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Start Your Business Business Plans

The Dos and Don'ts of Writing a Great Business Plan

The Dos and Don'ts of Writing a Great Business Plan
Credit: Rawpixel/Shutterstock

When most journalists sit down to write a new article, they plan it out first. They outline the main points, note exactly what they need to include, and research sources or information to ensure that they're not missing anything before they jump into writing the piece.

Preparing a business plan shouldn't be much different. You'll want to have a clear, objective proposal that you can follow step by step while developing your business. The plan should serve to guide you throughout the startup process, like a roadmap for a new adventure.

"A business plan is absolutely vital as it navigates your business on the road to success," said Joel Klein, CPBC and producer of BizTank, a New York City-based program that brings TV show "Shark Tank" to budding entrepreneurs around the globe. "Only by setting a plan that outlines where you want to go, along with a plan of action on how you are going to get there, will a business owner know if they are heading in the right direction and how far they are from their final destination."

Based on advice from our expert sources, here are a few specific dos and don'ts to consider while formulating your plan. [Writing a business plan? Here are a few surprising things yours should include.]

Editor's note: If you're looking for information to help you with business plan services, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free. 

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If you want your company to succeed, then all employees should understand the business plan's dynamics. It is not a document that you should lock away.

"The business plan keeps an organization focused, [and] it needs to be shared," said Brian S. Cohen, an operating partner at Altamont Capital Partners and member of Young Presidents' Organization, a global network of young chief executives. "Too many companies treat it as a confidential document to be kept away from the 'prying eyes' of the rank-and-file employees. I believe the business plan should be shared, discussed and amended where appropriate, through an open loop of feedback and insights."

The more people who are involved, the more ideas you can circulate around the company, Cohen said. It is important to consider every worker's input to ensure that the outcome is something that's pleasant to all.

Klein shared similar ideas, stating that sharing the document with your team "will motivate you and give you the sense of accountability to stick to your plan."

As with any business project, research is critical to a solid business plan.

"Research is one of the big value-adds of writing a business plan," said Joseph Ferriolo, director of Wise Business Plans. "Research forces companies to learn what they can expect to make and what the industry trends are."

If the research indicates that your idea is viable, then you can proceed by writing down the goods or services you offer, your marketing plan, how much funding you need and your goals. For more ideas on specific points to include in your business plan, check out this Business News Daily article.

You don't need to have an over-the-top, elaborate document with fancy formatting or flashy decor. However, what's written should be specific enough to cover all areas of concern.

Start your plan, said Cohen, by using an outline called SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. First, create an executive summary, in which you describe in what field you wish to succeed, and how and why you intend on doing so. Then, list your company's strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities for growth, and detail the threats to it that might hinder the achievement of those goals.

Klein stated that the document doesn't need pages and pages of text; rather, it can include images, infographics and specifics "so that it can be used as a point of reference at any point in time to ensure that the business is on the right path and is meeting its goals."

Your plan is there for a reason. Don't be afraid to refer to it as much as possible — think of it as checking the map when you've made a wrong turn. There is nothing wrong with using your plan to get back on track or to remain there.

"The biggest mistake people make is this: They prepare the document and then put it in a drawer and never look at it again. That's self-defeating," Cohen said.

Finally, remember that you should revisit your business plan as your company grows.

Additional templates and resources are available at the following sites:

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Peterson and Katherine Arline. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Editor's note: If you're looking for information to help you with business plan services, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free. 

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Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela is a recent graduate of Rowan University, where she majored in writing arts and minored in journalism. She currently works as a Purch B2B staff writer while working on her first novel in her free time. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.