How to start a business plan for dummies

Most successful entrepreneurs know that without a business plan they’re unlikely to succeed. If you want to leverage the power of other people’s experience and access the resources you need to become a successful entrepreneur, then a business plan needs to be the central element of your success strategy. Here are some tips on how to start.

In this post, we’ll make the effort to explain how to launch your business plan for dummies, startup business plan template and business plan for dummies template. An effective business plan is a comprehensive and practical plan that will help you organize your company’s activities and guide its future.

How to start a business plan for dummies

A small business plan must focus on the essentials. Any successful business plan will address organizational structure, product descriptions and market position, marketing and sales, and finances. Critically important is the how, when, and where you are going to accomplish what you plan. But here are ten key things you need to do for a great business plan:

  • Write down your thoughts throughout the planning process. Although this may seem obvious, many people plan in their heads and don’t write it down. Later, they forget some of what they thought about. Keeping notes from the beginning is essential.After you have grouped your notes in some categories, then start writing an organized business plan. Don’t be too fancy or grandiose, just get down as many essentials as you can.
  • Get help to construct the plan. Resources in business planning can be found in abundance on the Internet. The U.S. Small Business Administration has several online resources devoted to small businesses and planning. With this wealth of resources, you can DIY your business plan.But, if you aren’t into the do-it-yourself thing, there are tons of companies with websites that want to sell small business planning help, business plan templates, small business accounting software, and on and on. Just type Small Business Planning into your favorite search engine, and you’ll find several sites to choose from. Evaluate carefully what you would get if you try them out.
  • Describe the business. What’s the nature of your business? What markets needs will you serve? How will your services or products meet those needs? Why will your products or services have a competitive advantage in your defined markets? How will you tell those markets what you have to offer? Will your organization function as well as competitors, or even better, to serve the needs of the described marketplace?
  • Analyze the market. Think about your target market. It’s not everybody out there. Who needs your products and services? Or, do you need to create a perception in the market that your products or services are needed? That can be difficult, but not impossible. After all, who knew they desperately needed a cell phone 30 years ago?You must describe a focused, manageable market that you can truly serve. You must research that market and then describe its distinguishing characteristics, its size within the area you will serve, and how much share of that market you can capture. Document your logic so you can explain it to a partner, a banker, or an investor.
  • Develop a sales and marketing plan. What will your marketing strategy be? How are you going to make your potential customers aware of what you have to offer? Word of mouth will not suffice to kick off a new business. You have to come up with marketing strategies that will make your company and its products and/or services memorable.Your pricing must be very competitive, or your products and services so superior that people will pay more for them. Potential customers must know where and how to get what you are selling. These are all things to include in a marketing plan.The sales plan will consist of the specific steps your organization will take to execute the marketing strategy. For instance, will you sell your products online, from a retail location, at in-home parties, or some combination of the three? Will you have your own sales force or use independent reps?
  • Prepare financial statements. Your new business, or expansion of a previously started business, will need several financial statements. You’ll need a projected income statement, a balance sheet, a calculation of cash flow so you can count on being able to pay bills and employees when those times come, and a break-even analysis, which will tell you when you will actually start making a profit from your business.
  • Choose your business name. The right business name projects an image in the minds of potential customers. Luigi’s Pizza works. Luigi’s Corner Bank, not so much.Try out names on people. Talk about the business you are about to launch and ask them to select the best name of three that you’ve conjured up. Note their reactions. Keep trying out names until you can select one you and others like. Does it reflect the mission of your business? Be certain it does.
  • Register your business name. When you’ve selected your business name, you must register it to comply with the law. If registered in any name other than your own personal name, it must be registered with the various authorities, in most situations as a “Doing Business As” (DBA) name. The U.S. Small Business Administration is a good source of information on this subject.
  • Establish the legal structure of the business. Will your business be a Sole Proprietorship, a Partnership, a Limited Liability Company, a Corporation, or an S Corporation? Your choice will have legal and tax implications. You should seek legal assistance in this matter.
  • Describe the management structure. Who’s the leader of the company, the boss? Will there be other managers or partners? Who reports to whom? Are there other employees? Describe the duties of each manager and employee.

startup business plan template

Sample business plan template for entrepreneurs

A business plan is the secret to starting a business successfully. 

The easiest way to simplify the work of writing a business plan is to start with a business plan template.

You’re already investing time and energy in refining your business model and planning your launch—there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to formatting your plan. Instead, to help build a complete and effective plan, lean on time-tested structures created by entrepreneurs and startups who have come before you. 

Free: Business Plan Template

Business planning is often used to secure funding, but plenty of business owners find writing a plan valuable, even if they never work with an investor. That’s why we put together a free business plan template to help you get started.Get the template now

What our business plan template includes

This template is designed to ensure you’re thinking through all of the important facets of starting a new business. It’s intended to help new business owners and entrepreneurs consider the full scope of running a business and identify functional areas they may not have considered or where they may need to level up their skills as they grow.

That said, it may not include the specific details or structure preferred by a potential investor or lender. If your goal with a business plan is to secure funding, check with your target organizations—typically banks or investors—to see if they have business plan templates you can follow to maximize your chances of success.

Our free business plan template includes seven key elements typically found in the traditional business plan format:

  • Executive summary: This is a one-page summary of your whole plan, typically written after the rest of the plan is completed. The description section of your executive summary will also cover your management team, business objectives and strategy, and other background information about the brand. You may consider including a mission statement here.
  • Market analysis: A well researched business plan should also analyze the market you hope to reach with your business idea. This section includes everything from estimated market size to your target markets and competitive advantage. It’ll include a competitive analysis of your industry to address competitors strengths and weaknesses.
  • Products and services: What you sell and the most important features of your products or services. It’ll also include any plans for intellectual property, like patent filings or copyright. If you do market research for new product lines, it’ll show up in this section of your business plan. 
  • Marketing plan: How you intend to get the word out about your business, and what strategic decisions you’ve made about things like your pricing strategy. It also covers potential customers’ demographics, sales plan, and your metrics and milestones for success.
  • Logistics and operations plan: Everything that needs to happen to turn your raw materials into products and get them into the hands of your customers.
  • Financial plan: It’s important to include a look at your financial projections, including both revenue and expense projections. This section includes templates for three key financial statements: an income statement, a balance sheet, and a cash-flow statement. You can also include whether or not you need a business loan and how much it’ll be. 

In our business plan template, each section includes an overview of the most important information to cover and guidelines on how to approach writing and researching each one.

Free: Business Plan Template

Business planning is often used to secure funding, but plenty of business owners find writing a plan valuable, even if they never work with an investor. That’s why we put together a free business plan template to help you get started.Get the template now

Professional business plan example

We’ve filled out a sample business plan as a companion to our template, featuring a fictional ecommerce business. We’ve noted where—and how—an entrepreneur could add more details to expand on their business plans, depending on their goals.

Our fictional business creates custom greeting cards with your pet’s paw prints on them, and the founder of the business is writing a plan to help understand the target market, as well as the logistics and costs involved, to give themselves the best chance of success before they launch.

professional business plan example

The sample is set up to help you get a sense of each section and understand how they apply to the planning and evaluation stages of a business plan. If you’re looking for funding, this example won’t be a complete or formal look at a business plan, but it will give you a great place to start and notes about where to expand.

Before you write your own, read through the following business plan example. You can download a copy in Microsoft Word or Google Docs and use it to inspire your own planning.

Download the business plan example (.doc)

Lean business plan example

A lean business plan format is a shortened version of your more detailed business plan. It’s helpful when modifying your plan for a specific audience, like investors or new hires. 

Also known as a one-page business plan, it includes only the most important, need-to-know information, such as:

  • Company description 
  • Suppliers
  • Key members of your team
  • Customer segments
  • Marketing plan

Want to create a lean business plan? Read Trimming It Down: How to Create a Lean Business Plan.

A good business plan helps you operate successfully

It’s tempting to dive right into execution when you’re excited about a new business or side project, but taking the time to write a solid business plan and get your thoughts on paper allows you to do a number of beneficial things:

  • Test the viability of business ideas. Whether you’ve got one business idea or many, business plans can make an idea more tangible, helping you see if it’s truly viable. 
  • Plan for your next phase. Whether your goal is to start a new business or scale an existing business to the next level, a business plan can help you understand what needs to happen and identify gaps to address. 
  • Clarify marketing strategy, goals, and tactics. Writing a business plan can show you the actionable next steps to take on a big, abstract idea. It can also help you narrow your strategy and identify clear-cut tactics that will support it.
  • Scope the necessary work. Without a concrete plan, cost overruns and delays are all but certain. A business plan can help you see the full scope of work to be done and adjust your investment of time and money accordingly.
  • Hire and build partnerships. When you need buy-in from potential employees and business partners, especially in the early stages of your business, a clearly written business plan is one of the best tools at your disposal. A business plan provides a refined look at your goals for the business, letting partners judge for themselves whether or not they agree with your vision.
  • Secure funds. Seeking financing for your business—whether from venture capital, financial institutions, or Shopify Capital—is one of the most common reasons to create a business plan. 

Should you use a template for a business plan? 

A business plan can be as informal or formal as your situation calls for, but even if you’re a fan of the back-of-the-napkin approach to planning, there are some key benefits to starting your plan from an existing outline or template.

  • No blank-page paralysis. A blank page can be intimidating to even the most seasoned writers. Using an established business planning process and template can help you get past the inertia of starting your business plan, and it allows you to skip the work of building an outline from scratch. You can always adjust a template to suit your needs. 
  • Guidance on what to include in each section. If you’ve never sat through a business class, you might never have created a SWOT analysis or financial projections before. Templates that offer guidance—in plain language—about how to fill in each section can help you navigate sometimes-daunting business jargon and create a complete and effective plan.
  • Knowing you’ve considered every section. In some cases, you may not need to complete every section of a startup business plan template, but its initial structure shows you you’re choosing to omit a section as opposed to forgetting to include it in the first place.

Tips for creating a successful business plan

There are some high-level strategic guidelines beyond the advice included in this free business plan template that can help you write an effective, complete plan while minimizing busywork.

  • If you’re writing a business plan for yourself in order to get clarity on your ideas and your industry as a whole, you may not need to include the same level of detail or polish you would with a business plan you want to send to potential investors. Knowing who will read your plan will help you decide how much time to spend on it. 
  • Know your goals. Understanding the goals of your plan can help you set the right scope. If your goal is to use the plan as a roadmap for growth, you may invest more time in it than if your goal is to understand the competitive landscape of a new industry.
  • Take it step by step. Writing a 10- to 15-page document can feel daunting, so try to tackle one section at a time. Select a couple of sections you feel most confident writing and start there—you can start on the next few sections once those are complete. Jot down bullet-point notes in each section before you start writing to organize your thoughts and streamline the writing process.

Once you’ve done the strategic work, it’s time to put it into action and write your plan. Download the business plan template and review our guide on writing a business plan for additional information.

Maximizing your business planning efforts

Planning is key to the financial success of any type of business, whether you’re a startup, non-profit, or corporation.

To make sure your efforts are focused on the highest-value parts of your own business planning, like clarifying your goals, setting a strategy, and understanding the target market and competitive landscape, lean on a business plan outline to handle the structure and format for you. Even if you eventually omit sections, you’ll save yourself time and energy by starting with a framework already in place.

business plan for dummies template

Business Plan Template for Dummies

Based on several requests and questions on how to write a business plan and the benefits of doing it, I have decided to write this article that is more of a Template.
Benefits of a Business PlanIf you are starting a new business, your business plan will help you get your idea off the ground. It will give you an opportunity to consider what goals are realistic and achievable and help you indentify what you can do within your budget. Your plan will be a guide to making your idea a reality.If you own an existing business, having a business plan that is regularly reviewed and updated will help you take control of the direction your business is heading. Your business plan will allow you to make the most of new opportunities and identify potential risks and act before problems occur.What is a Business Plan?A business plan is a formal statement of a set of business goals, the reasons they are believed attainable, and the plan for reaching those goals. It may also contain background information about the organization or team attempting to reach those goals.Business plans may also target changes in perception and branding by the customer, client, taxpayer, or larger community. When the existing business is to assume a major change or when planning a new venture, a 3 to 5 year business plan is required, since investors will look for their annual return in that timeframe.Below are some of the components of a business plan.Executive SummaryWhile the business plan’s executive summary is the first thing the readers of your business plan will see, it should be the last part of the business plan you write. You need to have “the feel” for the overall content of the plan before you can begin to summarize it.The purpose of the summary is to provide your readers with an overview of the business plan. Think of it as an introduction to your business.Business DescriptionThe business description usually begins with a short description of the industry. When describing the industry, discuss the present outlook as well as future possibilities. You should also provide information on all the various markets within the industry, including new products or developments that will benefit or adversely affect your business.Market StrategiesMarket strategies are the result of a meticulous market analysis. A market analysis forces the entrepreneur to become familiar with all aspects of the market so that the target market can be defined and the company can be positioned in order to garner its share of sales.Competitive AnalysisThe purpose of the competitive analysis is to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the competitors within your market, strategies that will provide you with a distinct advantage, the barriers that can be developed in order to prevent competition from entering your market, and any weaknesses that can be exploited within the product development cycle.Design & Development PlanThe purpose of the design and development plan section is to provide investors with a description of the product’s design, chart its development within the context of production, marketing and the company itself, and create a development budget that will enable the company to reach its goals.Operations & Management PlanThe operations and management plan is designed to describe just how the business functions on a continuing basis. The operations plan will highlight the logistics of the organization such as the various responsibilities of the management team, the tasks assigned to each division within the company, and capital and expense requirements related to the operations of the business.Financial FactorsFinancial data is always at the back of the business plan, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important than up-front material such as the business concept and the management team.Work with this guide and you will be able to create a business plan for your existing or new business.You Will Succeed!

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