Creating a business plan that attracts investors and lenders takes time, research, and dedication. You can use a small business plan template to guide you through the process, but it takes much more than filling in the blanks to build a winning business plan.
A great business plan doesn’t just follow the right format; it also persuades the reader that you’ve completed all the groundwork and have cultivated a foundation for success. It gets investors excited about what you have to offer and incentivizes them to help you succeed.
But of course, writing a great business plan is easier said than done. If you’re a small business owner, chances are you’ve never written a business plan and are unsure of where to begin or where to end. But no matter what your level of expertise is, with the right steps, you can create a winning business plan that helps you secure much-needed funding. Here’s what you need to know:
Let Templates Teach the Basics
You can learn a lot from online business plan templates. These templates provide you with the structure you need to create an easy-to-follow business plan. Lenders and investors are accustomed to reading business plans that follow the rules. For instance, this is the standard Table of Content for a business plan:
- Executive Summary
- Company Details
- Market Analysis
- Customer Analysis
- Competitor Analysis
- Marketing Plan
- Operations & Logistics Plan
- Management Team
- Financial Plan
Although it’s important to customize your plan, it’s equally as important to abide by business plan protocols that investors are familiar with. If you deviate from the norm, your business plan could prove difficult to read or compartmentalize. Use existing templates as a resource to keep your business plan on track.
Get Your Numbers Right
The financial section of your business is instrumental in your ability to secure funding. No matter how solid your business plan is, you need the numbers to back it up. Your financials justify every other section of your business plan and if there are any glaring mistakes or miscalculations, you could easily come across as unorganized, unprepared, or ill-informed. Sloppy calculations have the potential to discredit all the hard work you’ve put into your business plan.
Your financial section should include your income statement, cash flow statement, and balance statement. Not to be confused with accounting, your financial plan should be based on forecasting—using data to determine what your numbers will look like in the future.
To create a credible financial forecast, be realistic. While investors would love to see a financial graph whose lines skyrocket to the top of the page, it can also be seen as a red flag. Be realistic about your numbers. And although accounting isn’t the same as financial analysis or projection, you should involve your accountant, bookkeeper, or other financial professional to assist you with this section.
Highlight Your Marketing Strategy
The old adage—“if you build it, they will come”—doesn’t apply in the world of small business. The marketing strategy section of your business plan details exactly how you plan to get in front of your target market and generate sales. The goal of this section is to provide your readers with a high-level overview of the tactics and strategies you’ll use to achieve your goals.
Your marketing plan should include a list of your products and/or services, the promotions you’ll use to build brand awareness, the price point of your products, and how you’ll distribute your products.
This is an area where you should be as specific as possible. For instance, if you’re partnering with an award-winning advertising agency, mention this. If you’re collaborating with an established brand, include this. Any methods you plan to use in your marketing efforts should be mentioned here. This could include paid advertising, influencer marketing, social media, and more.
Hire a Business Plan Service or Freelancer
As previously mentioned, you might not be the best at writing business plans. Perhaps your writing skills aren’t good or you struggle to distance yourself from the passion you feel towards your business.
That’s where a business plan writer or editor comes in handy. If you want someone to write your business in its entirety, it’s best to hire a specialized firm or professional independent business plan writer. Always review testimonials and reviews before you agree to work with anyone.
If you feel confident about the business plan you’ve written, you can hire a freelancer to help you edit it and identify any areas for improvement. Alternatively, you can also outsource specific portions of your business plan, like your finance or market research section.
After you’ve taken the time to have your business plan edited and screened for accuracy, consider putting your plan in front of a fresh pair of friendly eyes. This could be a trusted friend, family member, or colleague. Chances are they won’t be professionals, but they can help you understand whether your message can be understood in simple terms.
If you’ve ever written something and read it over and over again, only to find that someone else has spotted mistakes, you know the feeling. Or if you’ve ever had an idea that you thought was the greatest idea in the world until someone explained why it wouldn’t work, you know exactly how important it is to share your work.
After your reader goes through your plan, ask them the following questions:
- What does my business do?
- How will my business make money?
- How is my business different from competitors?
- What strategies are in place to reach my target market?
- Who is my ideal customer?
Pay attention to how your peers answer these questions. If they’re confused or if they provide inaccurate answers, you might want to revisit the appropriate sections and make some adjustments.
Right for You
Ultimately, your business plan is designed to help you raise money to grow your business. But don’t forget—your business plan is also for you. Even if you never use your business plan to get a loan or land an investor meeting, this well-documented manifesto can help guide you for years to come. Your business plan will help you stay on track, provide accountability to you and other members of your management team, and act as a reference point for financials and milestones. When your business plan is finally complete, you’ll feel much more confident about the future of your business.