shutterstock_290693624Expert opinions may vary, but in general there are some standard analyses that a business plan ought to have, regardless of specifics.

You can find detailed discussions of each of these online in Hurdle: The Book on Business Planning, but let’s discuss here what probably ought to be included in a business plan.

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1. Cash flow is the most important. Businesses run on cash. No business plan is complete without a cash flow plan.

2. Profit and loss, incorporating sales, cost of sales, operating expenses, and profits. This of course is also a pro forma income statement. In most cases it should show sales less cost of sales as gross margin, and gross margin less operating expenses as profit before interest and taxes (also called gross profit, and contribution to overhead). Normally there is also a projection of interest, taxes, and net profits.

3. Pro-forma balance sheet: Aside from cash and income, there is the balance of assets, liabilities, and capital.

4. Sales forecast: The form may vary to suit the business, but it is hard to imagine a plan without a sales forecast. Some plans forecast in excruciating detail, some summarize, but the forecast should be there. In the simplest of plans, the sales forecast might be a single line in the pro-forma income statement.

5. Personnel plan: Personnel costs are so intimately related to fixed costs that they should often be set aside and discussed. In some simple plans, they too, like the sales forecast, can be just a line or two in the income statement.

6. Business ratios: The numbers are there, when there is pro-forma income, cash, and balance sheet, so the ratios can be calculated. This isn’t as necessary for an internal plan as for one for bankers and investors, but some key ratios are almost always a good idea. They should probably include some profitability ratios like gross margin, return on sales, return on assets, and return on investment; plus some liquidity ratios such as debt to equity, current ratio, and working capital. You already know which ratios you like to use, and how to calculate them. A banker will have a similar view.

7. Break-even analysis: Most of the break-even analyses included with business plans have little value, but most bankers and analysts like to see them.

8. Market forecast: Aside from the sales forecast, which is essential, a market forecast is also a good idea. How many potential customers are there? How does market growth stand to impact this business?

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Tim BerryTim Berry

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