This article explains how to outline a business plan, listing the sections in the order in which they will appear in your completed plan with a brief explanation of each section to help you get organized and guide you through the process. In each case, following the section title link will take you to an article that details how to write that particular section of the plan, while in some cases, there are also linked examples that you can use as models to write that section. If you work through each section of this outline, in the end, you’ll have a complete, well thought out business plan, the kind of business plan that you’ll be able to use to get a bank loan or persuade potential investors that your new business is the place to put their money.
The Executive Summary
While appearing first, this section is written last. It summarizes the key elements of the entire business plan and is the first thing anyone looking at your business plan reads so it’s critical that your executive summary is outstanding. (Reading this Executive Summary Example will give you a sense of how to put yours together.)
An overview of the industry sector that your business will be a part of, including industry trends, major players in the industry, and estimated industry sales. This section will also include a summary of your business’s place within the industry. (Here’s a Business Plan Example of the Industry Section to serve as a model.)
An examination of the primary target market for your product or service, including geographic location, demographics, your target market’s needs and how these needs are being met currently. Your purpose here is to show the reader of your business plan that you have a thorough knowledge of the people you are planning to sell your goods and/or services to – so thorough that you can make educated predictions about how much of your goods and/or services they might buy.
An investigation of your direct and indirect competitors, with an assessment of their competitive advantage and an analysis of how you will overcome any entry barriers to your chosen market. In this section of the business plan, you need to distinguish your business from the competition, persuading the reader(s) of your plan that your business will be able to compete successfully.
A detailed explanation of your sales strategy, pricing plan, proposed advertising and promotion activities, and product or service’s benefits. This is where you present the reader with your new business’s Unique Selling Proposition, describe how you’re going to get your goods and/or services to market and how you’re going to persuade people to buy them.
An outline of your business’s legal structure and management resources, including your internal management team, external management resources, and human resources needs. If the goal of your business plan is to get funding, it’s wise to make sure that your management plan includes an advisory board as a management resource.
A description of your business’s physical location, facilities and equipment, kinds of employees needed, inventory requirements and suppliers, and any other applicable operating details, such as a description of the manufacturing process.
A description of your funding requirements, your detailed financial statements, and a financial statement analysis. This part of the business plan is where you will present the three main financial documents of any business, the balance sheet, the income statement and the cash flow statement. (In the case of a new business, this last document will be a cash flow projection.) The instructions on writing the Financial Plan section will show you how to prepare all of these documents.
Appendices and Exhibits
In addition to the sections outlined above, at the end of your business plan, you will also want to include any additional information that will help establish the credibility of your business idea, such as marketing studies, photographs of your product, and/or contracts or other legal agreements pertinent to your business.
Does the Order of the Business Plan Sections Matter?
Only to a degree. The Executive Summary, being an overview, needs to come first. Beyond that, it’s logical to have all the material relating to markets (the Industry Overview, the Marketing Analysis, the Competitive Analysis and the Marketing Plan) together. However, there’s no reason why the Management Plan section couldn’t directly follow the Executive Summary, for instance, if you want to play with the order.
Generally, in a business plan, you want to “put your best foot forward”. So if, for instance, you have a stellar group of people serving on your new business’s advisory board, by all means, put that section directly after the Executive Summary. Highlighting your new business’s strengths will encourage your reader(s) to continue reading your plan.
The Appearance of Your Business Plan Matters Too
This kind of business plan (yes, there are different kinds) is a formal document and it has to look like one. You want every aspect of your business plan to impress (especially if you’re using it to ask for money).Pay attention to margins and formatting; make sure it’s spell checked and grammatically sound. If you’re not good at this, pay someone who is to do it. Then get your new business plan professionally printed and bound. As always, looking successful is half the battle to being successful.