On this page you’ll learn how to structure and format your business plan professionally, ensuring that readers look beyond distracting style to the real meat of your idea.
Business Plan Cover Sheet
Every business plan should begin with a simple business plan cover page including the business name, your name and contact information. An easy to read table of contents should follow. The cover sheet should leave no question for readers to be able to identify the plan when it is in a stack with dozens of others on their desk. The table of contents allows them to easily refer to sections within the plan. For example, after reading the executive summary, some investors with an eye for numbers may turn directly to the financial plan and statements.
Follow This Business Plan Outline
There are 10 business plan components or sections that every entrepreneur and business owner must include in your plan. These are the executive summary, company overview, industry analysis, customer analysis, competitive analysis, marketing plan, operations plan, management team, financial plan and appendix.
Within these sections of your business plan template, charts and graphs displaying information in a graphical format are welcomed and help to break up long blocks of text. However, charts and graphs shouldn’t be used for their own sake. They must make the information easier to pass on than text would.
The business plan format that investors and lenders expect includes the follows 10 sections:
1. Start with Your Executive Summary
An executive summary gives readers a crisp overview of your business at the start of your plan. This section should not be more than two pages long and should include the following:
- What is the business about?
- Where and why did the idea of the business originate?
- Who are the owners?
- Which industry is it operating in?
- What is its core function?
- Where is it located?
- How is it going to make money?
- How much money (if any) is it already making?
- What are its financial projections?
2. Company Overview Section
The company overview is the perfect place to highlight the strengths of your business. This section gives the reader additional information about your products and/or services and describes your company’s past accomplishments.
Including the below in this section will provide further clarity about your business:
- What type of business you are (e.g., C-Corporation, sole proprietor)
- When your business started
- Business’ accomplishments to date
3. Industry or Market Analysis
The industry or market analysis gives the reader a clear understanding of your industry and the audience it serves. It includes a detailed explanation of your market size and trends.
4. The Customer Analysis States Who Your Customers Are and What They Need
In this section of your plan, explain who your target customers are and identify their specific needs. Doing this will help you better target and attract customers.
5. Competitive Analysis
The Competitive Analysis section identifies your direct and indirect competitors. It discusses who they are and their strengths and weaknesses. It then details your areas of competitive advantages.
Whether your competitors are small or large businesses, describe them. Telling investors there are no competitors (big or small) often gives the impression that a market does not exist for your company.
6. Your Marketing Plan is a Key Section
The marketing & sales section of your business plan should outline how you plan to attract new customers and retain old ones. This section should outline the ways customers can be introduced to and engage with your offerings and describe how you will convert these prospects into paying customers.
Set marketing objectives that include the following (if applicable):
- Introducing new products
- Extending the market reach
- Exploring new markets
- Boosting sales
- Creating a long-term partnership with clients
- Increasing prices without affecting sales
- Creating a content marketing strategy
Organize your Marketing Plan into the 4 P’s – Price, Product, Promotions and Place.
7. The Operations Plan Format
Your Operations Plan identifies your key operational processes and milestones you expect to accomplish. Using a Gantt chart is a great way to show your expected future milestones.
8. You Need to Prove Your Management Team Can Execute
“A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” – Mary Kay Ash, American Entrepreneur and Businesswoman
The Management Team section of your business plan focuses on the people who run the business.
Who are the decision-makers, who is the product expert, who is the operations head, and who is running the entire show? A glimpse into the expertise and capabilities of your team members and how their experiences will help grow your business will boost stakeholder confidence.
9. Format Your Financial Plan
The goal of this section is to convince the reader that your business is stable and will be financially successful. Arm this section with past and/or forecasted cash flow statements, balance sheets, profit & loss statements, expense budgeting and sales forecasts.
If you run an operational business, include 3 years of historical data to help investors gain an understanding of how feasible your funding request is and if your business is capable of generating good returns.
Also include your funding request, if applicable, in this section. You should mention how much investment is required to take your business to the next significant milestone and how the money will be spent. You should also define if you are seeking debt or equity funding. If you are seeking debt financing like an SBA loan, ensure your financial projections include the debt and show steady repayments of both the principal and return under reasonable loan terms.
If you are seeking equity financing, you don’t need to include your valuation expectations in the business plan, but you should be aligned within your ownership team on the amount of equity you are willing to exchange before you pitch investors.
This section includes supporting documentation of your business case. This could include renderings of a planned store location, market research reports referenced in the plan, key supplier or buyer contracts that substantiate your financial projections or historical marketing and sales data.
Formatting Your Business Plan
Overall, business plans should use simple and standard formatting. Twelve point font size in a standard font like Arial or Times New Roman is best, as well as the standard margin size of one inch on each side. Pages should be numbered, and the name of the company should appear on each page in the header or footer.
Use charts whenever possible as it makes it much easier for readers to consume the information in your plan.
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