Most people think of the business plan as a one-time event, something used to accomplish a specific goal—getting funded, usually.

This, however, is a very limited viewpoint. The business plan, in its many different formats and with its many different business plan sections, can be used for a variety of purposes, including validating an idea, getting funded, and managing a business successfully.
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How you format your plan will depend on what your needs are. If investors request a traditional plan, you will want to follow the standard business plan outline below. If you’re creating a plan to manage your business once you’re up and running, a Lean Plan will suit you best. If you’re simply trying to validate a business idea, you’ll use the One-Page Pitch format.

Here, you’ll find a checklist for each of these situations, so you can choose the one that fits your particular needs. We’ll walk you through creating a One-Page Pitch, a standard business plan (the traditional option), and a lean business plan, with a checklist for each.

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. If you’re writing a One-Page Pitch:

A One-Page Pitch is the simplest version of the 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.

  • 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 expenses (don’t go into a lot of detail here—it’s early days at this point)
  • List your primary goals and objectives 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. If you’re writing a Lean Plan:

Lean Planning is a methodology that will help you grow a better, smarter business a lot faster than traditional business plan methodologies allow for.

While you can use Lean Planning to help you produce a business plan document, the goal of Lean Planning is greater. You can use this methodology to validate your business ideas (and keep doing this throughout the life of your business), as well as help you optimize and streamline the day-to-day management of your business.

To complete your Lean Plan, follow the steps below.

  • 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
  • Set your sales goals 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. If you’re writing a standard business plan:

For most people 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 and business plan sections that banks and investors expect.

If you want to increase your chances of getting funded, follow this format. You can also download a free business plan template here, or use LivePlan to walk you through writing an investor-ready business plan.

  • Write an executive summary (many people choose to do this 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
  • Write the products and services section
    • 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
  • Write the strategy and implementation summary
    • Discuss your marketing plan and your sales plan
    • Include information about your location, facilities, technology, equipment, tools, key metrics, and important milestones
  • 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

Even if you’re not seeking funding for your business, don’t forgo writing your business plan.

We’ve done our research and we know that business planning makes you more successful. If you don’t need to pitch for funding, write a Lean Plan and use it to help manage your business more efficiently. Make sure to have regular plan review meetings too.

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.

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Candice Landau
Candice Landau

Candice is a freelance writer, jeweler, and digital marketing hybrid. You can learn more about her on her personal website or reach out to her on Twitter @candylandau.