Working on writing your business plan and looking for some tools or resources to make it easier? You don’t have to start from zero or reinvent any wheels. Here are some tools and resources that can help.
Some will get you started, some serve as examples, some are pushes and aids that will help you proceed with confidence.
The tools and resources you choose depend on your preferences.
Some people just want to see a sample business plan, so they can copy the outline, or topics covered, or style, putting in their own content of course.
Other people want a business plan template, which is a partially-set-up blank business plan Word doc or PDF with obvious places to customize and add your own words, numbers, and content.
And others looking for look for a simple outline, to get a better idea of what a business plan should cover.
First, get clear on what you want to accomplish
Always start with an assessment of what you want to accomplish with your plan.
Are you seeking a bank loan or investment?
Are you planning to use your business plan as an ongoing strategic roadmap for your company as it grows?
What you’ll need to include might be very different in those two scenarios.
One of the most fundamental principles of business planning is that form follows function. Write the type of business plan that serves your business purpose best.
Do you even need a business plan? The short answer is yes, but if you’re not certain, check out this article on the 8 reasons having a business plan is important for your business.
Business plan template
A business plan template is a basic business plan outline in a Word or PDF document that has a simple fill-in-the-blank system to help you create your own plan. It can be a helpful tool to jump start your process if you’re having trouble getting going, or you’re not sure what is most commonly included in a business plan.
Business planning tools like LivePlan make writing your plan much simpler and more intuitive, with a step-by-step process to follow through each part, including your financials. It’s especially useful if you’re seeking a bank loan or you plan to pitch to investors, in part because you’re able to create your financials without wrangling spreadsheets.
Sample business plan
A sample business plan is an example of a full, traditional plan that is based on a real company. It shows you the actual text, financials, and charts for the business.
We have over 500 free sample business plans here on Bplans for you to view and download if you like. This article on how to get the most out of your sample business plan is worth a read.
The bottom line is that it’s always a bad idea to copy and paste a plan and use it as-is. There are lots of variables that will make your business different from any other. If you do copy and paste, it will be obvious to a bank or investor that you didn’t take the time to make the plan your own.
Also, when you’re looking at sample plans, don’t feel like you have to find a plan that’s for a business exactly like yours. A plan for a vegetarian restaurant is going to have a lot of similarities with a plan for a steak house, for example. It doesn’t need to be an exact match.
Business plan outline
Another term you’ll often hear is “business plan outline.” It refers to the basic structure of a business plan, or the elements that are most often included. Here’s a standard business plan outline.
Keep in mind that your outline should change a bit to fit the type of business you’re involved in. For example, the business plan outline for a restaurant should be different from the business plan outline for a daycare. Consider an outline to be a help and a guide, not a constraint.
Business plan software
If you’re looking for a tool—business plan software—to make the process easier, we recommend LivePlan. It features built-in step-by-step instructions, helpful prompts, definitions of key terms, and video and text tutorials.
Plus, it makes it easier to do your financials without complicated spreadsheet analysis. Enter your monthly sales and costs and LivePlan calculates your financial data for you, and presents it visually with easy to digest charts and graphs.
Full disclosure: we’re the creators of Bplans.com and LivePlan. More than 750,000 entrepreneurs have used LivePlan to help them get their businesses started and to keep them growing and thriving.
Bplans’ library of how-to articles
Bplans.com features thousands of expert how-tos and resources to help you write your plan and start your business.
It’s a one-stop-shop for guides on:
- How to start a business
- How to write a business plan
- How to get funding
- How to pitch to investors
- How to manage and grow a business
- Free, downloadable templates and resources
- 500+ sample business plans
This site started in 1995 and has been growing ever since, with a lot of pruning and paring to keep it fresh and relevant. Bplans is free and easy to use. It’s a great resource for doing it yourself.
Plan writing services
A business plan might seem like a daunting task—and why not have an expert business plan writer do it for you, especially if you can afford it.
However, in the real world, business planning should never be just a one-time task. Real business planning is a process, that goes on forever, as the plan is reviewed and revised often.
A business plan writing service isn’t necessary for everyone, but for some, it might make sense. In the same way that you shouldn’t copy and paste a sample business plan, keep in mind that even if you’re not going to do the writing yourself, you’re still the person who knows your business best, so you’ll need to contribute a lot of information to the project.
When your plan is finished and you’ve successfully sourced funding with it—don’t forget to return to it regularly in a monthly business plan review meeting. Get everything you can out of it by updating it often, and using it to guide your company as it grows.
Accountant or expert advisor
There may come a time when you could really use a professional’s advice, especially as you wrap up the financials section of your plan, or even later on as you’re building a strategic plan for growth or expansion.
Working with an accountant or Expert Advisors (we recommend choosing one that’s certified to use LivePlan) can help your small businesses get started and position for growth. In the LivePlan Expert Advisor Directory, you’ll find accountants, CPAs, and other business advisors with experience doing just that.
SBDCs and SCORE mentors
In the U.S. you can turn to a network of more than 1,000 nonprofit Small Business Development Centers spread across the country. These are publicly funded by a combination of state, federal, and community education agencies. They offer solid expertise at accessible prices, in counseling, workshops, and events.
You might also check with local chapters of the national nonprofit Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE, starting with their website. SCORE counseling is free, offered by retired people with ample business experience.
Try to find counselors whose experience matches your needs. Speaking as an older person and SCORE member, I have to admit that being old doesn’t mean we know everything. Look for relevant experience in a counselor.
Accelerators and incubators
The U.S. ecosystem of startups and small business includes many accelerators and incubators. Some of them are nonprofits sponsored by local governments and/or educational institutions, and some are for-profits.
They might offer mentoring or training opportunities, shared resources (like workspaces), and sometimes an easy path to accessing capital.
Accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces are not always distinctly defined entities. There is quite a bit of a grey area, and every program in the U.S. is different.
In general, accelerators take an existing company and helps it grow faster than it would on its own. Whereas an incubator helps with the beginning stages. (This can be anywhere from “I think I have a good idea” to “I would like to go from this developed idea to get angel investment”.) This can be a very broad spectrum.
It’s important to know what you’re about going into one of these programs and be confident in what you want to get out of it. You’ll want to keep the following in mind as you consider and accelerator or incubator opportunity:
- Who really runs the program? What kind of experience do they have? Is it investor-led?
- Who are the people involved in the program? Who are their mentors? Do they apply to you and have the same needs?
- Look up their alumni. See how active they are with each other and reach out to them. Do they appear to be in a stage you want to be in after graduation?
- What is the program’s nature or relationship to funding or financing? Is there a history of giving funding?
- What is the expectation? Some offices, like YCombinator, are famous because you go and live there. Others have very little expectations. Will you prefer higher vigor and discipline or more freedom?
- Why are you interested in a program like this? Are you ready?
- Do you have the mental capacity for critical feedback and busy hours?
- Are you committed? Is the program?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask why the program exists and interview that. How is it funded? Find out if it’s a vanity project for the biggest investor in your firm. They will force you to succeed; you just need to survive once you’re in! The bottom line is: do your research. Look for what is available near you and analyze its pros and cons for your personal goals and ideas.
For a listing of incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurship centers, go here. Or check with your local chamber of commerce, business school, or local Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2007. It was updated in 2019.