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hether you’re starting a new small business or are already years into operating one, a business plan is one of the best ways to clarify your long-term vision. While every business plan is different, there are several key elements to consider that will benefit you in the long run.
Follow our step-by-step guide to writing a highly effective business plan.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a document that outlines your business goals and how you plan to achieve them. Ideally, this will become your roadmap for marketing, sales, finance, and growth.
In other words, a business plan is...
- An explanation of your overall vision.
- A valuable tool to plan and track your business fundamentals.
- An overview of your path to profitability, which can help get funding for your company.
Do You Need A Business Plan?
While it’s not a requirement, having a business plan is strongly recommended. In a recent QuickBooks survey, nearly 70% of current business owners recommended writing a business plan.
Creating a business plan is especially useful in the following scenarios:
- Applying for business loans
- Seeking additional rounds of funding or investors
- Growing your employee headcount
- Attracting top-level management candidates
- Looking for opportunities to scale your business
10 Steps To Creating A Comprehensive Business Plan
While not every business plan is the same, there are a few key steps you should take to create an effective and comprehensive document:
1. Create an executive summary
Think of an executive summary as your company's elevator pitch in written form. It should be 1 to 2 pages in length and summarize important information about your company and goals. If you are pitching your business plan to get funding, you should ensure your executive summary appeals to investors.
What should you include in an executive summary?
- An overview of your business
- Your company mission statement
- A concise description of products or services offered
- A description of your target market and customer demographics
- A brief analysis of your competition
- Financial projections and funding requirements
- Information about your management team
- Future plans and growth opportunities
- An overall summary of your business plan
2. Write your company description
Your company description is a more detailed and comprehensive explanation of your business. It should provide a thorough overview of your company, including your company history, your mission, your objectives, and your vision. A company description should help the reader understand the context and background of the business, as well as the key factors that contribute to its success.
What should you include in your company description?
- Official company name
- Type of business structure
- Physical address(es)
- Company history and background information
- Mission statement and core values
- Management team members and their qualifications
- Products and services offered
- Target market and customer demographics
- Marketing and sales strategy
- Goals (both short- and long-term)
- Vision statement
Novo Note: The company description is your chance to expound on the pain points your company solves. It should also give a reader an accurate impression of who you are.
3. Conduct and outline market analysis
This is one of the most important steps in building a business plan. Here, you will assess the size and dynamics of the market your business operates in.
How to conduct a market analysis
Market analyses include both quantitative and qualitative data. You may want to conduct surveys or lean on existing industry research to gather this information. You’ll want to answer:
- What is the size of the market?
- How much revenue does your industry generate?
- What trends are impacting this industry?
- Where are opportunities for innovation?
- What are the most well-known companies in the industry? What tactics do they use to sell to customers? How do they price their offering?
- Where are there gaps in the market?
- What are your customer demographics? What problems do they have that need solving? What are their values, desires, and purchasing habits?
- What barriers to entry, if any, exist? These could include startup costs, legal requirements, environmental conditions that impact consumer behavior, and market saturation.
What is your target market?
In this section, you will specify the customer segment(s) you’re targeting. You can divide customers into small segments organized by age, location, income, and lifestyle. The goal is to describe what type of consumer will be most interested in your offering.
Novo Note: Regardless of your company’s size, understanding the trends and opportunities within your target market enables you to build a more effective marketing plan to distinguish yourself from the marketplace and grow your business. This analysis might also help you find potential customers or new products you could offer.
4. Analyze your competitors
After conducting a market analysis, you need to do a deep dive into your competitors. Look at how the competition is succeeding or failing and how each competitor has positioned itself. For example, you might want to evaluate your competitors’ brand, pricing, and distribution strategies.
How to conduct a competitive analysis
You’ll want to research your competitors and ask the following questions:
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
- What are their customer reviews like?
- How do they price their offering(s)?
- What are their value propositions?
- What marketing and sales channels do they leverage?
- How are they growing and evolving?
Novo Note: After you develop a strong understanding of the competitive landscape, consider how your business is unique. Solidifying your competitive advantage can help you appeal to your target audience.
5. Describe your products or services
This is your chance to go into more detail about the products and services you offer! Use this opportunity to note where your offering or service differs from others in the industry. Highlight the standout features of your product, your company’s unique ability to solve customer problems, and your product roadmap.
What to include:
- Your product catalog
- Key differentiating features
- Information about the production process
- The resources required for production
- Plans for future product releases
6. Define your marketing and sales strategy
Your marketing plan describes your strategy for connecting with your target market and generating leads. It doesn't need to be full-fledged at this point, but it should answer who you're trying to sell to and how you plan to target them. Investors also want to know how you plan on selling your brand and breaking into the market, so make sure to consider their perspective as you develop your marketing strategy.
What to include:
- Your sales and marketing budget
- Your key sales and marketing objectives
- Details about your sales process and sales goals
- Platforms or strategies you’ll employ to reach your target audience
- PR initiatives, content ideas, and social media strategies
7. Gather your business financials and outline financial projections
Your financials section lays out your company's past and current performance. You can also include a roadmap that dives into financial projections for your business. Aim to include projections for the next five years at a minimum.
What to include:
- Income statements
- Cash flow statements
- Balance sheets
- Explanation of any significant changes
Novo Note: Novo offers integrations with accounting software like Quickbooks and Xero, allowing you to seamlessly access all your financial information within your checking account.
8. Describe your organization
Your business plan should also include an organizational chart that maps your company’s structure.
What to include:
- Company’s management structure
- Other key personnel, along with their roles and responsibilities
- Expertise of your team (feature any specialists or experts)
Novo Note: This is also a good place to explain the legal structure of your company — for example, if you are an LLC, a corporation, or a sole proprietorship.
9. Outline your funding requests
If you’re looking for business funding, include an outline of any funding requests and requirements.
What to include:
- Why you are requesting funding
- What the funding will be used for specifically
- Desired terms and conditions of funding
- The length of time over which the funding will be used
- Type of funding required (for example, debt or equity)
Novo Note: Propose a five-year funding plan, and aim to be as detailed as possible about how you will utilize the funds to grow your business.
10. Create an appendix
The last section, the appendix, includes supporting documents and additional information not listed elsewhere in your business plan. Not all of these items are necessary to include, so you’ll need to evaluate which are most relevant to your business. You might also want to include a table of contents to help keep the appendix organized.
Items to consider including:
- Bank statements
- Business credit history
- Legal documents
- Letters of reference
Sample Business Plans
Need an example to help you through the process? Check out the Small Business Administration’s downloadable examples or this even more in-depth one from Harvard Business School.
Tips For Creating A Great Business Plan
Here are some of our favorite tips for creating the most effective and efficient business plan:
- Keep it short and sweet: You want to be sure people will actually read your business plan, so stay on topic and to the point.
- Make it digestible: No need to use the fanciest terminology or draft up the most complex graphs. Keep wording and ideas simple and straightforward — it’s the most impactful way to get your information across.
- Triple-check your work: There’s nothing worse than noticing a grammar, spelling, or mathematical error when you’re presenting your vision. So proofread… and then proofread again!
- Start early: It’s never too late to write a business plan, but the earlier you do it, the stronger your strategy for growth and expansion will be from the start.
- Reference credible sources: If you are going to reference third-party research in your business plan, lean on sources that are widely recognized as authorities. Try tapping into trade associations and government resources, like U.S. Census data or data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Set yourself apart: Wherever you can, explain why your product or service stands out and how it can solve a problem.
- Be objective: Avoid the instinct to only showcase the good. Stakeholders and investors want to know that you are realistic and have a contingency plan if you hit a bump in the road.
Updating Your Business Plan
As with most situations in business (and life), things change! So don’t think that your business plan has to be set in stone after you create it. Instead, you should plan to return to it once a year and make updates.
Be sure to do the following when you review and update your business plan:
- Analyze your progress: Review your original business plan and compare it to your actual financial data. Are you moving in the right direction, or do you need to reevaluate your strategy?
- Consider whether your product offerings need to be adjusted: For example, decide if you want to diversify your product offerings or scale back and focus on a singular product.
- Reassess your overall goals: Perhaps your sales goals have changed with your new marketing strategy. Or maybe your customer’s needs have changed. In any case, be flexible where needed.
We know there’s a lot that goes into creating a business plan, but it’s worth it. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for developing a business plan, but our steps outlined above will put you on the right track for developing a comprehensive, investor-friendly document.
Take time to review your business plan annually and make changes as your needs and goals change.
Novo Platform Inc. strives to provide accurate information but cannot guarantee that this content is correct, complete, or up-to-date. This page is for informational purposes only and is not financial or legal advice nor an endorsement of any third-party products or services. All products and services are presented without warranty. Novo Platform Inc. does not provide any financial or legal advice, and you should consult your own financial, legal, or tax advisors.
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