This article is part of a larger series on Starting a Business.
A business plan is a written document that explains how a business will succeed. All businesses should have some type of plan. If you’re making a more in-depth business plan, consider using a software to keep your thoughts and financial projections well organized.
In this article, we talk about four types of business plans:
- One-page Business Plan
- Traditional Business Plan
- Business Model Canvas
- Business Pitch
Over time, you may make several of these business plans. For example, if your business starts as a weekend side-hustle, you may start with a one-page plan and a pitch—which verbally communicates your business.
Once your business grows, you may need financing from a bank. To be eligible for financing, you will need a traditional plan. If your business continues to grow and you have an executive team, you may choose to do a Business Model Canvas, which works well for input from a large group.
1. One-page Business Plan
The one-page business plan is for a very small business such as a side-business. It’s a great way to get your ideas on paper and to work out the fundamentals of the business. With this plan, you’ll write a couple of sentences for important business concepts. It should include items such as the business model (how will it make money?) and competitive advantage (what will it do better than competitors?).
You should plan on spending around an hour to write out a one-page business plan. The simplified financial projections will be the most challenging and time-consuming. You most likely will need to do research online to get accurate income and expense estimates.
Click here to download our one-page business plan template to start your business planning today
Sections For The One Page Business Plan
Write one to two sentences to answer the following questions:
- Problem: What problem will your business solve?
- Solution: What will your business provide to solve that problem?
- Business model: How will your business make money?
- Target customers: What type of people will buy your product or service?
- Promotion: How will your target customers learn about your business?
- Competitive advantage: What will your business do better than the competitors?
- Financial projections: How much money do you need to start? How much will you earn every month? And how much will you spend every month?
- Funding required: How much money do you need to start the business?
What To Do After Creating Your One-page Plan
Once you create your plan, don’t just shove it in a desk drawer. Share it with supportive friends, family, and mentors for feedback. Consider updating the mini-plan based on their thoughts.
You may also want to do a few of the one-page biz plans to work out several business ideas you have. If you can’t decide which business to start, here’s a strategy to decide on one business. While writing the plans, pay attention to which business plan gets you most excited. Let your excitement point you in the direction of which biz to choose.
2. Traditional Business Plan
The traditional business plan is more in-depth and thorough than the one-page business plan. A traditional plan may contain over 40 pages of info about your business. Typically, you’ll use this plan to get funding from a bank such as a larger loan. You may also use a traditional business plan to attract investors to your business.
You should plan on spending at least 30 hours creating a well-researched business plan. In addition to writing the plan, you will also spend time doing market research and creating financial projections.
As a small business consultant, I’ve reviewed dozens of traditional business plans. Most business owners can easily do the research and write the plan. Where most have difficulty are the financial projections, which require creating several financial documents. If you don’t have a financial analysis background or interest, it’s a wise strategy to purchase a business plan software that walks you step-by-step through the financial projection process.
Traditional Business Plan Sections
- Opening Organizational & Legal Pages: The opening pages of your business plan need to be a cover page, nondisclosure agreement, and a table of contents.
- Executive Summary: You will complete this section last. It is a summary of the entire plan in less than two pages.
- Company Summary: Discuss the basics of the company such as its history, location, facilities, company ownership, and competitive advantage.
- Products & Services: Talk about how your business makes money (business model), the products or services it provides, and future products or services.
- Market & Industry Analysis: This section analyzes your potential customers and industry. Include any data here about your current (or ideal) customers, business industry, and competitors.
- Marketing Strategy & Implementation Summary: How will you reach your customers? Discuss your marketing, sales, and pricing strategy.
- Management & Organization Summary: Who will own and operate the business? If your business isn’t open yet, give a compelling reason why your background will make it a success. Include information on any managers in the business as well.
- Financial Data & Analysis: Here you want to show in charts and graphs how your business will be a success. You will include financial projections such as a profit & loss statement, projected cash flow, and business ratios.
- Appendix: Any documents or information that doesn’t fit in the above categories goes in the appendix. You may want to include documents such as a floor plan, trademark, or marketing materials.
For a new business owner to complete a business plan, the financial projections will be the most challenging part. It’s difficult because you are mostly guessing how much money the business will make and spend every month for the next three years. Additionally, financial terminology and how it all flows together can make your head hurt.
Bankers and investors require financial projections in a business plan because they want to learn how you believe they will make their money back. It’s also a great idea to track your projections and update it with actual data as the business progresses.
A no-cost way to create financial projections is to use SCORE’s free template. If you are overwhelmed by the free Excel document, I’d recommend using a business plan software. The LivePlan software walks you step-by-step through the financial projection process and turns your financial data into easy to read charts and graphs.
3. Modern Business Plan: Business Model Canvas
The Business Model Canvas (BMC) is an alternative to the traditional business plan. Released in 2008, it updates sections such as Customer Relationships and Key Partnerships.
Many business owners prefer to use the BMC because it can be done as a visual exercise with the leadership team. Together, the team can go through each section and provide high-level input. Once you create the basics of the BMC, it’s easy to share with others. The contents can be summed up on one page, whereas the traditional plan above will likely be at least 40 pages.
Business Model Canvas Sections
- Customer Segments: Who are the most important type of customers or businesses that will be buying your products or services?
- Value Propositions: What value will you be delivering to customers? What customer problems are you trying to solve?
- Channels: What channels will you use to reach customers and maintain relationships?
- Customer Relationships: How will you maintain relationships with your customers?
- Key Resources: Who are the key people (inside the business), and what are the patents, places, and machines that the business couldn’t operate without?
- Key Activities: What crucial activities need to be done in the business so that you can serve your customers?
- Key Partnerships: What people or organizations (outside of the business) help your business operate such as suppliers or referral sources?
- Cost Structure: What are the largest expenses in your business? List at least seven.
- Revenue Streams: In what ways will your business earn money? If possible, list specific numbers such as the average earned per product or service performed.
Getting A Loan Or Investor with A BMC
Both banks and investors are becoming more open to accepting a Business Model Canvas instead of a traditional business plan. If you’re choosing to do a BMC to receive funding, always check with the bank or investor to determine if they will find it as an acceptable business plan.
Even though we didn’t discuss as a section for the BMC, when seeking funding, you must include thorough financial projections (similar to the traditional plan). Bankers and investors mostly care about how much money you believe the business will earn over the next three years, and how they will make their investment back.
Learn More About The BMC
You can learn about the specifics of the Business Model Canvas for free through blog posts and articles online. However, if you’re serious about applying it to your business, I recommend purchasing the official book by the creators of the BMC, called Business Model Generation. The book will walk you step-by-step through each section and provide several examples.
4. Business Pitch
A business pitch is a short explanation of your business in about 60 seconds. Many people also call this the elevator pitch. If you’re involved in the tech world, a business pitch is typically a 10 to 20-minute presentation given to angel investors and venture capitalists.
However, the typical business owner won’t be traveling to Silicon Valley, asking for a large sum of money.
When starting their business, the typical business owner will be explaining their business hundreds, if not thousands, of times. So in our perspective, the short verbal explanation is the business pitch. Use it to get customers, vendors, business peers, or potential partners excited about your business.
Business Pitch Structure
Depending on who you are telling your pitch to, the structure of your business pitch will change. For example, you probably won’t be including the business model info with a potential vendor; however, you would use it with a prospective business partner.
- Problem: In the first few seconds of the pitch, describe the problem your customer is having. If possible, try to connect it with the listener because it will make your message more personal.
- Solution: Immediately after the problem, discuss how you will solve it with your product or service.
- Business Model: If it isn’t apparent how your solution will make money, discuss it next. This clarification is especially important if you’re speaking to someone like an investor.
- Opportunity: Use statistics about your target customer and industry to explain how much potential your business has.
- Team: Mention your background and the team’s background. Consider mentioning facts like the total number of years’ experience in the industry, or prior successes.
- Ask: At the end of your pitch, your listener should be excited. Don’t let that excitement go to waste. Always ask for support in some way, which could be as small as visiting your website, or as large as asking for a million-dollar investment—just like Shark Tank!
How To Get Good At Delivering The Pitch
It’s a simple formula to get good at delivering the pitch: practice. Resolve to say your 60-second pitch 10 times per day. Say it in front of the mirror, in the car, and while walking the dog. The ultimate goal is to not stumble through your pitch, or stop to think what to say next.
Once you are somewhat confident in delivering the pitch, start saying it in front of people. Notice their body language. Do they make a face when you say a particular word or sentence? Maybe they are confused about what you’re saying. Do they look bored after 15 seconds? Perhaps your beginning hook isn’t strong enough.
Business Plan Software
A business plan software holds your hand step-by-step through the business plan creation process. Typically, software helps you create a traditional business plan that is ready to present to a banker or investor.
If you’re creating financial projections, I highly recommend purchasing business plan software. This purchase will keep you from working within a complicated Excel spreadsheet and makes your financial data look well organized in charts and graphs.
What To Look For In A Business Plan Software
Price: The cost of a business plan software is fairly similar. Expect to pay around $15 per month to access the software.
Ease of use: If possible, try a demo of the software to ensure it’s easy to use. Some biz plan software may not have been updated in several years and could be difficult to navigate.
Business plan design: When you print out your business plan, you want it to look professional. Also, certain software allows you to add graphics and visuals throughout your plan.
Diversity of products: In addition to the biz plan software, many companies provide resources such as marketing tools or connections with investors.
Educational materials: It’s important for a software to have quality educational materials so that you can learn as you create the plan. Some software includes video teachings.
Customer support: If you need help navigating the software or have questions about your biz plan, you’ll want to be able to reach a customer rep for guidance.
The Most Popular Biz Plan Software
The most popular business plan software available is from LivePlan. They provide a 60-day free trial of their software so you can test it and make sure it’s the right fit for you.
One of LivePlan’s strongest features is its detailed and easy-to-use financial projections. The software asks you questions about your business, and it automatically calculates financial data like the gross margins and business ratios.
Software For A Tech Startup
If your business is a tech startup, your goals are different from the average business. You may need a large amount of capital to fuel your high-growth business.
Appealing to venture capital firms require different business plan elements such as working capital, gross margins, and available cash. Bizplan provides those features for startups and helps them connect with potential investors.
Business Plan Writing Services
If you need a business plan, but don’t want to write it yourself and don’t want to use a software, you can pay a professional to create it for you. Several companies provide business plan writing services with experts who do market research and create custom-designed plans. Many of these companies also offer other writing services such as a pitch deck, feasibility study, or franchise-specific plan.
How To Choose A Biz Plan Writing Service
When choosing a business plan writing service, you first want to review the background of the writers. Some companies provide writers with MBAs (Master of Business Administration).
You also want to review samples of the business plans created. Remember, the company likely provided the best-designed business plans they have, so make sure to ask how much a particular well-designed business plan will cost, which may be out of your budget.
Cost Of A Business Plan Writing Service
A basic business plan writing service usually costs a minimum of $2,000. However, if your plan requires extensive research, custom graphics, and enhanced overall design, that cost can go up to over $10,000.
Contact Your Local SBDC For A Review
If you have your business plan and are looking for someone to review it for feedback, your local SBDC (Small Business Development Center) may be able to help. The SBDC provides no-cost consulting and is funded in part by the SBA (Small Business Administration). There are over 1,000 SBDC locations across the US.
One of the SBDC’s core services is to provide detailed reviews of business plans. Depending on the expertise of your local SBDC Consultants, you may get lucky and have a business plan expert at your local center. Inquire if he or she can review your biz plan and provide feedback.
After creating your business plan, the next step in your journey to start a business is to obtain adequate capital. When potential business owners hear the word “capital,” they often think about big loans from banks. However, capital could also be a much smaller amount, such as $2,000 from a credit card or $5,000 from a crowdfunding campaign.
Remember to revisit your business plan often. Even after one month, you may learn new insights about your product and market that requires a business plan revision. If you’re creating financial projections, it’s a business best practice to update your projections monthly with actual sales and expense data to determine if your assumptions you made are accurate.