The business plan is the blueprint for your business, the who, what, where, when, how, and why. It provides a single place to keep all your ideas, the roadmap that will help you pursue these ideas, and the overview so that you can share your vision with others. In this session you learn about business plans, including the key elements of a business plan, ways you can use your business plan, and best practices to write your business plan.
- What is a Business Plan?
- Why Write a Business Plan?
- Uses for a Business Plan
- Business Plan Formats
- What to Include in Your Business Plan
- Best Practices
- MOBI's Free Business Plan Template
- Top Ten Do's and Don'ts
- Business Resources
The primary value of your business plan is to create a written resource that evaluates all aspects of your new business including a description and analysis of your business’s prospects, its economic viability, and more. The very process of writing your business plan helps you put your ideas on paper, so you can see what you have and what you need.
Your business plan is your blueprint for starting your business, your script to tell the story of your business to others, and your comprehensive analysis of the opportunity for your business. Business plans motivate you to state your goals, analyze your strategy, implement your strategy, and share your vision. Business plans are valuable for new as well as existing businesses.
Because industry and economic trends are always changing, it’s important to re-examine your business plan on a regular basis. Revisiting your business plan will motivate you to update your assumptions, projections, and analysis based on evolving industry factors, economic factors, or actual operating experiences that you might not fully understand until you have started your business. If you correctly assess the changing economics of your business, your plan will provide a useful roadmap and a financing tool.
MOBI’s Starting a Business course includes the key topics that are typically included in a business plan. As you go through this course you can consider the topics as they relate to your business. You can then add this information to the free MOBI Business Plan Template either as you go or when you finish the course to create your own business plan. You will also be able to find a variety of business plan templates either online or through other resources such as your local library, civic center, or economic development office.
Could you start a business without writing a business plan? Yes. Is it recommended? No. The process of writing a business plan will force you to think carefully about your ideas and plans and will help you evaluate whether it makes financial and practical sense.
For example, you might think you can earn a profit with your product, but when you examine all the parts in your business plan, you may realize that the packaging and marketing you plan to do for your product cost more than the selling price, when you include all your business costs as well. This may help you decide to wait on your marketing plans until you have more sales, or perhaps investigate less expensive packaging options.
Writing a business plan allows you to combine all the aspects of your business in one place so you can evaluate the pros and cons together, as well as calculating whether a profit is actually possible given the plans you have in mind.
There are many uses for your business plan, and the format you choose to create may depend upon how you plan to use it. Here are some typical uses for business plans:
As part of an academic program: You may be taking this MOBI course as part of an educational program or entrepreneurship training, in which you are creating a fictitious business. As part of this program, you may be required to prepare a business plan for this fictitious business in order to learn about and analyze each aspect of starting a business. In this case, your business plan is an academic exercise to improve your entrepreneurship skills, and it is largely for your own personal use, or perhaps that of your teacher or course moderator as well.
To apply for financing: In this scenario, you are creating your business plan to share with a financial lender in order to apply for or request funding for your business. In this case you are preparing a business plan for external audiences (the lender), and the financial assumptions, projections, and analysis are going to be most important.
To record your business ideas: If you have a business idea that you are thinking of pursuing, creating a complete business plan for your idea is an excellent planning tool. It gives you one place to put all your ideas and to examine all the different information needed to move forward. You may or may not choose to share your business plan with others, at least initially, but it is your roadmap that you update as you learn more about your intended business and the market. As you continue on your entrepreneurial journey, you may decide to share your business plan with others, including potential partners, customers, employees, or investors. Keeping your business plan up to date will ensure you are ready in the event you have an opportunity to share your idea.
To launch your new business: Since your business plan is your roadmap, it can be used to execute on your business idea to start your business. In this scenario, you might want to include a greater amount of detail for every aspect of starting your business and update more frequently as you go. For example, include addendums for marketing plans and calendars, sales activities, supplier contracts, financial statements, and more.
To establish a freelance or independent business: In between Personal Use and Starting a Business might fall Independent Contractor, Home-Based or Freelance Business uses of a business plan. Sometimes aspiring entrepreneurs pursue a business idea on the side. These types of businesses allow a person to start small and grow, maybe beginning with just one client. The gradual start of this type of business may not require all aspects of business analysis and planning required by other businesses. At the same time, it is important to learn what is required to operate an independent contractor, home-based, or freelance business, so these minimum requirements would be the most immediate focus of the business plan for this use.
To acquire an existing business or franchise: Business plans can be used to evaluate existing businesses to get a sense for the health of the business and areas that are doing well or need attention. This can be important whether you are taking over a family business (family succession) or buying a business or franchise. There may be different considerations when creating a business plan for an existing business, but it is equally important to gather the facts and details yourself to do an accurate analysis.
Regardless of the format you use, there are a few fundamental parts of a business plan. These fundamental parts are shown below. Of course, these sections are included in the free MOBI Business Plan Template:
- Executive Summary
- Financing and Financial Projections
- Business Organization
- Business Location
- Marketing, Ecommerce, and Sales
- Addendums: Licenses and Permits (and others)
The Executive Summary is just that, the overall summary of your business idea. Here you include the fundamentals about your business including a paragraph about each of the key topics below:
Name and Description of Business:Provide the name and a brief description of your business. The description should be brief, concise. Imagine you bump into a potential investor or customer in an elevator and you have 30 seconds before the next floor to describe your business, what would you say to include the most important and impactful points?
Target Customer and Market: Describe your ideal customer and your target market. What is the problem you are solving or the need your product or service is solving for this audience?
Industry and Economic Trends: Describe the current industry and economic conditions that are making this the right time for your product or service and that are providing a potential for sustainability and future growth.
Value Proposition: Describe the value you are bringing to your customer through your product or service. What are the unique benefits, qualities, and/or circumstances that allow you to create value for your customers?
Vision: Describe the vision of your business and why you are committed to making this vision successful. Explain your plans for growth and what you can realistically achieve in a defined time frame.
Founder(s) and the Team: Provide a background of your life and work experiences that are related to this business, list your credentials (including the MOBI Starting a Business Certificate of Completion you can earn through this course!). Share your inspiration for this business. If you plan to hire employees, consultants, or service providers like lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, etc. describe your plan for engaging with these other members of your team. Describe management roles and structure and provide background information for any executives who will share leadership roles alongside you. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and those of your team. Don’t be afraid to identify key positions or expertise you are actively looking to fill.
Goals: Outline your key goals for your business. These can be both short-term and long-term goals.
Financing and Financial Projections
Financial Exhibits: Provide a chart or spreadsheet showing all of the sources of your start-up capital (money) including what you or other investors will contribute and what you intend to borrow. Be sure to include a detailed list of categories showing what the money will be used for and how much will be left over for working capital (“working capital” is money that you can access and use to run your business once it is started).
Accounting: In a separate exhibit, provide your Balance Sheet, and projected Profit and Loss Statements (Income Statements) for the first three years (by month for the first year, then by year for the second and third year).
Analysis and Costs: List and explain all the key costs, categorized by fixed costs (things that don’t change, like rent), variable costs (costs that change, like the cost of materials and supplies), product, delivery, etc., and profit margins that are important for your business. As part of this exhibit be sure to include a one-year Cash Flow forecast including all estimated sales, all costs, and capital investments that will be required during this time.
Internal Controls: Describe the internal controls (processes and policies you establish) you intend to have in place. For example, what is your check signing policy? What are your strategies for controlling shrinkage and preventing shoplifting? How will you monitor deliveries and inventory?
Break-Even Analysis: Use your financial analysis to calculate your break-even point. The break-even point is the sales level at which the total revenue of your business is equal to the total cost of running your business.
The Financing the Business and Accounting and Cash Flow sessions of the Starting a Business course will teach you about the financial statements mentioned in this section, and help you learn how to gather and report financial projections for your business to populate this part of your business plan.
Business Organization: What type of business organization have you chosen for your business (sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, nonprofit, etc.). Describe why it is the best fit. Provide information about any of the steps you will need to take to establish your business with this organization structure.
Professional Consultants: If you will be working with any consultants and have not already listed them, or would like to provide greater detail, you can include it here.
The Business Organization session of the Starting a Business course provides great detail about the types of business organizations as well as related liability and tax issues you should consider when deciding on your business organization.
Describe where you will operate your business. If you are opening a store or restaurant, it may be easy to identify the kind of space you need, whereas if you are starting a business as an independent contractor teaching music lessons or doing graphic design projects, you may decide to work out of your home, join a co-working space, or rent an office. Likewise, if you provide services like landscaping or house cleaning, you may not need a space at all.
Provide details about the space you intend to pursue, what amenities do you need, what features will be important? If you plan to rent, lease, or buy space, include any financial information including all costs, and any credits you may be eligible to receive, for example incentives for minority-, women-, or veteran-owned businesses, or credits, rebates, or discounts through other governmental economic development programs.
If you already have a space, include the address and description of the property.
Marketing, Ecommerce, and Sales
Market Research: In greater detail than provided in your Executive Summary, describe the market research you conducted to identify and understand your target market and customers. Include sources of information. Describe your position within the target market.
Marketing Strategy and Tools: Explain the traditional and online marketing strategies and tools you will use to find, engage, and build your target market as well as how you will close sales and foster customer relationships and loyalty.
Ecommerce: If you plan to sell your product or service online, describe your ecommerce strategy. What channels will you use, how will you take and fulfill orders, how will you build awareness and drive traffic to your online store?
Cost: Provide a detailed description of all costs for each marketing activity. How will you evaluate your marketing efforts for effectiveness?
Sales: Describe your sales process, activities you will conduct, obstacles you expect, how you will overcome them, and any customer service strategies you will use to retain and expand your customer base.
The Communication Tools, Marketing, and Ecommerce sessions will provide the information and guidance to help you populate this part of your business plan, and the Selling and Controlling Costs bonus sessions in the Quick Start Entrepreneur course provides information about the sales process and business costs.
Workflow: Outline the workflow of your business and the processes and procedures you will put into place if not already mentioned above.
Supplies/Inventory/Production: Provide details about how you will acquire supplies, manufacture your product or service, and deliver your product or service to customers. Include any equipment or facilities needs.
Measurement and Assessment: Describe how you will measure the success of your operations for efficiency, cost control, quality, and any other parameters.
Crisis and Contingency Plan: Include your damage control plan. What will you do in the event of a natural disaster, economic downturn, product obsolescence (your product is no longer needed by the market), cybersecurity breach, or other catastrophic event. Include any business insurance you have purchased or intent to purchase.
If not mentioned elsewhere, describe your plans for order fulfillment, supply chain (where you will get supplies for your product or service), and hiring and managing employees.
Addendums, items not required but helpful to include
Licenses and permits required for your business. The Licenses and Permits session will help you learn what you might need.
International and national intellectual property protection through trademarks, copyrights, and/or patents.
Marketing collateral you may be creating and/or examples.
Resumes of founders and key team members.
Other pertinent information.
Just as there are many different uses for business plans, there are also different formats. The format you choose may depend on the intended purpose for your business plan. MOBI provides a free MOBI Business Plan Template to help you create a comprehensive written outline for every aspect of your business, and this could be useful for any of the uses above.
Additional formats include shorter, one-page forms, most commonly based on The Business Model Canvas (wikipedia), invented by Alex Osterwalder, a Swiss business theorist and entrepreneur. Some providers offer a “Lean Canvas” template, created by Ash Maurya, an entrepreneur and author of Running Lean, is a popular variation of The Business Model Canvas.
Another popular format is the presentation format or “slide deck” which can be created with Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, Canva, or other software tools. This format is often used when presenting your business idea to others in a meeting. The presentation format is created as a visually compelling summary of your business plan. Typically a conversation accompanies your presentation so that you can describe and explain the information summarized in the slides.
If you decide that a one-page format or presentation is right for your business plan’s purpose, it is our recommendation that you also create a full business plan to ensure you are prepared with all of the information you need and can respond to any questions about your business from your audiences.
There are a few best practices to keep in mind when you are creating your business plan.
Do your best. You may not have all the answers your first time through your business plan, and that’s ok. Just do your best and include the information you have. The activity of writing your business plan will help you identify where the holes are. As you pursue your business, you will gain more knowledge, information, and insight that you can continue to add to your business plan over time and fill in the holes.
Use a template. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when writing your business plan. Choose an easy-to-follow, standard business plan template, such as the MOBI Free Business Plan Template provided in this course and on our website. Using a template can help ensure that you include all the important topics. A template will also keep you organized as you research and document information about your business. Using a template can help you see what information you have and what information you need.
Tell a story. Even though your business plan will describe very different aspects of your business, all of the information you include should be cohesive and tie together. Think of your business plan as the story of your business. This story should be present in every aspect of your business plan, and it should be clear to your audience how each part fits into the whole to create and support the story.
Be thorough, detailed, and specific. Be as detailed, specific, thorough, and accurate as possible. Use clear, concise language and be realistic in the information you provide. Allow yourself plenty of time, and dedicate yourself to producing your best effort. When conducting research, try to look at several different sources of information. When studying your industry, look at more than one business. Be realistic about your financial situation and the needs of your business, as well as the opportunities.
Make it visually appealing. If you are sharing your business plan with others, be mindful of the presentation. While the information included in your business plan is most important, if the presentation is messy or filled with errors your audience may not read it. Does your business plan look nice? Is it organized? Is there a title page, table of contents, or section headlines, and page numbers? In case you leave it behind with someone to review, does it have your name and contact information? Have you proofread to make sure there are no errors, typos, or messy formatting mistakes? Have you included graphic elements like your logo, graphs, perhaps photos or drawings, things that provide interest and well as information. Your business plan can be a valuable selling tool, so be sure it’s visually appealing.
Keep it current. As mentioned earlier, industry and economic trends change all the time and can impact your business and business plan. Take your business plan out once a month, or in a frequency that works for you, and read it. If anything has changed, update it. This way you can be sure you are ready when an opportunity arises, for example to talk with a potential investor, customer, partner, or employee.
Set realistic goals. It would be nearly impossible to sit down and write your business plan in one afternoon or one day. Set a realistic goal for yourself to complete different parts as it works for your schedule. Perhaps you break it down by week or month? For example, next month you could devote to researching all the financial information required for your business, and then you write that part of your business plan. Then perhaps you focus on marketing after that. It’s also helpful to just get your ideas on paper. You’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s often easier to start with words already on a page than with a blank page.
Get feedback. Share your business plan draft with trusted advisors or experts in your intended industry to get their advice and use their input to revise and improve your plan.
Start at the beginning, again. Once you have completed your first draft of your business plan, go back and reread your Executive Summary. After having done all the research and deep thinking to populate all of the other sections, did you learn anything new that changes your overall summary? If so, make those changes while the ideas are fresh in your mind.
We have provided the free MOBI Business Plan Template for you to use in planning your business. As you go through this course, you will learn about the topics that are included in the template. You can add information to your business plan template as you go, or you can begin working on it after you have completed the full course.
THE TOP TEN DO'S
- Prepare a complete business plan for any business you are considering.
- Tell the story of your business, and make sure this story is present throughout your business plan.
- Use your business plan as your own planning tool and a place where you can record all your ideas about your business.
- Make your business plan visually appealing, it can be a powerful selling tool.
- Submit your business plan to experts in your intended business for their advice.
- Spell out your strategies on how you intend to handle obstacles in your sales process.
- Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and those of your team.
- Include a monthly one-year projected Profit and Loss Statement, and yearly projections for years two and three.
- Identify your unique value proposition in your Executive Summary.
- Demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of your intended industry by including your market research information.
THE TOP TEN DON'TS
- Start a business without developing a business plan first.
- Forget to include your own life experiences, business history, and educational achievements which have led you to this business.
- Exclude the financial statements and projections, especially when using your business plan to seek funding.
- Leave out challenges or weaknesses, instead identify anticipated problems and how you will overcome them.
- Rely on a one-page business plan for all your information and needs, be sure to create a full business plan as well.
- Overlook including a damage control plan in your Operations section.
- Use overly complex language that will confuse your audiences.
- Skip sections because you aren’t sure what to include, instead continue your research and find the answers.
- Ignore economic or industry trends that may impact your business, regularly update your business plan.
- Include general information without the details or proof to support your claims.
If you are writing your business plan while reviewing this material, take a moment now to include any information about your business related to this session. MOBI’s free Business Plan Template and other worksheets, checklists, and templates are available for you to download. Just visit the list of MOBI Resource Documents on the Resources & Tools page of our website.