Every business needs to have a business plan, no matter the size. The main reason so many startups don’t survive past the first five years is because they didn’t set a strong business plan. You may have a great business idea, but then after setting out a plan and crunching the numbers, you find out it’s not such a great idea.
Your business plan is the roadmap for your business; it’ll contain future milestones, your budget and finances, marketing and sales strategy, and will help you overcome future obstacles. Whether your business plan is for bankers, venture capitalists, or just your employees, there are main elements set by the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) that should be included in every business plan.
What Are the Elements of a Business Plan?
- The Executive Summary This is the first section of the business plan. It can be from 1 to 5 pages. It serves as the table of content for your plan.
- Company Profile In this section, you explain what your business is, what your goals are, your vision, and mission, why you’re special and unique. Some companies mention the management and team members with short descriptions.
- Market Analysis Before starting a business, you need to learn about the market. Study your competitors. Find out their profit range, what they’re known for, and what technologies are used in the industry. Every detail matters and can give you an advantage in your business.
- Product/ Service Explain your products, different types or packages, your selling points, and answer all the questions a customer/ investor may have. Whoever reads your business plan should fully understand what you’re offering.
- Marketing and Sales Strategy The best product in the world wouldn’t sell if it has a poor marketing plan. Get into detail with how you’ll advertise your product. Detail your target audience, prices, and any promotional discounts.
- Funding This is the most important section in your plan because it states your initial budget, the funds you’ll need for the next five years, what you plan on doing with the funds, the creditors’ or investors’ return, and all business expenses such as salaries and equipment.
- Financial Forecast If you’re using your business plan for a loan or funds, you need to have the documents to back up your claim. You need to include all your financial statements and balance sheets, and any sources of income from the past few years.
- Business Overview Give a general overview of your business with info like the legal structure, operations plan, business address, whether it’s an online or physical business, number of employees, specific roles, etc.
What Are the Aspects of a Successful Business Plan?
Now that we’ve stated the main elements that should be included in a business plan, let’s get to the points you should focus on to create a successful business plan and not just a boring, lengthy one.
Use a Template or Hire Someone with Experience
You can write your business plan yourself, but with all the elements that need to be added, it can get complicated. If your business plan is short, then you might not need a template. If your plan is lengthy, you can find templates with a prepared structure online. In order to have a professional, well-written business plan, you can look into hiring someone with experience to get the job done. They would be able to better structure your plan and add charts and graphs when needed.
Do Your Research
Before jumping into writing your business plan, you need to ensure you’ve done an efficient amount of research. It’s your responsibility to have the answers to the questions that creditors or investors would ask. Whether it’s researching the market, competitors, or the industry, you need to know every small detail that can be an advantage or disadvantage to your business.
Define the Purpose of Your Business Plan
Your business plan will be your guide throughout the years, working as your roadmap, but you need to define why you’re creating it from the start. For example, are you making a plan for personal needs, as a guide for your employees, or are you planning on using it for investors and funding? If for funding, you’ll need to be very precise and clear with your targets and overall writing.
A Modified Business Plan
Your business plan is going to be read by various types of people from bankers, investors, and venture capitalists, to employees and yourself. Each audience type has certain points they’re looking for in your plan and you need to address those points accordingly. Make sure your plan can easily be modified according to your target audience. For example, banks would focus on balance sheets and statements while your employees will be focused on business goals or market research. You need to be able to make small alterations to serve different purposes.
Don’t Make It Too Long
The truth is no one is actually going to read your whole business plan. An executive summary is important so readers can easily find the sections they need. A typical business plan usually ranges from 20 to 50 pages. For example, venture capitalists are usually time restricted, so they’d want to find things like the financial forecast and investors’ return quickly. Knowing this, you should place this information in the beginning.
Regularly Update Your Business Plan
Your business plan needs to be updated as your business evolves and grows. Not all the sections will need updating, but the objectives set at the start of your business will change and your financial records will need to be up-to-date, especially if you’re still looking for funding. As mentioned before, your business plan is your roadmap, so don’t neglect it down the line.
Stand Out, but Don’t Overdo It
Your business plan is mostly stating the facts about your business but you need to capture the reader’s attention, mention why you’re different from your competitors, what makes you better. But sometimes businesses tend to oversell themselves, explain your passion, how much you care for your business, and the problems you want to solve but without unnecessary exaggeration.
Don’t Undersell Your Competitors
Every business has competitors and you need to clearly acknowledge these competitors in your business plan. Some startups think that not mentioning their competitors or underselling them helps their case, when in fact, it does the complete opposite.
You need to highlight what your competitors are good at, and state how you can do better. This will give you an edge with investors. Never talk bad about competitors or imply they’re not worthy of mentioning, this will lessen your credibility and make you look unprofessional.
Set Long-term and Short-term Goals
Every business plan should include five-year goals, but most importantly, it should include short-term goals such as annual and quarterly goals. It’s great to know where you want your business to be in the future, but investors need to know you have a clear plan to get there.
Back Up Your Plan with Documents, Charts, or Graphs
A business plan shouldn’t just be blocks of text; you need to make your plan appealing by adding images, charts, or graphs whenever possible. It won’t only improve your overall design; it can simplify and explain complicated sections. In order to strengthen your plan, you need to add supporting documents like articles about your business, financial statements, or contracts.
These were 10 important aspects that will help you create a successful and polished business plan. A great business plan from the start can change the trajectory of your whole business so giving it the right amount of work, focus, and dedication is vital for your business.