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What Is a Business Plan?
Understanding business plans, how to write a business plan, common elements of a business plan, how often should a business plan be updated, the bottom line, business plan: what it is, what's included, and how to write one.
Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
A business plan is a document that details a company's goals and how it intends to achieve them. Business plans can be of benefit to both startups and well-established companies. For startups, a business plan can be essential for winning over potential lenders and investors. Established businesses can find one useful for staying on track and not losing sight of their goals. This article explains what an effective business plan needs to include and how to write one.
- A business plan is a document describing a company's business activities and how it plans to achieve its goals.
- Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
- For established companies, a business plan can help keep the executive team focused on and working toward the company's short- and long-term objectives.
- There is no single format that a business plan must follow, but there are certain key elements that most companies will want to include.
Investopedia / Ryan Oakley
Any new business should have a business plan in place prior to beginning operations. In fact, banks and venture capital firms often want to see a business plan before they'll consider making a loan or providing capital to new businesses.
Even if a business isn't looking to raise additional money, a business plan can help it focus on its goals. A 2017 Harvard Business Review article reported that, "Entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than the otherwise identical nonplanning entrepreneurs."
Ideally, a business plan should be reviewed and updated periodically to reflect any goals that have been achieved or that may have changed. An established business that has decided to move in a new direction might create an entirely new business plan for itself.
There are numerous benefits to creating (and sticking to) a well-conceived business plan. These include being able to think through ideas before investing too much money in them and highlighting any potential obstacles to success. A company might also share its business plan with trusted outsiders to get their objective feedback. In addition, a business plan can help keep a company's executive team on the same page about strategic action items and priorities.
Business plans, even among competitors in the same industry, are rarely identical. However, they often have some of the same basic elements, as we describe below.
While it's a good idea to provide as much detail as necessary, it's also important that a business plan be concise enough to hold a reader's attention to the end.
While there are any number of templates that you can use to write a business plan, it's best to try to avoid producing a generic-looking one. Let your plan reflect the unique personality of your business.
Many business plans use some combination of the sections below, with varying levels of detail, depending on the company.
The length of a business plan can vary greatly from business to business. Regardless, it's best to fit the basic information into a 15- to 25-page document. Other crucial elements that take up a lot of space—such as applications for patents—can be referenced in the main document and attached as appendices.
These are some of the most common elements in many business plans:
- Executive summary: This section introduces the company and includes its mission statement along with relevant information about the company's leadership, employees, operations, and locations.
- Products and services: Here, the company should describe the products and services it offers or plans to introduce. That might include details on pricing, product lifespan, and unique benefits to the consumer. Other factors that could go into this section include production and manufacturing processes, any relevant patents the company may have, as well as proprietary technology . Information about research and development (R&D) can also be included here.
- Market analysis: A company needs to have a good handle on the current state of its industry and the existing competition. This section should explain where the company fits in, what types of customers it plans to target, and how easy or difficult it may be to take market share from incumbents.
- Marketing strategy: This section can describe how the company plans to attract and keep customers, including any anticipated advertising and marketing campaigns. It should also describe the distribution channel or channels it will use to get its products or services to consumers.
- Financial plans and projections: Established businesses can include financial statements, balance sheets, and other relevant financial information. New businesses can provide financial targets and estimates for the first few years. Your plan might also include any funding requests you're making.
The best business plans aren't generic ones created from easily accessed templates. A company should aim to entice readers with a plan that demonstrates its uniqueness and potential for success.
2 Types of Business Plans
Business plans can take many forms, but they are sometimes divided into two basic categories: traditional and lean startup. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) , the traditional business plan is the more common of the two.
- Traditional business plans : These plans tend to be much longer than lean startup plans and contain considerably more detail. As a result they require more work on the part of the business, but they can also be more persuasive (and reassuring) to potential investors.
- Lean startup business plans : These use an abbreviated structure that highlights key elements. These business plans are short—as short as one page—and provide only the most basic detail. If a company wants to use this kind of plan, it should be prepared to provide more detail if an investor or a lender requests it.
Why Do Business Plans Fail?
A business plan is not a surefire recipe for success. The plan may have been unrealistic in its assumptions and projections to begin with. Markets and the overall economy might change in ways that couldn't have been foreseen. A competitor might introduce a revolutionary new product or service. All of this calls for building some flexibility into your plan, so you can pivot to a new course if needed.
How frequently a business plan needs to be revised will depend on the nature of the business. A well-established business might want to review its plan once a year and make changes if necessary. A new or fast-growing business in a fiercely competitive market might want to revise it more often, such as quarterly.
What Does a Lean Startup Business Plan Include?
The lean startup business plan is an option when a company prefers to give a quick explanation of its business. For example, a brand-new company may feel that it doesn't have a lot of information to provide yet.
Sections can include: a value proposition ; the company's major activities and advantages; resources such as staff, intellectual property, and capital; a list of partnerships; customer segments; and revenue sources.
A business plan can be useful to companies of all kinds. But as a company grows and the world around it changes, so too should its business plan. So don't think of your business plan as carved in granite but as a living document designed to evolve with your business.
Harvard Business Review. " Research: Writing a Business Plan Makes Your Startup More Likely to Succeed ."
U.S. Small Business Administration. " Write Your Business Plan ."
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Plan A: Our Planet
To reflect the climate emergency we all face, we reset Plan A with a singular focus on becoming a net zero business across all our operations and our entire value chain by 2039/40 – ten years earlier than the Government’s UK-wide strategy. We’ve set interim targets for 2025/26, 2029/30 and 2034/35 and a clear roadmap to move towards delivering these goals. Our targets align with the aim of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C and we’ve joined the UN’s Race to Zero campaign.
We have established an ambitious roadmap identifying the ten immediate priority areas we will focus on as we make our journey towards net zero.
We know that 94% of our carbon footprint (6.1 million tonnes) comes from indirect, or Scope 3, emissions. These indirect emissions come from our value chain – how we make and source our products. Only 6% (0.3 million tonnes) of our carbon emissions come directly from the fuel and electricity we use in our operations (known as Scope 1 and 2 emissions). As an own-brand retailer, we are uniquely positioned to work with our trusted suppliers to reduce Scope 3 emissions. One of our biggest strengths is the close and long-lasting relationships we’ve built with our partners, from farms to factories.
This year we have had our 2030 corporate greenhouse gas emissions reduction target approved by the Science Based Target initiative:
“Marks and Spencer PLC commits to reduce absolute scope 1 and scope 2 GHG emissions 55% by 2030 from a 2017 base year. Marks and Spencer PLC also commits to reduce absolute scope 3 GHG emissions 55% within the same time frame.”
The target was set and the baseline updated in line with current guidance.
The impact of climate change affects all of us and the scientific evidence is clear – urgent action is needed by everyone.
Every human activity has a carbon footprint. We all need to cut emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. And there are practical considerations for our business: energy costs, the availability of raw materials, new markets and new legislation.
With the reset of Plan A, our singular focus is to achieve net zero in our own operations and across our entire value chain and products by 2039/40.
To ensure we are on the right trajectory to meet our SBTi approved target in 2030, we set an interim goal to reduce our emissions by 34% by 2025/26 which equated to a 2.1 million tonne reduction.
All of the ten workstreams that make our Net Zero Transition Roadmap have been mobilised across the business. Management is monitoring progress towards our carbonreduction targets via our ESG Business Forum on a quarterly basis. We have a clear line of sight, based on projects that are underway, to 62% of the 2.1m tonne emissions reduction we are committed to deliver in 2025/26.
In 2022/23, our focus across our stores, warehouses and logistics footprints has been on driving efficiencies, reducing waste, improving our greenhouse gas emission measurement and tracking capability and investing in our store estate for the future. In September 2022, we acquired Gist, our Food logistics provider, a move that allows us to accelerate our plan to modernise our Food supply chain network to support growth.
We have driven a 32% reduction of total Scope 1 and 2 location based greenhouse gas emissions, against 2016/17 base year. This year we have seen a 3% reduction of total Scope 1 and 2 location, based greenhouse gas emissions, against 2021/22.
Reductions were driven by a fall in reported emissions from refrigerant leakage, which were down 18% on last year, caused by a return to normal levels of maintenance visits to top up refrigerant, following a
spike the previous year, when maintenance visits resumed post-Covid lockdowns. Emissions from purchased electricity also reduced and were 4% down on last year.
Our supply chain
A significant part of the 2.1m tonne reduction in 2025/26 will come
from how we source, make and sell our product. This year, highlights of our progress including our reduction in food waste, removal of plastic packaging, an increase in soy sourced from verified
deforestation and conversion-free supply chains, and an increase in the volume of recycled polyester sourced in clothing. More information can be found in our Sustainability Report.
Read our 2021/22 climate performance report for more detail on how we review risks, costs and regulations associated with climate change and our actions and performance since 2007.
To make net zero a reality, working with our stakeholders will be crucial. This is why we have designed our roadmap towards net zero as a multi-stakeholder plan that includes customers, colleagues, supplier partners and industry partners to help deliver the emissions cuts needed across our whole value chain, from the raw materials we use to how our customers use our products.
We know we can’t achieve net zero if we don’t work with our customers to help them live lower-carbon lives. We also know from our latest M&S Family Matters Index report that the environment and climate are issues that matter to our customers.
We’re inviting our customers to Look Behind the Label and discover the sustainability stories behind our products. In our new Look Behind the Label hub customers can dig a bit deeper to discover the steps we’re taking to protect the environment when sourcing some of their favourite products. This year we launched Sparking Change , run in partnership with behaviour change experts Hubbub to help our Sparks customers prepare more sustainable meals from scratch.
We’ve worked with Reboot the Future , a not-for-profit organisation that works with young people and business leaders, to create resources that encourage customers to start conversations about climate change and to make it easier for them to discuss the challenges and opportunities of living lower-carbon lives. These resources are available for free here.
Reaching net zero is not something we can do alone. The achievements of Plan A to date are thanks to the efforts of our colleagues, who we know are passionate about building a sustainable future. We’ve started by improving carbon literacy across our business, giving colleagues a greater understanding of the emissions associated with how we source, make and move our products.
Through our partnership with WWF , we’ve been inviting colleagues to assess their personal environmental footprint using WWF’s environmental footprint calculator . So far, around 1,000 colleagues have used the online tool to understand their environmental impact and view actions they can take to reduce it.
We’ve identified 100 colleagues as 'Carbon Champions'. They work in key roles such as buying, sourcing and logistics and will help activate our net zero transformation across different areas of our business. By building knowledge across these teams, we can take action quickly to reduce emissions. We have also established a Green Network for all, giving our colleagues space for discussion, engagement and learning on climate change.
In Clothing & Home we have a Sustainability Academy to support our product development colleagues and teach them about sustainability topics, such as circular fashion, animal welfare and sustainable sourcing. This year we’ve trained over 70 colleagues in responsible product development and circular design principles.
No one business can solve all the sustainability challenges that lie ahead, which is why we work with trusted supplier partners and organisations in the industry to help us innovate and adapt to our changing environment.
As a starting point, we’ve asked all of our food suppliers to commit to supplying 100% deforestation-free soy by 2025, using 100% renewable electricity by 2025, and aim for net zero emissions by 2040, in line with our own commitment.
In our Clothing & Home supply chain we’re supporting our tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers to reduce their carbon emissions. We use the Higg Index Facility Environmental Module (FEM) as a standard measurement of supply chain sustainability which helps us track improvements in our supply chain environmental performance. We use data from the Higg FEM to help develop our supply chain programmes within our clothing categories and to support supplier partners to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of their facilities. It also helps us to understand complex environmental metrics such as chemical management, air emissions and wastewater.
Our collaboration with key partners across the retail industry includes working with WWF, Canopy, The Consumer Goods Forum, the British Retail Consortium, WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030, The Carbon Trust, Forum for the Future, Leather Working Group, The Sustainability Consortium and the National Farmers’ Union.
We are also a member of the Science Based Targets initiative’s Business Ambition for 1.5°C, the UN’s Race to Zero campaign and the British Retail Consortium’s Climate Roadmap.
Our journey so far
The TCFD has developed a framework to help public companies and other organisations more effectively disclose climate-related risks and opportunities through their existing reporting processes. From 2021/22, M&S was required to adopt the listing rule for UK premium-listed companies to include a statement in their annual financial report setting out whether their climate-related financial disclosures are consistent with the recommendations of the TCFD. The TCFD recommendations provide a framework of four core elements around climate-related risks and opportunities that companies must report on, namely governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets.
As outlined in our approach to risk management, climate change and environmental responsibility is a principal risk to our business. We are committed to managing and disclosing the risks involved in line with the recommendations of the TCFD. Our climate disclosures in line with these recommendations can be found on page 44 of our Annual Report.
We have relaunced a £1 million “Plan A Accelerator Fund” to support projects that address challenges and support innovation that will help us reduce emissions. We’re working with our long-term supplier partners and business partners to focus on key areas where we’re well placed to make a difference - from improvements in our store operations and distribution centres, to piloting new materials in fashion and exciting partnerships on recycling.
In December 2021, we agreed a new £850m revolving credit facility, directly linked to the delivery of net zero targets. Under the terms of our new facility, which will run to June 2026, we will benefit from a lower interest rate for delivery against four metrics that deliberately focus on material emissions hotspots aligning to our roadmap towards net zero and to areas of customer concern.
A summary of our metrics can be found below.
- 100% of polyester sourced from verified recycled sources by 2025/26
- 100% physically certified deforestation- and conversion-free soy by 2025/26
- Scope 1 and 2 emissions reductions in UK and ROI property (annual reduction/tonnes CO 2 e )
- Removal of plastic packaging units per year from the company’s packaging portfolio
The related assurance opinion will be published in supplementary sustainability reporting later this year.
Marks & Spencer Base Year Recalculation Policy
Circular Economy & Waste
Plastics and Packaging
550+ Business Plan Examples to Launch Your Business
Need help writing your business plan? Explore over 550 industry-specific business plan examples for inspiration. Go even further with LivePlan , which harnesses AI-assisted writing features and SBA-approved plan examples to get you funded.
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Example business plan format
Before you start exploring our library of business plan examples, it's worth taking the time to understand the traditional business plan format . You'll find that the plans in this library and most investor-approved business plans will include the following sections:
The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally only one to two pages. You should also plan to write this section last after you've written your full business plan.
Your executive summary should include a summary of the problem you are solving, a description of your product or service, an overview of your target market, a brief description of your team, a summary of your financials, and your funding requirements (if you are raising money).
Products & services
The products & services chapter of your business plan is where the real meat of your plan lives. It includes information about the problem that you're solving, your solution, and any traction that proves that it truly meets the need you identified.
This is your chance to explain why you're in business and that people care about what you offer. It needs to go beyond a simple product or service description and get to the heart of why your business works and benefits your customers.
Conducting a market analysis ensures that you fully understand the market that you're entering and who you'll be selling to. This section is where you will showcase all of the information about your potential customers. You'll cover your target market as well as information about the growth of your market and your industry. Focus on outlining why the market you're entering is viable and creating a realistic persona for your ideal customer base.
Part of defining your opportunity is determining what your competitive advantage may be. To do this effectively you need to get to know your competitors just as well as your target customers. Every business will have competition, if you don't then you're either in a very young industry or there's a good reason no one is pursuing this specific venture.
To succeed, you want to be sure you know who your competitors are, how they operate, necessary financial benchmarks, and how you're business will be positioned. Start by identifying who your competitors are or will be during your market research. Then leverage competitive analysis tools like the competitive matrix and positioning map to solidify where your business stands in relation to the competition.
Marketing & sales
The marketing and sales plan section of your business plan details how you plan to reach your target market segments. You'll address how you plan on selling to those target markets, what your pricing plan is, and what types of activities and partnerships you need to make your business a success.
The operations section covers the day-to-day workflows for your business to deliver your product or service. What's included here fully depends on the type of business. Typically you can expect to add details on your business location, sourcing and fulfillment, use of technology, and any partnerships or agreements that are in place.
Milestones & metrics
The milestones section is where you lay out strategic milestones to reach your business goals.
A good milestone clearly lays out the parameters of the task at hand and sets expectations for its execution. You'll want to include a description of the task, a proposed due date, who is responsible, and eventually a budget that's attached. You don't need extensive project planning in this section, just key milestones that you want to hit and when you plan to hit them.
You should also discuss key metrics, which are the numbers you will track to determine your success. Some common data points worth tracking include conversion rates, customer acquisition costs, profit, etc.
Company & team
Use this section to describe your current team and who you need to hire. If you intend to pursue funding, you'll need to highlight the relevant experience of your team members. Basically, this is where you prove that this is the right team to successfully start and grow the business. You will also need to provide a quick overview of your legal structure and history if you're already up and running.
Your financial plan should include a sales and revenue forecast, profit and loss statement, cash flow statement, and a balance sheet. You may not have established financials of any kind at this stage. Not to worry, rather than getting all of the details ironed out, focus on making projections and strategic forecasts for your business. You can always update your financial statements as you begin operations and start bringing in actual accounting data.
Now, if you intend to pitch to investors or submit a loan application, you'll also need a "use of funds" report in this section. This outlines how you intend to leverage any funding for your business and how much you're looking to acquire. Like the rest of your financials, this can always be updated later on.
The appendix isn't a required element of your business plan. However, it is a useful place to add any charts, tables, definitions, legal notes, or other critical information that supports your plan. These are often lengthier or out-of-place information that simply didn't work naturally into the structure of your plan. You'll notice that in these business plan examples, the appendix mainly includes extended financial statements.
Types of business plans explained
While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. To get the most out of your plan, it's best to find a format that suits your needs. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering.
Traditional business plan
The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used for external purposes. Typically this is the type of plan you'll need when applying for funding or pitching to investors. It can also be used when training or hiring employees, working with vendors, or in any other situation where the full details of your business must be understood by another individual.
Business model canvas
The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea.
The structure ditches a linear format in favor of a cell-based template. It encourages you to build connections between every element of your business. It's faster to write out and update, and much easier for you, your team, and anyone else to visualize your business operations.
One-page business plan
The true middle ground between the business model canvas and a traditional business plan is the one-page business plan . This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business.
By starting with a one-page plan , you give yourself a minimal document to build from. You'll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences making it much easier to elaborate or expand sections into a longer-form business plan.
Growth planning is more than a specific type of business plan. It's a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, forecast, review, and refine based on your performance.
It holds all of the benefits of the single-page plan, including the potential to complete it in as little as 27 minutes . However, it's even easier to convert into a more detailed plan thanks to how heavily it's tied to your financials. The overall goal of growth planning isn't to just produce documents that you use once and shelve. Instead, the growth planning process helps you build a healthier company that thrives in times of growth and remain stable through times of crisis.
It's faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.
Download a free sample business plan template
Ready to start writing your own plan but aren't sure where to start? Download our free business plan template that's been updated for 2023.
This simple, modern, investor-approved business plan template is designed to make planning easy. It's a proven format that has helped over 1 million businesses write business plans for bank loans, funding pitches, business expansion, and even business sales. It includes additional instructions for how to write each section and is formatted to be SBA-lender approved. All you need to do is fill in the blanks.
How to use an example business plan to help you write your own
How do you know what elements need to be included in your business plan, especially if you've never written one before? Looking at examples can help you visualize what a full, traditional plan looks like, so you know what you're aiming for before you get started. Here's how to get the most out of a sample business plan.
Choose a business plan example from a similar type of company
You don't need to find an example business plan that's an exact fit for your business. Your business location, target market, and even your particular product or service may not match up exactly with the plans in our gallery. But, you don't need an exact match for it to be helpful. Instead, look for a plan that's related to the type of business you're starting.
For example, if you want to start a vegetarian restaurant, a plan for a steakhouse can be a great match. While the specifics of your actual startup will differ, the elements you'd want to include in your restaurant's business plan are likely to be very similar.
Use a business plan example as a guide
Every startup and small business is unique, so you'll want to avoid copying an example business plan word for word. It just won't be as helpful, since each business is unique. You want your plan to be a useful tool for starting a business —and getting funding if you need it.
One of the key benefits of writing a business plan is simply going through the process. When you sit down to write, you'll naturally think through important pieces, like your startup costs, your target market , and any market analysis or research you'll need to do to be successful.
You'll also look at where you stand among your competition (and everyone has competition), and lay out your goals and the milestones you'll need to meet. Looking at an example business plan's financials section can be helpful because you can see what should be included, but take them with a grain of salt. Don't assume that financial projections for a sample company will fit your own small business.
If you're looking for more resources to help you get started, our business planning guide is a good place to start. You can also download our free business plan template , or get started right away with LivePlan .
Think of business planning as a process, instead of a document
Think about business planning as something you do often , rather than a document you create once and never look at again. If you take the time to write a plan that really fits your own company, it will be a better, more useful tool to grow your business. It should also make it easier to share your vision and strategy so everyone on your team is on the same page.
Adjust your plan regularly to use it as a business management tool
Keep in mind that businesses that use their plan as a management tool to help run their business grow 30 percent faster than those businesses that don't. For that to be true for your company, you'll think of a part of your business planning process as tracking your actual results against your financial forecast on a regular basis.
If things are going well, your plan will help you think about how you can re-invest in your business. If you find that you're not meeting goals, you might need to adjust your budgets or your sales forecast. Either way, tracking your progress compared to your plan can help you adjust quickly when you identify challenges and opportunities—it's one of the most powerful things you can do to grow your business.
Prepare to pitch your business
If you're planning to pitch your business to investors or seek out any funding, you'll need a pitch deck to accompany your business plan. A pitch deck is designed to inform people about your business. You want your pitch deck to be short and easy to follow, so it's best to keep your presentation under 20 slides.
Your pitch deck and pitch presentation are likely some of the first things that an investor will see to learn more about your company. So, you need to be informative and pique their interest. Luckily, just like you can leverage an example business plan template to write your plan, we also have a gallery of over 50 pitch decks for you to reference.
With this gallery, you have the option to view specific industry pitches or get inspired by real-world pitch deck examples. Or for a modern pitch solution that helps you create a business plan and pitch deck side-by-side, you may want to check out LivePlan . It will help you build everything needed for outside investment and to better manage your business.
Get LivePlan in your classroom
Are you an educator looking for real-world business plan examples for your students? With LivePlan, you give your students access to industry-best business plans and help them set goals and track metrics with spreadsheet-free financial forecasts. All of this within a single tool that includes additional instructional resources that work seamlessly alongside your current classroom setup.
With LivePlan, it's not just a classroom project. It's your students planning for their futures. Click here to learn more about business planning for students .
Ready to get started?
Now that you know how to use an example business plan to help you write a plan for your business, it's time to find the right one.
Use the search bar below to get started and find the right match for your business idea.
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