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 small business owners from creating a business plan, however, is taking the time to write it all out. Many are afraid in that doing 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 – and they can circumnavigate a detour that still lets reach their destination – a successful, thriving business. [Check out our best picks for business planning software]
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 are nine resources to help you craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.
LivePlan has quickly 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, and 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 easily 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 range 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.
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, this template uses sticky notes to help you craft an out-of-the-box business plan.
You create your plan by separating a single page into different sections or columns, such as company information, value proposition 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.
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 your business plan's creation.
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 other similar companies in the same sector.
According to CEO Cynthia McCahon, Enloop's goal is to help entrepreneurs make better-informed decisions. Users can get started on Enloop for free; more advanced, paid options are also available, which range from $19.95 per month to $39.95 per month. [Read related article: How to Write the Financial Section of Your Business Plan]
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, mission for 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?
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.
SBA Build Your Business Plan
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's online tool for creating a business plan allows a user to enter information on a web interface that is tied to that person's account.
The SBA 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 (the Service Corps of Retired Executives) and the Small Business Development Center. The SBA's tool is available online at no cost.
Additional reporting by Katherine Arline. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.