There are various websites offering business plan templates and examples, and some even charge for them. We‘ve created a guide explaining what should be included, the ins and outs along with a free downloadable template to get you started!
Follow our guide on how to write a business plan in these 11 steps to help you on your next professional journey!
Writing a business plan not only helps to make your dreams a reality on paper, but it can also help you manage and prioritise tasks that need to be completed in order to start a business. Many businesses fail because they try to do too much, too soon and lose sight of their objections. By going through every detail of your business, you are able to look at the bigger picture and create a timeline of milestones you need to hit. Business plan templates can help you to regain focus and stay on a steady path in a time of chaos.
It is also the most popular way to attract and impress potential investors for your business, who’s funding could be the key to getting you started. For entrepreneurs, it will force you to be realistic in what you can achieve with their plan by putting the dream into a reality, it could also flag potential problems or even further opportunities.
A typical business plan is 10-15 pages but can range from a single page upwards, depending on how much detail you include and how complex your business plan is.
Larger business plans could even have multiple ‘mini plans’ that revert back to the bigger plan. This allows you to showcase the mini plans to certain investors for certain parts of the business, and ensure the overarching strategies and objectives are being met individually as well as collectively. It is your choice how you present your business plan; whether you cut it into sections or ‘mini plans’, or have it all as one will depend on what you want to achieve with it.
The below guide and free downloadable template is here to provide some guidance for getting the most out of your business plan, you can edit it how you want and add or remove sections to help you get started!
Every business plan should have a cover page, allowing the reader to be able to reach you. Make sure the name of your business is on there (including your logo if you have one), your name and your contact details. Also include a website address for your business and links to any social media channels.
A contents page is always beneficial within a business plan if you are going to multiple investors for any funding who have different interests. Some may be very interested in your marketing plans, when others may only want to see your financial forecasts- so by having a contents page it allows them to jump to the relevant part of the plan that they want to see. This saves their time, keeps their interest and also looks more professional.
The 11 points of the ultimate business plan are listed below.
Your executive summary as a whole should be a standalone document, summarising the key points of your business plan and why it will benefit the market. It is not intended to be an introduction or background information. You can touch on your unique selling point (USP) for your business here, but leave the details until later. You should also include your business’ financing need within your executive summary and how you plan to manage your start-up finances.
Think of it as an elevator pitch- it should be confident, concise and spark intrigue.
When writing your executive summary you should:
Remember! First impressions count- If the reader isn’t impressed with the executive summary they may not continue reading, so this is crucial to get right.
TIP! Write the executive summary last, then you can reflect on everything you’ve already written and can ensure you include the important bits.
This is your chance to introduce your business and describe from scratch the thought process behind your business concept. You can make this section fairly personable if you wish- it’s the reader’s first look at your brand and it’s your choice how you want your business to be perceived.
This section should include your personal brand along with everything you are aiming to achieve, such as:
Plus anything else you feel would be relevant to give the investor as much information about your business as possible.
Your industry analysis should provide an overview of the market as a whole. Get as much data as you can to show the state of the market you want to trade in, such as how big it is, why its expanding, where are the opportunities, etc. Ensure your data is from reliable sources (Mintel are reliable and offer free reports) and cite references where necessary. Also state what trends are affecting this market and display a good understanding of it.
An industry analysis’ purpose is for the business owner to be able to create a long term strategy that will minimise risks while trading in that industry and learn when to take advantage of growth opportunities. Conducting a SWOT analysis is a tried and tested method of covering all bases, especially indicating growth potential. It is a process many business owners still rely on.
TIP- A good way to approach any risks you may come across is to list them out in bullet points and explain how you would tackle each one.
Identify who your customer is and how you plan on targeting them specifically. Gather as much data as you can from reliable sources, or even better, conduct your own research. Conduct social media polls, surveys, questionnaires, etc. and get as many people/businesses to take part as you can. Putting in the effort to getting to know your customer will pay off in the long run. It will show your investors your commitment and it will help you to build a psychographic profile on your target audience.
Your psychographic profile could include:
Get as much specific data and different forms of research as you can, and if you have multiple target audiences, describe them in segments.
In this section you should classify the products or services you will offer; detail what each one is and how they will work. You should also include information on how your products will be made and what resources you need. Think about any legalities you face and the cost of producing merchandise if you’re creating products yourself, or get costings for manufacturers to manage production. Look for further guidance on government websites about product safety and product labelling.
If you have a plan to further enhance any products or services further down the line, state this in this section of your business plan through a timeline.
TIP: If you are producing a physical product GANTT charts are always useful to display the process concisely.
A competitor analysis is there to compare your business plan to the current market leaders. A competitive analysis means analysing the strengths and weaknesses of your direct and indirect competitors and allows you to demonstrate how you will gain a competitive edge and market share. Spider diagrams or charts can make it easier to analyse data at a glance, so keep this in mind.
Identify each of your competitive advantages and explain how your business will be more successful- what sets you apart?
TIP: Most of this research can be done online, or you could even mystery shop them.
Marketing is one of the key sections in a business plan- you could have a great business and good products or services but if you can’t market them effectively and within costs your business won’t take off. You need to consider Cost per Acquisition (CPA) and bring this into your budget.
Detail here what marketing you plan on doing. Firstly, if you plan to do it in-house or if you plan to outsource it to an agency. State your marketing budget and what return on investment (ROI) you think you will achieve within the first year.
Think about these questions when creating your plan:
Example: ''We are going to target millennials on social media platforms such as Instagram as our market research has concluded that X% of 20 to 40 year olds consume X amount of marketing posts every day, leading to a X% conversion rate for brands similar to ours.
We will be different by… ''
You should go into as much detail as possible. Remember this is not only how you intend to make money but you need this to make sure you have a clear plan in your own head about what you will be doing. Think about how you will define your brand and why people would buy into it.
If you really want to break your marketing plan down (and we suggest you do, the more the better) you can split marketing into sections to detail how you will reach your audience at all stages.
Branding your business, launching it, getting new business and retaining customers will all have different marketing approaches, so you need to think about how you would change your methods and messaging to meet the requirements of who you’re trying to target at different stages of the customer journey.
For example, you wouldn’t upsell a customer by offering them a discount only available to new customers, or targeting them with a campaign of a product they already have.
As a suggestion; split your marketing into these sections-
If you wanted to go even more granular, you can segment your target audience into high and low end customers depending on what your product is, and even have a win back strategy for any customers you have lost; but that could be for further down the line.
Your sales section could split this section into two parts; pricing and selling.
Outline pricing information including wholesale and retail pricing if you sell products and how much you forecast to sell each month. Don’t forget manufacturing and delivery costs if you sell online. You need to consider your Cost per Sale (CPS) within your profit margins and ensure you’re still competitive when these costs have been deducted. You should also try to highlight opportunities to increase margins on sales and what your plan would be for upselling.
Next, detail your sales plan.
If applicable, add a distribution plan here and explain the process of sale to dispatch. Detail where your products will be made/bought, held and distributed from.
If you offer a service, explain the process of on-boarding a customer.
Your operations plan is where you should detail your business’ objectives, goals and procedures and how the operation will be ran on a daily basis. You should produce a timeline of the steps you plan to take to complete your business mission.
This could include the day to day goals your business needs to hit to be successful, for example sales, income, etc. This should also detail the key milestones your business needs to hit over the next 1, 3 and 5 years.
Remember the key questions- who, what, where, when, and how much.
What teams/persons will you have in place to do what specific jobs, and how will those teams be managed.
A description of what each team/persons is responsible for and what targets they have to hit.
Where will your operation be ran from? Do you have office space or are your staff working remotely? If you grow, will your circumstances change, such as having to move to a bigger office space?
This is where the timeline comes in, when do goals need to be achieved by?
Assess risks and remember to detail any problems you may come across, and how you plan on overcoming them.
Also talk about:
You can also touch briefly on financials and headline figures, stating how much you plan to make in the next year and your long term goals that the operations plan needs to directly support.
An operations plan is handy for investors, but it is also helpful for you and your employees as it pushes you to think tactics and deadlines required to meet the objections in your business plan.
Intellectual Property is a representation of your ideas, creations or intellect and you can legally protect them from being copied by competitors. If you develop a completely original product, service, process or idea that belongs to you, you can apply to patent it.
Protection could vary country to country, and you would need to check your idea or process hasn’t already been registered. Check government websites for more information on this.
A business is only as good as the people driving it. Provide background information on everyone that will be involved in the business, including top level management staff/directors and explain why they are a good fit to execute the business model you are proposing.
Don’t forget to mention gaps in your team and where you plan on hiring people. It is good to forecast when a hiring process will come into play along the line, and what process you plan to put in place to secure good talent. If you can, include a recruitment plan and training process; including timescales and costs.
TIP: Think about if you’ll need to hire any specifically skilled professionals for certain roles, and how you will get the best talent in that skillset.
Your financial plan should include all financial information from start-up costs to balance sheets. If you are investing heavily in start-up costs, when will your business become profitable? This is particularly important to investors as they want to know how you plan on generating revenue and what key assumptions govern your financial projections, and they will look for it in your business plan.
You should include:
The way this is displayed varies from person to person, it’s a good idea to use graphs and charts to display data such as financial statements and forecasts which you also need to explain and provide an analysis for. You would need to make this information as accessible and easy to understand as possible.
Forecasts and statements to include could be:
What you predict will come into the business from sales, broken down by month/product bands, etc.
An income statement records performance over a specific period and also takes into account some non-cash accounting items such as depreciation, which is reduction in the value of assets over time. If you have yet to start your business, you can show this but in terms of a budget.
We suggest splitting your budget into the first one, three and five years.
This is all the incomings and outgoings you predict will come through your business in the future. Don’t confuse an income statement and a cash flow projection. An income statement recognises revenue and expenses when they incurred, cashflow looks solely at actual cash movement so when expenses are paid for or revenue is received.
Depending on how granular you can get at this stage, try and include everything you will spend money on and every invoice your business will pay for. It is important to forecast this to check your expenditure isn’t too high. If it is, you may need additional funding to avoid cash flow surplus.
Get our free guide on what to include in a cash flow forecast, including a free downloadable template!
This is a statement of the assets, liabilities and capital of a business at a specific period in time. It details the balance of income and expenditure over that specific period.
TIP: Graphs and charts supporting your statements would also be a good idea but not essential. These can show trends and direction for your business.
Ensure you state in your financial plan what success looks like to you so your investors know what kind of lengths you’re aiming for and what kind of ROI they are getting.
You can further break down any of the above projections here using graphs or charts.
It could be beneficial to touch upon things such as:
If this is a new company, explain how you came up with the values of the forecast and why you think your company will grow.
Attach any supporting documentation such as customer lists, mock marketing plans, any market research, CVs of key personnel, company or product literature, etc. in your Appendix.
If you have already started building a social presence, also include examples of your audience engaging with you on social media and links to your profiles.
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Armed with the above information, download your free business plan template today and get started!