4 Steps to Creating a Financial Plan for Your Small Business
When it comes to long-term business success, preparation is the name of the game. And the key to that preparation is a solid financial plan. It helps you pitch investors, anticipate growth and weather cash flow shortages. To get started, you need to learn some of the key elements to financial planning.
What is a Financial Plan?
A financial plan helps determine if an idea is sustainable, and then keeps you on track to financial health as your business matures. It’s an integral part to an overall business plan and is made up of three financial statements—cash flow statement, income statement and balance sheet. In your plan, each of these will include a brief explanation or analysis.
- A financial plan helps you know where your business stands and lets you make better informed decisions about resource allocation.
- A financial plan has three major components: a cash flow projection , income statement and balance sheet.
- Your financial plan answers essential questions to set and track progress toward goals.
- Using financial management software gives you the tools to make strategic decisions efficiently.
Why is a Financial Plan Important to Your Small Business?
A well-put-together financial plan can help you achieve greater confidence in your business while generating a better understanding of how to allocate resources. It shows your business is committed to spending wisely and its ability to meet financial obligations. A financial plan helps you determine if choices will impact revenue and which occasions call for dipping into reserve funds.
It’s also an important tool when asking investors to consider your business. Your financial plan shows how your organization manages expenses and generates revenue. It shows where your business stands and how much it needs from sales and investors to meet important financial benchmarks.
Components of a Small Business Financial Plan
Whether you’re modifying your plan or starting from scratch, a financial plan should include:
Income statement: This shows how your business experienced profit or loss over a specific period—usually over three months. Also known as a profit-and-loss statement (P&L) or pro forma income statement, it lists the following:
- Cost of sale or cost of goods (how much does it costs to produce your goods or services?)
- Operating expenses like rent and utilities
- Revenue streams, usually in the form of sales
- Amount of total net profit or loss, also known as a gross margin
Balance sheet: Rather than looking backward or peering into the future, the balance sheet helps you see where you stand right now. What do you own and what do you owe? To figure it out, you’ll need to consider the following:
- Assets: How much cash, goods and resources do you have available?
- Liabilities: What do you owe to suppliers, personnel, landlords, creditors, etc.?
Shareholder equity (the amount of money generated by your business): Use this formula to calculate it:
Shareholder Equity = Assets – Liability
Now that you have these three items, you’re ready to create your balance sheet. And just as the name implies, when complete, you’ll want this to balance out to zero. On one side, list your assets, such as cash on hand. And on the other side list your liabilities and equity (or how much money is generated by the business). The balance sheet is used along the other financial statements in order to calculate business financial ratios, discussed further below.
Why have a balance sheet? It can provide insight into your business and show important measures like how much cash you have, what your obligations are and what kind of profit you’re making all at a glance.
Personnel plan: You need the right people to meet goals and retain a healthy cash flow. A personnel plan looks at existing positions and helps you see when it’s time to bring on more team members, and whether they should be full-time, part-time, or work on a contractual basis. It looks at compensations levels, including benefits, and forecasts those costs. By looking at growth and costs you can see if the potential benefits that come with a new employee justify the expense.
Business ratios: Sometimes you need to look at more than just the big picture. You need to drill down to specific aspects of your business and keep an eye on how individual areas are doing. Business ratios are a way to see things like your net profit margin, return on equity, accounts payable turnover, assets to sales, working capital and total debt to total assets. Numbers used to calculate these ratios come from your P&L statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement and are often used to help request funding from a bank or investors.
Sales forecast: How much will you sell in a specific period? A sales forecast needs to be an ongoing part of any planning process since it helps predict cash flow and the organization’s overall health. A forecast needs to be consistent with the sales number within your P&L statement. Organizing and segmenting your sales forecast will depend on how thoroughly you want to track sales and the business you have. For example, if you own a hotel and giftshop, you may want to track separately sales from guests staying the night and sales from the shop.
Cash flow projection: Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of your financial plan is your cash flow statement . Your business runs on cash. Understanding how much cash is coming in and when to expect it shows the difference between your profit and cash position. It should display how much cash you have now, where it’s going, where it will come from and a schedule for each activity.
Income projections: How much money will your company make in a given period, usually a year. Take that and then subtract the anticipated expenses and you’ll have the income projections . In some cases, these are rolled into profit and loss statements.
Assets and liabilities: Both of these elements are part of your balance sheet. Assets are what your company owns, including current and long-term assets. Current assets can be converted into cash within a year. Think of things such as stocks, inventory and accounts receivable. Long-term assets are tangible or fixed assets designed for long-term use like furniture, fixtures, buildings, machinery and vehicles.
Liabilities are business obligations that are divided into current and long-term categories. Examples of current liabilities in a financial plan are accrued payroll, taxes payable, short-term loans and other obligations due within a year. Long-term liabilities include shareholder loans or bank debt that matures more than a year later.
Break-even analysis: Your break-even point—how much you need to sell to cover all your expenses—will guide your sales revenue and volume goals. Start by calculating your contribution margin by subtracting the costs of a good or service from the amount you pay. In the case of a bicycle store, the sale price of a new bike minus what you paid for it and the salary of your bike salesperson, your rent, etc. By understanding your fixed costs, you can then begin to understand how much you’ll need to markup goods and services and what sales and revenue goals to set in order to stay afloat or turn a profit.
Video: How to Build a Financial Plan
Create a strategic plan: Starting with a strategic plan helps you think about what you want your company to accomplish. Before looking at the numbers, think about what you’ll need to achieve these goals. Will you need to buy more equipment or hire more staff? Is there a chance of new goals affecting your cash flow? What other resources will you need?
Determine the impact on your company’s finances and create a list of existing expenses and assets to help with your next steps.
Create financial projections: This should be based on anticipated expenses and sales forecasts . Look at your goals and plug in the costs needed to achieve them. Include different scenarios. Create a range that is optimistic, pessimistic and most likely to happen, so you can anticipate the impact each one will have. If you’re working with an accountant, go over the plan together to understand how to explain it when seeking funding from investors and lenders.
Plan for contingencies: Look at your cash flow statement and assets, and create a plan for when there’s no money coming in or your business has taken an unexpected turn. Consider having cash reserves or a substantial line of credit if you need cash fast. You may also need to plot ways to sell off assets to help break even.
Monitor and compare goals: Look at the actual results in your cash flow statement, income projections and even business ratios as necessary throughout the year to see if you need to modify your plan or if you’re right on target. Regularly checking in helps you spot potential problems before they get worse.
Three Questions Your Financial Plan Should Answer
Once you’ve created your plan, you should have answers to the following questions:
- How will your business make money?
- What does your business need to get off of the ground?
- What is the operating budget ?
Financial plans that can’t answer these questions need more tweaking. Otherwise, you risk starting a new venture without a clear path and leave behind valuable insight.
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Whether you’re looking to secure outside funding or just monitor your business growth, understanding and creating a financial plan is crucial. Once you have an overview of your business’ finances, you can make strategic decisions to ensure its longevity.
Small Business Financial Management: Tips, Importance and Challenges
It is remarkably difficult to start a small business. Only about half stay open for five years, and only a third make it to the 10-year mark. That’s why it’s vital to make every effort to succeed. And one of the most fundamental skills and tools for any small business owner is sound financial management.
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It's good to know in advance whether your business is going to be profitable. A financial plan can help you make things clearer for yourself. Also when you applying for a loan, your bank or financier will want to see you financial plan.
The financial plan
A financial plan is a useful tool for determining whether your business idea is viable. It will demonstrate the costs and what is needed to finance them. And it is useful for convincing financiers to lend you money, and therefore forms the basis for your financial pitch.
Creating a financial plan does not have to be complicated. Base it on your business plan and keep it simple. Targeted market research and a sound marketing plan should be part of your business plan. These will help you create a solid basis for your figures.
It is important that you work out as much of your financial plan as possible yourself. Discussing it with an expert, such as your accountant, can also help you prepare for the next step – approaching financiers or investors for money.
What should a financial plan include?
A financial plan consists of five budgets that detail the minimum requirements for starting your business, the investments you will need to make and how you plan to finance them. This allows you to determine whether your business idea is viable. What turnover do you expect to generate? And will your business be profitable, or not? It also forces you to examine cash flow and whether you will have enough money each month. Answering all these questions in your business plan is the key to your success.
Your investment budget should include a list of the investments you will need to start your business and those that can wait until a later stage. This is an indicator of the minimum amount of money you will need to get started.
Your financial budget should detail how you intend to finance your investment budget. Options include personal capital (equity capital) or loans, e.g. from a bank (borrowed capital), or even a combination of the two.
Your operating budget should show that your business is profitable. This will allow you to estimate your turnover. You can then analyse the costs to keep your business running. Combining these, you can determine whether you will make a profit or a loss.
Cash flow budget
Income and expenditure can fluctuate greatly over a year. Your cash flow forecast should include all income and expenditure over a given period, e.g. per month or per quarter. This will highlight when you will have surplus cash and when you will need extra funds.
Personal expense budget
One option is to determine how much personal capital you have and then base your financial plan on your personal situation. This involves calculating how much money you will need for you and your family, how much you will have to pay in tax and what your operational costs will be. This allows you to work out your minimum turnover to make ends meet.
SME financing institution Qredits has free tools , including templates for a business plan and financial plan.
What do financiers look for?
Financiers look at both 'hard' and 'soft' factors when they analyse a credit application. Hard factors relate directly to your business and the basis upon which you plan to build it. Soft factors relate to you and your qualities as a business owner.
Prepare a good presentation that demonstrates you've familiarised yourself with the financier's use of language and information requirements. Financiers will examine your application based on the following points:
- Business owner assessment. Who is the credit applicant?
- Business owner's qualities and experience
- Quality of the business plan and its financial basis
- Company history, e.g. turnover, gross profit, cash flow, etc.
- Industry or sector. What trends and developments exist within this sector or industry?
- Type of loan. Loan size and duration
- Purpose. What will the lended money be used for?
- Strict budget and financial obligations. Do you have a clear picture of the revenues required to meet both your financial obligations – business and personal alike?
- Cost structure. Do you have a clear picture of your business's costs?
- Repayment capacity. Will you be able to meet your repayment obligations without jeopardising your business?
- Return potential. Do you have a clear picture for your business's future growth?
- Financial structure
- Personal expenditure
- Market analysis by an independent body
- Market research and industry information
- Security. What security can you offer to ensure that you'll be able to repay your financier?
How to write a financial plan
When using the financial plan to convince investors to finance your company, this is where you make your first impression. Prepare a good presentation that demonstrates you have familiarised yourself with the financier's use of language and information requirements. Start with an intro, use tables and visuals and also think of the graphic design.
- Use your own equity to finance the business as well, if you can, as this will help convince financiers and other parties.
- Negotiate the terms and conditions of your financing package. Repayment terms can be just as important as the financing package itself.
- Improve your chances of success by supporting your application with a pitch.
- Determine what financing options exist.
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How to write a financial plan for your business
Steer your business on the road to success with a solid financial plan.
A financial plan gives you a snapshot of the overall health of your business. There are 3 key financial statements that make up a business financial plan. Taking the time to prepare these at the start of your business journey can pay off in the long run.
1. Cash flow statement
Sometimes called cash flow projection, this is one of the most important steps in completing your financial plan. It details your incoming and outgoing cash and helps make sure you have enough money to keep your business running.
Try this simple cash flow formula:
- Determine the period you want to focus on (e.g. the next 3 or 6 months)
- Start with your opening cash balance
- Estimate your incoming cash and expenses for the period
- Subtract the estimated expenses from your income and add it to the opening balance
How to use your cash flow statement
You can look at your cash flow statement from previous years to determine if you’ll have enough to cover your costs, like wages and rent, over the specified period. It’s important to allow for glitches like late payments when projecting your cash flow.
2. Income statement
Also known as profit and loss statement (P&L), this shows you a clear view of your income and expenses, and how these change over a period of time.
What to include in your income statement
What goes into an income statement depends on the type of business. You should at least cover these key areas:
- Cost of goods or services
- Total profit or loss (revenue minus cost of goods/services)
- Operating costs (e.g. rent)
- General expenses (e.g. marketing, advertising, depreciation)
- Operating income (total profit minus expenses)
How to use your income statement
Estimate your sales and expenses on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis to see whether you can expect to make a profit or loss for each of these periods. This will help you develop sales targets and find ways to grow your business.
3. Balance sheet
Unlike your cash flow statement which looks at the future, and your income statements which looks at the past, your balance sheet is a financial snapshot of your business in the present.
Try this simple balance sheet formula:
- In one column list all your assets (e.g. cash, inventory, buildings)
- On the other side list your liabilities (e.g. accounts payable and loans)
- Subtract your total liabilities from your total assets to determine your equity
How to use your balance sheet
Your balance sheet can help you evaluate the financial health of your business, show your profit at a glance and work out if you’ll have enough resources to run your day-to-day operations.
Take your business financial plan to the next level
To enhance your business financial plan, consider preparing a break-even analysis. This shows you the number of sales needed to cover costs – anything above this number can be counted as a profit.
The break-even point can be useful for analysing the sales, costs and pricing numbers used in your earlier forecasts and judge whether your business idea is feasible. For example, if your break-even point is years away, you may want to revisit your numbers to see if there are any opportunities to make your business more profitable.
Once it’s ready, treat your business plan as a guide to running your business. Remember that it’s a working document, so if your goals and circumstances change, update the plan. If you need help, an accountant could help assess your prospective financial position and ensure you’ve thought through all potential income and expenses.
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Key components of a financial plan
What to include if you plan to pursue funding, financial ratios and metrics, financial plan templates and tools.
How to Write a Small Business Financial Plan
Creating a financial plan is often the most intimidating part of writing a business plan. It’s also one of the most vital. Businesses with well-structured and accurate financial statements in place are more prepared to pitch to investors, receive funding, and achieve long-term success.
Thankfully, you don’t need an accounting degree to successfully put your budget and forecasts together. Here is everything you need to include in your financial plan along with optional performance metrics, specifics for funding, and free templates.
A sound financial plan is made up of six key components that help you easily track and forecast your business financials. They include your:
What do you expect to sell in a given period? Segment and organize your sales projections with a personalized sales forecast based on your business type.
Subscription sales forecast
While not too different from traditional sales forecasts—there are a few specific terms and calculations you’ll need to know when forecasting sales for a subscription-based business.
Create, review, and revise your expense budget to keep your business on track and more easily predict future expenses.
How to forecast personnel costs
How much do your current, and future, employees’ pay, taxes, and benefits cost your business? Find out by forecasting your personnel costs.
Profit and loss forecast
Track how you make money and how much you spend by listing all of your revenue streams and expenses in your profit and loss statement.
Cash flow forecast
Manage and create projections for the inflow and outflow of cash by building a cash flow statement and forecast.
Need a snapshot of your business’s financial position? Keep an eye on your assets, liabilities, and equity within the balance sheet.
Do you plan to pursue any form of funding or financing? If the answer is yes, then there are a few additional pieces of information that you’ll need to include as part of your financial plan.
Highlight any risks and assumptions
Every entrepreneur takes risks with the biggest being assumptions and guesses about the future. Just be sure to track and address these unknowns in your plan early on.
Plan your exit strategy
Investors will want to know your long-term plans as a business owner. While you don’t need to have all the details, it’s worth taking the time to think through how you eventually plan to leave your business.
With all of your financial statements and forecasts in place, you have all the numbers needed to calculate insightful financial ratios. While these metrics are entirely optional to include in your plan, having them easily accessible can be valuable for tracking your performance and overall financial situation.
Common business ratios
Unsure of which business ratios you should be using? Check out this list of key financial ratios that bankers, financial analysts, and investors will want to see.
Do you want to know when you’ll become profitable? Find out how much you need to sell to offset your production costs by conducting a break-even analysis.
How to calculate ROI
How much could a business decision be worth? Evaluate the efficiency or profitability by calculating the potential return on investment (ROI).
Download and use these free financial templates and calculators to easily create your own financial plan.
Sales forecast template
Download a free detailed sales forecast spreadsheet, with built-in formulas, to easily estimate your first full year of monthly sales.
Accurate and easy financial forecasting
Get a full financial picture of your business with LivePlan's simple financial management tools.
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Financial plan FAQ
What is a financial plan?
A financial plan is simply an overview of your current business financials and projections for growth. Think of any documents that represent your current monetary situation as a snapshot of the health of your business and the projections being your future expectations.
Why is a financial plan important for your business?
The financial plan informs your short and long-term financial goals and gives you a starting point for developing a strategy.
It helps you, as a business owner, set realistic expectations regarding the success of your business. You’re less likely to be surprised by your current financial state and more prepared to manage a crisis or incredible growth, simply because you know your financials inside and out.
And aside from helping you better manage your business, a thorough financial plan also makes you more attractive to investors. It makes you less of a risk and shows that you have a firm plan and track record in place to grow your business.
What is in a financial plan?
A solid financial plan includes six key components, which are your:
– Sales forecast – Expense budget – Personnel statement – Profit and loss statement – Cash flow forecast – Balance sheet
As part of your business’s financial planning process, you may also include specific financial ratios and metrics that help you track overall business health.
What is the most important part of a financial plan?
Your sales forecast, expense budget, and cash flow forecast are the most important parts of your financial plan. These three documents will help you understand how much you’re spending, know how solvent your business is, and start setting goals for the future.
The remaining financial documents are still necessary for creating a full financial plan. They provide additional information that can help you make more informed decisions when reviewing your budget and forecasts.
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Financial plan, what is a financial plan.
A financial plan is the part of your business plan that details how your business will achieve its financial goals. It includes information on the company’s income, expenses, and cash flow. The plan should also include a description of the business’s current financial situation, as well as its long-term goals.
The financial plan is an important part of the business plan, as it provides a framework for making financial decisions. It can be used to track progress and make adjustments as needed.
Why Your Financial Plan is Important
The financial section of your business plan details the financial implications of running your company. It is important for the following two reasons:
Making Informed Decisions
A financial plan provides a framework for making decisions about how to use your money. It can help you determine whether or not you can afford to make a major purchase, such as a new piece of equipment.
It can also help you decide how much money to reinvest in your business, and how much to save for paying taxes.
A financial plan is like a roadmap for your business. It can help you track your progress and make adjustments as needed. The plan can also help you identify potential problems before they arise.
For example, if your sales are below your projections, you may need to adjust your budget accordingly.
Your financial plan helps you understand how much outside funding is required, when your levels of cash might fall low, and what sales and other goals you need to hit to become financially viable.
This section of your plan is absolutely critical if you are trying to secure funding. Your financial plan should include information on your revenue, expenses, and cash flow.
This information will help potential investors or lenders understand your business’s financial situation and decide whether or not to provide funding.
Include a detailed description of how you plan to use the funds you are requesting. For example, what are the key uses of the funds (e.g., purchasing equipment, paying staff, etc.) and what are the future timings of these financial outlays.
The financial information in your business plan should be realistic and accurate. Do not overstate your projected revenues or underestimate your expenses. This can lead to problems down the road.
Potential investors and lenders will be very interested in your future projections since it indicates whether you will be able to repay your loans and/or provide a nice return on investment (ROI) upon exit.
Financial Plan Template: 4 Components to Include in Your Financial Plan
The financial section of a business plan should have the following four sub-sections:
Here you will detail how your company generates revenues. Oftentimes this is very straightforward, for instance, if you sell products. Other times, your answer might be more complex, such as if you’re selling subscriptions (particularly at different price/service levels) or if you are selling multiple products and services.
Financial Overview & Highlights
In developing your financial plan, you need to create full financial forecasts including the following financial statements.
5-Year Income Statement / Profit and Loss Statement
An income statement, also known as a profit and loss statement (P&L), shows how much revenue your business has generated over a specific period of time, and how much of that revenue has turned into profits. The statement includes your company’s revenues and expenses for a given time period, such as a month, quarter, or year. It can also show your company’s net income, which is the amount of money your company has made after all expenses have been paid.
5-Year Balance Sheet
A balance sheet shows a company’s financial position at a specific point in time. The balance sheet lists a company’s assets (what it owns), its liabilities (what it owes), and its equity (the difference between its assets and its liabilities).
The balance sheet is important because it shows a company’s financial health at a specific point in time. A strong balance sheet indicates that a company has the resources it needs to grow and expand. A weak balance sheet, on the other hand, may indicate that a company is struggling to pay its bills and may be at risk of bankruptcy.
5-Year Cash Flow Statement
A cash flow statement shows how much cash a company has on hand, as well as how much cash it is generating (or losing) over a specific period of time. The statement includes both operating and non-operating activities, such as revenue from sales, expenses, investing activities, and financing activities.
While your full financial projections will go in your Appendix, highlights of your financial projections will go in the Financial Plan section.
These highlights include your Total Revenue, Direct Expenses, Gross Profit, Other Expenses, EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization), and Net Income projections. Also include key assumptions used in creating these future projections such as revenue and cost growth rates.
Funding Requirements/Use of Funds
In this section, you will detail how much outside funding you require, if any, and the core uses of these funds.
For example, detail how much of the funding you need for:
- Product Development
- Product Manufacturing
- Rent or Office/Building Build-Out
If you are seeking equity capital, you need to explain your “exit strategy” here or how investors will “cash out” from their investment.
To add credibility to your exit strategy, conduct market research. Specifically, find other companies in your market who have exited in the past few years. Mention how they exited and the amounts of the exit (e.g., XYZ Corp. bought ABC Corp. for $Y).
Business Plan Financial Plan FAQs
What is a financial plan template.
A financial plan template is a pre-formatted spreadsheet that you can use to create your own financial plan. The financial plan template includes formulas that will automatically calculate your revenue, expenses, and cash flow projections.
How Can I Download a Financial Plan Template?
Download Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template which includes a complete financial plan template and more to help you write a solid business plan in hours.
How Do You Make Realistic Assumptions in Your Business Plan?
When forecasting your company’s future, you need to make realistic assumptions. Conduct market research and speak with industry experts to get a better idea of the key trends affecting your business and realistic growth rates.
You should also use historical data to help inform your projections. For example, if you are launching a new product, use past sales data to estimate how many units you might sell in Year 1, Year 2, etc.
Learn more about how to make the appropriate financial assumptions for your business plan.
How Do You Make the Proper Financial Projections for Your Business Plan?
Your business plan’s financial projections should be based on your business model and your market research. The goal is to make as realistic and achievable projections as possible.
To create a good financial projection, you need to understand your revenue model and your target market. Once you have this information, you can develop assumptions around revenue growth, cost of goods sold, margins, expenses, and other key metrics.
Once you have your assumptions set, you can plug them into a financial model to generate your projections.
Learn more about how to make the proper financial projections for your business plan.
What Financials Should Be Included in a Business Plan?
There are a few key financials that should be included in a traditional business plan format. These include the Income Statement, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow Statement.
Income Statements, also called Profit and Loss Statements, will show your company’s expected income and expense projections over a specific period of time (usually 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years). Balance Sheets will show your company’s assets, liabilities, and equity at a specific point in time. Cash Flow Statements will show how much cash your company has generated and used over a specific period of time.
Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template includes a complete financial plan template to easily create these financial statements and more so you can write a great business plan in hours.
BUSINESS PLAN TEMPLATE OUTLINE
- Business Plan Template Home
- 1. Executive Summary
- 2. Company Overview
- 3. Industry Analysis
- 4. Customer Analysis
- 5. Competitive Analysis
- 6. Marketing Plan
- 7. Operations Plan
- 8. Management Team
- 9. Financial Plan
- 10. Appendix
- Business Plan Summary
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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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6 Elements of a Successful Financial Plan for a Small Business
Table of contents.
Many small businesses lack a full financial plan, even though evidence shows that it is essential to the long-term success and growth of any business.
For example, a study in the New England Journal of Entrepreneurship found that entrepreneurs with a business plan are more successful than those without one. If you’re not sure how to get started, read on to learn the six key elements of a successful small business financial plan.
What is a business financial plan, and why is it important?
A business financial plan is an overview of a business’s financial situation and a forward-looking projection for growth. A business financial plan typically has six parts: sales forecasting, expense outlay, a statement of financial position, a cash flow projection, a break-even analysis and an operations plan.
A good financial plan helps you manage cash flow and accounts for months when revenue might be lower than expected. It also helps you budget for daily and monthly expenses and plan for taxes each year.
Importantly, a financial plan helps you focus on the long-term growth of your business. That way, you don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day activities that you lose sight of your goals. Focusing on the long-term vision helps you prioritize your financial resources.
Financial plans should be created annually at the beginning of the fiscal year as a collaboration of finance, HR, sales and operations leaders.
The 6 components of a successful financial plan for business
1. sales forecasting.
You should have an estimate of your sales revenue for every month, quarter and year. Identifying any patterns in your sales cycles helps you better understand your business, and this knowledge is invaluable as you plan marketing initiatives and growth strategies .
For instance, a seasonal business can aim to improve sales in the off-season to eventually become a year-round venture. Another business might become better prepared by understanding how upticks and downturns in business relate to factors such as the weather or the economy.
Sales forecasting is also the foundation for setting company growth goals. For instance, you could aim to improve your sales by 10 percent over each previous period.
2. Expense outlay
A full expense plan includes regular expenses, expected future expenses and associated expenses. Regular expenses are the current ongoing costs of your business, including operational costs such as rent, utilities and payroll.
Regular expenses relate to standard business activities that occur each year, such as conference attendance, advertising and marketing, and the office holiday party. It’s a good idea to distinguish essential expenses from expenses that can be reduced or eliminated if needed.
Expected future expenses are known future costs, such as tax rate increases, minimum wage increases or maintenance needs. Generally, a part of the budget should also be allocated to unexpected future expenses, such as damage to your business caused by fire, flood or other unexpected disasters. Planning for future expenses ensures your business is financially prepared via budget reduction, increases in sales or financial assistance.
Associated expenses are the estimated costs of various initiatives, such as acquiring and training new hires, opening a new store or expanding delivery to a new territory. An accurate estimate of associated expenses helps you properly manage growth and prevents your business from exceeding your cost capabilities.
As with expected future expenses, understanding how much capital is required to accomplish various growth goals helps you make the right decision about financing options.
3. Statement of financial position (assets and liabilities)
Assets and liabilities are the foundation of your business’s balance sheet and the primary determinants of your business’s net worth. Tracking both allows you to maximize your business’s potential value.
Small businesses frequently undervalue their assets (such as machinery, property or inventory) and fail to properly account for outstanding bills. Your balance sheet offers a more complete view of your business’s health than a profit-and-loss statement or a cash flow report.
A profit-and-loss statement shows how the business performed over a specific time period, while a balance sheet shows the financial position of the business on any given day.
4. Cash flow projection
You should be able to predict your cash flow on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Projecting cash flow for the full year allows you to get ahead of any financial struggles or challenges.
It can also help you identify a cash flow problem before it hurts your business. You can set the most appropriate payment terms, such as how much you charge upfront or how many days after invoicing you expect payment .
A cash flow projection gives you a clear look at how much money is expected to be left at the end of each month so you can plan a possible expansion or other investments. It also helps you budget, such as by spending less one month for the anticipated cash needs of another month.
5. Break-even analysis
A break-even analysis evaluates fixed costs relative to the profit earned by each additional unit you produce and sell. This analysis is essential to understanding your business’s revenue and potential costs versus profits of expansion or growth of your output.
Having your expenses fully fleshed out, as described above, makes your break-even analysis more accurate and useful. A break-even analysis is also the best way to determine your pricing.
In addition, a break-even analysis can tell you how many units you need to sell at various prices to cover your costs. You should aim to set a price that gives you a comfortable margin over your expenses while allowing your business to remain competitive.
6. Operations plan
To run your business as efficiently as possible, craft a detailed overview of your operational needs. Understanding what roles are required for you to operate your business at various volumes of output, how much output or work each employee can handle, and the costs of each stage of your supply chain will aid you in making informed decisions for your business’s growth and efficiency.
It’s important to tightly control expenses, such as payroll or supply chain costs, relative to growth. An operations plan can also make it easier to determine if there is room to optimize your operations or supply chain via automation, new technology or superior supply chain vendors.
For this reason, it is imperative for a business owner to conduct due diligence and become knowledgeable about merchant services before acquiring an account. Once the owner signs a contract, it cannot be changed, unless the business owner breaks the contract and acquires a new account with a new merchant services provider.
Tips on writing a business financial plan
Business owners should create a financial plan annually to ensure they have a clear and accurate picture of their business’s finances and a realistic view for future growth or expansion. A financial plan helps the business’s leaders make informed decisions about purchases, debt, hiring, expense control and overall operations for the year ahead.
A business financial plan is essential if a business owner is looking to sell their business, attract investors or enter a partnership with another business. Here are some tips for writing a business financial plan.
Review the previous year’s plan.
It’s a good idea to compare the previous year’s plan against actual performance and finances to see how accurate the previous plan and forecast were. That way, you can address any discrepancies or overlooked elements in next year’s plan.
Collaborate with other departments.
A business owner or other individual charged with creating the business financial plan should collaborate with the finance department, human resources department, sales team , operations leader, and those in charge of machinery, vehicles or other significant business tools.
Each division should provide the necessary data about projections, value and expenses. All of these elements come together to create a comprehensive financial picture of the business.
Use available resources.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE, the SBA’s nonprofit partner, are two excellent resources for learning about financial plans. Both can teach you the elements of a comprehensive plan and how best to work with the different departments in your business to collect the necessary information. Many websites, including business.com , and service providers, such as Intuit, offer advice on this matter.
If you have questions or encounter challenges while creating your business financial plan, seek advice from your accountant or other small business owners in your network. Your city or state has a small business office that you can contact for help.
Several small business organizations offer free financial plan templates for small business owners. You can find templates for the financial plan components listed here via SCORE .
Business financial plan templates
Many business organizations offer free information that small business owners can use to create their financial plan. For example, the SBA’s Learning Platform offers a course on how to create a business plan. It also offers worksheets and templates to help you get started. You can seek additional help and more personalized service from your local office.
SCORE is the largest volunteer network of business mentors. It began as a group of retired executives (SCORE stands for “Service Corps of Retired Executives”) but has expanded to include business owners and executives from many industries. Advice is free and available online, and there are SBA district offices in every U.S. state. In addition to participating in group or at-home learning, you can be paired with a mentor for individualized help.
SCORE offers templates and tips for creating a small business financial plan. SCORE is an excellent resource because it addresses different levels of experience and offers individualized help.
Other templates can be found in Microsoft Office’s template library, QuickBooks’ online resources, Shopify’s blog and other places. You can also ask your accountant for guidance, since many accountants provide financial planning services in addition to their usual tax services.
Diana Wertz contributed to the writing and research in this article.
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