So those three main tables are just about essential for a complete business plan: you have to project income, balance, and cash flow. Cash flow is the single most important numerical analysis in a plan, and should never be missing. Most plans will also have a sales forecast, and profit and loss statements. I believe they should also have separate personnel listings, a projected balance sheet, projected business ratios, and market analysis. There are others that are common, but not necessarily required (depending on the situation and exact context of the plan). Those might include the following:

  • Startup costs, and startup funding. We’ve already talked about startup costs, but most business plans for startups also need to show where the money to pay for startup costs is coming from. That’s a combination of investment and borrowed money. Your balances have to balance, and they don’t balance without startup funding. Sometimes the startup funding will produce a useful business chart, a bar chart showing investment vs. borrowed money.
  • Past Performance. When a plan is doing a complete financial forecast for an existing company, past performance is required to set the starting balances for the future. The last balance of the past is the first balance of the future. In practice, people often have to project a few months forward to estimate what the final balance will be on the day the new plan starts. For example, if you’re doing a plan for next year starting in January, and it’s only October, then you have to guess what happens to balances between October and December.
  • Break-even analysis. A break-even analysis is a standard routine that compares sales to fixed and variable costs to determine how much sales will it take to cover costs. It can be an annoying analysis sometimes, because it requires averaging variable costs and unit prices over an entire business, but it can still be useful as a first look at the risks related to fixed and variable costs.
  • Market analysis. The market analysis is usually an important core component of the market information, supporting information that is required when you’re working on a plan for outsiders. Investors, bankers, professors of business, consultants, and others like to see proof of market. The market analysis table shows what data you have, usually a market growth projection, in general by segment. It’s really a good idea to break the market into useful subsets, called segments. Market analysis can produce some good-looking charts too, like pie charts breaking the market into segments, and bar charts showing market growth as projected into the future.
  • Ratios analysis. When you’re projecting your income and balances, you can then use math and formulas to project standard business ratios. There are a couple dozen standard ratios that accountants and analysts often like to see. These are things like return on investment, profits to sales, inventory turnover, collection days, and so on.
  • Use of funds. For plans intended to go to either investors or lenders, use of funds is a list showing how the money coming in will be spent. Use this to convince investors that you will put their money to good use.

You should also use business charts, like bar charts and pie charts, to illustrate your projected numbers as much as possible. Graphics illustrate numbers very well. They are easier than numbers alone to see and understand.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.