Business plans might seem like an old-school stiff-collared practice, but they deserve a place in the startup realm, too. It’s probably not going to be the frame-worthy document you hang in the office—yet, it may one day be deserving of the privilege.
Whether you’re looking to win the heart of an angel investor or convince a bank to lend you money, you’ll need a business plan. And not just any ol’ notes and scribble on the back of a pizza box or napkin—you’ll need a professional, standardized report.
Bah. Sounds like homework, right?
Yes. Yes, it does.
However, just like bookkeeping, loan applications, and 404 redirects, business plans are an essential step in cementing your business foundation.
Don’t worry. We’ll show you how to write a business plan without boring you to tears. We’ve jam-packed this article with all the business plan examples, templates, and tips you need to take your non-existent proposal from concept to completion.
What Is a Business Plan? Why Do You Desperately Need One?
A business plan is a roadmap that outlines:
- Who your business is, what it does, and who it serves
- Where your business is now
- Where you want it to go
- How you’re going to make it happen
- What might stop you from taking your business from Point A to Point B
- How you’ll overcome the predicted obstacles
While it’s not required when starting a business, having a business plan is helpful for a few reasons:
- Secure a Bank Loan: Before approving you for a business loan, banks will want to see that your business is legitimate and can repay the loan. They want to know how you’re going to use the loan and how you’ll make monthly payments on your debt. Lenders want to see a sound business strategy that doesn’t end in loan default.
- Win Over Investors: Like lenders, investors want to know they’re going to make a return on their investment. They need to see your business plan to have the confidence to hand you money.
- Stay Focused: It’s easy to get lost chasing the next big thing. Your business plan keeps you on track and focused on the big picture. Your business plan can prevent you from wasting time and resources on something that isn’t aligned with your business goals.
Beyond the reasoning, let’s look at what the data says:
- Simply writing a business plan can boost your average annual growth by 30%
- Entrepreneurs who create a formal business plan are 16% more likely to succeed than those who don’t
- A study looking at 65 fast-growth companies found that 71% had small business plans
- The process and output of creating a business plan have shown to improve business performance
Convinced yet? If those numbers and reasons don’t have you scrambling for pen and paper, who knows what will.
Tips to Make Your Small Business Plan Bulletproof
Before we get into the nitty-gritty steps of how to write a business plan, let’s look at some high-level tips to get you started in the right direction:
Be Professional and Legit
You might be tempted to get cutesy or revolutionary with your business plan—resist the urge. While you should let your brand and creativity shine with everything you produce, business plans fall more into the realm of professional documents.
Think of your business plan the same way as your terms and conditions, employee contracts, or financial statements. You want your plan to be as uniform as possible so investors, lenders, partners, and prospective employees can find the information they need to make important decisions.
If you want to create a fun summary business plan for internal consumption, then, by all means, go right ahead. However, for the purpose of writing this external-facing document, keep it legit.
Know Your Audience
Your official business plan document is for lenders, investors, partners, and big-time prospective employees. Keep these names and faces in your mind as you draft your plan.
Think about what they might be interested in seeing, what questions they’ll ask, and what might convince (or scare) them. Cut the jargon and tailor your language so these individuals can understand.
Remember, these are busy people. They’re likely looking at hundreds of applicants and startup investments every month. Keep your business plan succinct and to the point. Include the most pertinent information and omit the sections that won’t impact their decision-making.
Invest Time Researching
You might not have answers to all the sections you should include in your business plan. Don’t skip over these!
Your audience will want:
- Detailed information about your customers
- Numbers and solid math to back up your financial claims and estimates
- Deep insights about your competitors and potential threats
- Data to support market opportunities and strategy
Your answers can’t be hypothetical or opinionated. You need research to back up your claims. If you don’t have that data yet, then invest time and money in collecting it. That information isn’t just critical for your business plan—it’s essential for owning, operating, and growing your company.
Your business may be ambitious, but reign in the enthusiasm just a teeny-tiny bit. The last thing you want to do is have an angel investor call BS and say “I’m out” before even giving you a chance.
The folks looking at your business and evaluating your plan have been around the block—they know a thing or two about fact and fiction. Your plan should be a blueprint for success. It should be the step-by-step roadmap for how you’re going from Point A to Point B.
How to Write a Business Plan—6 Essential Elements
Not every business plan looks the same, but most share a few common elements. Here’s what they typically include:
- Executive Summary
- Business Overview
- Products and Services
- Market Analysis
- Competitive Analysis
- Financial Strategy
Below, we’ll break down each of these sections in more detail.
1. Executive Summary
While your executive summary is the first page of your business plan, it’s the section you’ll write last. That’s because it summarizes your entire business plan into a succinct one-pager.
Begin with an executive summary that introduces the reader to your business and gives them an overview of what’s inside the business plan.
Your executive summary highlights key points of your plan. Consider this your elevator pitch. You want to put all your juiciest strengths and opportunities strategically in this section.
2. Business Overview
In this section, you can dive deeper into the elements of your business, including answering:
- What’s your business structure? Sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, etc.
- Where is it located?
- Who owns the business? Does it have employees?
- What problem does it solve, and how?
- What’s your mission statement? Your mission statement briefly describes why you are in business. To write a proper mission statement, brainstorm your business’s core values and who you serve.
Don’t overlook your mission statement. This powerful sentence or paragraph could be the inspiration that drives an investor to take an interest in your business. Here are a few examples of powerful mission statements that just might give you the goosebumps:
- Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
- Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
- InvisionApp: Question Assumptions. Think Deeply. Iterate as a Lifestyle. Details, Details. Design is Everywhere. Integrity.
- TED: Spread ideas.
- Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
3. Products and Services
As the owner, you know your business and the industry inside and out. However, whoever’s reading your document might not. You’re going to need to break down your products and services in minute detail.
For example, if you own a SaaS business, you’re going to need to explain how this business model works and what you’re selling.
You’ll need to include:
- What services you sell: Describe the services you provide and how these will help your target audience.
- What products you sell: Describe your products (and types if applicable) and how they will solve a need for your target and provide value.
- How much you charge: If you’re selling services, will you charge hourly, per project, retainer, or a mixture of all of these? If you’re selling products, what are the price ranges?
4. Market Analysis
Your market analysis essentially explains how your products and services address customer concerns and pain points. This section will include research and data on the state and direction of your industry and target market.
This research should reveal lucrative opportunities and how your business is uniquely positioned to seize the advantage. You’ll also want to touch on your marketing strategy and how it will (or does) work for your audience.
Include a detailed analysis of your target customers. This describes the people you serve and sell your product to. Be careful not to go too broad here—you don’t want to fall into the common entrepreneurial trap of trying to sell to everyone and thereby not differentiating yourself enough to survive the competition.
The market analysis section will include your unique value proposition. Your unique value proposition (UVP) is the thing that makes you stand out from your competitors. This is your key to success.
If you don’t have a UVP, you don’t have a way to take on competitors who are already in this space. Here’s an example of an ecommerce internet business plan outlining their competitive edge:
FireStarters’ competitive advantage is offering product lines that make a statement but won’t leave you broke. The major brands are expensive and not distinctive enough to satisfy the changing taste of our target customers. FireStarters offers products that are just ahead of the curve and so affordable that our customers will return to the website often to check out what’s new.
5. Competitive Analysis
Your competitive analysis examines the strengths and weaknesses of competing businesses in your market or industry. This will include direct and indirect competitors. It can also include threats and opportunities, like economic concerns or legal restraints.
The best way to sum up this section is with a classic SWOT analysis. This will explain your company’s position in relation to your competitors.
6. Financial Strategy
Your financial strategy will sum up your revenue, expenses, profit (or loss), and financial plan for the future. It’ll explain how you make money, where your cash flow goes, and how you’ll become profitable or stay profitable.
This is one of the most important sections for lenders and investors. Have you ever watched Shark Tank? They always ask about the company’s financial situation. How has it performed in the past? What’s the ongoing outlook moving forward? How does the business plan to make it happen?
Answer all of these questions in your financial strategy so that your audience doesn’t have to ask. Go ahead and include forecasts and graphs in your plan, too:
- Balance sheet: This includes your assets, liabilities, and equity.
- Profit & Loss (P&L) statement: This details your income and expenses over a given period.
- Cash flow statement: Similar to the P&L, this one will show all cash flowing into and out of the business each month.
It takes cash to change the world—lenders and investors get it. If you’re short on funding, explain how much money you’ll need and how you’ll use the capital. Where are you looking for financing? Are you looking to take out a business loan, or would you rather trade equity for capital instead?
Startup Business Plan Template (Copy/Paste Outline)
Ready to write your own business plan? Copy/paste the startup business plan template below and fill in the blanks.
Remember, do this last. Summarize who you are and your business plan in one page.
Describe your business. What’s it do? Who owns it? How’s it structured? What’s the mission statement?
Products and Services
Detail the products and services you offer. How do they work? What do you charge?
Write about the state of the market and opportunities. Use date. Describe your customers. Include your UVP.
Outline the competitors in your market and industry. Include threats and opportunities. Add a SWOT analysis of your business.
Sum up your revenue, expenses, profit (or loss), and financial plan for the future. If you’re applying for a loan, include how you’ll use the funding to progress the business.
5 Frame-Worthy Business Plan Examples
Want to explore other templates and examples? We got you covered. Check out these 5 business plan examples you can use as inspiration when writing your plan:
- SBA Wooden Grain Toy Company
- SBA We Can Do It Consulting
- OrcaSmart Business Plan Sample
- Plum Business Plan Template
- PandaDoc Free Business Plan Templates
Get to Work on Making Your Business Plan
If you find you’re getting stuck on perfecting your document, opt for a simple one-page business plan—and then get to work. You can always polish up your official plan later as you learn more about your business and the industry.
Remember, business plans are not a requirement for starting a business—they’re only truly essential if a bank or investor is asking for it.
Ask others to review your business plan. Get feedback from other startups and successful business owners. They’ll likely be able to see holes in your planning or undetected opportunities—just make sure these individuals aren’t your competitors (or potential competitors).
Your business plan isn’t a one-and-done report—it’s a living, breathing document. You’ll make changes to it as you grow and evolve. When the market or your customers change, your plan will need to change to adapt.
That means when you’re finished with this exercise, it’s not time to print your plan out and stuff it in a file cabinet somewhere. No, it should sit on your desk as a day-to-day reference. Use it (and update it) as you make decisions about your product, customers, and financial plan.
Review your business plan frequently, update it routinely, and follow the path you’ve developed to the future you’re building.
Ready to Write Your Business Plan?
Don’t let creating a business plan hold you back from starting your business. Writing documents might not be your thing—that doesn’t mean your business is a bad idea.
Let us help you get started.
Join our free masterclass to learn how to start an online side hustle in 30 days or less. We’ll provide you with a proven roadmap for how to find, validate, and pursue a profitable business idea (even if you have zero entrepreneurial experience).
Stuck on the ideas part? No problem. When you attend the masterclass, we’ll send you a free ebook with 100 of the hottest side hustle trends right now. It’s chock full of brilliant business ideas to get you up and running in the right direction.