Few things are more exciting than starting your own business. Most entrepreneurs leverage their passion and expertise to launch products and services that help others. In the beginning, it’s natural to want to hit the ground running, getting your ideas out into the world. Before you make too many decisions, however, take some time to write a business plan.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a document describing all facets of your business and can be used to determine many business aspects, like your product strategy, marketing plan, and your financial resources.
Think of your business plan as a blueprint for how you’re going to start, run, and then grow your business. It’s a place to take a good hard look at what it’s going to take to build a successful enterprise — everything from an analysis of your competition to how you’re going to fund your growth.
Why write a business plan?
While it can feel like an intimidating task, there are several reasons to write a business plan. It can serve as a blueprint, helping to steer your business when you’re first starting out and growing. When you’re faced with a decision or are uncertain about what to do next, you can refer to your plan for guidance.
A business plan also helps you reach business milestones. By stepping back and looking objectively at the key areas of your business, you can make the best decisions on how to move forward. A business plan will help you prioritize your resources and your time.
Perhaps, most importantly, a business plan can help you get funding. Whether you’re looking for a loan or an investment, you’ll need to demonstrate how you plan to use the money to grow your revenue. A business plan is a tool that can inspire confidence in your ability to set and reach goals.
Parts of a business plan
When it comes to writing a business plan, there’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach. So if you’re new to this, it might be worth taking a class on how to write a business plan (you’re sure to find one at your local community college or even online) or consulting with an advisor.
There are a few key sections that business plans generally include. In terms of length, most business plans weigh in between 15 and 25 pages. They also include graphs and charts where appropriate. To give you some structure as you create your business plan, here’s a rundown of the sections to include:
An executive summary
The executive summary is like a top-line description of your business and how you’re going to accomplish your goals. Because it’s what people often read first, you want to make a good first impression and clearly state your business concept. Help the reader get to know you by including your mission statement, products or services, management team and staff, and anything that is unique about your company. All the points you make in subsequent sections bubble up to your executive summary, so it may be a good idea to write this last, after you’ve thoroughly researched all aspects of your business.
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Your business description is like your elevator pitch and conveys your business idea in a concise manner. If a stranger asked you to describe your business on the spot, what would you say? Your response should take no longer than 30 seconds to convey — the length of time you ride in an elevator — and what you share should make the reader lean in. In this section you might also include where you see the most potential for your business and why. , provide your business model, such as product, service, subscription, and more.
What’s the market you’re entering? Coffee in Austin? Fitness studios in Syracuse? In this section, describe the current landscape of the market and identify your target market. What are the weaknesses or voids, and how will your business fill them? For example, the fact that there are currently no spin classes in your city, coupled with the skyrocketing national popularity of this form of exercise, indicates there will be demand and potential customers in the area. Because this section should be chock-full of data and analysis, it requires some research.
A competitive analysis is strategic market research outlining information about competitors in the space. Take an eagle-eyed look at your competitors. What are they doing well and where are they falling short? To use a similar fitness class example, perhaps there’s a popular kickboxing class you’ll be competing with for clients. Walk through how you’re going to differentiate yourself from the competition. Perhaps it’s through offering early morning classes or more competitive rates. If you don’t currently have competition, detail how you’re going to stay ahead of the pack should other businesses enter the fray.
Service and product line
This section details exactly what type of service or product you’re offering. Be sure to include any copyrights and patents you have, as well as any research and associated developments that might be required to offer your product or service. These are details that a potential investor would want to know before they would provide you with funding.
Operations and management plan
Here you need to present a clear picture of how you’re going to get up and running and then manage day-to-day operations. Do you need to work with suppliers to stock your inventory or will you invest in drop shipping methods? Do you need to bring on team members to manage the front desk? Detail all those things here and how you’re going to manage them. Consider short- and long-term planning, with one-, three-, and five-year projections.
Break out the calculator and open your spreadsheets, it’s time for the money talk. In this section, present a financial analysis of all the capital you need to start, run, and grow your business. Include a variety of financial statements, such as a cash flow statement, balance sheet, and an income statement. You’ll also determine profitablity and declare your financial projections. Account for startup costs like real estate, equipment, and your employees. Detail any capital you might already have. Once you have a good understanding of the costs you’ll endure, conduct a break-even analysis to determine when your company will become profitable. This will be important to show external stakeholders or potential investors.
Once you have a handle on your costs and profitability, it’s time to seek and secure funding. Deciding how you’re going to go about financing your business or raising money is something you should take seriously. You can go the traditional route and apply for a small business loan from a bank. You can borrow from family or friends. But with any route you choose, make sure you understand what’s involved with each funding request and how you’ll pay it back.
Additional training and resources
It’s rare that you have all the skills you need to start and run a business — especially if you’re doing this for the first time. You may have the skill set and certifications necessary to cut hair, for example, but you might be shooting in the dark when it comes to running the day-to-day financials of your business.
Do an audit of all the skills you need, and, where you have gaps, seek additional training. There is a bounty of online courses on just about every aspect of running a business, as well as affordable classes at places like community colleges.
Here’s where you may also seek out mentors or even ask fellow small business owners how they got up to speed. Detail how you’re going to make sure all aspects of your business run smoothly in this section.
Types of business plans
According to the Small Business Administration, business plans typically fall into one of two categories: traditional or lean startup.
A traditional business plan is a comprehensive plan that can take months to write, with in-depth detail in each section. Traditional plans are commonly requested by lenders and investors. They are also a good exercise for detail-oriented business owners who want to document their plan for business growth and management. Traditional plans use the standard structure we’ve outlined here, but you can include sections that make the most sense for your business and needs.
A second type of business plan is the lean startup plan. Typically a one-page business plan, they take considerably less time to complete. While they’re less common, they still follow the standard structure. Instead of going into detail, however, they summarize the most important points and elements of a business plan. This type of plan often includes easy-to-understand charts and other visual details that back up your plan.
Business plan examples
To get started, it can help to review some sample business plans from other entrepreneurs. The SBA offers examples of traditional and lean startup business plans you can download in order to collect the information you need to write your own. Learn more.
Once you have created a business plan, you’re off to the races. Whether you’re thinking about your business name or registering your business, utilize your business plan as a resource and strategic guide.
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