Most people think that writing a business plan has to be hard. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, it’s possible to write your initial business plan in less than an hour. After all, you’re always thinking about your business and the strategies you’re going to use to grow, so getting those ideas down on paper shouldn’t be hard—it can even be an enjoyable experience.
Listen to Peter and Jonathan discuss this article and try to make their own business plan on the second episode of The Bcast, Bplan’s official podcast:
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A new kind of business planning
A business plan no longer needs to be a long document that takes weeks to write and research. It’s not something that you print, bind professionally, and then stick on a shelf.
Instead, modern business planning is a simple process that helps you discover your ideal business strategy.
For modern business planning, I encourage you to embrace a concept called lean planning—it has all the benefits of traditional business planning without the pain and hassle of creating a long business plan document.
With lean planning, you start with a pitch for your business. Your pitch is a one-page overview of your business—a one-page business plan. It’s your business strategy, all on one page, that you can update quickly and easily as you learn more about your business, your customers, and yourself.
You may be thinking, “Wait a minute. I’m not raising money from investors. Why do I need a pitch?” Well, I’ve found that a pitch is really the ideal format to document your business idea, share your idea with others, and quickly adjust it as you learn more about your how you’re going to build your business.
What to include in your business pitch
When you’re writing your pitch, channel Twitter and try and keep each section as short as possible:
- Value proposition: One sentence that describes the value you provide to your customers.
- Market need: What problem does your business solve for your customers?
- Your solution: How do you solve your customer’s problem? What products and services are you offering?
- Competition: What products and services do your customers choose today instead of yours? How are you different?
- Target market: Who is your ideal customer?
- Sales and marketing: How do you market your products and services to your customers?
- Budget and sales goals: How much do you think you will sell and how much is it going to cost you to make your product or deliver your service? What other key expenses will you have when your business is up and running?
- Milestones: What have you achieved so far and what are your major goals for the next few months or years?
- Team: Why are you and your business partners the right people to make your company successful?
- Partners and resources: Do you need to work with other companies or organizations to make your company a success?
- Funding needs: This is optional; if you need to raise money for your business, how much do you need and what will you use it for?
Start with your pitch. Save the business plan document for later.
As you think about each of the areas above, don’t think “business plan.” Instead, imagine that you are having a conversation with someone at a cocktail party and you’re explaining your business to them in simple terms.
It’s much better to think that you’re “pitching your business.” After all, the idea of ”pitch first, plan second” is a best practice in business and is a much faster and more effective path to success than the traditional business plan.
Here’s an example of a business pitch I built in 27 minutes:
I’ve always wanted to own a bike shop, so here’s a pitch that I built in 27 minutes, well short of one hour. As you can see, a one-page business plan (or pitch) doesn’t have to be complicated and I still have time left over to do another one and try another business idea on for size.
I admit, I cheated a little bit and used LivePlan to create this pitch which made the process easier, but you can create your own pitch just as easily using our free template or just by writing down your notes for each section in a document.
The key is to remember to be brief in each section. Don’t add more than is necessary.
I’ll stay in the spirit of keeping things short and sweet and give you very brief descriptions of what’s needed in each section of your business pitch.
- Value proposition: If you were composing a tweet to tell people about your business, what would you say? With only 140 characters, describe what you do and what makes you unique. Your goal is to communicate the value you are providing to your customers in a way that they will understand.
- Market need: If you aren’t solving a problem for your customers, you are going to have a hard time building your business. If you’re not sure, try talking to your potential customers and ask them what they like about your products or services. Why do they choose you over other alternatives?
- Your solution: Describe your product or service and why it’s better than the alternatives. Essentially, if someone asked you what you sell, what would your answer be?
- Target market: Describe your ideal customer. Who are they? Be as specific as possible—age, gender, shopping habits, and so on. If you target different types of people, create market segments for each group.
- Competition: Every business has competition. Who do your customers buy from if they don’t buy from you? What makes your business and products better than the alternatives that are out there?
- Funding needs: Nearly every business needs some money to get off the ground. Think about how much money you’ll need and how you plan on using it. Even if you’re starting your business with your own savings or using credit card debt, it’s a good idea to plan on how you will use the funds until you start making sales.
- Sales channels: These are the places where you will sell your products. If you’re selling online, your online store is a sales channel. If you also have a physical store, that’s another sales channel.
- Marketing activities: What will you do to market your business? If you plan on buying advertising, list the types of advertising you plan on doing here. Remember, different target markets might need different types of marketing activities to get your product in front of them.
- Budget and sales goals: How much is it going to cost to run your business? What sales goals do you need to reach for your business to be a success? Don’t sweat the details to start and just think in broad strokes to get a rough idea of how your business will work financially. You can refine the details later.
- Milestones: What are the major tasks you need to accomplish to get your business up and running? This will help you stay on track and meet your goals. Make sure to assign milestones to people on your team so you have real responsibility and accountability.
- Team: Even if you’re starting out with just you, write a few quick bullets about why you’re the right person to run this business. If you need to hire key people in the future, list those positions as well, even if you don’t know who specifically will fill those positions right now.
If you’re ready to start working on your own business pitch, download our free template and get started right away. Use markers or sticky notes to jot down your ideas quickly. If you want an online version that you can share with business partners, give LivePlan a try, and if you decide to leave it up to the pros, try LivePlan’s business plan consulting—you’ll get an MBA-written business plan in five business days.
And, if you need a more traditional business plan, you can download our free template or browse through over 500 complete business plans. Writing a business plan can always be done on your own, but if you’d like to seek out professional help, you can also find it here.
Do you think you can use this format to plan your business faster and more efficiently? Share your thoughts in the comments below and feel free to ask questions, too. I’ll make sure to answer them as they come up!
Did you know this article is part of our Bplans Pitch Guide? Everything you need to know about creating your pitch, all in one place.