Once you have identified the need for a business plan, the next step is to create one. Business plans come in many different designs varying by format, topics covered, order of topics, level of detail, and length. Each type of design serves a unique purpose for the plan, such as a request for funding, market investigation, operational need analysis, growth analysis, or competitive advantage investigation. However, most business plans include a basic structure that can be modified to be more or less elaborate depending on the needs of your business.
A basic business plan outline helps you to answer some common questions that arise during the writing process.
- What information should be included in the business plan?
- Should the information be grouped into basic sections?
- How should the sections be arranged or ordered within the business plan?
An outline provides a blueprint to follow when creating your own business plan. It saves you time when getting started and provides you with a foundation to build upon as you customize the plan for your business needs.
In this essay, we will look at the basic outline for a small business plan and some tips for creating a solid business plan.
Business Plan Outline
The outline of a business plan serves as a template for creating a tailored business plan suited for your business. Below are the eight information sections included in a typical business plan. Each section is listed in sequential order, as they should appear in your final business plan.
- Executive Summary. This section lists the highlights of the entire business plan. Some typical subsections in the executive summary section are objectives, mission, and keys to success.
- Company Information. The company information section covers all information pertinent to the establishment of the company, such as legal history, start-up plans, ownership details, and locations. Depending on the size and longevity of a company, this section could vary from a couple of paragraphs to several pages.
- Product and/or Service. The product and/or services section describes what your business is selling. This section should be described in enough detail to adequately inform the reader about the product and/or service along with the benefits associated with the item. Some common subsections in this section are competitive assessment, sales material, sourcing and fulfillment, technology, and future products and/or services.
- Market Analysis. The next section, market analysis, covers the market conditions, customer needs and wants, and a plan on reaching those potential customers. Some common subsections in this section are market segmentation, market needs, market trends, market growth, industry analysis, distribution patterns, buying patterns, and competitors.
- Strategy and Implementation. The strategy and implementation section covers the details around how your business is going to actually execute your product and service ideas. This section is the heart of the business plan, laying out the strategy for reaching your business goals. Specific dates and budgets should be used to allow for easy tracking of results. Some common subsections in this section are value proposition, competitive advantage, marketing strategy, market positioning, pricing options, promotion strategy, marketing programs, sales strategy, sales forecast, sales programs, strategic partners and alliances, and milestones. Due to the amount of detail included in this section, the strategy and implementation section will be one of the longest sections in your business plan.
- Web Plan. The web plan section illustrates how the business will utilize the web to market to potential customers, advertise its product and/or service, complete customer transactions over the Internet, etc. Some common subsections in this section are website strategy, website development costs, web marketing strategies, web sales strategies, and web operation plans.
- Management Team. The next section, management team, describes the organizational structure and key members of management. Some common subsections included in this section are organizational structure, management team, management team gaps, and personnel plan.
- Financial Analysis. The last section, financial analysis, is typically the section most focused on in a business plan. Everyone wants to know the company’s projected profits and losses when making any investment or funding decisions. This section covers all information associated with the financial well-being of the company including projected profits and losses, current balance sheet, projected cash flow, and break-even analysis. In addition to these financial statistics, this section includes financial assumptions, financial indicators, business ratios, and a long-term plan.
Tips for Creating a Solid Business Plan
As you begin to create your business plan, there are several tips that will guarantee you success in creating a solid business plan that meets the needs of your business. Keep these tips in mind as you embark on writing your business plan.
- Many people fall into the trap of feeling overwhelmed by the thought of writing a small book for a business plan. Remember that the point of the business plan is to provide just enough information to answer your intended audience’s questions. Sometimes less is more. If you are a small start-up business, you will probably have a shorter business plan with more of an emphasis on projected and forecasted information than you will on actual facts. Many times, the startup business will not have very much actual data to include in the business plan, so a great deal of external information from the industry will be used to forecast projections. While every business should have a business plan to help run the business, not every business needs a lengthy plan, just an easy-to-follow, well-documented plan suited to your business.
- While the executive summary comes first in sequence of the business plan, this section should be the last section you write. The executive summary outlines the highlights or key aspects of your business plan. It is best to save writing this section until after all of the other sections of your plan are completed and you can identify important points to include in the executive summary.
- Consider using business plan software or a template to write your business plan. There are numerous software programs available to help assist you with the organization and format of your business plan. Most of these programs charge a fee for the software program; however, there are some free templates available on the web. Business plan software and templates can save you a considerable amount of time and energy, often saving you money, while creating your business plan.
- Business plans come in a variety of designs aimed at serving a unique purpose such as a request for funding, market investigation, operational need analysis, growth analysis, or competitive advantage investigation.
- A business plan outline saves you time by providing you with a blueprint to follow when creating your own business plan.
- A basic small business plan outline includes eight sections, listed below in sequential order:
There are several tips you should follow to guarantee success when creating a business plan:
- Executive Summary
- Company Information
- Product and/or Service
- Market Analysis
- Strategy and Implementation
- Web Plan
- Management Team
- Financial Analysis
- Do not worry about the length of your business plan. Provide just enough information to answer your audience’s questions.
- Write the executive summary last.
- Consider using business plan software or a template to save time, energy, and money.