Ask any successful sports coach how they win so many games and they will tell you that they have a unique plan for every single game they coach. To have a chance against one of their opponents, they need to create a specific game plan tailored to their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. Otherwise, they will be knocked down.
The same logic applies to business. If you want to build a thriving business that can stand out from the competition, you need to prepare for the battle before entering any market. Because companies that find gaps in their business model will quickly learn to close these gaps and solve your customers’ problems better than you.
The business world moves fast and there are many ambitious companies out there trying to capture most of their industry’s market share. How do you keep up Writing a workable business plan and following it religiously is one of the most important first steps. This article will tell you more about what a business plan is and how to use it.
Business plans lead you down the rocky road to growing a company. Referring to a reference during your journey will keep you on the path to success. And if your business plan is convincing enough, it can also convince investors to provide funding for you.
But how do you actually write a viable and convincing business plan?
Below, let’s review the format of a business plan and create examples of business plans that you can use to inspire your own.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a formal document that outlines a company’s financial and operational goals and provides a detailed view of how the company will achieve those goals. A business plan should also outline the time frame expected to achieve certain goals.
Business plan format
Before starting your business plan, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I start? How should I format this?”
Typically, a business plan is a document that describes in detail how a company will achieve its goals.
Most business plans include the following sections:
The executive summary is arguably the most important section in the entire business plan. Essentially, it’s an overview or introduction written to grab readers’ attention and guide them through the rest of the business plan (which can be tens or hundreds of pages).
Most executive summaries include:
- Mission statement
- Company history and leadership
- Competitive advantage overview
- Financial projections
- Corporate goals
However, many of these issues are covered in more detail later in the business plan. Therefore, keep the summary clear and concise, including key take-aways.
Here is an example:
For more guidance, check out our tips for writing an effective summary.
Here you describe the market opportunities. Where is the void in the current industry and how will your product fill that void?
In this section, you can include:
- The size of the market
- Current or potential market share
- Industry trends and consumer behavior
- Where is the void, what caused the void and how are you going to fill it?
To get a full understanding of the market opportunity, you should conduct a TAM, SAM, and SOM analysis and conduct market research for your industry. You can also benefit from doing a SWOT analysis to uncover some of the insights for this section.
Speaking of market share, you need to create a section that details your key competitors. After all, your customers likely have more than one provider to choose from and you want to understand exactly why they might choose a different one. By conducting a competitive analysis, you can uncover:
- Industry trends that other providers may not yet take advantage of
- Strengths in your competition that may be obstacles
- Weaknesses in your competition that can help you develop selling points
- What unique offering are you bringing to market that will resonate with customers?
This section details who your customer segments are. What is your audience’s demographic and psychographic information?
If your immediate answer is “Everyone,” then you need to dig deeper. Ask yourself:
- What is the population size of the people most likely to need / buy your product or service?
- What is the psychography of this audience? (Wishes, triggering events, etc.)
- Why are your offers valuable to them?
It can be helpful to build a buyer personality to empathize with the mindset of your ideal customers and understand why you are targeting them.
Here you will discuss how you can win new customers with your marketing strategy. You can add information on the following topics:
- The vision of brand positioning and how to maintain it
- The goal you want to achieve
- The metrics that you use to measure success
- The channels and distribution tactics you will be using
It can be helpful to already have a marketing plan in place to inform this component of your business plan.
Main features and benefits
At some point in your business plan, you will review key features and benefits of your products and / or services. Setting this up will give the readers of your business plan an idea of how you position yourself in the marketplace and what news you are likely to use. It can even help them get better insight into your business model.
Pricing and Revenue
Here you discuss your cost structure and various sources of income. Your pricing strategy needs to be solid enough to make a profit while remaining competitive in the industry. For this reason, you could sketch:
- The specific price breakdowns per product or service
- Why your prices are higher or lower than those of your competition
- (If higher) Why customers would be willing to pay more
- (If lower) How to offer your product or service at a lower cost
- If you expect to break even, what margins do you expect etc.
This section is particularly informative for investors and executive teams in determining funding strategies, investment opportunities, and so on. According to Forbes, you want to include three main things:
- Profit and Loss Account – This answers the question of whether your business is currently profitable.
- Cash flow statement – Here it is specified exactly how much cash is coming in and going out in order to get an insight into the cash balance of a company.
- Balance sheet – Describes assets, liabilities, and equity that tell you how much a company is worth.
While some business plans may have more or less information, these are the key details that you will want to include.
Note that each of these sections is formatted differently. Some can be in paragraph format while others are in charts.
Business plan sample templates
Now that you know what’s included and how to format a business plan, let’s look at a few templates.
1. HubSpot’s Unilateral Business Plan
Download a free, editable one-page business plan template.
The business plan linked above was created here at HubSpot and is perfect for companies of all sizes – regardless of how much strategy they still have to develop.
This one-sided business plan includes fields such as company description, required funding, and timeline for implementation, and provides a framework for companies to build their brand and the tasks they must pursue as they grow. As the business matures, it can expand its original business plan with a new iteration of the above document.
2. HubSpots downloadable business plan template
We have created a business plan template for entrepreneurs.
Download a free, editable one-page business plan template.
The template serves as a guide and checklist for starting your own company. This will tell you what needs to be included in each section of your business plan and how to do it. There is also a list to check off once you have completed each section of your business plan.
Strong fixtures help coaches win games and help companies get to the top of their industries. So when you invest the time and effort into creating a viable and compelling business plan, you increase your chances of success and even your dominance in your market.
3. Sample business plan from ThoughtCo
If you want to refer to an actual business plan when writing your own business plan, ThoughtCo is the place for you. They started a fictional company called Acme Management Technology and wrote a full business plan for it.
Using the sample business plan as a guide as you fill out your own will allow you to capture small but important details and include in your business plan that you might otherwise not have noticed.
4. The free business plan template from BPlan
BPlan’s free business plan template is one of the more financially focused sample business plans on this list. She devotes many of her pages to your company’s financial plan and financial statements.
After you’ve completed this business plan, your company will truly understand its financial health and the steps you need to take to maintain or improve it.
5. Harvard Business Reviews “How Do I Write a Successful Business Plan?”
Most of the sample business plans tell you what to include in your business plan. However, this Harvard Business Review article takes your business plan to the next level. He’ll show you why and how to create a business plan.
Led by Stanley Rich and Richard Gumpert, co-authors of Business Plans That Win: Lessons From the MIT Enterprise Forum, you will learn how to create a compelling business plan that highlights market demand for your product or service, as well as the financial aspects Benefits investors can get from putting money into your business instead of trying to sell it for how great your product or service is.
6. HubSpot’s Complete Guide to Starting a Business
If you’re an entrepreneur, you know that writing a business plan is one of the toughest first steps in starting a business. Fortunately, HubSpot’s comprehensive guide to starting a business will teach you how to map all the details of your business by understanding what to include in your business plan and why it is important to include them. The guide will also create a complete business plan for you.
If you need more guidance on starting a business, the HubSpot Guide can help you learn how to legalize your business, choose and register your business name, fund your business, provide information about small business tax, and provide marketing, sales, and service tips.
7. The free business plan template from Panda Doc
Panda Doc’s free business plan template is one of the more detailed and detailed sample business plans on this list. It describes what to include in each section so that you don’t have to invent everything from scratch.
Once filled out, you will fully understand the key details of your business and how all the moving parts should work together to contribute to the success of your business.
8. Free business plan template for small business management
The Small Business Administration offers several free business plan templates that you can use to inspire your own plan. Before you get started, it’s up to you to decide what type of business plan you need – traditional or lean start-up plan.
You can then review the format for both plans and see examples of what they might look like.
9. Culina sample business plan
Culina’s sample business plan is a great template if you just want to fill in your information. You can also use this template as a guide as you gather key details. After looking at this example, you will have a better understanding of the data and research you need to do for your own business plan.
10. Plum Sample Business Plan
This is one of my favorite business plans as you can see how implementing visuals can help tell your brand’s story. The images in this template are up to date, which makes sense for an innovative company like Plum. When creating your own business plan, make sure the images and designs you use make sense for your branding.
Additionally, the included financial charts are incredibly helpful when you are unsure of what financial information to include.
11. LiveShopBuy sample business plan
With this business plan, the focus is on the investment opportunity. This is an excellent template if you want to use your business plan as a means of obtaining funding. The investment opportunities section is at the very front and is several pages long. The plan then goes into more detail on the industry analysis of the company synopsis.
When starting your business plan for the first time, it can be daunting. Because of this, it is important that you understand the format and information that you want to include. You can then use a template to guide your process.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and has been updated for completeness.