No matter your business idea, whether it’s selling jewelry, landscaping or grooming animals, a business plan is a good way to demonstrate the idea’s potential for success. A basic business plan will help guide you in thinking through the feasibility of an idea, and it is tailored to reflect your purpose for writing the plan and tailored to the audience who will be reading the plan. If you are looking to start a business, or expand an existing business, you can begin with a basic business plan that will start to sharpen your focus and get you off and running.
Part One of Three:
Determining Your Goals Edit
Decide on your top reason(s) for needing a business plan. A business plan can have multiple purposes, and as you address each of these purposes, your business plan can get longer, more detailed, and more complicated. At the outset, in order to write a basic business plan, you should determine your primary purpose for writing a plan. There are a number of factors to consider, such as determining the feasibility of starting a business in a particular industry; figuring out your operating plan; figuring out how to communicate the idea of your business with potential customers; or obtaining funding for your enterprise.   This reason will help you focus your efforts on a basic business plan that will answer some of your most burning questions about your business.
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Consult with your business partners. If you are starting a business as an individual, you may not need to complete this step. But if you are working with anyone else, you need to have their input and collaboration to write a suitable business plan that takes everyone’s interests into account.
Recognize the unique nature of your business. No two businesses are exactly the same, and likewise, no two business plans are the same. Understand and know what is unique about your business, from your product or service to your customer base to your approach to marketing. This will help your business stand out and be more appealing to your customers and, in the long run, hopefully be more successful.
Understand the kind of business for which you are writing the plan. Are you starting up a new business, or are you expanding an existing business? Most of the approach to writing a business plan for both of these will be the same, but there may be a few crucial differences. With an existing business, you will have a much clearer idea of your market, sales, marketing and so on. You can include solid supporting evidence with your business plan. With a startup, these elements might be more speculative. 
Choose the format you’d like to use. The more basic and brief the business plan, the less bulky text you will need to write. Instead of lengthy, detailed paragraphs, you might use bullet points instead. Some formats are as short as 1 to 4 pages, while very detailed plans can run over 50 pages. The shorter, more basic plans get to the heart of your business immediately. These also tend to put things into simple terms, making it easy for the layperson to understand.
There are all kinds of business plan templates available online. 
- Most business plans have some combination of the following sections: executive summary; company description; market analysis; service or product description; marketing approach; financial projections; and appendix. As you learn more about what can potentially be included in a business plan, you will be able to make decisions about what is relevant to your own business plan.
- Some business advisors believe that what most small businesses need at the outset is a very simple questionnaire to figure out the basics, or an “internal working plan”: what is the product or service; who are the customers; what is the business’ timeline; and how does the business handle paying bills and getting paid? 
Figure out the audience for your business plan. A business plan might be read by any number of individuals. Oftentimes, a business plan is written for investors or loan officers who need to quickly and thoroughly understand the nature of your business and your plan for success. This demonstrates that you have thought through key questions such as marketing and financial aspects, which will contribute to your ability to repay a loan or make a venture profitable for an investor.
- Investors and bank loan officers will likely want to see a more formal, professional business plan that reflects careful planning and forecasting. If you are looking for a business partner or other interested party, you may choose to reflect more of your business and personal ethos in the business plan. Err on the professional side, however, when putting together your business plan.
Keep your writing simple and straightforward. Avoid too much jargon or long-winded explanations. Streamline your writing to get your point across quickly and concisely. Replace some longer words with shorter words, such as replacing “utilize” with “use.” It is fine to use bullet points to make your business plan easier to follow. 
Write the company description and describe your service or product. Describe your company, including how long you have been in operation, where you have operated, your achievements thus far, and what type of legal entity you are (sole proprietorship, limited liability corporation, etc.). Describe the service or product you are offering. What is unique about your product or service, and why do your customers need you to offer it?
- For example, you might write: “Ultimate Kid Granola Bars (UKGB) is a limited liability corporation registered in the state of California that will provide quality healthy baked goods to schools in the Sacramento area. Created in 2008, UKGB has received numerous awards, including Best Small Business in Sacramento and Best Granola Bars from Healthy Foods Magazine. Our granola bars are made from all natural, locally-sourced ingredients and will healthy foods to local children.”
- You may also want to include your company’s goals or objectives, so the reader of your business plan will get a good sense about why you are in business and what you hope to achieve by operating your business. You should definitely include this part if your enterprise is a nonprofit organization, since a nonprofit is based on mission and vision. This will convey to funders or other supporters the objectives and goals towards which you are working as a nonprofit.
Present your market research and outline your marketing plan. This section describes the industry or market that you are entering and how you plan to bring your product or service to your customers. What size is your market, in terms of population and in terms of potential sales? You should have a solid argument about how your product or service will be a welcome addition to the market, meeting a currently unmet need. Talk about your target customers, describing their demographics and their potential to buy your product or service. Include information about your competitors, both direct and indirect. Then describe how you plan to price your product or service, reach your customers, expand your services, and promote your business.
- For example, you might write: “The proposed market for Ultimate Kids Granola Bars covers the entire Sacramento area public school system. There are 11 schools with a total of 2,000 children. Approximately 67% of these students buy lunch at school.” Continue talking about your customers, your potential or existing relationships with customers, competitors, and so on.
Discuss contingencies. While you want to remain positive about the potential success of your business, it is good planning to think about the ways in which it might be challenged or fail. Think through how you will respond to problems, such as a downturn in number of customers or the loss of a key supplier. If you have specific parts of your business plan that might not work out, what are they and how will you respond to and accommodate these shortcomings?
- For example, you might write: “We rely on locally-sourced ingredients for our granola bars, and our local suppliers are dependent on good conditions for producing crops. If California faces more drought-like conditions, we may need to expand our supplier list into Oregon, Nevada or Idaho. We will prioritize working with California-based suppliers, however.”
Provide information about the key people in your business. A good business plan will not only describe the business and its services, but the people actually implementing and operating the business. Include a description of the key people involved, their roles in the company, and their background and suitability for contributing to this venture. Include their resumes in the appendix of your business plan. If your business is just you, that’s fine. Give yourself a title and write a brief bio highlighting your relevant experience that has prepared you for your current business idea.
- For example, you might write: “CEO Kate Smith has two decades of experience working for highly regarded baking companies in Northern California. She attended culinary school in Paris and also has a degree in Environmental Science from the University of California Davis.”
Give a financial picture of your business venture. The financial picture has a couple of different components. You should give an overview of the financial viability of your business through financial projections (projected revenue, expenses, profits), as well as funding or investment strategies.  The financial information you include doesn’t have to be extensively detailed in a basic business plan, but they should include a good indication of the potential financial wellbeing of this venture.
- Provide numbers for revenue and expenses. To calculate revenue, base a sales forecast on pricing of your product or service and how many customers you plan to serve. Estimate sales over the next 3-5 years. You may need to make an educated guess on this section, as it might be difficult to absolutely say for sure how many units you’ll sell or how many people you’ll serve. It’s best to be somewhat conservative at this point. Expenses will include fixed costs (such as salaries, rent, etc.) and variable costs (such as promotions or advertising). Think about costs to launch the business, operate the business, hire and retain staff, pay advertising, and so on. Also include expenses like fees, licenses, and taxes. Consider too assets and liabilities that you have; assets can include property or equipment, while liabilities might be loans you owe for this business.
- Include strategies for funding or investments. If you are using your business plan to secure funding of some sort, this section will be especially important. You need to know exactly how much money you want and how it will be spent. For example, you might write: “Ultimate Kid Granola Bars is asking for $25,000 in investment funds to support the expansion of our current kitchen location. $10,000 will go towards renting additional space in our current location, $5,000 in additional equipment (two ovens, assorted supplies), and $10,000 in salaries to hire an extra employee to meet the needs of our Sacramento public school contract.”
Add supporting materials. Depending on your business and the level of detail in your business plan, you may want to include additional materials to support your plan. Some possible materials to include might be: tax returns, balance sheets, cash flow statements, contracts, letters of intent, resumes or curriculum vitae of key management, and so on.
Write the executive summary. This section is written last and should be no more than two pages. If you are writing a very short business plan, your executive summary may be just a paragraph, or you may forego it altogether. The executive summary is essentially an overview of your company, your uniqueness in the marketplace, and a brief description of the services or products to be sold. You will also include an overview of your financial projections, including your expected revenues, profits, and expenses for the next five years. If you are seeking funding, you should outline this briefly as well, describing the exact amount of money you seek and how it will be used. 
Put it all together. Each of these sections will be mini-essays that contribute to an overall picture of your business. You should make it look professional by putting it all together in a single document with consistent formatting, section headers, and a table of contents with page numbers. Read through it several times and check spelling and grammar. You don’t want to have mistakes in your plan, as that will reflect poorly on your preparation and organization. 
- Don’t use more than 2 fonts in your business plan. Too many fonts can be visually distracting. Likewise, make sure your font size is readable by using an 11- or 12-point font.
Take your time. If you are at the stage of writing a business plan, you are probably excited to get moving on your idea. You should, however, still take your time at this stage, thinking through the possibilities and eventualities of your business. Your plan may help you identify problems before you start so you can avoid them. It also sets out a roadmap for you to use, keeping you focused and on track.  Spending adequate time, even on a basic business plan, will be time well spent.