If you are thinking about starting a small business, you most likely already know what a business plan is and have heard that you need one. But do you truly understand the purpose of a business plan? Does it really matter if you have one for your small business? And how can you create a small business plan that is actually useful? The introduction and tips below will lay the groundwork for creating an effective small business plan for your new business.
In it's simplest form, a business plan is a document that outlines the basics about your business, products, and services; the market you are targeting; the goals you have for your business; and how you will achieve those goals.
A business plan is one of several important plans you should have when you are starting a business, the others being a marketing plan and a financial plan. Your business plan should pull all three of these plans together, incorporating elements of your marketing plan and your financial plan into a comprehensive document. Think of your business plan as a map or blueprint that will guide your business from the start-up phase through establishment and eventually business growth.
There are many reasons why you need a business plan, although these reasons vary by the type of business you are starting and how you intend to use your business plan. But the common thread for all businesses is that a business plan is necessary.
After all, how can you get your business launched and thriving without any type of written plan to help you?
Some of the reasons you need a small business plan that may apply to you include:
So, you know you need a business plan. The next question to consider is what type of plan is the best fit for your small business.
There are actually many types of business plans, including start-up plans, internal planning documents, strategic plans, operations plans, and business plans created to focus on growth. Each of these types of business plans have different objectives, but all of these versions generally fall into one of two primary formats — a traditional business plan (also called formal or structured) or a simplified business plan (often called a lean or one-page business plan).
A traditional business plan is what most small business owners think about (and often fear) when they hear the term "business plan." It is usually a long and very formal document that has a vast amount of information and is pretty overwhelming for many new business owners.
A traditional business plan typically includes the following sections:
The not-so-great news is that a traditional business plan takes a long time and an immense amount of research to complete. The good news is that not every business needs a traditional business plan. That brings us to the second business plan format — the simple or one-page business plan.
A one-page business plan is a streamlined and brief business plan that you can use as-is or as a starting point for a traditional business plan. While this is a leaner version of the traditional business plan, you will still need to gather information that is specific to your business in order to create a plan that is truly useful for you. Be prepared to answer the following questions as you create your simplified business plan:
Once you have answered each of these questions, you will have a working business plan that you can use immediately to start taking action in your business.
Creating a business plan will take you undivided time and attention, but there are business planning tools available to help streamline the process, many of them available for free. There are templates available, including a simple business plan template and a traditional business plan template. There are also many business plan tutorials available, including video business planning tutorials.
And let's not forget about all-in-one online tools like the SBA Business Plan Tool and services like Rocket Lawyer that take away a lot of the time required to format and organize your business plan. As you get started with your small business plan, explore these additional business planning tools to see how you can streamline the process even further.
One mistake many small business owners make is creating a business plan because they are told they need one, and then completely forgetting about it. Once you have business plan created, consider it an internal tool you use on an ongoing basis in your business, updating it as necessary so it remains current. Remember that the most effective small business plans are those that are used as a living document in the business to help guide decisions and keep your business on track.