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Chapter 2

How to write a business plan

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Small business guides > Your guide to starting a business > How to write a business plan

How to write a business plan

Writing a business plan will help nail down your idea and give you a blueprint for executing it. Plus you need one to apply for finance. Let’s look at what goes into a business plan.

What is a business plan?

A business plan describes your product or service, identifies who the customer is, explains why they need your product or service, and shows how you’ll make money from that opportunity.

Why write a business plan

How you write a business plan will depend on what you need it to do. There are a couple of key jobs a business plan can have. It can:

  • explain a business idea

  • convince lenders or investors to put money behind that business idea

It doesn’t take a book to do the first job. You can write a business plan that’s short, to the point, and easy to update. That may be all you ever need. But if you’re going for funding, your business plan will need to be a good deal longer and more comprehensive.

Woman writing a business plan

Why every business should start with a one-pager

Even if you will eventually write a long business plan, a one-pager is a great place to start. It could take as little as an hour to do your first draft and will make your idea stronger. Writing about customers, competitors, income and expenses will help develop your thinking.

How to write a one-page business plan

You’ll see in the example below that there are nine sections, or things to write about. So give yourself just a small space to write about each. Keeping it short will help you focus on what’s important.

A super-brief one-page business plan with arrows showing the eight sections.

One-page business plan

When you need a longer business plan

The greater the risk you’re taking, the more comprehensive your plan should be. For instance, you’ll need to write a long-form business plan if you’re going to fund it with other people’s money. Banks and investors will expect it.

How to write a longer business plan

Long-form business plans touch on all the same things as a one-pager, but they go into more detail and contain fewer assumptions. 

Back-of-the-napkin numbers are replaced by forecasts and budgets. And guesstimates for things like costs, market size, customer preferences, and competitor weaknesses need to be backed up with proof. It’s a good idea to involve an accountant or bookkeeper in developing the budgeting and finance sections.

Contents of a business plan:

  1. Executive summary
    A short summary of the main points of your business plan. Write it last.

  2. Company overview
    Identify your industry, what you’re selling, and how you’ll charge.

  3. Products or services
    Include a description of the problem you’re solving for customers.

  4. Market analysis
    Describe your target market, and examine the competition.

  5. Risk assessment
    Flag potential hurdles (including assumptions that could be proved wrong).

  6. Marketing and sales plan
    How will you find customers and make sales? How many sales will there be?

  7. Milestones
    What needs to happen and when?

  8. Progress reporting
    When and how will you report against the milestones?

  9. Team
    Who will be involved in the business? Note their skills and responsibilities.

  10. Budget
    Estimate your costs and income (and any debt that you plan to take on).

  11. Finance
    Show how you’ll fund the business.

You can also add an appendix with any supporting or background documents.

Make a start by downloading our free business plan template.

Woman with laptop and business plan

How not to write a business plan

Avoid these common business planning mistakes:

  • Underestimating how much money it will take to get started

  • Failing to budget for the first few months of operation (before revenues start flowing)

  • Expecting sales to ramp up too fast

  • Relying too heavily on one or two customers (or suppliers)

  • Not including contingencies for unexpected delays or costs

Chapter 3: Budgeting and forecasting

Sort out a budget for your business. This quick guide takes newbies through the basics of budgeting, financing and forecasting. Get your finances in order.

Read chapter 3

This guide is intended as general information only. Always check with a professional for advice.

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