How to Write a Business Plan

Last Updated: May 23, 2024, 8:30 am by TRUiC Team

Writing a business plan can be an intimidating endeavor. Whether you’ve decided to start a business , or you already have a business and need to write a business plan to apply for a loan or to pitch to investors , we cover the process in-depth.

Recommended: Our business plan generator walks you through topics like marketing and financial projections so that your business is prepared to succeed.

Man writing a business plan.

What Is a Business Plan?

The traditional business plan is typically a 20 to 40-page formal document that describes what your business does, what your objectives are, and how you plan to achieve them.

It lays out your plans for operating, marketing, and managing your business, along with your goals and financial projections.

There are many different types of business plans, depending on the stage of your venture and the purpose of your business plan. In the earliest stages of your business idea, you may want to start small with a three-sentence business plan , or perhaps by sketching out a lean canvas or business model canvas .

Once your business idea has been developed, you’ll be ready to begin writing your business plan .

Why Do You Need a Business Plan?

Writing a business plan requires you to think through all of the key elements of your business. This gives you insights into the challenges you’ll face and the strengths you bring.

A business plan is also often requested by lenders or investors when you are ready to seek financing.

While many companies do not need a formal business plan unless they are planning on seeking investors or applying for a business loan , writing a business plan has extensive benefits.

The process of writing your business plan allows you to take an in-depth look at your industry , market , and competitive position . It helps you set goals , determine your keys to success , and plan your strategies . It also allows you to explore your financial projections and manage cash. So, even if you do not need a formal business plan, the process of planning may still reap huge rewards.

Your Audience

You need to think carefully about who is going to read your business plan.

Although you might begin writing a business plan only to convince yourself, there are a number of stakeholders who may end up reading your business plan.

Your plan might be read by your:

  • Partners or potential partners
  • Board of directors
  • Senior management team
  • Current employees
  • Employment candidates

Outside the organization , the following stakeholders may want to read your business plan before they decide to do business with you:

  • Distributors
  • And independent contractors

Think about your primary audience when you are writing your business plan. What are the aspects that are most important to them? This is where you will want to put the majority of your focus.

For example, lenders will be most interested in your financial projections — your cash flow statement and balance sheet.

Investors might be most interested in your business model, the uniqueness of your product or service, and your competitive advantage.

Partners, your senior management team, and current employees might be most interested in your strategic plans- your vision, your operational plan, and your organizational plan.

Find Sample Business Plans in Your Industry

One great resource you should check out before sitting down to write your business plan are sample business plans in your industry.

Not only will you have the opportunity to gain insights on your industry and your competitors, you also might be able to find troves of industry and market research that will make conducting your own analysis of the industry and market much easier.

To find example business plans in your industry, try searching the web for “ your industry business plan example.”

Writing Your Business Plan

Once you have spent some time looking at sample business plans in your industry, it is now time to start writing your business plan . An easy place to begin is by outlining the major sections you will need in your plan.

What you need to include in your business plan will depend on the type of business you are creating, your business model, and who your intended audience is.

Common business plan sections include:

  • Executive Summary — a high-level overview of your business or business idea
  • Venture Overview — a description of your company, vision, mission, and goals
  • Product or Service Description — a detailed description of your product or service
  • Industry and Market Analysis — an analysis of the industry and market you compete in
  • Marketing Plan — your overall strategy and specific plans to capture market share
  • Organizational Plan — the legal form of the business and the key players
  • Operational Plan — how you will operate the business and your key resources
  • Goals, Milestones, and Risks — short and long-term goals, milestones, and risks
  • Financial Statements — Financial statements or the projected financials of your business

Not every type of venture will require every one of these sections to be included in their business plans. However, most business plans will at least include an executive summary, venture overview, a description of the products and services, and some form of financial projections.

Executive Summary

As suggested in its name, an executive summary is a summary of the key points in your business plan . This is your first chance to convey to readers the what, why, who, and how of your business or business idea.

Although there is no set structure for an executive summary, a good executive summary should summarize :

  • The problem you are solving
  • Your solution
  • Your target market
  • Any competitive advantages
  • The team you’ll build
  • Goals and objectives
  • An overview of your financials or financial forecast

If you are writing your business plan for the purpose of acquiring funding , you will also need to discuss the amount of funding required, the purpose of the funds, as well as how your investors will get paid back.

The executive summary should be clear and concise . Ideally, this section should be one to two pages and typically follows either a synopsis or story approach, depending on the intended audience.

In the synopsis approach, you would provide a brief summary of each of the key sections of your business plan. In the story approach, your executive summary reads like a narrative, allowing you to tell the “story” of your business or idea.

With either approach to writing the executive summary, the information you want to convey remains the same. The executive summary needs to provide an overall picture of your current business or business idea.

The executive summary should include:

  • A brief description of you and your venture,
  • The problem your product or service is solving,
  • Some information on your target market, including size, potential, & competition, and
  • The solution you are offering.

The executive summary should also include:

  • A statement of where you are now,
  • A statement of your objectives and future plans,
  • A list of what you see as keys to your success, and (if you are seeking investors)
  • Any relevant financial information such as start-up costs, funding required, and how you will use investor funding.

Although the executive summary is the first section in the business plan, because it is a summary of the rest of your business plan, it is often written last.

Venture Overview

The venture overview is a top-level depiction of your company.

It contains the:

Description of the Venture

  • Vision Statement
  • Mission Statement
  • Goals & Objectives
  • Keys to Your Success

The first part of your venture overview is a description of your venture.

The description of your venture should include what you do (a brief description of your products or services), the value you provide to customers, your current operating status or a brief history of the venture, and a short description of the industry or niche in which you compete.

How to Write a Vision Statement

After describing your venture, a vision statement is a very simple, 5 to 10 word sentence or tagline that expresses the fundamental goals of your firm. Good vision statements reflect your company’s long term passion and purpose, often in a way that evokes emotion.

Take a look at the vision statements below for some inspiration:

Disney —  To make people happy. Oxfam —  A world without poverty. Stanford —  To become the Harvard of the West. Marriott —  To be the #1 hospitality company in the world. Microsoft —  A computer on every desk and in every home; all running Microsoft software.

How to Write a Mission Statement

After having crafted your vision statement, you should also create a mission statement. A mission statement explains your company's goals in terms of what you do for your customers. A good mission statement should tell your reader what your company does, who you do it for, and why you do what you do.

Check out these excellent examples of compelling mission statements:

Patagonia —  “Our Reason For Being: Build the best products, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Trader Joes —  “Our mission is to give our customers the best food and beverage values that they can find anywhere and to provide them with the information required to make informed buying decisions. We provide these with a dedication to the highest quality of customer satisfaction delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, fun, individual pride, and company spirit.” Facebook —  "Founded in 2004, Facebook's mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what's going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them."

Goals and Objectives

In this section of the business plan, break down your most important short-term and long-term goals and objectives.

Aim for five to seven of your most important short and long term goals.

This subsection of your venture description should be kept short. You will come back to your goals at the end of your business plan.

However, your key short-term and long-term goals should be highlighted early on in your business plan as well. The rest of your business plan will act as evidence of how you plan on achieving your goals.

Keys to Success

Your keys to success are your insights into what it takes to be successful in your industry, market, or niche.

Your keys to success can include several of the most important milestones that you will need to accomplish in order to achieve your goals.

These may include providing high quality products and services, your ability to attract customers or users and gain market share, or even your ability to develop the technology to deliver your products or services.

Your keys to success may also include the major milestones that you will need to reach along the way in order to achieve your vision. You will come back to your milestones and objectives at the end of your business plan.

Product or Service Description

The product or service description section is where you will go into detail in describing your products or services.

Not only will you describe your product in more detail, you should also discuss the uniqueness of your product, and what gives you an advantage over your competitors.

These are the three main parts of the Product (or Service) Description:

Description of Products or Services

Uniqueness of product, competitive advantage.

In this subsection of your business plan, describe the products or services you will provide, why they are a fit in the market, and how you will compete with similar products and services.

Begin by clearly describing the products or services you will provide. Make sure to explain the features and characteristics of your products and services. Your product or service description does not have to be highly technical. Rather, in addition to describing the features, focus on highlighting the advantages and benefits associated with your products or services.

Also, let your reader know why your product or service is needed. How does your product or service differ from those offered by your competitors? How does it better fill your customers wants and needs?

This is where you tell your reader why your solution is unique. Is it different from everything else out there? How is it different? Why would potential users choose your product or service over your competitors? In order to stand out, you need to distinguish yourself in some way.

To describe your product or service’s uniqueness, you may want to come up with a unique value proposition (or unique selling point). A value proposition is a short description of what you do, who you do it for, and how this benefits them.

A value proposition is similar to a mission statement. However, it differs in that a mission statement is written from the perspective of the company, while a value proposition is written from the perspective of the customer.

Your value proposition should be the center of your customer messaging. It should be front and center on your website, in your marketing materials, and in your advertising.

Here a few examples of great value propositions:

Dollar Shave Club —  A Great Shave for a Few Bucks a Month. No Commitment. No Fees. No B.S. Unbounce —  Build, Publish, & A/B Test Landing Pages Without IT Freshbooks —  Small Business Accounting Software Built for You, the Non-Accountant Skype —  Skype Keeps the World Talking, for Free. Share, Message, and Call - Now with Group Video on Mobile and Tablet Too.

What makes you better than competitors?

Does your competitive advantage come from superior products and services, customer service, technical support, logistics, price? What are the factors that give you an advantage over your competitors?

Clearly defining your competitive advantage is important.

Your competitive advantage is not just some abstract concept. It is at the core of how you deliver value to your customers. Your competitive advantage lays the foundation for your business model and should be a key component of your strategic plans.

Common areas where businesses find competitive advantages include:

  • Intellectual Property
  • Resources/Capital
  • Economies of Scale
  • Knowledge/Experience
  • Connections and Network
  • Customer Service
  • Technical Support
  • Customization
  • Brand Recognition/Loyalty

Industry and Market Analyses

The industry and market analysis is the “big picture” view of your industry and market.

Conducting an industry and market analysis is going to take a good deal of research. You will likely need to research your industry, your competitors, and your customers. But do not rush through this section of your business plan.

A good understanding of your industry and market is critical to your success. By understanding the forces at play within your industry, you will be better able to find additional ways to create value that will allow you to succeed in the current and anticipated competitive environment.

Conducting an industry and market analysis can be intimidating, especially if you do not know what to look for or how to find the information you need. In the next section, we will discuss what should be included in your industry analysis. Then, we will tell you where to begin looking.

Industry Analysis

The industry analysis is a big picture analysis of the industry you will compete in. What does your overall industry look like today? There are a number of insights that will help you assess the attractiveness of your idea and form a big picture view of the industry and segment you are considering competing in.

Key insights to be alert for include:

  • The dominant economic features of the industry
  • The industry’s driving forces
  • The industry’s competitive environment
  • The competitive position of major players and key competitors
  • Key industry success factors

To arrive at meaningful insights from your industry analysis, try to find answers to the following questions:

  • What primary products or services are provided by your industry?
  • What is the size and trajectory of the industry?
  • What was the annual growth rate of the industry over the past year? Three years? Five years? Ten years?
  • What is the forecasted annual growth rate over the next three years? Five years? Ten years?
  • What is the average profitability of firms in your industry?
  • What trends are affecting your industry?
  • Who are the major customer segments served by your industry?
  • Who are the major players in your industry?
  • Who will be your key competitors in your industry?
  • What key factors determine success or failure?

Industry Research

Now that you have a better idea of what to look for, you will need to know where to begin your search. There are a number of great free resources to begin looking for industry research. However, the first step is to determine the industry you are in.

While by this point, you should have some idea of the industry you are in, it is not always so clear. You could try an internet search to see what information you can find on your industry, but you will also want to find the NAICS code. You can do a NAICS Code Lookup and find the NAICS Code for LLC that matches your industry.

Here, you use the NAICS identification tool to drill-down through a list of industries to find the appropriate NAICS code for your business.

Once you know your industry, you can begin collecting more information about the industry trends and trajectory.

www.Bizstats.com provides free industry statistics including industry averages for income statement revenues and expenses, balance sheets, and key financial ratios. This is very helpful in making financial forecasts and setting benchmarks.

The US Census Bureau also provides several tools to help you conduct industry research:

  • The Economic Census provides information on employer businesses, including data sorted by industry, state, region, and more.
  • Statistics of US Businesses (SUSB) provides additional data on US businesses by enterprise size and industry. Both of these tools may help in conducting your industry analysis.

Target Market Analysis

Once you have a better understanding of the industry, you can begin to narrow down to your target market. In this section of the business plan you describe who your target market is and what you know about them.

What is a target market? Your target market is the specific group of customers to whom your product is intended. And no, it is not everyone. Although many new venture founders would like to sell their product or service to everyone, you should focus your efforts on your most likely customers.

Narrowing your target market requires understanding the three types of markets for your products or services. Your venture’s market can be narrowed down into three categories, the TAM, the SAM, and the SOM.

The total available market (TAM) is the total market for your products and services. Everyone in the universe who might be your customer.

The serviceable available market (SAM) is the subset of the total market that you can actually reach. Although anyone in your universe might be your customer, you are limited in your ability to reach them all.

The share of market (SOM) is the subset of the serviceable available market that you will actually reach. These are your most likely customers. Your target market.

Target markets can be segmented in many different ways. The idea is to narrow down to your most likely customers. This is where your focus should be.

Ways you can segment the market include:

  • Demographic (e.g., age, gender, family size, education, income)
  • Geographic (e.g., country, state, region, city, neighborhood)
  • Psychographic (e.g., benefits sought, personality, social class, lifestyle)
  • Behavioral (e.g., benefits sought, usage, attitude, loyalty)

Once you understand who your target market segments are, you will be able to start determining how you can reach them. To do this, consider:

  • Where does your target market get information to make purchasing decisions?
  • What is it they are looking for when considering buying this product/service?
  • What will your target market pay attention to?

Market Research

To determine your target market and conduct a market analysis, you will most likely have to do market research.

Market research is the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data related to your target market and target customer to support strategic decision making.

There are two types of market research : secondary market research, and primary market research.

Secondary market research is the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data that has already been collected for other purposes. Secondary market research may include the collection of data from a number of sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau, consumer agencies, and for-profit organizations.

Primary market research is the collection of new information to gain a further understanding of the problem at hand. Primary market research involves you collecting the data or hiring a market research firm to collect data for you. This is you going out and actually collecting the opinions of your potential customers.

Common methods of primary market research include customer observation, focus groups, customer surveys, and customer interviews .

Because primary market research typically takes more time to complete and may incur significant costs , secondary market research is often conducted before conducting primary market research. This allows you to gather enough insights that you can narrow your primary market research to those more likely to be your customers.

To begin conducting secondary market research, consider these sources:

Think with Google provides a number of free tools and resources to help you find and understand your target market. From tools like Find My Audience and an Insights Library to a wealth of information on customer trends and the consumer journey, Think with Google is a valuable tool in conducting your market analysis.

City Town Info provides free statistics on people and places, colleges and universities, and jobs and careers. You can search for data on more than 20,000 U.S. communities at the city and state levels.

Google Trends is another useful tool for conducting market research. Google Trends allows you to explore what people are searching on the internet. You can examine trending topics, see trends by year, or search your own topic to discover interest over time, by region, or by related queries.

Social Mention allows you to conduct a real-time social media search for topics across more than 100 social media platforms. Social Mention provides you with information on the sentiment behind topic mentions, top keywords, top hashtags, and the social media platforms where these topics are being discussed.

Needless to say, there are several other great sources for both industry and market research. The key is to get creative to find the data and information to both guide your strategy as well as justify your business opportunity.

Competitive Analysis

Once you understand your industry and market, you should also include an analysis of your major competitors.

Your competitors may include anyone offering alternatives to your solution that people are using now to solve the same problem.

You will want to understand and explain who your competitors are along with their market share , price, major competitive advantages and disadvantages, and what makes your product unique from theirs.

Start by identifying the major competitors within your industry. You should focus on your closest competitors. Those that compete with you directly.

Next, for each competitor, describe their strategies, their strengths, and their weaknesses. In doing so, try to answer the following questions:

  • What are their primary products and or services?
  • Who are their target customers?
  • What differentiates your product or service from theirs?
  • What is their pricing strategy?
  • What is their marketing strategy?
  • What is their main message or value proposition?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are their competitive advantages?

You should complete a competitive analysis for your top three to five competitors. Doing so will allow you to gain a much better perspective on the competitive landscape and may provide insight into how you can distinguish yourself from your competitors and even how you can take advantage of areas where your competitors fall short.

Marketing Plan

The marketing plan depicts the overall strategy your venture pursues to capture market share.

The marketing plan describes all aspects of marketing for your venture, including the product, price, place, and promotion . This includes a big picture view of your marketing strategy, your planned marketing mix, as well as your pricing strategy, sales strategy, and advertising strategy.

The marketing plan should be well informed by your industry and market analysis. By now, you have a plethora of knowledge about who your target customer is, the problem and pain points that you are alleviating for them, and how your competitors are positioned. All of this knowledge allows you to hone your marketing plan to reach your target market with the right message in the channels they turn to for information.

Marketing Strategy

The first section of your marketing plan is your marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy refers to your overall strategy of how you will market your product. How will you get your message out to your potential customers?

Your marketing strategy should consider the four essential elements of marketing:

The 4 Ps of Marketing:

The product is everything the customer gets, whether it be a physical product, a service, or an experience.

It is what you deliver. This includes the product or service itself, along with its branding, packaging, labeling, and even benefits.

The price is what you charge. What the customer gives you. Your business plan should discuss your pricing strategy and where this fits in your marketing mix.

Are you competing on price and thus offer low pricing? Or are you focusing on value at a medium price point? Or maybe you are positioned as a luxury label or item, and compete at a high price point? Why did you choose this strategy? Does it fit with your target market and within your marketing mix?

Location refers to where your customers find you, or where you find them.

While much of today’s marketing is done online, location is still as important as ever. Once you understand the place, you will have a much better idea on how to deploy your marketing mix. Where do your ideal customers get their information? Where do they shop? What forms of social media do they use?

Promotion is how you tell customers about your products and services.

Simply put, promotion is how you raise awareness of your products, services, or brand. Promotion strategies may include public relations, content creation and curation, marketing, and advertising.

But, keep in mind, your promotional strategies should be focused on one thing: your target customer and the strategies and messaging that works for them.

Your Marketing Mix

Your marketing mix is how you allocate resources to the marketing channels that you plan to pursue. In this section of your marketing plan, you will describe the marketing messaging and channels that you plan to use, and why these are appropriate for your target market.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing, or content marketing, is a form of marketing designed to draw traffic to your website by providing valuable content to your target market. This is often achieved by posting useful web content, content, videos, and blogs.

The idea behind inbound marketing is pretty simple- by providing knowledge and information on your products, services, and other information that is valuable to your customers, you generate more leads and, hopefully, more sales.

Social Media Marketing

With over 3.5 billion people around the world using social media, social media marketing is another powerful tool to reach potential customers.

Social media marketing has many advantages, including allowing you to get your message in front of your specified target audience at little to no cost.

Although there is an overabundance of social media channels to choose from. Focus on the ones that your target market uses to get their information.

For instance, if your target market is middle age or older people, you may want to focus on platforms that are more popular with these demographics such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. However, if your target market is teen agers and young adults, you are more likely to find them on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.

The Power of Video Marketing

Do not forget to discuss the use of video marketing in your marketing mix.

In both inbound and social media marketing, video has begun to play an increasingly important role. Video marketing can be employed in inbound marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing to serve a variety of purposes. The most common uses of video marketing include explainer videos, presentation videos, testimonial videos, sales videos, and video ads.

Not only can video marketing be used in a variety of methods and contexts, it is a highly consumed type of advertising. In fact, in 2020, 96% of consumers watched an explainer video to find out more about a product or service. Video works. And marketers believe this too. 92% of marketers who utilize video marketing say that it is a key part of their marketing strategy.

Email Marketing

Depending on the type of venture your company is, email marketing may also be an important element in your marketing mix. A good email marketing strategy balances gaining new customers with keeping your existing customers engaged with your company.

Although you do not want to overdo it, and a lot of email marketing seems “spammy”, email marketing can be very effective in the right form. Welcome notes, confirmation emails, informational emails, newsletters, digital magazines, promotional emails, and seasonal and birthday campaigns are just a few of the many types of email marketing.

Referral Marketing

Another common type of marketing in a company's marketing mix is referral or recommendation marketing. Referral or recommendation marketing can take many forms. Referral marketing might include good old organic word-of-mouth marketing wherein you ask customers for referrals, or even a formal system for rewarding customers who refer new clients.

Pricing Strategy

The Marketing Plan section of the business plan should also describe your pricing strategy. How are you going to price your products and services?

There are a number of ways you can approach pricing:

Markup Pricing —  Markup pricing is pricing based on your costs, plus a predetermined markup. The amount you mark up your product or service is usually expressed as a percentage, known as the gross margin. Markup pricing is most often found in high volume manufacturing industries where manufacturers must cover the cost of the products they are making.

Competitive Pricing —  Competitive pricing is pricing based on your competitors prices for similar products or services. Competitive pricing is most often seen in products or services where there are numerous competitors or substitutes.

Value Pricing —  Value pricing is pricing based on the value or perceived value that you deliver to your customers. In value-based pricing, you set the prices of your products and services in line with what the customer believes your product or service is worth. Value-based pricing is most often seen in higher value products and services, those that cater to self-image, or those that are niche or unique.

Penetration Pricing —  Penetration pricing is setting a low initial price, and then raising it as demand increases. Penetration pricing is designed to capture market share. It is a strategy often used by a new business or in launching new products and services. The idea is to set the price low enough to draw customers from your competition.

Price skimming —  Price skimming pricing is setting a high initial price and then reducing this price as the market evolves. Price skimming is most often used on new or trendy products and services. As initial demand slows and alternatives or competitors emerge, the high initial pricing must then be lowered to stay competitive in the market.

Sales Strategy

A sales strategy is how you plan on selling your products or services to your target market. This includes your sales channels (where will your product or service be available for sale) as well as how you will sell your product or service.

Your sales strategy depends on your business model and the nature of your business. If your business involves retailing, food services, or personal services where your customers come to you to make a purchase, your sales strategy may be quite simple (or even unnecessary to income). However, if your business involves personal selling, you may need a more thought-out sales strategy.

Some questions to ask to determine and document your sales strategy in your business plan:

  • Will your products or services be available on your website?
  • On a third-party website?
  • In retail locations?
  • In your own stores?
  • In other retail stores?
  • Directly to consumers? (Business to Consumer or B2C)
  • To businesses? (Business to Business or B2B)
  • Cold calling?
  • Networking?
  • Inside salespeople?
  • Outside sales representatives?
  • Sales through strategic partners?

Advertising Strategy

An advertising strategy is how you plan to use sponsored, non-personal messaging to reach and inform potential customers of your product, service, or brand.

Your advertising plan should describe the mediums you are going to advertise in , who you are targeting advertising in these mediums, your advertising message(s), and your advertising budget. A good advertising plan is also measurable, so be sure to consider how you are going to measure the effect of your advertising strategy to see if it is working.

Advertising Mediums

The most common advertising mediums typically fall into the categories of traditional advertising and digital advertising.

Traditional advertising includes print advertising such as newspapers, magazines, flyers, direct mail, and even billboards, as well as radio and tv advertising.

Digital advertising includes email advertising, search engine advertising, website advertising, social media advertising, influencer advertising, among many, many more.

The secret to finding the right advertising strategy and advertising mediums for your business is knowing where to find your most likely customers. Where is your target market, and where do they go to get their information?

Organizational Plan

The organizational (or management) plan describes:

  • The legal form of the business
  • Its organizational structure
  • The background and roles of the leadership team
  • Key personnel that are already in place or you will need to fill.

Organizational Type and Structure

The first part of your organizational plan describes your organizational type and structure . Who owns your company? And what is its legal business structure?

There are four primary types of organizational structures:

Sole Proprietorships

Partnerships.

  • Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)

Corporations

Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships are informal business structures , while LLCs and Corporations are more formal business structures .

The best type of structure for your business will depend on your business’s particular characteristics and needs. A partnership structure may be the best choice for some businesses, while an LLC or a corporation might work better for others.

Sole proprietorships are an informal type of business structure. While many businesses start out as sole proprietorships because they are an informal business structure the owner is liable for 100% of the business's liabilities and risks. Thus sole proprietorships are typically not the preferred ownership structure for small businesses.

Similar to a sole proprietorship, a partnership is also an informal type of business structure. While a sole proprietorship involves only one owner, a partnership is a business structure with two or more partners where there is still no legal distinction between the owners of a partnership and their business.

An LLC is a formal business structure that distinguishes the owners from the business itself.

LLCs offer the personal liability protection of a corporation with the pass-through taxation of a sole proprietorship or partnership.

It is the simplest way of structuring your business to protect your personal assets in the event your business is sued.

LLCs can be owned by one or more people, who are known as LLC “members.” An LLC with one owner is known as a single-member LLC, and an LLC with more than one owner is a multi-member LLC.

LLCs require operating agreements . Operating agreements are legal documents that outline the ownership and member duties of your LLC. This agreement allows you to set out the financial and working relations among business owners ("members") and between members and managers.

Recommended: Learn how to form an LLC in your state using our free guides.

A corporation is a legal business entity that is owned by shareholders, run by a board of directors, and created through registration with the state.

Corporations offer limited liability and tax benefits but are required to follow more complex operating procedures than their counterpart, the limited liability company (LLC).

Ownership and Executive Team

Now it’s time to sell the single most important element in your business plan. You!

This subsection of your business plan tells readers who is in your ownership and executive team and outlines the accomplishments of your team.

You should include a short profile on each member of your ownership and executive team that will play a role in company decision making.

Who is on your ownership and executive team? What roles will each perform? What knowledge, experience, and accomplishments do you and your team bring to the table? What roles do you still need to fill, and how and when do you plan on filling them?

It is well known that many investors consider the experience and ability of the ownership and management team to be just as important as the idea itself. Do not pass over this opportunity to highlight how your knowledge, experience, and accomplishments set you up to succeed.

Also, remember that when you are writing your descriptions of your ownership team, talk about your accomplishments- as opposed to experience. Accomplishments signify that you have a track record and can get things done.

Key Personnel

This section of the business plan highlights the key personnel associated with the business . This may include members of the management team outside of the owners and executive management, the board of directors, and any outside advisors.

Here, include profiles on each key figure associated with your company, focusing on their accomplishments and the knowledge and skill they bring to the business.

Operational Plan

The operational plan describes how you will operate. The processes, strategies, and resources that you will use to operate your business on a daily basis.

This includes descriptions of production (if you produce a product) or the process you will use to carry out your service. The operational plan may also include, as necessary, descriptions of your logistics and supply chain, physical resources and needs, human resources and needs, technological resources and needs, and timetables for carrying out your plan.

Production Plan or Service Description

The production plan or service description explains how you are going to make and deliver your product(s) or provide your service(s). Although the production plans for products and services may look slightly different, both describe how your company will operate in the day-to-day.

If you are making a product , the production plan is where you will describe the process for making the product. What are your methods of production? What are the steps in your processes? How will you ensure quality? Maintain inventory? Handle Logistics?

If you are providing a service , the production plan is where you can describe the process you go through providing that service. What are your service methods? What will your sales and customer service look like? What is the customer experience like?

Most importantly, which of these might give you an advantage over your competitors? If you have any superior methods, processes, or other advantages, make sure to highlight them in your production plan or service description.

Logistics and Supply Chain

This section of the business plan describes your logistics and where you fall within the supply chain in your industry.

If you produce a product , you should discuss how you source materials, where your materials come from, and who your suppliers are. You will also need to discuss how you handle inventory, how you warehouse, and how you distribute your product(s).

If you are a service business , you may still have to discuss how you source materials used in your service, who your suppliers are, and how you handle inventory.

Physical Resources

In this section of the operational plan, you describe the physical resources that you have and the physical resources that you need to acquire. Think through everything you might need. This will become important when it is time to make financial projections.

  • What facilities, machinery, equipment, and supplies do you require?
  • Do you require raw materials?
  • Who will be your primary suppliers?
  • Secondary suppliers?
  • Do you have back up suppliers and contingency plans if you cannot acquire raw materials?

Technological Resources

You should discuss the technological resources that you are developing, have, or need to create or acquire. Technological resources may include any software, applications, or websites that you have or will need to create, outsource, or purchase.

  • What hardware or machinery will you require?
  • What software or applications will you require?
  • Can you purchase the software and applications you need?
  • Are the software and applications you will need off-the-shelf or specialty?
  • Will you have to create the software and applications you need?
  • Do you need a website?
  • Will you create and maintain your website inside the company or have it created and maintained by someone else?

Human Resources

Here, you describe the people that are a part of your team, and the human resources that you need to add to your team, hire, or outsource. Since you have already described the ownership and management team as well as key personnel, this section is more focused on production level workers and lower management.

  • How much staffing will you need?
  • What skills will your staff require?
  • What will your staffing typically look like?
  • How will you recruit, train, and retain employees?

Goals, Milestone, and Risk

The goals, milestones, and risks section of your business plan is the place to outline your goals, set key milestones, and explore and explain your preparation for the risks you will face.

Goals lay the foundation of where you intend to take your company and how you are going to get there. It is important to ascertain the short and long-term goals for your company.

Your goals should be connected to your mission and vision, your business model, and your strategic plans. They should also reflect your ambition to move the company forward and are often reflected in key performance indicators (KPIs) , such as numbers of users and customers, revenues, expenses, retention, satisfaction, and other indicators of performance.

Here are some questions to help you develop the goals for your company:

  • When do you expect to break even?
  • What do you expect your revenue to be in one year? Three years? Five years?
  • What market share do you expect to capture in the next year? Three years? Five years?
  • Where do you plan to expand from here?
  • What KPIs do you need to achieve or improve?
  • When do you expect to implement major objectives?
  • What level of customer satisfaction do you hope to achieve?

When developing your goals, in addition to defining what your goals are, you also need to consider the how , the when , and the who . First, consider how your goals will get accomplished? What actions need to be taken to achieve your goals? What milestones do you need to accomplish along the way?

Your goals should also include your plan on when you plan on attaining each goal . Not only will your readers be curious about when you plan to achieve your goals, due dates and deadlines make for really powerful motivators.

Finally, you should also determine who is going to be responsible for working toward each goal. In a sole-proprietorship or startup it may be you, the business owner, or your founding team. However, as your organization grows, it will become more and more important to define who is responsible for pushing toward and achieving each goal.

SMART Goals

Your goals should be SMART: S pecific, M easurable, A ttainable, R ealistic, and T imely.

  • Specific —  Your goals should be clear and specific. They should be narrow enough that you can determine the appropriate steps to attain them. In addition to what , in planning your goals, do not forget to be specific about how , when , and who . How will your goals be attained? When do you anticipate achieving them? Who is going to be responsible?
  • Measurable —  Your goals should be measurable. There should be some objective metric or performance indicator by which you can tell if you have met your goals? How are you going to measure your goals? What metrics or performance indicators will you use? How will you know if you achieve your goals?
  • Attainable —  Your goals must also be realistic and attainable. For a goal to be attainable you must be able to achieve it. Do not be afraid to push yourself, but setting unrealistic goals will cast doubt on your entire business plan. Ask yourself, can your goals be accomplished? By you? What will it take to attain them?
  • Relevant —  Your goals also need to be relevant. To be relevant, they should contribute to the mission, vision, and success of your venture. Do your goals align with your company’s values? Are they within the scope of and aligned with your operational plan? Your marketing plan? Are they within the budget?
  • Timely —  Your goals should also be timely and time-bound. Their process and progress should be clearly defined and they should have a starting and ending date. Without a timeframe, there is no sense of urgency, or motivation to get started. Make your goals time-bound. How long do you expect it to take? When do you plan on getting started? When do you anticipate achieving each goal?

Milestones are important events in your venture’s growth that mark significant change or stage of development.

Creating a list of milestones can act as a checklist of what you need to accomplish for your venture to reach its goals. They tell the story of how you are going to get from where you are to where you are going.

Milestones might include major events and accomplishments, such as:

  • Forming an LLC
  • Writing a Business Plan
  • Securing Seed Capital
  • Develop a Prototype
  • Begin Production
  • First Major Sale
  • Reach 10,000 Downloads
  • Achieve 1,000 Paying Customers

It is alright to list a few milestones that you have already completed. Or to leave them in your business plan once you complete them. Accomplished milestones show that you are making traction.

Milestones act as a signal to potential investors and other stakeholders what to expect from your venture and when to expect it. They also signal whether the venture is progressing and growing as expected.

Implementation Timeline

The implementation timeline is where you describe where your company is in its lifespan . You should set a timeline to reach your goals and milestones. This should include a short-term timeframe as well as where you anticipate being in the long term.

This section of the business plan should not be long. A simple chart will do. You can find several free timeline templates online to plug in your milestones and the time frame you expect to achieve them.

You will also want to include a section in your business plan showing that you understand the critical risks that your business may be subject to . The risks you will face in your business include both internal and external risks. These are any areas that expose your venture to any kind of loss- assets, customers, sales, profits, and reputation, among others.

By exploring your assumptions and identifying possible risks in those assumptions, you can show that you have assessed and are prepared to handle risks and threats that may arise. There are several tools available to analyze business risks, including SWOT Analysis and contingency planning .

SWOT Analysis

You may want to conduct a SWOT analysis or even include it in your business plan. A SWOT analysis is an analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

A SWOT analysis can help you understand your industry and market, your venture, and the strategies that you should pursue.

To conduct a SWOT analysis, you will need to assess factors both inside and outside your venture.

Here is how to conduct your own:

  • What does your company do well?
  • What are your company’s advantages?
  • What do you do better than your competitors?
  • What unique or low-cost assets do you have access to?
  • What does your company not do well?
  • What are your company’s disadvantages?
  • What do your competitors do better than you?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • Where can you improve?
  • Where can you grow?
  • How can you turn your strengths into opportunities?
  • How can you turn your weaknesses into opportunities?
  • Do the trends of the industry or market represent a threat?
  • Is the number of competitors growing?
  • Do changes in technology or regulation threaten your success?
  • Do your weaknesses represent a threat?

Contingency Plans

After assessing your risks and your SWOT analysis, you should address any major threats or risks that your venture faces with contingency plans.

Contingency plans are plans to help mitigate these risks by establishing a plan of action should an adverse event happen.

Contingency plans show that you understand the threats and risks to your venture, and you have a plan in place to lessen the damage should these risks emerge. There are various ways to prepare for adverse events. One is through planning- identifying alternatives and determining the best course of action. Another is business insurance.

Business Insurance

Business insurance protects against risk from several sources. The type of business insurance you will need varies greatly depending on the nature of your business.

While there are standard types of coverage like general liability insurance , professional liability insurance , workers’ compensation , insurance for commercial property and commercial auto insurance , there are also insurance policies that cover specific business activities and specialized equipment.

You can bundle most of these into what is called a Business Owner’s Policy (BOP) by a trusted insurance provider to get you started doing business.

Financial Statements

Your financial statements should include detailed projections of your income statement , cash flow statement, and balance sheet for the first year. You should also provide quarterly projections for the first three (or preferably five) years as well.

You also will likely need to include some sort of financial statement in your business plan. If you are a new venture, you will supply pro forma financial statements. Pro forma financial statements are simply financial projections.

Financial statements can help you to evaluate the cash needs of your venture, determine whether your venture is feasible and desirable, compare your expected returns with the alternatives, identify milestones and benchmarks, and demonstrate the value of your venture to investors.

Financial Assumptions

Before you begin completing your financial statements, you should first sit down and list the assumptions you will rely on to project your financial statements .

These should include projections concerning your:

  • Initial revenue level per month
  • Your growth and factors affecting growth
  • Your inventory and inventory turnover
  • And your operating expenses.

One of the biggest mistakes new ventures make is in making unrealistic assumptions .

Remember, revenue assumptions are key assumptions in determining whether your business will be viable. However, many entrepreneurs are overly optimistic about their revenue assumptions and tend to underestimate their expenses.

In order to make more accurate financial assumptions, back up your assumptions with data whenever possible. To find data to back up your assumptions, look for things like industry averages, market trends, and comparisons with similar ventures. You should already have a substantial amount of this data from your industry and market research.

Pro Forma Income Statements

The income statement , also known as the profit and loss statement , is a statement that shows the projections of your venture’s income and expenses over a fiscal year. On the income statement, you will detail your revenue and sources of revenue based on the assumptions you have made. You will also detail your anticipated expenses and use these to estimate your net income.

The typical income statement includes:

  • Revenue —  the total amount of sales, or revenue, projected to be brought in by your business.
  • Cost of Goods Sold —  the total direct cost of producing your product or delivering your service.
  • Gross Margin —  the difference between revenue and cost of goods sold.
  • Operating Expenses —  this section of your income statement details all of the expenses associated with operating your business. Common operating expenses might include rent, utilities, office
  • expenses, salary expenses, and marketing and advertising expenses, among others.
  • Total Operating Expenses —  the total of your operating expenses, excluding interest, depreciation, and taxes.
  • Operating Income —  the difference between your gross margin and operating expenses.
  • Interest, Depreciation, and Taxes —  this section of your income statement lists your non-operating expenses- expenses such as interest, depreciation, amortization, and taxes.
  • Net Profit —  the total of how much you actually made. This is calculated by subtracting interest, depreciation, and taxes from your operating income.

Pro Forma Cash Flow Statements

The cash flow statement is a financial statement that shows when and where cash (and cash equivalents) flow in and out of your venture. This tells you how much cash you will have on hand at any single point in time.

  • Cash from Operating —  Cash flowing into and out of your venture from operating, beginning with “cash on hand.” Cash flowing into your venture from operating includes cash from sales, payments from credit sales, investment income, and any other types of cash income related to operations. Cash flowing out of your venture from operations, your expenses, includes costs of raw goods, materials, inventory, salary expenses, office expenses, marketing and advertising expenses, rent, interest, taxes, insurance, or any other expenses that are paid by the venture.
  • Capital Cash Flow —  Cash flow, in or out of the venture, for capital assets such as the purchase or sale of fixed assets.
  • Cash from Financing —  Cash flow from financing includes cash flowing in or out of your venture relating to venture financing activities. Inflows of cash from financing include the investments by founders or owners, any loans taken out during the period, or the issuance of any equity. The outflow of cash from financing may include the payment of the principal of any loans, along with the repurchase of any outstanding equity.

Pro Forma Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is a financial statement that balances a venture's finances at a specific point in time. It describes how much the company is worth. The balance sheet uses the accounting equation: assets = liabilities + equity . In fact, these are the main components of the balance sheet:

  • Assets —  Resources that hold economic value. A business's assets include current assets and fixed assets. Current assets are resources that can be accessed in the short term. These include cash, accounts receivable, inventory, and other currently available resources. Fixed assets are resources that are intended for long-term use but hold economic value. These include land and buildings, machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, vehicles, and other fixed resources.
  • Liabilities —  What the business owes. Like assets, a business’s liabilities are also current liabilities and long-term liabilities. Current liabilities are liabilities that are due within 12 months. Current liabilities include accounts payable, loans, and taxes. Long-term liabilities are liabilities that are due after one year. These include long-term loans, notes, and other long-term debts.
  • Equity —  What the owners or shareholders own. Equity is also composed of two parts: Capital and Retained Earnings. Retained earnings is the amount of profit that has been retained by the company over the life of the venture. Capital earnings , then, is what’s left. It is what has been invested. For new ventures, this may be the founder’s or early investors’ initial investments. For larger corporations, this would be the value of their shares of stock.

Break-Even Analysis

The break-even analysis shows you how much you have to sell before you break even. The break-even analysis uses fixed and variable costs in order to determine the sales volume you have to attain to reach a break-even point. This is the point where your sales volume covers both your fixed costs and your variable costs.

The break-even point is most often expressed as a number of units. You can calculate the break-even point by dividing fixed cost by the average profit per unit (average price per unit minus the variable cost).

Break-Even Point = Fixed Costs/ Profit Per Unit (Avg. Price - Avg. Variable Costs)

You can also calculate the break-even point in terms of $ of sales. To calculate the break-even point in $ of sales, you can divide total fixed costs for the period by the contribution margin ratio (net sales minus total variable cost / net sales).

Break-Even Point ($ of Sales) = Fixed Costs / Contribution Margin Ratio Contribution Margin Ratio = (Net Sales - Total Variable Cost) / Net Sales

Startup/Funds Required

If you are writing your business plan for the purpose of seeking funding, you should conclude your business plan by describing the investment opportunity.

With your financial projections in place, you will now be able to determine the amount of startup capital or investment you require.

This is because the funding you need is highly dependent on your profit and loss, cash flow, and break-even point. With well-researched assumptions and the evidence to back them up, you are ready to make the case that your business is worth the investment and will be able to pay it back or reward investors in the future.

In this section of the business plan, you will need to explain the amount of funding you are requesting as well as describe what those funds will be used for. The startup funding request will need to cover all expenses (maybe even your own personal expenses) at least until you reach your break-even point.

Business Plan Appendices (Optional)

If you have additional evidence to support your business idea, your business model, or your ability to achieve your goals and meet your financial objectives, you may want to consider including it as an appendix to your business plan.

Additional / Optional Evidence

Owners’ Resumes —  One thing you may want to consider including in your business plan is the resume for each owner. Investors often invest as much in the startup team as they do in the idea itself. Illustrations of Product —  Another helpful appendix is pictures or illustrations of your product. These are especially helpful for new products or those which are difficult to depict with words. Storyboard of Customer Experience — If your business is a service business, you could also consider including a storyboard depicting your customer’s experience. Customer Survey Results — You can also include any market research that you have conducted in an appendix. Showing that you have solicited feedback from real customers or potential customers provides further credence to your venture and venture idea.

Develop Your Business Idea

Before writing your business plan, it is important to take some time to develop your business idea .

If you are starting a new company, there are likely many details of the venture that have not been fully worked through. If you already have an existing venture, the following tools can also be useful in evaluating your business model:

  • A three-sentence business plan

The Lean Canvas

The business model canvas, three-sentence business plan.

An easy place to start is with a three-sentence business plan . The three-sentence business plan is easy to construct, and consists of three parts:

  • your product or service
  • your market and marketing
  • your revenue model.

Your Product or Service

The first sentence of your business plan clearly yet simply states your business's primary product or service. This includes the what and the where.

Example: “CoffeeMe is an upscale bakery and coffee shop specializing in imported coffees and international delicacies that will be located in downtown Atlanta.”

Your Market(ing)

The second sentence of your three-sentence business plan describes who your target market is and how you will promote to them.

Example: “CoffeeMe’s target market is urban professionals living and working in downtown Atlanta, marketed and promoted through traditional advertising, company partnerships, and social media.”

Your Revenue Model

The third sentence of your three-sentence business plan explains your revenue model. How will you make money?

Example: “CoffeeMe’s revenue model includes one-time retail sales as well as a unique subscription model featuring all-you-can-drink coffee for subscribers.”

Put it all together, and you have your three-sentence business plan:

Example: “CoffeeMe is an upscale bakery and coffee shop specializing in imported coffees and international delicacies that will be located in downtown Atlanta. CoffeeMe’s target market is urban professionals living and working in downtown Atlanta, marketed and promoted through traditional advertising, company partnerships, and social media. Our revenue model includes one-time retail sales as well as a unique subscription model featuring all-you-can-drink coffee for subscribers.”

Another useful tool for developing your business idea is the Lean Canvas . The Lean Canvas takes a problem-solution approach to helping you plan your business, focusing on the problems you are solving for your customers.

The Lean Canvas helps you describe and visualize your problem, solution, customers, value proposition, key performance indicators, and competitive advantage.

The steps to complete the Lean Canvas are:

  • Define your target customers or users
  • List the problems you are solving for them and how they are currently solving those problems today
  • Describe your solution
  • Explain your unique value proposition
  • Describe your revenue streams
  • Depict how you will reach customers
  • Define the key metrics that will tell if you are doing well
  • Detail your cost structure
  • Explain your unfair advantage

The Lean Canvas, created by Ash Maurya, and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License: https://leanstack.com/lean-canvas

The Business Model Canvas helps you describe and visualize the key aspects of your venture including your customers, value proposition, infrastructure, and revenue and cost models.

If you have already completed a Lean Canvas, you will already have several of the central parts of the Business Model Canvas complete.

The steps to complete the Business Model Canvas are:

  • Explain your value proposition
  • Describe how you interact with customers
  • List the key activities that you will need to do to deliver on your value proposition
  • List the key assets that you will need to deliver on your value proposition
  • Describe the key partnerships that you will need to put in place to deliver on your value proposition

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What Is a Business Plan?

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

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

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A business plan is a document that outlines a company's goals and the strategies to achieve them. It's valuable for both startups and established companies. For startups, a well-crafted business plan is crucial for attracting potential lenders and investors. Established businesses use business plans to stay on track and aligned with their growth objectives. This article will explain the key components of an effective business plan and guidance on how to write one.

Key Takeaways

  • A business plan is a document detailing a company's business activities and strategies for achieving its goals.
  • Startup companies use business plans to launch their venture and to attract outside investors.
  • For established companies, a business plan helps keep the executive team focused on short- and long-term objectives.
  • There's no single required format for a business plan, but certain key elements are essential for most companies.

Investopedia / Ryan Oakley

Any new business should have a business plan in place before beginning operations. Banks and venture capital firms often want to see a business plan before considering making a loan or providing capital to new businesses.

Even if a company doesn't need additional funding, having a business plan helps it stay focused on its goals. Research from the University of Oregon shows that businesses with a plan are significantly more likely to secure funding than those without one. Moreover, companies with a business plan grow 30% faster than those that don't plan. According to a Harvard Business Review article, entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than those who don't.

A business plan should ideally be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect achieved goals or changes in direction. An established business moving in a new direction might even create an entirely new plan.

There are numerous benefits to creating (and sticking to) a well-conceived business plan. It allows for careful consideration of ideas before significant investment, highlights potential obstacles to success, and provides a tool for seeking objective feedback from trusted outsiders. A business plan may also help ensure that a company’s executive team remains aligned on strategic action items and priorities.

While business plans vary widely, even among competitors in the same industry, they often share basic elements detailed below.

A well-crafted business plan is essential for attracting investors and guiding a company's strategic growth. It should address market needs and investor requirements and provide clear financial projections.

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, gathering the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document is best. Any additional crucial elements, such as patent applications, can be referenced in the main document and included as appendices.

Common elements in many business plans include:

  • 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 : Describe the products and services the company offers or plans to introduce. Include details on pricing, product lifespan, and unique consumer benefits. Mention production and manufacturing processes, relevant patents , proprietary technology , and research and development (R&D) information.
  • Market analysis : Explain the current state of the industry and the competition. Detail where the company fits in, the types of customers it plans to target, and how it plans to capture market share from competitors.
  • Marketing strategy : Outline the company's plans to attract and retain customers, including anticipated advertising and marketing campaigns. Describe the distribution channels that will be used to deliver products or services to consumers.
  • Financial plans and projections : Established businesses should include financial statements, balance sheets, and other relevant financial information. New businesses should provide financial targets and estimates for the first few years. This section may also include any funding requests.

Investors want to see a clear exit strategy, expected returns, and a timeline for cashing out. It's likely a good idea to provide five-year profitability forecasts and realistic financial estimates.

2 Types of Business Plans

Business plans can vary in format, often categorized into traditional and lean startup plans. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the more common of the two.

  • Traditional business plans : These are detailed and lengthy, requiring more effort to create but offering comprehensive information that can be persuasive to potential investors.
  • Lean startup business plans : These are concise, sometimes just one page, and focus on key elements. While they save time, companies should be ready to provide additional details if requested by investors or lenders.

Why Do Business Plans Fail?

A business plan isn't a surefire recipe for success. The plan may have been unrealistic in its assumptions and projections. Markets and the economy might change in ways that couldn't have been foreseen. A competitor might introduce a revolutionary new product or service. All this calls for building flexibility into your plan, so you can pivot to a new course if needed.

How Often Should a Business Plan Be Updated?

How frequently a business plan needs to be revised will depend on its nature. Updating your business plan is crucial due to changes in external factors (market trends, competition, and regulations) and internal developments (like employee growth and new products). While 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 ideal for quickly explaining a business, especially for new companies that don't have much information yet. Key sections may include a value proposition , major activities and advantages, resources (staff, intellectual property, and capital), partnerships, customer segments, and revenue sources.

A well-crafted business plan is crucial for any company, whether it's a startup looking for investment or an established business wanting to stay on course. It outlines goals and strategies, boosting a company's chances of securing funding and achieving growth.

As your business and the market change, update your business plan regularly. This keeps it relevant and aligned with your current goals and conditions. Think of your business plan as a living document that evolves with your company, not something carved in stone.

University of Oregon Department of Economics. " Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Business Planning Using Palo Alto's Business Plan Pro ." Eason Ding & Tim Hursey.

Bplans. " Do You Need a Business Plan? Scientific Research Says Yes ."

Harvard Business Review. " Research: Writing a Business Plan Makes Your Startup More Likely to Succeed ."

Harvard Business Review. " How to Write a Winning Business Plan ."

U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."

SCORE. " When and Why Should You Review Your Business Plan? "

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

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11.4 The Business Plan

Learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the different purposes of a business plan
  • Describe and develop the components of a brief business plan
  • Describe and develop the components of a full business plan

Unlike the brief or lean formats introduced so far, the business plan is a formal document used for the long-range planning of a company’s operation. It typically includes background information, financial information, and a summary of the business. Investors nearly always request a formal business plan because it is an integral part of their evaluation of whether to invest in a company. Although nothing in business is permanent, a business plan typically has components that are more “set in stone” than a business model canvas , which is more commonly used as a first step in the planning process and throughout the early stages of a nascent business. A business plan is likely to describe the business and industry, market strategies, sales potential, and competitive analysis, as well as the company’s long-term goals and objectives. An in-depth formal business plan would follow at later stages after various iterations to business model canvases. The business plan usually projects financial data over a three-year period and is typically required by banks or other investors to secure funding. The business plan is a roadmap for the company to follow over multiple years.

Some entrepreneurs prefer to use the canvas process instead of the business plan, whereas others use a shorter version of the business plan, submitting it to investors after several iterations. There are also entrepreneurs who use the business plan earlier in the entrepreneurial process, either preceding or concurrently with a canvas. For instance, Chris Guillebeau has a one-page business plan template in his book The $100 Startup . 48 His version is basically an extension of a napkin sketch without the detail of a full business plan. As you progress, you can also consider a brief business plan (about two pages)—if you want to support a rapid business launch—and/or a standard business plan.

As with many aspects of entrepreneurship, there are no clear hard and fast rules to achieving entrepreneurial success. You may encounter different people who want different things (canvas, summary, full business plan), and you also have flexibility in following whatever tool works best for you. Like the canvas, the various versions of the business plan are tools that will aid you in your entrepreneurial endeavor.

Business Plan Overview

Most business plans have several distinct sections ( Figure 11.16 ). The business plan can range from a few pages to twenty-five pages or more, depending on the purpose and the intended audience. For our discussion, we’ll describe a brief business plan and a standard business plan. If you are able to successfully design a business model canvas, then you will have the structure for developing a clear business plan that you can submit for financial consideration.

Both types of business plans aim at providing a picture and roadmap to follow from conception to creation. If you opt for the brief business plan, you will focus primarily on articulating a big-picture overview of your business concept.

The full business plan is aimed at executing the vision concept, dealing with the proverbial devil in the details. Developing a full business plan will assist those of you who need a more detailed and structured roadmap, or those of you with little to no background in business. The business planning process includes the business model, a feasibility analysis, and a full business plan, which we will discuss later in this section. Next, we explore how a business plan can meet several different needs.

Purposes of a Business Plan

A business plan can serve many different purposes—some internal, others external. As we discussed previously, you can use a business plan as an internal early planning device, an extension of a napkin sketch, and as a follow-up to one of the canvas tools. A business plan can be an organizational roadmap , that is, an internal planning tool and working plan that you can apply to your business in order to reach your desired goals over the course of several years. The business plan should be written by the owners of the venture, since it forces a firsthand examination of the business operations and allows them to focus on areas that need improvement.

Refer to the business venture throughout the document. Generally speaking, a business plan should not be written in the first person.

A major external purpose for the business plan is as an investment tool that outlines financial projections, becoming a document designed to attract investors. In many instances, a business plan can complement a formal investor’s pitch. In this context, the business plan is a presentation plan, intended for an outside audience that may or may not be familiar with your industry, your business, and your competitors.

You can also use your business plan as a contingency plan by outlining some “what-if” scenarios and exploring how you might respond if these scenarios unfold. Pretty Young Professional launched in November 2010 as an online resource to guide an emerging generation of female leaders. The site focused on recent female college graduates and current students searching for professional roles and those in their first professional roles. It was founded by four friends who were coworkers at the global consultancy firm McKinsey. But after positions and equity were decided among them, fundamental differences of opinion about the direction of the business emerged between two factions, according to the cofounder and former CEO Kathryn Minshew . “I think, naively, we assumed that if we kicked the can down the road on some of those things, we’d be able to sort them out,” Minshew said. Minshew went on to found a different professional site, The Muse , and took much of the editorial team of Pretty Young Professional with her. 49 Whereas greater planning potentially could have prevented the early demise of Pretty Young Professional, a change in planning led to overnight success for Joshua Esnard and The Cut Buddy team. Esnard invented and patented the plastic hair template that he was selling online out of his Fort Lauderdale garage while working a full-time job at Broward College and running a side business. Esnard had hundreds of boxes of Cut Buddies sitting in his home when he changed his marketing plan to enlist companies specializing in making videos go viral. It worked so well that a promotional video for the product garnered 8 million views in hours. The Cut Buddy sold over 4,000 products in a few hours when Esnard only had hundreds remaining. Demand greatly exceeded his supply, so Esnard had to scramble to increase manufacturing and offered customers two-for-one deals to make up for delays. This led to selling 55,000 units, generating $700,000 in sales in 2017. 50 After appearing on Shark Tank and landing a deal with Daymond John that gave the “shark” a 20-percent equity stake in return for $300,000, The Cut Buddy has added new distribution channels to include retail sales along with online commerce. Changing one aspect of a business plan—the marketing plan—yielded success for The Cut Buddy.

Link to Learning

Watch this video of Cut Buddy’s founder, Joshua Esnard, telling his company’s story to learn more.

If you opt for the brief business plan, you will focus primarily on articulating a big-picture overview of your business concept. This version is used to interest potential investors, employees, and other stakeholders, and will include a financial summary “box,” but it must have a disclaimer, and the founder/entrepreneur may need to have the people who receive it sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) . The full business plan is aimed at executing the vision concept, providing supporting details, and would be required by financial institutions and others as they formally become stakeholders in the venture. Both are aimed at providing a picture and roadmap to go from conception to creation.

Types of Business Plans

The brief business plan is similar to an extended executive summary from the full business plan. This concise document provides a broad overview of your entrepreneurial concept, your team members, how and why you will execute on your plans, and why you are the ones to do so. You can think of a brief business plan as a scene setter or—since we began this chapter with a film reference—as a trailer to the full movie. The brief business plan is the commercial equivalent to a trailer for Field of Dreams , whereas the full plan is the full-length movie equivalent.

Brief Business Plan or Executive Summary

As the name implies, the brief business plan or executive summary summarizes key elements of the entire business plan, such as the business concept, financial features, and current business position. The executive summary version of the business plan is your opportunity to broadly articulate the overall concept and vision of the company for yourself, for prospective investors, and for current and future employees.

A typical executive summary is generally no longer than a page, but because the brief business plan is essentially an extended executive summary, the executive summary section is vital. This is the “ask” to an investor. You should begin by clearly stating what you are asking for in the summary.

In the business concept phase, you’ll describe the business, its product, and its markets. Describe the customer segment it serves and why your company will hold a competitive advantage. This section may align roughly with the customer segments and value-proposition segments of a canvas.

Next, highlight the important financial features, including sales, profits, cash flows, and return on investment. Like the financial portion of a feasibility analysis, the financial analysis component of a business plan may typically include items like a twelve-month profit and loss projection, a three- or four-year profit and loss projection, a cash-flow projection, a projected balance sheet, and a breakeven calculation. You can explore a feasibility study and financial projections in more depth in the formal business plan. Here, you want to focus on the big picture of your numbers and what they mean.

The current business position section can furnish relevant information about you and your team members and the company at large. This is your opportunity to tell the story of how you formed the company, to describe its legal status (form of operation), and to list the principal players. In one part of the extended executive summary, you can cover your reasons for starting the business: Here is an opportunity to clearly define the needs you think you can meet and perhaps get into the pains and gains of customers. You also can provide a summary of the overall strategic direction in which you intend to take the company. Describe the company’s mission, vision, goals and objectives, overall business model, and value proposition.

Rice University’s Student Business Plan Competition, one of the largest and overall best-regarded graduate school business-plan competitions (see Telling Your Entrepreneurial Story and Pitching the Idea ), requires an executive summary of up to five pages to apply. 51 , 52 Its suggested sections are shown in Table 11.2 .

Section Description
Company summary Brief overview (one to two paragraphs) of the problem, solution, and potential customers
Customer analysis Description of potential customers and evidence they would purchase product
Market analysis Size of market, target market, and share of market
Product or service Current state of product in development and evidence it is feasible
Intellectual property If applicable, information on patents, licenses, or other IP items
Competitive differentiation Describe the competition and your competitive advantage
Company founders, management team, and/or advisor Bios of key people showcasing their expertise and relevant experience
Financials Projections of revenue, profit, and cash flow for three to five years
Amount of investment Funding request and how funds will be used

Are You Ready?

Create a brief business plan.

Fill out a canvas of your choosing for a well-known startup: Uber, Netflix, Dropbox, Etsy, Airbnb, Bird/Lime, Warby Parker, or any of the companies featured throughout this chapter or one of your choice. Then create a brief business plan for that business. See if you can find a version of the company’s actual executive summary, business plan, or canvas. Compare and contrast your vision with what the company has articulated.

  • These companies are well established but is there a component of what you charted that you would advise the company to change to ensure future viability?
  • Map out a contingency plan for a “what-if” scenario if one key aspect of the company or the environment it operates in were drastically is altered?

Full Business Plan

Even full business plans can vary in length, scale, and scope. Rice University sets a ten-page cap on business plans submitted for the full competition. The IndUS Entrepreneurs , one of the largest global networks of entrepreneurs, also holds business plan competitions for students through its Tie Young Entrepreneurs program. In contrast, business plans submitted for that competition can usually be up to twenty-five pages. These are just two examples. Some components may differ slightly; common elements are typically found in a formal business plan outline. The next section will provide sample components of a full business plan for a fictional business.

Executive Summary

The executive summary should provide an overview of your business with key points and issues. Because the summary is intended to summarize the entire document, it is most helpful to write this section last, even though it comes first in sequence. The writing in this section should be especially concise. Readers should be able to understand your needs and capabilities at first glance. The section should tell the reader what you want and your “ask” should be explicitly stated in the summary.

Describe your business, its product or service, and the intended customers. Explain what will be sold, who it will be sold to, and what competitive advantages the business has. Table 11.3 shows a sample executive summary for the fictional company La Vida Lola.

Executive Summary Component

Content

The Concept

La Vida Lola is a food truck serving the best Latin American and Caribbean cuisine in the Atlanta region, particularly Puerto Rican and Cuban dishes, with a festive flair. La Vida Lola offers freshly prepared dishes from the mobile kitchen of the founding chef and namesake Lola González, a Duluth, Georgia, native who has returned home to launch her first venture after working under some of the world’s top chefs. La Vida Lola will cater to festivals, parks, offices, community and sporting events, and breweries throughout the region.

Market Advantage

Latin food packed with flavor and flair is the main attraction of La Vida Lola. Flavors steeped in Latin American and Caribbean culture can be enjoyed from a menu featuring street foods, sandwiches, and authentic dishes from the González family’s Puerto Rican and Cuban roots.

craving ethnic food experiences and are the primary customers, but anyone with a taste for delicious homemade meals in Atlanta can order. Having a native Atlanta-area resident returning to her hometown after working in restaurants around the world to share food with area communities offers a competitive advantage for La Vida Lola in the form of founding chef Lola González.

Marketing

The venture will adopt a concentrated marketing strategy. The company’s promotion mix will comprise a mix of advertising, sales promotion, public relations, and personal selling. Much of the promotion mix will center around dual-language social media.

Venture Team

The two founding members of the management team have almost four decades of combined experience in the restaurant and hospitality industries. Their background includes experience in food and beverage, hospitality and tourism, accounting, finance, and business creation.

Capital Requirements

La Vida Lola is seeking startup capital of $50,000 to establish its food truck in the Atlanta area. An additional $20,000 will be raised through a donations-driven crowdfunding campaign. The venture can be up and running within six months to a year.

Business Description

This section describes the industry, your product, and the business and success factors. It should provide a current outlook as well as future trends and developments. You also should address your company’s mission, vision, goals, and objectives. Summarize your overall strategic direction, your reasons for starting the business, a description of your products and services, your business model, and your company’s value proposition. Consider including the Standard Industrial Classification/North American Industry Classification System (SIC/NAICS) code to specify the industry and insure correct identification. The industry extends beyond where the business is located and operates, and should include national and global dynamics. Table 11.4 shows a sample business description for La Vida Lola.

Business Description

La Vida Lola will operate in the mobile food services industry, which is identified by SIC code 5812 Eating Places and NAICS code 722330 Mobile Food Services, which consist of establishments primarily engaged in preparing and serving meals and snacks for immediate consumption from motorized vehicles or nonmotorized carts.

Ethnically inspired to serve a consumer base that craves more spiced Latin foods, La Vida Lola is an Atlanta-area food truck specializing in Latin cuisine, particularly Puerto Rican and Cuban dishes native to the roots of the founding chef and namesake, Lola González.

La Vida Lola aims to spread a passion for Latin cuisine within local communities through flavorful food freshly prepared in a region that has embraced international eats. Through its mobile food kitchen, La Vida Lola plans to roll into parks, festivals, office buildings, breweries, and sporting and community events throughout the greater Atlanta metropolitan region. Future growth possibilities lie in expanding the number of food trucks, integrating food delivery on demand, and adding a food stall at an area food market.

After working in noted restaurants for a decade, most recently under the famed chef José Andrés, chef Lola González returned to her hometown of Duluth, Georgia, to start her own venture. Although classically trained by top world chefs, it was González’s grandparents’ cooking of authentic Puerto Rican and Cuban dishes in their kitchen that influenced her profoundly.

The freshest ingredients from the local market, the island spices, and her attention to detail were the spark that ignited Lola’s passion for cooking. To that end, she brings flavors steeped in Latin American and Caribbean culture to a flavorful menu packed full of street foods, sandwiches, and authentic dishes. Through reasonably priced menu items, La Vida Lola offers food that appeals to a wide range of customers, from millennial foodies to Latin natives and other locals with Latin roots.

Industry Analysis and Market Strategies

Here you should define your market in terms of size, structure, growth prospects, trends, and sales potential. You’ll want to include your TAM and forecast the SAM . (Both these terms are discussed in Conducting a Feasibility Analysis .) This is a place to address market segmentation strategies by geography, customer attributes, or product orientation. Describe your positioning relative to your competitors’ in terms of pricing, distribution, promotion plan, and sales potential. Table 11.5 shows an example industry analysis and market strategy for La Vida Lola.

Industry Analysis and Market Strategy

According to ’ first annual report from the San Francisco-based Off The Grid, a company that facilitates food markets nationwide, the US food truck industry alone is projected to grow by nearly 20 percent from $800 million in 2017 to $985 million in 2019. Meanwhile, an report shows the street vendors’ industry with a 4.2 percent annual growth rate to reach $3.2 billion in 2018. Food truck and street food vendors are increasingly investing in specialty, authentic ethnic, and fusion food, according to the report.

Although the report projects demand to slow down over the next five years, it notes there are still opportunities for sustained growth in major metropolitan areas. The street vendors industry has been a particular bright spot within the larger food service sector.

The industry is in a growth phase of its life cycle. The low overhead cost to set up a new establishment has enabled many individuals, especially specialty chefs looking to start their own businesses, to own a food truck in lieu of opening an entire restaurant. Off the Grid’s annual report indicates the average typical initial investment ranges from $55,000 to $75,000 to open a mobile food truck.

The restaurant industry accounts for $800 billion in sales nationwide, according to data from the National Restaurant Association. Georgia restaurants brought in a total of $19.6 billion in 2017, according to figures from the Georgia Restaurant Association.

There are approximately 12,000 restaurants in the metro Atlanta region. The Atlanta region accounts for almost 60 percent of the Georgia restaurant industry. The SAM is estimated to be approximately $360 million.

The mobile food/street vendor industry can be segmented by types of customers, types of cuisine (American, desserts, Central and South American, Asian, mixed ethnicity, Greek Mediterranean, seafood), geographic location and types (mobile food stands, mobile refreshment stands, mobile snack stands, street vendors of food, mobile food concession stands).

Secondary competing industries include chain restaurants, single location full-service restaurants, food service contractors, caterers, fast food restaurants, and coffee and snack shops.

The top food truck competitors according to the , the daily newspaper in La Vida Lola’s market, are Bento Bus, Mix’d Up Burgers, Mac the Cheese, The Fry Guy, and The Blaxican. Bento Bus positions itself as a Japanese-inspired food truck using organic ingredients and dispensing in eco-friendly ware. The Blaxican positions itself as serving what it dubs “Mexican soul food,” a fusion mashup of Mexican food with Southern comfort food. After years of operating a food truck, The Blaxican also recently opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant. The Fry Guy specializes in Belgian-style street fries with a variety of homemade dipping sauces. These three food trucks would be the primary competition to La Vida Lola, since they are in the “ethnic food” space, while the other two offer traditional American food. All five have established brand identities and loyal followers/customers since they are among the industry leaders as established by “best of” lists from area publications like the . Most dishes from competitors are in the $10–$13 price range for entrees. La Vida Lola dishes will range from $6 to $13.

One key finding from Off the Grid’s report is that mobile food has “proven to be a powerful vehicle for catalyzing diverse entrepreneurship” as 30 percent of mobile food businesses are immigrant owned, 30 percent are women owned, and 8 percent are LGBTQ owned. In many instances, the owner-operator plays a vital role to the brand identity of the business as is the case with La Vida Lola.

Atlanta has also tapped into the nationwide trend of food hall-style dining. These food halls are increasingly popular in urban centers like Atlanta. On one hand, these community-driven areas where food vendors and retailers sell products side by side are secondary competitors to food trucks. But they also offer growth opportunities for future expansion as brands solidify customer support in the region. The most popular food halls in Atlanta are Ponce City Market in Midtown, Krog Street Market along the BeltLine trail in the Inman Park area, and Sweet Auburn Municipal Market downtown Atlanta. In addition to these trends, Atlanta has long been supportive of international cuisine as Buford Highway (nicknamed “BuHi”) has a reputation for being an eclectic food corridor with an abundance of renowned Asian and Hispanic restaurants in particular.

The Atlanta region is home to a thriving Hispanic and Latinx population, with nearly half of the region’s foreign-born population hailing from Latin America. There are over half a million Hispanic and Latin residents living in metro Atlanta, with a 150 percent population increase predicted through 2040. The median age of metro Atlanta Latinos is twenty-six. La Vida Lola will offer authentic cuisine that will appeal to this primary customer segment.

La Vida Lola must contend with regulations from towns concerning operations of mobile food ventures and health regulations, but the Atlanta region is generally supportive of such operations. There are many parks and festivals that include food truck vendors on a weekly basis.

Competitive Analysis

The competitive analysis is a statement of the business strategy as it relates to the competition. You want to be able to identify who are your major competitors and assess what are their market shares, markets served, strategies employed, and expected response to entry? You likely want to conduct a classic SWOT analysis (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) and complete a competitive-strength grid or competitive matrix. Outline your company’s competitive strengths relative to those of the competition in regard to product, distribution, pricing, promotion, and advertising. What are your company’s competitive advantages and their likely impacts on its success? The key is to construct it properly for the relevant features/benefits (by weight, according to customers) and how the startup compares to incumbents. The competitive matrix should show clearly how and why the startup has a clear (if not currently measurable) competitive advantage. Some common features in the example include price, benefits, quality, type of features, locations, and distribution/sales. Sample templates are shown in Figure 11.17 and Figure 11.18 . A competitive analysis helps you create a marketing strategy that will identify assets or skills that your competitors are lacking so you can plan to fill those gaps, giving you a distinct competitive advantage. When creating a competitor analysis, it is important to focus on the key features and elements that matter to customers, rather than focusing too heavily on the entrepreneur’s idea and desires.

Operations and Management Plan

In this section, outline how you will manage your company. Describe its organizational structure. Here you can address the form of ownership and, if warranted, include an organizational chart/structure. Highlight the backgrounds, experiences, qualifications, areas of expertise, and roles of members of the management team. This is also the place to mention any other stakeholders, such as a board of directors or advisory board(s), and their relevant relationship to the founder, experience and value to help make the venture successful, and professional service firms providing management support, such as accounting services and legal counsel.

Table 11.6 shows a sample operations and management plan for La Vida Lola.

Operations and Management Plan Category Content

Key Management Personnel

The key management personnel consist of Lola González and Cameron Hamilton, who are longtime acquaintances since college. The management team will be responsible for funding the venture as well as securing loans to start the venture. The following is a summary of the key personnel backgrounds.

Chef Lola González has worked directly in the food service industry for fifteen years. While food has been a lifelong passion learned in her grandparents’ kitchen, chef González has trained under some of the top chefs in the world, most recently having worked under the James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés. A native of Duluth, Georgia, chef González also has an undergraduate degree in food and beverage management. Her value to the firm is serving as “the face” and company namesake, preparing the meals, creating cuisine concepts, and running the day-to-day operations of La Vida Lola.

Cameron Hamilton has worked in the hospitality industry for over twenty years and is experienced in accounting and finance. He has a master of business administration degree and an undergraduate degree in hospitality and tourism management. He has opened and managed several successful business ventures in the hospitality industry. His value to the firm is in business operations, accounting, and finance.

Advisory Board

During the first year of operation, the company intends to keep a lean operation and does not plan to implement an advisory board. At the end of the first year of operation, the management team will conduct a thorough review and discuss the need for an advisory board.

Supporting Professionals

Stephen Ngo, Certified Professional Accountant (CPA), of Valdosta, Georgia, will provide accounting consulting services. Joanna Johnson, an attorney and friend of chef González, will provide recommendations regarding legal services and business formation.

Marketing Plan

Here you should outline and describe an effective overall marketing strategy for your venture, providing details regarding pricing, promotion, advertising, distribution, media usage, public relations, and a digital presence. Fully describe your sales management plan and the composition of your sales force, along with a comprehensive and detailed budget for the marketing plan. Table 11.7 shows a sample marketing plan for La Vida Lola.

Marketing Plan Category Content

Overview

La Vida Lola will adopt a concentrated marketing strategy. The company’s promotion mix will include a mix of advertising, sales promotion, public relations, and personal selling. Given the target millennial foodie audience, the majority of the promotion mix will be centered around social media platforms. Various social media content will be created in both Spanish and English. The company will also launch a crowdfunding campaign on two crowdfunding platforms for the dual purpose of promotion/publicity and fundraising.

Advertising and Sales Promotion

As with any crowdfunding social media marketing plan, the first place to begin is with the owners’ friends and family. Utilizing primarily Facebook/Instagram and Twitter, La Vida Lola will announce the crowdfunding initiative to their personal networks and prevail upon these friends and family to share the information. Meanwhile, La Vida Lola needs to focus on building a community of backers and cultivating the emotional draw of becoming part of the La Vida Lola family.

To build a crowdfunding community via social media, La Vida Lola will routinely share its location, daily if possible, on both Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Inviting and encouraging people to visit and sample their food can rouse interest in the cause. As the campaign is nearing its goal, it would be beneficial to offer a free food item to backers of a specific level, say $50, on one specific day. Sharing this via social media in the day or two preceding the giveaway and on the day of can encourage more backers to commit.

Weekly updates of the campaign and the project as a whole are a must. Facebook and Twitter updates of the project coupled with educational information sharing helps backers feel part of the La Vida Lola community.

Finally, at every location where La Vida Lola is serving its food, signage will notify the public of their social media presence and the current crowdfunding campaign. Each meal will be accompanied by an invitation from the server for the patron to visit the crowdfunding site and consider donating. Business cards listing the social media and crowdfunding information will be available in the most visible location, likely the counter.

Before moving forward with launching a crowdfunding campaign, La Vida Lola will create its website. The website is a great place to establish and share the La Vida Lola brand, vision, videos, menus, staff, and events. It is also a great source of information for potential backers who are unsure about donating to the crowdfunding campaigns. The website will include these elements:

. Address the following questions: Who are you? What are the guiding principles of La Vida Lola? How did the business get started? How long has La Vida Lola been in business? Include pictures of chef González. List of current offerings with prices. Will include promotional events and locations where customers can find the truck for different events. Steps will be taken to increase social media followers prior to launching the crowdfunding campaign. Unless a large social media following is already established, a business should aggressively push social media campaigns a minimum of three months prior to the crowdfunding campaign launch. Increasing social media following prior to the campaign kickoff will also allow potential donors to learn more about La Vida Lola and foster relationship building before attempting to raise funds.

Facebook Content and Advertising

The key piece of content will be the campaign pitch video, reshared as a native Facebook upload. A link to the crowdfunding campaigns can be included in the caption. Sharing the same high-quality video published on the campaign page will entice fans to visit Kickstarter to learn more about the project and rewards available to backers.

Crowdfunding Campaigns

Foodstart was created just for restaurants, breweries, cafés, food trucks, and other food businesses, and allows owners to raise money in small increments. It is similar to Indiegogo in that it offers both flexible and fixed funding models and charges a percentage for successful campaigns, which it claims to be the lowest of any crowdfunding platform. It uses a reward-based system rather than equity, where backers are offered rewards or perks resulting in “low-cost capital and a network of people who now have an incentive to see you succeed.”

Foodstart will host La Vida Lola’s crowdfunding campaigns for the following reasons: (1) It caters to their niche market; (2) it has less competition from other projects which means that La Vida Lola will stand out more and not get lost in the shuffle; and (3) it has/is making a name/brand for itself which means that more potential backers are aware of it.

La Vida Lola will run a simultaneous crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which has broader mass appeal.

Publicity

Social media can be a valuable marketing tool to draw people to the Foodstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding pages. It provides a means to engage followers and keep funders/backers updated on current fundraising milestones. The first order of business is to increase La Vida Lola’s social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Establishing and using a common hashtag such as #FundLola across all platforms will promote familiarity and searchability, especially within Instagram and Twitter. Hashtags are slowly becoming a presence on Facebook. The hashtag will be used in all print collateral.

La Vida Lola will need to identify social influencers—others on social media who can assist with recruiting followers and sharing information. Existing followers, family, friends, local food providers, and noncompetitive surrounding establishments should be called upon to assist with sharing La Vida Lola’s brand, mission, and so on. Cross-promotion will further extend La Vida Lola’s social reach and engagement. Influencers can be called upon to cross promote upcoming events and specials.

The crowdfunding strategy will utilize a progressive reward-based model and establish a reward schedule such as the following:

In addition to the publicity generated through social media channels and the crowdfunding campaign, La Vida Lola will reach out to area online and print publications (both English- and Spanish-language outlets) for feature articles. Articles are usually teased and/or shared via social media. Reaching out to local broadcast stations (radio and television) may provide opportunities as well. La Vida Lola will recruit a social media intern to assist with developing and implementing a social media content plan. Engaging with the audience and responding to all comments and feedback is important for the success of the campaign.

Some user personas from segmentation to target in the campaign:

Financial Plan

A financial plan seeks to forecast revenue and expenses; project a financial narrative; and estimate project costs, valuations, and cash flow projections. This section should present an accurate, realistic, and achievable financial plan for your venture (see Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting for detailed discussions about conducting these projections). Include sales forecasts and income projections, pro forma financial statements ( Building the Entrepreneurial Dream Team , a breakeven analysis, and a capital budget. Identify your possible sources of financing (discussed in Conducting a Feasibility Analysis ). Figure 11.19 shows a template of cash-flow needs for La Vida Lola.

Entrepreneur In Action

Laughing man coffee.

Hugh Jackman ( Figure 11.20 ) may best be known for portraying a comic-book superhero who used his mutant abilities to protect the world from villains. But the Wolverine actor is also working to make the planet a better place for real, not through adamantium claws but through social entrepreneurship.

A love of java jolted Jackman into action in 2009, when he traveled to Ethiopia with a Christian humanitarian group to shoot a documentary about the impact of fair-trade certification on coffee growers there. He decided to launch a business and follow in the footsteps of the late Paul Newman, another famous actor turned philanthropist via food ventures.

Jackman launched Laughing Man Coffee two years later; he sold the line to Keurig in 2015. One Laughing Man Coffee café in New York continues to operate independently, investing its proceeds into charitable programs that support better housing, health, and educational initiatives within fair-trade farming communities. 55 Although the New York location is the only café, the coffee brand is still distributed, with Keurig donating an undisclosed portion of Laughing Man proceeds to those causes (whereas Jackman donates all his profits). The company initially donated its profits to World Vision, the Christian humanitarian group Jackman accompanied in 2009. In 2017, it created the Laughing Man Foundation to be more active with its money management and distribution.

  • You be the entrepreneur. If you were Jackman, would you have sold the company to Keurig? Why or why not?
  • Would you have started the Laughing Man Foundation?
  • What else can Jackman do to aid fair-trade practices for coffee growers?

What Can You Do?

Textbooks for change.

Founded in 2014, Textbooks for Change uses a cross-compensation model, in which one customer segment pays for a product or service, and the profit from that revenue is used to provide the same product or service to another, underserved segment. Textbooks for Change partners with student organizations to collect used college textbooks, some of which are re-sold while others are donated to students in need at underserved universities across the globe. The organization has reused or recycled 250,000 textbooks, providing 220,000 students with access through seven campus partners in East Africa. This B-corp social enterprise tackles a problem and offers a solution that is directly relevant to college students like yourself. Have you observed a problem on your college campus or other campuses that is not being served properly? Could it result in a social enterprise?

Work It Out

Franchisee set out.

A franchisee of East Coast Wings, a chain with dozens of restaurants in the United States, has decided to part ways with the chain. The new store will feature the same basic sports-bar-and-restaurant concept and serve the same basic foods: chicken wings, burgers, sandwiches, and the like. The new restaurant can’t rely on the same distributors and suppliers. A new business plan is needed.

  • What steps should the new restaurant take to create a new business plan?
  • Should it attempt to serve the same customers? Why or why not?

This New York Times video, “An Unlikely Business Plan,” describes entrepreneurial resurgence in Detroit, Michigan.

  • 48 Chris Guillebeau. The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future . New York: Crown Business/Random House, 2012.
  • 49 Jonathan Chan. “What These 4 Startup Case Studies Can Teach You about Failure.” Foundr.com . July 12, 2015. https://foundr.com/4-startup-case-studies-failure/
  • 50 Amy Feldman. “Inventor of the Cut Buddy Paid YouTubers to Spark Sales. He Wasn’t Ready for a Video to Go Viral.” Forbes. February 15, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestreptalks/2017/02/15/inventor-of-the-cut-buddy-paid-youtubers-to-spark-sales-he-wasnt-ready-for-a-video-to-go-viral/#3eb540ce798a
  • 51 Jennifer Post. “National Business Plan Competitions for Entrepreneurs.” Business News Daily . August 30, 2018. https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6902-business-plan-competitions-entrepreneurs.html
  • 52 “Rice Business Plan Competition, Eligibility Criteria and How to Apply.” Rice Business Plan Competition . March 2020. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2020%20RBPC%20Eligibility%20Criteria%20and%20How%20to%20Apply_23Oct19.pdf
  • 53 “Rice Business Plan Competition, Eligibility Criteria and How to Apply.” Rice Business Plan Competition. March 2020. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2020%20RBPC%20Eligibility%20Criteria%20and%20How%20to%20Apply_23Oct19.pdf; Based on 2019 RBPC Competition Rules and Format April 4–6, 2019. https://rbpc.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs806/f/2019-RBPC-Competition-Rules%20-Format.pdf
  • 54 Foodstart. http://foodstart.com
  • 55 “Hugh Jackman Journey to Starting a Social Enterprise Coffee Company.” Giving Compass. April 8, 2018. https://givingcompass.org/article/hugh-jackman-journey-to-starting-a-social-enterprise-coffee-company/

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Home > Business > Business Startup

How To Write a Business Plan

Stephanie Coleman

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How-to-write-a-business-plan

Starting a business is a wild ride, and a solid business plan can be the key to keeping you on track. A business plan is essentially a roadmap for your business — outlining your goals, strategies, market analysis and financial projections. Not only will it guide your decision-making, a business plan can help you secure funding with a loan or from investors .

Writing a business plan can seem like a huge task, but taking it one step at a time can break the plan down into manageable milestones. Here is our step-by-step guide on how to write a business plan.

Table of contents

  • Write your executive summary
  • Do your market research homework
  • Set your business goals and objectives
  • Plan your business strategy
  • Describe your product or service
  • Crunch the numbers
  • Finalize your business plan

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

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Step 1: Write your executive summary

Though this will be the first page of your business plan , we recommend you actually write the executive summary last. That’s because an executive summary highlights what’s to come in the business plan but in a more condensed fashion.

An executive summary gives stakeholders who are reading your business plan the key points quickly without having to comb through pages and pages. Be sure to cover each successive point in a concise manner, and include as much data as necessary to support your claims.

You’ll cover other things too, but answer these basic questions in your executive summary:

  • Idea: What’s your business concept? What problem does your business solve? What are your business goals?
  • Product: What’s your product/service and how is it different?
  • Market: Who’s your audience? How will you reach customers?
  • Finance: How much will your idea cost? And if you’re seeking funding, how much money do you need? How much do you expect to earn? If you’ve already started, where is your revenue at now?

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

Step 2: Do your market research homework

The next step in writing a business plan is to conduct market research . This involves gathering information about your target market (or customer persona), your competition, and the industry as a whole. You can use a variety of research methods such as surveys, focus groups, and online research to gather this information. Your method may be formal or more casual, just make sure that you’re getting good data back.

This research will help you to understand the needs of your target market and the potential demand for your product or service—essential aspects of starting and growing a successful business.

Step 3: Set your business goals and objectives

Once you’ve completed your market research, you can begin to define your business goals and objectives. What is the problem you want to solve? What’s your vision for the future? Where do you want to be in a year from now?

Use this step to decide what you want to achieve with your business, both in the short and long term. Try to set SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound benchmarks—that will help you to stay focused and motivated as you build your business.

Step 4: Plan your business strategy

Your business strategy is how you plan to reach your goals and objectives. This includes details on positioning your product or service, marketing and sales strategies, operational plans, and the organizational structure of your small business.

Make sure to include key roles and responsibilities for each team member if you’re in a business entity with multiple people.

Step 5: Describe your product or service

In this section, get into the nitty-gritty of your product or service. Go into depth regarding the features, benefits, target market, and any patents or proprietary tech you have. Make sure to paint a clear picture of what sets your product apart from the competition—and don’t forget to highlight any customer benefits.

Step 6: Crunch the numbers

Financial analysis is an essential part of your business plan. If you’re already in business that includes your profit and loss statement , cash flow statement and balance sheet .

These financial projections will give investors and lenders an understanding of the financial health of your business and the potential return on investment.

You may want to work with a financial professional to ensure your financial projections are realistic and accurate.

Step 7: Finalize your business plan

Once you’ve completed everything, it's time to finalize your business plan. This involves reviewing and editing your plan to ensure that it is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

You should also have someone else review your plan to get a fresh perspective and identify any areas that may need improvement. You could even work with a free SCORE mentor on your business plan or use a SCORE business plan template for more detailed guidance.

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The takeaway

Writing a business plan is an essential process for any forward-thinking entrepreneur or business owner. A business plan requires a lot of up-front research, planning, and attention to detail, but it’s worthwhile. Creating a comprehensive business plan can help you achieve your business goals and secure the funding you need.

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How To Write the Company Summary in a Business Plan

Company Overviews Show How the Pieces of a Business Work

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

What To Include in Your Company Summary

Getting started on your company summary, examples of a company summary, tips for writing a company summary, frequently asked questions (faqs).

Image by Theresa Chiechi © The Balance 2019

The company summary in a business plan —also known as the company description or overview—is a high-level look at what you are as a company and how all the elements of the business fit together.

An effective company summary should give readers, such as potential investors, a quick and easy way to understand your business, its products and services, its mission and goals, how it meets the needs of its target market, and how it stands out from competitors.

Before you begin writing your company summary, remember to stick to the big picture. Other sections of your business plan will provide the specific details of your business. The summary synthesizes all of that information into one page.

Key Takeaways

  • The company summary in a business plan provides an overview containing a description of your company at a high level.
  • A company summary might include your mission statement, goals, target market, products, and services, as well as how it stands out from competitors.
  • The company summary can also be customized for a specific objective or audience, such as to secure financing from investors or banks.

The company summary section of a business plan should include:

  • Business name
  • Legal structure (i.e., sole proprietorship ,  LLC ,  S Corporation , or  partnership )
  • Management team
  • Mission statement
  • Company history (when it started and important milestones)
  • Description of products and services and how they meet the needs of the marketplace
  • Target market (who will buy your product or services)
  • Competitive advantage (what sets you apart in the marketplace to allow you to succeed)
  • Objectives and goals (plans for growth)

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) website has a lot of information available if you've never written a business plan before. The SBA provides examples of business plans for different types of companies.

Before you begin, you should decide whether you want to go with a traditional business plan format or a lean startup format. The traditional format is appropriate if you want to have a comprehensive, detail-oriented plan or if you are requesting financing. The lean startup format is best for those who have a relatively simple business and want to start it quickly or as a starting point for those who plan to refine and change the plan regularly.

No matter which type of business plan you choose, you'll need to include a company summary.

Although there are many blueprints for writing a company summary, below are a couple of examples to get you started.

Consulting Firm

You can opt for a concise opening paragraph such as this one:

XYZ Consulting is a new company that provides expertise in search marketing solutions for businesses worldwide, including website promotion, online advertising, and search engine optimization techniques to improve its clients' positioning in search engines. We cater to the higher education market, including colleges, universities, and professional educational institutions.

Several elements of the company summary are covered here, including the name (XYZ Consulting), history (new company), description of services (web promotion, SEO, advertising) and why it's needed (improve positioning in search engines), and the target market (higher education).

Starbucks Coffee Company Overview

Starbucks breaks down the company overview on their website into the following sections:

"Our Heritage"

Here the company describes how long the company has been in business, citing its roots, the founder, Howard Schultz, and how he was inspired to open the first Starbucks in Seattle after visiting Italy. It briefly mentions the growth of millions of customers and how the company's heritage remains important to its long-term success.

"Coffee & Craft"

The overview describes the high-quality products and services being offered and why they stand out from the competition by describing the detailed process of choosing and growing coffee beans. You'll notice they don't suggest their product is a low-cost product but instead provide a high level of "experiences to savor."

"Our Partners"

Starbucks describes its employees as partners that work together in an inclusive manner to achieve success. It highlights how they are at the center of the experience.

"Pursuit of Doing Good"

The company describes its values and how it gives back to the community.

Tesla Inc. Business Overview

Below are excerpts of the business overview pages from the annual 10-K filing on Dec. 31, 2021, for Tesla Inc.

"We design, develop, manufacture, sell and lease high-performance fully electric vehicles and energy generation and storage systems, and offer services related to our products. We generally sell our products directly to customers, including through our website and retail locations.
We also continue to grow our customer-facing infrastructure through a global network of vehicle service centers, mobile service technicians, body shops, supercharger stations and destination chargers to accelerate the widespread adoption of our products.
We emphasize performance, attractive styling and the safety of our users and workforce in the design and manufacture of our products and are continuing to develop full self-driving technology for improved safety.
Our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, engineering expertise, vertically integrated business model and focus on user experience differentiate us from other companies."

Competition

Tesla highlights the competitive automotive market and how the company differentiates itself from the larger, more established competitors.

"The worldwide automotive market is highly competitive and we expect it will become even more competitive in the future as we introduce additional vehicles in a broader cross-section of the passenger and commercial vehicle market and expand our vehicles’ capabilities. We believe that our vehicles compete in the market both based on their traditional segment classification as well as based on their propulsion technology.
Competing products typically include internal combustion vehicles from more established automobile manufacturers; however, many established and new automobile manufacturers have entered or have announced plans to enter the market for electric and other alternative fuel vehicles."

Intellectual Property

The company highlights its intellectual property, including trademarks and patents.

"We place a strong emphasis on our innovative approach and proprietary designs which bring intrinsic value and uniqueness to our product portfolio. As part of our business, we seek to protect the underlying intellectual property rights of these innovations and designs such as with respect to patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and other measures, including through employee and third-party nondisclosure agreements and other contractual arrangements."

Mission Statement

The company highlights its mission statement and its sustainability goals using environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and human capital resources.

"The very purpose of Tesla's existence is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy. We believe the world cannot reduce carbon emissions without addressing both energy generation and consumption, and we are designing and manufacturing a complete energy and transportation ecosystem to achieve this goal. As we expand, we are building each new factory to be more efficient and sustainably designed than the previous one, including with respect to waste reduction and water usage, and we are focused on reducing the carbon footprint of our supply chain."

There are other items you can include in your company summary to expand on the areas that you'd like people to focus on, depending on your objective.

You might provide more information about the company's location, legal structure, and management team. You can also include more information about the:

  • Company's history, such as a family business that's been in operation for multiple generations
  • Business objectives, including short-term and long-term goals
  • Business strengths, highlighting anything that might give your company a competitive advantage in the field

You can also customize the summary if you have a specific objective or a targeted audience. For example, if the goal of your business plan is to secure funding, you might focus on areas that appeal to investors and lending institutions, including:

  • Why you're the best person to manage the business
  • Your experience in your field, as well as the total years of experience of your management team
  • Expertise or special talents of your team, including training, licenses, certifications
  • How you plan to make the business a success
  • Financial information, such as a high-level discussion of your track record of revenue growth and the financial opportunities that can be realized as a result of securing financing

You may also want to address any areas of perceived weakness by explaining how you'll overcome them or compensate.

How do you write a company overview?

You might provide a description of the company, its location, legal structure, and management team. You can also highlight the company's business objectives, goals, and strengths. You can also customize the summary to a specific audience, such as a bank or lender, focusing on your competitive advantages and highlights of recent financial success.

What should an organizational overview include?

Some of the discussion points to include in a company overview might be:

  • Company name and location
  • Legal structure such as a sole proprietorship, LLC, or partnership
  • Mission statement and management team
  • Description of your products and services and how they are needed
  • Target market or who are your customers
  • Competitive advantage or what makes your company different

The Clute Institute. " Using Business Plans for Teaching Entrepreneurship ," Page 734.

U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."

Starbucks Coffee Company. " Our Company ."

United States Securities and Exchange Commission. " Form 10-K, Annual Report Pursuant to Section 13 or 15(D) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 for the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2021, Tesla, Inc., " Pages 3-12.

How to Write a Five-Year Business Plan

Male entrepreneur looking out into the distance considering the future and deciding if he needs a long-term plan.

Noah Parsons

15 min. read

Updated October 27, 2023

Learn why the traditional way of writing a five-year business plan is often a waste of time and how to use a one-page plan instead for smarter, easier strategic planning to establish your long-term vision. 

In business, it can sometimes seem hard enough to predict what’s going to happen next month, let alone three or even five years from now. But, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan for the long term. After all, your vision for the future is what gets you out of bed in the morning and motivates your team. It’s those aspirations that drive you to keep innovating and figuring out how to grow.

  • What is a long-term plan?

A long-term or long-range business plan looks beyond the traditional 3-year planning window, focusing on what a business might look like 5 or even 10 years from now. A traditional 5-year business plan includes financial projections, business strategy, and roadmaps that stretch far into the future.

I’ll be honest with you, though—for most businesses, long-range business plans that stretch 5 and 10 years into the future are a waste of time. Anyone who’s seriously asking you for one doesn’t know what they’re doing and is wasting your time. Sorry if that offends some people, but it’s true.

However, there is still real value in looking at the long term. Just don’t invest the time in creating a lengthy version of your business plan with overly detailed metrics and milestones for the next five-plus years. No one knows the future and, more than likely, anything you write down now could be obsolete in the next year, next month, or even next week. 

That’s where long-term strategic planning comes in. A long-term business plan like this is different from a traditional business plan in that it’s lighter on the details and more focused on your strategic direction. It has less focus on financial forecasting and a greater focus on the big picture. 

Think of your long-term strategic plan as your aspirational vision for your business. It defines the ideal direction you’re aiming for but it’s not influencing your day-to-day or, potentially, even your monthly decision making. 

  • Are long-term business plans a waste of time?

No one knows the future. We’re all just taking the information that we have available today and making our best guesses about the future. Sometimes trends in a market are pretty clear and your guesses will be well-founded. Other times, you’re trying to look around a corner and hoping that your intuition about what comes next is correct.

Now, I’m not saying that thinking about the future is a waste of time. Entrepreneurs are always thinking about the future. They have to have some degree of faith and certainty about what customers are going to want in the future. Successful entrepreneurs do actually predict the future — they know what customers are going to want and when they’re going to want it.

Entrepreneurship is unpredictable 

Successful entrepreneurs are also often wrong. They make mistakes just like the rest of us. The difference between successful entrepreneurs and everyone else is that they don’t let mistakes slow them down. They learn from mistakes, adjust and try again. And again. And again. It’s not about being right all the time; it’s about having the perseverance to keep trying until you get it right. For example, James Dyson, inventor of the iconic vacuum cleaner, tried out 5,126 prototypes of his invention before he found a design that worked.

So, if thinking about the future isn’t a waste of time, why are 5-year business plans a waste of time? They’re a waste of time because they typically follow the same format as a traditional business plan, where you are asked to project sales, expenses, and cash flow 5 and 10 years into the future. 

Let’s be real. Sales and expense projections that far into the future are just wild guesses, especially for startups and new businesses. They’re guaranteed to be wrong and can’t be used for anything. You can’t (and shouldn’t) make decisions based on these guesses. They’re just fantasy. You hope you achieve massive year-over-year growth in sales, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. And, you shouldn’t make significant spending decisions today based on the hope of massive sales 10 years from now.

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  • Why write a long-term business plan?

So, what is the purpose of outlining a long-term plan? Here are a few key reasons why it’s still valuable to consider the future of your business without getting bogged down by the details.

Showcase your vision for investors

First, and especially important if you are raising money from investors, is your vision. Investors will want to know not only where you plan on being in a year, but where the business will be in five years. Do you anticipate launching new products or services? Will you expand internationally? Or will you find new markets to grow into? 

Set long-term goals for your business

Second, you’ll want to establish goals for yourself and your team. What kinds of high-level sales targets do you hope to achieve? How big is your company going to get overtime? These goals can be used to motivate your team and even help in the hiring process as you get up and running.

That said, you don’t want to overinvest in fleshing out all the details of a long-range plan. You don’t need to figure out exactly how your expansion will work years from now or exactly how much you’ll spend on office supplies five years from now. That’s really just a waste of time.

Instead, for long-range planning, think in broad terms. A good planning process means that you’re constantly revising and refining your business plan. You’ll add more specifics as you go, creating a detailed plan for the next 6-12 months and a broader, vague plan for the long term.

You have a long development time

Businesses with extremely long research and development timelines do make spending decisions now based on the hope of results years from now. For example, the pharmaceutical industry and medical device industry have to make these bets all the time. The R&D required to take a concept from idea to proven product with regulatory approval can take years for these industries, so long-range planning in these cases is a must. A handful of other industries also have similar development timelines, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.

Your business is well-established and predictable 

Long-term, detailed planning can make more sense for businesses that are extremely well established and have long histories of consistent sales and expenses with predictable growth. But, even for those businesses, predictability means quite the opposite of stability. The chances that you’ll be disrupted in the marketplace by a new company, or the changing needs and desires of your customers, is extremely high. So, most likely, those long-range predictions of sales and profits are pretty useless.

  • What a 5-year plan should look like

With the exception of R&D-heavy businesses, most 5-year business plans should be more like vision statements than traditional business plans. They should explain your vision for the future, but skip the details of detailed sales projections and expense budgets. 

Your vision for your business should explain the types of products and services that you hope to offer in the future and the types of customers that you hope to serve. Your plan should outline who you plan to serve now and how you plan to expand if you are successful.

This kind of future vision creates a strategic roadmap. It’s not a fully detailed plan with sales forecasts and expense budgets, but a plan for getting started and then growing over time to reach your final destination.

For example, here’s a short-form version of what a long-term plan for Nike might have looked like if one had been written in the 1960s:

Nike will start by developing high-end track shoes for elite athletes. We’ll start with a focus on the North West of the US, but expand nationally as we develop brand recognition among track and field athletes. We will use sponsored athletes to spread the word about the quality and performance of our shoes. Once we have success in the track & field market segment, we believe that we will be able to successfully expand both beyond the US market and also branch out into other sports, with an initial focus on basketball.

Leadership and brand awareness in a sport such as basketball will enable us to cross over from the athlete market into the consumer market. This will lead to significant business growth in the consumer segment and allow for expansion into additional sports, fashion, and casual markets in addition to building a strong apparel brand.

Interestingly enough, Nike (to my knowledge) never wrote out a long-range business plan. They developed their plans as they grew, building the proverbial airplane as it took off.

But, if you have this kind of vision for your business, it’s useful to articulate it. Your employees will want to know what your vision is and your investors will want to know as well. They want to know that you, as an entrepreneur, are looking beyond tomorrow and into the future months and years ahead.

  • How to write a five-year business plan

Writing out your long-term vision for your business is a useful exercise. It can bring a sense of stability and solidify key performance indicators and broad milestones that drive your business. 

Developing a long-range business plan is really just an extension of your regular business planning process. A typical business plan covers the next one to three years, documenting your target market, marketing strategy, and product or service offerings for that time period. 

A five-year plan expands off of that initial strategy and discusses what your business might do in the years to come. However, as I’ve mentioned before, creating a fully detailed five-year business plan will be a waste of time. 

Here’s a quick guide to writing a business plan that looks further into the future without wasting your time:

1. Develop your one-page plan

As with all business planning, we recommend that you start with a one-page business plan. It provides a snapshot of what you’re hoping to achieve in the immediate term by outlining your core business strategy, target market, and business model.

A one-page plan is the foundation of all other planning because it’s the document that you’ll keep the most current. It’s also the easiest to update and share with business partners. You will typically highlight up to three years of revenue and profit goals as well as milestones that you hope to achieve in the near term.

Check out our guide to building your one-page plan and download a free template to get started.

2. Determine if you need a traditional business plan

Unlike a one-page business plan, a traditional business plan is more detailed and is typically written in long-form prose. A traditional business plan is usually 10-20 pages long and contains details about your product or service, summaries of the market research that you’ve conducted, and details about your competition. Read our complete guide to writing a business plan .

Companies that write traditional business plans typically have a “business plan event” where a complete business plan is required. Business plan events are usually part of the fundraising process. During fundraising, lenders and investors may ask to see a detailed plan and it’s important to be ready if that request comes up. 

But there are other good reasons to write a detailed business plan. A detailed plan forces you to think through the details of your business and how, exactly, you’re going to build your business. Detailed plans encourage you to think through your business strategy, your target market, and your competition carefully. A good business plan ensures that your strategy is complete and fleshed out, not just a collection of vague ideas.

A traditional business plan is also a good foundation for a long-term business plan and I recommend that you expand your lean business plan into a complete business plan if you intend to create plans for more than three years into the future.

3. Develop long-term goals and growth targets

As you work on your business plan, you’ll need to think about where you want to be in 5+ years. A good exercise is to envision what your business will look like. How many employees will you have? How many locations will you serve? Will you introduce new products and services? 

When you’ve envisioned where you want your business to be, it’s time to turn that vision into a set of goals that you’ll document in your business plan. Each section of your business plan will be expanded to highlight where you want to be in the future. For example, in your target market section, you will start by describing your initial target market. Then you’ll proceed to describe the markets that you hope to reach in 3-5 years.

To accompany your long-term goals, you’ll also need to establish revenue targets that you think you’ll need to meet to achieve your goals. It’s important to also think about the expenses you’re going to incur in order to grow your business. 

For long-range planning, I recommend thinking about your expenses in broad buckets such as “marketing” and “product development” without getting bogged down in too much detail. Think about what percentage of your sales you’ll spend on each of these broad buckets. For example, marketing spending might be 20% of sales. 

4. Develop a 3-5 year strategic plan

Your goals and growth targets are “what” you want to achieve. Your strategy is “how” you’re going to achieve it.

Use your business plan to document your strategy for growth. You might be expanding your product offering, expanding your market, or some combination of the two. You’ll need to think about exactly how this process will happen over the next 3-5 years. 

A good way to document your strategy is to use milestones. These are interim goals that you’ll set to mark your progress along the way to your larger goal. For example, you may have a goal to expand your business nationally from your initial regional presence. You probably won’t expand across the country all at once, though. Most likely, you’ll expand into certain regions one at a time and grow to have a national presence over time. Your strategy will be the order of the regions that you plan on expanding into and why you pick certain regions over others.

Your 3-5 year strategy may also include what’s called an “exit strategy”. This part of a business plan is often required if you’re raising money from investors. They’ll want to know how they’ll eventually get their money back. An “exit” can be the sale of your business or potentially going public. A typical exit strategy will identify potential acquirers for your business and will show that you’ve thought about how your business might be an attractive purchase.

5. Tie your long-term plan to your one-page plan

As your business grows, you can use your long-term business plan as your north star. Your guide for where you want to end up. Use those goals to steer your business in the right direction, making small course corrections as you need to. 

You’ll reflect those smaller course corrections in your one-page plan. Because it is a simple document and looks at the shorter term, it’s easier to update. The best way to do this is to set aside a small amount of time to review your plan once a month. You’ll review your financial forecast, your milestones, and your overall strategy. If things need to change, you can make those adjustments. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan, so it’s OK to make corrections as you go.

You may find that your long-term plan may also need corrections as you grow your business. You may learn things about your market that change your initial assumptions and impacts your long-range plan. This is perfectly normal. Once a quarter or so, zoom out and review your long-range plan. If you need to make corrections to your strategy and goals, that’s fine. Just keep your plan alive so that it gives you the guidance that you need over time. 

  • Vision setting is the purpose of long-term planning

Part of what makes entrepreneurs special is that they have a vision. They have dreams for where they want their business to go. A 5-year business plan should be about documenting that vision for the future and how your business will capitalize on that vision.

So, if someone asks you for your 5-year business plan. Don’t scramble to put together a sales forecast and budget for 5 years from now. Your best guess today will be obsolete tomorrow. Instead, focus on your vision and communicate that. 

Explain where you think your business is going and what you think the market is going to be like 5 years from now. Explain what you think customers are going to want and where trends are headed and how you’re going to be there to sell the solution to the problems that exist in 5 and 10 years. Just skip the invented forecasts and fantasy budgets.

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.

Check out LivePlan

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Seven sections your business plan should have.

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Joseph is Director at  Wise Business Plans , a firm helping clients with professionally written business plans, branding, licensing and more.

To someone who’s never done it before, crafting a business plan can seem like a complicated, magical process that regular people are incapable of accomplishing. The finished product looks so complex and informative — who even knows what goes into something like that?

But, in reality, business plans are less like magic and more like baking. Gather the right ingredients, put them together in the proper order, and ta-da! The finished product is a road map for the company’s future success.

With a little help from a professional or the right recipe, even the newest small-business owner will be baking up business plans in no time.

So, what is that recipe for planning perfection? Like bread and pastry, every business plan has some flair of its own, from custom graphic design to unique financial information.

But some sections are universal and absolutely necessary if a business owner wants to be taken seriously by investors and banks.

1. An Executive Summary

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This concise, carefully written, first section of the plan offers an easy-to-follow introduction to the company, its purpose and its framework. This section sums up the information in your plan, so it can be helpful to go back and write it after the rest of the work is completed.

Pro Tip: In the opening statement, explain the business in one or two sentences. Once you have completed your business plan, write the Executive Summary last.

2. Company Overview

List the goods and services the company will provide, the market it will serve, short- and long-term goals for growth and a brief history of the company’s formation and past performance.

Pro Tip: Explain any momentum the company has made to date and future plans.

3. Products & Services

This section allows for a more complete explanation of the kinds of goods or services the business will be selling or providing. Make the descriptions compelling and engaging. 

Pro Tip: List a detailed description of your products or services and their competitive advantages over the competition.

4. Market Analysis

Use this as an opportunity to showcase the research and knowledge company leaders have to bring to the table with regard to the people and entities they hope to serve or sell to. Include information on the industry the company belongs to and the state of the competition locally, nationally and even internationally, if relevant. 

Pro Tip: Check out the census website  for statistics and demographics.

5. Marketing Strategy

How does the business intend to get the word out about what it has to offer? This section should list plans for all expected marketing channels, from traditional advertising to social media outreach efforts.

Pro Tip: The marketing budget and strategy should be a focal point of your plan. This will ultimately drive sales.

6. Organization & Management

This can be broken into separate sections, but both leadership and plans for employees must be addressed. This should include a basic visual “tree” showing the number of employees expected to be hired, as well as the reporting structure for those people. The management portion should contain an introduction to the company’s leaders and their expertise and career achievements. 

Pro Tip: Explain why you and your team are capable of executing the business goals and objectives.

7. Financials

Different kinds of plans will require slightly different financial information. However, every plan should show historical financial data, if available, and sensible projected expenditures and forecasted income. This section should also include an overview of the company’s current financial status.

Pro Tip: Every industry has a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). Benchmark your company against its peers in the market.

It’s a fact that a quality business plan contains complicated information about not only the business being built but also the market and industry the company plans to compete in. Looking at a business plan as a piece-by-piece process, rather than a completed whole, can make creating your own a little less daunting. Including the seven sections listed above is a great starting point for making a plan that will impress any investor or financial institution.

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Cosmetology > Chapter 32 - The Salon Business > Flashcards

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C. Sole proprietor

B. Consumption supplies

A. Retail supplies

D. Maximum efficiency

B. Satisfied clients

A. Offers easy access

C. Renters insurance

A. Personnel

Human resources covers all BUT which of the following concerns? A. What you can and cannot say when hiring someone B. What you must do when firing someone C. What you should do when you need to increase sales D. How you manage your employees

C. What you should do when you need to increase sales

D. The receptionist

A. Maintain current clients

D. Accountant

Which part of a business plan outlines management levels and describes how the business will be run?

a. financial documents b. organizational plan c. vision statement d. mission statement

b. organizational plan

Which part of a business plan summarizes your plan and states your objectives?

a. salon policies b. marketing plan c. mission statement d. executive summary

d. executive summary

Which part of a business plan includes projected financial statements, actual statements and financial statements?

a. organizational plan b. vision statement c. financial statement d. salon policies

c. financial statement

Which part of a business plan ensures that all clients and employees are treated fairly and consistently?

a. salon policies b. financial documents c. executive summary d. organizational plan

a. salon policies

Which part of a business plan is a long-term picture of what the business is to become and what it will look like when it gets there?

a. vision statement b. mission statement c. salon policies d. marketing plan

a. vision statement

Which part of a business plan outlines all of the research obtained regarding the clients your business will target and their needs, wants and habits?

a. organizational plan b. financial plan c. marketing plan d. executive summary

c. marketing plan

Which part of a business plan includes the owner’s resume, personal financial information, legal contracts and any other agreements?

a. executive summary b. salon policies c. financial documents d. supporting documents

d. supporting documents

Which part of a business plan is a description of the key strategic influences of the business?

a. vision statement b. mission statement c. supporting documents d. marketing plan

b. mission statement

An agreement to buy an established salon should include all BUT which of the following?

a. an agreement on the future maintenance costs b. disclosure of the conditions of the facility c. a formal or informal employee agreement d. confirmation of the identity of the owner

a. an agreement on the future maintenance costs

Costs to create even a small salon in an existing space can range from _________ per square foot.

a. $5-$15 b. $20-$35 c. $30-$80 d. $75-$125

d. $75-$125

A business plan is a legally binding document.

Typically, salon owners continue to work on hair while they manage their business. T or F

A long-term picture of what the business is to become and what it will look like when it gets there is part of the executive summary, T or F

In addition to start-up costs for creating your salon, you’ll need financing for operational expenses. T or F

A stockholder of a corporation is required to pay unemployment insurance taxes on:

a. investments b. merchandise c. salary d. profits

Supplies that are used and replaced in the daily business operation are identified as:

a. expenses b. perpetual expenses c. inventory records d. consumption supplies

d. consumption supplies

When opening a new business, the location selected should reflect your:

a. primary clientele b. personal preference c. new clients d. travel time

a. primary clientele

One of the best ways for a business owner to attract personal assets is:

a. investing capital b. selling shares c. incorporating d. sharing responsibilities

c. incorporating

The federal agency that requires that the ingredients of cosmetic preparations be available to employees is:

a. FDA b. MSDS c. FBI d. OSHA

A written plan that describes a business and foresees projections for the next 5 years is a:

a. personal budget b. written plan c. business plan d. demographic analysis

c. business plan

A written agreement with a building owner that outlines the responsibilities for repairs and expenses is a:

a. business sale b. non-compete agreement c. business plan d. lease

Money to invest in a business.

a. demographics b. chair rental c. capital d. personnel

Information about a specific population.

a. demographics

Renting a booth or a station in a salon.

b. chair rental

Staff or employees.

d. personnel

Cosmetology (32 decks)

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What is a Business Plan? Definition, Tips, and Templates

AJ Beltis

Published: June 28, 2024

Years ago, I had an idea to launch a line of region-specific board games. I knew there was a market for games that celebrated local culture and heritage. I was so excited about the concept and couldn't wait to get started.

Business plan graphic with business owner, lightbulb, and pens to symbolize coming up with ideas and writing a business plan.

But my idea never took off. Why? Because I didn‘t have a plan. I lacked direction, missed opportunities, and ultimately, the venture never got off the ground.

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And that’s exactly why a business plan is important. It cements your vision, gives you clarity, and outlines your next step.

In this post, I‘ll explain what a business plan is, the reasons why you’d need one, identify different types of business plans, and what you should include in yours.

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What is a business plan?

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What does a business plan need to include, types of business plans.

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

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A business plan is a comprehensive document that outlines a company's goals, strategies, and financial projections. It provides a detailed description of the business, including its products or services, target market, competitive landscape, and marketing and sales strategies. The plan also includes a financial section that forecasts revenue, expenses, and cash flow, as well as a funding request if the business is seeking investment.

The business plan is an undeniably critical component to getting any company off the ground. It's key to securing financing, documenting your business model, outlining your financial projections, and turning that nugget of a business idea into a reality.

The purpose of a business plan is three-fold: It summarizes the organization’s strategy in order to execute it long term, secures financing from investors, and helps forecast future business demands.

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What is A Business Plan

Learn about what goes into a well‑thought‑out business plan and how writing one can help your business prosper.

What Is a Business Plan Hero Illustration

A business plan is a document, usually a road map, that acts as an executive summary of your business. It outlines the key elements crucial to the success of your business, including its business concept, products and services, financial plan, marketing strategy, company structure, and more.

By laying out these elements in a written document, you gain a comprehensive understanding of your vision. A detailed business plan also gives potential investors clear insight into why they should support your business.

Overall, while there is no one-size-fits-all solution to writing the best business plan, there are a few proven tips and tricks. Continue reading to learn more about how to write a business plan for your company.

Why have a business plan?

Writing a business plan forces you to think about how your business will operate and succeed. It also allows you to present that information to potential investors. You'll see each aspect of the business more clearly and you'll show investors the value of funding your company.

How your business plan helps you

Creating a business plan is useful for new companies or existing businesses.

  • Clarify : A detailed business helps you clarify what you expect from the business. You’ll see what you need in money and resources, and you can establish a timeline for each of your goals. It’s not day-to-day planning; it’s your long-term strategy.
  • Adjust : Writing out your business plan makes finer details become clear. This helps you anticipate needed changes or adjustments for your business to succeed. In that way, writing your plan focuses your attention to make strategic decisions for your business.
  • Strategize : A business plan guides the progress toward your company’s long-term goals. This helps you make informed day-to-day decisions based on the big picture you’ve outlined.

How your business plan helps others

A business plan describes your business in enough detail to give any potential hire, investor, or partner a clear picture of your company.

  • New hires : You’ll want your employees to understand and believe in your company. A business plan outlines your vision so that potential hires can have the same confidence in your business as you do.
  • Investors : Someone looking to invest in a business wants to see evidence their money is being used wisely. A business plan gives investors an in-depth look into exactly how you’ll spend their money.
  • Partners : Collaborating with other companies can benefit everyone. Potential partners will want to see your strategies, ideas, and big-picture plan before agreeing to tie their fortunes to yours. A carefully crafted business plan can give them the information they need in one document.

What should you include in your business plan?

Two types of business plans are most common today: traditional and lean startups. A lean startup business plan is a shorter business summary—perhaps only one page. It describes the key points of your plans. It presents a quick snapshot of your business without giving the full details. If you choose to use a lean startup business plan, prepare further information and details for lenders or investors.

Most businesses choose to use a traditional business plan. These plans are longer and go into detail about different aspects of your business. This format gives a comprehensive picture of your business. They outline your vision for the future of your company and the strategies you'll use to execute it.

What to include in your business plan will vary depending on what type of company you own and your goals.

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

Executive summary

The executive summary is an overview of your business plan—just the key points. The goal of this section is to entice potential investors to continue reading for the details that come later. This summary statement should address several essential questions.

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

If you're sharing your business plan with potential investors or lenders, the last 3 questions are key. Give specific amounts and explain how you'll use that money. Briefly describe the benefits investors will reap by supporting your company. You'll provide further details in the financials section.

If you keep your executive summary to the recommended one or 2 pages, you'll have to distill your business plan down to the most relevant points. This can be a great exercise in restraint that results in a focused synopsis.You'll answer these questions in depth in the sections that follow.

Business description

The description of your business explains exactly what your business is and how it's different from other companies within its industry. First, offer an overview of the industry you're part of. Then describe how your company will succeed within that industry. This will guide your decisions and show potential investors or partners that your company is worth their time and money.

which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

This detailed description will show why your business should be the source for whatever product or service you are selling. Why should customers buy your sneakers, purchase your homemade picture frames, or use your delivery service? Show why your vision will succeed and why customers will choose you over your competitors.

Product or service

Describe in detail what your product does or what your service provides. Explain its benefits and value to customers. Compare your offering with your competition. Emphasize the uniqueness of your product and how it will give you an advantage over other similar products.

If your company doesn't manufacture the product, describe who makes it, how it's made, and how you get it. Is it made in a factory, homemade, or are you dropshipping?

If you have any patents or intellectual property claims for your product or service, be sure to list them. Also provide any additional information to show your ownership of the product.

If you plan to expand your offerings in the future, explain how. Will you offer a greater variety of products or services? Will you continue to improve upon your current offerings?

Marketing strategy

How will your business fit into an existing market? How is your business different and better than the competition? You, your potential partners, investors, and employees need to know. A big part of getting a lay of the land is having a plan to get the word out about your product or service. To do so, conduct market research and plan a marketing strategy .

First, describe the market you're entering—its current size, trends, and demographics. Then explain how your business fits in. Next, look at the competition. Analyze businesses that offer the same or similar products or services. Note their strengths and weaknesses. Then show how your company measures up. Your unique selling proposition differentiates your company from your competitors'. That is the starting point for your marketing strategy. Some of the questions to address here include:

  • How will you reach your prospects?
  • How will you convert them to paying customers, and how will you retain their business?
  • What channels will you use for your marketing campaigns? Think about email , social media , digital ads , and postcards , among others.

Researching your industry as you create your business plan can help you understand your customer profile. It also helps you learn about projected changes within the industry. Analyzing your market will give you a good basis for estimates regarding your company's future.

Operations and management

You will have mentioned the legal structure of your business in the executive summary section, but it belongs here too. Will you operate as a sole proprietor, a general or limited partnership, or a corporation? If the necessary paperwork isn't complete yet, explain where in the process you are and when you expect it to be done.

This section will also introduce your company's management team and explain who has what specific responsibilities. You can include an organizational chart that clearly shows each person's job title and their role in the overall operations of the business.

An org chart like this is particularly useful if you haven't hired all the key positions yet—you'll still be able to show the roles you've outlined and how they relate to each other. If you have hired your team, you might consider including their resumes or short bios in this section.

Financial plan

If you're looking for investors or partners, this section is essential. Investors want to know where their money is going and that you'll be able to recoup it.

Your approach to your business plan's financial section depends on whether you've been in business for some time or are starting out.

If you're launching your company, you'll need to research and make projections and estimates regarding the financial future of your business. An existing business will need to provide past statements showing proof of previous and current revenue and make projections based on those figures.

If you're presenting financial statements, graphs, or charts, include a summary of the information to explain key points at a glance. In addition to a narrative description, there are 3 statements you should include.

Income statement

This statement shows your expenses and revenues over time. It's also called a profit and loss statement. If your business is new, you'll estimate these amounts.

Take stock of your expected expenses, from rent or mortgage payments on a property (if you'll have a brick-and-mortar presence) to salaries. Be sure to consider the cost of your product itself.

Subtract these expenses from your projected sales or other revenue to show your total expected income by month, quarter, or year. An established business will use past performance to estimate future income.

Cash flow statement

Your cash flow differs from your income in that it shows how much cash you actually have on hand.

The cash flow statement shows whether the cash coming in is more or less than the amount going out at a given time. These figures help you see if you may need another source of funding or if you have a surplus of funds to invest or use to expand your business. If your business is new, you'll estimate your cash flow using your forecasted figures for revenue.

Balance sheet

This shows the amount of equity you have in your business at a given time. Equity is the amount you own (assets) minus the amount you owe (liabilities). The balance sheet differs from the income statement in that it includes more than just expenses and revenues. It differs from the cash flow statement by representing the bigger picture.

These 3 statements, taken together, provide a snapshot of the financial health of a business. Existing businesses should include these statements for the past 5 years in their business plan. Both new and existing companies should provide projected statements for the next 5 years. Doing so will show the potential success of their business and the profit it will bring in.

How to create a business plan

Understanding the basic components of a business plan is just the first step. Actually starting to write a business plan can still be a daunting task. Writing a truly stand-out, successful business plan, in particular, can take months of research and revision.

However, there’s no need to worry. Even if you have no prior experience, our detailed process on how to create a business plan documented below will make sure you get off to a good start.

Conduct an industry and a competitor analysis

No matter what you’re doing, you always want to be prepared. Why take a shot in the dark when you can be armed with all the knowledge you need? To avoid potential missteps and see how you stack up against the competition, conduct an in-depth analysis of the industry you’re in.

Where is your industry headed? Is it projected to grow in the next 5 to 10 years? How can you be a first mover? Research the trends and statistics in your industry to identify future threats and opportunities. Use data to predict your performance.

In addition, conduct a competitor analysis . Identify your direct and indirect competitors and figure out their strengths and weaknesses. How does your business compare? Apply what you learn to upgrade your business strategy and remember to include your competitive advantages in your own business plan.

Identify your target market

Do not skip market research when writing a business plan. Secure funding by showing your future investors that you have a precise understanding of who your customers are and what they want. Identifying your target market will help you refine your product and service offerings as well. This way, you can increase your profits and steer clear of losses.

Learn more about your target audience through surveys, personal interviews, focus groups, observation, and data you’ve already collected. How big is your target market? How old is your typical customer? How much disposable income do they have? Is there a lot of demand for what you are selling? How does your audience interact with your brand? Can you use behavioral targeting for more personalized marketing?

Develop a marketing strategy

If you want a business loan, be sure to showcase your unique selling proposition and a detailed advertising and sales strategy in your business plan.

What does your business do best? Why should investors help you instead of someone else? Do you offer irresistible low prices, high-quality materials, innovative products, or a sustainable vision? Highlight your strengths and tell a concise but touching story with your business plan.

Detail how you are going to market your offerings in your business plan as well. From your goals and budget to the metrics and KPIs you are going to measure, write everything down. What types of marketing do you plan to utilize? While content marketing may make you an authority in your industry, social media marketing may be better for audience engagement.

Outline your operations and management

Describe your business structure or business model in your business plan. Not only does your business structure communicate how your business is legally recognized, but it also influences your day-to-day operations. Do you own an unincorporated business by yourself and have a sole proprietorship? Or do you run a limited liability company?

Additionally, outline the different positions within your business. Who is on your management team? How many departments do you have? Who are the key personnel? What are the responsibilities of each employee?

Create a financial plan

A financial plan holds you accountable and keeps you focused on your goals. Investors also want to see that your business' finances are something you have put a lot of thought into before giving you a loan.

In general, you’ll want to develop a budget and project your sales and revenue. Include numbers on the sales operation , profit margins, cash flow, customer acquisition cost, and debt ratio of your business.

Write an executive summary

Having an executive summary for your business plan is more important than you think. Many investors don’t have the time to go through every business plan that lands on their desk. For the most part, it’s common practice to look at the executive summary of a business plan before deciding whether to continue reading.

This means your executive summary has to be immediately interesting and straight to the point. Make it as concise as possible, summarizing the key points of your business plan. Typically, it’s best to include a short company description, your purpose and goals, your target market, and your financial projections. Remember to include stats to back up your claims.

Review and revise your business plan

Don’t be hasty and submit the first draft of your business plan as soon as you finish writing it. A solid business plan takes time to perfect. Seek feedback from your advisors and mentors. Then, implement their recommendations in your business plan. Always remember to edit and revise.

Continuously update and improve your business plan

Creating a business plan is a great way to take stock of the big picture of your business. Thinking through your legal and operational structure , your financials, your marketing strategies, and more will help guide you to success and profit. It's also a concise way to pique the interest of and inspire confidence in outsiders you want to impress, like potential hires or investors.

If you're starting a new business, a well-thought-out business plan can help you see which areas need more attention so you can iron out any potential problems before diving in. For an existing business, creating an updated business plan can help you analyze your success, set new goals, and stay on track.

Need more help writing a business plan? Check out Mailchimp's Marketing Library for inspiration and examples . If you're looking to level up your marketing strategy as a part of your business planning, try Mailchimp's email marketing software .

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which section of a business plan includes a long term picture

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  • What is strategic planning? A 5-step gu ...

What is strategic planning? A 5-step guide

Julia Martins contributor headshot

Strategic planning is a process through which business leaders map out their vision for their organization’s growth and how they’re going to get there. In this article, we'll guide you through the strategic planning process, including why it's important, the benefits and best practices, and five steps to get you from beginning to end.

Strategic planning is a process through which business leaders map out their vision for their organization’s growth and how they’re going to get there. The strategic planning process informs your organization’s decisions, growth, and goals.

Strategic planning helps you clearly define your company’s long-term objectives—and maps how your short-term goals and work will help you achieve them. This, in turn, gives you a clear sense of where your organization is going and allows you to ensure your teams are working on projects that make the most impact. Think of it this way—if your goals and objectives are your destination on a map, your strategic plan is your navigation system.

In this article, we walk you through the 5-step strategic planning process and show you how to get started developing your own strategic plan.

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What is strategic planning?

Strategic planning is a business process that helps you define and share the direction your company will take in the next three to five years. During the strategic planning process, stakeholders review and define the organization’s mission and goals, conduct competitive assessments, and identify company goals and objectives. The product of the planning cycle is a strategic plan, which is shared throughout the company.

What is a strategic plan?

[inline illustration] Strategic plan elements (infographic)

A strategic plan is the end result of the strategic planning process. At its most basic, it’s a tool used to define your organization’s goals and what actions you’ll take to achieve them.

Typically, your strategic plan should include: 

Your company’s mission statement

Your organizational goals, including your long-term goals and short-term, yearly objectives

Any plan of action, tactics, or approaches you plan to take to meet those goals

What are the benefits of strategic planning?

Strategic planning can help with goal setting and decision-making by allowing you to map out how your company will move toward your organization’s vision and mission statements in the next three to five years. Let’s circle back to our map metaphor. If you think of your company trajectory as a line on a map, a strategic plan can help you better quantify how you’ll get from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to be in a few years).

When you create and share a clear strategic plan with your team, you can:

Build a strong organizational culture by clearly defining and aligning on your organization’s mission, vision, and goals.

Align everyone around a shared purpose and ensure all departments and teams are working toward a common objective.

Proactively set objectives to help you get where you want to go and achieve desired outcomes.

Promote a long-term vision for your company rather than focusing primarily on short-term gains.

Ensure resources are allocated around the most high-impact priorities.

Define long-term goals and set shorter-term goals to support them.

Assess your current situation and identify any opportunities—or threats—allowing your organization to mitigate potential risks.

Create a proactive business culture that enables your organization to respond more swiftly to emerging market changes and opportunities.

What are the 5 steps in strategic planning?

The strategic planning process involves a structured methodology that guides the organization from vision to implementation. The strategic planning process starts with assembling a small, dedicated team of key strategic planners—typically five to 10 members—who will form the strategic planning, or management, committee. This team is responsible for gathering crucial information, guiding the development of the plan, and overseeing strategy execution.

Once you’ve established your management committee, you can get to work on the planning process. 

Step 1: Assess your current business strategy and business environment

Before you can define where you’re going, you first need to define where you are. Understanding the external environment, including market trends and competitive landscape, is crucial in the initial assessment phase of strategic planning.

To do this, your management committee should collect a variety of information from additional stakeholders, like employees and customers. In particular, plan to gather:

Relevant industry and market data to inform any market opportunities, as well as any potential upcoming threats in the near future.

Customer insights to understand what your customers want from your company—like product improvements or additional services.

Employee feedback that needs to be addressed—whether about the product, business practices, or the day-to-day company culture.

Consider different types of strategic planning tools and analytical techniques to gather this information, such as:

A balanced scorecard to help you evaluate four major elements of a business: learning and growth, business processes, customer satisfaction, and financial performance.

A SWOT analysis to help you assess both current and future potential for the business (you’ll return to this analysis periodically during the strategic planning process). 

To fill out each letter in the SWOT acronym, your management committee will answer a series of questions:

What does your organization currently do well?

What separates you from your competitors?

What are your most valuable internal resources?

What tangible assets do you have?

What is your biggest strength? 

Weaknesses:

What does your organization do poorly?

What do you currently lack (whether that’s a product, resource, or process)?

What do your competitors do better than you?

What, if any, limitations are holding your organization back?

What processes or products need improvement? 

Opportunities:

What opportunities does your organization have?

How can you leverage your unique company strengths?

Are there any trends that you can take advantage of?

How can you capitalize on marketing or press opportunities?

Is there an emerging need for your product or service? 

What emerging competitors should you keep an eye on?

Are there any weaknesses that expose your organization to risk?

Have you or could you experience negative press that could reduce market share?

Is there a chance of changing customer attitudes towards your company? 

Step 2: Identify your company’s goals and objectives

To begin strategy development, take into account your current position, which is where you are now. Then, draw inspiration from your vision, mission, and current position to identify and define your goals—these are your final destination. 

To develop your strategy, you’re essentially pulling out your compass and asking, “Where are we going next?” “What’s the ideal future state of this company?” This can help you figure out which path you need to take to get there.

During this phase of the planning process, take inspiration from important company documents, such as:

Your mission statement, to understand how you can continue moving towards your organization’s core purpose.

Your vision statement, to clarify how your strategic plan fits into your long-term vision.

Your company values, to guide you towards what matters most towards your company.

Your competitive advantages, to understand what unique benefit you offer to the market.

Your long-term goals, to track where you want to be in five or 10 years.

Your financial forecast and projection, to understand where you expect your financials to be in the next three years, what your expected cash flow is, and what new opportunities you will likely be able to invest in.

Step 3: Develop your strategic plan and determine performance metrics

Now that you understand where you are and where you want to go, it’s time to put pen to paper. Take your current business position and strategy into account, as well as your organization’s goals and objectives, and build out a strategic plan for the next three to five years. Keep in mind that even though you’re creating a long-term plan, parts of your plan should be created or revisited as the quarters and years go on.

As you build your strategic plan, you should define:

Company priorities for the next three to five years, based on your SWOT analysis and strategy.

Yearly objectives for the first year. You don’t need to define your objectives for every year of the strategic plan. As the years go on, create new yearly objectives that connect back to your overall strategic goals . 

Related key results and KPIs. Some of these should be set by the management committee, and some should be set by specific teams that are closer to the work. Make sure your key results and KPIs are measurable and actionable. These KPIs will help you track progress and ensure you’re moving in the right direction.

Budget for the next year or few years. This should be based on your financial forecast as well as your direction. Do you need to spend aggressively to develop your product? Build your team? Make a dent with marketing? Clarify your most important initiatives and how you’ll budget for those.

A high-level project roadmap . A project roadmap is a tool in project management that helps you visualize the timeline of a complex initiative, but you can also create a very high-level project roadmap for your strategic plan. Outline what you expect to be working on in certain quarters or years to make the plan more actionable and understandable.

Step 4: Implement and share your plan

Now it’s time to put your plan into action. Strategy implementation involves clear communication across your entire organization to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and how to measure the plan’s success. 

Make sure your team (especially senior leadership) has access to the strategic plan, so they can understand how their work contributes to company priorities and the overall strategy map. We recommend sharing your plan in the same tool you use to manage and track work, so you can more easily connect high-level objectives to daily work. If you don’t already, consider using a work management platform .  

A few tips to make sure your plan will be executed without a hitch: 

Communicate clearly to your entire organization throughout the implementation process, to ensure all team members understand the strategic plan and how to implement it effectively. 

Define what “success” looks like by mapping your strategic plan to key performance indicators.

Ensure that the actions outlined in the strategic plan are integrated into the daily operations of the organization, so that every team member's daily activities are aligned with the broader strategic objectives.

Utilize tools and software—like a work management platform—that can aid in implementing and tracking the progress of your plan.

Regularly monitor and share the progress of the strategic plan with the entire organization, to keep everyone informed and reinforce the importance of the plan.

Establish regular check-ins to monitor the progress of your strategic plan and make adjustments as needed. 

Step 5: Revise and restructure as needed

Once you’ve created and implemented your new strategic framework, the final step of the planning process is to monitor and manage your plan.

Remember, your strategic plan isn’t set in stone. You’ll need to revisit and update the plan if your company changes directions or makes new investments. As new market opportunities and threats come up, you’ll likely want to tweak your strategic plan. Make sure to review your plan regularly—meaning quarterly and annually—to ensure it’s still aligned with your organization’s vision and goals.

Keep in mind that your plan won’t last forever, even if you do update it frequently. A successful strategic plan evolves with your company’s long-term goals. When you’ve achieved most of your strategic goals, or if your strategy has evolved significantly since you first made your plan, it might be time to create a new one.

Build a smarter strategic plan with a work management platform

To turn your company strategy into a plan—and ultimately, impact—make sure you’re proactively connecting company objectives to daily work. When you can clarify this connection, you’re giving your team members the context they need to get their best work done. 

A work management platform plays a pivotal role in this process. It acts as a central hub for your strategic plan, ensuring that every task and project is directly tied to your broader company goals. This alignment is crucial for visibility and coordination, allowing team members to see how their individual efforts contribute to the company’s success. 

By leveraging such a platform, you not only streamline workflow and enhance team productivity but also align every action with your strategic objectives—allowing teams to drive greater impact and helping your company move toward goals more effectively. 

Strategic planning FAQs

Still have questions about strategic planning? We have answers.

Why do I need a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is one of many tools you can use to plan and hit your goals. It helps map out strategic objectives and growth metrics that will help your company be successful.

When should I create a strategic plan?

You should aim to create a strategic plan every three to five years, depending on your organization’s growth speed.

Since the point of a strategic plan is to map out your long-term goals and how you’ll get there, you should create a strategic plan when you’ve met most or all of them. You should also create a strategic plan any time you’re going to make a large pivot in your organization’s mission or enter new markets. 

What is a strategic planning template?

A strategic planning template is a tool organizations can use to map out their strategic plan and track progress. Typically, a strategic planning template houses all the components needed to build out a strategic plan, including your company’s vision and mission statements, information from any competitive analyses or SWOT assessments, and relevant KPIs.

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. business plan?

A business plan can help you document your strategy as you’re getting started so every team member is on the same page about your core business priorities and goals. This tool can help you document and share your strategy with key investors or stakeholders as you get your business up and running.

You should create a business plan when you’re: 

Just starting your business

Significantly restructuring your business

If your business is already established, you should create a strategic plan instead of a business plan. Even if you’re working at a relatively young company, your strategic plan can build on your business plan to help you move in the right direction. During the strategic planning process, you’ll draw from a lot of the fundamental business elements you built early on to establish your strategy for the next three to five years.

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. mission and vision statements?

Your strategic plan, mission statement, and vision statements are all closely connected. In fact, during the strategic planning process, you will take inspiration from your mission and vision statements in order to build out your strategic plan.

Simply put: 

A mission statement summarizes your company’s purpose.

A vision statement broadly explains how you’ll reach your company’s purpose.

A strategic plan pulls in inspiration from your mission and vision statements and outlines what actions you’re going to take to move in the right direction. 

For example, if your company produces pet safety equipment, here’s how your mission statement, vision statement, and strategic plan might shake out:

Mission statement: “To ensure the safety of the world’s animals.” 

Vision statement: “To create pet safety and tracking products that are effortless to use.” 

Your strategic plan would outline the steps you’re going to take in the next few years to bring your company closer to your mission and vision. For example, you develop a new pet tracking smart collar or improve the microchipping experience for pet owners. 

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. company objectives?

Company objectives are broad goals. You should set these on a yearly or quarterly basis (if your organization moves quickly). These objectives give your team a clear sense of what you intend to accomplish for a set period of time. 

Your strategic plan is more forward-thinking than your company goals, and it should cover more than one year of work. Think of it this way: your company objectives will move the needle towards your overall strategy—but your strategic plan should be bigger than company objectives because it spans multiple years.

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. a business case?

A business case is a document to help you pitch a significant investment or initiative for your company. When you create a business case, you’re outlining why this investment is a good idea, and how this large-scale project will positively impact the business. 

You might end up building business cases for things on your strategic plan’s roadmap—but your strategic plan should be bigger than that. This tool should encompass multiple years of your roadmap, across your entire company—not just one initiative.

What’s the difference between a strategic plan vs. a project plan?

A strategic plan is a company-wide, multi-year plan of what you want to accomplish in the next three to five years and how you plan to accomplish that. A project plan, on the other hand, outlines how you’re going to accomplish a specific project. This project could be one of many initiatives that contribute to a specific company objective which, in turn, is one of many objectives that contribute to your strategic plan. 

What’s the difference between strategic management vs. strategic planning?

A strategic plan is a tool to define where your organization wants to go and what actions you need to take to achieve those goals. Strategic planning is the process of creating a plan in order to hit your strategic objectives.

Strategic management includes the strategic planning process, but also goes beyond it. In addition to planning how you will achieve your big-picture goals, strategic management also helps you organize your resources and figure out the best action plans for success. 

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    3. Internal Business Plan. Internal business plans help leaders communicate company goals, strategy, and performance. This helps the business align and work toward objectives more effectively. Besides the typical elements in a startup business plan, an internal business plan may also include: Department-specific budgets. Target demographic ...

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    6. Financials. The financial section of your business plan is critical, especially if you want to circulate the plan to investors or lenders. The purpose of this section is threefold: to 1) outline your business's financial plan, 2) demonstrate your profit potential, and 3) share your financing needs.

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    Typically, your strategic plan should include: Your company's vision statement. Your company's mission statement. Your organizational goals, including your long-term goals and short-term, yearly objectives. Any plan of action, tactics, or approaches you plan to take to meet those goals

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