First, why are you writing a business plan? Usually, the reasons fall into one of the following areas:
- For idea validation: You have a business idea and just need to get all the details on paper so you can start to really understand whether you have a good business model.
- For a bank: Do you need a formal business plan to give to your bank as part of your small business loan application?
- For investors: Are you seeking funding for your startup from angel investors or venture capitalists?
- For strategic reasons: Does your company need an internal roadmap for growing and managing your business?
How you format your plan and how detailed it will depend on why you’re writing it and who will look at it when you’re done. If you’re looking to validate an idea, start with a very simple one-page pitch. If you’re seeking funding, you’re probably going to need a traditional, formal business plan. If you want to use your business plan as a tool for strategic management and growth, write a Lean Plan so you can update it easily and often.
Here, you’ll find a checklist for writing each of these types of plans, so you can choose the one that fits your particular needs.
If you have any questions, be sure to reach out to us on Twitter @Bplans and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
1. The simplest business plan: A One-Page Pitch
A One-Page Pitch is the simplest business plan you can write.
There’s not much difference between it and the executive summary in the standard business plan—though of course, as the name implies, it should fit onto just one page.
You can use this version of the business plan to validate your idea (more on that here), or to provide investors with a clear and succinct introduction to your business.
You can also use it to get all of your ideas onto paper and distill your thoughts into the essential business plan elements before you begin writing a standard plan. You can create a One-Page Pitch in LivePlan, use this free template, or follow along with the checklist below.
One-Page Pitch checklist:
- Describe your business in one sentence (what do you do, and who do you do it for?)
- Describe the problem your potential customers have
- Describe your solution to the problem—this is your product or service (how does it solve your customer’s problem?)
- Explain who your target market is and how large it is
- Describe your competitive advantage (talk about how your customers are solving their problem currently as well)
- Describe how you will sell to your customers (will it be directly, or via a storefront, distributors, or a website?)
- Describe what marketing activities you will use to attract customers
- Detail your business model—this is how you will make money (what are your revenue streams?)
- List your major initial expenses—startup costs (don’t go into a lot of detail here—it’s early days at this point)
- List your primary goals and milestones that you want to accomplish over the next few months
- Outline your management team and any people you want to hire to help you launch your business
- List any partners and resources you need to help you launch
2. A Lean Plan: A nimble tool for growing your business
Lean Planning is a methodology that will help you grow a better, smarter business a lot faster.
While you can use Lean Planning to help you produce a business plan document, you should think of Lean Planning as a tool, rather than a path to a finished product. If you’ve heard of a business model canvas, a Lean Plan is really a better, more useful version of that idea.
The goal here is to write a business plan that has more detail than a one-page pitch, but that’s still quite brief. It should be a truly useful tool that you review and update regularly. It’s a great framework for reviewing your financial goals and progress on a regular basis. For more resources on Lean Planning, check out this guide.
Lean Business Plan checklist
- Write a One-Page Pitch (as outlined above—this is how every Lean Plan begins)
- Test your idea (get out and talk to your potential customers—make sure you’re on the same page as they are)
- Do they have the problem you think they have?
- What do they think of your solution?
- What’s the best way to sell to them?
- What marketing tactics will work? What won’t work?
- Review your results (you will likely do this throughout the life of your business)
- Review your financial performance if you’re already up and running
- Revise your plan based on what you’ve learned and set new milestones
- Set your sales forecast and create a budget for your expenses
- Once you’re up and running, be sure to hold regular plan review meetings to ensure you stay on track
3. The standard business plan
For most people who are pitching a bank or an investor, a standard business plan will be the required format for the business plan. This is the version of the plan these investors are most familiar with, and the version that will give them the most information. It contains all the needed business plan components that banks and investors expect.
If you want to increase your chances of getting funded, follow this format. Check out our definitive guide on how to write a business plan. You can also download a free business plan template here, or use LivePlan to walk you through writing an investor-ready business plan.
- Define the opportunity
- Go into more detail here about the problem and why it is worth solving
- Discuss your solution to the problem (your product or service)
- Talk a little more about how you validated your idea and what your future plans look like
- Write the market analysis summary
- Include more detailed information about your market segmentation and your target market segment strategy, key customers, future markets, and the competition
- Outline how you’ll execute the plan
- Write the company and management summary
- Write about the organizational structure of your company, the management team, any gaps in the team, and your personnel plan
- Include information on your company’s history, as well as information about ownership
- Write the financial plan
- Arguably one of the most important business plan components, this will include:
- Write the appendix
- This is the spot for anything that’s important, but that would otherwise bog down someone reading your business plan for the first time; include extra detail, charts and graphs here
- Write an executive summary (this goes at the beginning of the plan document, but we recommend you write it last)
- Talk about the problem you are solving, what your solution is (your product or service usually), the market, the competition, and some key financial highlights
Whatever your reasons are for writing a business plan, you should know that it’s scientifically proven that planning makes you more successful. If you’re looking for more information on how to write a business plan, check out our business plan writing guide.
If you have any questions about writing your business plan, or about what format to use, be sure to reach out to us on Twitter @Bplans.