A business plan is not something you create just for the sake of creating it—it’s a key factor in your company’s success. According to a SCORE survey, the next biggest source of support for small business owners just starting out—behind their friends and family—is having a solid business plan in place.
Aside box: What is a business plan?
A business plan is a written document that outlines what your business objectives are and how you will go about achieving them. Refresh your business plan regularly to reflect with your evolving business objectives.
Business plans can be both internal and external documents. If you’re looking to secure funding from an investor or get a loan from a bank, they will certainly want to evaluate your business plan first.
Why is this plan so important? Because entrepreneurship without a business plan is like traveling without a roadmap. You might reach your destination eventually without it, but the journey will be tough, if not impossible.
Know the location of your destination and what roads you’ll need to travel, and you’ll significantly increase your chances of success.
12 reasons why having a business plan is important
The process of creating your business plan encourages you to take a deep dive into every aspect of your company—helping you spot flaws and take steps to improve.
Beyond highlighting weaknesses, a strong business plan positively shapes a company’s reputation. It shows investors, partners, and even potential hires that your business is working toward clear objectives and is on a reliable growth path.
1. It helps confirm the viability of your business idea
The research that goes into creating your business plan will help you gauge whether your idea is a viable one. You’ll learn the size of your potential market, who your competitors are, who your target customers are, and what problem you’re solving for them.
With this information, you can evaluate your chances of creating a profitable and sustainable business.
2. It helps you make financial projections
According to CB Insights, almost 40% of startups ran out of cash or failed to raise new capital. Business plans require you to evaluate your current financials and projects in detail, so you can steer clear of draining your bank account.
3. It helps you protect your business from common risks
Very few companies and individuals are willing to work in any capacity with businesses that don’t protect their partners with professional liability policies. To form your business plan, you’ll need to learn about the business risks your company faces and put together an insurance plan that helps mitigate them.
4. It helps you form partnerships
Regardless of the type of partners you have—contractors, freelancers, vendors, manufacturers—you need to establish trust. Partners want to know the specifics of your proposed cooperation before they commit.
Successful partnerships depend on well-defined roles and responsibilities and clearly specified incentives and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Business plans clearly define what cooperation and success look like for partnerships, so external parties feel comfortable working with your company.
5. It helps you hire and retain top talent
You can’t hire good people if they don’t believe your business is viable. A business plan shows top talent that your company has potential and is a good place to work.
A clear business plan is also helpful when you’re seeking hiring advice from more experienced peers. Approaching them with a business plan in hand makes that process easier as well.
“Merely telling a friend or potential business mentor you’re aiming to start with ten employees, for example, is not an exceptionally detailed statement,” said Admir Salcinovic, co-founder and marketing manager of PriceListo. “Showing a business plan that outlines the exact duties, salaries, and expectations you have for employees gives far more information for people to provide advice about.”
6. It provides you with competitor analysis
Market analysis is one of the cornerstones of a business plan. This process involves identifying and researching your main competitors and their business models. This data can provide insights into how you should position your business on the market in order to be competitive and carve out a market share for yourself.
7. It helps you understand customer pain points
Along with highlighting competitors, your market research helps you pin down the problem you’re solving for customers and how you plan on helping them. This research often involves surveying customers to understand their pain points.
8. It helps you assemble the right executive team
According to CB Insights, 15% of new businesses failed because the team they had in place wasn’t right. A strong and experienced leadership team can help navigate the many bumps in the road that new business experience, like structural and personal problem solving, risk assessment, and dips in team morale.
Business plans must include a detailed analysis of your management—who they are, and what they bring to the table to evaluate your leadership internally and externally. Startups also commonly dedicate a section of their business plans to the type of culture they are looking to build.
9. It makes you more attractive to lenders/investors
Real talk—most investors and banks won’t even talk to you if you don’t have a business plan. Harvard Business Review research from 2017 showed that writing a business plan increases the chances of your team receiving funding, noting that having a business plan “builds legitimacy and confidence among investors that the entrepreneur is serious.”
“When I went to banks to ask for loans, every one of them asked for my business plan,” said Marina Vaamonde, owner and founder of off-market house marketplace HouseCashin. “If I didn’t have mine ready at the time, I would have wasted time during a crucial growth phase of my business when I needed employees.”
Investors and banks will use your business plan to understand your revenue model, cash flow, and, most importantly, how you plan on using funding.
“No matter how great your idea, angel investors won’t invest without a formal business plan,” said Calloway Cook, president of Illuminate Labs. “It doesn’t need to be 50-pages long, but they want to see that you’ve done the work to validate your concept, both informally with customer interviews and formally with market research.”
Cook, whose team was able to raise a pre-seed round of slightly over $100,000, also recommends including directly sourced customer data in your business plan to attract investors.
“Get feedback from real users. This is what sways the minds of investors,” said Cook. “Anyone can create a hypothetical profitable scenario using market size and demographic information, but if investors can see real people interested in your product or service, they’ll be more likely to invest.”
10. It helps you create a marketing strategy
To form a business plan, you’ll need to research on customer demographics and preferences. This data can inform and strengthen your marketing and branding strategies—helping you target your ideal customer.
New companies often have a limited budget to work with and need to adopt strategies that can spark greater growth and cost less than traditional marketing channels. The market research you’re doing for your business plan makes it a perfect starting point for developing these strategies.
11. It helps you set your pricing
The market analysis you perform while writing your business plan will inform how you set your pricing. Your competitor pricing models, your cost of goods sold, and your break-even point are some of the valuable data points you’ll need to acquire to start shaping your pricing model and your sales strategy.
12. It helps you establish the right KPIs
You can’t report on the progress of your business without first establishing what metrics are important to track.
Business plans show what metrics are important to track, given your financial projections, sales goals, marketing plans, and budgets. When you know which metrics to track, everyone in your organization can report on the progress of your business.
KPIs are not just financial goals. They can include trackable data like customer count, the quality of customer service (first response time, customer service satisfaction), and staff-related data like attendance, quality of work, retention, and satisfaction levels.
How to write a business plan: What are the core components?
To provide a big-picture view of vital company insights that gives both your team and third parties an easy way to gauge your financial health and projected growth, a good business plan must include the following components:
The executive summary serves as a high-level synopsis of your business plan—like the Cliff Notes for a book. It gives a general overview of the topics that your business plan will cover.
An executive summary should always be fairly brief. But when presenting your plan to third parties, it’s also important to write a summary that’s compelling enough to intrigue them and make them want to read on.
Even though this summary appears first in a business plan, we recommend writing this section last. That way, you’ll be familiar enough with all of the business plan’s main sections to be able to write a concise and accurate summary to kick it off.
The business summary covers how the products and services your company offers serve the market. This section of your business plan should focus on your value proposition—defining what pain points you solve for your customers and how.
Explain what differentiates your brand from competitors by showing customer reviews and listing success stories and accomplishments. Readers of the business summary should come away from it convinced that your business is a viable one.
It’s also a good idea to wait until you’ve written the market analysis section before writing this section. Your business summary should consist of condensed takeaways sourced from market research.
This component of your business plan answers questions about the market in which your company is competing, such as:
- How big are your target market segments?
- Where does your business fit within these segments?
- Who are the main competitors?
- Who are your customers?
Performing market research is difficult work, especially for less experienced business owners. If you have the funds to do so, hiring a market research/competitive analysis agency to perform the analysis for you is definitely worth it.
The good news is that there are plenty of available resources for those who want to perform their own research, especially online, such as:
- U.S. census data tools: These tools and free industry research reports can help you determine your market size and gain insight into potential customer demographics data.
- Statista: One of the best research data websites, Statista covers hundreds of industries, constantly performing market research and providing hard business data. The website also uses graphs and charts to make their data more understandable for those who might be new to market research.
- Google Trends: Google Trends can help you understand what potential customers are most interested in, allowing you to see into the minds of consumers and audiences. The tool offers robust filter options to create detailed reports about what the trending stories and most searched terms are in a particular demographic.
If you’d rather find mentors and learn about your market through personal interactions, you can look to join local business organizations such as your local chamber of commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), or Business Network International (BNI).
Your market research helps you nail down your ideal customer segments. Uncover key customer demographics: where they live, how much money they make, how old they are, what their level of education is, what their buying habits look like, and more.
Market analysis will help you uncover who your direct competitors are, what their strengths and weakness are, and how your offer differs from theirs.
“Going in blind, without understanding who my competitors were, as well as their core strengths and weaknesses, would have decimated any chances of me establishing a worthwhile competitive strategy,” said Lisa Richards, CEO of the health website the Candida Diet. “Knowing who my competition was made it possible for me to develop a differentiation strategy that set me apart from them in terms of brand perception, allowing me to capture a large share of the market from the very beginning,” she added.
Marketing and sales plan
Along with identifying your target market, a business plan should outline how you plan on reaching this audience and selling your product or service to them.
This section of your business plan should detail your branding and marketing strategy. You should also cover any promotional strategies you plan to implement and a description of the current and future strategic partnerships you plan on installing. For example, if your business sells homemade soap, you could list the brick-and-mortar and online shops you plan on partnering with to increase the reach of your sales.
It should also include pricing strategy—the methodology and process behind how you plan on setting prices for your product or services. Set your prices too low, and you could struggle to turn a profit. Set the price too high, and customers could turn to your more affordable competition.
“After creating our initial business plan, we immediately saw how our business is not profitable enough given the current pricing ranges we have and the target market,” said Sherry Morgan, founder of animal content hub Petsolino. “After further investigation, we found out the holes in our initial plan. From there, we adjusted our pricing and selling strategies.”
The management-related part of your business plan should explain your company hierarchy and introduce your business’s leaders by providing information about their professional backgrounds, education, and achievements.
If you’ve received funding, be sure to highlight your investors, shareholders, and any professional advisors. If you have imminent hiring needs within management, detail them in this section.
The three statements that are integral to your financial plan section are your cash flow statement, income statement, and balance sheet. You should include a short explanation or analysis of all three in your business plan. Don’t hesitate to ask for expert help here, especially if you don’t currently have an in-house accountant.
This section of your business plan is particularly important if you’re looking to attract potential investors or you want to take out a business loan. If that’s the case, in addition to the three mandatory financial statements, you must also provide a detailed list of what you need the money for (marketing, equipment, labor expenses, insurance costs, rent, etc.).
As you grow, your financial plan will help you develop a model for tracking your income and expenses that will enable you to allocate your resources more effectively.
Revisit and revise your business plan regularly
Business plans are never set in stone. They must evolve and change as your business grows and reaches new milestones. Set a regular review schedule to revisit your business plan and tweak it when necessary.
“Creating and evaluating your business plan on a regular basis is a wonderful approach to identify weaknesses, gaps, and assumptions you’ve made to establish contingency plans,” said Matthew Paxton, founder and owner of gaming website Hypernia.
As you make adjustments, don’t hesitate to pick the brains of more experienced business people and mentors to gain different perspectives on areas of improvement for your business plan.