I hope at this point I’ve made it clear that you don’t necessarily need to have a standard, traditional, formal business plan. Until you really need to show a plan to some outsider who needs, wants, or expects the full formal plan, you can just use your plan-as-you-go plan to reap the benefits and avoid the hassle of the document.

However, there are business reasons that force you to produce the traditional plan document. We call these business plan events. The more common business plan events are related to seeking loans or investments. Ironically, the bank loan manager,  angel investor, or venture capitalist may not read your plan, but most of them want to know you have one, which means they want it to appear in their inbox or on their desk.

Approaching a business plan event without being ready to produce a traditional business plan is something like approaching a publisher without having an outline and sample chapter. You’ll look dumb if you don’t have it. So have it.

The good news is that you already have the core of your plan ready, so you’re a long way down the path from start to done. You have only to dress it up to make it a formal business plan. You know what you want to do, and why, so from here you spin it out from your core into the proper words. You already have the numbers, right? And you know your strategy, too, as well as your dates, and deadlines, responsibility assignments, and metrics.

So the bad news is that depending on how much you have, and why you need to show that plan, you may of course have to go through the exercise of supporting market information with something beyond just hunches and experience. I’ve said earlier that your plan doesn’t necessarily include supporting information like market research and industry analysis, but when you’re going to dress it up formally and send it out to represent you, it probably does need to include more background information.

At this point we’ve done a standard outline twice already, once in About This Book with explanations of where to look for what part, and again in Supporting Information, with notes about the explanations and descriptions involved. I’d like to do it here for a third time, this time with notes about the tables and charts to include as well. Some of this might be redundant, but, oh well, I hope it’s convenient.

Section Tables and Charts
1.0 Executive Summary1.1 Objectives1.2 Mission1.3 Keys to Success I like a highlights chart here, a bar chart showing sales, gross margin, and net profit, by year, for the next three years. No tables.
2.0 Company Summary
2.1 Company Ownership
2.2 Start-up Plan (for new companies) or Company History (for ongoing companies)
2.3 Company Locations and Facilities
Include either the startup costs or past performance data as a table (not both, just one of those two). You know which you need.A chart showing highlights of either one, as a bar chart, is a good idea.Particularly for retail, photos of locations might also be good.
3.0 Products and Services
3.1 Product and Service Description
3.2 Competitive Comparison
3.3 Sales Literature
3.4 Sourcing
3.5 Technology
3.6 Future Products and Services
No standard tables or charts here. Use illustrations or product drawings to show products. Menus are nice for restaurants. Product lists or catalogs or website illustrations could help.
4.0 Market Analysis Summary
4.1 Market Segmentation
4.2 Target Market Segment Strategy

4.2.1 Market Needs
4.2.2 Market Trends
4.2.3 Market Growth
4.3 Industry Analysis

4.3.1 Industry Participants
4.3.2 Distribution Patterns
4.3.3 Competition and Buying Patterns
4.3.4 Main Competitors
Ideally you include a market forecast table, along with a pie chart showing the market segments by size as they are today, and a bar chart showing projected growth of the segments over five years.
5.0 Strategy and Implementation Summary
5.1 Strategy Pyramids
5.2 Value Proposition
5.3 Competitive Edge
5.4 Marketing Strategy

5.4.1 Positioning Statements
5.4.2 Pricing Strategy
5.4.3 Promotion Strategy
5.4.4 Distribution Patterns
5.4.5 Marketing Programs
5.5 Sales Strategy

5.5.1 Sales Forecast
5.5.2 Sales Programs
5.6 Strategic Alliances
5.7 Milestones
Include your sales forecast, and bar charts illustrating the next year’s sales, by row, by months; and another illustrating projected sales for the length of the plan, also by row, and by year.Your rows are your sales items, from your sales forecast. Depending on your business, that might be actual items sold, or types of items, or types of services. The details have to fit your business.Also include the milestones table, with a Gantt chart if possible, illustrating the milestones flow for the next year.
6.0 Management Summary
6.1 Organizational Structure
6.2 Management Team
6.3 Management Team Gaps
6.4 Personnel Plan
Include the personnel table, with projected compensation.
7.0 Financial Plan
7.1 Important Assumptions
7.2 Key Financial Indicators
7.3 Break-even Analysis
7.4 Projected Profit and Loss
7.5 Projected Cash Flow
7.6 Projected Balance Sheet
7.7 Business Ratios
7.8 Long-term Plan
This section is full of tables and charts. The assumptions are a table, and so are the Profit and Loss, Cash Flow, Balance Sheet, and Ratios. Some plans will include a table of projected five- or ten-year plans in summarized fashion (sales, gross margin, net profit, assets, liabilities, and capital).Illustrate these tables as much as possible with business charts: Bar charts showing gross margin and profit by month and year, and bar charts showing cash flow by month for the next year.

As a general rule, I recommend including just annual projections in the tables embedded in the text of a plan, along with a heavy dose of business charts. Leave the monthly tables for the appendices.

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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.