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How to Write a Business Plan Outline that Makes Sense

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Every business needs a plan; it’s as simple as that.

Your business plan will help ensure that you have something in mind when you get started and be a road map of sorts detailing where you want to go. Not only that, but it helps ensure that you’ve taken the proper steps to research your idea.

But writing a business plan can be challenging if you’ve never done it before. Luckily, there’s a starter-solution that will help you shape your idea before you have to write it into a few thousand words, and that’s the business plan outline.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a written, living document that details your business ideas and operation strategy. It is essentially a road map that you build based on your researched knowledge of the industry. It will continue with you on your journey and change as your business grows.

Every business should have a plan behind it so that it can stay on track (or get back on track should you stray). But it’s also an important tool to help demonstrate the credibility of your idea to prospective funders.

Why is a business plan important?

A business plan is important because not only does it help you put your ideas on paper, but it also encourages you to do your due diligence before you get started.

Writing everything down can help you gain greater clarity and insight into your initial idea. And researching it can help ensure that you know how you’re going to access the market and confirm that there is a need for your product or service.

What questions should you ask yourself before writing your business plan?

Writing a business plan can seem daunting, but one of the ways you can reduce the work is answering a few questions before you start. That way some of the heavy lifting is done.

Before you get started on your business plan, you’ll want to know the following information:

  • What is the ultimate goal of your business?
  • Who are you going to serve?
  • What products or services are you going to offer?
  • What already exists in the marketplace?
  • What makes you different from the rest?

What should you include in your business plan?

With the answer to those questions in mind, you’re ready to start building your business plan outline.

The exact sections may vary depending on who the audience is. But traditionally a business plan will include the following sections:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Business description
  3. Products and services
  4. Market analysis
  5. Competitive analysis
  6. Sales and marketing
  7. Ownership and management
  8. Operations plan
  9. Financial plan
  10. Appendices and exhibits

When you’re creating a simple business plan outline that only you will see, it’s still important for you to cover all of the information in a traditional plan. But it’s okay if you create a simplified version that you understand.

How to organize your business plan outline

The exact sections of your business plan vary depending on who the audience is. Traditionally, a business plan that requires external funding includes the following sections:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Business description
  3. Products and services
  4. Market analysis
  5. Competitive analysis
  6. Sales and marketing
  7. Ownership and management
  8. Operations plan
  9. Financial plan
  10. Appendices and exhibits

But a business plan format that contains all 10 sections involves a lot of heavy lifting. So, if you’re making the plan just for yourself, it’s okay to drop a few sections — especially the executive summary because you already know what to put there.

When you’re creating a simple business plan outline for just you, it’s still important to cover all of the information a traditional plan would even if you don’t do section-by-section. You need to do the work anyway, you may as well write it down so you have something to reference.

Basic Business Plan Outline Sections

Executive Summary

The executive summary is the first section of a standard business plan layout, but it’s traditionally written last. That’s because it provides the reader with a detailed overview of the entire business plan.

This section is crucial if you’re going to be seeking funding—if it’s poorly written you’ll lose your audience fast. But if the plan is just for yourself, it’s safe to skip the summary.

Business Description

Your business description is exactly what it sounds like. It showcases who you’re serving, what problem you’re going to solve for them and how you’re going to solve it. You’ll also want to use your description section to outline your products, services and offerings.

Market Analysis

To build and grow a thriving business, you need to understand the market you’re going into. That’s where the market analysis comes in. If you don’t understand your market, you’ll most likely end up missing the mark.

In this section of your business plan, you’ll identify and research your primary target audience. This means looking at their geographic location(s), overall demographics, what their needs are and how their needs are currently being met.

Competitive Analysis

Knowing your market is one thing, but understanding your competitors and where they stand is also crucial for your overall strategy. What your competitors are doing can be a great indicator of the market as a whole.

In the competitive analysis section of your business plan outline, you’ll want to both identify who your competitors are and analyze how they operate. This gives you an idea of what your entry barriers are and how your business can overcome them.

Sales and Marketing

Many new entrepreneurs spend a lot of time building a great product or service but never spend any thinking about how they’re going to tell people about it. But you won’t end up going anywhere if no one knows you’re out there, so you need a sales and marketing strategy to help promote your business.

This includes not only on how you’re going to reach your market but also how much money you’re going to spend on your marketing. You’ll also want to define your unique selling proposition within your sales and marketing plan, and figuring out your pricing scheme.

Operations Plan

The operations section of your business plan outline should detail the ownership and management of your company, including both the legal structure and your personnel management structure.

This section also needs to include some of the finer details about how your business operates. You’ll want to discuss what kind of personnel you might need, any physical location information, inventory requirements and suppliers, and any other information that helps explain how your business will operate.

Financial Plan

Every small business business plan outline needs to include a financial plan, regardless of whether or not you’re getting external funding. This defines how much your business will cost, make and where the money is coming from. However, if you are getting external sources of funding, this section is crucial.

At the bare minimum, most business plans discuss the projected sales forecast, provide profit, loss and cash flow statements, and a balance sheet. You’ll also want to outline what assumptions you’re making when you build those as well.

If you’re seeking funders, you might want to consider asking a financial planner to help you with this section. You’ll also want to clearly state how much money you are asking for.

Appendices and Exhibits

Your appendices and exhibits are where you include “everything else” that you need for your business plan. Whether you’ve referenced research, conducted a study or started growing your audience already, these sections are intended to help you establish the credibility of your overall business idea.

Getting Started

It’s easy to get overwhelmed but taking the time to create your outline and put your business plan together will set you up for success down the road. You’ll know where you stand and how to get to where you want to go.

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