The US Small Business Administration (SBA) calls the business plan the foundation of your business.¹ Think about that word: “foundation.” Has to be perfect, right?
That’s what stops new and seasoned business owners from creating or updating a business plan. Today, we’re going to fix the curse of paralysis-by-analysis with eight simple steps. Let’s get started.
A business plan is a roadmap for you and investors
Don’t be intimidated. Don’t let perfectionism stifle action. A business plan is simple.
Here’s the short version: a business plan helps you figure out where you want your business to go and identify the necessary steps to get you there— a document to guide your actions and track your progress over the first three to five years.
There are two kinds of business plans
For your business to succeed and grow, you need to know how to write a business plan that’s useful and achievable. Fortunately, you have options.
Most of what you’ll see online focuses on the traditional business plan. They’re around 15 or 20 pages. A well-crafted plan contains strategy, descriptions, financial details, and other information.
Lean business plans are shorter — typically one page. They summarize only the most important points of your plan.
Start with a one-page plan
Most investors will want the traditional business plan since it’s more thorough, but it’s a good idea to have the lean option, too.
In some situations, you’ll want to share only the basics with a potential investor. They’re also great for internal use — a way to onboard employees without overwhelming them.
Every business plan starts with eight steps
As go through the steps, I want you to be aware that business plans are not rigid, dry documents. In other words, your business plan is rhetorical. There’s an argument in there, and the argument is in favor of your business. This is subtle.
Now, let’s go down the steps of how to write a business plan.
1. Executive summary
Begin your business plan with a concise executive summary. This section should provide a snapshot of your business, including its mission, vision, and the unique problem it solves.
You should also include a brief overview of your target market, your competitive advantage, and your financial projections.
I recommend you spend some time on your executive summary. In reality, many investors and other folks you meet will only read this first section, so it’s essential to get it right.
2. Company description
In this section, go deeper into your business’s identity. First, explain the basics, including your company’s history and location.
Outline what inspired you to start your business. A compelling narrative here—even if it’s brief—will help draw people in and motivate them to invest.
3. Organization and structure
This is where you discuss your organizational structure and risk management strategies.
Introduce your management team and key employees. Highlight their qualifications and explain how their skills will contribute.
Investors want to know they’re entrusting their money to capable hands. Here’s your chance to reassure them that you’ve armed yourself with a good team.
4. Mission and goals
This section contains a mission statement and details what the business wishes to accomplish and the steps to get there.
You should have a combination of short and long-term goals.
Short-term goals should be specific, e.g., achieve (x) profit in (x) years. Long-term goals can be more broad.
5. Products or Services
Explain your product or service’s features, benefits, and how they address specific customer needs.
If you’re developing a new product, discuss its development stage and timeline.
6. Market Research
To be successful, you need to understand your market. Define your target audience, analyze your competition, and identify trends.
Include data that support your claims and showcase how your product or service meets the needs of your audience better than others.
7. Marketing Strategy
Share your marketing and sales strategies. Explain how you plan to acquire and retain customers.
The best marketing strategies are comprehensive and build on the research shown in the previous section. Explain how you’ll use online marketing, social media, traditional advertising, and the markets you hope to reach.
8. Financial Projections
Finally, provide a detailed breakdown of the following:
- startup costs
- revenue projections
- a five-year financial forecast.
Be clear about whether you’re looking for debt financing (a loan) or equity financing (selling shares in your business). Explain the terms you’re offering to potential investors.
Also include all the financial data you have, like cash flow statements and balance sheets.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If this is your first business plan, you’ll benefit from a trusted advisor. You can check out SCORE, a nonprofit that offers a network of volunteer business experts who know how to write a business plan and can help you with yours. They have chapters all over the country.²
Or, if you want to work with someone who will be more invested in the long-term success of your business, contact a CPA or on-demand CFO. They’ll have experience drafting a business plan that’s investor-worthy.
My final piece of advice: be realistic
It’s good to be confident but avoid over-optimism. Investors and loan officers will have a general sense of the market and supplement that knowledge with research, so you’re not going to fool anyone with unreasonable sales estimates.
Providing accurate—or even conservative—estimates shows investors that you know how to write a business plan that’s grounded in reality, not wishful thinking.
Contact Jeremy A. Johnson, CPA for help writing a business plan
I’m a Fort Worth-based CPA, tax planning expert, on-demand CFO, and small business owner with more than ten years of experience.
All of that’s to say I’ve written my share of business plans. So give me a call — I’d be happy to help you with yours.
Jeremy A. Johnson, CPA
- Write your business plan [Internet]. Sba.gov. [cited 2023 Aug 25]. Available from: https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/plan-your-business/write-your-business-plan
- We help small businesses like yours. SCORE. 2023. Available from: https://www.score.org/about