How to write a business plan.

Writing a business plan is easier than you may think. Just remember: Order is everything—and don’t forget the tech.

Does your company have a written business plan? It’s never too late to write one, and it’s a worthwhile exercise because it can reveal opportunities and challenges you might not otherwise see.

But writing a business plan is especially important if you’re going to be pitching it to potential lenders, investors, or partners. They all want to know One Big Thing about your business: how it’s going to succeed. Your business plan should make this One Big Thing very, very clear.

You can find lots of great resources online for how to write a business plan, including templates and sample plans. Most sources give you a structure to follow that looks something like this:

  • Executive summary
  • Description
  • Market
  • Organization
  • Product or service
  • Marketing plan
  • Financials

We recommend adding one more section that is often overlooked: Technology. We’ll get to this in detail a little later, but you should plan to add it right after Financials.

This is a good order for presenting your small business plan. But it’s not the best order for actually writing it. Instead, try going from macro to micro. Start with the big picture—the market—and then zero in on your specific business, leaving its nitty gritty details for last.

The reason to write it in this order is to help keep your plan focused on the One Big Thing—how your business will succeed. Everything in your plan should ladder up to this. We’ll show you what we mean.

1. The market.

For this part, do your research. Go online to examine your best competitors and see what they’re doing that’s making them successful. If you have a retail business, visit your competitors’ brick-and-mortar stores.

What customers are your competitors targeting? How are they reaching these customers? What problems are they solving for them?

Look for the common trends in your industry, but also look at how the really good competitors are differentiating themselves from each other in ways their customers care about. Describe all of this in the Market section of your plan.

2. Description.

Now that you’ve painted the big picture, start to home in on your own business. Explain what customers you’re targeting and what problem or need you’re addressing for them. Clearly describe how you’re doing this differently from your competitors, and why that difference matters to your customers.

Two things should be very clear in this section of your business plan: the reason for your business to exist and your advantage over the competition. They should add up to the One Big Thing you need to prove: how your business will succeed.

3. Product or service.

What are you selling, exactly? Describe it in detail. Where does it come from? Are you developing it yourself? How is it created? Is there intellectual property you need to protect? Do you need to do research and development?

The product or service you’re describing should ladder up to the problem or need you identified in the previous section. Be sure to “connect the dots” to make it very clear how the product or service you’re selling solves the need that exists in the market.

4. Marketing plan.

How are you going to sell your product or service? What channels will you use to communicate its benefits to your target customers? Are you going to take market share from a competitor—if so, from whom? And how? Or maybe you’re going to grow the category and get new customers to engage in it for the first time. How will you do that?

Remember the competitive advantage you laid out in the Description section? Be sure to echo that advantage here, but also use this section of your business plan to explain how you’re going to communicate it to the people you need to reach.

5. Organization.

Next, talk about who is going to make it all happen. Describe how your business is structured, including the legal structure—is it incorporated, or a partnership, an LLC, or some other structure?

You can include an org chart in this section. Explain who is in each role and why they are qualified to perform that role successfully. You can include résumés or CVs of team members in here, or you can add them to an appendix at the end of the plan.

If you’ll need to hire employees, include those positions in your org chart. Make sure it’s clear why this is the group of people and job functions who can make your One Big Thing a reality.

6. Financials.

Use this section of your small business plan to explain how all of this works financially. Account for the expenses and income associated with selling your product or service, the cost of activities in your Marketing section and the value of the sales they will drive, and the salaries of the folks in your Organization section.

Include a five-year projection of revenue and expenses. When will your business start to turn a profit?

If you’re writing a business plan for an existing business, include financial statements for the past five years.

Explain all the numbers and where they’re coming from. It all has to make sense—and the One Big Thing in your Description section should support your projections.

7. Technology.

Why include a Technology section in your business plan? Because it’s an important part of how your business will succeed. We see technology as the connective tissue that holds a business together. And it helps enable all the players in the market to compete.

At a minimum you’ll likely need wireless connectivity and mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. But think about other technologies that can help keep your business efficient and agile.

For example, a mobile POS system can enable your business to take credit card payments in the field or right on the sales floor. A mobile forms solution can help streamline your business processes, reduce errors, or even improve cash flow. Vehicle tracking technology can help you route service or delivery vehicles in the most efficient way.

How will your business use technology to work smarter, compete better, or respond faster? What role will it play in bringing your One Big Thing to life?



8. Executive summary.

We saved the first part of your business plan for last: the executive summary. If you write it at the end, it will pretty much write itself. Start this section with your One Big Thing, which by now should be easy to articulate. This statement should be simple and direct. Try to be as specific and precise as you can while using as few words as possible.

After that, sum up each of the previously written sections. Think one sentence per section. When you’re finished, you should have a cohesive paragraph that summarizes your whole plan. Read it out loud to make sure it flows; you may need to add some transitional words where needed.

You can finish your plan with an appendix that includes résumés, as we mentioned earlier, along with examples of marketing creative, copies of legal filings, detailed financial charts, or any other relevant supporting documents.

Now all you need to do is re-order the sections like this:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Description
  3. Market
  4. Organization
  5. Product or service
  6. Marketing plan
  7. Financials
  8. Technology
  9. Appendix (optional)

Follow these guidelines and you should end up with a business plan that is focused, convincing and compelling.

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