Writing a business plan is an important step in the startup process. It helps you and your partners decide if you will work well together, teaches you about the marketplace, and lets you brainstorm business and product goals. But because of all the effort and detail involved, many entrepreneurs dread the thought of sitting down and creating this critical but time-consuming document.
While business plans can be frustrating if you're writing one from scratch, there are plenty of online templates available to take some of the pain out of the process. Small business owners can benefit from simple, easy-to-follow business-plan tools so they can spend less time writing and more time launching.
Here are eight resources you can use to help you craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.
You've heard about those entrepreneurs who started off by jotting down their ideas on a napkin at a bar, café or restaurant. $100 Startup's One-Page Business Plan is a little like that, but more organized. Designed for entrepreneurs who are itching to get started, this simple business-plan template asks a handful of questions that you can easily answer in one or two sentences. It covers everything from what you sell and who will buy it to how you will get paid, "hustle" to find customers, foresee challenges and overcome the obstacles — all in a single page. [Writing a Business Plan? Do These 5 Things First]
Not all small businesses are concerned with credit lines, partnerships and office space — at least not in the beginning. So why should their initial business plans include these things? Copyblogger's Remarkably Simple Business Plan doesn't. Instead, it offers a business-plan template fit for the real would-be entrepreneur's world. Whereas most business-plan templates assume all businesses are uniform, Copyblogger's Remarkably Simple Business Plan was created to get to what entrepreneurs really need to know to start a business: the ins and outs of the product or service, how customers will find the business and how the business will make money. Simply copy and paste the template of the Remarkably Simple Business Plan, created by Sonia Simone, co-founder and chief content officer of Copyblogger Media, and you're good to go.
Founded in 2011, Enloop is regarded as an innovative player in the business-plan-creation industry. Like many others, the service uses an online interface to help automate your business plan's creation. To get started, users enter basic information about their businesses, including product details. Then, Enloop's software uses metrics to help predict the financial performance of the company in comparison with others in the sector. According to CEO Cynthia McCahon, the goal of the company is to help entrepreneurs make better-informed decisions. Users can get started on Enloop for free; more advanced paid options are also available.
LivePlan is a relatively new entrant to the online business-tools market that helps you every step of the way, from the planning stages through your launch. Like other services, LivePlan allows business owners to craft perfectly formatted plans. From there, users can create the presentation necessary to pitch their business ideas to would-be investors. Once off the ground, businesses can track revenue and expenses against forecasts, and multiple users within a company can work through the LivePlan interface. Pricing starts at less than $12 a month.
The One Page Business Plan Company
Created by The One Page Business Plan Company, this simple business template covers only the key areas entrepreneurs need to address to start a business: their vision for the company, mission for why the business exists, objectives for setting out goals, strategies to make the business successful and action plans indicating what work needs to be done. Unlike complicated business plans, boring blocks of text are not required — bullet points will do.
Are you the visual type? Look no further than Angela Bowman's One-Page Visual Business Plan. Based on the principles of the Business Generation Model Strategyzer app, Bowman's One-Page Visual Business Plan uses sticky notes to help you creatively craft an out-of-the-box business plan. To create a One-Page Visual Business Plan, start by separating a single page into different sections or columns, such as company information and customer segments. Write down your ideas or responses on a sticky note, and then stick it on the corresponding section. You can also color-code the sticky notes for better organization. Then, if your plans change, you can easily remove a note, move it around or add new ones to better fit the direction in which your business is headed.
SBA Build Your Business Plan Tool
The fact that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has an online tool to help users craft business plans will come as no surprise to anyone who has investigated the SBA's offerings before. The agency has a wealth of free planning, financing and consulting tools and resources, both online and through available consultants. The SBA's online tool for business-plan creation allows a user to enter information on a Web interface that is tied to that user's account. The administration says this is intended to be a "live" plan that can be referred to and changed as the company's plans progress. The SBA encourages entrepreneurs to use their generated plans to discuss their company's prospects with SBA advisers like those available through SCORE and the Small Business Development Center. The SBA's tool is available online at no cost.
Greg Go, co-founder of online finance community Wise Bread, is a big believer that entrepreneurs who are just starting out don't need lengthy business plans. What they actually need, he said, is an "internal working plan" to get started. The internal working plan consists of four simple questions that make up the simple business plan: What is your product or service? Who are your customers? When will things get done? When are bills due, and when do you get paid? To guide entrepreneurs in completing their four-question business plan, Go provides a simplified way of answering each question in his blog post on the subject.
Originally published on Dec. 24, 2013. Updated on May 1, 2015. Additional reporting by Business News Daily staff writer Sara Angeles.