Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Whether or not he actually said it, the idea behind it still holds true. Your business stands a better chance of succeeding when you plan carefully and consider every factor that may impact it.
This doesn't just mean jotting down your thoughts and ideas. You need to take the time to actually sit down and create a well-crafted business plan. Just as a cake is the sweet reward for following the recipe, a successful business is the reward for creating a well-thought-out business plan.
Many new business owners are intimidated by the thought of developing a business plan. Many parts of it require some research and dedicated study on your part, in order for you to be able to discuss those components in the plan, and then implement them when you're ready for action. Your lack of knowledge may be scary at first, but it is also enlightening: It is better to identify what you need to know now, than later, when your lack of knowledge might adversely affect your success.
But where to begin? Free business plan templates can help. They provide guidance by outlining the different parts of a business plan. You can choose a simple business plan template that you can finish in a few minutes, or a more comprehensive template that covers funding, market analysis, financial projections and other minutiae of running a business.
To help you get started, here are some of the best free business plan templates for small businesses. [See Related Story: 10 Surprising Things Every Business Plan Should Include]
1. The $100 Startup's One-Page Business Plan
Looking for a no-fuss business plan template that gets straight to the point? The $100 Startup, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller, offers the One-Page Business Plan, a simple form that asks several questions you can quickly answer to get up and running. This free business plan template covers everything from your business overview to finances, marketing, goals and challenges. Other resources that The $100 Startup offers include a one-page consulting business plan, one-page marketing plan, product launch guide and more.
2. Oprah.com one-page business plan
Although it caters to businesses owned by women, Oprah.com's free one-page business plan templatescan be used by anyone who wants to start a business. To give you an idea of how to fill in each section, the business plan PDF files are filled in for small consulting businesses, boutique clothing stores and nonprofit organizations, but if you delete that information, you've got a free, one-page business plan template that's fit for any business venture. Excerpted from "The One-Page Business Plan" (The One-Page Business Plan Company, 2004), this free business plan template asks what your vision is, why your business exists, what your objectives are and what actions you need to take to succeed. Use keywords, short phrases and bullet points, and you're ready to go.
Bplans.comis known as the authority in business plans. The company offers a free Word business plan template, complete with instructions, a table of contents and standard business plan sections, such as executive summary, company summary, products and services, market analysis, strategy, management summary and financial planning. Bplansalso offers more than 500 business plan samples for nearly every type of business and industry. Users who register can immediately download most of these samples for free as Word documents. The company's most popular categories of business plan templates include service-based businesses, and retail and online stores, as well as restaurants, cafes, bakeries and other eateries.
4. Law Depot's step-by-step free business plan
Lawdepot.com offers a free, step-by-step business plan builder, covering structure, product, marketing, SWOT, operations and details specific to your business. Once complete, you can download and print. With specific questions to help hone your answers, Law Depot's free business plan is both to the point and comprehensive.
5. SBA's business plan tool
The U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) Business Plan Tool uses an online business plan template and guide to help you build your business plan, step by step. After creating an account, complete the cover page by filling in your company name, owner name and contact information, then upload your company logo. You can then move on to any of the six business plan sections: Executive Summary, Company Description, Market Research, Product/Service Line, Marketing and Sales, and Financial Projections. Just as you can with a Word document, you can save and work on your file any time you want, which allows you to create a business plan at your own pace and direction. You can also continuously update your business plan online, which will be saved for up to six months after your last login date.
6. Score's free PDF and Word business plan templates
Score, a nonprofit small business resource, offers a gallery of free PDF and Word business plan templates for startups and established businesses. The company also provides financial projection templates, financial statement Excel files, sales templates and a competitive analysis chart to determine your strengths and weaknesses. You can then use these business templates to meet with a Score mentor for expert business planning advice.
7. MOBI business plan template
MOBI, or My Own Business Institute, is part of Santa Clara University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The fifteen-section business plan template, which you can download for free in Word, covers topics associated with startups but also takes a look at how to run a business, including employee management, how to handle problems and e-commerce. Each section has breakouts and prompts to help you think things through and examine every angle.
8. Office Depot sample business plan components
Office Depot doesn't just sell office supplies and furniture. The company also has a Business Resource Center that offers everything you need to know to start and run a small business. The company's free business tools include downloadable RTF business plan templates for manufacturers, service providers and retailers. Excel business plan financials are also available for manufacturers and service providers, while the retailer business plan template is complete with forecasting and financial tables.
9. Rocket Lawyer business plan
Need funding? Rocket Lawyer's Business Plan will help you create a blueprint not only for your business, but also for investors. This tool uses a step-by-step "interview" process to create your business plan. For example, you will be asked which areas you'd like to include in the plan — a confidentiality statement, mission statement, specific goals and objectives, and exit strategy. It will also ask key background questions that investors and lenders will be interested in — for instance, the type of business entity you plan to start, the state of formation, the owner's qualifications, whether you will be taking out a loan or will rely on equity investment, market research, industry analysis and more.
10. vFinance business plan template and guide
vFinance, a global financial services firm that helps entrepreneurs find venture capitalists and angel investors, offers a free business plan template that you can download as a Word or ZIP file. After selecting your industry and filling out your company information and related keywords, you'll be able to download a business plan template that is tailored to your type of business. To help you craft your business plan, vFinance's Business Planning Department provides sidebars on each template, complete with tips, comments and links to business planning resources. Once you are finished, you can submit your business plan for a free review and post it on the company's website, where more than 100,000 angel investors, venture capital firms and companies looking for mergers can find you.
Ready to write your business plan? Visit Business News Daily's guide to help you get started.
Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.