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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.

is not a business plan

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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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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How to Write a Business Plan: Step-by-Step Guide + Examples

Determined female African-American entrepreneur scaling a mountain while wearing a large backpack. Represents the journey to starting and growing a business and needing to write a business plan to get there.

Noah Parsons

24 min. read

Updated March 18, 2024

Writing a business plan doesn’t have to be complicated. 

In this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn how to write a business plan that’s detailed enough to impress bankers and potential investors, while giving you the tools to start, run, and grow a successful business.

  • The basics of business planning

If you’re reading this guide, then you already know why you need a business plan . 

You understand that planning helps you: 

  • Raise money
  • Grow strategically
  • Keep your business on the right track 

As you start to write your plan, it’s useful to zoom out and remember what a business plan is .

At its core, a business plan is an overview of the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy: how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.

Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. These set sales goals, budget for expenses, and predict profits and cash flow. 

A good business plan is much more than just a document that you write once and forget about. It’s also a guide that helps you outline and achieve your goals. 

After completing your plan, you can use it as a management tool to track your progress toward your goals. Updating and adjusting your forecasts and budgets as you go is one of the most important steps you can take to run a healthier, smarter business. 

We’ll dive into how to use your plan later in this article.

There are many different types of plans , but we’ll go over the most common type here, which includes everything you need for an investor-ready plan. However, if you’re just starting out and are looking for something simpler—I recommend starting with a one-page business plan . It’s faster and easier to create. 

It’s also the perfect place to start if you’re just figuring out your idea, or need a simple strategic plan to use inside your business.

Dig deeper : How to write a one-page business plan

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  • What to include in your business plan

Executive summary

The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally just one to two pages. Most people write it last because it’s a summary of the complete business plan.

Ideally, the executive summary can act as a stand-alone document that covers the highlights of your detailed plan. 

In fact, it’s common for investors to ask only for the executive summary when evaluating your business. If they like what they see in the executive summary, they’ll often follow up with a request for a complete plan, a pitch presentation , or more in-depth financial forecasts .

Your executive summary should include:

  • A summary of the problem you are solving
  • A description of your product or service
  • An overview of your target market
  • A brief description of your team
  • A summary of your financials
  • Your funding requirements (if you are raising money)

Dig Deeper: How to write an effective executive summary

Products and services description

This is where you describe exactly what you’re selling, and how it solves a problem for your target market. The best way to organize this part of your plan is to start by describing the problem that exists for your customers. After that, you can describe how you plan to solve that problem with your product or service. 

This is usually called a problem and solution statement .

To truly showcase the value of your products and services, you need to craft a compelling narrative around your offerings. How will your product or service transform your customers’ lives or jobs? A strong narrative will draw in your readers.

This is also the part of the business plan to discuss any competitive advantages you may have, like specific intellectual property or patents that protect your product. If you have any initial sales, contracts, or other evidence that your product or service is likely to sell, include that information as well. It will show that your idea has traction , which can help convince readers that your plan has a high chance of success.

Market analysis

Your target market is a description of the type of people that you plan to sell to. You might even have multiple target markets, depending on your business. 

A market analysis is the part of your plan where you bring together all of the information you know about your target market. Basically, it’s a thorough description of who your customers are and why they need what you’re selling. You’ll also include information about the growth of your market and your industry .

Try to be as specific as possible when you describe your market. 

Include information such as age, income level, and location—these are what’s called “demographics.” If you can, also describe your market’s interests and habits as they relate to your business—these are “psychographics.” 

Related: Target market examples

Essentially, you want to include any knowledge you have about your customers that is relevant to how your product or service is right for them. With a solid target market, it will be easier to create a sales and marketing plan that will reach your customers. That’s because you know who they are, what they like to do, and the best ways to reach them.

Next, provide any additional information you have about your market. 

What is the size of your market ? Is the market growing or shrinking? Ideally, you’ll want to demonstrate that your market is growing over time, and also explain how your business is positioned to take advantage of any expected changes in your industry.

Dig Deeper: Learn how to write a market analysis

Competitive analysis

Part of defining your business opportunity is determining what your competitive advantage is. To do this effectively, you need to know as much about your competitors as your target customers. 

Every business has some form of competition. If you don’t think you have competitors, then explore what alternatives there are in the market for your product or service. 

For example: In the early years of cars, their main competition was horses. For social media, the early competition was reading books, watching TV, and talking on the phone.

A good competitive analysis fully lays out the competitive landscape and then explains how your business is different. Maybe your products are better made, or cheaper, or your customer service is superior. Maybe your competitive advantage is your location – a wide variety of factors can ultimately give you an advantage.

Dig Deeper: How to write a competitive analysis for your business plan

Marketing and sales plan

The marketing and sales plan covers how you will position your product or service in the market, the marketing channels and messaging you will use, and your sales tactics. 

The best place to start with a marketing plan is with a positioning statement . 

This explains how your business fits into the overall market, and how you will explain the advantages of your product or service to customers. You’ll use the information from your competitive analysis to help you with your positioning. 

For example: You might position your company as the premium, most expensive but the highest quality option in the market. Or your positioning might focus on being locally owned and that shoppers support the local economy by buying your products.

Once you understand your positioning, you’ll bring this together with the information about your target market to create your marketing strategy . 

This is how you plan to communicate your message to potential customers. Depending on who your customers are and how they purchase products like yours, you might use many different strategies, from social media advertising to creating a podcast. Your marketing plan is all about how your customers discover who you are and why they should consider your products and services. 

While your marketing plan is about reaching your customers—your sales plan will describe the actual sales process once a customer has decided that they’re interested in what you have to offer. 

If your business requires salespeople and a long sales process, describe that in this section. If your customers can “self-serve” and just make purchases quickly on your website, describe that process. 

A good sales plan picks up where your marketing plan leaves off. The marketing plan brings customers in the door and the sales plan is how you close the deal.

Together, these specific plans paint a picture of how you will connect with your target audience, and how you will turn them into paying customers.

Dig deeper: What to include in your sales and marketing plan

Business operations

The operations section describes the necessary requirements for your business to run smoothly. It’s where you talk about how your business works and what day-to-day operations look like. 

Depending on how your business is structured, your operations plan may include elements of the business like:

  • Supply chain management
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Equipment and technology
  • Distribution

Some businesses distribute their products and reach their customers through large retailers like Amazon.com, Walmart, Target, and grocery store chains. 

These businesses should review how this part of their business works. The plan should discuss the logistics and costs of getting products onto store shelves and any potential hurdles the business may have to overcome.

If your business is much simpler than this, that’s OK. This section of your business plan can be either extremely short or more detailed, depending on the type of business you are building.

For businesses selling services, such as physical therapy or online software, you can use this section to describe the technology you’ll leverage, what goes into your service, and who you will partner with to deliver your services.

Dig Deeper: Learn how to write the operations chapter of your plan

Key milestones and metrics

Although it’s not required to complete your business plan, mapping out key business milestones and the metrics can be incredibly useful for measuring your success.

Good milestones clearly lay out the parameters of the task and set expectations for their execution. You’ll want to include:

  • A description of each task
  • The proposed due date
  • Who is responsible for each task

If you have a budget, you can include projected costs to hit each milestone. You don’t need extensive project planning in this section—just list key milestones you want to hit and when you plan to hit them. This is your overall business roadmap. 

Possible milestones might be:

  • Website launch date
  • Store or office opening date
  • First significant sales
  • Break even date
  • Business licenses and approvals

You should also discuss the key numbers you will track to determine your success. Some common metrics worth tracking include:

  • Conversion rates
  • Customer acquisition costs
  • Profit per customer
  • Repeat purchases

It’s perfectly fine to start with just a few metrics and grow the number you are tracking over time. You also may find that some metrics simply aren’t relevant to your business and can narrow down what you’re tracking.

Dig Deeper: How to use milestones in your business plan

Organization and management team

Investors don’t just look for great ideas—they want to find great teams. Use this chapter to describe your current team and who you need to hire . You should also provide a quick overview of your location and history if you’re already up and running.

Briefly highlight the relevant experiences of each key team member in the company. It’s important to make the case for why yours is the right team to turn an idea into a reality. 

Do they have the right industry experience and background? Have members of the team had entrepreneurial successes before? 

If you still need to hire key team members, that’s OK. Just note those gaps in this section.

Your company overview should also include a summary of your company’s current business structure . The most common business structures include:

  • Sole proprietor
  • Partnership

Be sure to provide an overview of how the business is owned as well. Does each business partner own an equal portion of the business? How is ownership divided? 

Potential lenders and investors will want to know the structure of the business before they will consider a loan or investment.

Dig Deeper: How to write about your company structure and team

Financial plan

Last, but certainly not least, is your financial plan chapter. 

Entrepreneurs often find this section the most daunting. But, business financials for most startups are less complicated than you think, and a business degree is certainly not required to build a solid financial forecast. 

A typical financial forecast in a business plan includes the following:

  • Sales forecast : An estimate of the sales expected over a given period. You’ll break down your forecast into the key revenue streams that you expect to have.
  • Expense budget : Your planned spending such as personnel costs , marketing expenses, and taxes.
  • Profit & Loss : Brings together your sales and expenses and helps you calculate planned profits.
  • Cash Flow : Shows how cash moves into and out of your business. It can predict how much cash you’ll have on hand at any given point in the future.
  • Balance Sheet : A list of the assets, liabilities, and equity in your company. In short, it provides an overview of the financial health of your business. 

A strong business plan will include a description of assumptions about the future, and potential risks that could impact the financial plan. Including those will be especially important if you’re writing a business plan to pursue a loan or other investment.

Dig Deeper: How to create financial forecasts and budgets

This is the place for additional data, charts, or other information that supports your plan.

Including an appendix can significantly enhance the credibility of your plan by showing readers that you’ve thoroughly considered the details of your business idea, and are backing your ideas up with solid data.

Just remember that the information in the appendix is meant to be supplementary. Your business plan should stand on its own, even if the reader skips this section.

Dig Deeper : What to include in your business plan appendix

Optional: Business plan cover page

Adding a business plan cover page can make your plan, and by extension your business, seem more professional in the eyes of potential investors, lenders, and partners. It serves as the introduction to your document and provides necessary contact information for stakeholders to reference.

Your cover page should be simple and include:

  • Company logo
  • Business name
  • Value proposition (optional)
  • Business plan title
  • Completion and/or update date
  • Address and contact information
  • Confidentiality statement

Just remember, the cover page is optional. If you decide to include it, keep it very simple and only spend a short amount of time putting it together.

Dig Deeper: How to create a business plan cover page

How to use AI to help write your business plan

Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can speed up the business plan writing process and help you think through concepts like market segmentation and competition. These tools are especially useful for taking ideas that you provide and converting them into polished text for your business plan.

The best way to use AI for your business plan is to leverage it as a collaborator , not a replacement for human creative thinking and ingenuity. 

AI can come up with lots of ideas and act as a brainstorming partner. It’s up to you to filter through those ideas and figure out which ones are realistic enough to resonate with your customers. 

There are pros and cons of using AI to help with your business plan . So, spend some time understanding how it can be most helpful before just outsourcing the job to AI.

Learn more: 10 AI prompts you need to write a business plan

  • Writing tips and strategies

To help streamline the business plan writing process, here are a few tips and key questions to answer to make sure you get the most out of your plan and avoid common mistakes .  

Determine why you are writing a business plan

Knowing why you are writing a business plan will determine your approach to your planning project. 

For example: If you are writing a business plan for yourself, or just to use inside your own business , you can probably skip the section about your team and organizational structure. 

If you’re raising money, you’ll want to spend more time explaining why you’re looking to raise the funds and exactly how you will use them.

Regardless of how you intend to use your business plan , think about why you are writing and what you’re trying to get out of the process before you begin.

Keep things concise

Probably the most important tip is to keep your business plan short and simple. There are no prizes for long business plans . The longer your plan is, the less likely people are to read it. 

So focus on trimming things down to the essentials your readers need to know. Skip the extended, wordy descriptions and instead focus on creating a plan that is easy to read —using bullets and short sentences whenever possible.

Have someone review your business plan

Writing a business plan in a vacuum is never a good idea. Sometimes it’s helpful to zoom out and check if your plan makes sense to someone else. You also want to make sure that it’s easy to read and understand.

Don’t wait until your plan is “done” to get a second look. Start sharing your plan early, and find out from readers what questions your plan leaves unanswered. This early review cycle will help you spot shortcomings in your plan and address them quickly, rather than finding out about them right before you present your plan to a lender or investor.

If you need a more detailed review, you may want to explore hiring a professional plan writer to thoroughly examine it.

Use a free business plan template and business plan examples to get started

Knowing what information you need to cover in a business plan sometimes isn’t quite enough. If you’re struggling to get started or need additional guidance, it may be worth using a business plan template. 

If you’re looking for a free downloadable business plan template to get you started, download the template used by more than 1 million businesses. 

Or, if you just want to see what a completed business plan looks like, check out our library of over 550 free business plan examples . 

We even have a growing list of industry business planning guides with tips for what to focus on depending on your business type.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re writing your business plan. Some entrepreneurs get sucked into the writing and research process, and don’t focus enough on actually getting their business started. 

Here are a few common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Not talking to your customers : This is one of the most common mistakes. It’s easy to assume that your product or service is something that people want. Before you invest too much in your business and too much in the planning process, make sure you talk to your prospective customers and have a good understanding of their needs.

  • Overly optimistic sales and profit forecasts: By nature, entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. But it’s good to temper that optimism a little when you’re planning, and make sure your forecasts are grounded in reality. 
  • Spending too much time planning: Yes, planning is crucial. But you also need to get out and talk to customers, build prototypes of your product and figure out if there’s a market for your idea. Make sure to balance planning with building.
  • Not revising the plan: Planning is useful, but nothing ever goes exactly as planned. As you learn more about what’s working and what’s not—revise your plan, your budgets, and your revenue forecast. Doing so will provide a more realistic picture of where your business is going, and what your financial needs will be moving forward.
  • Not using the plan to manage your business: A good business plan is a management tool. Don’t just write it and put it on the shelf to collect dust – use it to track your progress and help you reach your goals.
  • Presenting your business plan

The planning process forces you to think through every aspect of your business and answer questions that you may not have thought of. That’s the real benefit of writing a business plan – the knowledge you gain about your business that you may not have been able to discover otherwise.

With all of this knowledge, you’re well prepared to convert your business plan into a pitch presentation to present your ideas. 

A pitch presentation is a summary of your plan, just hitting the highlights and key points. It’s the best way to present your business plan to investors and team members.

Dig Deeper: Learn what key slides should be included in your pitch deck

Use your business plan to manage your business

One of the biggest benefits of planning is that it gives you a tool to manage your business better. With a revenue forecast, expense budget, and projected cash flow, you know your targets and where you are headed.

And yet, nothing ever goes exactly as planned – it’s the nature of business.

That’s where using your plan as a management tool comes in. The key to leveraging it for your business is to review it periodically and compare your forecasts and projections to your actual results.

Start by setting up a regular time to review the plan – a monthly review is a good starting point. During this review, answer questions like:

  • Did you meet your sales goals?
  • Is spending following your budget?
  • Has anything gone differently than what you expected?

Now that you see whether you’re meeting your goals or are off track, you can make adjustments and set new targets. 

Maybe you’re exceeding your sales goals and should set new, more aggressive goals. In that case, maybe you should also explore more spending or hiring more employees. 

Or maybe expenses are rising faster than you projected. If that’s the case, you would need to look at where you can cut costs.

A plan, and a method for comparing your plan to your actual results , is the tool you need to steer your business toward success.

Learn More: How to run a regular plan review

Free business plan templates and examples

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How to write a business plan FAQ

What is a business plan?

A document that describes your business , the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy, how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.

What are the benefits of a business plan?

A business plan helps you understand where you want to go with your business and what it will take to get there. It reduces your overall risk, helps you uncover your business’s potential, attracts investors, and identifies areas for growth.

Having a business plan ultimately makes you more confident as a business owner and more likely to succeed for a longer period of time.

What are the 7 steps of a business plan?

The seven steps to writing a business plan include:

  • Write a brief executive summary
  • Describe your products and services.
  • Conduct market research and compile data into a cohesive market analysis.
  • Describe your marketing and sales strategy.
  • Outline your organizational structure and management team.
  • Develop financial projections for sales, revenue, and cash flow.
  • Add any additional documents to your appendix.

What are the 5 most common business plan mistakes?

There are plenty of mistakes that can be made when writing a business plan. However, these are the 5 most common that you should do your best to avoid:

  • 1. Not taking the planning process seriously.
  • Having unrealistic financial projections or incomplete financial information.
  • Inconsistent information or simple mistakes.
  • Failing to establish a sound business model.
  • Not having a defined purpose for your business plan.

What questions should be answered in a business plan?

Writing a business plan is all about asking yourself questions about your business and being able to answer them through the planning process. You’ll likely be asking dozens and dozens of questions for each section of your plan.

However, these are the key questions you should ask and answer with your business plan:

  • How will your business make money?
  • Is there a need for your product or service?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How are you different from the competition?
  • How will you reach your customers?
  • How will you measure success?

How long should a business plan be?

The length of your business plan fully depends on what you intend to do with it. From the SBA and traditional lender point of view, a business plan needs to be whatever length necessary to fully explain your business. This means that you prove the viability of your business, show that you understand the market, and have a detailed strategy in place.

If you intend to use your business plan for internal management purposes, you don’t necessarily need a full 25-50 page business plan. Instead, you can start with a one-page plan to get all of the necessary information in place.

What are the different types of business plans?

While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. 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 when applying for funding or pitching to investors. 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.

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.

One-page business plan: This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business. You’ll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences. It’s most 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.

Lean Plan: The Lean Plan is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance. It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.

What’s the difference between a business plan and a strategic plan?

A business plan covers the “who” and “what” of your business. It explains what your business is doing right now and how it functions. The strategic plan explores long-term goals and explains “how” the business will get there. It encourages you to look more intently toward the future and how you will achieve your vision.

However, when approached correctly, your business plan can actually function as a strategic plan as well. If kept lean, you can define your business, outline strategic steps, and track ongoing operations all with a single plan.

See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan

Content Author: Noah Parsons

Noah is the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. He started his career at Yahoo! and then helped start the user review site Epinions.com. From there he started a software distribution business in the UK before coming to Palo Alto Software to run the marketing and product teams.

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Table of Contents

  • Use AI to help write your plan
  • Common planning mistakes
  • Manage with your business plan
  • Templates and examples

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No Business Plan: Everything You Need to Know

If there is no business plan in place for your company, you might want to consider creating one. 3 min read updated on February 01, 2023

If there is no business plan in place for your company, you might want to consider creating one. A business plan can help you clearly outline your company's purpose, operations, strategy, and goals.

Does Your Company Need a Formal Business Plan?

Not all businesses require a formal business plan, but it is particularly important if you are applying to banks for loans or seeking investors or business partners.

  • By presenting an overview of your company, a business plan can be used as a sales tool to potential investors.
  • By taking the time to evaluate and document all aspects of your business, a business plan can demonstrate to banks or potential investors that you are committed to your company's success.

Advantages of Business Plans

Preparing a business plan for your company helps you evaluate all aspects of your business. Some examples include:

  • Helping you clarify your company's plans and future goals, such as possible growth or expansion.
  • Making you consider every aspect of your business. For example, you might realize that your workforce lacks certain skills, and you can plan to hire experts to fill those gaps.
  • Allocating financial resources as needed, helping you avoid obstacles that might cause your company to fail.
  • Studying your target audience's demographics, which can help you plan business strategies and marketing campaigns.

Disadvantages of Business Plans

Disadvantages of business plans include:

  • Business plans don't guarantee that your company will succeed. For example, bringing in lower revenue than predicted.
  • Some business plans aren't flexible enough to adapt to market changes.
  • Revenue expectations might cause you to overspend in other areas.

Contents of a Business Plan

A business plan lays out all the information a banker or potential investor needs to know about your company. Some information to include in your plan:

  • Your company's mission statement.
  • A description of your company.
  • A description of your company's management structure.
  • The goods and services your company provides.
  • Important milestones for your company.
  • Your plans for marketing your company.
  • Market analysis and customer demographics.
  • Your company's strengths and weaknesses.
  • How your company differs from its competitors.
  • Your company's cash flow over the past several years.
  • Your company's projected revenue.

Are Business Plans Effective?

There have been several studies analyzing the effectiveness of business plans. One study, conducted by William Bygrave of Babson College , determined there was no significant difference in the performance of businesses launched with or without formal business plans.

One point many experts agree upon, though, is that securing funding for your business almost always requires a formal business plan. While businesses that have enough capital might not need formal business plans, any potential investors, banks, or government-backed lenders expect to see one.

Preparing a Business Plan

When you create your plan , its presentation is an important consideration. Your plan should include all the pertinent information, but also be clear and concise. Formal business plans shouldn't be excessively long. While there is no set length, many experts agree that concise plans have a better chance of being read.

There are tools available to help you prepare your business plan, such as spreadsheets and software applications, but some experts feel that these tools overemphasize the financials. As a result, many experts feel that a business plan's financial section should be significantly shorter than these tools usually provide.

A more contemporary way of presenting a business plan is to use digital slides instead of white paper. These slide presentations are easier to distribute and present to large groups of people. Also, the chances of your presentation being read are more likely because these digital slides tend to be more colorful and interesting to look at. These presentations slides are typically easier to read because each can only contain a few bullet points.

Consider an Informal Business Plan

If your company isn't looking for money, you might consider an informal business plan. An informal plan doesn't have to be fancy or comprehensive because no one outside of your company will see it.

An example of an informal business plan is a spreadsheet that contains quarterly objectives. Reviewing these objectives regularly and updating them as needed helps you keep your company on track.

The objectives of an informal business plan should be measurable and focus on quality, such as:

  • Sales goals.
  • Cash flow expectations.
  • Number of orders completed.
  • Implementing a new process.
  • Expanding your workforce.
  • Website improvements.

If you need help with business plans, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.

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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step

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

What is a business plan?

1. write an executive summary, 2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. summarize how your company operates, 10. add any additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.

A business plan outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them over the next three to five years. Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan that will offer a strong, detailed road map for your business.

ZenBusiness

ZenBusiness

A business plan is a document that explains what your business does, how it makes money and who its customers are. Internally, writing a business plan should help you clarify your vision and organize your operations. Externally, you can share it with potential lenders and investors to show them you’re on the right track.

Business plans are living documents; it’s OK for them to change over time. Startups may update their business plans often as they figure out who their customers are and what products and services fit them best. Mature companies might only revisit their business plan every few years. Regardless of your business’s age, brush up this document before you apply for a business loan .

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

This is your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services your business offers and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.

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

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

Next up is your company description. This should contain basic information like:

Your business’s registered name.

Address of your business location .

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

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

Lastly, write a little about the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.

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

is not a business plan

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

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

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

» MORE: How to write a successful business plan for a loan

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

You should include the following:

An explanation of how your product or service works.

The pricing model for your product or service.

The typical customers you serve.

Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.

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

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

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

Include details about your sales and distribution strategies, including the costs involved in selling each product .

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

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

Accounting software may be able to generate these reports for you. It may also help you calculate metrics such as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:

The best business checking accounts .

The best business credit cards .

The best accounting software .

Before the end of your business plan, summarize how your business is structured and outline each team’s responsibilities. This will help your readers understand who performs each of the functions you’ve described above — making and selling your products or services — and how much each of those functions cost.

If any of your employees have exceptional skills, you may want to include their resumes to help explain the competitive advantage they give you.

Finally, attach any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere. That might include:

Licenses and permits.

Equipment leases.

Bank statements.

Details of your personal and business credit history, if you’re seeking financing.

If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.

How much do you need?

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We’ll start with a brief questionnaire to better understand the unique needs of your business.

Once we uncover your personalized matches, our team will consult you on the process moving forward.

Here are some tips to write a detailed, convincing business plan:

Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business bank loan or professional investment, someone will be reading your business plan closely. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of approval.

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

Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.

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What Is A Business Plan (& Do I Really Need One?)

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The term "business plan" is a familiar one, often bandied about in entrepreneurial circles. Yet, despite its ubiquity, it's remarkable how much mystery and confusion can surround this essential business tool.

What exactly is a business plan? What purpose does it serve? How is it structured? This article aims to lift the veil, demystifying the business plan and revealing its multifaceted nature.

Business Plan Definition

A business plan is a document that describes a company's objectives and its marketing, financial, and operational strategies for achieving them. It's more than a mere document; it's a structured communication tool designed to articulate the vision of the business, allowing stakeholders to easily find the information they seek.

The business plan is a tangible reflection of the strategic planning that has gone into the business's future. While the plan is a static document, the planning is a dynamic process, capturing the strategic thinking and decision-making that shape the business's direction.

Purposes of a Business Plan

1. attracting funding opportunities.

A well-crafted business plan illustrates the company's potential for growth and profitability. It outlines the company's vision, mission, and strategies, providing a clear roadmap for success. A potential investor, whether venture capitalists or angel investors, can see how capital will be utilized, fostering trust and confidence in the business venture. A bank or financial institution can assess your company's ability to meet debt service obligations and compliance with strict financial accounting to meet underwriting requirements.

2. Aligning Organizational Objectives

A business plan acts as a unifying document that aligns the team with the company's goals and strategies. It ensures that everyone is on the same page, working towards common objectives. This alignment fosters collaboration and efficiency, driving the business towards its targets.

3. Validating the Business Concept

Before launching, a business plan helps in validating the feasibility of the business idea. It's a rigorous process that tests the concept against real-world scenarios, ensuring that the idea is not only innovative but also practical and sustainable. This validation builds credibility and prepares the business for the challenges ahead. For an existing business, a business plan can help address a possible merger and acquisition (M&A), rolling out a new business product or location, or expanding the target market.

4. Facilitating Legal and Regulatory Compliance

Whether it's securing a visa for international operations or meeting other regulatory requirements, a business plan can be an essential tool. It provides the necessary information in a structured format, demonstrating compliance with legal and regulatory standards. This can streamline processes and prevent potential legal hurdles.

5. Articulating and Formalizing the Business Vision

The business plan is more than a set of numbers and projections; it's the embodiment of the business vision. It communicates the essence of the business to stakeholders, turning abstract ideas into a concrete operational plan. It's a vital tool for leadership to articulate and formalize the vision, setting the stage for strategic execution.

Identifying the Right Type of Business Plan

Once you understand who your business plan is for and what specific needs it must address, you can identify the type of plan that best suits your situation. Business plans can be categorized into two main types: traditional and lean, each serveing its own unique purpose.

Traditional Business Plan

The Traditional Business Plan is a detailed and comprehensive document, often used by a new business, especially those seeking significant funding. It provides a complete picture of the company's vision, strategies, and operations. A traditional business plan leaves no stone unturned, offering a robust tool that communicates the business's entire vision and plan to stakeholders.

Lean Business Plan

In contrast, the Lean Business Plan is an abbreviated structure that still emphasizes the key elements of a Traditional Business Plan, but in less detail. It's suitable for early-stage startups, small businesses, or situations where agility and speed are essential. The Lean Business Plan focuses on the essentials, providing a quick overview without overwhelming details. It's a flexible and adaptable tool that can evolve with the business. One of the primary distinctions between it and a Traditional Business Plan is that a Lean Business Plan does not typically include financial planning, or if it does, it's a simple financial forecast or cash burn.

Components of a Business Plan

There are many places online where you can buy a business plan template. Often, those documents are just an outline of the sections of the business plan and what is included in each. If that's what you're looking for, here's a good business plan outline:

Executive Summary

The Executive Summary is the first section read but often the last written, as it encapsulates the entire plan. If the company has a mission statement, it's typically included here. When used for funding, it includes the ask or uses of funds, and for investment, it may contain an investor proposition. It's a concise overview that sets the tone, summarizing each section that follows.

Company Overview

The Company Overview is the foundation of the business, articulating how it operates, generates revenue, and delivers unique value to its customers. This section defines products and/or service the business sells, as well as the company’s business model and unique value proposition. It covers key partners, pricing strategy, revenue model, and other essential business activities. 

Market Analysis Summary

The Market Analysis is the business intelligence portion of the plan. It comprises an industry analysis, market segments, target customers, competitive analysis, competitive advantage. This section provides insights into the market landscape, identifying opportunities, challenges, and how the business positions itself uniquely within the industry.

Strategy & Implementation Summary

Here, the business plan should outline the short-term and long-term objectives, marketing strategy and sales approach. It's a roadmap that details how the business will achieve its goals, including tactical steps, timelines, and resources. In a business plan for investors, the inclusion of an exit strategy can provide a vision for the future, considering various potential outcomes.

Management Summary

The Management Summary offers profiles of key personnel, their qualifications, roles, and plans to fill talent gaps. It's a snapshot of the leadership team, providing assurance that the right people are in place to execute the business plan successfully.

Financial Projections

This section includes standard financial statements like the profit & loss statement (P&L), the balance sheet, and the cash flow statement. It offers a detailed financial blueprint, illustrating the company’s revenue drivers and unit assumptions, income statement, a break-even analysis, and a sensitivity analysis to examine how changes in variables affect outcomes. For businesses with complex structures, framing the revenue in terms of market share can offer additional insight into the viability and feasibility of the financial projections.

The Appendices often include year 1 and year 2 monthly financial statements, intellectual property like patents and trademarks, construction blueprints, and other essential documentation. It's a repository for supporting information that adds depth and context to the main sections of the plan.

Do I Need a Business Plan?

The question "Do I need a business plan?" is one that many entrepreneurs and business leaders grapple with. The answer, however, is not as straightforward as it might seem. While not every business requires a traditional business plan, the strategic planning process is essential for all. 

In some cases, a traditional business plan is required. Applying for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan , obtaining a entrepreneurship visa , or meeting specific investor requirements may mandate a comprehensive business plan.

However a traditional business plan isn’t always necessary. For example, in early-stage investor funding, particularly in industries like SaaS, a lean business plan accompanied by a pitch deck presentation will often suffice. The focus here is on agility and essential information rather than exhaustive detail.

Every Business Needs Business Planning

Unlike the traditional business plan, which may or may not be required depending on the situation, business planning as a process is indispensable for every business, regardless of size or stage.

Business planning is a dynamic, continuous process. It's not confined to a single document but evolves with the business, adapting to changes, challenges, and opportunities. Effective strategic planning ensures internal alignment with both long-term vision and short-term objectives. It's a holistic approach that guides business goal-setting decision-making, resource allocation, and strategic direction. It often serves as the basis for a fully developed marketing plan.

Every business, from a small startup to a large corporation, benefits from strategic planning. It's a practice that fosters growth, innovation, and resilience, providing a roadmap for success.

Not every business needs a traditional business plan as a document, but all businesses need to engage in business planning as a process. While the traditional business plan serves specific purposes and audiences, business planning is a universal practice that guides and grows the business.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders must assess their specific needs, recognizing that the traditional business plan is just one tool among many. The true value of the business plan lies in continuous planning, adapting, and aligning with the unique vision and goals of the business.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Simple Business Plan

By Joe Weller | October 11, 2021

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A business plan is the cornerstone of any successful company, regardless of size or industry. This step-by-step guide provides information on writing a business plan for organizations at any stage, complete with free templates and expert advice. 

Included on this page, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan and a chart to identify which type of business plan you should write . Plus, find information on how a business plan can help grow a business and expert tips on writing one .

What Is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a document that communicates a company’s goals and ambitions, along with the timeline, finances, and methods needed to achieve them. Additionally, it may include a mission statement and details about the specific products or services offered.

A business plan can highlight varying time periods, depending on the stage of your company and its goals. That said, a typical business plan will include the following benchmarks:

  • Product goals and deadlines for each month
  • Monthly financials for the first two years
  • Profit and loss statements for the first three to five years
  • Balance sheet projections for the first three to five years

Startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses all create business plans to use as a guide as their new company progresses. Larger organizations may also create (and update) a business plan to keep high-level goals, financials, and timelines in check.

While you certainly need to have a formalized outline of your business’s goals and finances, creating a business plan can also help you determine a company’s viability, its profitability (including when it will first turn a profit), and how much money you will need from investors. In turn, a business plan has functional value as well: Not only does outlining goals help keep you accountable on a timeline, it can also attract investors in and of itself and, therefore, act as an effective strategy for growth.

For more information, visit our comprehensive guide to writing a strategic plan or download free strategic plan templates . This page focuses on for-profit business plans, but you can read our article with nonprofit business plan templates .

Business Plan Steps

The specific information in your business plan will vary, depending on the needs and goals of your venture, but a typical plan includes the following ordered elements:

  • Executive summary
  • Description of business
  • Market analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Description of organizational management
  • Description of product or services
  • Marketing plan
  • Sales strategy
  • Funding details (or request for funding)
  • Financial projections

If your plan is particularly long or complicated, consider adding a table of contents or an appendix for reference. For an in-depth description of each step listed above, read “ How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step ” below.

Broadly speaking, your audience includes anyone with a vested interest in your organization. They can include potential and existing investors, as well as customers, internal team members, suppliers, and vendors.

Do I Need a Simple or Detailed Plan?

Your business’s stage and intended audience dictates the level of detail your plan needs. Corporations require a thorough business plan — up to 100 pages. Small businesses or startups should have a concise plan focusing on financials and strategy.

How to Choose the Right Plan for Your Business

In order to identify which type of business plan you need to create, ask: “What do we want the plan to do?” Identify function first, and form will follow.

Use the chart below as a guide for what type of business plan to create:

Is the Order of Your Business Plan Important?

There is no set order for a business plan, with the exception of the executive summary, which should always come first. Beyond that, simply ensure that you organize the plan in a way that makes sense and flows naturally.

The Difference Between Traditional and Lean Business Plans

A traditional business plan follows the standard structure — because these plans encourage detail, they tend to require more work upfront and can run dozens of pages. A Lean business plan is less common and focuses on summarizing critical points for each section. These plans take much less work and typically run one page in length.

In general, you should use a traditional model for a legacy company, a large company, or any business that does not adhere to Lean (or another Agile method ). Use Lean if you expect the company to pivot quickly or if you already employ a Lean strategy with other business operations. Additionally, a Lean business plan can suffice if the document is for internal use only. Stick to a traditional version for investors, as they may be more sensitive to sudden changes or a high degree of built-in flexibility in the plan.

How to Write a Business Plan Step by Step

Writing a strong business plan requires research and attention to detail for each section. Below, you’ll find a 10-step guide to researching and defining each element in the plan.

Step 1: Executive Summary

The executive summary will always be the first section of your business plan. The goal is to answer the following questions:

  • What is the vision and mission of the company?
  • What are the company’s short- and long-term goals?

See our  roundup of executive summary examples and templates for samples. Read our executive summary guide to learn more about writing one.

Step 2: Description of Business

The goal of this section is to define the realm, scope, and intent of your venture. To do so, answer the following questions as clearly and concisely as possible:

  • What business are we in?
  • What does our business do?

Step 3: Market Analysis

In this section, provide evidence that you have surveyed and understand the current marketplace, and that your product or service satisfies a niche in the market. To do so, answer these questions:

  • Who is our customer? 
  • What does that customer value?

Step 4: Competitive Analysis

In many cases, a business plan proposes not a brand-new (or even market-disrupting) venture, but a more competitive version — whether via features, pricing, integrations, etc. — than what is currently available. In this section, answer the following questions to show that your product or service stands to outpace competitors:

  • Who is the competition? 
  • What do they do best? 
  • What is our unique value proposition?

Step 5: Description of Organizational Management

In this section, write an overview of the team members and other key personnel who are integral to success. List roles and responsibilities, and if possible, note the hierarchy or team structure.

Step 6: Description of Products or Services

In this section, clearly define your product or service, as well as all the effort and resources that go into producing it. The strength of your product largely defines the success of your business, so it’s imperative that you take time to test and refine the product before launching into marketing, sales, or funding details.

Questions to answer in this section are as follows:

  • What is the product or service?
  • How do we produce it, and what resources are necessary for production?

Step 7: Marketing Plan

In this section, define the marketing strategy for your product or service. This doesn’t need to be as fleshed out as a full marketing plan , but it should answer basic questions, such as the following:

  • Who is the target market (if different from existing customer base)?
  • What channels will you use to reach your target market?
  • What resources does your marketing strategy require, and do you have access to them?
  • If possible, do you have a rough estimate of timeline and budget?
  • How will you measure success?

Step 8: Sales Plan

Write an overview of the sales strategy, including the priorities of each cycle, steps to achieve these goals, and metrics for success. For the purposes of a business plan, this section does not need to be a comprehensive, in-depth sales plan , but can simply outline the high-level objectives and strategies of your sales efforts. 

Start by answering the following questions:

  • What is the sales strategy?
  • What are the tools and tactics you will use to achieve your goals?
  • What are the potential obstacles, and how will you overcome them?
  • What is the timeline for sales and turning a profit?
  • What are the metrics of success?

Step 9: Funding Details (or Request for Funding)

This section is one of the most critical parts of your business plan, particularly if you are sharing it with investors. You do not need to provide a full financial plan, but you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • How much capital do you currently have? How much capital do you need?
  • How will you grow the team (onboarding, team structure, training and development)?
  • What are your physical needs and constraints (space, equipment, etc.)?

Step 10: Financial Projections

Apart from the fundraising analysis, investors like to see thought-out financial projections for the future. As discussed earlier, depending on the scope and stage of your business, this could be anywhere from one to five years. 

While these projections won’t be exact — and will need to be somewhat flexible — you should be able to gauge the following:

  • How and when will the company first generate a profit?
  • How will the company maintain profit thereafter?

Business Plan Template

Business Plan Template

Download Business Plan Template

Microsoft Excel | Smartsheet

This basic business plan template has space for all the traditional elements: an executive summary, product or service details, target audience, marketing and sales strategies, etc. In the finances sections, input your baseline numbers, and the template will automatically calculate projections for sales forecasting, financial statements, and more.

For templates tailored to more specific needs, visit this business plan template roundup or download a fill-in-the-blank business plan template to make things easy. 

If you are looking for a particular template by file type, visit our pages dedicated exclusively to Microsoft Excel , Microsoft Word , and Adobe PDF business plan templates.

How to Write a Simple Business Plan

A simple business plan is a streamlined, lightweight version of the large, traditional model. As opposed to a one-page business plan , which communicates high-level information for quick overviews (such as a stakeholder presentation), a simple business plan can exceed one page.

Below are the steps for creating a generic simple business plan, which are reflected in the template below .

  • Write the Executive Summary This section is the same as in the traditional business plan — simply offer an overview of what’s in the business plan, the prospect or core offering, and the short- and long-term goals of the company. 
  • Add a Company Overview Document the larger company mission and vision. 
  • Provide the Problem and Solution In straightforward terms, define the problem you are attempting to solve with your product or service and how your company will attempt to do it. Think of this section as the gap in the market you are attempting to close.
  • Identify the Target Market Who is your company (and its products or services) attempting to reach? If possible, briefly define your buyer personas .
  • Write About the Competition In this section, demonstrate your knowledge of the market by listing the current competitors and outlining your competitive advantage.
  • Describe Your Product or Service Offerings Get down to brass tacks and define your product or service. What exactly are you selling?
  • Outline Your Marketing Tactics Without getting into too much detail, describe your planned marketing initiatives.
  • Add a Timeline and the Metrics You Will Use to Measure Success Offer a rough timeline, including milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to measure your progress.
  • Include Your Financial Forecasts Write an overview of your financial plan that demonstrates you have done your research and adequate modeling. You can also list key assumptions that go into this forecasting. 
  • Identify Your Financing Needs This section is where you will make your funding request. Based on everything in the business plan, list your proposed sources of funding, as well as how you will use it.

Simple Business Plan Template

Simple Business Plan Template

Download Simple Business Plan Template

Microsoft Excel |  Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF  | Smartsheet

Use this simple business plan template to outline each aspect of your organization, including information about financing and opportunities to seek out further funding. This template is completely customizable to fit the needs of any business, whether it’s a startup or large company.

Read our article offering free simple business plan templates or free 30-60-90-day business plan templates to find more tailored options. You can also explore our collection of one page business templates . 

How to Write a Business Plan for a Lean Startup

A Lean startup business plan is a more Agile approach to a traditional version. The plan focuses more on activities, processes, and relationships (and maintains flexibility in all aspects), rather than on concrete deliverables and timelines.

While there is some overlap between a traditional and a Lean business plan, you can write a Lean plan by following the steps below:

  • Add Your Value Proposition Take a streamlined approach to describing your product or service. What is the unique value your startup aims to deliver to customers? Make sure the team is aligned on the core offering and that you can state it in clear, simple language.
  • List Your Key Partners List any other businesses you will work with to realize your vision, including external vendors, suppliers, and partners. This section demonstrates that you have thoughtfully considered the resources you can provide internally, identified areas for external assistance, and conducted research to find alternatives.
  • Note the Key Activities Describe the key activities of your business, including sourcing, production, marketing, distribution channels, and customer relationships.
  • Include Your Key Resources List the critical resources — including personnel, equipment, space, and intellectual property — that will enable you to deliver your unique value.
  • Identify Your Customer Relationships and Channels In this section, document how you will reach and build relationships with customers. Provide a high-level map of the customer experience from start to finish, including the spaces in which you will interact with the customer (online, retail, etc.). 
  • Detail Your Marketing Channels Describe the marketing methods and communication platforms you will use to identify and nurture your relationships with customers. These could be email, advertising, social media, etc.
  • Explain the Cost Structure This section is especially necessary in the early stages of a business. Will you prioritize maximizing value or keeping costs low? List the foundational startup costs and how you will move toward profit over time.
  • Share Your Revenue Streams Over time, how will the company make money? Include both the direct product or service purchase, as well as secondary sources of revenue, such as subscriptions, selling advertising space, fundraising, etc.

Lean Business Plan Template for Startups

Lean Business Plan Templates for Startups

Download Lean Business Plan Template for Startups

Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF

Startup leaders can use this Lean business plan template to relay the most critical information from a traditional plan. You’ll find all the sections listed above, including spaces for industry and product overviews, cost structure and sources of revenue, and key metrics, and a timeline. The template is completely customizable, so you can edit it to suit the objectives of your Lean startups.

See our wide variety of  startup business plan templates for more options.

How to Write a Business Plan for a Loan

A business plan for a loan, often called a loan proposal , includes many of the same aspects of a traditional business plan, as well as additional financial documents, such as a credit history, a loan request, and a loan repayment plan.

In addition, you may be asked to include personal and business financial statements, a form of collateral, and equity investment information.

Download free financial templates to support your business plan.

Tips for Writing a Business Plan

Outside of including all the key details in your business plan, you have several options to elevate the document for the highest chance of winning funding and other resources. Follow these tips from experts:.

  • Keep It Simple: Avner Brodsky , the Co-Founder and CEO of Lezgo Limited, an online marketing company, uses the acronym KISS (keep it short and simple) as a variation on this idea. “The business plan is not a college thesis,” he says. “Just focus on providing the essential information.”
  • Do Adequate Research: Michael Dean, the Co-Founder of Pool Research , encourages business leaders to “invest time in research, both internal and external (market, finance, legal etc.). Avoid being overly ambitious or presumptive. Instead, keep everything objective, balanced, and accurate.” Your plan needs to stand on its own, and you must have the data to back up any claims or forecasting you make. As Brodsky explains, “Your business needs to be grounded on the realities of the market in your chosen location. Get the most recent data from authoritative sources so that the figures are vetted by experts and are reliable.”
  • Set Clear Goals: Make sure your plan includes clear, time-based goals. “Short-term goals are key to momentum growth and are especially important to identify for new businesses,” advises Dean.
  • Know (and Address) Your Weaknesses: “This awareness sets you up to overcome your weak points much quicker than waiting for them to arise,” shares Dean. Brodsky recommends performing a full SWOT analysis to identify your weaknesses, too. “Your business will fare better with self-knowledge, which will help you better define the mission of your business, as well as the strategies you will choose to achieve your objectives,” he adds.
  • Seek Peer or Mentor Review: “Ask for feedback on your drafts and for areas to improve,” advises Brodsky. “When your mind is filled with dreams for your business, sometimes it is an outsider who can tell you what you’re missing and will save your business from being a product of whimsy.”

Outside of these more practical tips, the language you use is also important and may make or break your business plan.

Shaun Heng, VP of Operations at Coin Market Cap , gives the following advice on the writing, “Your business plan is your sales pitch to an investor. And as with any sales pitch, you need to strike the right tone and hit a few emotional chords. This is a little tricky in a business plan, because you also need to be formal and matter-of-fact. But you can still impress by weaving in descriptive language and saying things in a more elegant way.

“A great way to do this is by expanding your vocabulary, avoiding word repetition, and using business language. Instead of saying that something ‘will bring in as many customers as possible,’ try saying ‘will garner the largest possible market segment.’ Elevate your writing with precise descriptive words and you'll impress even the busiest investor.”

Additionally, Dean recommends that you “stay consistent and concise by keeping your tone and style steady throughout, and your language clear and precise. Include only what is 100 percent necessary.”

Resources for Writing a Business Plan

While a template provides a great outline of what to include in a business plan, a live document or more robust program can provide additional functionality, visibility, and real-time updates. The U.S. Small Business Association also curates resources for writing a business plan.

Additionally, you can use business plan software to house data, attach documentation, and share information with stakeholders. Popular options include LivePlan, Enloop, BizPlanner, PlanGuru, and iPlanner.

How a Business Plan Helps to Grow Your Business

A business plan — both the exercise of creating one and the document — can grow your business by helping you to refine your product, target audience, sales plan, identify opportunities, secure funding, and build new partnerships. 

Outside of these immediate returns, writing a business plan is a useful exercise in that it forces you to research the market, which prompts you to forge your unique value proposition and identify ways to beat the competition. Doing so will also help you build (and keep you accountable to) attainable financial and product milestones. And down the line, it will serve as a welcome guide as hurdles inevitably arise.

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Empower your people to go above and beyond with a flexible platform designed to match the needs of your team — and adapt as those needs change. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. 

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.  Try Smartsheet for free, today.

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17 Key Business Plan Mistakes to Avoid in 2024

Posted december 6, 2023 by noah parsons.

is not a business plan

If you’re like most people and you’re writing a business plan for the first time, you want to make sure you get it right. Even if you follow the instructions in one of the popular business plan templates out there, you can still make mistakes. 

After having spent countless hours reading thousands of business plans and having judged hundreds of business plan competitions, I’ve assembled a list of the biggest business plan mistakes that I’ve seen.

What is the biggest mistake when preparing a business plan?

The absolute biggest business plan mistake you can make is to not plan at all.

That doesn’t mean everyone must write a detailed business plan. While you should do some planning to figure out what direction you want to take your business—your plan could be as simple as a one-page business plan, or even a pitch presentation that highlights your current strategy.

Your strategy and ideas will certainly evolve as you go, but taking a little time to figure out how your business works will pay dividends over time.

17 common business plan mistakes to avoid 

Assuming you’ve at least decided that you should do some business planning, here are the top business plan mistakes to avoid:

1. Not taking the planning process seriously

Writing a business plan just to “tick the box” and have a pile of paper to hand to a loan officer at the bank is the wrong way to approach business planning.

If you don’t take the business planning process seriously, it’s going to show that you don’t really care about your business and haven’t really thought through how your business is going to be successful. 

Instead, take the time and use the planning process to strengthen your understanding of how your business will be successful. It will improve your chances with lenders and investors and help you run a better business in the long run.

2. Not having a defined purpose for your business plan

Why are you writing a business plan?

Is it to raise money? Are you just trying to get your team on the same page as you so they understand your strategy? Or are you planning a new period of growth?

Knowing why you are writing a business plan will help you stay focused on what matters to help you achieve your goals, while not wasting time on areas of the plan that don’t matter for what you’re doing.

For example, if you’re writing an internal business plan, you can probably skip the sections that describe your team. 

3. Not writing for the right audience

When you’re putting together your business plan, make sure to consider who your readers are. This is especially important for businesses that are in the technology and medical industries .

If your audience isn’t going to understand the specialized vocabulary that you use to describe your business and what you do, they aren’t going to be able to understand your business.

On the other hand, if your audience is going to be all industry insiders, make sure to write in the language that they understand.

4. Writing a business plan that’s too long

Don’t write a book when you’re putting together your plan. Your audience doesn’t have time to spend reading countless pages about your business. Instead, focus on getting straight to the point and make your business plan as short as possible.

Start with a one-page plan to keep things concise. You can always include additional details in an appendix or in follow-up documents if your reader needs more information.

5. Not doing enough research

You don’t need to spend endless time researching, but your business plan should demonstrate that you truly understand your industry, your target market, and your competitors. If you don’t have this core knowledge, it’s going to show that you’re not prepared to launch your business.

To keep things simple, start with this four-step process to make sure you cover your bases with an initial market analysis.

6. Not defining your target market

Don’t assume your products are for “everyone.”

Even a company like Facebook that now truly does target “everyone” started out with a focus on college students. Make sure you take some time to understand your target market and who your customers really are.

Investors will want to see that you understand who you are marketing to and that you’re building your product or service for a specific market.

7. Failing to establish a sound business model

Every business needs to eventually have a way to make money. Your business plan needs to clearly explain who your customers are, what they pay you, and have financial projections that show your path to profitability.

Without a real business model , where income covers your expenses, it will be difficult to show that you have a viable path to success.

8. Failing to showcase current traction and milestones

Great business plans are more than just a collection of ideas. They also demonstrate that you have early traction — a fancy way of saying that you have some initial success.

This could come in the form of pre-orders from a Kickstarter campaign or initial contracts that you’ve signed with your first customers. Traction can be as little as expressed interest from potential customers, but the more commitment you have, the better. The companion to traction is milestones. Milestones are simply your roadmap for the future — your next steps with details of what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. Make sure to include your best guess at your future timeline as part of your business plan.  

fill-in-the-blank LivePlan

9. Having unrealistic financial projections

Everyone dreams of sales that start from zero and then just skyrocket off the charts. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. So, if you have financial projections that look too good to be true, it’s worth a second look.

Investors don’t want you to be overly conservative either. You just need to have a financial forecast that’s based in reality and that you can easily explain. 

Keep in mind that when first starting out, you may not have exact numbers to work with. That’s perfectly fine. You can work with general assumptions and compare against competitive benchmarks to set a baseline for your business.

The key here is to develop reasonable projections that you and any external parties can reference and see as viable.

10. Ignoring your competitors

Not knowing who your competitors are , or pretending that you have no competition, is a common mistake. It’s easy to say that you have “no competition,” but that’s just taking the easy way out. Every business has competition, even if it’s a completely different way of solving the same problem.

For example, Henry Ford’s early competition to the automobile wasn’t other cars — it was horses.

11. Missing organizational or team information

When you’re starting a business, it’s likely that you haven’t hired everyone that you’re going to need. That’s OK. The mistake people make in their business plan is not acknowledging that there are key positions yet to be filled.

A successful plan will highlight the key roles that you plan to hire for in the future and the types of people you’ll be looking for. This is especially vital when pitching to investors to showcase that you’re already thinking ahead.

12. Inconsistent information and mistakes

This almost goes without saying, but make sure to proofread your plan before you send it out. Beyond ensuring that you use proper grammar and spelling, make sure that any numbers that you mention in your plan are the same ones that you have in your financial projections.

You don’t want to write that you’re aiming for $2 million in sales, while your sales forecast shows $3 million. 

13. Including incomplete financial information

You may have a great idea, but a business plan isn’t complete without a full financial forecast. Too many business plans neglect this area, probably because it seems like it’s the most challenging. But, if you use a good forecasting tool like LivePlan , the process is easy.

Make sure to include forecasts for Profit and Loss, Cash Flow, and Balance Sheet. You may also want to include additional detail related to your sales forecast.

For example, if you run a subscription business , you should include information about your churn rate and customer retention.

14. Adding too much information

Don’t fall into the trap of adding everything you know about your business, your industry, and your target market into your business plan. Your business plan should just cover the highlights so that it’s short enough that people will read it.

A simple and concise plan will engage your reader and could prompt follow-up requests for additional information. 

Focus on writing an engaging executive summary and push non-critical, detailed information into your appendix — or leave it out altogether and leave the details for those that ask.

Remember, your business plan is there to serve a purpose. If you’re raising money, you want to get that next meeting with your investors. If you’re sharing your strategy with your team, you want your team to actually read what you wrote.

Keep your plan short and simple to help achieve these goals.

What should not be included in a business plan?

Here are a few things to leave out of your plan:

  • Full resumes of each team member. Just hit the highlights.
  • Detailed technical explanations or schematics of how your product works. Put these in the appendix or just leave them out completely.
  • A long history of your industry. A few sentences should be enough.
  • Detailed market research. Yes, you want market research but just include the summary of your findings, not all the data.

Make sure to include:

  • Executive summary.
  • Financial projections.
  • Market research (just a summary)
  • Competition overview
  • Funding needs (if you’re raising money)

15. Having no one review your plan

As with any work that you do, it’s always helpful to have a few other people take a look at your work as you go. You don’t have to please everyone and you don’t have to implement every comment, but you should listen for themes in your feedback and make adjustments as you go. 

A fresh pair of eyes will always help spot pesky typos as well as highlight areas of your plan that may not make sense. You can even explore having a plan writing expert review your plan for a more in-depth analysis.

16. Never revisiting your business plan

Business plans are never 100% accurate and things never go exactly as planned. Just like when you set out on a road trip, you have a plan to reach your final destination and an idea of how you will get there.

But, things can change as you go and you may want to adjust your route. 

Planning for your business is often the same as that road trip and your plans will change as you grow your business. Keeping your plan updated will help you set new goals for you and your team and, most importantly, set financial goals and budgets that will help your business thrive.

Incorporate your plan into regular review meetings to be sure you’re consistently revisiting it and integrating the time spent reviewing into your current workflow.

17. Not using your business plan to manage your business

Revisiting and revising your business plan is how you use your plan to manage your business. If you aren’t updating your goals and following a budget, you’re flying blind. Your plan is your ultimate tool to help you manage your business to success. You can use it to set sales goals and figure out when and how you should expand. 

You’ll use your plan to ensure that you have healthy cash flow and enough money in the bank to handle your growth. Without managing your plan, you’re left to guess and live with a level of uncertainty about where your business is headed.

How a business planning and management tool helps you avoid mistakes

Writing a business plan can seem like a daunting task. Sure, you can do it yourself with free templates and advice like you find on this website . But, doing it on your own can just slow the process down, lead to mistakes, and keep you from actually working on building your business.

Instead, consider using a planning tool, like LivePlan, which features step-by-step guidance and financial forecasting tools that propel you through the process.

LivePlan will help you include only what you need in your plan and reduce the time you spend on formatting and presenting. You’ll also get help building solid financial models that you can trust, without having to worry about getting everything right in a spreadsheet.

Finally, it will transform your plan into a management tool that will help you easily compare your forecasts to your actual results. This makes it easy to track your progress and make adjustments as you go.

So, whether you’re writing a plan to explore a new business idea, looking to raise money from investors, seeking a loan, or just trying to run your business better—a solid business plan built with LivePlan will help get you there. 

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Noah Parsons

Noah Parsons

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A business journal from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Knowledge at Wharton Podcast

Why creating a business plan is a ‘waste of time’, may 24, 2018 • 23 min listen.

What entrepreneurs need is flexibility and innovation -- not a traditional business plan -- says economist and author Carl Schramm.

is not a business plan

Economist and author Carl Schramm discusses his new book, 'Burn the Business Plan.'

biz plan cover

The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Knowledge at Wharton: Why is a business plan unnecessary?

Carl Schramm: It’s the basis of much of the teaching about how to start a business, and so much of what’s taught is basically conjecture. My book is developed off 10 years of research that we did at the Kauffman Foundation. If you look at all our older major corporations  — U.S. Steel, General Electric, IBM, American Airlines — and then you look at our newer companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, none of these companies ever had a business plan before they got started. Empirically, it appears as if you don’t need a business plan.

Second, the business planning process is largely generated as a preview for venture capital. As I show in my book, from empirical studies, much less than 1% of all new startups ever see a venture capitalist. Much less than 1% of all new companies every year have venture backing of any kind. So, I largely view the creation of a business plan as something of a waste of time.

The third problem is that it seems to make starting a business somewhat like a cookbook. If you do this, and then you do this, and then you do this, the cake will come out okay. And that’s really not how it happens.

“Empirically, it appears as if you don’t need a business plan.”

Knowledge at Wharton: Let’s talk about age because many entrepreneurs are in their late 30s or 40s. These are people who made a shift in their career paths.

Schramm: Precisely. It goes to this question of, “What are we doing when we’re trying to teach high school kids?” Even grammar school children get courses and exposure to entrepreneurship. At the university level, it’s now a major in probably 3,000 colleges and universities. And the whole schema, including the notion of a business plan as the formal way to teach how to start a business in a college classroom, is geared to 20-year-olds.

Much of our mythology is that unicorn companies are started by people, like Mark Zuckerberg, who are in their 20s. But the reality is, the vast majority of people who start businesses are middle-career people who have been surprised by the fact that they actually had an idea, and their idea was good enough to build a business around.

Another thing wrong with how we write about entrepreneurship, how it’s taught, is that somehow people set out to be entrepreneurs as if they set out to be a dentist or an accountant. The vast majority of entrepreneurs were really amazed to find out that they became an entrepreneur. In my case, I was a professor at Johns Hopkins for 15 years, and then one day my research sort of slapped me in the face. I said, “Holy smokes, if I want to really make this work and actually change the world, I can’t do it by writing an academic paper. I have to start a business.”

Knowledge at Wharton: How should we teach our kids about entrepreneurship?

Schramm: I don’t think [the current curriculum] can be tweaked. I think it should be abandoned. I think it should be overthrown. Because if you look empirically at where entrepreneurs come from, if they have formal training, it’s not in entrepreneurship. It’s in engineering or the STEM subjects, the technical subjects.

Many, many more entrepreneurs come out of MIT because it’s an engineering and a technical school. Same thing for Caltech. Caltech doesn’t even teach entrepreneurship. At MIT, there’s one professor in the business program there who teaches entrepreneurship. But it doesn’t matter because if they didn’t teach it at all, these schools would be producing many, many new businesses all the time.

Knowledge at Wharton: You said not much funding comes from venture capitalists or angel investors. How are entrepreneurs getting the money they need to execute their ideas?

Schramm: One reason people can become entrepreneurs at midlife is they turn to their own savings, their own assets, to friends and families for loans. By the time you’re 40, which is the average age at which people start businesses, you’ve settled your student debt. You’ve got a house. You’re likely to have a spouse who has a job, which is a huge protection if you start a new company because she or he has health insurance and other benefits. So, most companies are self-funded.

Knowledge at Wharton: In the book, you also talk about the incubator. But you think the incubator isn’t having the desired effect that a lot of people are hoping for. Can you explain?

Schramm: Again, empirically, very few companies come out of these incubators. I was trained as a labor economist. I’m in the middle of writing an essay about incubators, and the premise is that as we turn towards 3% and 4% GDP, and much lower rates of unemployment and much higher demand for well-trained people, no one is going to want to spend time in an incubator. They can get a job. And that’s a really important part of the drama of becoming an entrepreneur.

In the book, I make the case that the most effective place to learn how to be entrepreneurial is to go into a big company. That’s where you see innovation happen. More innovation happens in big companies than, for example, university laboratories. It’s also where you learn all the skills that make a business work, where you’re exposed to what scale looks like in a business. This is critical and this is experiential knowledge. You can’t teach scale in a classroom. It has to be felt. You have to see it, to experience it.

“The vast majority of people who start businesses are middle-career people.”

Knowledge at Wharton: You give real-world examples in the book, including the story about vacuum cleaning company Dyson.

Schramm: Yes, Dyson is a fantastic story. James Dyson was an industrial designer by background, and he came to the view that vacuum cleaners had been a technology that hadn’t moved very far. He was using a vacuum cleaner and noticed that the more you used it, and the dirtier the dustbin got, the less power it had. This became the question that triggered his search.

Dyson built over 1,000 prototypes. He quit his job. His wife was a teacher, and he lived off a much more modest income. His wife did all the money-earning in the family. When he began to push his product out, no companies in the United States or England wanted any part of it. They resisted it because they were making a lot of money on selling paper bags for conventional, old-fashioned vacuum cleaners. He had to take it to Japan. When it became successful in Japan, American and British companies tried to steal his design. He successfully defended against that.

The best part of Dyson’s story is he never had outside investors. [Dyson] never wanted to be a public company. It’s a huge company now. He’s like most entrepreneurs. If your idea clicks and you can make it work, and you haven’t taken your company public — that is, you still control it — you’re going to work there for the rest of your life. They become places where your own creativity works, and you can keep at it. You can keep designing. Really, it becomes your life.

It’s an important point, particularly for people who are in higher education. Students in universities are programmed to think that somehow people who work in the government or in nonprofit or NGOs are somehow more creative. They’re like the people who take art and art history and design in college, or people who write music. They’re a different breed, and they’re really geniuses.

The reality is that 95% of kids graduating from college this year are going to work in companies. They’re not not creative. Look at our huge economy. That all happens because of people who are creative and gifted in business and the invention of things that help other people. And [taking] these things to market [requires] very, very creative skills.

Knowledge at Wharton: Would you say that passion and determination are two of the great qualities that a lot of entrepreneurs have?

Schramm: Yes, it’s true. Students in college are told to follow your passion and start a company. But a lot of times, the passion doesn’t make any sense. I’ve seen students who are passionate about having a web app for frying pans. I sort of make fun of it in the book. I’ve judged business plan competitions at the college level and seen the same idea come up five times. Invent a sensor for a frying pan, and it tells you on your phone when your eggs are cooked. Kids are passionate about that, but it’s not an idea that’s ever going to work. They’re making the simplicity of cooking an egg into a complex technical project.

Passion really clicks when you’ve got an idea and it starts to have market feedback. The thrill of it is when other people are saying, “What you came up with is valuable.” What they’re telling you is, “You created something out of your head that makes my life easier, and I value it. So, I’ll give my money to you for your idea.”

Knowledge at Wharton: Is Yeti one of those great ideas?

Schramm: Yeti is a fabulous story. It’s one of those things where those guys didn’t expect to be entrepreneurs. The idea snuck up on then. They love to go fishing, and they fell through regular Igloo boxes because they’re not all that well made. One of the two brothers said, “You know, what we ought to do is make a cooler that’s so sturdy, you could stand on it.” Yeti cooler came out of something just that simple.

Knowledge at Wharton: What are 20-somethings missing to be able to build that great company?

Schramm: They’re missing experience. If you really want to be an entrepreneur and you don’t have a really great idea when you’re 21, getting out of school, don’t fret. Just wait. What shall you do while you wait? Go learn stuff. The stuff you should learn is easiest learned in big businesses because you’ll go out there and watch the innovation process work.

I consult at several companies, and what I’m watching all time is these companies constantly trying to renew themselves with new, better products. They spend a lot of money on research and development. Anybody who’s working in one of these companies can see the constant iterative change that’s taking place. You actually get innovation into your normal daily routine. I think that’s one of the greatest things that you can learn.

The book points to the fact that many new companies come out of old companies. The entrepreneurs see stuff, and two routes are the way this happens. The companies decide that they’re going to stick to their core competency and reject a brand new idea. They often say to people, “if you love this idea so much, go do it with our blessing. You can have the intellectual property.” In some cases, like IBM, they actually finance the startups. That was the case with Cerner, the health care data company.

“More innovation happens in big companies than, for example, university laboratories.”

The other thing is a much more difficult problem. That is, people who go to management and say, “This is the better way to do it,” or “Here’s a new application or a new market, and we have all the technology. If we configure it differently, we can own and capture this market.” MBA-type managers often say, “no, we’re going to stick to our core competency. We don’t know how to do that. It’s not our karma, it’s not our destiny.” And frustrated employees walk out. I interview people like that in the book. They say again and again, “I could have made all this money for my old employer, but they just wouldn’t listen to me.”

Knowledge at Wharton: Are companies wasting their human capital?

Schramm: It’s happening in every single company. You’ve got creative people in there. They might be running a machine. They might be on the production line. They could be any place in your company. They could be at the loading dock. They see things, and they could do things differently.

One of my favorite examples that’s not in the book is container boxes. It’s one of the great logistics revolutions that permits all of our prices for consumer goods to be much, much lower than they would have been. The boxes on the back of a trailer that come off the trailer, go right on a ship.

That was developed by a truck driver in Newark, N.J., In the old days, when trailer trucks were inflexible, they were fixed. Every time you went into a yard or a loading dock, people had to go on the dock, take the stuff off and reload it. He said, “You know, it’s a big steel box. Why don’t you just take the whole box, the whole back end of the truck, and put it on a ship?” This is a truck driver who saw that. He gave us the container revolution that made a world revolution in logistics.

Knowledge at Wharton: There are some very well-known companies like Microsoft and Apple and Facebook that didn’t have a plan at the outset. But now they are working through a variety of plans.

Schramm: That’s right. They went and tried it. We have this drive in our society. I think it’s in human nature. We don’t think that important things happen by chaotic means. If you look around, there are academics and experts who are struggling constantly to make the process of starting a business somehow logical, planned, orderly. These are sort of cookbook approaches.

You don’t have the right answer at the beginning. You never have the right answer. The market changes, technology changes. Your customers’ tastes are changing. Price points change. Your competitors change. You’ve got to be at this all the time. And a lot of times, that’s a hidden assumption in all the advice that’s given to entrepreneurs. If you crack it once, you can go right to the bank. You buy a jet. You’re over with. You do a public offering, and you’re rich and out by 30.

That’s not the case at all. You start a business, that’s only the beginning. And it’s the beginning of trying to make it big because growth is what’s important. Scale is the critical issue. The only way you can get there is constantly reacting to the market and all the signals it’s sending as to what it needs.

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Tim Berry

Planning, Startups, Stories

Tim berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime., when is a business plan not a business plan.

This has been bugging me for a long time now: It turns out that the phrase “business plan” is a homonym, exactly as in these examples from yourdictionary.com :

homonyms

Just like the different meanings for crane and date, there are at least two completely different meanings for the two-word phrase “business plan:”

  • Business plan : what’s supposed to happen in a business. This normally includes priorities, strategy, assumptions, milestones, responsibilities, sales forecast, expense budget, and cash flow.
  • Business plan : a document used to summarize a business to serve as part of the process of seeking investors or applying for a commercial loan.

Why does this matter? Because I see both of these two distinct meanings coming up in business conversation all the time, constantly confusing people. For example, when successful entrepreneurs tell pollsters they didn’t have a business plan when they started, they’re using definition #2 here. When smart business advisors play down the use of the business plan, they are also talking about that second definition, not the first.

I’ve been starting to distinguish the two meanings in my own work by writing about “business planning” for business plan definition #1, and “business plan document” for business plan definition #2.

That first-definition business plan is about optimizing management. It includes regular plan vs. actual review, course corrections, and managing rapid change. It doesn’t assume that there’s virtue in sticking to a plan for no other reason. It lives on your computer. The slide deck, the pitch, and the document are output of that plan. It’s Plan-As-You-Go business planning .

The second-definition business plan is something like sales collateral; it’s business goal is communicating a deal to investors, or supporting a loan application. It’s important to a subset of businesses that are seeking investment or commercial loans. I see a lot of those in my work as a member of an angel investment group and a frequent judge at business plan contests.

These are very different things, these two definitions of business plan. They are homonyms. And that confuses business discussions about business plans and business planning. Do you agree?

[…] homonym (i.e. has two separate meanings); a distinction first pointed out by business planning guru Tim Berry. The business plan can refer to the physical document but also the plan that needs to be […]

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The importance of the Business Plan (the document) is highly over-rated. Most of the assumptions and forecasts turn out to be wrong…..in a hurry! It is also a static document that collects dust on someone’s credenza. I think this is the Business Plan for potential investors that you referred to.

I propose we change the name of the second type of BP to Business Replanning to highlight the fact that to be useful, Business Plans need to be living, breathing plans in need of constant updating.

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@Tim (other Tim), how about we compromise on calling that other business plan, the live, flexible, useful business plan, the plan-as-you-go business plan. There is precedent for that. ( http://planasyougo.com )

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Tim, Most of us who have an idea do not necessarily have a business degree or business background. What we have is experience, reason, and logic. I am working on my 1st formal bus. plan and read and update it at least once a week. This helps me know where our path leads, what I can do, and what I need to hand off to others. I find it to be my best educational tool. This post will help me with my weekly update. Thanks.

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After reading this post 2 times, I’ve made a decision.

I can’t keep up with your brain activity.

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I completely agree! This is great food-for-thought. It drives me crazy when I hear people in my industry (the wedding industry) say that they built a successful business without a business plan. I tell them they must’ve had some sort of plan – even if it wasn’t a formalized document. For one thing, there is no way one can know if they have a profitable business model without going thru some of the planning activities – whatever form that is in.

Those that are confined to the “document” basis of business planning have lost the whole purpose of planning for a constantly evolving business. It’s the plan-as-you-go that keeps things exciting as a business owner…. beyond the snapshot needs of an investor, bank, etc.

Thanks Michelle.

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10 Reasons Not to Write a Business Plan Writing a business plan isn't for everyone. Here are ten strategies you might be better off trying first.

By Martin Zwilling • Nov 6, 2013

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you are one of the new age of entrepreneurs who hates the thought of doing a business plan as a first step in starting your new venture, you will love this message. More and more professionals agree that a better strategy is to explore and fine tune your assumptions before declaring a specific plan with financial projections based only on your dream and passion .

In the process, you may save yourself considerable re-work and money , or even decide that your dream needs more time to mature, before you commit your limited resources, or sign up with investors to a painful and unsatisfying plan.

I just finished a new book on this approach, Beyond the Business Plan , by Simon Bridge and Cecilia Hegarty, which outlines tradeoffs and recommends ten principles for every new venture explorer. Here is my edited summary of their ten principles, which might just convince you that you don't need a business plan at all, or at the very least, will help you write a better one later:

1. A new venture is a means, not an end. A new enterprise should be pursued primarily to help you achieve your goals , like providing a better life for others, satisfying a passion of yours, or enjoying the benefits of a technology you have invented. In that context, it could be a social enterprise, or even a hobby, in which case a business plan may not be beneficial.

2. Don't start by committing more than you can afford to lose. New ventures are usually exploratory and risky by nature, so don't let any business plan process convince you to commit more than you can risk as a person, should your exploration fail. Start with an effectual approach, which evaluates risk tolerance, and suggests a more affordable means to an end.

3. Pick a domain where you have some experience and expertise. Don't handicap yourself by starting something for which you have to build or acquire knowledge, skills and connections from scratch. No business plan will save you if you are just picking ideas at random or copying others, just because the story sounds attractive.

4. Carry out reality checks and make appropriate plans. Before a business plan has any validity, some work is required to validate that your technology works, a real market exists and your assumptions for cost and price are reasonable. Don't be totally driven by your own passions, the emotional enthusiasm of friends or even third-party research.

5. The only reliable test is a real one. Market research techniques for trying to predict the market's response to a new venture can be costly and are often unreliable. Testing for real is the assumption behind approaches such as Lean Startup . It is also what explorers do -- they go and look, instead of trying to predict from a distance what they will find.

6. Get started and build momentum. Too much hesitation will kill any new venture, as markets move quickly and difficulties mount. Getting started helps generate momentum and creates a sense of accomplishment, which can carry your startup through many obstacles. Early perseverance pays off.

7. Accept uncertainty as the norm. You will never remove all uncertainties, so accept them, and plan your activities in an incremental fashion. Too often, a business plan is seen as a mechanism for eliminating uncertainty, lulling the founder into complacency. Eliminate major uncertainties before the plan and update any plan as you learn.

8. Look for new opportunities. Many useful opportunities are either created by what you do early, or are only revealed once you have started and can see out there. So keep your eyes open and respond to new customers, markets and partnerships. You will also find that looking hard helps eliminate opportunities that are not right for you.

9. Build and use social capital. Social capital is people and connections. No entrepreneur can survive as an island. Social capital is as important as financial capital for all ventures. As with all capital, you can use only as much as you have acquired to-date. If you have no social capital, no business plan will likely get you the financial capital you need.

10. Acquire the relevant skills. Three basic skill sets are required for successful delivery of almost every venture. These are financial management, production capabilities and marketing and sales. If you don't have the relevant skills and knowledge, take time to build them or find someone to partner with, before you attempt any business plan.

If you decide to continue building a conventional business after exploring these principles, especially with investors and employees other than yourself, I'm still convinced a business plan is a valuable exercise. You should do it yourself to make sure you understand all the elements of the plan and facilitate communication of the specifics to your team and investors.

In essence, building a complete and credible plan is the final test of whether your venture has legs. The entrepreneur lifestyle is all about doing something you enjoy without undue stress, uncertainty and risk. Are you having fun in your venture yet?

Veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and Angel investor.

Martin Zwilling is the founder and CEO of  Startup Professionals , a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners. The author of  Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur?  and  Attracting an Angel, he writes a daily  blog  for entrepreneurs and dispenses advice on the subject of startups.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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24 of My Favorite Sample Business Plans & Examples For Your Inspiration

Clifford Chi

Published: February 06, 2024

Free Business Plan Template

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I believe that reading sample business plans is essential when writing your own.

sample business plans and examples

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As you explore business plan examples from real companies and brands, it’s easier for you to learn how to write a good one.

But what does a good business plan look like? And how do you write one that’s both viable and convincing. I’ll walk you through the ideal business plan format along with some examples to help you get started.

Table of Contents

Business Plan Format

Business plan types, sample business plan templates, top business plan examples.

Ask any successful sports coach how they win so many games, and they’ll tell you they have a unique plan for every single game. To me, the same logic applies to business.

If you want to build a thriving company that can pull ahead of the competition, you need to prepare for battle before breaking into a market.

Business plans guide you along the rocky journey of growing a company. And if your business plan is compelling enough, it can also convince investors to give you funding.

With so much at stake, I’m sure you’re wondering where to begin.

is not a business plan

  • Outline your idea.
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You're all set!

Click this link to access this resource at any time.

Fill out the form to get your free template.

First, you’ll want to nail down your formatting. Most business plans include the following sections.

1. Executive Summary

I’d say the executive summary is the most important section of the entire business plan. 

Why? Essentially, it's the overview or introduction, written in a way to grab readers' attention and guide them through the rest of the business plan. This is important, because a business plan can be dozens or hundreds of pages long.

There are two main elements I’d recommend including in your executive summary:

Company Description

This is the perfect space to highlight your company’s mission statement and goals, a brief overview of your history and leadership, and your top accomplishments as a business.

Tell potential investors who you are and why what you do matters. Naturally, they’re going to want to know who they’re getting into business with up front, and this is a great opportunity to showcase your impact.

Need some extra help firming up those business goals? Check out HubSpot Academy’s free course to help you set goals that matter — I’d highly recommend it

Products and Services

To piggyback off of the company description, be sure to incorporate an overview of your offerings. This doesn’t have to be extensive — just another chance to introduce your industry and overall purpose as a business.

In addition to the items above, I recommend including some information about your financial projections and competitive advantage here too.:

Keep in mind you'll cover many of these topics in more detail later on in the business plan. So, keep the executive summary clear and brief, and only include the most important takeaways.

Executive Summary Business Plan Examples

This example was created with HubSpot’s business plan template:

business plan sample: Executive Summary Example

This executive summary is so good to me because it tells potential investors a short story while still covering all of the most important details.

Business plans examples: Executive Summary

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Tips for Writing Your Executive Summary

  • Start with a strong introduction of your company, showcase your mission and impact, and outline the products and services you provide.
  • Clearly define a problem, and explain how your product solves that problem, and show why the market needs your business.
  • Be sure to highlight your value proposition, market opportunity, and growth potential.
  • Keep it concise and support ideas with data.
  • Customize your summary to your audience. For example, emphasize finances and return on investment for venture capitalists.

Check out our tips for writing an effective executive summary for more guidance.

2. Market Opportunity

This is where you'll detail the opportunity in the market.

The main question I’d ask myself here is this: Where is the gap in the current industry, and how will my product fill that gap?

More specifically, here’s what I’d include in this section:

  • The size of the market
  • Current or potential market share
  • Trends in the industry and consumer behavior
  • Where the gap is
  • What caused the gap
  • How you intend to fill it

To get a thorough understanding of the market opportunity, you'll want to conduct a TAM, SAM, and SOM analysis and perform market research on your industry.

You may also benefit from creating a SWOT analysis to get some of the insights for this section.

Market Opportunity Business Plan Example

I like this example because it uses critical data to underline the size of the potential market and what part of that market this service hopes to capture.

Business plans examples: Market Opportunity

Tips for Writing Your Market Opportunity Section

  • Focus on demand and potential for growth.
  • Use market research, surveys, and industry trend data to support your market forecast and projections.
  • Add a review of regulation shifts, tech advances, and consumer behavior changes.
  • Refer to reliable sources.
  • Showcase how your business can make the most of this opportunity.

3. Competitive Landscape

Since we’re already speaking of market share, you'll also need to create a section that shares details on who the top competitors are.

After all, your customers likely have more than one brand to choose from, and you'll want to understand exactly why they might choose one over another.

My favorite part of performing a competitive analysis is that it can help you uncover:

  • Industry trends that other brands may not be utilizing
  • Strengths in your competition that may be obstacles to handle
  • Weaknesses in your competition that may help you develop selling points
  • The unique proposition you bring to the market that may resonate with customers

Competitive Landscape Business Plan Example

I like how the competitive landscape section of this business plan below shows a clear outline of who the top competitors are.

Business plans examples: Competitive Landscape

It also highlights specific industry knowledge and the importance of location, which shows useful experience in this specific industry. 

This can help build trust in your ability to execute your business plan.

Tips for Writing Your Competitive Landscape

  • Complete in-depth research, then emphasize your most important findings.
  • Compare your unique selling proposition (USP) to your direct and indirect competitors.
  • Show a clear and realistic plan for product and brand differentiation.
  • Look for specific advantages and barriers in the competitive landscape. Then, highlight how that information could impact your business.
  • Outline growth opportunities from a competitive perspective.
  • Add customer feedback and insights to support your competitive analysis.

4. Target Audience

Use this section to describe who your customer segments are in detail. What is the demographic and psychographic information of your audience?

If your immediate answer is "everyone," you'll need to dig deeper. Here are some questions I’d ask myself here:

  • What demographics will most likely need/buy your product or service?
  • What are the psychographics of this audience? (Desires, triggering events, etc.)
  • Why are your offerings valuable to them?

I’d also recommend building a buyer persona to get in the mindset of your ideal customers and be clear on why you're targeting them.

Target Audience Business Plan Example

I like the example below because it uses in-depth research to draw conclusions about audience priorities. It also analyzes how to create the right content for this audience.

Business plans examples: Target Audience

Tips for Writing Your Target Audience Section

  • Include details on the size and growth potential of your target audience.
  • Figure out and refine the pain points for your target audience , then show why your product is a useful solution.
  • Describe your targeted customer acquisition strategy in detail.
  • Share anticipated challenges your business may face in acquiring customers and how you plan to address them.
  • Add case studies, testimonials, and other data to support your target audience ideas.
  • Remember to consider niche audiences and segments of your target audience in your business plan.

5. Marketing Strategy

Here, you'll discuss how you'll acquire new customers with your marketing strategy. I’d suggest including information:

  • Your brand positioning vision and how you'll cultivate it
  • The goal targets you aim to achieve
  • The metrics you'll use to measure success
  • The channels and distribution tactics you'll use

I think it’s helpful to have a marketing plan built out in advance to make this part of your business plan easier.

Marketing Strategy Business Plan Example

This business plan example includes the marketing strategy for the town of Gawler.

In my opinion, it really works because it offers a comprehensive picture of how they plan to use digital marketing to promote the community.

Business plans examples: Marketing Strategy

Tips for Writing Your Marketing Strategy

  • Include a section about how you believe your brand vision will appeal to customers.
  • Add the budget and resources you'll need to put your plan in place.
  • Outline strategies for specific marketing segments.
  • Connect strategies to earlier sections like target audience and competitive analysis.
  • Review how your marketing strategy will scale with the growth of your business.
  • Cover a range of channels and tactics to highlight your ability to adapt your plan in the face of change.

6. Key Features and Benefits

At some point in your business plan, you'll need to review the key features and benefits of your products and/or services.

Laying these out can give readers an idea of how you're positioning yourself in the market and the messaging you're likely to use. It can even help them gain better insight into your business model.

Key Features and Benefits Business Plan Example

In my opinion, the example below does a great job outlining products and services for this business, along with why these qualities will attract the audience.

Business plans examples: Key Features and Benefits

Tips for Writing Your Key Features and Benefits

  • Emphasize why and how your product or service offers value to customers.
  • Use metrics and testimonials to support the ideas in this section.
  • Talk about how your products and services have the potential to scale.
  • Think about including a product roadmap.
  • Focus on customer needs, and how the features and benefits you are sharing meet those needs.
  • Offer proof of concept for your ideas, like case studies or pilot program feedback.
  • Proofread this section carefully, and remove any jargon or complex language.

7. Pricing and Revenue

This is where you'll discuss your cost structure and various revenue streams. Your pricing strategy must be solid enough to turn a profit while staying competitive in the industry. 

For this reason, here’s what I’d might outline in this section:

  • The specific pricing breakdowns per product or service
  • Why your pricing is higher or lower than your competition's
  • (If higher) Why customers would be willing to pay more
  • (If lower) How you're able to offer your products or services at a lower cost
  • When you expect to break even, what margins do you expect, etc?

Pricing and Revenue Business Plan Example

I like how this business plan example begins with an overview of the business revenue model, then shows proposed pricing for key products.

Business plans examples: Pricing and Revenue

Tips for Writing Your Pricing and Revenue Section

  • Get specific about your pricing strategy. Specifically, how you connect that strategy to customer needs and product value.
  • If you are asking a premium price, share unique features or innovations that justify that price point.
  • Show how you plan to communicate pricing to customers.
  • Create an overview of every revenue stream for your business and how each stream adds to your business model as a whole.
  • Share plans to develop new revenue streams in the future.
  • Show how and whether pricing will vary by customer segment and how pricing aligns with marketing strategies.
  • Restate your value proposition and explain how it aligns with your revenue model.

8. Financials

To me, this section is particularly informative for investors and leadership teams to figure out funding strategies, investment opportunities, and more.

 According to Forbes , you'll want to include three main things:

  • Profit/Loss Statement - This answers the question of whether your business is currently profitable.
  • Cash Flow Statement - This details exactly how much cash is incoming and outgoing to give insight into how much cash a business has on hand.
  • Balance Sheet - This outlines assets, liabilities, and equity, which gives insight into how much a business is worth.

While some business plans might include more or less information, these are the key details I’d include in this section.

Financials Business Plan Example

This balance sheet is a great example of level of detail you’ll need to include in the financials section of your business plan.

Business plans examples: Financials

Tips for Writing Your Financials Section

  • Growth potential is important in this section too. Using your data, create a forecast of financial performance in the next three to five years.
  • Include any data that supports your projections to assure investors of the credibility of your proposal.
  • Add a break-even analysis to show that your business plan is financially practical. This information can also help you pivot quickly as your business grows.
  • Consider adding a section that reviews potential risks and how sensitive your plan is to changes in the market.
  • Triple-check all financial information in your plan for accuracy.
  • Show how any proposed funding needs align with your plans for growth.

As you create your business plan, keep in mind that each of these sections will be formatted differently. Some may be in paragraph format, while others could be charts or graphs.

The formats above apply to most types of business plans. That said, the format and structure of your plan will vary by your goals for that plan. 

So, I’ve added a quick review of different business plan types. For a more detailed overview, check out this post .

1. Startups

Startup business plans are for proposing new business ideas.

If you’re planning to start a small business, preparing a business plan is crucial. The plan should include all the major factors of your business.

You can check out this guide for more detailed business plan inspiration .

2. Feasibility Studies

Feasibility business plans focus on that business's product or service. Feasibility plans are sometimes added to startup business plans. They can also be a new business plan for an already thriving organization.

3. Internal Use

You can use internal business plans to share goals, strategies, or performance updates with stakeholders. In my opinion, internal business plans are useful for alignment and building support for ambitious goals.

4. Strategic Initiatives

Another business plan that's often for sharing internally is a strategic business plan. This plan covers long-term business objectives that might not have been included in the startup business plan.

5. Business Acquisition or Repositioning

When a business is moving forward with an acquisition or repositioning, it may need extra structure and support. These types of business plans expand on a company's acquisition or repositioning strategy.

Growth sometimes just happens as a business continues operations. But more often, a business needs to create a structure with specific targets to meet set goals for expansion. This business plan type can help a business focus on short-term growth goals and align resources with those goals.

Now that you know what's included and how to format a business plan, let's review some of my favorite templates.

1. HubSpot's One-Page Business Plan

Download a free, editable one-page business plan template..

The business plan linked above was created here at HubSpot and is perfect for businesses of any size — no matter how many strategies we still have to develop.

Fields such as Company Description, Required Funding, and Implementation Timeline give this one-page business plan a framework for how to build your brand and what tasks to keep track of as you grow.

Then, as the business matures, you can expand on your original business plan with a new iteration of the above document.

Why I Like It

This one-page business plan is a fantastic choice for the new business owner who doesn’t have the time or resources to draft a full-blown business plan. It includes all the essential sections in an accessible, bullet-point-friendly format. That way, you can get the broad strokes down before honing in on the details.

2. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

Sample business plan: hubspot free editable pdf

We also created a business plan template for entrepreneurs.

The template is designed as a guide and checklist for starting your own business. You’ll learn what to include in each section of your business plan and how to do it.

There’s also a list for you to check off when you finish each section of your business plan.

Strong game plans help coaches win games and help businesses rocket to the top of their industries. So if you dedicate the time and effort required to write a workable and convincing business plan, you’ll boost your chances of success and even dominance in your market.

This business plan kit is essential for the budding entrepreneur who needs a more extensive document to share with investors and other stakeholders.

It not only includes sections for your executive summary, product line, market analysis, marketing plan, and sales plan, but it also offers hands-on guidance for filling out those sections.

3. LiveFlow’s Financial Planning Template with built-in automation

Sample Business Plan: LiveFLow

This free template from LiveFlow aims to make it easy for businesses to create a financial plan and track their progress on a monthly basis.

The P&L Budget versus Actual format allows users to track their revenue, cost of sales, operating expenses, operating profit margin, net profit, and more.

The summary dashboard aggregates all of the data put into the financial plan sheet and will automatically update when changes are made.

Instead of wasting hours manually importing your data to your spreadsheet, LiveFlow can also help you to automatically connect your accounting and banking data directly to your spreadsheet, so your numbers are always up-to-date.

With the dashboard, you can view your runway, cash balance, burn rate, gross margins, and other metrics. Having a simple way to track everything in one place will make it easier to complete the financials section of your business plan.

This is a fantastic template to track performance and alignment internally and to create a dependable process for documenting financial information across the business. It’s highly versatile and beginner-friendly.

It’s especially useful if you don’t have an accountant on the team. (I always recommend you do, but for new businesses, having one might not be possible.)

4. ThoughtCo’s Sample Business Plan

sample business plan: ThoughtCo.

One of the more financially oriented sample business plans in this list, BPlan’s free business plan template dedicates many of its pages to your business’s financial plan and financial statements.

After filling this business plan out, your company will truly understand its financial health and the steps you need to take to maintain or improve it.

I absolutely love this business plan template because of its ease-of-use and hands-on instructions (in addition to its finance-centric components). If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of writing an entire business plan, consider using this template to help you with the process.

6. Harvard Business Review’s "How to Write a Winning Business Plan"

Most sample business plans teach you what to include in your business plan, but this Harvard Business Review article will take your business plan to the next level — it teaches you the why and how behind writing a business plan.

With the guidance of Stanley Rich and Richard Gumpert, co-authors of " Business Plans That Win: Lessons From the MIT Enterprise Forum ", you'll learn how to write a convincing business plan that emphasizes the market demand for your product or service.

You’ll also learn the financial benefits investors can reap from putting money into your venture rather than trying to sell them on how great your product or service is.

This business plan guide focuses less on the individual parts of a business plan, and more on the overarching goal of writing one. For that reason, it’s one of my favorites to supplement any template you choose to use. Harvard Business Review’s guide is instrumental for both new and seasoned business owners.

7. HubSpot’s Complete Guide to Starting a Business

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know writing a business plan is one of the most challenging first steps to starting a business.

Fortunately, with HubSpot's comprehensive guide to starting a business, you'll learn how to map out all the details by understanding what to include in your business plan and why it’s important to include them. The guide also fleshes out an entire sample business plan for you.

If you need further guidance on starting a business, HubSpot's guide can teach you how to make your business legal, choose and register your business name, and fund your business. It will also give small business tax information and includes marketing, sales, and service tips.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process of starting a business, in addition to writing your business plan, with a high level of exactitude and detail. So if you’re in the midst of starting your business, this is an excellent guide for you.

It also offers other resources you might need, such as market analysis templates.

8. Panda Doc’s Free Business Plan Template

sample business plan: Panda Doc

PandaDoc’s free business plan template is one of the more detailed and fleshed-out sample business plans on this list. It describes what you should include in each section, so you don't have to come up with everything from scratch.

Once you fill it out, you’ll fully understand your business’ nitty-gritty details and how all of its moving parts should work together to contribute to its success.

This template has two things I love: comprehensiveness and in-depth instructions. Plus, it’s synced with PandaDoc’s e-signature software so that you and other stakeholders can sign it with ease. For that reason, I especially love it for those starting a business with a partner or with a board of directors.

9. Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

sample business plan: Small Business Administration

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several free business plan templates that can be used to inspire your own plan.

Before you get started, you can decide what type of business plan you need — a traditional or lean start-up plan.

Then, you can review the format for both of those plans and view examples of what they might look like.

We love both of the SBA’s templates because of their versatility. You can choose between two options and use the existing content in the templates to flesh out your own plan. Plus, if needed, you can get a free business counselor to help you along the way.

I’ve compiled some completed business plan samples to help you get an idea of how to customize a plan for your business.

I chose different types of business plan ideas to expand your imagination. Some are extensive, while others are fairly simple.

Let’s take a look.

1. LiveFlow

business plan example: liveflow

One of the major business expenses is marketing. How you handle your marketing reflects your company’s revenue.

I included this business plan to show you how you can ensure your marketing team is aligned with your overall business plan to get results. The plan also shows you how to track even the smallest metrics of your campaigns, like ROI and payback periods instead of just focusing on big metrics like gross and revenue.

Fintech startup, LiveFlow, allows users to sync real-time data from its accounting services, payment platforms, and banks into custom reports. This eliminates the task of pulling reports together manually, saving teams time and helping automate workflows.

"Using this framework over a traditional marketing plan will help you set a profitable marketing strategy taking things like CAC, LTV, Payback period, and P&L into consideration," explains LiveFlow co-founder, Lasse Kalkar .

When it came to including marketing strategy in its business plan, LiveFlow created a separate marketing profit and loss statement (P&L) to track how well the company was doing with its marketing initiatives.

This is a great approach, allowing businesses to focus on where their marketing dollars are making the most impact. Having this information handy will enable you to build out your business plan’s marketing section with confidence. LiveFlow has shared the template here . You can test it for yourself.

2. Lula Body

Business plan example: Lula body

Sometimes all you need is a solid mission statement and core values to guide you on how to go about everything. You do this by creating a business plan revolving around how to fulfill your statement best.

For example, Patagonia is an eco-friendly company, so their plan discusses how to make the best environmentally friendly products without causing harm.

A good mission statement  should not only resonate with consumers but should also serve as a core value compass for employees as well.

Patagonia has one of the most compelling mission statements I’ve seen:

"Together, let’s prioritise purpose over profit and protect this wondrous planet, our only home."

It reels you in from the start, and the environmentally friendly theme continues throughout the rest of the statement.

This mission goes on to explain that they are out to "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to protect nature."

Their mission statement is compelling and detailed, with each section outlining how they will accomplish their goal.

4. Vesta Home Automation

business plan example: Vesta executive summary

This executive summary for a smart home device startup is part of a business plan created by students at Mount Royal University .

While it lacks some of the sleek visuals of the templates above, its executive summary does a great job of demonstrating how invested they are in the business.

Right away, they mention they’ve invested $200,000 into the company already, which shows investors they have skin in the game and aren’t just looking for someone else to foot the bill.

This is the kind of business plan you need when applying for business funds. It clearly illustrates the expected future of the company and how the business has been coming along over the years.

5. NALB Creative Center

business plan examples: nalb creative center

This fictional business plan for an art supply store includes everything one might need in a business plan: an executive summary, a company summary, a list of services, a market analysis summary, and more.

One of its most notable sections is its market analysis summary, which includes an overview of the population growth in the business’ target geographical area, as well as a breakdown of the types of potential customers they expect to welcome at the store. 

This sort of granular insight is essential for understanding and communicating your business’s growth potential. Plus, it lays a strong foundation for creating relevant and useful buyer personas .

It’s essential to keep this information up-to-date as your market and target buyer changes. For that reason, you should carry out market research as often as possible to ensure that you’re targeting the correct audience and sharing accurate information with your investors.

Due to its comprehensiveness, it’s an excellent example to follow if you’re opening a brick-and-mortar store and need to get external funding to start your business .

6. Curriculum Companion Suites (CSS)

business plan examples: curriculum companion suites

If you’re looking for a SaaS business plan example, look no further than this business plan for a fictional educational software company called Curriculum Companion Suites. 

Like the business plan for the NALB Creative Center, it includes plenty of information for prospective investors and other key stakeholders in the business.

One of the most notable features of this business plan is the executive summary, which includes an overview of the product, market, and mission.

The first two are essential for software companies because the product offering is so often at the forefront of the company’s strategy. Without that information being immediately available to investors and executives, then you risk writing an unfocused business plan.

It’s essential to front-load your company’s mission if it explains your "Why?" and this example does just that. In other words, why do you do what you do, and why should stakeholders care? This is an important section to include if you feel that your mission will drive interest in the business and its offerings.

7. Culina Sample Business Plan

sample business plan: Culina

Culina's sample business plan is an excellent example of how to lay out your business plan so that it flows naturally, engages readers, and provides the critical information investors and stakeholders need. 

You can use this template as a guide while you're gathering important information for your own business plan. You'll have a better understanding of the data and research you need to do since Culina’s plan outlines these details so flawlessly for inspiration.

8. Plum Sample Business Plan

Sample business plan: Plum

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IMAGES

  1. Without a business plan, you just have an idea that will go nowhere

    is not a business plan

  2. Business Plan Wallpapers

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  3. How to Write a Business Plan

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  4. How to write a business plan in 10 steps + free template

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  5. I Don't Need a Business plan

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  6. How to write a business plan in 10 steps + free template

    is not a business plan

COMMENTS

  1. Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How to Write One

    Adam Hayes Updated January 25, 2024 Reviewed by Khadija Khartit Fact checked by Vikki Velasquez What Is a Business Plan? A business plan is a document that details a company's goals and how it...

  2. How To Write A Business Plan (2024 Guide)

    The business plan should have a section that explains the services or products that you're offering. This is the part where you can also describe how they fit in the current market or are ...

  3. Write your business plan

    Your business plan is the tool you'll use to convince people that working with you — or investing in your company — is a smart choice. Pick a business plan format that works for you There's no right or wrong way to write a business plan. What's important is that your plan meets your needs.

  4. How to Write a Business Plan: Guide + Examples

    Updated March 4, 2024 Writing a business plan doesn't have to be complicated. In this step-by-step guide, you'll learn how to write a business plan that's detailed enough to impress bankers and potential investors, while giving you the tools to start, run, and grow a successful business. The basics of business planning

  5. No Business Plan: Everything You Need to Know

    A business plan lays out all the information a banker or potential investor needs to know about your company. Some information to include in your plan: Your company's mission statement. A description of your company. A description of your company's management structure. The goods and services your company provides.

  6. Business Plan: What it Is, How to Write One

    Learn about the best business plan software. 1. Write an executive summary. This is your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services your ...

  7. What Is a Business Plan? Definition and Essentials Explained

    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 ...

  8. What Is A Business Plan (& Do I Really Need One?)

    A business plan acts as a unifying document that aligns the team with the company's goals and strategies. It ensures that everyone is on the same page, working towards common objectives. This alignment fosters collaboration and efficiency, driving the business towards its targets. 3. Validating the Business Concept.

  9. 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.

  10. How to Write a Simple Business Plan

    "The business plan is not a college thesis," he says. "Just focus on providing the essential information." Do Adequate Research: Michael Dean, the Co-Founder of Pool Research, encourages business leaders to "invest time in research, both internal and external (market, finance, legal etc.). Avoid being overly ambitious or presumptive.

  11. Business Plan: What It Is + How to Write One

    1. Executive summary This is a short section that introduces the business plan as a whole to the people who will be reading it, including investors, lenders, or other members of your team. Start with a sentence or two about your business, your goals for developing it, and why it will be successful.

  12. 17 Key Business Plan Mistakes to Avoid in 2024

    5. Not doing enough research. You don't need to spend endless time researching, but your business plan should demonstrate that you truly understand your industry, your target market, and your competitors. If you don't have this core knowledge, it's going to show that you're not prepared to launch your business.

  13. The Consequences of Not Having a Business Plan

    November 28, 2022 Business plans Failing to have a business plan could lead to huge consequences for your business. Read this blog to find out the disadvantages of not having a business plan. What Is a Business Plan? A business plan is the big-picture idea for your business.

  14. What Is A Business Plan

    If you're starting a business, you need a business plan. It's a strategic roadmap that not only helps you but also gives your key stakeholders, investors, lenders, and other business partners an idea of what your business is capable of and where it's headed. One of the many reasons why businesses fail is due to a lack of proper planning.

  15. Why Creating a Business Plan Is a 'Waste of Time'

    Knowledge at Wharton Podcast Why Creating a Business Plan Is a 'Waste of Time' May 24, 2018 • 23 min listen. What entrepreneurs need is flexibility and innovation -- not a traditional ...

  16. When Is a Business Plan Not a Business Plan?

    Business plan: a document used to summarize a business to serve as part of the process of seeking investors or applying for a commercial loan. Why does this matter? Because I see both of these two distinct meanings coming up in business conversation all the time, constantly confusing people.

  17. Simple Business Plan Template (2024)

    This section of your simple business plan template explores how to structure and operate your business. Details include the type of business organization your startup will take, roles and ...

  18. 10 Reasons Not to Write a Business Plan

    Early perseverance pays off. 7. Accept uncertainty as the norm. You will never remove all uncertainties, so accept them, and plan your activities in an incremental fashion. Too often, a business ...

  19. 5 Reasons Why You Don't Need a Business Plan

    This is not to say that you don't need some idea of what you're doing and in what order, but planning just to plan is wasted effort. 5. It can limit your thinking. Even the best business plan can ...

  20. 7 Things That Will Happen To Your Business If You Have No Business Plan

    Most entrepreneurs think they do not need a business plan to have a successful business. While that may be true, a business plan will go a long way in making sure your goals are achieved. Below are 7 things that will happen to your business if you do not have a business plan. You make irrational decisions

  21. A Plan Is Not a Strategy

    A comprehensive plan—with goals, initiatives, and budgets-is comforting. But starting with a plan is a terrible way to make strategy. Roger Martin, former de...

  22. How to write an effective business plan

    Jason Cother, CNN Underscored Money Published 5:30 AM EDT, Wed March 13, 2024 iStock/damircudic Ready to start a business? You'll need to write a business plan. Business plans can seem...

  23. 24 of My Favorite Sample Business Plans & Examples For Your Inspiration

    8. Panda Doc's Free Business Plan Template. PandaDoc's free business plan template is one of the more detailed and fleshed-out sample business plans on this list. It describes what you should include in each section, so you don't have to come up with everything from scratch.