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Your business needs a rudder, something to help you hold the course as you grow and change over time. 

A business plan is more than a pitch for investors- it’s a tool for shaping your business

Writing a business plan is almost like you’re back in school, writing an outline for your thesis. You’re laying out the framework of your business for every decision you make moving forward.

It can be intimidating to start, so we’re going to break down the process of writing a business plan into manageable steps. We’ll help you to collect all the information you need and then build it into a persuasive business plan.

The Complete Guide to Writing a Business Plan for Small Business Growth

1. Do I Need to Write a Business Plan?

2. What’s in a Business Plan?

3. How to Write a Business Plan

4. Writing a Business Plan that Sells

Do I need to write a business plan? Do I know how to write a business plan? Writing a business plan and presenting it to your colleagues is an important task for any small business leader

1. Do I Need to Write a Business Plan?

We tend to think of a business plan in terms of investment, so businesses without formal shareholders often feel like they don’t need one. Thing is, breaking down your ideas, financial planning, and goals in a single place is valuable regardless of your business.

Writing a business plan connects your competitor and market research to your financial predictions and operations. It helps you visualize all the different elements of your business in connection to each other. 

Even if you’ve been in operation for a while, taking the time to step back and write a business plan can help you connect your business to your goals for growth. Rapid growth, in particular, can bring out new ideas and new challenges, and a solid business plan can help you navigate big changes.

These tips will be valuable as you rethink and expand your business. 

Read more:

5 Reasons to Write a Business Plan
Reasons a Business Plan Is Key to Success

A group of people work together in the early stages of a project in this article about how to write a business plan from Selz the Saas ecommerce platform for business

2. What’s in a Business Plan?

While writing a business plan generally means following a specific structure, everything you put into that structure boils down to four key elements:

  • The Business
  • The Market
  • The Future
  • The Finances

You may not build your final business plan around these four points, but by digging into each umbrella topic first you can collect all of the information you need and slot it more easily into the final plan.

If you’re working with a larger team, then you can delegate each umbrella topic to different parts of your staff as you pull together the information. 

Let’s take a look at the four umbrella topics. 

The Business

This is all the basic information about the structure of your business, including the products and services you offer, your key personnel, your business location, etc. It’s everything you need to showcase what your business does and how you do it.

Don’t forget relevant information about business operations, including:

The Market

How will your business stand out and compete? Market and customer research are key to success, and your business plan is where you’ll compile this information and hone in on your specific business niche.

As you compile this information, you’ll want to dig into your marketing and advertising plans and set sales targets. With the broader market in mind, you can also do your S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. This is also a good time to analyze your competitive advantage.

Read more: 

How to Use Buyer Behavior to Grow Your Business
SWOT Analysis – Discover New Opportunities, Manage and Eliminate Threats

Big picture concepts like SWOT analysis are important when you are envisioning the future of your organization and writing a business plan

The Future

For many of us, this is the fun part. “The Future” is where you break down your goals. You’ll start with your vision statement, which collects your hopes and dreams for the business into a concise pitch. It’s the broad idea that defines and inspires your business. 

You’ll also write your mission statement, which takes the vision statement and focuses it into a more action-oriented directive. 

These two statements are often really similar, so let’s look at a business example for these statements.

Patagonia’s vision statement goes like this: “A love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet.”

So how will they put their vision statement into action? With their mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

So, when you’re writing a business plan, how will you craft these important ideas? 

You can read more vision statement examples in this article. Write a few drafts for your business plan, then share and get feedback from your staff and other stakeholders in your business.

The vision and mission statements are something you want everyone to get behind. These statements should inform each step your business takes into the future.

Finally, you’ll want to put together your action plan. This plan takes your loftiest goals and funnels them through practical concerns. Your action plan should answer three key questions:

  • What are the key milestones for your business?
  • When do you expect to reach them?
  • Who is responsible for getting to each milestone? (i.e. head of sales, head of product, etc.)

Read more: The Seven Steps of Action Planning

Money is an important factor when you're writing a business plan so look carefully at your finances

The Finances

This part is probably the most intimidating for many businesses. That said, it’s also incredibly valuable for guiding your small business and concretizing the other parts of your plan. Generally, when you look at the financials of your business, you’ll want to do so with the next five years in mind.

Think in terms of a few key numbers:

3. How to Write a Business Plan

The US Small Business Administration recommends a simple format for writing a business plan. We’ll work from that model, because (with slight variations) this is what most business leaders will expect to see.

A typical outline includes:

  • Executive summary
  • Company description
  • Market analysis
  • Organization and management
  • Marketing and sales
  • Funding request (if applicable)
  • Financial projections

Executive summary: What are we looking at here?

This is the broadest description of the company in a succinct single page. It gives your readers a sense of what they’re looking at before you dig into the details. You’ll want to explore your product, your team, your location, and your plans for growth. You’ll include both your mission and vision statements.

It’s generally accepted that you’ll want to write this section last, because it pulls together elements from every other part of your business plan. 

Company description: What problem does your business solve, and what kinds of customers do you plan to serve? How do you stand out in the market? 

From here on, writing your business plan will require important details, so spend time digging into your strengths and finding the best way to express them. A lot of the information for this section can come directly from materials collected in “The Business.”

Market analysis: Who will buy your products? 

It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves when we have a great idea, and the market analysis section of your business plan is essentially a way to prove that you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to figure out where your business falls within the broader economic world. You’ll draw a lot from “The Market” section of your pre-writing.

A woman looks carefully at her finances as she learns how to write a business plan

Organization and management: Who’s in charge?

Break down the structure of your company and the credentials of your leadership. You’ll want to create an organizational chart to make it clear who manages what and who reports to who.

You’ll also break down the legal structure of your business, i.e. sole proprietor vs LLC. Again, you’ll already have most of this information in “The Business.”

Read: Taking your small business to the next level: challenges & tips

Service or product line: What’s the product? How will it improve and/or simplify the lives of your customers? 

Explain your product or service- how it’s made, how it works, any research and development you’ve done, etc. You’ll also want to dig into plans for copyright in this section, if applicable.

Read: How to Improve Product Quality with Customer Feedback

Marketing and sales: What’s your strategy for making sales and bringing back repeat customers?

This section should go into the different marketing campaigns you’ll be running, as well as the sales process. Dig into key markets, and what channels you’ll use to reach them. As you might expect, all this information should fall under the “Market” umbrella.

Read more: 

How to Market a Product Online in 7 Powerful Steps
Launching A Successful Click Funnel in 6 Steps

Funding request: How much are you requesting from investors, and where is that money going?

If your business is asking for external funding, this is where you break down salaries, bills and the cost of equipment and rent.

It’s also where you’ll outline your future plans for the business to give shareholders an understanding of the eventual goals. Both this section and the next will rely heavily on your “Finances” umbrella.

Financial projections: Why is your business a safe investment?

Basically, your financial projections collect together the information from “The Finances” section to make a case that your business will be stable and successful over the next five years.

Talk about the role your business plays in the broader market, current predictions about the market, and how you predict your own costs and revenue will shift over time. 

For established businesses, it’s worth including financial statements from the past several years.

You need to involve the whole team if you want to write a business plan that sells

4. Writing a Business Plan that Sells

So how do you tie this all together?

First, keep it brief wherever you can. There’s going to be a ton of information in your business plan, and will quickly overwhelm the reader if the individual pieces aren’t concise. 

There will be some necessary repetition, but try to keep the different sections separate. 

Finally, keep it engaging, and showcase your excitement, passion, and authority. These elements will come through most clearly in your mission and vision statements, but they should thread all the way through your business plan. 

Your enthusiasm is a huge part of what makes your business worth the investment. Share your business plan, post it prominently in your workspace, and continue to revisit your business plan once a year to realign your plan with the evolution of your business. 

About the author

Bryce Patterson

Bryce is a writer and content marketer at Selz, and a freelance writer for tech companies including Churn Buster and Evergreen. He gives ecommerce business and non-profits a more human, relatable voice. He has written a novel, worked on a comic book, and played in a handful of bands. Bryce lives in Colorado.

2 comments

  1. Rich J.

    Nice article about business plans for students witht business ideas. Thanks!

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