Business plan templates are an extremely valuable tool for developing the vision and road map for your business idea.
In my experience, I have been most successful when I've taken the time to sit down, plan my business ideas, transfer my plan into actionable items, schedule my action items on the calendar, and go to work following the plan.
It can be easy to get caught-up in the emotion of a great business idea and take off with just "doing" the business!
However, like a ship without a rudder, the business can head-off on a course which isn't what you intended. Without a plan to steer your course, you may be unaware you’re even off course because you don’t have a plan to guide you through the murky waters of your business. I'm speaking from experience because I've done this (unfortunately! :-)
There are a huge variety of different formats for business plan
templates, but generally they follow a similar order to the document.
Many of these templates will have some variety of the following elements
to the plan:
Before you start, you may want to read this interesting article from the Small Business Administration, "How To Make Your Business Plan Stand Out". I really like this article because it discusses how to focus on your niche and not try to be everything! This is something we talk about here a lot!
I personally find it easier to follow a process similar to what I'm showing in the diagram above.
By following this order, I gather information required from the plan elements on the outsides of the matrix (Business Ideas, SWOT Analysis, Management Plan, and Operations Plan) first.
The information gathered in the outside elements allows me to fill-in the gaps on the four internal elements (Company Description, Marketing Plan, Financial Plan).
I generally will wait on the Financial Plan and handle it as the second-to-last element of the plan (after the other parts have been thought out).
By waiting on the financial portion of the plan, it allows me to fully consider every other element and what will need to be budgeted as I work through each area of the plan, I can gather the costs, and while working on the financial portion of the plan have everything I need to create a good quality financial piece to my business plan.
. . . And finally I finish with the Executive Summary (providing the pizzazz -- the cherry on top -- to catch the attention me and my readers!).
This is what works for me . . . you can give it a try and see if it helps you complete your business plan!
Of course, there are a variety of different business plan templates and formats.
When you're choosing among different versions, it's important to choose one which will present the information in the best helpful manner for you, your investors (if any), and help you organization plan for its business success!
Keep in mind . . . it's less about format and more about substance! :) Pick one you like and use it or combine the best for 2-3 plans and create your own. It needs to work for you!
Below is a basic discussion of the main categories in most business plan templates (with some variation, obviously). Let's look at these different elements of business plan
templates and briefly discuss their importance.
The first part of effective business plan templates is an executive summary. Don't be intimidated by the title of this section. This is where you discuss what your business idea is and how you plan to turn it into a business.
This is a written version of your "elevator speech". (What's an "elevator speech"? This is a 30-second marketing speech you can give flawlessly to a busy executive who you meet in the elevator -- and you're on your way to the top floor!) LOL!
You'll want to be able to tell your story quickly just like you have with your closest family and friends about why you are excited about your business idea.
This doesn’t have to be extensive dissertation and actually it is much better if it’s concise (<100 words). It is ok to show your enthusiasm for your business idea. Explain (succinctly!) what your service and/or product will be. This is where you capture interest in your idea!
Who will be your customer and who is partnering with you on your business venture.
In this section of any business plan templates will reflect on the specific nature of your business -- what product and services will you be offering?
Most business plan templates will include a section called the SWOT Analysis.
This stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Trends. I personally believe this is one of the most important parts of the business plan -- it is the section that determines if your business is relevant and has the focus to handle changes in the marketplace as they arise.
This thought provoking strategy session may keep you from becoming "blind-sided" by a love of your product/service when the trends may be spiraling downward.
Strengths -- Take a good look and determine what your specific individual strengths are and those of your business – what do you bring to your business and the industry that exceeds your competition. Write it DOWN! This is important! And share your enthusiasm for your work!
And make sure your strengths are highlighted in your “elevator speech” and Executive Summary above. These are the tasks and skills you do well – these are the things you’ll want to focus on in your business in order to be most successful!
important to identify where you’re weak. Many folks are hesitant to
place this in their business plan templates, however, this is a great
place to identify weaknesses. Of course, you'll want to write this
section with a positive approach . . . :)
Why you ask? Well, we all have things we don't do so well? Great entrepreneurs recognize this fact and surround themselves with others who do these things well!
Once you’ve recognized the skills you’re not good at, determine how you will fill this in your business in order to get things done? Will you hire employees who can handle these tasks, partner with your spouse who’s great at this part of the business, or maybe outsource this work to another business in order to keep you focused on your strengths.
Opportunities – Identify all of the opportunities your business will have over the next year. Then think about the next 3, 5, 10 years? Whatever business plan templates you choose should help you think through the various types of opportunities which may present themselves?
Trends -- I believe this is such an important piece of the planning process -- and it isn't even done in many cases! Trends are universal changes which become ordinary and common. For example, the use of smartphones and tablets were not even a possibility just 10 years ago. Yet today millions of individuals have at least one of these devices which they use on a regular basis.
This is where doing your homework can help you to plan how you will “stick out” from the crowd.
. . . the world will continue to change (that’s a FACT!).
But interestingly enough, it moves in patterns and we as entrepreneurs can identify those patterns which allow us to niche our business and move with the trends instead of against them.
Your business can quickly become outdated if you try to go against the trends. And this can make for an uphill or losing battle as a new business owner when you’re marketing to people who have lost interest or have replaced your product with more advanced products.
Some of the trends to identify when working with your business plan templates include:
Demographics -- how are the demographics changing? What impact will this have on your business?
Technology – What is the new technology? What are the projected changes over the next 3, 5, 10 years? How can your business adopt and adapt to make use of these technological advances?
Societal – what changes are we as a society making? Or maybe there are changes being made by a portion of society? How can your business capitalize on these trends?
Economic – what’s happening to the economics in your industry? For your customers?
Business/Industry – what are the changes happening within your industry? Again, how can you capitalize on them? What can your business do to embrace these changes and ride the positive tide of change?
A detailed marketing plan is critical when looking at business plan templates. Again, don't be intimidated by thinking "I don't know anything about marketing."
You have already identified a need and have come up with your business idea based upon some level of facts available to you. This is the first part of marketing, identifying the need and helping your customers fill their needs.
In the marketing section you get the chance to break down specific steps you will or can take in market your company.
Identify the specific types of marketing will you use – start small with 3-5 lines in the water (like fishing!) That is plenty to get you started! Don't use too many marketing types to begin with -- it can be overwhelming to manage and expensive. Get comfortable with a few, determine what is working, and then add 1-2 more later. (For example, you 3-5 of the following: networking, word-of-mouth, flyers, billboards, website, social media, email, direct mail, etc.)
Marketing can get overwhelming if you try to do too much at once -- just keep it simple!