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Avoid Common Mistakes When Completing the CMS L564 Form

The CMS L564 form is an important document that allows individuals to apply for the Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for people who have had employer-sponsored health coverage. This form is crucial for those who are transitioning from their employer’s health plan to Medicare. However, completing the CMS L564 form can be a daunting task, and mistakes can lead to delays or even denials of coverage. In this article, we will discuss some common mistakes to avoid when completing the CMS L564 form.

Failing to Provide Accurate Information

One of the most common mistakes people make when completing the CMS L564 form is failing to provide accurate information. It is essential to double-check all the details you provide on the form, ensuring that everything is correct and up-to-date. Mistakes such as misspelled names, incorrect dates of birth, or inaccurate employment history can lead to delays in processing your application or even rejection.

To avoid these errors, take your time when filling out the form. Refer to official documents such as your Social Security card, birth certificate, or previous employment records for accurate information. Triple-check each field before submitting the form.

Neglecting Required Supporting Documentation

Another common mistake is neglecting to include required supporting documentation with your CMS L564 form. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires certain documentation as evidence of your employer-sponsored health coverage.

Make sure you carefully read through the instructions provided with the CMS L564 form and gather all necessary documents before submitting it. Examples of required supporting documentation may include a letter from your former employer stating your previous coverage dates or pay stubs indicating deductions made towards health insurance premiums.

By providing all necessary supporting documentation along with your completed CMS L564 form, you increase your chances of a smooth and timely application process.

Missing Deadlines

Timeliness is crucial when completing the CMS L564 form. Missing deadlines can result in delays or even a loss of your Special Enrollment Period eligibility. It is essential to be aware of the specific deadline for submitting the form and ensure you meet it.

To avoid missing deadlines, start the process as soon as possible. Gather all necessary information and documentation well in advance so that you have ample time to complete the form accurately. Set reminders or use calendar apps to keep track of important dates related to your CMS L564 form submission.

Failing to Seek Assistance

Completing the CMS L564 form can be confusing, especially for those who are new to Medicare or have limited experience with paperwork. Failing to seek assistance when needed is another common mistake that can lead to errors.

If you find yourself unsure about any aspect of completing the CMS L564 form, reach out for help. Contact your local Social Security office or a Medicare counselor who can guide you through the process and clarify any doubts you may have.

Additionally, online resources such as official websites and forums dedicated to Medicare can provide valuable information and guidance for filling out the CMS L564 form correctly.

In conclusion, avoiding common mistakes when completing the CMS L564 form is crucial for a smooth application process and timely coverage. By providing accurate information, including all required supporting documentation, meeting deadlines, and seeking assistance when needed, individuals can ensure their eligibility for Special Enrollment Periods without unnecessary delays or denials of coverage.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.

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24 Best Sample Business Plans & Examples to Help You Write Your Own

Clifford Chi

Published: August 17, 2023

Free Business Plan Template

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Reading sample business plans is essential when you’re writing your own. As you explore business plan examples from real companies and brands, you’ll learn how to write one that gets your business off on the right foot, convinces investors to provide funding, and confirms your venture is sustainable for the long term.

sample business plans and examples

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But what does a business plan look like? And how do you write one that is viable and convincing? Let's review the ideal business plan formally, then take a look at business plan templates and samples you can use to inspire your own.

Business Plan Format

Ask any successful sports coach how they win so many games, and they’ll tell you they have a unique plan for every single game. The same logic applies to business. If you want to build a thriving company that can pull ahead of the competition, you need to prepare for battle before breaking into a market.

Business plans guide you along the rocky journey of growing a company. Referencing one will keep you on the path toward success. And if your business plan is compelling enough, it can also convince investors to give you funding.

With so much at stake, you might be wondering, "Where do I start? How should I format this?"

Typically, a business plan is a document that will detail how a company will achieve its goals.

completed business plan

You're all set!

Click this link to access this resource at any time.

Fill out the form to get your free template.

Most business plans include the following sections:

1. Executive Summary

The executive summary is arguably the most important section of the entire business plan. Essentially, it's the overview or introduction, written in a way to grab readers' attention and guide them through the rest of the business plan. This is important, because a business plan can be dozens or hundreds of pages long.

Most executive summaries include:

  • Mission statement
  • Company history and leadership
  • Competitive advantage overview
  • Financial projections
  • Company goals

Keep in mind you'll cover many of these topics in more detail later on in the business plan. So, keep the executive summary clear and brief, including only the most important takeaways.

Executive Summary Business Plan Examples

This example was created with HubSpot’s business plan template:

business plan sample: Executive Summary Example

And the executive summary below tells potential investors a short story that covers all the most important details this business plan will cover in a succinct and interesting way.

Business plans examples: Executive Summary

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Tips for Writing Your Executive Summary

  • Clearly define a problem, and explain how your product solves that problem, and show why the market needs your business.
  • Be sure to highlight your value proposition, market opportunity, and growth potential.
  • Keep it concise and support ideas with data.
  • Customize your summary to your audience. For example, emphasize finances and return on investment for venture capitalists.

Check out our tips for writing an effective executive summary for more guidance.

2. Market Opportunity

This is where you'll detail the opportunity in the market. Where is the gap in the current industry, and how will your product fill that gap?

In this section, you might include:

  • The size of the market
  • Current or potential market share
  • Trends in the industry and consumer behavior
  • Where the gap is
  • What caused the gap
  • How you intend to fill it

To get a thorough understanding of the market opportunity, you'll want to conduct a TAM, SAM, and SOM analysis and perform market research on your industry. You may also benefit from creating a SWOT analysis to get some of the insights for this section.

Market Opportunity Business Plan Example

This example uses critical data to underline the size of the potential market and what part of that market this service hopes to capture.

Business plans examples: Market Opportunity

Tips for Writing Your Market Opportunity Section

  • Focus on demand and potential for growth.
  • Use market research, surveys, and industry trend data to support your market forecast and projections.
  • Add a review of regulation shifts, tech advances, and consumer behavior changes.
  • Refer to reliable sources.
  • Showcase how your business can make the most of this opportunity.

3. Competitive Landscape

Speaking of market share, you'll need to create a section that shares details on who the top competitors are. After all, your customers likely have more than one brand to choose from, and you'll want to understand exactly why they might choose one over another. Performing a competitive analysis can help you uncover:

  • Industry trends that other brands may not be utilizing
  • Strengths in your competition that may be obstacles to handle
  • Weaknesses in your competition that may help you develop selling points
  • The unique proposition you bring to the market that may resonate with customers

Competitive Landscape Business Plan Example

The competitive landscape section of the business plan below shows a clear outline of who the top competitors are. It also highlights specific industry knowledge and the importance of location, which shows useful experience in this specific industry. This can help build trust in your ability to execute your business plan.

Business plans examples: Competitive Landscape

Tips for Writing Your Competitive Landscape

  • Complete in-depth research, then emphasize your most important findings.
  • Compare your unique selling proposition (USP) to your direct and indirect competitors.
  • Show a clear and realistic plan for product and brand differentiation.
  • Look for specific advantages and barriers in the competitive landscape. Then, highlight how that information could impact your business.
  • Outline growth opportunities from a competitive perspective.
  • Add customer feedback and insights to support your competitive analysis.

4. Target Audience

This section will describe who your customer segments are in detail. What is the demographic and psychographic information of your audience?

If your immediate answer is "everyone," you'll need to dig deeper. Ask yourself:

  • What demographics will most likely need/buy your product or service?
  • What are the psychographics of this audience? (Desires, triggering events, etc.)
  • Why are your offerings valuable to them?

It can be helpful to build a buyer persona to get in the mindset of your ideal customers and be clear on why you're targeting them.

Target Audience Business Plan Example

The example below uses in-depth research to draw conclusions about audience priorities. It also analyzes how to create the right content for this audience.

Business plans examples: Target Audience

Tips for Writing Your Target Audience Section

  • Include details on the size and growth potential of your target audience.
  • Figure out and refine the pain points for your target audience , then show why your product is a useful solution.
  • Describe your targeted customer acquisition strategy in detail.
  • Share anticipated challenges your business may face in acquiring customers and how you plan to address them.
  • Add case studies, testimonials, and other data to support your target audience ideas.
  • Remember to consider niche audiences and segments of your target audience in your business plan.

5. Marketing Strategy

Here, you'll discuss how you'll acquire new customers with your marketing strategy. You might consider including information on:

  • The brand positioning vision and how you'll cultivate it
  • The goal targets you aim to achieve
  • The metrics you'll use to measure success
  • The channels and distribution tactics you'll use

It can help to already have a marketing plan built out to help you with this part of your business plan.

Marketing Strategy Business Plan Example

This business plan example includes the marketing strategy for the town of Gawler. It offers a comprehensive picture of how it plans to use digital marketing to promote the community.

Business plans examples: Marketing Strategy

Tips for Writing Your Marketing Strategy

  • Include a section about how you believe your brand vision will appeal to customers.
  • Add the budget and resources you'll need to put your plan in place.
  • Outline strategies for specific marketing segments.
  • Connect strategies to earlier sections like target audience and competitive analysis.
  • Review how your marketing strategy will scale with the growth of your business.
  • Cover a range of channels and tactics to highlight your ability to adapt your plan in the face of change.

6. Key Features and Benefits

At some point in your business plan, you'll review the key features and benefits of your products and/or services. Laying these out can give readers an idea of how you're positioning yourself in the market and the messaging you're likely to use . It can even help them gain better insight into your business model.

Key Features and Benefits Business Plan Example

The example below outlines products and services for this business, along with why these qualities will attract the audience.

Business plans examples: Key Features and Benefits

Tips for Writing Your Key Features and Benefits

  • Emphasize why and how your product or service offers value to customers.
  • Use metrics and testimonials to support the ideas in this section.
  • Talk about how your products and services have the potential to scale.
  • Think about including a product roadmap.
  • Focus on customer needs, and how the features and benefits you are sharing meet those needs.
  • Offer proof of concept for your ideas, like case studies or pilot program feedback.
  • Proofread this section carefully, and remove any jargon or complex language.

7. Pricing and Revenue

This is where you'll discuss your cost structure and various revenue streams. Your pricing strategy must be solid enough to turn a profit while staying competitive in the industry. For this reason, you might outline:

  • The specific pricing breakdowns per product or service
  • Why your pricing is higher or lower than your competition's
  • (If higher) Why customers would be willing to pay more
  • (If lower) How you're able to offer your products or services at a lower cost
  • When you expect to break even, what margins do you expect, etc?

Pricing and Revenue Business Plan Example

This business plan example begins with an overview of the business revenue model, then shows proposed pricing for key products.

Business plans examples: Pricing and Revenue

Tips for Writing Your Pricing and Revenue Section

  • Get specific about your pricing strategy. Specifically, how you connect that strategy to customer needs and product value.
  • If you are asking a premium price, share unique features or innovations that justify that price point.
  • Show how you plan to communicate pricing to customers.
  • Create an overview of every revenue stream for your business and how each stream adds to your business model as a whole.
  • Share plans to develop new revenue streams in the future.
  • Show how and whether pricing will vary by customer segment and how pricing aligns with marketing strategies.
  • Restate your value proposition and explain how it aligns with your revenue model.

8. Financials

This section is particularly informative for investors and leadership teams to figure out funding strategies, investment opportunities, and more. According to Forbes , you'll want to include three main things:

  • Profit/Loss Statement - This answers the question of whether your business is currently profitable.
  • Cash Flow Statement - This details exactly how much cash is incoming and outgoing to give insight into how much cash a business has on hand.
  • Balance Sheet - This outlines assets, liabilities, and equity, which gives insight into how much a business is worth.

While some business plans might include more or less information, these are the key details you'll want to include.

Financials Business Plan Example

This balance sheet example shows the level of detail you will need to include in the financials section of your business plan:

Business plans examples: Financials

Tips for Writing Your Financials Section

  • Growth potential is important in this section too. Using your data, create a forecast of financial performance in the next three to five years.
  • Include any data that supports your projections to assure investors of the credibility of your proposal.
  • Add a break-even analysis to show that your business plan is financially practical. This information can also help you pivot quickly as your business grows.
  • Consider adding a section that reviews potential risks and how sensitive your plan is to changes in the market.
  • Triple-check all financial information in your plan for accuracy.
  • Show how any proposed funding needs align with your plans for growth.

As you create your business plan, keep in mind that each of these sections will be formatted differently. Some may be in paragraph format, while others could be charts or graphs.

Business Plan Types

The formats above apply to most types of business plans. That said, the format and structure of your plan will vary by your goals for that plan. So, we’ve added a quick review of different business plan types. For a more detailed overview, check out this post .

1. Startups

Startup business plans are for proposing new business ideas.

If you’re planning to start a small business, preparing a business plan is crucial. The plan should include all the major factors of your business. You can check out this guide for more detailed business plan inspiration .

2. Feasibility Studies

Feasibility business plans focus on that business's product or service. Feasibility plans are sometimes added to startup business plans. They can also be a new business plan for an already thriving organization.

3. Internal Use

You can use internal business plans to share goals, strategies, or performance updates with stakeholders. Internal business plans are useful for alignment and building support for ambitious goals.

4. Strategic Initiatives

Another business plan that's often for sharing internally is a strategic business plan. This plan covers long-term business objectives that might not have been included in the startup business plan.

5. Business Acquisition or Repositioning

When a business is moving forward with an acquisition or repositioning, it may need extra structure and support. These types of business plans expand on a company's acquisition or repositioning strategy.

Growth sometimes just happens as a business continues operations. But more often, a business needs to create a structure with specific targets to meet set goals for expansion. This business plan type can help a business focus on short-term growth goals and align resources with those goals.

Sample Business Plan Templates

Now that you know what's included and how to format a business plan, let's review some templates.

1. HubSpot's One-Page Business Plan

Download a free, editable one-page business plan template..

The business plan linked above was created here at HubSpot and is perfect for businesses of any size — no matter how many strategies we still have to develop.

Fields such as Company Description, Required Funding, and Implementation Timeline give this one-page business plan a framework for how to build your brand and what tasks to keep track of as you grow. Then, as the business matures, you can expand on your original business plan with a new iteration of the above document.

Why We Like It

This one-page business plan is a fantastic choice for the new business owner who doesn’t have the time or resources to draft a full-blown business plan. It includes all the essential sections in an accessible, bullet-point-friendly format. That way, you can get the broad strokes down before honing in on the details.

2. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

Sample business plan: hubspot free editable pdf

We also created a business plan template for entrepreneurs.

The template is designed as a guide and checklist for starting your own business. You’ll learn what to include in each section of your business plan and how to do it. There’s also a list for you to check off when you finish each section of your business plan.

Strong game plans help coaches win games and help businesses rocket to the top of their industries. So if you dedicate the time and effort required to write a workable and convincing business plan, you’ll boost your chances of success and even dominance in your market.

This business plan kit is essential for the budding entrepreneur who needs a more extensive document to share with investors and other stakeholders. It not only includes sections for your executive summary, product line, market analysis, marketing plan, and sales plan, but it also offers hands-on guidance for filling out those sections.

3. LiveFlow’s Financial Planning Template with built-in automation

Sample Business Plan: LiveFLow

This free template from LiveFlow aims to make it easy for businesses to create a financial plan and track their progress on a monthly basis. The P&L Budget versus Actual format allows users to track their revenue, cost of sales, operating expenses, operating profit margin, net profit, and more.

The summary dashboard aggregates all of the data put into the financial plan sheet and will automatically update when changes are made. Instead of wasting hours manually importing your data to your spreadsheet, LiveFlow can also help you to automatically connect your accounting and banking data directly to your spreadsheet, so your numbers are always up-to-date.

With the dashboard, you can view your runway, cash balance, burn rate, gross margins, and other metrics. Having a simple way to track everything in one place will make it easier to complete the financials section of your business plan.

This is a fantastic template to track performance and alignment internally and to create a dependable process for documenting financial information across the business. It’s highly versatile and beginner-friendly. It’s especially useful if you don’t have an accountant on the team. (We always recommend you do, but for new businesses, having one might not be possible.)

4. ThoughtCo’s Sample Business Plan

sample business plan: ThoughtCo.

One of the more financially oriented sample business plans in this list, BPlan’s free business plan template dedicates many of its pages to your business’s financial plan and financial statements.

After filling this business plan out, your company will truly understand its financial health and the steps you need to take to maintain or improve it.

We absolutely love this business plan template because of its ease-of-use and hands-on instructions (in addition to its finance-centric components). If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of writing an entire business plan, consider using this template to help you with the process.

6. Harvard Business Review’s "How to Write a Winning Business Plan"

Most sample business plans teach you what to include in your business plan, but this Harvard Business Review article will take your business plan to the next level — it teaches you the why and how behind writing a business plan.

With the guidance of Stanley Rich and Richard Gumpert, co-authors of " Business Plans That Win: Lessons From the MIT Enterprise Forum ", you'll learn how to write a convincing business plan that emphasizes the market demand for your product or service. You’ll also learn the financial benefits investors can reap from putting money into your venture rather than trying to sell them on how great your product or service is.

This business plan guide focuses less on the individual parts of a business plan, and more on the overarching goal of writing one. For that reason, it’s one of our favorites to supplement any template you choose to use. Harvard Business Review’s guide is instrumental for both new and seasoned business owners.

7. HubSpot’s Complete Guide to Starting a Business

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know writing a business plan is one of the most challenging first steps to starting a business. Fortunately, with HubSpot's comprehensive guide to starting a business, you'll learn how to map out all the details by understanding what to include in your business plan and why it’s important to include them. The guide also fleshes out an entire sample business plan for you.

If you need further guidance on starting a business, HubSpot's guide can teach you how to make your business legal, choose and register your business name, and fund your business. It will also give small business tax information and includes marketing, sales, and service tips.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process of starting a business, in addition to writing your business plan, with a high level of exactitude and detail. So if you’re in the midst of starting your business, this is an excellent guide for you. It also offers other resources you might need, such as market analysis templates.

8. Panda Doc’s Free Business Plan Template

sample business plan: Panda Doc

PandaDoc’s free business plan template is one of the more detailed and fleshed-out sample business plans on this list. It describes what you should include in each section, so you don't have to come up with everything from scratch.

Once you fill it out, you’ll fully understand your business’ nitty-gritty details and how all of its moving parts should work together to contribute to its success.

This template has two things we love: comprehensiveness and in-depth instructions. Plus, it’s synced with PandaDoc’s e-signature software so that you and other stakeholders can sign it with ease. For that reason, we especially love it for those starting a business with a partner or with a board of directors.

9. Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

sample business plan: Small Business Administration

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several free business plan templates that can be used to inspire your own plan. Before you get started, you can decide what type of business plan you need — a traditional or lean start-up plan.

Then, you can review the format for both of those plans and view examples of what they might look like.

We love both of the SBA’s templates because of their versatility. You can choose between two options and use the existing content in the templates to flesh out your own plan. Plus, if needed, you can get a free business counselor to help you along the way.

Top Business Plan Examples

Here are some completed business plan samples to get an idea of how to customize a plan for your business. We’ve chosen different types of business plan ideas to expand your imagination. Some are extensive, while others are fairly simple.

Take a look.

1. LiveFlow

business plan example: liveflow

One of the major business expenses is marketing. How you handle your marketing reflects your company’s revenue. We included this business plan to show you how you can ensure your marketing team is aligned with your overall business plan to get results. The plan also shows you how to track even the smallest metrics of your campaigns, like ROI and payback periods instead of just focusing on big metrics like gross and revenue.

Fintech startup, LiveFlow, allows users to sync real-time data from its accounting services, payment platforms, and banks into custom reports. This eliminates the task of pulling reports together manually, saving teams time and helping automate workflows.

When it came to including marketing strategy in its business plan, LiveFlow created a separate marketing profit and loss statement (P&L) to track how well the company was doing with its marketing initiatives. This is a great approach, allowing businesses to focus on where their marketing dollars are making the most impact.

"Using this framework over a traditional marketing plan will help you set a profitable marketing strategy taking things like CAC, LTV, Payback period, and P&L into consideration," explains LiveFlow co-founder, Lasse Kalkar .

Having this information handy will enable you to build out your business plan’s marketing section with confidence. LiveFlow has shared the template here . You can test it for yourself.

2. Lula Body

Business plan example: Lula body

Sometimes all you need is a solid mission statement and core values to guide you on how to go about everything. You do this by creating a business plan revolving around how to fulfill your statement best. For example, Patagonia is an eco-friendly company, so their plan discusses how to make the best environmentally friendly products without causing harm.

A good mission statement should not only resonate with consumers but should also serve as a core value compass for employees as well.

Outdoor clothing retailer, Patagonia, has one of the most compelling mission statements we’ve seen:

"Together, let’s prioritise purpose over profit and protect this wondrous planet, our only home."

It reels you in from the start, and the environmentally friendly theme continues throughout the rest of the statement.

This mission goes on to explain that they are out to "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to protect nature."

Their mission statement is compelling and detailed, with each section outlining how they will accomplish their goal.

4. Vesta Home Automation

business plan example: Vesta executive summary

This is the kind of business plan you need when applying for business funds. It clearly illustrates the expected future of the company and how the business has been coming along over the years.

This executive summary for a smart home device startup is part of a business plan created by students at Mount Royal University . While it lacks some of the sleek visuals of the templates above, its executive summary does a great job of demonstrating how invested they are in the business.

Right away, they mention they’ve invested $200,000 into the company already, which shows investors they have skin in the game and aren’t just looking for someone else to foot the bill.

5. NALB Creative Center

business plan examples: nalb creative center

This fictional business plan for an art supply store includes everything one might need in a business plan: an executive summary, a company summary, a list of services, a market analysis summary, and more. Due to its comprehensiveness, it’s an excellent example to follow if you’re opening a brick-and-mortar store and need to get external funding to start your business .

One of its most notable sections is its market analysis summary, which includes an overview of the population growth in the business’ target geographical area, as well as a breakdown of the types of potential customers they expect to welcome at the store. This sort of granular insight is essential for understanding and communicating your business’s growth potential. Plus, it lays a strong foundation for creating relevant and useful buyer personas .

It’s essential to keep this information up-to-date as your market and target buyer changes. For that reason, you should carry out market research as often as possible to ensure that you’re targeting the correct audience and sharing accurate information with your investors.

6. Curriculum Companion Suites (CSS)

business plan examples: curriculum companion suites

If you’re looking for a SaaS business plan example, look no further than this business plan for a fictional educational software company called Curriculum Companion Suites. Like the business plan for the NALB Creative Center, it includes plenty of information for prospective investors and other key stakeholders in the business.

One of the most notable features of this business plan is the executive summary, which includes an overview of the product, market, and mission. The first two are essential for software companies because the product offering is so often at the forefront of the company’s strategy. Without that information being immediately available to investors and executives, then you risk writing an unfocused business plan.

It’s also essential to front-load your company’s mission if it explains your "Why?" In other words, why do you do what you do, and why should stakeholders care? This is an important section to include if you feel that your mission will drive interest in the business and its offerings.

7. Culina Sample Business Plan

sample business plan: Culina

Culina's sample business plan is an excellent example of how to lay out your business plan so that it flows naturally, engages readers, and provides the critical information investors and stakeholders need. You can also use this template as a guide while you're gathering important details. After looking at this sample, you'll have a better understanding of the data and research you need to do for your own business plan.

8. Plum Sample Business Plan

Sample business plan: Plum

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How to Write a Winning Business Plan

  • Stanley R. Rich
  • David E. Gumpert

The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won’t even grant an interview. And the plan must be outstanding if it is to win investment funds. Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat […]

The Idea in Brief

You’ve got a great idea for a new product or service—how can you persuade investors to support it? Flashy PowerPoint slides aren’t enough; you need a winning business plan. A compelling plan accurately reflects the viewpoints of your three key constituencies: the market , potential investors , and the producer (the entrepreneur or inventor of the new offering).

But too many plans are written solely from the perspective of the producer. The problem is that, unless you’ve got your own capital to finance your venture, the only way you’ll get the funding you need is to satisfy the market’s and investors’ needs.

Here’s how to grab their attention.

The Idea in Practice

Emphasize Market Needs

To make a convincing case that a substantial market exists, establish market interest and document your claims.

Establish market interest. Provide evidence that customers are intrigued by your claims about the benefits of the new product or service:

  • Let some customers use a product prototype; then get written evaluations.
  • Offer the product to a few potential customers at a deep discount if they pay part of the production cost. This lets you determine whether potential buyers even exist.
  • Use “reference installations”—statements from initial users, sales reps, distributors, and would-be customers who have seen the product demonstrated.

Document your claims. You’ve established market interest. Now use data to support your assertions about potential growth rates of sales and profits.

  • Specify the number of potential customers, the size of their businesses, and the size that is most appropriate to your offering. Remember: Bigger isn’t necessarily better; e.g., saving $10,000 per year in chemical use may mean a lot to a modest company but not to a Du Pont.
  • Show the nature of the industry; e.g., franchised weight-loss clinics might grow fast, but they can decline rapidly when competition stiffens. State how you will continually innovate to survive.
  • Project realistic growth rates at which customers will accept—and buy—your offering. From there, assemble a credible sales plan and project plant and staffing needs.

Address Investor Needs

Cashing out. Show when and how investors may liquidate their holdings. Venture capital firms usually want to cash out in three to seven years; professional investors look for a large capital appreciation.

Making sound projections. Give realistic, five-year forecasts of profitability. Don’t skimp on the numbers, get overly optimistic about them, or blanket your plan with a smog of figures covering every possible variation.

The price. To figure out how much to invest in your offering, investors calculate your company’s value on the basis of results expected five years after they invest. They’ll want a 35 to 40% return for mature companies—up to 60% for less mature ventures. To make a convincing case for a rich return, get a product in the hands of representative customers—and demonstrate substantial market interest.

A comprehensive, carefully thought-out business plan is essential to the success of entrepreneurs and corporate managers. Whether you are starting up a new business, seeking additional capital for existing product lines, or proposing a new activity in a corporate division, you will never face a more challenging writing assignment than the preparation of a business plan.

completed business plan

  • SR Mr. Rich has helped found seven technologically based businesses, the most recent being Advanced Energy Dynamics Inc. of Natick, Massachusetts. He is also a cofounder and has been chairman of the MIT Enterprise forum, which assists emerging growth companies.
  • DG Mr. Gumpert is an associate editor of HBR, where he specializes in small business and marketing. He has written several HBR articles, the most recent of which was “The Heart of Entrepreneurship,” coauthored by Howard. H. Stevenson (March–April 1985). This article is adapted from Business Plans That Win $$$ : Lessons from the MIT Enterprise Forum, by Messrs. Rich and Gumpert (Harper & Row, 1985). The authors are also founders of Venture Resource Associates of Grantham, New Hampshire, which provides planning and strategic services to growing enterprises.

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Finish your plan faster with step-by-step guidance, financial wizards, and a proven format.

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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:

Executive summary

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.

Market analysis

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.

Competition

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.

Financial projections

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

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

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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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Example Layout & Format of a Business Plan

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The challenges of the current economic climate have tightened the banks lending criteria, so the demands of having a professional business plan have only strengthened.

Having such a plan improves your chances of success with your bank and helps your financial prospects over the longer term.

The Contents Required in Every Plan

The structure laid out below is what you should have as a minimum in your plan. It’s unwise to go overboard with the volume of your document because lenders just won’t read the information.

The majority of people that receive your plan are likely to have minimal understanding of you or your business idea, so you need to be concise and get to the point fast.

For most businesses, a 20-page document is sufficient to explain the journey of how you’re going to get started and reach your profit objectives. The planning structure falls into four distinct areas:

If you require a bank loan, then include the timings on repayments in your financial forecasts. Many people forget to add this section, and it often presents a big hole in the cash flow forecast which may lead to the rejection of your loan application.

The Basic Structure in 7 Steps

Below are the main headings required by lenders. Each section requires one or two pages of A4. Add appendices at the end of the document for any detailed analysis that adds clarity to your projections.

1) Executive Summary

The executive summary is the first page of a plan summarising the following subsequent pages. It’s effectively a concise and condensed version of the entire document and is usually the final section completed.

2) External Analysis

The external analysis includes economic, competitor and market size together with the latest market research and trends. Most of this data is freely available from credible sources. Always quote the source of any material that’s referenced to aid credibility.

3) Internal Analysis

Your internal analysis contains information about your business, products, costs and profit margins.

4) SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is the summary of the preceding two sections highlighting relative internal strengths and weaknesses together with external opportunities and threats.

5) Commercial Aspects

The Sales and Marketing section details the exact plans you have for your sales team and the marketing activities you’ll undertake.

6) Staff and Management Team

The staffing and management team section lists the people behind the brand so add in biographies of the key players.

7) Financial Plans

Financial statements contain detailed forecasts for the first 12 months then yearly for years two and three. You should include a Profit and Loss Account, a Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Forecast in this section.

You should write the executive summary at the end once all other elements are in place. More detail should be developed for your first 12 months of operation because these are the most critical year in your history. If you can’t succeed in the first year, then it’s unlikely that years two and three matter as much.

The Important Elements

For most banks, they’ll read the executive summary first then look at the detail of your numbers. They’ll probably have most questions about your finances so make sure they stand up to scrutiny.

If financial projections are not your forte, then get qualified help. In all cases, you should ensure you can adequately demonstrate the construction of the forecasts so you can answer questions about them. If required, take along an accountant to any investor or loan application meetings.

Getting Help

Although planning can seem a chore, it pays dividends further down the line to complete this exercise.

As it’s your business with your ideas, it’s always better to manage and execute the process yourself rather than use a third-party.

There will be many questions asked if you’re applying for finance and if someone else has constructed your plan you may not have the answers.

There are software packages available to help speed you through the process. All banks offer basic free software although most have limited help to complete the sections required.

Once you have a draft copy ready, get people you trust to critique your work. Read the contents out loud as though it were a company presentation. Get people to ask you questions then you’ll be more prepared than most other businesses requiring finance.

Obtaining External Data

Not all the data you require will be readily available for free. However, many industry reports are available online by spending time wisely. Some of the largest brands post proprietary research in their annual reports, and many research companies post summaries of their findings online.

Template library

  • Business plan course
  • Structure of a plan
  • Preparing a plan
  • The executive summary
  • Cash flow calculator
  • SWOT analysis
  • Business glossary
  • Marketing template
  • Sales template

Simple Business Plan Templates

By Joe Weller | April 2, 2020

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In this article, we’ve compiled a variety of simple business plan templates, all of which are free to download in PDF, Word, and Excel formats.

On this page, you’ll find a one-page business plan template , a simple business plan for startups , a small-business plan template , a business plan outline , and more. We also include a business plan sample and the main components of a business plan to help get you started.

Simple Business Plan Template

Simple Business Plan Template

Download Simple Business Plan Template

This simple business plan template lays out each element of a traditional business plan to assist you as you build your own, and it provides space to add financing information for startups seeking funding. You can use and customize this simple business plan template to fit the needs for organizations of any size.

One-Page Business Plan Template

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Download One-Page Business Plan Template

Excel | Word | PDF  | Smartsheet

Use this one-page business plan to document your key ideas in an organized manner. The template can help you create a high-level view of your business plan, and it provides easy scannability for stakeholders. You can use this one-page plan as a reference to build a more detailed blueprint for your business. 

For additional single page plans, take a look at " One-Page Business Plan Templates with a Quick How-To Guide ."

Simple Fill-in-the-Blank Business Plan Template

Simple Fill In The Blank Business Plan Template

Download Simple Fill-in-the-Blank Business Plan Template

Use this fill-in-the-blank business plan template to guide you as you build your business plan. Each section comes pre-filled with sample content, with space to add customized verbiage relevant to your product or service.

For additional free, downloadable resources, visit " Free Fill-In-the-Blank Business Plan Templates ."

Simple Business Plan for Startup

Start-Up Business Plan Template

‌ Download Startup Business Plan Template — Word

This business plan template is designed with a startup business in mind and contains the essential elements needed to convey key product or service details to investors and stakeholders. Keep all your information organized with this template, which provides space to include an executive summary, a company overview, competitive analysis, a marketing strategy, financial data, and more. For additional resources, visit " Free Startup Business Plan Templates and Examples ."

Simple Small-Business Plan Template

Small Business Plan Template

Download Simple Small-Business Plan Template

This template walks you through each component of a small-business plan, including the company background, the introduction of the management team, market analysis, product or service offerings, a financial plan, and more. This template also comes with a built-in table of contents to keep your plan in order, and it can be customized to fit your requirements.

Lean Business Plan Template

Lean Business Plan Template

Download Lean Business Plan Template

This lean business plan template is a stripped-down version of a traditional business plan that provides only the most essential aspects. Briefly outline your company and industry overview, along with the problem you are solving, as well as your unique value proposition, target market, and key performance metrics. There is also room to list out a timeline of key activities.

Simple Business Plan Outline Template

Simple Business Plan Outline Template

Download Simple Business Plan Outline Template

Word  | PDF

Use this simple business plan outline as a basis to create your own business plan. This template contains 11 sections, including a title page and a table of contents, which details what each section should cover in a traditional business plan. Simplify or expand this outline to create the foundation for a business plan that fits your business needs.

Simple Business Planning Template with Timeline

Simple Business Planning Template with Timeline

Download Simple Business Planning Template with Timeline

Excel | Smartsheet

This template doubles as a project plan and timeline to track progress as you develop your business plan. This business planning template enables you to break down your work into phases and provides room to add key tasks and dates for each activity. Easily fill in the cells according to the start and end dates to create a visual timeline, as well as to ensure your plan stays on track.

Simple Business Plan Rubric Template

completed business plan

Download Simple Business Plan Rubric

Excel | Word | PDF | Smartsheet

Once you complete your business plan, use this business plan rubric template to assess and score each component of your plan. This rubric helps you identify elements of your plan that meet or exceed requirements and pinpoint areas where you need to improve or further elaborate. This template is an invaluable tool to ensure your business plan clearly defines your goals, objectives, and plan of action in order to gain buy-in from potential investors, stakeholders, and partners.

Basic Business Plan Sample

Basic Business Plan Sample

Download Basic Business Plan Sample

This business plan sample serves as an example of a basic business plan that contains all the traditional components. The sample provides a model of what a business plan might look like for a fictional food truck business. Reference this sample as you develop your own business plan.

For additional resources to help support your business planning efforts, check out “ Free Strategic Planning Templates .”

Main Components of a Business Plan

The elements you include in your business plan will depend on your product or service offerings, as well as the size and needs of your business. 

Below are the components of a standard business plan and details you should include in each section:

  • Company name and contact information
  • Website address
  • The name of the company or individual viewing the presentation
  • Table of Contents
  • Company background and purpose
  • Mission and vision statement
  • Management team introduction
  • Core product and service offerings
  • Target customers and segments
  • Marketing plan
  • Competitive analysis
  • Unique value proposition
  • Financial plan (and requirements, if applicable)
  • Business and industry overview
  • Historical timeline of your business
  • Offerings and the problem they solve
  • Current alternatives
  • Competitive advantage
  • Market size
  • Target market segment(s)
  • Projected volume and value of sales compared to competitors
  • Differentiation from competitors
  • Pricing strategy
  • Marketing channels
  • Promotional plan
  • Distribution methods
  • Legal structure of your business
  • Names of founders, owners, advisors, etc.
  • Management team’s roles, relevant experience, and compensation plan
  • Staffing requirements and training plans
  • Physical location(s) of your business
  • Additional physical requirements (e.g., warehouse, specialized equipment, facilities, etc.)
  • Production workflow
  • Raw materials and sourcing methods
  • Projected income statement
  • Projected cash flow statement
  • Projected balance sheet
  • Break-even analysis
  • Charts and graphs
  • Market research and competitive analysis
  • Information about your industry
  • Information about your offerings
  • Samples of marketing materials
  • Other supporting materials

Tips for Creating a Business Plan

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the thought of putting together a business plan. Below, you’ll find top tips to help simplify the process as you develop your own plan. 

  • Use a business plan template (you can choose from the variety above), or refer to the previous section to create a standard outline for your plan.
  • Modify your outline to reflect the requirements of your specific business. If you use a standard business plan outline, remove sections that aren’t relevant to you or aren’t necessary to run your business.
  • Gather all the information you currently have about your business first, and then use that information to fill out each section in your plan outline.
  • Use your resources and conduct additional research to fill in the remaining gaps. (Note: It isn’t necessary to fill out your plan in order, but the executive summary needs to be completed last, as it summarizes the key points in your plan.)
  • Ensure your plan clearly communicates the relationship between your marketing, sales, and financial objectives.
  • Provide details in your plan that illustrate your strategic plan of action, looking forward three to five years.
  • Revisit your plan regularly as strategies and objectives evolve.
  • What product or service are we offering?
  • Who is the product or service for?
  • What problem does our product or service offering solve?
  • How will we get the product or service to our target customers?
  • Why is our product or service better than the alternatives?
  • How can we outperform our competitors?
  • What is our unique value proposition?
  • When will things get done, and who is responsible for doing them?
  • If you need to obtain funding, how will you use the funding?
  • When are payments due, and when do payments come in?
  • What is the ultimate purpose of your business?
  • When do you expect to be profitable?

To identify which type of business plan you should write, and for more helpful tips, take a look at our guide to writing a simple business plan .

Benefits of Using a Business Plan Template

Creating a business plan can be very time-consuming, especially if you aren’t sure where to begin. Finding the right template for your business needs can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. 

Using a business plan template — instead of creating your plan from scratch — can benefit you in the following ways:

  • Enables you to immediately write down your thoughts and ideas in an organized manner
  • Provides structure to help outline your plan
  • Saves time and valuable resources
  • Helps ensure you don’t miss essential details

Limitations of a Business Plan Template

A business plan template can be convenient, but it has its drawbacks — especially if you use a template that doesn’t fit the specific needs of your business.

Below are some limitations of using a business plan template:

  • Each business is unique and needs a business plan that reflects that. A template may not fit your needs.
  • A template may restrict collaboration with other team members on different aspects of the plan’s development (sales, marketing, and accounting teams).
  • Multiple files containing different versions of the plan may be stored in more than one place.
  • You still have to manually create charts and graphs to add to the plan to support your strategy.
  • Updates to the plan, spreadsheets, and supporting documents have to be made in multiple places (all documents may not update in real time as changes are made).

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The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. 

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.  Try Smartsheet for free, today.

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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.

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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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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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