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How To Write A Business Plan For Your Startup

Over the past couple of months, we’ve shared our thoughts about how to start a business—everything from how to create your first website to how to figure out if you’ll turn a profit.

For decades, when entrepreneurs started a business, the first step was to write a business plan. But that’s not always true today. With the myriad of online tools available to help startups today, it’s easy to set up a business without going through the process of writing a business plan. But should you?

Need to borrow money for your startup? You’ll need to present a business plan

If you are planning on borrowing money to finance your business, you almost certainly need to have a business plan. The process for applying for an SBA loan requires you to submit profit and loss statements, income and expense projections, information about the owners and management, as well as a business overview and history. That information is what makes up the bulk of a business plan. Many banks go one step farther and require a formal written plan as part of the application process.

But there is another good reason to write out your business plan before launching your startup: the discipline of analyzing the marketplace and potential competitors, of creating a sales and marketing plan, and projecting financials will prepare you more fully for the rigors and surprises that come when starting a business. Creating a pitch deck just doesn’t do the same thing.

So if you’re ready to work on your business plan, here’s what you’ll want to include:

1. Executive Summary
This is a quick, half-page summary of the information in the rest of the plan. You’ll want to include mentions of the business idea, an outline of your marketing plan (these 5 free marketing tools may be helpful!), and the top line numbers in your financial projections. While this section appears at the beginning of your business plan, you’ll want to write it last.

2. Company Profile
In this section, you’ll introduce your company, products, and services and how those products meet a market need. Who is the target market? What is the market need (or pain point) that your product addresses? What makes you different from your competition? Make sure to provide support for the claims you make.

3. Market Overview
This section details exactly who will purchase your product. You should include basic demographic and psychographic information, the competitive environment (strengths and weaknesses), the size of the market, what similar products cost and their repurchase rate, as well as how much of the market you expect to gain. This is also where you would include information about market trends and your pricing structure, including profit margins and cost of goods. It’s a good idea to include your projections for your growth over the next two years.

4. Marketing Plan
Investors will be interested in how you will market your product and what it will cost to attract new customers. What is your strategy for penetrating the market and growing? What distribution channels will you use? How will you communicate your product’s value proposition to the market? What are your plans for PR, online advertising, and social media? Do you plan to use traditional media (newspaper, radio, TV)? Do you have a referral plan? Will you hire a sales team? Detail anything you plan to do to attract customers in this section.

5. Financial Projections
At the very least, your business plan should include historical information if you have it, and income and expense projections for the next two years. Investors are almost certain to think your projections are too rosy (they probably are), so make sure you can back up any assumptions you make. You should also detail your startup costs, cash, and assets you have on hand, as well as any pre-existing loans you have (including credit cards). If you are using your business plan to raise money, you should also include a funding request in this section—exactly how much money do you need to get up and running?

6. Company Organization and Key Personnel
More important than your idea or your marketing plan are the people who will execute on your idea. This section should include the names and positions of the key players in your business. Detail any relevant experience they have, track records, the percentage of ownership they have, and what they will be doing to grow the business. This section can also detail your business’s legal structure and the experience of your advisors or board of directors.

Additional tips when writing up your business plan

1. Don’t exaggerate or make assumptions you can’t back up. Let’s say you are opening a men’s tie store in Chicago. Don’t assume that your potential target market is 1.5 million men living in Chicago. It’s not. You can’t possibly reach all of them. And only a portion of them regularly wear ties. And only a small portion of those will buy a tie from you. Can you reach enough of these people to run a profitable business?

2. Write for your audience. Your business plan is designed to help you raise money, so the audience is your banker (or investor). That means you need to keep it professional. Proofread. Spell check. Make sure it’s well written before you send it out. It may be worth hiring a professional writer to help polish your plan.

3. Don’t be vague. Your plan should be as specific as possible. When someone reads your plan, they should understand exactly what you will sell, how much you can make, and what you’ll do to make it happen. This isn’t the place to be secretive about your plans.

4. Do your research. The more you understand about your competitors and the market as it stands today, the better. Don’t claim there’s no competition—if that’s what you think, you need to do more research. Don’t assume there are no risks—there are always risks to entering a market with a new product or service.

Need help writing your business plan? Check out the SBA’s tutorial. Good luck with your plan and your new business!


Amber Ooley
Amber Ooley
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