Tips: How to Write a Great Business Plan

A business plan is a document that lays out the path that a business will take as it is established, grows, and develops. A business plan offers a roadmap over a period of time through which a company can channel its operations to help reach a specific set of goals. While there are formal parts to every business plan, such as the executive summary, company description, market analysis, organizational and managerial outline, list of products and services, and financial figures, writing the business plan requires a few steps beyond simply filling out a template.

Step One: Research Your Topic and then Research It Again

In order to write a great business plan, you need to understand the market, your product, and the financials of your operation better than the experts. You need to research each aspect of the plan completely, and this process can actually take much longer than writing the plan itself. Block off about twice the amount of time for research as you do for writing.

Step Two: Decide on a Purpose for the Business Plan

Business plans serve different purposes and must be tailored to your specific goal. If you plan is simply to establish a roadmap for your business, you are likely to spend more time on management and products and services than in laying out the financials. However, if your goal is to secure a bank loan or investor funding, you’ll want to devote more time, effort, and space to planning your company’s financial future rather than its managerial flow charts.

Step Three: Develop a Profile of Your Business

Imagine how you hope your customers or investors would describe your company. What does it make? What does it do? What is its goal? By establishing a mission statement and profiling your company through the eyes of its stakeholders, you’ll be able to use this perspective to tailor each part of your business plan to meet their expectations, values, and needs.

Step Four: Develop a Strategic Marketing Plan

Based on your analysis of your audience - your customer or client base - you can create a strategic marketing plan to bring your company’s message to your target market. To do so, you need to establish a marketing strategy and explain how best to deliver your marketing message. For a new business, an aggressive marketing plan might involve introducing the business to potential customers or clients, establishing good will, and promoting new products and services. An established business might look to expand into a new market, reposition or expand sales of an existing product, or introduce new product or service lines. A marketing plan might also include a pricing strategy and set up ways to increase prices without losing market share.

Step Five: Take the Materials and Develop Flexible Sections

Using the research and analysis from steps one through five, create adaptable sections for your marketing plan that can be scaled up or down in detail based on the needs of the audience. For example, the financial section might be simplified for internal consumption but given in extensive detail to bankers or investors. While the format might be adaptable, remember that the data needs to be the same. Every reader should come away with the same understanding of your business and the same understanding of the plan and its data, no matter how much detail you provide.

Step Six: Share Your Passion

A company is most likely to be successful when its owners and staff care deeply about the business and its mission. If you are simply operating it for cash, you are less likely to make creative and effective decisions than when you are committed to its mission, not just its money. Share your passion with your audience and explain why you care and what your company’s goals are beyond just making money.

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