- Sources of Business Finance
- Small Business Loans
- Small Business Grants
- Crowdfunding Sites
- How to Get a Business Loan
- Small Business Insurance Providers
- Best Factoring Companies
- Types of Bank Accounts
- Best Banks for Small Business
- Best Business Bank Accounts
- Open a Business Bank Account
- Bank Accounts for Small Businesses
- Free Business Checking Accounts
- Best Business Credit Cards
- Get a Business Credit Card
- Business Credit Cards for Bad Credit
- Build Business Credit Fast
- Business Loan Eligibility Criteria
- Small-Business Bookkeeping Basics
- How to Set Financial Goals
- Business Loan Calculators
- How to Calculate ROI
- Calculate Net Income
- Calculate Working Capital
- Calculate Operating Income
- Calculate Net Present Value (NPV)
- Calculate Payroll Tax
12 Key Elements of a Business Plan (Top Components Explained)
Starting and running a successful business requires proper planning and execution of effective business tactics and strategies .
You need to prepare many essential business documents when starting a business for maximum success; the business plan is one such document.
When creating a business, you want to achieve business objectives and financial goals like productivity, profitability, and business growth. You need an effective business plan to help you get to your desired business destination.
Even if you are already running a business, the proper understanding and review of the key elements of a business plan help you navigate potential crises and obstacles.
This article will teach you why the business document is at the core of any successful business and its key elements you can not avoid.
Let’s get started.
Why Are Business Plans Important?
Business plans are practical steps or guidelines that usually outline what companies need to do to reach their goals. They are essential documents for any business wanting to grow and thrive in a highly-competitive business environment .
1. Proves Your Business Viability
A business plan gives companies an idea of how viable they are and what actions they need to take to grow and reach their financial targets. With a well-written and clearly defined business plan, your business is better positioned to meet its goals.
2. Guides You Throughout the Business Cycle
A business plan is not just important at the start of a business. As a business owner, you must draw up a business plan to remain relevant throughout the business cycle .
During the starting phase of your business, a business plan helps bring your ideas into reality. A solid business plan can secure funding from lenders and investors.
After successfully setting up your business, the next phase is management. Your business plan still has a role to play in this phase, as it assists in communicating your business vision to employees and external partners.
Essentially, your business plan needs to be flexible enough to adapt to changes in the needs of your business.
3. Helps You Make Better Business Decisions
As a business owner, you are involved in an endless decision-making cycle. Your business plan helps you find answers to your most crucial business decisions.
A robust business plan helps you settle your major business components before you launch your product, such as your marketing and sales strategy and competitive advantage.
4. Eliminates Big Mistakes
Many small businesses fail within their first five years for several reasons: lack of financing, stiff competition, low market need, inadequate teams, and inefficient pricing strategy.
Creating an effective plan helps you eliminate these big mistakes that lead to businesses' decline. Every business plan element is crucial for helping you avoid potential mistakes before they happen.
5. Secures Financing and Attracts Top Talents
Having an effective plan increases your chances of securing business loans. One of the essential requirements many lenders ask for to grant your loan request is your business plan.
A business plan helps investors feel confident that your business can attract a significant return on investments ( ROI ).
You can attract and retain top-quality talents with a clear business plan. It inspires your employees and keeps them aligned to achieve your strategic business goals.
Key Elements of Business Plan
Starting and running a successful business requires well-laid actions and supporting documents that better position a company to achieve its business goals and maximize success.
A business plan is a written document with relevant information detailing business objectives and how it intends to achieve its goals.
With an effective business plan, investors, lenders, and potential partners understand your organizational structure and goals, usually around profitability, productivity, and growth.
Every successful business plan is made up of key components that help solidify the efficacy of the business plan in delivering on what it was created to do.
Here are some of the components of an effective business plan.
1. Executive Summary
One of the key elements of a business plan is the executive summary. Write the executive summary as part of the concluding topics in the business plan. Creating an executive summary with all the facts and information available is easier.
In the overall business plan document, the executive summary should be at the forefront of the business plan. It helps set the tone for readers on what to expect from the business plan.
A well-written executive summary includes all vital information about the organization's operations, making it easy for a reader to understand.
The key points that need to be acted upon are highlighted in the executive summary. They should be well spelled out to make decisions easy for the management team.
A good and compelling executive summary points out a company's mission statement and a brief description of its products and services.
An executive summary summarizes a business's expected value proposition to distinct customer segments. It highlights the other key elements to be discussed during the rest of the business plan.
Including your prior experiences as an entrepreneur is a good idea in drawing up an executive summary for your business. A brief but detailed explanation of why you decided to start the business in the first place is essential.
Adding your company's mission statement in your executive summary cannot be overemphasized. It creates a culture that defines how employees and all individuals associated with your company abide when carrying out its related processes and operations.
Your executive summary should be brief and detailed to catch readers' attention and encourage them to learn more about your company.
Components of an Executive Summary
Here are some of the information that makes up an executive summary:
- The name and location of your company
- Products and services offered by your company
- Mission and vision statements
- Success factors of your business plan
2. Business Description
Your business description needs to be exciting and captivating as it is the formal introduction a reader gets about your company.
What your company aims to provide, its products and services, goals and objectives, target audience , and potential customers it plans to serve need to be highlighted in your business description.
A company description helps point out notable qualities that make your company stand out from other businesses in the industry. It details its unique strengths and the competitive advantages that give it an edge to succeed over its direct and indirect competitors.
Spell out how your business aims to deliver on the particular needs and wants of identified customers in your company description, as well as the particular industry and target market of the particular focus of the company.
Include trends and significant competitors within your particular industry in your company description. Your business description should contain what sets your company apart from other businesses and provides it with the needed competitive advantage.
In essence, if there is any area in your business plan where you need to brag about your business, your company description provides that unique opportunity as readers look to get a high-level overview.
Components of a Business Description
Your business description needs to contain these categories of information.
- Business location
- The legal structure of your business
- Summary of your business’s short and long-term goals
3. Market Analysis
The market analysis section should be solely based on analytical research as it details trends particular to the market you want to penetrate.
Graphs, spreadsheets, and histograms are handy data and statistical tools you need to utilize in your market analysis. They make it easy to understand the relationship between your current ideas and the future goals you have for the business.
All details about the target customers you plan to sell products or services should be in the market analysis section. It helps readers with a helpful overview of the market.
In your market analysis, you provide the needed data and statistics about industry and market share, the identified strengths in your company description, and compare them against other businesses in the same industry.
The market analysis section aims to define your target audience and estimate how your product or service would fare with these identified audiences.
Market analysis helps visualize a target market by researching and identifying the primary target audience of your company and detailing steps and plans based on your audience location.
Obtaining this information through market research is essential as it helps shape how your business achieves its short-term and long-term goals.
Market Analysis Factors
Here are some of the factors to be included in your market analysis.
- The geographical location of your target market
- Needs of your target market and how your products and services can meet those needs
- Demographics of your target audience
Components of the Market Analysis Section
Here is some of the information to be included in your market analysis.
- Industry description and statistics
- Demographics and profile of target customers
- Marketing data for your products and services
- Detailed evaluation of your competitors
4. Marketing Plan
A marketing plan defines how your business aims to reach its target customers, generate sales leads, and, ultimately, make sales.
Promotion is at the center of any successful marketing plan. It is a series of steps to pitch a product or service to a larger audience to generate engagement. Note that the marketing strategy for a business should not be stagnant and must evolve depending on its outcome.
Include the budgetary requirement for successfully implementing your marketing plan in this section to make it easy for readers to measure your marketing plan's impact in terms of numbers.
The information to include in your marketing plan includes marketing and promotion strategies, pricing plans and strategies , and sales proposals. You need to include how you intend to get customers to return and make repeat purchases in your business plan.
5. Sales Strategy
Sales strategy defines how you intend to get your product or service to your target customers and works hand in hand with your business marketing strategy.
Your sales strategy approach should not be complex. Break it down into simple and understandable steps to promote your product or service to target customers.
Apart from the steps to promote your product or service, define the budget you need to implement your sales strategies and the number of sales reps needed to help the business assist in direct sales.
Your sales strategy should be specific on what you need and how you intend to deliver on your sales targets, where numbers are reflected to make it easier for readers to understand and relate better.
6. Competitive Analysis
Providing transparent and honest information, even with direct and indirect competitors, defines a good business plan. Provide the reader with a clear picture of your rank against major competitors.
Identifying your competitors' weaknesses and strengths is useful in drawing up a market analysis. It is one information investors look out for when assessing business plans.
The competitive analysis section clearly defines the notable differences between your company and your competitors as measured against their strengths and weaknesses.
This section should define the following:
- Your competitors' identified advantages in the market
- How do you plan to set up your company to challenge your competitors’ advantage and gain grounds from them?
- The standout qualities that distinguish you from other companies
- Potential bottlenecks you have identified that have plagued competitors in the same industry and how you intend to overcome these bottlenecks
In your business plan, you need to prove your industry knowledge to anyone who reads your business plan. The competitive analysis section is designed for that purpose.
7. Management and Organization
Management and organization are key components of a business plan. They define its structure and how it is positioned to run.
Whether you intend to run a sole proprietorship, general or limited partnership, or corporation, the legal structure of your business needs to be clearly defined in your business plan.
Use an organizational chart that illustrates the hierarchy of operations of your company and spells out separate departments and their roles and functions in this business plan section.
The management and organization section includes profiles of advisors, board of directors, and executive team members and their roles and responsibilities in guaranteeing the company's success.
Apparent factors that influence your company's corporate culture, such as human resources requirements and legal structure, should be well defined in the management and organization section.
Defining the business's chain of command if you are not a sole proprietor is necessary. It leaves room for little or no confusion about who is in charge or responsible during business operations.
This section provides relevant information on how the management team intends to help employees maximize their strengths and address their identified weaknesses to help all quarters improve for the business's success.
8. Products and Services
This business plan section describes what a company has to offer regarding products and services to the maximum benefit and satisfaction of its target market.
Boldly spell out pending patents or copyright products and intellectual property in this section alongside costs, expected sales revenue, research and development, and competitors' advantage as an overview.
At this stage of your business plan, the reader needs to know what your business plans to produce and sell and the benefits these products offer in meeting customers' needs.
The supply network of your business product, production costs, and how you intend to sell the products are crucial components of the products and services section.
Investors are always keen on this information to help them reach a balanced assessment of if investing in your business is risky or offer benefits to them.
You need to create a link in this section on how your products or services are designed to meet the market's needs and how you intend to keep those customers and carve out a market share for your company.
Repeat purchases are the backing that a successful business relies on and measure how much customers are into what your company is offering.
This section is more like an expansion of the executive summary section. You need to analyze each product or service under the business.
9. Operating Plan
An operations plan describes how you plan to carry out your business operations and processes.
The operating plan for your business should include:
- Information about how your company plans to carry out its operations.
- The base location from which your company intends to operate.
- The number of employees to be utilized and other information about your company's operations.
- Key business processes.
This section should highlight how your organization is set up to run. You can also introduce your company's management team in this section, alongside their skills, roles, and responsibilities in the company.
The best way to introduce the company team is by drawing up an organizational chart that effectively maps out an organization's rank and chain of command.
What should be spelled out to readers when they come across this business plan section is how the business plans to operate day-in and day-out successfully.
10. Financial Projections and Assumptions
Bringing your great business ideas into reality is why business plans are important. They help create a sustainable and viable business.
The financial section of your business plan offers significant value. A business uses a financial plan to solve all its financial concerns, which usually involves startup costs, labor expenses, financial projections, and funding and investor pitches.
All key assumptions about the business finances need to be listed alongside the business financial projection, and changes to be made on the assumptions side until it balances with the projection for the business.
The financial plan should also include how the business plans to generate income and the capital expenditure budgets that tend to eat into the budget to arrive at an accurate cash flow projection for the business.
Base your financial goals and expectations on extensive market research backed with relevant financial statements for the relevant period.
Examples of financial statements you can include in the financial projections and assumptions section of your business plan include:
- Projected income statements
- Cash flow statements
- Balance sheets
- Income statements
Revealing the financial goals and potentials of the business is what the financial projection and assumption section of your business plan is all about. It needs to be purely based on facts that can be measurable and attainable.
11. Request For Funding
The request for funding section focuses on the amount of money needed to set up your business and underlying plans for raising the money required. This section includes plans for utilizing the funds for your business's operational and manufacturing processes.
When seeking funding, a reasonable timeline is required alongside it. If the need arises for additional funding to complete other business-related projects, you are not left scampering and desperate for funds.
If you do not have the funds to start up your business, then you should devote a whole section of your business plan to explaining the amount of money you need and how you plan to utilize every penny of the funds. You need to explain it in detail for a future funding request.
When an investor picks up your business plan to analyze it, with all your plans for the funds well spelled out, they are motivated to invest as they have gotten a backing guarantee from your funding request section.
Include timelines and plans for how you intend to repay the loans received in your funding request section. This addition keeps investors assured that they could recoup their investment in the business.
12. Exhibits and Appendices
Exhibits and appendices comprise the final section of your business plan and contain all supporting documents for other sections of the business plan.
Some of the documents that comprise the exhibits and appendices section includes:
- Legal documents
- Licenses and permits
- Credit histories
- Customer lists
The choice of what additional document to include in your business plan to support your statements depends mainly on the intended audience of your business plan. Hence, it is better to play it safe and not leave anything out when drawing up the appendix and exhibit section.
Supporting documentation is particularly helpful when you need funding or support for your business. This section provides investors with a clearer understanding of the research that backs the claims made in your business plan.
There are key points to include in the appendix and exhibits section of your business plan.
- The management team and other stakeholders resume
- Marketing research
- Permits and relevant legal documents
- Financial documents
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What Is a Business Plan?
Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, common elements of a business plan, how often should a business plan be updated, the bottom line, 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.
A business plan is a document that details a company's goals and how it intends to achieve them. Business plans can be of benefit to both startups and well-established companies. For startups, a business plan can be essential for winning over potential lenders and investors. Established businesses can find one useful for staying on track and not losing sight of their goals. This article explains what an effective business plan needs to include and how to write one.
- A business plan is a document describing a company's business activities and how it plans to achieve its goals.
- Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
- For established companies, a business plan can help keep the executive team focused on and working toward the company's short- and long-term objectives.
- There is no single format that a business plan must follow, but there are certain key elements that most companies will want to include.
Investopedia / Ryan Oakley
Any new business should have a business plan in place prior to beginning operations. In fact, banks and venture capital firms often want to see a business plan before they'll consider making a loan or providing capital to new businesses.
Even if a business isn't looking to raise additional money, a business plan can help it focus on its goals. A 2017 Harvard Business Review article reported that, "Entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than the otherwise identical nonplanning entrepreneurs."
Ideally, a business plan should be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect any goals that have been achieved or that may have changed. An established business that has decided to move in a new direction might create an entirely new business plan for itself.
There are numerous benefits to creating (and sticking to) a well-conceived business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and highlighting any potential obstacles to success. A company might also share its business plan with trusted outsiders to get their objective feedback. In addition, a business plan can help keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and priorities.
Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they often have some of the same basic elements, as we describe below.
While it's a good idea to provide as much detail as necessary, it's also important that a business plan be concise enough to hold a reader's attention to the end.
While there are any number of templates that you can use to write a business plan, it's best to try to avoid producing a generic-looking one. Let your plan reflect the unique personality of your business.
Many business plans use some combination of the sections below, with varying levels of detail, depending on the company.
The length of a business plan can vary greatly from business to business. Regardless, it's best to fit the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and attached as appendices.
These are some of the most common elements in many business plans:
- Executive summary: This section introduces the company and includes its mission statement along with relevant information about the company's leadership, employees, operations, and locations.
- Products and services: Here, the company should describe the products and services it offers or plans to introduce. That might include details on pricing, product lifespan, and unique benefits to the consumer. Other factors that could go into this section include production and manufacturing processes, any relevant 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 company needs to have a good handle on the current state of its industry and the existing competition. This section should explain where the company fits in, what types of customers it plans to target, and how easy or difficult it may be to take market share from incumbents.
- Marketing strategy: This section can describe how the company plans to attract and keep customers, including any anticipated advertising and marketing campaigns. It should also describe the distribution channel or channels it will use to get its products or services to consumers.
- Financial plans and projections: Established businesses can include financial statements, balance sheets, and other relevant financial information. New businesses can provide financial targets and estimates for the first few years. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making.
The best business plans aren't generic ones created from easily accessed templates. A company should aim to entice readers with a plan that demonstrates its uniqueness and potential for success.
2 Types of Business Plans
Business plans can take many forms, but they are sometimes divided into two basic categories: traditional and lean startup. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the more common of the two.
- Traditional business plans : These plans tend to be much longer than lean startup plans and contain considerably more detail. As a result they require more work on the part of the business, but they can also be more persuasive (and reassuring) to potential investors.
- Lean startup business plans : These use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans are short—as short as one page—and provide only the most basic detail. If a company wants to use this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or a lender requests it.
Why Do Business Plans Fail?
A business plan is not a surefire recipe for success. The plan may have been unrealistic in its assumptions and projections to begin with. Markets and the overall economy might change in ways that couldn't have been foreseen. A competitor might introduce a revolutionary new product or service. All of this calls for building some flexibility into your plan, so you can pivot to a new course if needed.
How frequently a business plan needs to be revised will depend on the nature of the business. A well-established business might want to review its plan once a year and make changes if necessary. A new or fast-growing business in a fiercely competitive market might want to revise it more often, such as quarterly.
What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?
The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers to give a quick explanation of its business. For example, a brand-new company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide yet.
Sections can include: a value proposition ; the company's major activities and advantages; resources such as staff, intellectual property, and capital; a list of partnerships; customer segments; and revenue sources.
A business plan can be useful to companies of all kinds. But as a company grows and the world around it changes, so too should its business plan. So don't think of your business plan as carved in granite but as a living document designed to evolve with your business.
Harvard Business Review. " Research: Writing a Business Plan Makes Your Startup More Likely to Succeed ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
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- Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How to Write One 3 of 46
- Organizational Structure for Companies With Examples and Benefits 4 of 46
- Which Type of Organization Is Best For Your Business? 5 of 46
- What Are the Major Types of Businesses in the Private Sector? 6 of 46
- Corporate Culture Definition, Characteristics, and Importance 7 of 46
- What Is an S Corp? Definition, Taxes, and How to File 8 of 46
- LLC vs. Incorporation: Which Should I Choose? 9 of 46
- Private Company: What It Is, Types, and Pros and Cons 10 of 46
- Sole Proprietorship: What It Is, Pros & Cons, and Differences From an LLC 11 of 46
- Bootstrapping Definition, Strategies, and Pros/Cons 12 of 46
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- Seed Capital: What It Is, How It Works, Example 14 of 46
- Venture Capital: What Is VC and How Does It Work? 15 of 46
- Startup Capital Definition, Types, and Risks 16 of 46
- Capital Funding: Definition, How It Works, and 2 Primary Methods 17 of 46
- Series Funding: A, B, and C 18 of 46
- Small Business Administration (SBA): Definition and What It Does 19 of 46
- Upper Management: What it is, How it Works 20 of 46
- What is the C Suite?: Meaning and Positions Defined 21 of 46
- Chief Executive Officer (CEO): What They Do vs. Other Chief Roles 22 of 46
- Operations Management: Understanding and Using It 23 of 46
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- What Is Brand Management? Requirements, How It Works, and Example 27 of 46
- What Is Brand Awareness? Definition, How It Works, and Strategies 28 of 46
- Brand Loyalty: What It Is, and How to Build It 29 of 46
- Brand Extension: Definition, How It Works, Example, and Criticism 30 of 46
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- Affiliate Marketer: Definition, Examples, and How to Get Started 32 of 46
- What Is Commercialization, Plus the Product Roll-Out Process 33 of 46
- Digital Marketing Overview: Types, Challenges & Required Skills 34 of 46
- Direct Marketing: What It Is and How It Works 35 of 46
- Marketing in Business: Strategies and Types Explained 36 of 46
- What Are Marketing Campaigns? Definition, Types, and Examples 37 of 46
- How to Do Market Research, Types, and Example 38 of 46
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Elements of a Business Plan: What to Include to Turn Heads
June 26, 2019
by Mary Clare Novak
Good things come to those who wait.
No matter the business size , industry, or location, planning is necessary for any company. The standard business plan can seem mundane and unexciting, but those that choose to skip this step when starting a business can count on being disorganized, frazzled, and wishing they had made one in the first place.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a formal document that contains the goals of a business and a timeline stating when they need to be achieved. Business plans also include details like the background of the business, financial projections, and strategies that will be used to achieve the goals.
Think of a business plan as a road map. They both show direction and need to include certain things to be considered valid. When laid out properly, a business plan can be used to create relationships with investors, employees, vendors, and interested partners.
While maps must show rivers, cities, and countries, a business plan has other requirements.
Elements of a business plan
- Executive summary
Market analysis, organization and management, product or service description.
- Sales and marketing strategies
The length of your business plan doesn’t matter. As long as it includes those eight items, you should be good to go.
Business plan elements
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these business plan elements mean, and why they are important to the overall plan.
An executive summary is a brief summary of your plan. It gives readers a general idea of the most important parts of the business plan so they know what to expect.
While you want to keep it concise, as most summaries are, there are certain things you will need to include. Provide a brief history of the start of the business, describe the mission you wish to achieve, and briefly state a few goals you need to reach to get there.
It is usually best to write this last so you have time to get to know the business plan, which will help you properly summarize it.
The company description is self-explanatory: you describe your company. It is a good time to ask yourself some who, what, when, where, and why questions.
This background shows readers how you view your business and what you will choose to focus on.
Next, you will prove to your readers that you have properly analyzed your market before starting this business venture.
Conducting market research is a necessary step when starting a new business or restructuring an existing one. It gives you an idea of who your audience and competitors are so you can craft a product or service that is superior to others in the same market.
What is currently being offered? Where do you fit in the market? A good way to do this is with G2 Reports , which can show readers where you stand against your competitors based on un-biased, third party reviews.
This section of the business plan will show readers how you plan to organize business leadership, and who those leaders actually are.
Not only does nobody want to invest in or work for a company that has poor management and organization, but you need it to be successful in the first place. Highlight the qualifications of each team member and mention how they will contribute to the success of a business.
Show them what your team is made of and give them a reason to get involved.
The product or service description is where take a closer look at what it is you are selling. This is your opportunity to get people on board with your business. If they don’t like what is being offered themselves, they won’t have a reason to get involved.
Thoroughly describe what you are offering, the associated benefits, and why your product or service is, for lack of a better word, better than that of your competitors.
While you are probably convinced that your product or service is the best in the market, those reading your business plan will want proof. Data. Numbers. They don’t need to be exact, but providing some estimates will only help you prove your case further.
Marketing and sales strategies
After you give a thorough description of the product or service, which is the heart and soul of the business, it’s time to talk about sales and marketing. Think of sales and marketing as the voice of reason for your business. It explains why people should become involved with your business, in one way or another.
This section includes the nitty-gritty details of your business’ function. And the only way for a business to function is to make money. How do you plan on making a profit? Talk about how much your product or service costs to produce, and then how much you plan on selling it for. This is also known as your gross profit , which proves that your company is capable of making money.
It is also helpful to show readers that your business uses a software management tool, like G2 Track , to stay organized and avoid wasted Saas spending.
In the competitive world that is the American economy, you not only need a product or service that stands out, but you also need some solid marketing to prove that to your audiences.
Include your marketing plan in this section. Describe your marketing strategies, tactics that will be used to carry them out, and what company goals you will achieve with marketing.
Now that you’ve shown readers the hypothetical money, it is time for you to ask for the real deal: funding .
Outline how much money you need to make your business a reality. Be realistic and honest. Don’t be afraid to throw out a big number if that is what it will take to get your business off the ground. Think of certain situations that will help or hinder your business and create a range of funding requirements based on their aftermaths.
Wrap up your plan with some financial projections. Put simply, financial projections are predictions of revenue and expenses.
You will want to include financial projections for both short, mid, and long term time periods. Break it down by month, quarter, and year.
Here are a couple of basics you should include to make sure your financial projections are thorough enough:
You will also want to include cash flow and a balance sheet .
Keeping your finances organized will help if you are looking to gain investors or receive a loan.
Whether you are just starting a small business or reworking your company, any new venture requires a strong business plan. Not only do they help keep you organized as the owner, but they give others a behind-the-scenes look at what the business is and why it matters, opening the doors for growth.
Want to start a business but don’t know where to begin? Check out the most profitable small businesses to get those ideas flowing.
Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Specialist at G2 based in Burlington, Vermont, where she is currently exploring topics related to sales and customer relationship management. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. (she/her/hers)
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The 10 Key Components of a Business Plan
Written by Dave Lavinsky
Over the past 20+ years, we have helped over 1 million entrepreneurs and business owners write business plans. These plans have been used to raise funding and grow countless businesses.
Download our Ultimate Business Plan Template here >
From working with all these businesses, we know what the 10 elements in any great business plan. Providing a comprehensive assessment of each of these components is critical in attracting lenders, angel investors , venture capitalists or other equity investors.
Get started with a title page that includes your company name, logo and contact information, since interested readers must have a simple way to find and reach out to you. After that be sure to include the 10 parts of a business plan documented below.
What are the 10 Key Components of a Business Plan?
The 10 sections or elements of a business plan that you must include are as follows:
1. Executive Summary
The executive summary provides a succinct synopsis of the business plan, and highlights the key points raised within. It often includes the company’s mission statement and description of the products and services. It’s recommended by me and many experts including the Small Business Administration to write the executive summary last.
The executive summary must communicate to the prospective investor the size and scope of the market opportunity, the venture’s business and profitability model, and how the resources/skills/strategic positioning of the company’s management team make it uniquely qualified to execute the business plan. The executive summary must be compelling, easy-to-read, and no longer than 2-4 pages.
2. Company Analysis
This business plan section provides a strategic overview of the business and describes how the company is organized, what products and services it offers/will offer, and goes into further detail on the business’ unique qualifications in serving its target markets. As any good business plan template will point out, your company analysis should also give a snapshot of the company’s achievements to date, since the best indicator of future success are past accomplishments.
3. Industry or Market Analysis
This section evaluates the playing field in which the company will be competing, and includes well-structured answers to key market research questions such as the following:
- What are the sizes of the target market segments?
- What are the trends for the industry as a whole?
- With what other industries do your services compete?
To conduct this market research, do research online and leverage trade associations that often have the information you need.
4. Analysis of Customers
The customer analysis business plan section assesses the customer segment(s) that the company serves. In this section, the company must convey the needs of its target customers. It must then show how its products and services satisfy these needs to an extent that the customer will pay for them.
The following are examples of customer segments: moms, engaged couples, schools, online retailers, teens, baby boomers, business owners, etc.
As you can imagine, the customer segment(s) you choose will have a great impact on the type of business you operate as different segments often have different needs. Try to break out your target customers in terms of their demographic and psychographic profiles. With regards to demographics, including a discussion of the ages, genders, locations and income levels of the customers you seek to serve. With regards to psychographic variables, discuss whether your customers have any unique lifestyles, interests, opinions, attitudes and/or values that will help you market to them more effectively.
5. Analysis of Competition
All capable business plan writers discuss the competitive landscape of your business. This element of your plan must identify your direct and indirect competitors, assesses their strengths and weaknesses and delineate your company’s competitive advantages. It’s a crucial business plan section.
Direct competitors are those that provide the same product or service to the same customer. Indirect competitors are those who provide similar products or services. For example, the direct competitors to a pizza shop are other local pizza shops. Indirect competitors are other food options like supermarkets, delis, other restaurants, etc.
The first five components of your business plan provide an overview of the business opportunity and market research to support it. The remaining five business plan sections focus mainly on strategy, primarily the marketing, operational, financial and management strategies that your firm will employ.
6. Marketing, Sales & Product Plan
The marketing and sales plan component of your business plan details your strategy for penetrating the target markets. Key elements include the following:
- A description of the company’s desired strategic positioning
- Detailed descriptions of the company’s product and service offerings and potential product extensions
- Descriptions of the company’s desired image and branding strategy
- Descriptions of the company’s promotional strategies
- An overview of the company’s pricing strategies
- A description of current and potential strategic marketing partnerships/ alliances
7. Operations Strategy, Design and Development Plans
These sections detail the internal strategies for building the venture from concept to reality, and include answers to the following questions:
- What functions will be required to run the business?
- What milestones must be reached before the venture can be launched?
- How will quality be controlled?
8. Management Team
The management team section demonstrates that the company has the required human resources to be successful. The business plan must answer questions including:
- Who are the key management personnel and what are their backgrounds?
- What management additions will be required to make the business a success?
- Who are the other investors and/or shareholders, if any?
- Who comprises the Board of Directors and/or Board of Advisors?
- Who are the professional advisors (e.g., lawyer, accounting firm)?
9. Financial Plan
The financial plan involves the development of the company’s revenue and profitability model. These financial statements detail how you generate income and get paid from customers,. The financial plan includes detailed explanations of the key assumptions used in building the business plan model , sensitivity analysis on key revenue and cost variables, and description of comparable valuations for existing companies with similar business models.
One of the key purposes of your business plan is to determine the amount of capital the firm needs. The financial plan does this along with assessing the proposed use of these funds (e.g., equipment, working capital, labor expenses, insurance costs, etc.) and the expected future earnings. It includes Projected Income Statements, Balance Sheets (showing assets, liabilities and equity) and Cash Flow Statements, broken out quarterly for the first two years, and annually for years 1-5.
Importantly, all of the assumptions and projections in the financial plan must flow from and be supported by the descriptions and explanations offered in the other sections of the plan. The financial plan is where the entrepreneur communicates how he/she plans to “monetize” the overall vision for the new venture. Note that in addition to traditional debt and equity sources of startup and growth funding that require a business plan (bank loans, angel investors, venture capitalists, friends and family), you will probably also use other capital sources, such as credit cards and business credit, in growing your company.
The appendix is used to support the rest of the business plan. Every business plan should have a full set of financial projections in the appendix, with the summary of these financials in the executive summary and the financial plan. Other documentation that could appear in the appendix includes technical drawings, partnership and/or customer letters, expanded competitor reviews and/or customer lists.
Find additional business plan help articles here.
Expertly and comprehensively discussing these components in their business plan helps entrepreneurs to better understand their business opportunity and assists them in convincing investors that the opportunity may be right for them too.
In addition to ensuring you included the proper elements of a business plan when developing your plan always think about why you are uniquely qualified to succeed in your business. For example, is your team’s expertise something that’s unique and can ensure your success? Or is it marketing partnerships you have executed? Importantly, if you don’t have any unique success factors, think about what you can add to make your company unique. Doing so can dramatically improve your success. Also, whether you write it on a word processor or use business plan software , remember to update your plan at least annually. After several years, you should have several business plans you can review to see what worked and what didn’t. This should prove helpful as you create future plans for your company’s growth.
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Other Helpful Business Plan Articles & Templates
- 11.4 The Business Plan
- 1.1 Entrepreneurship Today
- 1.2 Entrepreneurial Vision and Goals
- 1.3 The Entrepreneurial Mindset
- Review Questions
- Discussion Questions
- Case Questions
- Suggested Resources
- 2.1 Overview of the Entrepreneurial Journey
- 2.2 The Process of Becoming an Entrepreneur
- 2.3 Entrepreneurial Pathways
- 2.4 Frameworks to Inform Your Entrepreneurial Path
- 3.1 Ethical and Legal Issues in Entrepreneurship
- 3.2 Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship
- 3.3 Developing a Workplace Culture of Ethical Excellence and Accountability
- 4.1 Tools for Creativity and Innovation
- 4.2 Creativity, Innovation, and Invention: How They Differ
- 4.3 Developing Ideas, Innovations, and Inventions
- 5.1 Entrepreneurial Opportunity
- 5.2 Researching Potential Business Opportunities
- 5.3 Competitive Analysis
- 6.1 Problem Solving to Find Entrepreneurial Solutions
- 6.2 Creative Problem-Solving Process
- 6.3 Design Thinking
- 6.4 Lean Processes
- 7.1 Clarifying Your Vision, Mission, and Goals
- 7.2 Sharing Your Entrepreneurial Story
- 7.3 Developing Pitches for Various Audiences and Goals
- 7.4 Protecting Your Idea and Polishing the Pitch through Feedback
- 7.5 Reality Check: Contests and Competitions
- 8.1 Entrepreneurial Marketing and the Marketing Mix
- 8.2 Market Research, Market Opportunity Recognition, and Target Market
- 8.3 Marketing Techniques and Tools for Entrepreneurs
- 8.4 Entrepreneurial Branding
- 8.5 Marketing Strategy and the Marketing Plan
- 8.6 Sales and Customer Service
- 9.1 Overview of Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting Strategies
- 9.2 Special Funding Strategies
- 9.3 Accounting Basics for Entrepreneurs
- 9.4 Developing Startup Financial Statements and Projections
- 10.1 Launching the Imperfect Business: Lean Startup
- 10.2 Why Early Failure Can Lead to Success Later
- 10.3 The Challenging Truth about Business Ownership
- 10.4 Managing, Following, and Adjusting the Initial Plan
- 10.5 Growth: Signs, Pains, and Cautions
- 11.1 Avoiding the “Field of Dreams” Approach
- 11.2 Designing the Business Model
- 11.3 Conducting a Feasibility Analysis
- 12.1 Building and Connecting to Networks
- 12.2 Building the Entrepreneurial Dream Team
- 12.3 Designing a Startup Operational Plan
- 13.1 Business Structures: Overview of Legal and Tax Considerations
- 13.2 Corporations
- 13.3 Partnerships and Joint Ventures
- 13.4 Limited Liability Companies
- 13.5 Sole Proprietorships
- 13.6 Additional Considerations: Capital Acquisition, Business Domicile, and Technology
- 13.7 Mitigating and Managing Risks
- 14.1 Types of Resources
- 14.2 Using the PEST Framework to Assess Resource Needs
- 14.3 Managing Resources over the Venture Life Cycle
- 15.1 Launching Your Venture
- 15.2 Making Difficult Business Decisions in Response to Challenges
- 15.3 Seeking Help or Support
- 15.4 Now What? Serving as a Mentor, Consultant, or Champion
- 15.5 Reflections: Documenting the Journey
- A | Suggested Resources
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Describe the different purposes of a business plan
- Describe and develop the components of a brief business plan
- Describe and develop the components of a full business plan
Unlike the brief or lean formats introduced so far, the business plan is a formal document used for the long-range planning of a company’s operation. It typically includes background information, financial information, and a summary of the business. Investors nearly always request a formal business plan because it is an integral part of their evaluation of whether to invest in a company. Although nothing in business is permanent, a business plan typically has components that are more “set in stone” than a business model canvas , which is more commonly used as a first step in the planning process and throughout the early stages of a nascent business. A business plan is likely to describe the business and industry, market strategies, sales potential, and competitive analysis, as well as the company’s long-term goals and objectives. An in-depth formal business plan would follow at later stages after various iterations to business model canvases. The business plan usually projects financial data over a three-year period and is typically required by banks or other investors to secure funding. The business plan is a roadmap for the company to follow over multiple years.
Some entrepreneurs prefer to use the canvas process instead of the business plan, whereas others use a shorter version of the business plan, submitting it to investors after several iterations. There are also entrepreneurs who use the business plan earlier in the entrepreneurial process, either preceding or concurrently with a canvas. For instance, Chris Guillebeau has a one-page business plan template in his book The $100 Startup . 48 His version is basically an extension of a napkin sketch without the detail of a full business plan. As you progress, you can also consider a brief business plan (about two pages)—if you want to support a rapid business launch—and/or a standard business plan.
As with many aspects of entrepreneurship, there are no clear hard and fast rules to achieving entrepreneurial success. You may encounter different people who want different things (canvas, summary, full business plan), and you also have flexibility in following whatever tool works best for you. Like the canvas, the various versions of the business plan are tools that will aid you in your entrepreneurial endeavor.
Business Plan Overview
Most business plans have several distinct sections ( Figure 11.16 ). The business plan can range from a few pages to twenty-five pages or more, depending on the purpose and the intended audience. For our discussion, we’ll describe a brief business plan and a standard business plan. If you are able to successfully design a business model canvas, then you will have the structure for developing a clear business plan that you can submit for financial consideration.
Both types of business plans aim at providing a picture and roadmap to follow from conception to creation. If you opt for the brief business plan, you will focus primarily on articulating a big-picture overview of your business concept.
The full business plan is aimed at executing the vision concept, dealing with the proverbial devil in the details. Developing a full business plan will assist those of you who need a more detailed and structured roadmap, or those of you with little to no background in business. The business planning process includes the business model, a feasibility analysis, and a full business plan, which we will discuss later in this section. Next, we explore how a business plan can meet several different needs.
Purposes of a Business Plan
A business plan can serve many different purposes—some internal, others external. As we discussed previously, you can use a business plan as an internal early planning device, an extension of a napkin sketch, and as a follow-up to one of the canvas tools. A business plan can be an organizational roadmap , that is, an internal planning tool and working plan that you can apply to your business in order to reach your desired goals over the course of several years. The business plan should be written by the owners of the venture, since it forces a firsthand examination of the business operations and allows them to focus on areas that need improvement.
Refer to the business venture throughout the document. Generally speaking, a business plan should not be written in the first person.
A major external purpose for the business plan is as an investment tool that outlines financial projections, becoming a document designed to attract investors. In many instances, a business plan can complement a formal investor’s pitch. In this context, the business plan is a presentation plan, intended for an outside audience that may or may not be familiar with your industry, your business, and your competitors.
You can also use your business plan as a contingency plan by outlining some “what-if” scenarios and exploring how you might respond if these scenarios unfold. Pretty Young Professional launched in November 2010 as an online resource to guide an emerging generation of female leaders. The site focused on recent female college graduates and current students searching for professional roles and those in their first professional roles. It was founded by four friends who were coworkers at the global consultancy firm McKinsey. But after positions and equity were decided among them, fundamental differences of opinion about the direction of the business emerged between two factions, according to the cofounder and former CEO Kathryn Minshew . “I think, naively, we assumed that if we kicked the can down the road on some of those things, we’d be able to sort them out,” Minshew said. Minshew went on to found a different professional site, The Muse , and took much of the editorial team of Pretty Young Professional with her. 49 Whereas greater planning potentially could have prevented the early demise of Pretty Young Professional, a change in planning led to overnight success for Joshua Esnard and The Cut Buddy team. Esnard invented and patented the plastic hair template that he was selling online out of his Fort Lauderdale garage while working a full-time job at Broward College and running a side business. Esnard had hundreds of boxes of Cut Buddies sitting in his home when he changed his marketing plan to enlist companies specializing in making videos go viral. It worked so well that a promotional video for the product garnered 8 million views in hours. The Cut Buddy sold over 4,000 products in a few hours when Esnard only had hundreds remaining. Demand greatly exceeded his supply, so Esnard had to scramble to increase manufacturing and offered customers two-for-one deals to make up for delays. This led to selling 55,000 units, generating $700,000 in sales in 2017. 50 After appearing on Shark Tank and landing a deal with Daymond John that gave the “shark” a 20-percent equity stake in return for $300,000, The Cut Buddy has added new distribution channels to include retail sales along with online commerce. Changing one aspect of a business plan—the marketing plan—yielded success for The Cut Buddy.
Link to Learning
Watch this video of Cut Buddy’s founder, Joshua Esnard, telling his company’s story to learn more.
If you opt for the brief business plan, you will focus primarily on articulating a big-picture overview of your business concept. This version is used to interest potential investors, employees, and other stakeholders, and will include a financial summary “box,” but it must have a disclaimer, and the founder/entrepreneur may need to have the people who receive it sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) . The full business plan is aimed at executing the vision concept, providing supporting details, and would be required by financial institutions and others as they formally become stakeholders in the venture. Both are aimed at providing a picture and roadmap to go from conception to creation.
Types of Business Plans
The brief business plan is similar to an extended executive summary from the full business plan. This concise document provides a broad overview of your entrepreneurial concept, your team members, how and why you will execute on your plans, and why you are the ones to do so. You can think of a brief business plan as a scene setter or—since we began this chapter with a film reference—as a trailer to the full movie. The brief business plan is the commercial equivalent to a trailer for Field of Dreams , whereas the full plan is the full-length movie equivalent.
Brief Business Plan or Executive Summary
As the name implies, the brief business plan or executive summary summarizes key elements of the entire business plan, such as the business concept, financial features, and current business position. The executive summary version of the business plan is your opportunity to broadly articulate the overall concept and vision of the company for yourself, for prospective investors, and for current and future employees.
A typical executive summary is generally no longer than a page, but because the brief business plan is essentially an extended executive summary, the executive summary section is vital. This is the “ask” to an investor. You should begin by clearly stating what you are asking for in the summary.
In the business concept phase, you’ll describe the business, its product, and its markets. Describe the customer segment it serves and why your company will hold a competitive advantage. This section may align roughly with the customer segments and value-proposition segments of a canvas.
Next, highlight the important financial features, including sales, profits, cash flows, and return on investment. Like the financial portion of a feasibility analysis, the financial analysis component of a business plan may typically include items like a twelve-month profit and loss projection, a three- or four-year profit and loss projection, a cash-flow projection, a projected balance sheet, and a breakeven calculation. You can explore a feasibility study and financial projections in more depth in the formal business plan. Here, you want to focus on the big picture of your numbers and what they mean.
The current business position section can furnish relevant information about you and your team members and the company at large. This is your opportunity to tell the story of how you formed the company, to describe its legal status (form of operation), and to list the principal players. In one part of the extended executive summary, you can cover your reasons for starting the business: Here is an opportunity to clearly define the needs you think you can meet and perhaps get into the pains and gains of customers. You also can provide a summary of the overall strategic direction in which you intend to take the company. Describe the company’s mission, vision, goals and objectives, overall business model, and value proposition.
Rice University’s Student Business Plan Competition, one of the largest and overall best-regarded graduate school business-plan competitions (see Telling Your Entrepreneurial Story and Pitching the Idea ), requires an executive summary of up to five pages to apply. 51 , 52 Its suggested sections are shown in Table 11.2 .
Are You Ready?
Create a brief business plan.
Fill out a canvas of your choosing for a well-known startup: Uber, Netflix, Dropbox, Etsy, Airbnb, Bird/Lime, Warby Parker, or any of the companies featured throughout this chapter or one of your choice. Then create a brief business plan for that business. See if you can find a version of the company’s actual executive summary, business plan, or canvas. Compare and contrast your vision with what the company has articulated.
- These companies are well established but is there a component of what you charted that you would advise the company to change to ensure future viability?
- Map out a contingency plan for a “what-if” scenario if one key aspect of the company or the environment it operates in were drastically is altered?
Full Business Plan
Even full business plans can vary in length, scale, and scope. Rice University sets a ten-page cap on business plans submitted for the full competition. The IndUS Entrepreneurs , one of the largest global networks of entrepreneurs, also holds business plan competitions for students through its Tie Young Entrepreneurs program. In contrast, business plans submitted for that competition can usually be up to twenty-five pages. These are just two examples. Some components may differ slightly; common elements are typically found in a formal business plan outline. The next section will provide sample components of a full business plan for a fictional business.
The executive summary should provide an overview of your business with key points and issues. Because the summary is intended to summarize the entire document, it is most helpful to write this section last, even though it comes first in sequence. The writing in this section should be especially concise. Readers should be able to understand your needs and capabilities at first glance. The section should tell the reader what you want and your “ask” should be explicitly stated in the summary.
Describe your business, its product or service, and the intended customers. Explain what will be sold, who it will be sold to, and what competitive advantages the business has. Table 11.3 shows a sample executive summary for the fictional company La Vida Lola.
This section describes the industry, your product, and the business and success factors. It should provide a current outlook as well as future trends and developments. You also should address your company’s mission, vision, goals, and objectives. Summarize your overall strategic direction, your reasons for starting the business, a description of your products and services, your business model, and your company’s value proposition. Consider including the Standard Industrial Classification/North American Industry Classification System (SIC/NAICS) code to specify the industry and insure correct identification. The industry extends beyond where the business is located and operates, and should include national and global dynamics. Table 11.4 shows a sample business description for La Vida Lola.
Industry Analysis and Market Strategies
Here you should define your market in terms of size, structure, growth prospects, trends, and sales potential. You’ll want to include your TAM and forecast the SAM . (Both these terms are discussed in Conducting a Feasibility Analysis .) This is a place to address market segmentation strategies by geography, customer attributes, or product orientation. Describe your positioning relative to your competitors’ in terms of pricing, distribution, promotion plan, and sales potential. Table 11.5 shows an example industry analysis and market strategy for La Vida Lola.
The competitive analysis is a statement of the business strategy as it relates to the competition. You want to be able to identify who are your major competitors and assess what are their market shares, markets served, strategies employed, and expected response to entry? You likely want to conduct a classic SWOT analysis (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) and complete a competitive-strength grid or competitive matrix. Outline your company’s competitive strengths relative to those of the competition in regard to product, distribution, pricing, promotion, and advertising. What are your company’s competitive advantages and their likely impacts on its success? The key is to construct it properly for the relevant features/benefits (by weight, according to customers) and how the startup compares to incumbents. The competitive matrix should show clearly how and why the startup has a clear (if not currently measurable) competitive advantage. Some common features in the example include price, benefits, quality, type of features, locations, and distribution/sales. Sample templates are shown in Figure 11.17 and Figure 11.18 . A competitive analysis helps you create a marketing strategy that will identify assets or skills that your competitors are lacking so you can plan to fill those gaps, giving you a distinct competitive advantage. When creating a competitor analysis, it is important to focus on the key features and elements that matter to customers, rather than focusing too heavily on the entrepreneur’s idea and desires.
Operations and Management Plan
In this section, outline how you will manage your company. Describe its organizational structure. Here you can address the form of ownership and, if warranted, include an organizational chart/structure. Highlight the backgrounds, experiences, qualifications, areas of expertise, and roles of members of the management team. This is also the place to mention any other stakeholders, such as a board of directors or advisory board(s), and their relevant relationship to the founder, experience and value to help make the venture successful, and professional service firms providing management support, such as accounting services and legal counsel.
Table 11.6 shows a sample operations and management plan for La Vida Lola.
Here you should outline and describe an effective overall marketing strategy for your venture, providing details regarding pricing, promotion, advertising, distribution, media usage, public relations, and a digital presence. Fully describe your sales management plan and the composition of your sales force, along with a comprehensive and detailed budget for the marketing plan. Table 11.7 shows a sample marketing plan for La Vida Lola.
A financial plan seeks to forecast revenue and expenses; project a financial narrative; and estimate project costs, valuations, and cash flow projections. This section should present an accurate, realistic, and achievable financial plan for your venture (see Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting for detailed discussions about conducting these projections). Include sales forecasts and income projections, pro forma financial statements ( Building the Entrepreneurial Dream Team , a breakeven analysis, and a capital budget. Identify your possible sources of financing (discussed in Conducting a Feasibility Analysis ). Figure 11.19 shows a template of cash-flow needs for La Vida Lola.
Entrepreneur In Action
Laughing man coffee.
Hugh Jackman ( Figure 11.20 ) may best be known for portraying a comic-book superhero who used his mutant abilities to protect the world from villains. But the Wolverine actor is also working to make the planet a better place for real, not through adamantium claws but through social entrepreneurship.
A love of java jolted Jackman into action in 2009, when he traveled to Ethiopia with a Christian humanitarian group to shoot a documentary about the impact of fair-trade certification on coffee growers there. He decided to launch a business and follow in the footsteps of the late Paul Newman, another famous actor turned philanthropist via food ventures.
Jackman launched Laughing Man Coffee two years later; he sold the line to Keurig in 2015. One Laughing Man Coffee café in New York continues to operate independently, investing its proceeds into charitable programs that support better housing, health, and educational initiatives within fair-trade farming communities. 55 Although the New York location is the only café, the coffee brand is still distributed, with Keurig donating an undisclosed portion of Laughing Man proceeds to those causes (whereas Jackman donates all his profits). The company initially donated its profits to World Vision, the Christian humanitarian group Jackman accompanied in 2009. In 2017, it created the Laughing Man Foundation to be more active with its money management and distribution.
- You be the entrepreneur. If you were Jackman, would you have sold the company to Keurig? Why or why not?
- Would you have started the Laughing Man Foundation?
- What else can Jackman do to aid fair-trade practices for coffee growers?
What Can You Do?
Textbooks for change.
Founded in 2014, Textbooks for Change uses a cross-compensation model, in which one customer segment pays for a product or service, and the profit from that revenue is used to provide the same product or service to another, underserved segment. Textbooks for Change partners with student organizations to collect used college textbooks, some of which are re-sold while others are donated to students in need at underserved universities across the globe. The organization has reused or recycled 250,000 textbooks, providing 220,000 students with access through seven campus partners in East Africa. This B-corp social enterprise tackles a problem and offers a solution that is directly relevant to college students like yourself. Have you observed a problem on your college campus or other campuses that is not being served properly? Could it result in a social enterprise?
Work It Out
Franchisee set out.
A franchisee of East Coast Wings, a chain with dozens of restaurants in the United States, has decided to part ways with the chain. The new store will feature the same basic sports-bar-and-restaurant concept and serve the same basic foods: chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, and the like. The new restaurant can’t rely on the same distributors and suppliers. A new business plan is needed.
- What steps should the new restaurant take to create a new business plan?
- Should it attempt to serve the same customers? Why or why not?
This New York Times video, “An Unlikely Business Plan,” describes entrepreneurial resurgence in Detroit, Michigan.
- 48 Chris Guillebeau. The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future . New York: Crown Business/Random House, 2012.
- 49 Jonathan Chan. “What These 4 Startup Case Studies Can Teach You about Failure.” Foundr.com . July 12, 2015. https://foundr.com/4-startup-case-studies-failure/
- 50 Amy Feldman. “Inventor of the Cut Buddy Paid YouTubers to Spark Sales. He Wasn’t Ready for a Video to Go Viral.” Forbes. February 15, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestreptalks/2017/02/15/inventor-of-the-cut-buddy-paid-youtubers-to-spark-sales-he-wasnt-ready-for-a-video-to-go-viral/#3eb540ce798a
- 51 Jennifer Post. “National Business Plan Competitions for Entrepreneurs.” Business News Daily . August 30, 2018. https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6902-business-plan-competitions-entrepreneurs.html
- 52 “Rice Business Plan Competition, Eligibility Criteria and How to Apply.” Rice Business Plan Competition . March 2020. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2020%20RBPC%20Eligibility%20Criteria%20and%20How%20to%20Apply_23Oct19.pdf
- 53 “Rice Business Plan Competition, Eligibility Criteria and How to Apply.” Rice Business Plan Competition. March 2020. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2020%20RBPC%20Eligibility%20Criteria%20and%20How%20to%20Apply_23Oct19.pdf; Based on 2019 RBPC Competition Rules and Format April 4–6, 2019. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2019-RBPC-Competition-Rules%20-Format.pdf
- 54 Foodstart. http://foodstart.com
- 55 “Hugh Jackman Journey to Starting a Social Enterprise Coffee Company.” Giving Compass. April 8, 2018. https://givingcompass.org/article/hugh-jackman-journey-to-starting-a-social-enterprise-coffee-company/
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What is a Business Plan? Definition, Tips, and Templates
Published: June 07, 2023
In an era where more than 20% of small enterprises fail in their first year, having a clear, defined, and well-thought-out business plan is a crucial first step for setting up a business for long-term success.
Business plans are a required tool for all entrepreneurs, business owners, business acquirers, and even business school students. But … what exactly is a business plan?
In this post, we'll explain what a business plan is, the reasons why you'd need one, identify different types of business plans, and what you should include in yours.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a documented strategy for a business that highlights its goals and its plans for achieving them. It outlines a company's go-to-market plan, financial projections, market research, business purpose, and mission statement. Key staff who are responsible for achieving the goals may also be included in the business plan along with a timeline.
The business plan is an undeniably critical component to getting any company off the ground. It's key to securing financing, documenting your business model, outlining your financial projections, and turning that nugget of a business idea into a reality.
What is a business plan used for?
The purpose of a business plan is three-fold: It summarizes the organization’s strategy in order to execute it long term, secures financing from investors, and helps forecast future business demands.
Business Plan Template [ Download Now ]
Working on your business plan? Try using our Business Plan Template . Pre-filled with the sections a great business plan needs, the template will give aspiring entrepreneurs a feel for what a business plan is, what should be in it, and how it can be used to establish and grow a business from the ground up.
Purposes of a Business Plan
Chances are, someone drafting a business plan will be doing so for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Securing financing from investors.
Since its contents revolve around how businesses succeed, break even, and turn a profit, a business plan is used as a tool for sourcing capital. This document is an entrepreneur's way of showing potential investors or lenders how their capital will be put to work and how it will help the business thrive.
All banks, investors, and venture capital firms will want to see a business plan before handing over their money, and investors typically expect a 10% ROI or more from the capital they invest in a business.
Therefore, these investors need to know if — and when — they'll be making their money back (and then some). Additionally, they'll want to read about the process and strategy for how the business will reach those financial goals, which is where the context provided by sales, marketing, and operations plans come into play.
2. Documenting a company's strategy and goals.
A business plan should leave no stone unturned.
Business plans can span dozens or even hundreds of pages, affording their drafters the opportunity to explain what a business' goals are and how the business will achieve them.
To show potential investors that they've addressed every question and thought through every possible scenario, entrepreneurs should thoroughly explain their marketing, sales, and operations strategies — from acquiring a physical location for the business to explaining a tactical approach for marketing penetration.
These explanations should ultimately lead to a business' break-even point supported by a sales forecast and financial projections, with the business plan writer being able to speak to the why behind anything outlined in the plan.
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Fill out the form to access your free business plan., 3. legitimizing a business idea..
Everyone's got a great idea for a company — until they put pen to paper and realize that it's not exactly feasible.
A business plan is an aspiring entrepreneur's way to prove that a business idea is actually worth pursuing.
As entrepreneurs document their go-to-market process, capital needs, and expected return on investment, entrepreneurs likely come across a few hiccups that will make them second guess their strategies and metrics — and that's exactly what the business plan is for.
It ensures an entrepreneur's ducks are in a row before bringing their business idea to the world and reassures the readers that whoever wrote the plan is serious about the idea, having put hours into thinking of the business idea, fleshing out growth tactics, and calculating financial projections.
4. Getting an A in your business class.
Speaking from personal experience, there's a chance you're here to get business plan ideas for your Business 101 class project.
If that's the case, might we suggest checking out this post on How to Write a Business Plan — providing a section-by-section guide on creating your plan?
What does a business plan need to include?
- Business Plan Subtitle
- Executive Summary
- Company Description
- The Business Opportunity
- Competitive Analysis
- Target Market
- Marketing Plan
- Financial Summary
- Funding Requirements
1. Business Plan Subtitle
Every great business plan starts with a captivating title and subtitle. You’ll want to make it clear that the document is, in fact, a business plan, but the subtitle can help tell the story of your business in just a short sentence.
2. Executive Summary
Although this is the last part of the business plan that you’ll write, it’s the first section (and maybe the only section) that stakeholders will read. The executive summary of a business plan sets the stage for the rest of the document. It includes your company’s mission or vision statement, value proposition, and long-term goals.
3. Company Description
This brief part of your business plan will detail your business name, years in operation, key offerings, and positioning statement. You might even add core values or a short history of the company. The company description’s role in a business plan is to introduce your business to the reader in a compelling and concise way.
4. The Business Opportunity
The business opportunity should convince investors that your organization meets the needs of the market in a way that no other company can. This section explains the specific problem your business solves within the marketplace and how it solves them. It will include your value proposition as well as some high-level information about your target market.
5. Competitive Analysis
Just about every industry has more than one player in the market. Even if your business owns the majority of the market share in your industry or your business concept is the first of its kind, you still have competition. In the competitive analysis section, you’ll take an objective look at the industry landscape to determine where your business fits. A SWOT analysis is an organized way to format this section.
6. Target Market
Who are the core customers of your business and why? The target market portion of your business plan outlines this in detail. The target market should explain the demographics, psychographics, behavioristics, and geographics of the ideal customer.
7. Marketing Plan
Marketing is expansive, and it’ll be tempting to cover every type of marketing possible, but a brief overview of how you’ll market your unique value proposition to your target audience, followed by a tactical plan will suffice.
Think broadly and narrow down from there: Will you focus on a slow-and-steady play where you make an upfront investment in organic customer acquisition? Or will you generate lots of quick customers using a pay-to-play advertising strategy? This kind of information should guide the marketing plan section of your business plan.
8. Financial Summary
Money doesn’t grow on trees and even the most digital, sustainable businesses have expenses. Outlining a financial summary of where your business is currently and where you’d like it to be in the future will substantiate this section. Consider including any monetary information that will give potential investors a glimpse into the financial health of your business. Assets, liabilities, expenses, debt, investments, revenue, and more are all useful adds here.
So, you’ve outlined some great goals, the business opportunity is valid, and the industry is ready for what you have to offer. Who’s responsible for turning all this high-level talk into results? The "team" section of your business plan answers that question by providing an overview of the roles responsible for each goal. Don’t worry if you don’t have every team member on board yet, knowing what roles to hire for is helpful as you seek funding from investors.
10. Funding Requirements
Remember that one of the goals of a business plan is to secure funding from investors, so you’ll need to include funding requirements you’d like them to fulfill. The amount your business needs, for what reasons, and for how long will meet the requirement for this section.
Types of Business Plans
- Startup Business Plan
- Feasibility Business Plan
- Internal Business Plan
- Strategic Business Plan
- Business Acquisition Plan
- Business Repositioning Plan
- Expansion or Growth Business Plan
There’s no one size fits all business plan as there are several types of businesses in the market today. From startups with just one founder to historic household names that need to stay competitive, every type of business needs a business plan that’s tailored to its needs. Below are a few of the most common types of business plans.
For even more examples, check out these sample business plans to help you write your own .
1. Startup Business Plan
As one of the most common types of business plans, a startup business plan is for new business ideas. This plan lays the foundation for the eventual success of a business.
The biggest challenge with the startup business plan is that it’s written completely from scratch. Startup business plans often reference existing industry data. They also explain unique business strategies and go-to-market plans.
Because startup business plans expand on an original idea, the contents will vary by the top priority goals.
For example, say a startup is looking for funding. If capital is a priority, this business plan might focus more on financial projections than marketing or company culture.
2. Feasibility Business Plan
This type of business plan focuses on a single essential aspect of the business — the product or service. It may be part of a startup business plan or a standalone plan for an existing organization. This comprehensive plan may include:
- A detailed product description
- Market analysis
- Technology needs
- Production needs
- Financial sources
- Production operations
According to CBInsights research, 35% of startups fail because of a lack of market need. Another 10% fail because of mistimed products.
Some businesses will complete a feasibility study to explore ideas and narrow product plans to the best choice. They conduct these studies before completing the feasibility business plan. Then the feasibility plan centers on that one product or service.
3. Internal Business Plan
Internal business plans help leaders communicate company goals, strategy, and performance. This helps the business align and work toward objectives more effectively.
Besides the typical elements in a startup business plan, an internal business plan may also include:
- Department-specific budgets
- Target demographic analysis
- Market size and share of voice analysis
- Action plans
- Sustainability plans
Most external-facing business plans focus on raising capital and support for a business. But an internal business plan helps keep the business mission consistent in the face of change.
4. Strategic Business Plan
Strategic business plans focus on long-term objectives for your business. They usually cover the first three to five years of operations. This is different from the typical startup business plan which focuses on the first one to three years. The audience for this plan is also primarily internal stakeholders.
These types of business plans may include:
- Relevant data and analysis
- Assessments of company resources
- Vision and mission statements
It's important to remember that, while many businesses create a strategic plan before launching, some business owners just jump in. So, this business plan can add value by outlining how your business plans to reach specific goals. This type of planning can also help a business anticipate future challenges.
5. Business Acquisition Plan
Investors use business plans to acquire existing businesses, too — not just new businesses.
A business acquisition plan may include costs, schedules, or management requirements. This data will come from an acquisition strategy.
A business plan for an existing company will explain:
- How an acquisition will change its operating model
- What will stay the same under new ownership
- Why things will change or stay the same
- Acquisition planning documentation
- Timelines for acquisition
Additionally, the business plan should speak to the current state of the business and why it's up for sale.
For example, if someone is purchasing a failing business, the business plan should explain why the business is being purchased. It should also include:
- What the new owner will do to turn the business around
- Historic business metrics
- Sales projections after the acquisition
- Justification for those projections
6. Business Repositioning Plan
When a business wants to avoid acquisition, reposition its brand, or try something new, CEOs or owners will develop a business repositioning plan.
This plan will:
- Acknowledge the current state of the company.
- State a vision for the future of the company.
- Explain why the business needs to reposition itself.
- Outline a process for how the company will adjust.
Companies planning for a business reposition often do so — proactively or retroactively — due to a shift in market trends and customer needs.
For example, shoe brand AllBirds plans to refocus its brand on core customers and shift its go-to-market strategy. These decisions are a reaction to lackluster sales following product changes and other missteps.
7. Expansion or Growth Business Plan
When your business is ready to expand, a growth business plan creates a useful structure for reaching specific targets.
For example, a successful business expanding into another location can use a growth business plan. This is because it may also mean the business needs to focus on a new target market or generate more capital.
This type of plan usually covers the next year or two of growth. It often references current sales, revenue, and successes. It may also include:
- SWOT analysis
- Growth opportunity studies
- Financial goals and plans
- Marketing plans
- Capability planning
These types of business plans will vary by business, but they can help businesses quickly rally around new priorities to drive growth.
Getting Started With Your Business Plan
At the end of the day, a business plan is simply an explanation of a business idea and why it will be successful. The more detail and thought you put into it, the more successful your plan — and the business it outlines — will be.
When writing your business plan, you’ll benefit from extensive research, feedback from your team or board of directors, and a solid template to organize your thoughts. If you need one of these, download HubSpot's Free Business Plan Template below to get started.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
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What Is a Business Plan? Definition and Planning Essentials Explained
Posted february 21, 2022 by kody wirth.
What is a business plan? It’s the roadmap for your business. The outline of your goals, objectives, and the steps you’ll take to get there. It describes the structure of your organization, how it operates, as well as the financial expectations and actual performance.
A business plan can help you explore ideas, successfully start a business, manage operations, and pursue growth. In short, a business plan is a lot of different things. It’s more than just a stack of paper and can be one of your most effective tools as a business owner.
Let’s explore the basics of business planning, the structure of a traditional plan, your planning options, and how you can use your plan to succeed.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a document that explains how your business operates. It summarizes your business structure, objectives, milestones, and financial performance. Again, it’s a guide that helps you, and anyone else, better understand how your business will succeed.
Why do you need a business plan?
The primary purpose of a business plan is to help you understand the direction of your business and the steps it will take to get there. Having a solid business plan can help you grow up to 30% faster and according to our own 2021 Small Business research working on a business plan increases confidence regarding business health—even in the midst of a crisis.
These benefits are directly connected to how writing a business plan makes you more informed and better prepares you for entrepreneurship. It helps you reduce risk and avoid pursuing potentially poor ideas. You’ll also be able to more easily uncover your business’s potential. By regularly returning to your plan you can understand what parts of your strategy are working and those that are not.
That just scratches the surface for why having a plan is valuable. Check out our full write-up for fifteen more reasons why you need a business plan .
What can you do with your plan?
So what can you do with a business plan once you’ve created it? It can be all too easy to write a plan and just let it be. Here are just a few ways you can leverage your plan to benefit your business.
Test an idea
Writing a plan isn’t just for those that are ready to start a business. It’s just as valuable for those that have an idea and want to determine if it’s actually possible or not. By writing a plan to explore the validity of an idea, you are working through the process of understanding what it would take to be successful.
The market and competitive research alone can tell you a lot about your idea. Is the marketplace too crowded? Is the solution you have in mind not really needed? Add in the exploration of milestones, potential expenses, and the sales needed to attain profitability and you can paint a pretty clear picture of the potential of your business.
Document your strategy and goals
For those starting or managing a business understanding where you’re going and how you’re going to get there are vital. Writing your plan helps you do that. It ensures that you are considering all aspects of your business, know what milestones you need to hit, and can effectively make adjustments if that doesn’t happen.
With a plan in place, you’ll have an idea of where you want your business to go as well as how you’ve performed in the past. This alone better prepares you to take on challenges, review what you’ve done before, and make the right adjustments.
Even if you do not intend to pursue funding right away, having a business plan will prepare you for it. It will ensure that you have all of the information necessary to submit a loan application and pitch to investors. So, rather than scrambling to gather documentation and write a cohesive plan once it’s relevant, you can instead keep your plan up-to-date and attempt to attain funding. Just add a use of funds report to your financial plan and you’ll be ready to go.
The benefits of having a plan don’t stop there. You can then use your business plan to help you manage the funding you receive. You’ll not only be able to easily track and forecast how you’ll use your funds but easily report on how it’s been used.
Better manage your business
A solid business plan isn’t meant to be something you do once and forget about. Instead, it should be a useful tool that you can regularly use to analyze performance, make strategic decisions, and anticipate future scenarios. It’s a document that you should regularly update and adjust as you go to better fit the actual state of your business.
Doing so makes it easier to understand what’s working and what’s not. It helps you understand if you’re truly reaching your goals or if you need to make further adjustments. Having your plan in place makes that process quicker, more informative, and leaves you with far more time to actually spend running your business.
What should your business plan include?
The content and structure of your business plan should include anything that will help you use it effectively. That being said, there are some key elements that you should cover and that investors will expect to see.
The executive summary is a simple overview of your business and your overall plan. It should serve as a standalone document that provides enough detail for anyone—including yourself, team members, or investors—to fully understand your business strategy. Make sure to cover the problem you’re solving, a description of your product or service, your target market, organizational structure, a financial summary, and any necessary funding requirements.
This will be the first part of your plan but it’s easiest to write it after you’ve created your full plan.
Products & Services
When describing your products or services, you need to start by outlining the problem you’re solving and why what you offer is valuable. This is where you’ll also address current competition in the market and any competitive advantages your products or services bring to the table. Lastly, be sure to outline the steps or milestones that you’ll need to hit to successfully launch your business. If you’ve already hit some initial milestones, like taking pre-orders or early funding, be sure to include it here to further prove the validity of your business.
A market analysis is a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the current market you’re entering or competing in. It helps you understand the overall state and potential of the industry, who your ideal customers are, the positioning of your competition, and how you intend to position your own business. This helps you better explore the long-term trends of the market, what challenges to expect, and how you will need to initially introduce and even price your products or services.
Check out our full guide for how to conduct a market analysis in just four easy steps .
Marketing & sales
Here you detail how you intend to reach your target market. This includes your sales activities, general pricing plan, and the beginnings of your marketing strategy. If you have any branding elements, sample marketing campaigns, or messaging available—this is the place to add it.
Additionally, it may be wise to include a SWOT analysis that demonstrates your business or specific product/service position. This will showcase how you intend to leverage sales and marketing channels to deal with competitive threats and take advantage of any opportunities.
Check out our full write-up to learn how to create a cohesive marketing strategy for your business.
Organization & management
This section addresses the legal structure of your business, your current team, and any gaps that need to be filled. Depending on your business type and longevity, you’ll also need to include your location, ownership information, and business history. Basically, add any information that helps explain your organizational structure and how you operate. This section is particularly important for pitching to investors but should be included even if attempted funding is not in your immediate future.
Possibly the most important piece of your plan, your financials section is vital for showcasing the viability of your business. It also helps you establish a baseline to measure against and makes it easier to make ongoing strategic decisions as your business grows. This may seem complex on the surface, but it can be far easier than you think.
Focus on building solid forecasts, keep your categories simple, and lean on assumptions. You can always return to this section to add more details and refine your financial statements as you operate.
Here are the statements you should include in your financial plan:
- Sales and revenue projections
- Profit and loss statement
- Cash flow statement
- Balance sheet
The appendix is where you add additional detail, documentation, or extended notes that support the other sections of your plan. Don’t worry about adding this section at first and only add documentation that you think will be beneficial for anyone reading your plan.
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. So, 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.
This type of business plan follows the outline above and can be anywhere from 10-50 pages depending on the amount of detail included, the complexity of your business, and what you include in your appendix. We recommend only starting with this business plan format if you plan to immediately pursue funding and already have a solid handle on your business information.
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 structure 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. This is really best for those exploring their business idea for the first time, but keep in mind that it can be difficult to actually validate your idea this way as well as adapt it into a full plan.
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. It basically serves as a beefed-up pitch document and can be finished as quickly as the business model canvas.
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. This plan type is useful for those exploring ideas, needing to validate their business model, or who need an internal plan to help them run and manage their business.
Now, the option that we here at LivePlan recommend is the Lean Plan . This 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 stable through times of crisis.
It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.
Try the LivePlan Method for Lean Business Planning
Now that you know the basics of business planning, it’s time to get started. Again we recommend leveraging a Lean Plan for a faster, easier, and far more useful planning process.
To get familiar with the Lean Plan format, you can download our free Lean Plan template . However, if you want to elevate your ability to create and use your lean plan even further, you may want to explore LivePlan.
It features step-by-step guidance that ensures you cover everything necessary while reducing the time spent on formatting and presenting. You’ll also gain access to financial forecasting tools that propel you through the process. Finally, it will transform your plan into a management tool that will help you easily compare your forecasts to your actual results.
Check out how LivePlan streamlines Lean Planning by downloading our Kickstart Your Business ebook .
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9 Most Important Elements & Components of a Business Plan
What are the elements a business plan ? What are the components of a business plan? What makes a business plan attractive to investors, bankers and VCs? Well, you are going to find out in this article. From my experience as an entrepreneur and investor, I can confidently say that all business plans are not equal.
Investors and VCs are so used to being pitched almost on daily basis; in fact, they have tons of business plans to look at every day but what most people don’t know is that investors or VCs have limited time; hence they can decide if your business plan is worth it in less than five minutes.
Now what components and elements are VCs or investors looking to see in your business plan? What are the exact elements that hold their interest? I will share that with you.
Why These Components are Important in a Business Plan
The elements and components of a business plan are necessary tools or guide line which a good business man should be equipped with before starting a business. A good business plan is a blue print or a vision of the company. The elements and components of a business plan are also important so that regardless of the challenges and crises your business faces in the future; it will not falter or panic in the face of adversity.
The elements and components of a business plan enable business partners to confidently adjust to the times as smoothly as possible even with the onslaught of competition and emerging new businesses and markets.
9 Elements and Components of a Business Plan
The executive summary gives the outline of the plan’s key sections like your company’s mission and vision, brand profile, target markets, product and services, competition, marketing strategy and financial aspects. A good executive summary is engaging and brief, with just the first two pages convincing the reader to read on the entire business plan. In fact, your executive summary is the predominant factor that determines if your business plan will be read or dumped in the trash bin.
The Company description provides the profile of your company, its history, its drivers, what it does and how it operates. It is the company’s mission statement which is supposedly brief and direct to the point stating its purpose for business.
The target market section identifies in detail; the customers of your company, the brands and the products . This identification of target market will very much affect other operations in the company like marketing, manufacturing and the likes.
It is important for market profiles to be specific because the success of the company will rely largely on how much this target market’s needs are identified and met. At this point, it is very important that you answer the following questions:
- Who are the customers of the company?
- What value does the company give to its customers?
- How does the company help its customers achieve such value?
The Competition Situation
Another important element of a good business plan is the competition analysis. To write a good business plan and successfully launch your startup, you must identify the competition of the business. This goes beyond the profiles of such competing companies and brands. It should also include their strengths and weaknesses.
This is where the need for a SWOT analysis comes into play. It is important to have a clear view of what the business is up against, so as not to be complacent. This section should be able to identify primary and secondary competitions, the difference between their value propositions from your company’s own value proposition, and the company’s competitive advantages and disadvantages.
Your Marketing strategy is another component of a business plan that addresses the five P’s of marketing; which are: product, price, person, place and promotion . Your company may have a good product but without an effective marketing strategy, everything is futile. To develop a good marketing strategy and plan, you need to answer the following questions:
- What are you selling?
- How much does it cost?
- What is the target market?
- How will the products be distributed?
- How will the target market know and be lured to the buy the products?
Yet another part of the elements and components of a business plan is the Operations segment, which describes the work flow of the business. It may not be detailed in the business plan but it should nonetheless have a structured view of the company’s working process.
Management and Organizational Structure
Management and organization identifies the organizational structure of your company including the key managers. This part is very important especially in terms of seeking capital because investors will be interested in the background of the company’s management team and their corresponding salary scale.
Long-term development is another critical component of a business plan. It shows in detail, the long term plans of your company by considering its future profits and growth. It provides a timetable for these plans as well as the sensitivity or risk factors. This part of the plan provides visual graphs of what the business will be like one, three, five or more years from now.
Lastly, the elements and components of a business plan would not be complete without the financials. This part has a clear view of the financial projections of the company for the first few years of the business. This part includes income statements, anticipated profits, cash flow analysis and break-even analysis .
In conclusion , I want you to know that one of the underlying factor that makes a strong business plan is your “ being precise or specific ” with the details. Investors are busy people, so respect their time and hit the nail of the head but be sure you don’t omit important details or information.
- Go to Chapter 5: P reparing Yourself for the Business Planning Process
- Chapter 3 : Understanding the Difference Between a Business Plan and a Strategic Plan
- Go Back to Introduction and Table of Content
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6 essential elements of a good business plan
Entrepreneurs, executives and venture capitalists discuss how to craft a business plan that will impress investors and be a good road map for your company.
Whether you are just starting out and need startup investment or are looking to expand your business and raise capital, a business plan is a must. Indeed, a business plan is not only essential if you want to get people to invest in your idea, it can help you articulate what it is you hope to accomplish with your business – your mission, goal(s) and values – and plot the company’s growth trajectory.
However, to be successful, a business plan cannot just be a bulleted list of an entrepreneur’s thoughts and musings, hopes and dreams. It needs to be a serious business document with the following six elements.
1. Executive summary
“An executive summary is the ‘elevator pitch’ of your business plan,” explains David Mercer, founder, SME Pals , a blog dedicated to helping entrepreneurs. “More often than not, landing a new investor relies on hooking them with a great elevator pitch. Without grabbing their attention, your business plan, no matter how well researched and presented, may not stand out enough.”
The executive summary should, in brief, describe the “problem you are going to solve, and why that problem needs to be solved right now,” by you, says Peter Arvai, CEO, Prezi presentation software. “If you aren’t able to communicate that deeper purpose to others, you will have a very hard time convincing investors to fund your idea and people to join your team.”
Tip: Write the Executive Summary last, after you’ve done all your research and put everything down on paper.
[ Related: 12 tips for creating a must-read business blog ]
2. Description and bios of your leadership/executive team
“The entrepreneur should clearly demonstrate what they are bringing to this venture – the idea, the technical ability or the passion,” says Hossein Rahnama, founder & CEO, Flybits . “Investors want to understand how you will execute using your personal strength.”
You should also “talk about the leadership team,” says Andrew Witkin, CEO, StickerYou . “If the leadership team has a previous track record of building and delivering businesses, this should be highlighted. Business plans serve multiple purposes, but one of them is to build trust, and the team is as important as the product to potential investors and partners.”
“Investors bet on jockeys, not horses, and knowing about who will execute on an idea is key to an investor making an investment decision,” says Richard J. Foster, president, Foster Management & Holdings. “Very frequently I’ll see multiple companies with the same idea, but the one to invest in is the one with the team who has the experience and the credentials to succeed. Having the best idea with the wrong team is a recipe for failure, but proving that your team is the [right] one to execute [your idea] can make all of the difference.”
3. Description of your product(s) or service(s)
“When developing a business plan, it’s crucial to clearly [explain] the need your product or service is trying to address,” says Elena Filimonova, senior vice president, global marketing and strategy, CGS . “Your business plan should highlight how the product or service will address the need, what is unique about your offering and why it would be difficult to replicate. To do this, you should outline key differentiators, features and why the product or service is something that stands out in the market.”
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4. Market/competitive analysis
“Every business plan should have a section that defines the target sales market – who you are selling to,” says Victor Clarke, owner, Clarke Inc. “This is the part that requires considerable research into areas such as industry sales data related to the service or product you are selling and trends within the industry. You should look at competitors and see who they are targeting, look at your current customer base and create a profile of an ideal customer or client for your product.”
“For a business plan to be effective and attractive to investors and partners, you must be able to provide tangible data and information that supports the notion that your demographic is strong and growing, and that market trends support the continued need for your service or product offering,” says Brock Murray, cofounder & COO, seoplus+ .
[ Related: 7 attributes of a successful CMO in the digital age ]
“Sequoia Capital has a great framework that every business plan should use: separate your Total Addressable Market (everyone who conceivably needs your product category), Serviceable Addressable Market (everyone who needs your specific product or service, limited by factors like where you can do business) and Serviceable Obtainable Market (the portion of the market you can realistically capture),” says Christopher S. Penn, vice president, Marketing Technology, SHIFT Communications . “For example, lots of companies say everyone is a customer, and while that may be a TAM, if the company has only one salesperson, their SOM is significantly smaller. VCs and investors especially want to understand what’s realistically obtainable, and splitting out your addressable markets… shows them you’re not just presenting pipe dreams.”
Also be sure to “include a competitive analysis section,” says Bryan Robertson, founder & chief revenue officer, Mindyra . “Every business has competition, so it’s a good idea to research companies in your industry who are fighting for the same customers. You should include specific details about their strengths and weaknesses. This forces you to become very familiar with your market. It also encourages you to think of ways to differentiate your business [from] the competition.”
5. Financials (how much cash you need and when you’ll pay it back)
“Make sure that the plan goes into exacting detail about how much startup capital will be needed, where it will come from and how it will be paid back,” says Bruce Stetar, executive director, Graduate Business Programs, SNHU . “Equal importance should be given to how you [plan to] pay back capital as how you acquire it. Investors want to know when they will see a return. Failing to plan adequately for capital acquisition and payback is one of the chief reasons that new businesses fail.”
“Whether you’re hoping to receive funding to build a brick-and-mortar shop or a technology venture, you must have your numbers straight,” says Erica Swallow, founder & CEO, Southern Swallow . “For tech entrepreneurs, I’m a big fan of the startup financial model template developed by startup investor David Teten, in collaboration with a couple of colleagues. Based in a nearly fully-automated Excel worksheet, it enables early-stage entrepreneurs to map out their financial plan, without being too overwhelming. It’s the best startup financial model I’ve encountered over the past five years.”
6. Marketing plan
“It is critical to have a plan [for] how you are going to spend your marketing budget,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation . “Assess different options (paid search, salespeople, flyers, [social media], etc.) and the associated ROI with each.”
“The plan should cover both sales and advertising strategies and costs,” says Stetar, as well as customer acquisition costs. “Be conservative here since you will look good if your over achieve but it will cost you investor confidence if you under achieve.”
A successful business plan is one is easy to read and follow
You need to make your business plan easy to read and follow. “There’s nothing more daunting than to receive an all-text business plan, 30 pages in length,” says Swallow. “Keep your potential investors engaged by including product and user photos, team headshots, colorful headings, financial graphs, charts, tables, anything to make reading more of a pleasure. Even bullet points help.”
Indeed, “don’t underestimate the importance of visuals,” says Arvai. “Researchers have found that presentations using visual aids are, on average, 43 percent more persuasive than those without.”
Finally, before you go public with your plan, “have trusted mentors and expert peers look over it [and give you] their feedback,” says Sam Lundin, CEO, Vimbly . “Having [someone] review your business plan [before you present it to investors] is crucial.”
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The 5 Key Elements Of A Good Business Plan
22 January 2020
Although some Founders are sceptical about planning too far ahead for their businesses, preparing a solid business plan is necessary for many purposes.
As any founder knows, the only sure thing about running a growing company is change.
In fact, your business plan is perhaps the thing that will change most often throughout your entrepreneurial journey.
Although some Founders are sceptical about planning too far ahead for their businesses, preparing a solid business plan is necessary for many purposes, including, but not limited to:
- Raising finance through investment;
- Applying for a business loan;
- Budgeting for the long and short term;
- Gaining a deeper understanding of how your business works.
Perhaps even more important than preparing a business plan, is making sure that this is updated for each of the small and big changes that your company will go through as it grows and evolves.
Different companies require different types of business plan. Depending on your business model, your revenue structure and many other factors.
However, there are 5 elements of a business plan that are absolutely key to making sure that the reader understands how your company works and plans on growing.
Download our editable Business Plan Template
It includes a complete structure , detailed instructions on how to write each section and tips on how to tweak it for each specific use .
1. Executive Summary
The Executive Summary represents the reader’s first impression of your business
The Executive Summary is the first section of your business plan, and also the last one you should write. It represents the reader’s first impression of your business . As a result, it will likely define their opinion as they continue reading the business plan.
A good Executive Summary includes key facts about your business such as:
- Business & product description;
- Current positioning & targeting;
- Financial outlook & requirements;
- Past and future achievements & goals.
However, the most important function that a great Executive Summary serves is communicating to the reader why they should read the rest of the business plan , and why you want them to.
2. Business Overview
After the Executive Summary, a business plan starts with a comprehensive explanation of what your business proposition is and how it relates to the market where your company operates.
In this section of the business plan, you should explain precisely:
- what your company does;
- what are its products or services;
- in which market it operates;
- who are its customers.
When describing your business, you should make sure to that the reader knows what kind of market environment your business operates in, but also how it can thrive in such an environment from a competitive point of view.
For some very niche or particularly innovative sectors, this may mean that you need to inform the readers about specific market dynamics .
In these cases, make sure that you clarify what is considered ‘the industry standard ‘ in your sector, the selling points that current players are competing on and how your business is positioned relative to them.
Make sure to include:
- Your mission statement;
- The philosophy, vision and goals of your company;
- Your industry and target audience;
- The structure of your business, detailing your customers, suppliers, partners and competitors;
- Your products and services and the problem they solve;
- Unique Selling Point(s).
If the company already has a well-defined product or service, this section can be divided into Company Description and Products & Services .
3. Sales & Marketing Strategy
This section of the business plan requires a deep understanding of your market space and how your business positions itself within its niche and competes with existing players .
Within your Sales & Marketing strategy, you should outline:
- A definition of your target market – include its size, existing and emerging trends and your projected market share;
- An assessment of your market – this should summarise how attractive your target market is to your company and why, Porter’s Five Forces or the more recent Six Forces Model are useful tools to define this;
- Threats & Opportunities – you can use a SWOT Analysis to present these;
- Product/Service Features – once you have thoroughly described your product/service, make sure to highlight its Unique Selling Points, as well as any complementary offerings and after-sale services;
- Target Consumers – whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, it’s a good idea to include an ideal customer profile to describe exactly what niche(s) you are going to target;
- Key Competitors – research and analyse any other players inside or outside your market whose offering might compete with you directly or indirectly;
- Positioning – explain in a short paragraph how your company differentiates from your competitors and how it presents itself to your target niche;
- Marketing Plan & Budget – outline the marketing and advertising tactics you will use to promote your business, giving an overview of your brand and of the communication elements that support it;
- Pricing – explain how your pricing strategy fits within the competition and how it relates to your positioning;
A very common mistake that should be avoided is writing that you have no competition. Instead, you should show your efforts in researching your competitors and assessing how they could threaten your business .
4. Operations & Management
This section gives you the opportunity to explain to the reader how your company does things differently .
The people and processes that are allow your business to operate on a daily basis are the key to your competitive advantage . In fact, they help you build a better product, deliver it more efficiently or at a lower costs. Your Operations & Management must be able to successfully realise what you ‘promised’ in the previous sections.
Here, you must demonstrate how much you know about your business, so don’t leave out any relevant detail. Be concise but thorough, focus on two main points:
- Production or Service Delivery;
- Quality Control;
- Credit policies;
- Legal environment;
- Organisational Structure – this is an overview of all the people involved in your business and their position in relation to each other. You should detail the experience of the existing team, as well as the roles that haven’t been filled yet. Include advisors and non-executive directors . Investors and banks will also look at this section to get an idea of salary costs. As these are normally a significant cost centre, don’t overestimate your staff needs.
5. Financial Plan
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Your Financial Plan is possibly the most important element of your business plan . This is especially true if the business plan is aimed at investors or lenders.
This section includes projections, budgets and goals that are unique to each business. In particular, you should focus on explaining the assumptions on which you based your forecasts , more than on the forecasts themselves. Every good Financial Plan will include:
- 12-month Profit & Loss Projection – A month-by-month forecast of sales, operating costs, tax and profits for the following year. Sometimes three years.
- Cash Flow Statement & Forecast – This financial statement tracks the amount of cash that leaves or enters the business at any given time.
- Breakeven Analysis – This is a cornerstone of your business plan. Here you should show what level of projected sales allows the business to cover its costs.
- Capital Requirements – This point is fundamental as it shows investors what their money will be spent on. It should contain a summary of all the expenses for big purchases and day-to-day running costs.
The Financial Plan is usually followed by the Appendices. Here you should include detailed spreadsheets and calculations used to prepare the financial statements.
We help Founders write a solid business plan by supporting them with financial planning and forecasting .
Request a call to find out how we can help you.
The information available on this page is of a general nature and is not intended to provide specific advice to any individuals or entities. We work hard to ensure this information is accurate at the time of publishing, although there is no guarantee that such information is accurate at the time you read this. We recommend individuals and companies seek professional advice on their circumstances and matters.
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- The Basics of Writing a Business Plan
- The Benefits and Risks of Writing a Business Plan
- The Main Objectives of a Business Plan
- What to Include and Not Include in a Successful Business Plan
- The Top 4 Types of Business Plans
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Your Business Plan Deck
- 6 Tips for Making a Winning Business Presentation
- 12 Ways to Set Your Business Goals and Objectives
- 3 Key Things You Need to Know About Financing Your Business
- How to Use Your Business Plan Most Effectively
- How to Pitch Your Business Plan in 6 Minutes
- How to Fund Your Business With Angel Investors
- How to Assess the Potential of Your Business Idea
- How to Fund Your Business Through Friends and Family Loans and Crowdsourcing
- How to Fund Your Business Using Banks and Credit Unions
- How to Fund Your Business With an SBA Loan
- How to Fund Your Business With Bonds and Indirect Funding Sources
- How to Use Your Business Plan to Track Performance
- How to Make Your Business Plan Attractive to Prospective Partners
- When to Update Your Business Plan
- How to Fund Your Business With Venture Capital
- How to Raise Money With Your Business Plan's Executive Summary
- What Is Your Unique Selling Proposition? Use This Worksheet to Find Your Greatest Strength.
- How to Write the Management Team Section to Your Business Plan
- How to Create a Strategic Hiring Plan
- How to Write a Business Plan Executive Summary That Sells Your Idea
- How To Build a Team of Outside Experts for Your Business
- Use This Worksheet to Write a Product Description That Sells
- Customers and Investors Don't Want Products. They Want Solutions.
- Who Is Your Customer? 4 Questions to Ask.
- How to Determine the Barriers to Entry for Your Business
- How to Define Your Product and Set Your Prices
- How to Get Customers in Your Store and Drive Traffic to Your Website
- 5 Essential Elements of Your Industry Trends Plan
- How to Identify and Research Your Competition
- How to Identify Market Trends in Your Business Plan
- How to Effectively Promote Your Business to Customers and Investors
- How to Write an Operations Plan for Retail and Sales Businesses
- How to Write an Operations Plan for Manufacturers
- How to List Personel and Materials in Your Business Plan
- What Equipment and Facilities to Include in Your Business Plan
- What Technology to Include In Your Business Plan
- How to Write an Income Statement for Your Business Plan
- How to Make a Balance Sheet
- How to Make a Cash Flow Statement
- How to Use Financial Ratios to Understand the Health of Your Business
- How to Make Realistic Financial Forecasts
- How to Write a Letter of Introduction
- What To Put on the Cover Page of a Business Plan
- How to Format Your Business Plan
- 6 Steps to Getting Your Business Plan Seen
- The Best Ways to Follow Up on a Buisiness Plan
- The Best Books, Sites, Trade Associations and Resources to Get Your Business Funded and Running
- How to Hire the Right Business Plan Consultant
- Business Plan Lingo and Resources All Entrepreneurs Should Know
The Main Objectives of a Business Plan Here's what a business plan will reveal and how it can save you time and resources.
By Entrepreneur Staff • Oct 27, 2023
This is part 3 / 11 of Write Your Business Plan: Section 1: The Foundation of a Business Plan series.
You need to think of what you want and whether your plan's findings suggest you'll get it. For instance, is your objective to gain freedom from control by other people? If your plan shows that you'll have to take on several equity partners, each of whom will desire a chunk of ownership, you may need to come up with a business that does not require capital needs that are very intensive.
Perhaps you want a company that will let you do your work and get home at a reasonable hour, even a business you can start from home. There are so many options when it comes to starting a business, including the size, location, and, of course, the reason for existence. You will be able to determine all of these and so many more aspects of business with the help of your business plan. It forces you to think through all of the areas that form the main concept to the smallest details. This way you don't find yourself remembering at the last minute that your website is still not developed or that you still have most of your inventory in a warehouse and no way to ship it.
Clarify Your Future Outlook
It may seem odd to say that a business plan can't predict the future. What are all those projections and forecasts for if they are not attempts to predict the future? The fact is, no projection or forecast is really a hard-and-fast prediction of the future. Not even the French seer Nostradamus could tell you for sure how your business will be doing in five years. The best you can do is have a plan in which you logically and systematically attempt to show what will happen if a particular scenario occurs. That scenario has been determined by your research and analysis to be the most likely one of the many that may occur. But it's still just a probability, not a guarantee.
You can, however, use your research, sales forecasts, market trends, and competitive analysis to make well-thought-out predictions of how you see your business developing if you are able to follow a specified course. To some extent, you can create your future rather than simply trying to predict it by the decisions you make. For example, you may not have a multimillion-dollar business in ten years if you are trying to start and run a small family business. Your decision on growth would therefore factor into your predictions and the outcome.
There are all kinds of reasons why a venture capitalist, banker, or other investor may refuse to fund your company. It may be that there's no money to give out at the moment. It may be that the investor just backed a company very similar to your own and now wants something different. Perhaps the investor has just promised to back her brother-in-law's firm or is merely having a bad day and saying no to everything that crosses her desk. The point is that the quality of your plan may have little or nothing to do with your prospects of getting funded by a particular investor.
But what about the investment community as a whole? Surely if you show a well-prepared plan to a lot of people, someone will be willing to back you, right? Again, not necessarily. Communities, as well as people, are subject to fads, and your idea may be yesterday's fad. Conversely, it may be too far ahead of its time. It also may be an idea that comes about in a shaky economy or a saturated market. Timing is sometimes a factor that is out of your control.
The same is true of the availability of funds. At times, banks everywhere seem to clamp down on lending, refusing to back even clearly superior borrowers. In many countries, there is no network of venture capitalists to back fledgling companies.
A business plan cannot guarantee that you will raise all the money you need at any given time, especially during the startup phase. Even if you are successful in finding an investor, the odds are good that you won't get quite what you asked for. There may be a big difference in what you have to give up, such as majority ownership or control, to get the funds. Or you may be able to make minor adjustments if you cannot snare as large a chunk of cash as you want.
In a sense, a business plan used for seeking funding is part of a negotiation taking place between you and your prospective financial backers. The part of the plan where you describe your financial needs can be considered your opening bid in this negotiation. The other information it contains, from market research to management bios, can be considered supporting arguments. If you look at it that way, a business plan is an excellent opening bid. It's definite, comprehensive, and clear.
But it's still just a bid, and you know what happens to bids in negotiations. They get whittled away, the terms get changed, and, sometimes, the whole negotiation breaks down under the force of an ultimatum from one of the parties involved. Does this mean you should ask for a good deal more money than you actually need in your plan? Actually, that may not be the best strategy either. Investors who see a lot of plans are going to notice if you're asking for way too much money. Such a move stands a good chance of alienating those who might otherwise be enthusiastic backers of your plan. It's probably a better idea to ask for a little more than you think you can live with, plus slightly better terms than you really expect.
Identify Strengths and Weaknesses
A professional financier such as a bank loan officer or a venture capitalist will see literally hundreds of business plans in the course of a year. After this has gone on for several years, and the financier has backed some percentage of those plans and seen how events have turned out, he or she becomes very good at weeding out plans with inconsistencies or overblown projections and zeroing in on weaknesses, including some you'd probably rather not see highlighted.
If you've seen the television show Shark Tank , you'll understand how shrewd those individuals with the dollars can be. In short, most financiers are expert plan analyzers. You have little chance of fooling one of them with an overly optimistic or even downright dishonest plan. That doesn't mean you shouldn't make the best case you honestly can for your business. But the key word is "honestly."
You certainly shouldn't play down your strengths in a plan, but don't try to hide your weaknesses either. Intelligent, experienced financiers will see them anyway. Let's say you propose to open a small health food store at an address a block away from a Whole Foods. An investor who knows this fact but doesn't see any mention of it in your plan may suspect you've lost your senses—and who could blame her?
Now think about the effect if your plan notes the existence of that big grocery store. That gives you a chance to differentiate yourself explicitly, pointing out that you'll be dealing only in locally produced foods—which the superstore doesn't carry but many of its customers may want. Suddenly that high-volume operator becomes a helpful traffic builder, not a dangerous competitor.
So, recognize and deal appropriately with the weaknesses in your plan rather than sweeping them under the rug. If you do it right, this troubleshooting can become one of the strongest parts of the whole plan.
More in Write Your Business Plan
Section 1: the foundation of a business plan, section 2: putting your business plan to work, section 3: selling your product and team, section 4: marketing your business plan, section 5: organizing operations and finances, section 6: getting your business plan to investors.
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