Steps to Writing Your First Business Plan

By Carlene Cassidy

Writing a business plan, a document that clearly describes your vision, forces you to examine all aspects of your business, including management, marketing, human resources, legal issues and finances. An outline of what should be included in a business plan is provided below. As you begin the planning process, your business plan will provide answers to the following questions:

1. Who are the owners and management team? Personal resumes outlining education and experience will provide critical background information for creditors.

2. What is the business going to provide? Describe your business vision; the products and services you will offer; who your target market is; your location; how much money the owners are going to invest; and how much additional money you will need from an external funding source (if any).

3. What are your goals? What are your short-term goals (6-12 months), interim goals (years 2 and 3) and long-term goals (years (4-7)?

4. What is your strategy for achieving these goals? How will you meet your financial obligations, compete with others in the market, stay abreast of industry trends, build a management team, hire and train employees, etc.?

One important thing to keep in mind is that your business plan does not get written, published, and then sit on a shelf collecting dust. Business planning is an ongoing process that requires business owners to set aside time on a regular basis to evaluate results, strategize and implement their updated plans. Every business owner will benefit from writing and updating goals, plans and strategies.

A Sample Business Plan Outline

There is no “best format” for a business plan. There are some basic elements that every business plan should include. The following is not intended to be comprehensive; however, it is a good list to get you started:

Title Page: Include the name of the business, all contact and ownership information (names, address, telephone, email, and Web site). You may also want to include your company slogan, vision or mission statement, or a brief business description.

Table of Contents: Include all sections with page numbers. List exhibits or appendices with clear descriptions; for example, a diagram of a store layout may be exhibit number 1 on page 17.

Mission Statement: A mission statement usually does not change for five or more years, so it is important that your mission statement describe your company in the marketplace and is general enough to allow potential growth in products and/or services.

Executive Summary: One of the most important sections of your plan. This provides an overview of your plan to allow the reader to quickly understand your business concept and plan for success. In addition to providing a brief description of the company history, products and services, it also should clearly state the purpose of the plan, your company goals, who your target market is, a description of your management team and financial information.

Industry Status: Include any regulatory issues, projected opportunities, industry history and outlook, and external factors influencing industry, such as technology.

Target Market: Who are your potential customers? Where do they live? When and why will they buy from you?

Marketing Plan: Include sales goals, product descriptions, pricing (which requires examining the competition and customer expectations as well as all expenses). Also include location, promotional activities, packaging, guarantees, warranties and other customer service policies, sales training plans and strategies for growth.

Production and Operations Plan: This includes facilities, equipment, production process, costs, suppliers and credit terms, delivery/shipping plans, and time lines for research and development.

• Insurance: List of the risk factors, such as product liability, personal/business liability, vehicles, fire, theft, workers’ compensation, unemployment, key man and business interruption.

• Management and Human Resources: Roles and responsibilities of key managers, personnel (number of full-time and part-time employees by job description), compensation, benefits, organization chart, policies, and contracted personnel or professional services retained outside of the company, such as attorney, accountant, insurance representative, etc.

• Financial Plan: This section should include everything from start-up costs to monthly expenses. It should include sources and uses of funds, break-even analysis, balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flow projected for three years, along with assumptions used in preparing these projections.

• Attachments: Resumes, advertisements, contracts, leases, patents, copyrights, marketing research, facility layout diagrams, etc.

© 2010, Carlene Cassidy

Carlene Cassidy, Professor

School of Business, Computing & Technical Studies

Director, Entrepreneurial Studies Institute, Anne Arundel Community College, cmcassidy@aacc.edu

410-777-2161

Sources:

Small Business Management: An Entrepreneur’s Guidebook, 4th edition, by Leon C. Megginson, Jane Byrd, and William L. Megginson.

Small Business Administration Web site: www.sba.gov

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