Business Plan Format : How To Write & Format Your Business Plan For Success
Use simple terms and avoid industry buzzwords. On the other hand, describing how the company's products and services will differ from the competition is critical. So is describing why your products and services are needed if no market currently exists. For example, before there was Federal Express, overnight delivery was a niche business served by small companies.
Patents, copyrights, and trademarks you own or have applied for should also be listed in this section. Depending on the nature of your business, your Products and Services section could be very long or relatively short. If your business is product-focused, you will want to spend more time describing those products. If you plan to sell a commodity item and the key to your success lies in, say, competitive pricing, you probably don't need to provide significant product detail. Or if you plan to sell a commodity readily available in a variety of outlets, the key to your business may not be the commodity itself but your ability to market in a more cost-effective way than your competition.
In the cycling rental business example we've been using, products and services could be a relatively simple section to complete or it could be fairly involved. If Blue Mountain Cycling Rentals plans to market itself as a provider of high-end bikes, describing those bikes--and the sources for those bikes--is important, since "high-end cycling rentals" is intended to be a market differentiation.
If the company plans to be the low-cost provider, then describing specific brands of equipment is probably not necessary.
Also, keep in mind that if a supplier runs out of capacity--or goes out of business altogether--you may not have a sufficient supply to meet your demand. Plan to set up multiple vendor or supplier relationships, and describe those relationships fully. Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will provide a comprehensive line of bicycles and cycling equipment for all ages and levels of ability.
Since the typical customer seeks medium-quality equipment and excellent services at competitive prices, we will focus on providing brands like Trek bikes, Shimano footwear, and Giro helmets. These manufacturers have a widespread reputation as mid- to high-level quality, unlike equipment typically found in the rental market. Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will have clear advantages over its primary competitors, the bike shops located in Harrisonburg, VA:.
Expansion will allow us to move product offerings into new equipment sales. We will also explore maintenance and fitting services, leveraging our existing maintenance staff to provide value-added services at a premium price. When you draft your Products and Services section, think of your reader as a person who knows little to nothing about your business. Be clear and to the point. Think of it this way: The Products and Services section answers the "what" question for your business. Make sure you fully understand the "what" factor; you may run the business, but your products and services are its lifeblood.
Market research is critical to business success. A good business plan analyzes and evaluates customer demographics, purchasing habits, buying cycles, and willingness to adopt new products and services. The process starts with understanding your market and the opportunities inherent in that market. And that means you'll need to do a little research. Before you start a business you must be sure there is a viable market for what you plan to offer. The more thoroughly you answer the following questions, the better you will understand your market. Start by evaluating the market at a relatively high level, answering some high-level questions about your market and your industry:.
Fortunately, you've already done some of the legwork. You've already defined and mapped out your products and services. The Market Opportunities section provides a sense-check of that analysis, which is particularly important since choosing the right products and services is such a critical factor in business success. But your analysis should go farther: Great products are great Ferraris are awesome but you're unlikely to sell many where I live. So let's dig deeper and quantify your market. Your goal is to thoroughly understand the characteristics and purchasing ability of potential customers in your market.
A little Googling can yield a tremendous amount of data. The key is to understand the market in general terms and then to dig deeper to understand whether there are specific segments within that market--the segments you plan to target--that can become customers and support the growth of your business. Also keep in mind that if you plan to sell products online the global marketplace is incredibly crowded and competitive. Any business can sell a product online and ship that product around the world. On the other hand, if you live in an area with 50, people and there's only one bicycle shop, you may be able to enter that market and attract a major portion of bicycle customers in your area.
After you complete your research you may feel a little overwhelmed. While data is good, and more data is great, sifting through and making sense of too much data can be daunting. For the purposes of your business plan, narrow your focus and focus on answering these main questions:. While we expect sales to rise, for the purposes of performing a conservative analysis we have projected a zero growth rate for the next three years.
In those states 2,, people visited a national forest last year. Our target market includes customers visiting the Shenandoah National Forest; last year , people visited the area during spring, summer, and fall months. Over time, however, we do expect equipment rentals and sales to increase as the popularity of cycling continues to rise. In particular we forecast a spike in demand in since the national road racing championships will be held in Richmond, VA. In addition, we anticipate greater than industry-norm growth rates for cycling in the area due to the increase in popularity of cycling events like the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo.
Out target market has one basic need: The availability to source bicycle rentals at a competitive price. Our only other competition are the bike shops in Harrisonburg, VA, and our location will give us a competitive advantage over those and other companies who try to serve our market. In our case the cycling rental business does not require much segmentation.
Rentals are typically not broken down into segments like "inexpensive," "mid-range," and "high-end. Although you'll notice in our Products and Services section we decided to provide "high-end" rentals. But say you decide to open a clothing store. You could focus on high fashion, or children's clothes, or outdoor wear, or casual If that's the case, provide detail on segmentation that supports your plan.
Providing great products and services is wonderful, but customers must actually know those products and services exist. That's why marketing plans and strategies are critical to business success. Duh, right? But keep in mind marketing is not just advertising. Marketing--whether advertising, public relations, promotional literature, etc--is an investment in the growth of your business. Like any other investment you would make, money spent on marketing must generate a return. Otherwise why make the investment? While that return could simply be greater cash flow, good marketing plans result in higher sales and profits.
So don't simply plan to spend money on a variety of advertising efforts. Do your homework and create a smart marketing program. We will not be the low-cost provider for our target market. Our goal is to provide mid- to high-end equipment. However, we will create web-based loyalty programs to incent customers to set up online profiles and reserve and renew equipment rentals online, and provide discounts for those who do.
Over time we will be able to market specifically to those customers. Just like in the Market Opportunity section, you may want to include a few more categories. For example, if your business involves a commission-compensated sales force, describe your Sales Programs and incentives. If you distribute products to other companies or suppliers and those distribution efforts will impact your overall marketing plans, lay out your Distribution Strategy. The key is to show you understand your market and you understand how you will reach your market. Marketing and promotions must result in customers--your goal is to thoroughly describe how you will acquire and keep your customers.
Also keep in mind you may want to include examples of marketing materials you have already prepared, like website descriptions, print ads, web-based advertising programs, etc. While you don't need to include samples, taking the time to create actual marketing materials might help you better understand and communicate your marketing plans and objectives.
Every business has competition. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your competition--or potential competition--is critical to making sure your business survives and grows. While you don't need to hire a private detective, you do need to thoroughly assess your competition on a regular basis even if you only plan to run a small business. In fact, small businesses can be especially vulnerable to competition, especially when new companies enter a marketplace. Competitive analysis can be incredibly complicated and time-consuming Here is a simple process you can follow to identify, analyze, and determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competition.
First develop a basic profile of each of your current competition. For example, if you plan to open an office supply store you may have three competing stores in your market. Online retailers will also provide competition, but thoroughly analyzing those companies will be less valuable unless you also decide you want to sell office supplies online. Only you can determine that. To make the process easier, stick to analyzing companies you will directly compete with.
If you plan to set up an accounting firm, you will compete with other accounting firms in your area. If you plan to open a clothing store, you will compete with other clothing retailers in your area. Again, if you run a clothing store you also compete with online retailers, but there is relatively little you can do about that type of competition other than to work hard to compete in other ways: great service, friendly salespeople, convenient hours, truly understanding your customers, etc.
Once you identify your main competitors, answer these questions about each one. And be objective. It's easy to identify weaknesses in your competition, but less easy and a lot less fun to recognize where they may be able to outperform you:. While these questions may seem like a lot of work to answer, in reality the process should be fairly easy. You should already have a feel for the competition's strengths and weaknesses Keep in mind competitive analysis does more than help you understand your competition. Learn from competitor strengths, take advantage of competitor's weaknesses, and apply the same analysis to your own business plan.
It can be tough to predict when and where new competitors may pop up. For starters, regularly search for news on your industry, your products, your services, and your target market. But there are other ways to predict when competition may follow you into a market. Other people may see the same opportunity you see.
How To Create A Business Plan
Think about your business and your industry, and if the following conditions exist, you may face competition does the road:. In general terms, if serving your market seems easy you can safely assume competitors will enter your market. A good business plan anticipates and accounts for new competitors. Our nearest and only competition is the bike shops in Harrisonburg, VA. Our next closest competitor is located over miles away. The in-town bike shops will be strong competitors. They are established businesses with excellent reputations. On the other hand, they offer inferior-quality equipment and their location is significantly less convenient.
We do not plan to sell bicycles for at least the first two years of operation. However, sellers of new equipment do indirectly compete with our business since a customer who buys equipment no longer needs to rent equipment. Later, when we add new equipment sales to our operation, we will face competition from online retailers.
We will compete with new equipment retailers through personalized service and targeted marketing to our existing customer base, especially through online initiatives. And so on A common mistake made by entrepreneurs is assuming they will simply "do it better" than any competition. Experienced businesspeople know you will face stiff competition: showing you understand your competition, understand your strengths and weaknesses relative to that competition, and that you understand you will have to adapt and change based on that competition, is critical.
And, even if you do not ever plan to seek financing or bring in investors, you absolutely must know your competition.
Business Plan Template: A Framework to Write Your Business Plan
Your ops plan should detail strategies for managing, staffing, manufacturing, fulfillment, inventory Fortunately, most entrepreneurs have a better handle on their operations plan than on any other aspect of their business. Operations plans should be highly specific to your industry, your market sector, and your customers. Instead of providing an example like I've done with other sections, use the following to determine the key areas your plan should address:. What do you need to do?
How will you get it done?
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Then create an overview of that plan to make sure your milestones and timeline make sense. Many investors and lenders feel the quality and experience of the management team is one of the most important factors used to evaluate the potential of a new business.
But putting work into the Management Team section will not only benefit people who may read your plan. Addressing your company's needs during implementation will make a major impact on your chances for success. Joe has over twenty years experience in the cycling business. A complete resume for Mr. Rouleur can be found in the Appendix. Mary was the U. Mountain Biking National Champion. She worked in product development for High Tec frames, creating custom frames and frame modifications for professional cyclists.
She also has extensive customer service and sales experience, having worked for four years as the online manager of Pro Parts Unlimited, an online retailer of high-end cycling equipment and accessories. For example, if you manufacture a product or provide a service and will hire a key skilled employee, describe that employee's credentials. Otherwise, include staffing plans in the Operations section. One key note: Don't be tempted to add a "name" to your management team in hopes of attracting investors.
If you don't have a lot of experience--but are willing to work hard to overcome that lack of experience--don't be tempted to include other people in your plan that will not actually work in the business. If you can't survive without help, that's okay. In fact that's expected; no one does anything worthwhile on their own. Experience and reputation are great, but action is everything. Financial projections and estimates help entrepreneurs, lenders, and investors or lenders objectively evaluate a company's potential for success.
If a business seeks outside funding, providing comprehensive financial reports and analysis is critical. But most importantly, financial projections tell you whether your business has a chance of being viable--and if not let you know you have more work to do. It's easy to find examples of all of the above. Even the most basic accounting software packages include templates and samples.
You can also find templates in Excel and Google Docs. A quick search like "google docs profit and loss statement" yields plenty of examples. Or you can work with an accountant to create the necessary financial projections and documents. Certainly feel free to do so While you don't need to be an accountant to run a business, you do need to understand your numbers But ultimately the tools you use to develop your numbers are not as important as whether those numbers are as accurate as possible--and whether those numbers help you decide whether to take the next step and put your business plan into action.
Some business plans include less essential but potentially important information in an Appendix section. You may decide to include, as backup or additional information:. Keep in mind creating an Appendix is usually only necessary if you're seeking financing or hoping to bring in partners or investors. Initially the people reading your business plan don't wish to plow through reams and reams of charts, numbers, and backup information.
If one does want to dig deeper, fine--he or she can check out the documents in the Appendix. While you may use your business plan to attract investors, partners, suppliers, etc Because ultimately it's your time, your money, and your effort on the line. Be as objective and logical as possible. Sometimes even the best ideas are simply ahead of their time. Serve as a guide to the business's operations for the first months and sometimes years, creating a blueprint for company leaders to follow. Communicate the company's purpose and vision , describe management responsibilities, detail personnel requirements, provide an overview of marketing plans, and evaluate current and future competition in the marketplace.
Create the foundation of a financing proposal for investors and lenders to use to evaluate the company. Too many founders have also tried to cram the equivalent of a business plan into a pitch deck, only to find it is a hindrance to getting the results they want. Entrepreneurs often have to pivot their business once it becomes clear that their original customer is not the right customer, or when it turns out that their product or service fits better in an alternate market. Because of these realities, business plans written at the start end up nothing more than a fable. According to Entrepreneur.
Fortunately, crafting a business plan has become much simpler today. There are plenty of data sources to back up assumptions and to complete research. There are plenty of great freelancers available online who can help handle time intensive parts of the process like research and formatting, and interactive pro-formas.
SCORE offers fillable worksheets covering these key pages in your business plan for your startup business:. The SBA US Small Business Administration offers templates for both traditional business plans and more modern lean startup business plans, with samples to view. A business plan still plays a critical role in launching a profitable and sustainable venture today.
New trends and the data show us that the best time to complete a robust plan may now come later in the journey than it used to. It is much more important to get started, test, and secure funding first. I am a serial entrepreneur and the author of the The Art of Startup Fundraising. Share to facebook Share to twitter Share to linkedin. Pixabay Pixabay. Alejandro Cremades Contributor. A clear and compelling business plan provides you with a guide for building a successful enterprise focused on achieving your personal and financial goals.
It can also help persuade others, including banks, to invest in what you are creating. To write a business plan, start with an executive summary that lays out your grand vision for your business. Follow that with a section that describes what products and services your company will offer. Then, write a marketing section where you detail how you're going to inform people about your business.
You'll also want to include a section on your business model and how it will operate. Finally, conclude your business plan by letting investors know what you need from them. For help with doing research for your business plan, read the article! This article was co-authored by our trained team of editors and researchers who validated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Together, they cited information from 16 references. Shahnawaz Ali Khan. Khurshid Ahmed. It also received 78 testimonials from readers, earning it our reader-approved status. Learn more Analyze the potential markets for your business. This needs to be more than mere guesswork and involves doing accurate and intelligent research. You need to analyze secondary research collected by outside observers, as well as getting primary research that you collect yourself, with your own methods and observations. Consider the following areas of inquiry: Is there a viable market for the product or service you want to sell?
How old are your potential customers? What do they do for a living? Is your product or service attractive to a particular ethnic or economic population? Will only wealthy people be able to afford it? Does your ideal customer live in a certain type of neighborhood or area?
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Establish the size of your potential market. From there, you can analyze demographic information more specifically: How many car mechanics are in need of soap in any given community? How many children in the United States are currently under the age of eight? How much soap will they use in a month or a year? How many other soap manufacturers already have a share of the market? How big are your potential competitors? Some may be tangible, such as five hundred file folders and a large cabinet in which to store them all. Other requirements may be intangible, such as time to create a product design or to do market research on potential customers.
Prepare product samples. What exactly will your mousetrap look like? What materials will you need? Do you require money for research and development to improve on your original toothpaste tube and paper clip construction? Do you need to hire an engineer to draw up accurate manufacturing designs? Should you patent your invention? Will you need to investigate federal safety standards for mousetraps? Research possible locations for your business.
Make a chart of the most expensive and least expensive sites by location and square footage. Determine your start-up cost. Be honest and conservative in your estimates, but also be optimistic.
Is the order important?
Don't aim for the best of everything at the beginning. You can forgo the expensive trimmings of an office of a more well-established company and stick to the basics at the beginning. Get what is affordable, works and is actually needed and don't buy frills. Put yourself in the shoes of potential investors. Depending on your product, you may need to search long and hard for relevant information.
Don't lose heart if you discover some, or even all, of your ideas have been adequately covered by the market. Don't ignore this reality; instead, work with it. Can you still do a better job or provide a better widget than your competitors? In many cases, it's likely that you can provided you know the market well and how to add value in ways your competitors are not doing. In other cases, it may be a case of focusing more narrowly or more broadly than your competitors are doing. Identify potential investors. They follow specific guidelines, such as the Risk Management Association R.
A  database, which are designed to ensure that they will make money by investing in or lending to your business. Lenders will typically look to the company's Capital, Capacity, Collateral, Conditions, and Character or what is known as the 5C's of lending when underwriting a loan. You'll need to have covered all these bases well before seeking funding. Define your company. What will you accomplish for others? What products and services will you produce or provide? Write down all the specific needs your company will satisfy.
Potential investors need to know that your business will be meaningful and marketable to people who can use your product or service. So concentrate on the external needs your company will meet. What will your product or service enable people to do better, more cheaply, more safely, or more efficiently? Will your new mousetrap help people capture mice without feeling sick to their stomachs?
Will your new bubblegum scented bubble bath revolutionize the way children agree to take nightly baths? Choose a winning strategy. How will you distinguish your product or service from others? Although there are millions of types of businesses, there are actually only a few basic strategies that can be applied to make any enterprise successful. The first step in selecting an effective strategy is to identify a competitive advantage for your product or service.
It may entail superior service characteristics such as speedier delivery, a lower price, or more attentive sales people——these are never to be sniffed at as possible winning ways, as many companies grow complacent and can be overtaken by giving customers experiences that are better than the average expectations. Design your company. Consider how will you hire and organize your workforce. You may need to hire more managers to supervise your expanding staff or to set up new departments to meet new customer demands. For now, you want to secure help in getting started and convince your funding sources that you will become profitable.
Consider the practical issues of running a business. Think about your role as leader or boss of the business. As you think about hiring personnel and organizing your workforce, you must also confront your desire and ability to be a good boss. Decide how you will handle your employees' entitlements. For example, salaries and wages, their insurance and retirement benefits, as well as analyzing the extent of your knowledge of tax related issues.
Do you need to bring in experienced managers right away? Will you keep some of the existing employees or hire all new people?