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.
Khadija Khartit is a strategy, investment, and funding expert, and an educator of fintech and strategic finance in top universities. She has been an investor, entrepreneur, and advisor for more than 25 years. She is a FINRA Series 7, 63, and 66 license holder.
Vikki Velasquez is a researcher and writer who has managed, coordinated, and directed various community and nonprofit organizations. She has conducted in-depth research on social and economic issues and has also revised and edited educational materials for the Greater Richmond area.
What Is a Business Plan?
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 roadmap 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.
- A business plan is a document describing a company’s core business activities and how it plans to achieve its goals.
- Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
- A business plan can also be used as an internal guide to keep an executive team focused on and working toward short- and long-term objectives.
- Businesses may create a lengthier traditional business plan or a shorter lean startup business plan.
- Good business plans should include an executive summary and sections on products and services, marketing strategy and analysis, financial planning, and a budget.
Want Funding? You Need a Business Plan
Understanding Business Plans
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.
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.
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.
Elements of a Business Plan
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.
- Executive summary: This section outlines the company and includes the mission statement along with any information about the company’s leadership, employees, operations, and location.
- Products and services: Here, the company can outline the products and services it will offer, and may also include pricing, product lifespan, and benefits to the consumer. Other factors that may go into this section include production and manufacturing processes, any patents the company may have, as well as proprietary technology. Information about research and development (R&D) can also be included here.
- Market analysis: A firm needs a good handle on its industry as well as its target market. This section of the plan will detail a company’s competition and how the company fits in the industry, along with its relative strengths and weaknesses. It will also describe the expected consumer demand for a company’s products or services and how easy or difficult it may be to grab market share from incumbents.
- Marketing strategy: This section describes how the company will attract and keep its customer base and how it intends to reach the consumer. A clear distribution channel must be outlined. The section also spells out advertising and marketing campaign plans and the types of media those campaigns will use.
- Financial planning: This section should include a company’s financial planning and projections. Financial statements, balance sheets, and other financial information may be included for established businesses. New businesses will include targets and estimates for the first few years plus a description of potential investors.
- Budget: Every company needs to have a budget in place. This section should include costs related to staffing, development, manufacturing, marketing, and any other expenses related to the business.
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.
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.
What Is a Business Plan?
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.
How Do I Write a Business Plan?
The 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.
Start with the essential structure: an executive summary, company description, market analysis, product or service description, marketing strategy, financial projections, and appendix (for documents that support the main sections). Your plan might include any funding requests you’re making. Keep the main body of your plan to around 15-25 pages.
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.
Why You Should Write a Business Plan
Susan Ward wrote about small businesses for The Balance Small Business for 18 years. She has run an IT consulting firm and designed and presented courses on how to promote small businesses.
Why write a business plan? Simple: The business plan is the blueprint for your business. If you wanted to build a house, you wouldn’t walk over to an empty lot and just start nailing boards together. Starting a business without a business plan is just as risky.
Yet, unlike a house, a business isn’t static. We often make the mistake of thinking of a business plan as a single document that you just put together when you’re first starting out and then set aside. Something to check off the to-do list and be done with.
But in actuality, the business plan for any business will change over time as the business develops, and any particular business may have multiple business plans as its objectives change.
In the growth phase, an updated business plan is useful for forecasting or raising additional capital for expansion. And if you decide to sell or close the business, the business plan can include strategies and timelines for the transfer to new ownership or dissolution of the company.
If you’re not convinced yet, here are five good reasons to write a business plan when starting a new business.
To Test the Feasibility of Your Business Idea
Writing a business plan is the best way—other than going out and doing it—to test whether an idea for starting a business is feasible. In this sense, the business plan is your safety net. If working through a business plan reveals that your business idea is untenable, it will save you a great deal of time and money.
Often, an idea for starting a business is discarded at the marketing analysis or competitive analysis stage, freeing you to move on to a new (and better) idea.
Unfortunately, many prospective business owners are convinced that their idea for a product or service is a can’t-miss proposition, so they don’t take the time to do the necessary research and work through a proper business plan. The more you know about your industry, your prospective customers, and the competition, the greater the likelihood that your business will succeed.
To Give Your New Business the Best Chance of Success
Writing a business plan will ensure that you pay attention to the broad operational and financial objectives of your new business and the small details, such as budgeting and market planning. The process will ultimately make for a smoother startup period and fewer unforeseen problems as your business gets up and running.
The exercise of budgeting and market planning will help you define your target market, your unique selling proposition, optimum pricing strategies, and outline how you intend to sell and deliver your products to customers. In addition, developing a budget for implementation will assist with determining your startup and operating capital requirements.
To Secure Funding
Most new businesses need startup and operating capital to get off the ground. Without a well-developed business plan, there is no chance of getting debt financing from established financial institutions such as banks or equity financing from angel investors.
Established businesses often need money, too, to do things such as buy new equipment or property, or because of market downturns. Having an up-to-date business plan gives you a much better chance of getting the money you need to keep operating or to expand.
Investors and financiers are always looking at the risk of default, and word of mouth is no substitute for written facts and figures in a properly prepared business plan.
To Make Business Planning Manageable and Effective
A business plan is essential if you’re thinking of starting a business, but it’s also an important tool for established businesses. Viable businesses are dynamic; they change and grow. Your company’s original business plan needs to be revised as you set new goals.
Reviewing the business plan can also help you see what goals have been accomplished, what changes need to be made, or what new directions your company’s growth should take.
To Attract Investors
Whether you want to shop your business to venture capitalists or attract angel investors, you need to have a solid business plan. A presentation may pique their interest, but they’ll need a well-written document they can study before they’ll be prepared to make any investment commitment.
Be prepared to have your business plan scrutinized. Both venture capitalists and angel investors will want to conduct extensive background checks and competitive analyses to be certain that what’s written in your business plan is indeed the case.
A Business Plan Is Essential
Writing a business plan is time-consuming, but it’s essential if you want to have a successful business that’s going to survive the startup phase. If your business doesn’t have one, maybe it’s time to start writing it. The process of writing a business plan can do wonders to clarify where you’ve been and where you’re going.