Having a road map helps you reach your journey's end successfully. Business plans do the same for small businesses. They lay out the milestones you need to reach on your way to building a profitable small business. From finance to marketing, operations to sales, each part of a business plan helps you reach your goals.
What deters most entrepreneurs from creating a business plan, however, is taking the time to write it all out. Many are afraid to do so; they'll find their idea isn't so brilliant after all. For those who take the time to research and write a plan, though, they often find that it helps them identify risks and possible roadblocks. Business plans are essential to identifying and overcoming obstacles on your path so you can build a successful company. [These best picks for business planning software will help you write a top-notch business plan.]
While writing a business plan can be frustrating (especially when 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 spend less time writing and more time launching.
Here is our simple business plan template, plus eight resources to help you craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.
Simple business plan template
1. Executive summary
The executive summary is arguably the most important section of a business plan, because it needs to draw your readers into your plan and entice them to continue reading. If your executive summary doesn't capture the reader's attention, they won't read further.
Even though it is the first section, you should write it last. When you are ready to write this section, summarize the problem or market need you aim to solve, your solution for consumers, an overview of the founders and/or owners, and key financial details.
The key with this section is to be brief, yet exciting.
2. Company description
This section is an overview of your entire business. Make sure you include basic information, such as when your company was founded, what kind of business entity it is, what state it is registered in, etc. Provide a summary of your company's history to give the readers a solid understanding of who you are and what your business is.
3. Products and services
Next, describe the products and/or services your business provides. Focus on your customers' perspective (and needs) by demonstrating the problem you are trying to solve. The goal with this section is to prove your business fills a market need and will remain viable for the foreseeable future.
4. Market analysis
In this section, clearly define who your target audience is, where you will find them, how you will reach them and, most importantly, how you will deliver your product or service to them. Provide a deep analysis of your ideal customer and how your business provides a solution for them.
You'll also want to include your competitors in this section and illustrate how your business is different. What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how will you differentiate yourself from the pack?
5. Management team
Before anyone will invest in your business, they want a complete understanding of whom they are investing in. This section should illustrate how your business is organized. It should list key members of the management team, the founders/owners, board members, advisors, etc.
As you list each individual, provide a summary of their experience and their role within your company. Treat this section as a series of mini resumes and consider appending full-length resumes to your business plan.
6. Financial plan
Last, the financial plan should include a detailed overview of your finances. At the very least, you should include cash flow statements as well as your profit and loss projections over the next three to five years. You can also include historical financial data from the past few years, your sales forecast, balance sheet, etc.
Make sure this section is precise and accurate. It's often best practice to create this section with a professional accountant. Finally, if you're seeking outside funding for your business, highlight why you're seeking financing options, where that money will go and when investors can expect a return on their investment.
LivePlan has become a recognized online business tools resource to help budding entrepreneurs every step of the way, from the planning stages to launch. Like other services, LivePlan allows business owners to craft perfectly formatted plans. They have more than 500 plans encompassing nearly every industry you can think of.
After selecting the template you like, you can tweak, customize and create the presentation to pitch your idea to would-be investors.
Post-launch, businesses can track revenue and expenses against forecasts. Multiple users within a company can use LivePlan; pricing starts at less than $20 a month.
Perhaps you've heard about entrepreneurs who jotted down their business idea on a napkin at a bar. $100 Startup's One-Page Business Plan is somewhat 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 answer in one or two sentences.
The plan covers everything from what you plan to sell (and who will buy it) to how you will get paid, "hustle" to find customers, foresee challenges, and overcome obstacles in a single page.
Chris Guillebeau, the founder of $100 Startup, has distilled his knowledge into a book, which is available online from Amazon as well as several book retailers.
Bizplan lets you create a business plan for free using your smartphone or tablet, and it offers more than just business plans. You also have access to free pitch script templates, marketing tools, coaching and collaboration features. You can upgrade to paid plans that give you access to more tools, tutorials and other features. The cost of the paid plans ranges from $19 per month to $49 a month.
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. Where most templates assume all businesses are uniform, Copyblogger's model is designed to get to the heart of what entrepreneurs 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, created by Sonia Simone, co-founder and chief content officer of Copyblogger Media, and you're good to go.
Financials are often the most confusing and difficult aspect of a business plan for new business owners. Founded in 2011, Enloop is regarded as an innovative player in the business-plan-creation industry. Like other services, Enloop uses an online interface to automate the creation of your business plan.
To get started, users enter basic information about their businesses, including product details. From there, Enloop's software uses metrics to predict the financial performance of the company compared with similar companies in the same sector.
Enloop's goal is to help entrepreneurs make better-informed decisions. Users can get started on Enloop for free; more advanced, paid options are available, which range from $19.95 per month to $39.95 per month. [Want to write a better financial section of your business plan? Here's how!]
The One Page Business Plan Company
Created by The One Page Business Plan Company, this simple template covers only the key areas entrepreneurs need to address to start a business: their vision for the company, why the business exists, objectives for setting 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.
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 need, says Go, is an "internal working plan" to get started.
The internal working plan consists of four simple questions that comprise your 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?
Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a wealth of free planning, financing, and consulting tools and resources, both online and through available consultants. The SBA offers some great recommendations on creating a business plan, including what type of plan you should choose depending on your business and your needs.
The SBA encourages entrepreneurs to use their generated plans to discuss their company's prospects with SBA advisers like those available through SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives) and the Small Business Development Center.
Additional reporting by Katherine Arline and Marci Martin. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.