A common issue that many entrepreneurs find themselves facing is that they may have a successful business, but they’re not attracting any outside help to bring them to the next level. In this case, they’re not being clear about what their business offers, why it’s important and why it stands out from the competition. This issue can be resolved simply by drafting a business plan outlining all of this information.
We’re going to break down what needs to be included in your business plan, why, and how you can write it.
What must be included in your business plan?
Here are seven critical elements that should be covered in any business plan. These topics all paint a clearer picture of what your business does.
- Executive summary
This is absolutely essential, as the executive summary is the first thing your audience will read about who you are, what your company is trying to accomplish, and why you stand out from the competition. First impressions matter. If the executive summary isn’t clear, your audience will assume the rest of the plan is unorganized, too.
Tip: Keep the summary clear and concise. Save detailed explanations for later.
- Company description
This is where you should detail to the reader what exactly your business does, who works for it, what products or services your business offers, and to whom. Clearly outlining what your business does and what it offers helps the reader (often an investor) connect to the company on a personal level.
Tip: Keep your audience in mind. Know when to simplify and when to get technical.
- Marketing analysis
This is where you make yourself stand out from the competition. You can get into specifics here about what everyone else is doing, what makes them successful, what they need work on, and what your business offers that no one else is.
Tip: Use actual data points and market research to acquire as much up-to-date data as possible in order to support your business idea.
- Business and management structure
You also want to emphasize how you run your business. Your business plan will ultimately reflect how you and your business operate, but it’s just as important to give specific details to your audience about how everything is structured.
Tip: If your structure is too complex to describe, it’s too complex in general. Simplify things by providing flowcharts and visualized structures.
- Services/product line
You also want to mention the products and services your business offers, so your audience knows how this new product fits in line with everything else. They will want to make comparisons to determine if this new product or service is worth the investment.
Tip: Don’t leave any products out so readers see how new products fit in.
- Sales and marketing strategies
Your business could offer the best products in the world, but if the sales and marketing strategies aren’t in line with the quality of the products your business offers, it will be much harder to convince investors to commit to your company, or to convince potential employees that your business will be successful.
Tip: Use current sales and strategy metrics, build out reports and analytics using a CRM software for visual graphs.
Does your business need additional funding? If so, investors aren’t going to just throw their money at you without understanding exactly what you’re going to do with it. Here, you should explain how you’re going to use the money, how much you need, why you need it and for how long. This will ultimately show how responsible your business and management is.
Tip: Don’t forget to think long term — projected financials should span at least five years in advance.
Tools for building better business plans
There are many tools that can help entrepreneurs build better business plans. Here, we break down some tools startups can use to gather contact data and outline their business plans.
Enloop is a free, online business plan software that can automate the text that goes into a business plan, provide users with customizable templates, and offer real-time performance scores, and automatically create financial reports.
StratPad Cloud is a cloud-based business plan software tool that allows businesses to track their progress, share the plan in real-time, and integrates with QuickBooks Online to make importing financial data much easier.
LivePlan is another online business plan software tool that contains features more than 500,000 small businesses find useful. LivePlan helps businesses create one-page pitches with visually-appealing layouts, create forecasts to see how much money is needed to get started, and dashboards that help users track their progress in real-time.
The final word
Having a better business plan is easy to do as long as you’re aware of how your business operates on a day-to-day basis. Long-term goals are also necessary for convincing investors and potential employees your business does in fact stand out from the competition.
There are tons of tools businesses can use to gather data and organize a proper business plan, too. The most important thing to keep in mind is that regardless of what your goals are, the business plan needs to be easy to understand and clearly outlines what your goals are and how your business is working toward achieving them.