in but also how and when to get out.

Because small, fast-growing companies have little cash available for dividends, the main way investors can profit is from the sale of their holdings, either when the company goes public or is sold to another business. (Large corporations that invest in new enterprises may not sell their holdings if they’re committed to integrating the venture into their organizations and realizing long-term gains from income.)

Venture capital firms usually wish to liquidate their investments in small companies in three to seven years so as to pay gains while they generate funds for investment in new ventures. The professional investor wants to cash out with a large capital appreciation.

Investors want to know that entrepreneurs have thought about how to comply with this desire. Do they expect to go public, sell the company, or buy the investors out in three to seven years? Will the proceeds provide investors with a return on invested capital commensurate with the investment risk—in the range of 35% to 60%, compounded and adjusted for inflation?

Business plans often do not show when and how investors may liquidate their holdings. For example, one entrepreneur’s software company sought $1.5 million to expand. But a panelist calculated that, to satisfy their goals, the investors “would need to own the entire company and then some.”

Making Sound Projections

Five-year forecasts of profitability help lay the groundwork for negotiating the amount investors will receive in return for their money. Investors see such financial forecasts as yardsticks against which to judge future performance.

Too often, entrepreneurs go to extremes with their numbers. In some cases, they don’t do enough work on their financials and rely on figures that are so skimpy or overoptimistic that anyone who has read more than a dozen business plans quickly sees through them.

In one MIT Enterprise Forum presentation, a management team proposing to manufacture and market scientific instruments forecast a net income after taxes of 25% of sales during the fourth and fifth years following investment. While a few industries such as computer software average such high profits, the scientific instruments business is so competitive, panelists noted, that expecting such margins is unrealistic.

In fact, the managers had grossly—and carelessly—understated some important costs. The panelists advised them to take their financial estimates back to the drawing board and before approaching investors to consult financial professionals.

Some entrepreneurs think that the financials are the business plan. They may cover the plan with a smog of numbers. Such “spreadsheet merchants,” with their pages of computer printouts covering every business variation possible and analyzing product sensitivity, completely turn off many investors.

Investors are wary even when financial projections are solidly based on realistic marketing data because fledgling companies nearly always fail to achieve their rosy profit forecasts. Officials of five major venture capital firms we surveyed said they are satisfied when new ventures reach 50% of their financial goals. They agreed that the negotiations that determine the percentage of the company purchased by the investment dollars are affected by this “projection discount factor.”

The Development Stage

All investors wish to reduce their risk. In evaluating the risk of a new and growing venture, they assess the status of the product and the management team. The farther along an enterprise is in each area, the lower the risk.

At one extreme is a single entrepreneur with an unproven idea. Unless the founder has a magnificent track record, such a venture has little chance of obtaining investment funds.

At the more desirable extreme is a venture that has an accepted product in a proven market and a competent and fully staffed management team. This business is most likely to win investment funds at the lowest costs.

Entrepreneurs who become aware of their status with investors and think it inadequate can improve it. Take the case of a young MIT engineering graduate who appeared at an MIT Enterprise Forum session with written schematics for the improvement of semiconductor-equipment production. He had documented interest by several producers and was looking for money to complete development and begin production.

The panelists advised him to concentrate first on making a prototype and assembling a management team with marketing and financial know-how to complement his product-development expertise. They explained that because he had never before started a company, he needed to show a great deal of visible progress in building his venture to allay investors’ concern about his inexperience.

Once investors understand a company qualitatively, they can begin to do some quantitative analysis. One customary way is to calculate the company’s value on the basis of the results expected in the fifth year following investment. Because risk and reward are closely related, investors believe companies with fully developed products and proven management teams should yield between 35% and 40% on their investment, while those with incomplete products and management teams are expected to bring in 60% annual compounded returns.

Investors calculate the potential worth of a company after five years to determine what percentage they must own to realize their return. Take the hypothetical case of a well-developed company expected to yield 35% annually. Investors would want to earn 4.5 times their original investment, before inflation, over a five-year period.

After allowing for the projection discount factor, investors may postulate that a company will have $20 million annual revenues after five years and a net profit of $1.5 million. Based on a conventional multiple for acquisitions of ten times earnings, the company would be worth $15 million in five years.

If the company wants $1 million of financing, it should grow to $4.5 million after five years to satisfy investors. To realize that return from a company worth $15 million, the investors would need to own a bit less than one-third. If inflation is expected to average 7.5% a year during the five-year period, however, investors would look for a value of $6.46 million as a reasonable return over five years, or 43% of the company.

For a less mature venture—from which investors would be seeking 60% annually, net of inflation—a $1 million investment would have to bring in close to $15 million in five years, with inflation figured at 7.5% annually. But few businesses can make a convincing case for such a rich return if they do not already have a product in the hands of some representative customers.

The final percentage of the company acquired by the investors is, of course, subject to some negotiation, depending on projected earnings and expected inflation.

Make It Happen

The only way to tend to your needs is to satisfy those of the market and the investors—unless you are wealthy enough to furnish your own capital to finance the venture and test out the pet product or service.

Of course, you must confront other issues before you can convince investors that the enterprise will succeed. For example, what proprietary aspects are there to the product or service? How will you provide quality control? Have you focused the venture toward a particular market segment, or are you trying to do too much? If this is answered in the context of the market and investors, the result will be more effective than if you deal with them in terms of your own wishes.

An example helps illustrate the potential conflicts. An entrepreneur at an MIT Enterprise Forum session projected R&D spending of about half of gross sales revenues for his specialty chemical venture. A panelist who had analyzed comparable organic chemical suppliers asked why the company’s R&D spending was so much higher than the industry average of 5% of gross revenues.

The entrepreneur explained that he wanted to continually develop new products in his field. While admitting his purpose was admirable, the panel unanimously advised him to bring his spending into line with the industry’s. The presenter ignored the advice; he failed to obtain the needed financing and eventually went out of business.

Once you accept the idea that you should satisfy the market and the investors, you face the challenge of organizing your data into a convincing document so that you can sell your venture to investors and customers. We have provided some presentation guidelines in the insert called “Packaging Is Important.”

Packaging Is Important

A business plan gives financiers their first impressions of a company and its principals.

Potential investors expect the plan to look good, but not too good; to be the right length; to clearly and cisely explain early on all aspects of the company’s business; and not to contain bad grammar and typographical or spelling errors.

Investors are looking for evidence that the principals treat their own property with care—and will likewise treat the investment carefully. In other words, form as well as content is important, and investors know that good form reflects good content and vice versa.

Among the format issues we think most important are the following:

The binding and printing must not be sloppy; neither should the presentation be too lavish. A stapled compilation of photocopied pages usually looks amateurish, while bookbinding with typeset pages may arouse concern about excessive and inappropriate spending. A plastic spiral binding holding together a pair of cover sheets of a single color provides both a neat appearance and sufficient strength to withstand the handling of a number of people without damage.

A business plan should be no more than 40 pages long. The first draft will likely exceed that, but editing should produce a final version that fits within the 40-page ideal. Adherence to this length forces entrepreneurs to sharpen their ideas and results in a document likely to hold investors’ attention.

Background details can be included in an additional volume. Entrepreneurs can make this material available to investors during the investigative period after the initial expression of interest.

The Cover and Title Page

The cover should bear the name of the company, its address and phone number, and the month and year in which the plan is issued. Surprisingly, a large number of business plans are submitted to potential investors without return addresses or phone numbers. An interested investor wants to be able to contact a company easily and to request further information or express an interest, either in the company or in some aspect of the plan.

Inside the front cover should be a well-designed title page on which the cover information is repeated and, in an upper or a lower corner, the legend “Copy number______” provided. Besides helping entrepreneurs keep track of plans in circulation, holding down the number of copies outstanding—usually to no more than 20—has a psychological advantage. After all, no investor likes to think that the prospective investment is shopworn.

The Executive Summary

The two pages immediately following the title page should concisely explain the company’s current status, its products or services, the benefits to customers, the financial forecasts, the venture’s objectives in three to seven years, the amount of financing needed, and how investors will benefit.

This is a tall order for a two-page summary, but it will either sell investors on reading the rest of the plan or convince them to forget the whole thing.

The Table of Contents

After the executive summary include a well-designed table of contents. List each of the business plan’s sections and mark the pages for each section.

Even though we might wish it were not so, writing effective business plans is as much an art as it is a science. The idea of a master document whose blanks executives can merely fill in—much in the way lawyers use sample wills or real estate agreements—is appealing but unrealistic.

Businesses differ in key marketing, production, and financial issues. Their plans must reflect such differences and must emphasize appropriate areas and deemphasize minor issues. Remember that investors view a plan as a distillation of the objectives and character of the business and its executives. A cookie-cutter, fill-in-the-blanks plan or, worse yet, a computer-generated package, will turn them off.

Write your business plans by looking outward to your key constituencies rather than by looking inward at what suits you best. You will save valuable time and energy this way and improve your chances of winning investors and customers.

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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step

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Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .

1. Write an executive summary

2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. add additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.

A business plan is a document that outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them. A strong, detailed plan will provide a road map for the business’s next three to five years, and you can share it with potential investors, lenders or other important partners.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing your business plan.

» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .

This is the first page of your business plan. Think of it as your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services offered, and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.

Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.

» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps

Next up is your company description, which should contain information like:

Your business’s registered name.

Address of your business location .

Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.

Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.

Lastly, it should cover the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.

» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan

The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out exactly what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the long term.

If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain why you have a clear need for the funds, how the financing will help your business grow, and how you plan to achieve your growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity presented and how the loan or investment will grow your company.

For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch the new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.

In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.

You should include the following:

An explanation of how your product or service works.

The pricing model for your product or service.

The typical customers you serve.

Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.

Your sales strategy.

Your distribution strategy.

You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.

Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.

Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.

» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing

If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.

You may also include metrics such as:

Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.

Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.

Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.

This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.

» NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:

The best business checking accounts .

The best business credit cards .

The best accounting software .

This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.

Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.

Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.

List any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere, such as resumes of key employees, licenses, equipment leases, permits, patents, receipts, bank statements, contracts and personal and business credit history. If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.

Here are some tips to help your business plan stand out:

Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business loan at a local bank, the loan officer likely knows your market pretty well. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of loan approval.

Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors, taking their mind off your business and putting it on the mistakes you made. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.

Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. You can search for a mentor or find a local SCORE chapter for more guidance.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.

500+ Free business plan examples

500+ Free Sample Business Plans

Need help writing your business plan? Explore over 500 free real-world business plan examples from a wide variety of industries to guide you through writing your own plan. If you're looking for an intuitive tool that walks you through the plan writing process, we recommend LivePlan . It includes many of these same SBA-approved business plan examples and is especially useful when applying for a bank loan or outside investment.

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Example business plan format

Before you start exploring our library of business plan examples, it's worth taking the time to understand the traditional business plan format . You'll find that the plans in this library and most investor-approved business plans will include the following sections:

Executive summary

The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally only one to two pages. You should also plan to write this section last after you've written your full business plan.

Your executive summary should include a summary of the problem you are solving, a description of your product or service, an overview of your target market, a brief description of your team, a summary of your financials, and your funding requirements (if you are raising money).

Products & services

The products & services chapter of your business plan is where the real meat of your plan lives. It includes information about the problem that you're solving, your solution, and how your product or service fits into the existing competitive landscape.

Describe the problem you're solving, how your offering solves the problem, and who your potential competitors are. You'll want to outline your competitive advantages and the milestones you have in mind to successfully start and grow your business.

Market analysis

Conducting a market analysis ensures that you fully understand the market that you're entering and who you'll be selling to. This section is where you will showcase all of the information about your potential customers. You'll cover your target market as well as information about the growth of your market and your industry. Focus on outlining why the market you're entering is viable and creating a realistic persona for your ideal customer base.

Marketing & sales

The marketing and sales plan section of your business plan details how you plan to reach your target market segments. You'll address how you plan on selling to those target markets, what your pricing plan is, and what types of activities and partnerships you need to make your business a success.

Organization & management

Use this section to describe your current team and who you need to hire. If you intend to pursue funding, you'll need to highlight the relevant experience of your team members. Basically, this is where you prove that this is the right team to successfully start and grow the business. You will also need to provide a quick overview of your legal structure, location, and history if you're already up and running.

Financial projections

Your financial plan should include a sales and revenue forecast, profit and loss statement, cash flow statement, and a balance sheet. You may not have established financials of any kind at this stage. Not to worry, rather than getting all of the details ironed out, focus on making projections and strategic forecasts for your business. You can always update your financial statements as you begin operations and start bringing in actual accounting data.

Now, if you intend to pitch to investors or submit a loan application, you'll also need a "use of funds" report in this section. This outlines how you intend to leverage any funding for your business and how much you're looking to acquire. Like the rest of your financials, this can always be updated later on.

The appendix isn't a required element of your business plan. However, it is a useful place to add any charts, tables, definitions, legal notes, or other critical information that supports your plan. These are often lengthier or our-of-place information that simply didn't work naturally into the structure of your plan. You'll notice that in these business plan examples, the appendix mainly includes extended financial statements.

Types of business plans explained

While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. To get the most out of your plan, it's best to find a format that suits your needs. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering.

Traditional business plan

The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used for external purposes. Typically this is the type of plan you'll need when applying for funding or pitching to investors. It can also be used when training or hiring employees, working with vendors, or any other situation where the full details of your business must be understood by another individual.

Business model canvas

The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea.

The structure ditches a linear format in favor of a cell-based template. It encourages you to build connections between every element of your business. It's faster to write out and update, and much easier for you, your team, and anyone else to visualize your business operations.

One-page business plan

The true middle ground between the business model canvas and a traditional business plan is the one-page business plan . This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business.

By starting with a one-page plan, you give yourself a minimal document to build from. You'll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences making it much easier to elaborate or expand sections into a longer-form business plan.

The Lean Plan is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance.

It holds all of the benefits of the single-page plan, including the potential to complete it in as little as 27-minutes . However, it's even easier to convert into a full plan thanks to how heavily it's tied to your financials. The overall goal of Lean Planning isn't to just produce documents that you use once and shelve. Instead, the Lean Planning process helps you build a healthier company that thrives in times of growth and remain stable through times of crisis.

It's faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.

Download a free sample business plan template

Ready to start writing your own plan but aren't sure where to start? Download our free business plan template that's been updated for 2022.

This simple, modern, investor-approved business plan template is designed to make planning easy. It's a proven format that has helped over 1 million businesses write business plans for bank loans, funding pitches, business expansion, and even business sales. It includes additional instructions for how to write each section and is formatted to be SBA-lender approved. All you need to do is fill in the blanks.

How to use an example business plan to help you write your own

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How do you know what elements need to be included in your business plan, especially if you've never written one before? Looking at examples can help you visualize what a full, traditional plan looks like, so you know what you're aiming for before you get started. Here's how to get the most out of a sample business plan.

Choose a business plan example from a similar type of company

You don't need to find an example business plan that's an exact fit for your business. Your business location, target market, and even your particular product or service may not match up exactly with the plans in our gallery. But, you don't need an exact match for it to be helpful. Instead, look for a plan that's related to the type of business you're starting.

For example, if you want to start a vegetarian restaurant, a plan for a steakhouse can be a great match. While the specifics of your actual startup will differ, the elements you'd want to include in your restaurant's business plan are likely to be very similar.

Use a business plan example as a guide

Every startup and small business is unique, so you'll want to avoid copying an example business plan word for word. It just won't be as helpful, since each business is unique. You want your plan to be a useful tool for starting a business —and getting funding if you need it.

One of the key benefits of writing a business plan is simply going through the process. When you sit down to write, you'll naturally think through important pieces, like your startup costs, your target market , and any market analysis or research you'll need to do to be successful.

You'll also look at where you stand among your competition (and everyone has competition ), and lay out your goals and the milestones you'll need to meet. Looking at an example business plan's financials section can be helpful because you can see what should be included, but take them with a grain of salt. Don't assume that financial projections for a sample company will fit your own small business.

If you're looking for more resources to help you get started, this guide on how to write a business plan is a good place to start. You can also download our free business plan template , or get started right away with LivePlan .

Think of business planning as a process, instead of a document

Think about business planning as something you do often , rather than a document you create once and never look at again. If you take the time to write a plan that really fits your own company, it will be a better, more useful tool to grow your business. It should also make it easier to share your vision and strategy so everyone on your team is on the same page.

Adjust your plan regularly to use it as a business management tool

Keep in mind that businesses that use their plan as a management tool to help run their business grow 30 percent faster than those businesses that don't. For that to be true for your company, you'll think of a part of your business planning process as tracking your actual results against your financial forecast on a regular basis.

If things are going well, your plan will help you think about how you can re-invest in your business. If you find that you're not meeting goals, you might need to adjust your budgets or your sales forecast. Either way, tracking your progress compared to your plan can help you adjust quickly when you identify challenges and opportunities—it's one of the most powerful things you can do to grow your business.

Prepare to pitch your business

If you're planning to pitch your business to investors or seek out any funding, you'll need a pitch deck to accompany your business plan. A pitch deck is designed to inform people about your business. You want your pitch deck to be short and easy to follow, so it's best to keep your presentation under 20 slides.

Your pitch deck and pitch presentation are likely some of the first things that an investor will see to learn more about your company. So, you need to be informative and pique their interest. Luckily, just like you can leverage an example business plan template to write your plan, we also have a gallery of over 50 pitch decks for you to reference.

With this gallery, you have the option to view specific industry pitches or get inspired by real-world pitch deck examples. Or for a modern pitch solution that helps you create a business plan and pitch deck side-by-side, you may want to check out LivePlan . It will help you build everything needed for outside investment and to better manage your business.

Get LivePlan in your classroom

Are you an educator looking for real-world business plan examples for your students? With LivePlan, you give your students access to industry-best business plans and help them set goals and track metrics with spreadsheet-free financial forecasts. All of this within a single tool that includes additional instructional resources that work seamlessly alongside your current classroom setup.

With LivePlan, it's not just a classroom project. It's your students planning for their futures. Click here to learn more about business planning for students .

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Guide to Creating a Business Plan With Template

Skye Schooley

To make your business idea a reality, you need a business plan. These simple business plan templates will get you started.

Having a road map helps you reach your journey’s end successfully. Business plans do the same for small businesses. They lay out the milestones you need to reach to build a profitable small business. They are also essential for identifying and overcoming obstacles along the way. Each part of a business plan helps you reach your goals, including the financial aspects, marketing, operations and sales.

Plenty of online business plan templates are available to take some of the pain out of the writing process. You may benefit from simple, easy-to-follow business plan tools so you spend less time writing and more time launching your venture.

What is a business plan?

With most great business ideas , the best way to execute them is to have a plan. A business plan is a written outline that you present to others, such as investors, whom you want to recruit into your venture. It’s your pitch to your investors, sharing with them what the goals of your startup are and how you expect to be profitable. 

It also serves as your company’s roadmap, keeping your business on track and ensuring your operations grow and evolve to meet the goals outlined in your plan. As circumstances change, a business plan can serve as a living document – but it should always include the core goals of your business.

Why do I need a business plan?

Starting a new business comes with headaches. Being prepared for those headaches can greatly decrease their impact on your business. One important step in preparing for the challenges your startup may face is writing a solid business plan.

Writing a business plan helps you understand more clearly what you need to do to reach your goals. The finished business plan also serves as a reminder to you of these goals. It’s a valuable tool that you can refer back to, helping you stay focused and on track.

What are the three main purposes of a business plan? 

Before you write your business plan, it’s important to understand the purpose of creating it in the first place. These are the three main reasons you should have a business plan:

Your business plan can be written as a document or designed as a slideshow, such as a PowerPoint presentation. It may be beneficial to create both versions. For example, the PowerPoint can be used to pull people in, and the document version that contains more detail can be given to viewers as a follow-up.

Free downloadable business plan template

Business News Daily put together a simple but high-value business plan template to help you create a business plan. The template is completely customizable and can be used to attract investors, secure board members, and narrow the scope of your company.

Business plans can be overwhelming to new entrepreneurs, but our template makes it easy to provide all of the details required by financial institutions and private investors. The template has eight main sections, with subsections for each topic. For easy navigation, a table of contents is provided with the template. As you customize each section, you’ll receive tips on how to correctly write the required details.

Here is our free business plan template you can use to craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.

Types of business plans

There are two main types of business plans: simple and traditional. Traditional business plans are long, detailed plans that expound on both short-term and long-term objectives. In comparison, a simple business plan focuses on a few key metrics in concise detail so as to quickly share data with investors.

Simple business plan

Business model expert Ash Maurya has developed a simple type of business plan called a lean canvas . The model, which was developed in 2010, is still one of the most popular types of business plans emulated today.

A lean canvas comprises nine sections, with each part of the plan containing high-value information and metrics to attract investors. This lean business plan often consists of a single page of information with the following listed:

Traditional business plan 

Traditional plans are lengthy documents, sometimes as long as 30 or 40 pages. A traditional business plan acts as a blueprint of a new business, detailing its progress from the time it launches to several years in the future when the startup is an established business. The following areas are covered in a traditional business plan:

We lay out each area of a traditional business plan in detail below.

1. Executive summary 

The executive summary is the most important section of your business plan, because it needs to draw your readers into your plan and entice them to continue reading. If your executive summary doesn’t capture the reader’s attention, they won’t read further, and their interest in your business won’t be piqued.

Even though the executive summary is the first section in your business plan, you should write it last. When you are ready to write this section, we recommend that you summarize the problem (or market need) you aim to solve, your solution for consumers, an overview of the founders and/or owners, and key financial details. The key with this section is to be brief yet engaging.

2. Company description 

This section is an overview of your entire business. Make sure you include basic information, such as when your company was founded, the type of business entity it is – limited liability company (LLC), sole proprietorship, partnership , C corporation or S corporation – and the state in which it is registered. Provide a summary of your company’s history to give the readers a solid understanding of its foundation. Learn more about articles of incorporation , and what you need to know to start a business.

3. Products and services 

Next, describe the products and/or services your business provides. Focus on your customers’ perspective – and needs – by demonstrating the problem you are trying to solve. The goal with this section is to prove that your business fills a bona fide market need and will remain viable for the foreseeable future.

4. Market analysis 

In this section, clearly define who your target audience is, where you will find customers, how you will reach them and, most importantly, how you will deliver your product or service to them. Provide a deep analysis of your ideal customer and how your business provides a solution for them. 

You should also include your competitors in this section, and illustrate how your business is uniquely different from the established companies in the industry or market. What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how will you differentiate yourself from the pack?

Follow this step-by-step guide on how to conduct a competitor analysis and what details it should include.

You will also need to write a marketing plan based on the context of your business. For example, if you’re a small local business, you want to analyze your competitors who are located nearby. Franchises need to conduct a large-scale analysis, potentially on a national level. Competitor data helps you know the current trends in your target industry and the growth potential. These details also prove to investors that you’re very familiar with the industry.

For this section, the listed target market paints a picture of what your ideal customer looks like. Data to include may be the age range, gender, income levels, location, marital status and geographical regions of target consumers.

A SWOT analysis is a common tool entrepreneurs use to bring all collected data together in a market analysis. “SWOT” stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.” Strengths and weaknesses analyze the advantages and disadvantages unique to your company, while opportunities and threats analyze the current market risks and rewards.

5. Management team 

Before anyone invests in your business, they want a complete understanding of the potential investment. This section should illustrate how your business is organized. It should list key members of the management team, the founders/owners, board members, advisors, etc.

As you list each individual, provide a summary of their experience and their role within your company. Treat this section as a series of mini resumes, and consider appending full-length resumes to your business plan.

6. Financial plan 

The financial plan should include a detailed overview of your finances. At the very least, you should include cash flow statements, and profit and loss projections, over the next three to five years. You can also include historical financial data from the past few years, your sales forecast and balance sheet. Consider these items to include:

Make sure this section is precise and accurate. It’s often best to create this section with a professional accountant. If you’re seeking outside funding for your business , highlight why you’re seeking financing, how you will use that money, and when investors can expect a return on investment .

Struggling for cash flow? Here are eight cash flow strategies for survival.

If you really want to master your financial plan, Jennifer Spaziano, vice president of business development at Accion, offers these helpful tips:

7. Operational plan

The operational plan section details the physical needs of your business. This section discusses the location of the business , as well as required equipment or critical facilities needed to make your products. Some companies – depending on their business type – may also need to detail their inventory needs, including information about suppliers. For manufacturing companies, all processing details are spelled out in the operational plan section.

For startups, you want to divide the operational plan into two distinct phases: the developmental plan and the production plan. 

Free vs. paid business plan templates

You have your option of choosing between free and paid business templates. Both come with their own benefits and limitations, so the best one for you will depend on your specific needs and budget. Evaluating the pros and cons of each can help you decide.

Free templates

The biggest advantage of using a free template is the cost savings it offers to your business. Startups are often strapped for cash, making it a desirable choice for new business owners to access a free template. Although it’s nice to use templates at no cost, there are some drawbacks to free business plan templates – the biggest one being limited customizability.

“The process of writing a business plan lets you personally find the kinks in your business and work them out,” Attiyya Atkins, founder of A+ Editing, told Business News Daily. “Starting with an online template is a good start, but it needs to be reviewed and targeted to your market. Downloadable business plans may have dated market prices, making the budget inaccurate. If you’re looking to get money from investors, you need a customized business plan with zero errors.” 

Janil Jean, head of overseas operations at LogoDesign.net, agreed that free templates offer limited customization – such as the company name and some text. She added that they are often used by a ton of people, so if you use one to secure funds, investors might be tired of seeing that business plan format.

Paid templates

The benefit of paying for business plan templates – or paying for an expert to review your business plan – is the accuracy of information and high customization.

“Your audience gets thousands of applications per day. What’s to make your business plan stand out from the crowd when you’re not there in the room when they make the decisions about your enterprise?” Jean said. “Visuals are the best way to impress and get attention. It makes sense to get paid templates that allow you maximum customization through design, images and branding.”

On the contrary, the limitation to using a paid template is the cost. If your startup doesn’t have the funds to pay for a business plan template, it may not be a feasible option.

The best business plan software

In case you take the route of investing money in your business plan, there are several great software programs available. Software takes the legwork out of writing a business plan by simplifying the process and eliminating the need to start from scratch. They often include features like step-by-step wizards, templates, financial projection tools, charts and graphs, third-party application integrations, collaboration tools and video tutorials.

After researching and evaluating dozens of business plan software providers, we narrowed down these four of the best options available:

LivePlan is a cloud-hosted software application that provides many tools to create your business plan, including more than 500 templates, a one-page pitch builder, automatic financial statements, full financial forecasting , industry benchmark data and KPIs . Annual plans start at $15 per month.

Bizplan is cloud-hosted software that features a step-by-step builder to walk you through each section of the business plan. Annual plans start at $20.75 per month.

GoSmallBiz is a cloud-based service that offers industry-specific templates, a step-by-step wizard that makes creating a detailed business plan an easy one, and video tutorials. Monthly plans start at $15 per month.

Enloop focuses on financial projections. It provides you with everything you need to demonstrate how financially viable your business can be, and walks you through the process of generating financial forecasts. Annual plans start at $11 per month.

Common challenges of writing a business plan

The challenges of writing a business plan vary. Do you have all the information about your business that you need? Does your industry have strict guidelines that you must adhere to? To help you prepare, we identified 10 of the most common issues you may face:

Crafting a business plan around these 10 challenges can prepare your business – and anyone who joins it – for a prosperous future.

How to overcome the challenges of writing a business plan

Although you won’t accurately predict everything for your business, you can take preemptive steps to reduce the number of complications that may arise. For example, familiarize yourself with the business plan process by researching business plans and identifying how others successfully executed their plans.

You can use these plans as a basis; however, Rick Cottrell, CEO and founder of BizResults.com, recommends taking it one step further: Talk to small business owners and others who have experience.

“The business owner should talk to an accountant, banker, and those who deal with these plans on a daily basis and learn how others have done it,” Cottrell said. “They can join startup and investment groups, and speak to peers and others who are getting ready to launch a business, and gain insights from them. They can seek out capital innovation clubs in their area and get additional expertise.”

If you research how to write a business plan and still don’t feel comfortable writing one, you can always hire a consultant to help you with the process.

“It is simply a time-consuming process that cannot be rushed,” Cottrell added. “Millions of dollars can be at stake and, in many cases, requires a high level of expertise that either needs to be learned or executed in conjunction with an experienced business consultant.” 

Sean Peek, Jennifer Post, Chad Brooks, Howard Wen and Joshua Stowers contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article and related articles.

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How To Write A Business Plan (2023 Guide)

Kelly Main

Reviewed By

Updated: Aug 20, 2022, 2:21am

How To Write A Business Plan (2023 Guide)

Table of Contents

Brainstorm an executive summary, create a company description, brainstorm your business goals, describe your services or products, conduct market research, create financial plans, bottom line, frequently asked questions.

Every business starts with a vision, which is distilled and communicated through a business plan. In addition to your high-level hopes and dreams, a strong business plan outlines short-term and long-term goals, budget and whatever else you might need to get started. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to write a business plan that you can stick to and help guide your operations as you get started.

Drafting the Summary

An executive summary is an extremely important first step in your business. You have to be able to put the basic facts of your business in an elevator pitch-style sentence to grab investors’ attention and keep their interest. This should communicate your business’s name, what the products or services you’re selling are and what marketplace you’re entering.

Ask for Help

When drafting the executive summary, you should have a few different options. Enlist a few thought partners to review your executive summary possibilities to determine which one is best.

After you have the executive summary in place, you can work on the company description, which contains more specific information. In the description, you’ll need to include your business’s registered name , your business address and any key employees involved in the business. 

The business description should also include the structure of your business, such as sole proprietorship , limited liability company (LLC) , partnership or corporation. This is the time to specify how much of an ownership stake everyone has in the company. Finally, include a section that outlines the history of the company and how it has evolved over time.

Wherever you are on the business journey, you return to your goals and assess where you are in meeting your in-progress targets and setting new goals to work toward.

Numbers-based Goals

Goals can cover a variety of sections of your business. Financial and profit goals are a given for when you’re establishing your business, but there are other goals to take into account as well with regard to brand awareness and growth. For example, you might want to hit a certain number of followers across social channels or raise your engagement rates.

Another goal could be to attract new investors or find grants if you’re a nonprofit business. If you’re looking to grow, you’ll want to set revenue targets to make that happen as well.

Intangible Goals

Goals unrelated to traceable numbers are important as well. These can include seeing your business’s advertisement reach the general public or receiving a terrific client review. These goals are important for the direction you take your business and the direction you want it to go in the future.

The business plan should have a section that explains the services or products that you’re offering. This is the part where you can also describe how they fit in the current market or are providing something necessary or entirely new. If you have any patents or trademarks, this is where you can include those too.

If you have any visual aids, they should be included here as well. This would also be a good place to include pricing strategy and explain your materials.

This is the part of the business plan where you can explain your expertise and different approach in greater depth. Show how what you’re offering is vital to the market and fills an important gap.

You can also situate your business in your industry and compare it to other ones and how you have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Other than financial goals, you want to have a budget and set your planned weekly, monthly and annual spending. There are several different costs to consider, such as operational costs.

Business Operations Costs

Rent for your business is the first big cost to factor into your budget. If your business is remote, the cost that replaces rent will be the software that maintains your virtual operations.

Marketing and sales costs should be next on your list. Devoting money to making sure people know about your business is as important as making sure it functions.

Other Costs

Although you can’t anticipate disasters, there are likely to be unanticipated costs that come up at some point in your business’s existence. It’s important to factor these possible costs into your financial plans so you’re not caught totally unaware.

Business plans are important for businesses of all sizes so that you can define where your business is and where you want it to go. Growing your business requires a vision, and giving yourself a roadmap in the form of a business plan will set you up for success.

How do I write a simple business plan?

When you’re working on a business plan, make sure you have as much information as possible so that you can simplify it to the most relevant information. A simple business plan still needs all of the parts included in this article, but you can be very clear and direct.

What are some common mistakes in a business plan?

The most common mistakes in a business plan are common writing issues like grammar errors or misspellings. It’s important to be clear in your sentence structure and proofread your business plan before sending it to any investors or partners.

What basic items should be included in a business plan?

When writing out a business plan, you want to make sure that you cover everything related to your concept for the business,  an analysis of the industry―including potential customers and an overview of the market for your goods or services―how you plan to execute your vision for the business, how you plan to grow the business if it becomes successful and all financial data around the business, including current cash on hand, potential investors and budget plans for the next few years.

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Whether you’re a seasoned business owner or just beginning to think about  starting a business , demands come at you fast. Amidst the rush of to-do lists and meetings, determining how to write a business plan—much less following a business plan template—often feels time-consuming and intimidating.

But nearly 70% of business owners who have been there and done that recommend writing a business plan before you start a business, according to  a recent QuickBooks survey . After all, when done right, business plans have enormous payoffs.

And yet, more than 10% of prospective business owners said they do not intend to write a business plan. Another 10% aren’t sure if they need a plan.

It’s more than the old cliche: A failure to plan is a plan to fail. In fact, a wealth of data now exists on the difference a written business plan makes, especially for small or growing companies.

Executive summary

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to write a successful business plan, step-by-step, and turn your idea into a reality. Even better, if you’re pressed for time, we’ve compiled the  10 steps and examples into a downloadable (PDF) template . The 10 steps to write a business plan are:

But, first things first.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a comprehensive road map for your small business’s growth and development. It communicates who you are, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. It also helps you attract talent and investors.

But remember that a  business idea  or  business concept  is not a plan.

3 Ws of a business plan: Who, what, and why

Investors want to know you have:

A templated business plan gives investors a blueprint of what to expect from your company and tells them about you as an entrepreneur.

Why do you need a business plan?

You need a business plan because the majority of venture capitalists (VCs) and all banking institutions will not invest in a startup or small business without a solid, written plan. Not only does a business plan help you focus on concrete objectives, but it gives outside parties reassurance that you’ve thought ahead.

In 2018, entrepreneurial resource center Bplans worked with the University of Oregon to compile and analyze research around the  benefits of business planning . Here’s what they found:

Perhaps the strongest evidence comes from the  Journal of Business Venturing’s  2010 meta-analysis of 46 separate studies on 11,046 organizations: Its findings confirm that “business planning increases the performance of both new and established small firms.”

When do you need a business plan?

Before you leave a nine-to-five income, your business plan can tell you if you’re ready. Over the long term, it’ll keep you focused on what needs to be accomplished.

It’s also smart to write a business plan when you’re:

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Feel confident from day one

You're never too small, and it's never too soon to know you're on track for success.

How to write a business plan in 10 steps

Start with a clear picture of the audience your plan will address. Is it a room full of angel investors? Your local bank’s venture funding department? Or is it you, your leaders, and your employees?

Internal business plan vs external business plan

Defining your audience helps you determine the language you’ll need to propose your ideas as well as the depth to which you need to go to help readers conduct due diligence.

Now, let’s dive into the 10 key elements of your business plan.

1. Create an executive summary

Even though it appears first in the plan, write your executive summary last so you can condense essential ideas from the other nine sections. For now, leave it as a placeholder.

What is an executive summary?

The executive summary lays out all the vital information about your business within a relatively short space.  An executive summary is typically one page or less.  It’s a high-level look at everything and summarizes the other sections of your plan. In short, it’s an overview of your business.

How do I write an executive summary?

Below, you’ll find an example from a fictional business, Laura’s Landscapers. (We’ll use that same company throughout this guide to make each step practical and easy to replicate.)

This executive summary focuses on what’s often called the value proposition or unique selling point: an extended motto aimed at customers, investors, and employees.

You can follow a straightforward “problem, solution” format, or a fill-in-the-blanks framework:

This framework isn’t meant to be rigid, but instead to serve as a jumping-off point.

Example of an executive summary

Market research indicates that an increasing number of wealthy consumers in Richmond are interested in landscape architecture based on sustainable design. However, high-end firms in the area are scarce. Currently, only two exist—neither of which focus on eco-friendly planning nor are certified by green organizations.

Laura’s Landscapers provides a premium, sustainable service for customers with disposable incomes, large yards, and a love of nature.

2. Compose your company description

Within a business plan, your company description contains three elements:

These elements give context to the bigger picture in your business plan, letting investors know the purpose behind your company so the goals make sense as well.

What is a mission statement?

A mission statement is your business’s reason for existing. It’s more than what you do or what you sell, it’s about why exactly you do what you do. Effective mission statements should be:

Throughout every part of your plan, less is more. Nowhere is that truer than your mission statement. Think about what motivates you, what causes and experiences led you to start the business, the problems you solve, the wider social issues you care about, and more.

Tip:  Review your mission statement often to make sure it matches your company’s purpose as it evolves. A statement that doesn’t fit your core values or what you actually do can undermine your marketing efforts and credibility.

How do you describe a company’s history?

Don’t worry about making your company history a dense narrative. Instead, write it like you would a profile:

Then, translate that list into a few short paragraphs (like the example below).

Why do business objectives matter?

Business objectives give you clear goals to focus on, like the North Star. These goals must be SMART, which stands for:

They must also be tied to key results. When your objectives aren’t clearly defined, it’s hard for employees and team members to work toward a common purpose. What’s worse, fuzzy goals won’t inspire confidence from investors, nor will they have a profitable impact on your business.

Example of a company description

Laura’s Landscapers’ mission is to change the face of our city through sustainable landscaping and help you create the outdoor living space of your dreams.

Founded in 2021 by sisters Laura and Raquel Smith, we have over 25 years of combined landscape architecture experience. Our four employees work in teams of two and have already completed 10 projects for some of Richmond’s most influential business and community leaders.

Our objectives over the next three years are to:

3. Summarize market research and potential

The next step is to outline your ideal potential customer as well as the actual and potential size of your market. Target markets—also known as personas—identify demographic information like:

By getting specific, you’ll illustrate expertise and generate confidence.  If your target market is too broad, it can be a red flag for investors.

The same is true with your market analysis when you estimate its size and monetary value. In addition to big numbers that encompass the total market, drill down into your business’s addressable market—meaning, local numbers or numbers that apply the grand total to your specific segments. You may even  map your customer’s journey  to get a better understanding of their wants and needs.

Example of market research and potential

Laura’s Landscapers’ ideal customer is a wealthy baby boomer, a member of Gen X, or a millennial between the ages of 35 and 65 with a high disposable income. He or she—though primarily, she—is a homeowner. They’re a working professional or have recently retired. In love with the outdoors, they want to enjoy the beauty and serenity of nature in their own backyard, but don’t have the time or skill to do it for themselves.

Market research shows the opportunity for Laura’s Landscapers has never been better:

In Richmond, leading indicators for interest in green, eco-friendly, and sustainable landscaping have all increased exponentially over the last five years:

4. Conduct competitive analysis

Competitive research begins with identifying other companies that currently sell in the market you’re looking to enter. The idea of carving out enough time to learn about every potential competitor you have may sound overwhelming, but it can be extremely useful.

Answer these additional questions after you’ve identified your most significant competitors:

Spend some time thinking about what sets you apart. If your idea is truly novel, be prepared to explain the customer pain points you see your business solving. If your business doesn’t have any direct competition, research other companies that provide a similar product or service.

How to distinguish your business plan from competitors

Next, create a table or spreadsheet listing your competitors to include in your plan, often referred to as a competitor analysis table.

Example of competitive analysis

Within Richmond’s residential landscaping market, there are only two high-end architectural competitors: (1) Yukie’s Yards and (2) Dante’s Landscape Design. All other businesses focus solely on either industrial projects or residential maintenance.

Yukie’s Yards

Dante’s Landscape Design

5. Describe your product or service

This section describes the benefits, production process, and life cycle of your products or services, and how what your business offers is better than your competitors.

When describing benefits, focus on:

For the production process, answer how you:

Within the product life cycle portion, map elements like:

Example of product or service description

Laura’s Landscapers’ service—our competitive advantage—is differentiated by three core features.

First, throughout their careers, Laura and Raquel Smith have worked at and with Richmond’s three leading industrial landscaping firms. This gives us unique access to the residents who are most likely to use our service.

Second, we’re the only firm certified green by the Richmond Homeowners Association, the National Preservation Society, and Business Leaders for Greener Richmond.

Third, of our 10 completed projects, seven have rated us a 5 out of 5 on Google My Business and our price points for those projects place us in a healthy middle ground between our two other competitors.

6. Develop a marketing and sales strategy

Your marketing strategy or marketing plan can be the difference between selling so much that growth explodes or getting no business at all. Growth strategies are a critical part of your business plan.

You should briefly reiterate topics such as your:

Then, add your:

You can also use this section of your business plan to reinforce your strengths and what differentiates you from the competition. Be sure to show what you’ve already done, what you plan to do given your existing resources, and what results you expect from your efforts.

Example of marketing and sales strategy

Laura’s Landscapers’ marketing and sales strategy will leverage, in order of importance:

Reputation is the number one purchase influencer in high-end landscape design. As such, channels 1-4 will continue to be our top priority.

Our social media strategy will involve YouTube videos of the design process as well as multiple Instagram accounts and Pinterest boards showcasing professional photography. Lastly, our direct mail campaigns will send carbon-neutral, glossy brochures to houses in wealthy neighborhoods.

7. Compile your business financials

If you’re just starting out, your business may not yet have  financial data , financial statements, or comprehensive reporting. However, you’ll still need to prepare a budget and a financial plan.

If your company has been around for a while and you’re seeking investors, be sure to include:

Other figures that can be included are:

Ideally, you should  provide at least three years’ worth of reporting.  Make sure your figures are accurate and don’t provide any profit or loss projections before carefully going over your past statements for justification.

Avoid underestimating business costs

Costs, profit margins, and sale prices are closely linked, and many business owners set sale prices without accounting for all costs. New business owners are particularly at risk for this mistake.  The cost of your product or service must include all of your costs, including overhead.  If it doesn’t, you can’t determine a sale price to generate the profit level you desire.

Underestimating costs can catch you off guard and eat away at your business over time.

Example of business financials

Given the high degree of specificity required to accurately represent your business’s financials, rather than create a fictional line item example for Laura’s Landscapers, we suggest using one of our free Excel templates and entering your own data:

Once you’ve completed either one, then create a big picture representation to include here as well as in your objectives in step two.

In the case of Laura’s Landscapers, this big picture would involve steadily increasing the number of annual projects and cost per project to offset lower margins:

Current revenue for FY2022:  $200,000

FY2022 projections:  $360,000

FY2023 projections:  $552,000

FY2024 projections:  $972,000

8. Describe your organization and management

Your business is only as good as the team that runs it. Identify your team members and explain why they can either turn your business idea into a reality or continue to grow it.  Highlight expertise and qualifications throughout —this section of your business plan should show off your management team superstars.

You should also note:

To make informed business decisions, you may need to budget for a  bookkeeper , a CPA, and an attorney. CPAs can help you review your monthly  accounting  transactions and prepare your annual tax return. An attorney can help with client agreements, investor contracts (like shareholder agreements), and with any legal disputes that may arise.

Ask your business contacts for referrals (and their fees), and be sure to  include those costs in your business plan.

Example of organization and management

Laura Smith, Co-founder and CEO

Raquel Smith, Co-founder and Chief Design Officer

Laura’s Landscapers’ creative crews

9. Explain your funding request

When outlining how much money your small business needs, try to be as realistic as possible. You can provide a range of numbers if you don’t want to pinpoint an exact number. However,  include a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario.

Since a new business doesn’t have a track record of generating profits, it’s likely that you’ll sell equity to raise capital in the early years of operation. Equity means ownership—when you sell equity to raise capital, you are selling a portion of your company.

Most small business equity sales are private transactions. The investor may also expect to be paid a dividend, which is a share of company profits, and they’ll want to know how they can sell their ownership interest. Additionally, you can raise capital by borrowing money, but you’ll have to repay creditors both the principal amount borrowed and the interest on the debt.

If you look at the capital structure of any large company, you’ll see that most firms issue both equity and debt. When drafting your business plan, decide if you’re willing to accept the trade-off of giving up total control and profits before you sell equity in your business.

The founder can access cash by contributing their own money into the business by securing a line of credit (LOC) at a bank or applying for  QuickBooks Capital . If you raise cash through a LOC or some other type of loan, it needs to be paid off ASAP to reduce the interest cost on debt.

Example of a funding request

Laura’s Landscapers has already purchased all necessary permits, software, and equipment to serve our existing customers. Once scaled to $972,000 in annual revenue—over the next three years and at a 10% profit margin—our primary ongoing annual expenses (not including taxes) will total $874,800.

While already profitable, we are requesting $100,000 in the form of either a business loan or in exchange for equity to purchase equipment necessary to outfit two additional creative crews.

10. Compile an appendix for official documents

Finally, assemble a well-organized appendix for anything and everything readers will need to supplement the information in your plan. Consider any info that:

Useful details to cover in an appendix include:

Your appendix should be a living section of the business plan, whether the plan is a document for internal reference only or an external call for investors.

How to make a business plan that stands out

Investors have little patience for poorly written documents. You want your business plan to be as attractive and readable as possible.

3 tips to update your business plan

It’s a good idea to periodically revisit your business plan, especially if you are looking to expand. Conducting new research and updating your plan could also provide answers when you hit difficult questions.

Mid-year is a good time to refocus and revise your original plans because it gives you the opportunity to refocus any goals for the second half of the year. Below are three ways to update your plan.

1. Refocus your productivity

When you wrote your original business plan, you likely identified your specific business and personal goals. Take some time now to assess if you’ve hit your targets.

If you only want to work a set number of hours per week, you must identify the products and services that deliver the returns you need to make that a reality. Doing so helps you refocus your productivity on the most lucrative profit streams.

Also, use what you’ve achieved and the hard lessons you’ve learned to help you re-evaluate what is and isn’t working.

2. Realign with your goals

Do a gut check to determine whether all of your hard work is still aligned with your original goals and your mission statement. Ask yourself these questions:

These questions may be tough to answer at first glance, but they reveal your ties to your goals and what most likely needs to change to achieve new wins.

3. Repurpose your offerings

If your time has become more focused on small projects rather than tangible growth and building a valuable client list, consider packaging your existing products or services differently. Can you bundle a few things together?

You must deliberately manage your revenue streams, and that might require shuffling things around a little to focus on what is working for you.

Business plan template

Even if you don’t plan on seeking investments early on, there are other important reasons to use a business plan template to write a great business plan:

Download the following template to build your business plan from the ground up, considering all the important questions that will help your investors and employees.

Business plan template download

The old cliche is still true today: A failure to plan is a plan to fail. Your business plan is crucial to the growth of your business, from giving direction, motivation, and context to employees, to providing thoughtful reassurance and risk mitigation to financers. Before you get your small business up and running , put down a plan that instills confidence and sets you up for success.

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