Writing a business plan has many advantages. It’s necessary to secure funding for your business. It’s useful to organize your thoughts for a start-up operation. It’s even helpful when you’re striving for greater success in the next year or two. Most of all, writing a business plan gives you an opportunity to slow down and think through the vision for your business and the best steps to get you there.
None of that matters, if you don’t know what to include in your business plan. Or if you don’t have the confidence to write one. That’s why we’re providing this business plan outline and tips on how you can expertly create your plan.
Business plans may be written for different audiences and objectives. It’s important to know if you’re writing for your management team, a potential employee or a prospective investor. This way you can factor their needs into your content and assess how well you’ve addressed their concerns throughout the plan. Regardless of your audience, your business plan will follow this outline of 10 main sections.
- Executive Summary – a one-to-two-page synopsis of your entire business plan.
- Company Overview – a rundown of your business’ mission, history, products and services.
- Industry Analysis – a summary of the macro trends and financial performance of your business sector.
- Customer Analysis – a profile of your target market including psychographics.
- Competitive Analysis – a comparison of your top competitors’ products, services and financial results.
- Marketing Plan – an outline of how you’ll promote your products and services.
- Operations Plan – a walk-through of your key processes from human resources and sales to production and facilities.
- Management Team – a list of your key officers plus a biographical sketch of each individual.
- Financial Plan – a presentation of your revenue model and financial forecasts.
- Appendix – a collection of supporting documentation for your business plan.
Each of these business plan outline sections are detailed below.
Section 1: Executive Summary
The Executive Summary is perhaps the most critical element of your business plan since it if doesn’t capture the reader’s attention, they won’t read any further. In one-to-two pages, you need to convey what makes your business unique, what you provide to customers and how you’ll perform financially in the short-term, that’s three to five years.
It includes three subsections:
- Business Overview – defining your business’ purpose, its history and key offerings.
- Success Factors – honing in on your unique value proposition, expertise and differentiators that factor into your success.
- Financial Plan – highlighting your three-to-five year forecast of revenues, expenses and profits.
Section 2: Company Overview
This overview explains how your business originated and its purpose. Here you’ll lay out when and where you launched the company. You’ll even indicate your legal structure, for instance a corporation or limited liability company. Most importantly, you’ll note your past accomplishments. This track record sets the stage for future success.
Accomplishments may include:
- Sales growth
- New product or service launches
- New offices or stores
Section 3: Industry Analysis
Your industry analysis answers questions about how large the sector is and how fast is it growing. It captures key trends that support or potentially hamper future growth. It even projects how much of the market your business can capture. Its subsections are:
- Market Overview – summarizes the market characteristics, including revenue, number of businesses and trends.
- Relevant Market Size – is an estimate of the annual revenue your business could attain if it realized 100% market share. Use this formula to determine your relevant market size.
- Estimate the number of people who might be interested in purchasing your products or services each year.
- Estimate the dollar amount these customers might be willing to spend, on an annual basis, on your products or services.
- Multiply your estimates for 1 and 2. The resulting figure is your relevant market size.
Section 4: Customer Analysis
A customer analysis reveals key characteristics about the people who are likely to purchase your products or services. It also describes their decision-making factors, also known as customer needs. Armed with this information you can effectively lay out the benefits of your products and services and the best ways to reach new customers.
There are two subsections in the customer analysis:
- Target Customers – profiles the people or businesses who will purchase from you. This information may include demographic and psychographic data such as age, gender, marital status, education, hobbies and values. For instance, a coffee shop may target men and women ages 18 to 60 who commute to work and prefer fresh brews.
- Customer Needs – describes your customers’ interests and concerns. Their needs determine if they will purchase your product or service. Customer needs range from speed and reliability to quality and ease of use.
Section 5: Competitive Analysis
Your competitive analysis focuses on companies marketing to your target customers with direct or indirect products and services. It even summarizes how you stand apart from these firms. Here’s a description of its subsections:
- Direct Competitors – identifies the top companies in your market providing a similar product or service. A direct competitor of bakery is another bakery.
- Indirect Competitors – describes the companies in your market which offer a different product or service that may meets the same need as yours. An indirect competitor of a bakery could be a breakfast cafe. Both businesses meet the need for someone to eat, yet with different products.
- Competitive Advantages – conveys how you will effectively compete against and outperform your competitors by highlighting your strengths and strategic approaches. For example, has your business won awards for its products, services or leadership? Do you have a process that delivers your product faster than your competitors? Do you offer product or service guarantees?
In profiling your competitors, capture the following information:
- Company name
- Business overview and history
- Products, services and pricing
- Financial results (if available)
- Business location(s)
- Customer segments/geographies served
- Key strengths and weaknesses
- Social media presence and following
Section 6: Marketing Plan
The marketing plan describes your products, services and pricing. It also defines how you promote and distribute your offerings to your customers. Most importantly, it proves you have a strategy to reach and acquire customers cost effectively.
There are three components of the marketing plan:
- Products, Services & Pricing – lays out the features and benefits of your offerings. Pricing is included and substantiated. Is your pricing on par with competitors? Or are your products and services priced above or below competitors? Why?
- Promotions Plan – spotlights the major channels you’ll leverage to reach your target market. Your plan may include social media or radio advertising among other promotional methods. If so, provide details on the platforms or stations and frequency. A realtor, for example, may plan to participate in 10 bridal shows annually or post videos on social media twice a week.
- Distribution Plan – indicates how customers buy from you. It answers key questions about how you operate an online store or a physical location, how you collaborate with distribution partners and how you monitor shipments.
Section 7: Operations Plan
Business systems are the key to your success. In this section, you’ll explain your daily operations and identify your key milestones.
- Key Operational Processes – details your systematic processes such as customer service, product development and accounting. You’ll identify the functions essential to your business, explain their responsibilities and processes.
- For instance, your business might have an in-house customer service department that handles inquiries about your products and services. The team also resolves customer complaints. Your process specifies that all calls are recorded and logged into a database. Plus, customers are invited to complete a satisfaction survey.
- Milestones – captures your major goals for the future and the target completion date. You’ll list goals for new product or service releases, staff expansions and total number of customers, to name a few.
Section 8: Management Team
Successful businesses have strong products, efficient processes and great teams. After all, it’s the people who execute your strategy and achieve your goals. This section names your team members, shares their qualifications and spotlights their track record.
- Management Team Members – details the name, title and background for each team member. Be sure to highlight their relevant experience and past accomplishments. For example, it would be noteworthy to say that as owner/ operator of your new food truck that you have culinary training at one of the top 10 schools and experience working in a three-star Michelin restaurant.
- Management Team Gaps – references mission critical jobs you plan to fill in the future. A brief job description and summary of key skills is sufficient. For example, as a startup non-profit organization, you realize the importance of having a development director on staff. You could note this as a gap and indicate the person filling this role would be responsible for securing grants and planning annual fundraisers. The key skills would be researching, grant writing, project management and fundraising.
- Board Members – names the people who are on your Board of Directors or Board of Advisors if applicable. Include a biography for each board member.
Section 9: Financial Plan
The Financial Plan lay outs how you’ll earn revenue and forecasts your profits. It can even forewarn you of cash flow bottlenecks. In that way, the financial plan helps you understand how much funding may be needed to operate your business over the short-term, three to five years.
This financials section of your business plan outline has four subsections:
- Revenue Model – provides a snapshot of how your business generates revenue. You’ll indicate if you sell products, services or subscriptions. Perhaps you even generate income through affiliate marketing or selling advertising space.
- Financial Highlights – summarizes your key financial statements: 5-year Projected Income Statement, Projected Balance Sheet and Projected Cash Flow Statement. The full statements belong in the Appendix. You’ll also denote any key assumptions (e.g., sales growth rates) you’ve used to create the forecast.
- Funding Requirements/Use of Funds – details the full amount of funding you are requesting from a lender or investor. It includes an explanation of how you’ll use the funds. Some typical funding uses are:
- Product development
- Product manufacturing
- Rent or Office/Building Build-Out
- Exit Strategy – explains how your investor can liquidate, or exit, their investment. Market research can help you identify the best exit strategy for your business.
Section 10: Appendix
Your Appendix includes your full financial statements and other documents referenced in your business plan. It’s a quick reference guide that supports the narrative you’ve told throughout your business plan.
As previously mentioned, your full financial forecasts belong in this section. Some additional items to include in your Appendix are:
- Biographies or resumes
- Customer lists
- Credit histories
- Marketing materials
- Lease agreements
- Floor plans/design layouts
- Tax returns
Now you know how to create your business plan like an expert. To do this with ease, checkout our business plan template or business plan consulting services. It’s been proven with our 20+ years of experience helping business owners expertly craft their business plans.
Other Helpful Business Plan Articles