Writing and Formatting a Successful Business Plan
Whether you’re an experienced business person or a first-time entrepreneur, a business plan presents an important opportunity to showcase your unique business ideas and make a plan for how it will it function and operate.
Because of its importance, it can sometimes appear to be an overwhelming task. However, with some guidance on business plan formatting and a breakdown of the plan’s most essential components, you can make the task more manageable and more easily get started on your own plan—bringing the possibility of your grand opening ever closer.
What Is a Business Plan?
A business plan usually serves either or both of two purposes: Sometimes it’s used to court potential investors in a business. Other times, it sets out guidelines and a strategy for initial members of a business’s team to follow as they get things up and running. In either case, this formal document maps out the purpose, goals, finances, and future plans of a new or existing business.
Formatting Your Business Plan
Before you get started on writing your business plan, it’s useful to understand the formatting of a typical business plan. Not only will this help you make sure you ultimately deliver the information that potential investors or teammates are expecting, but it will also help you see where you might need to do more research or spend more time.
Typically, all business plans contain each of the following parts:
- Executive Summary
- Company Description
- Business Goals
- Market and Opportunity Analysis
- Competitive Analysis
- Execution Plan
- Marketing Plan
- Financial Analysis and Projections
Below, we sum up what these sections entail to help you craft each of them according to your own business’s needs.
Business plans usually open with what’s called an executive summary. Typically taking up no more than about half of a page, this summary should include the most essential information about your business and highlights from the plan that follows, including:
- Your organization’s mission statement
- A description of the products and services your business offers
- The purpose of your business plan
- Any major achievements your business has made so far
- An overview of your business’s financial health
A company description should include both basic information about your organization—its registered name, physical location, and a short history of the company—as well as more detailed info about how your business intends to succeed. In other words, once you’ve touched on the very basics, this is your chance to hook readers of your business plan. To do so, it can be helpful to set the stage for your readers: consider the answers to questions like, “Why did you start this business?”, “What unique problems does your business solve?”, and “What makes your company different from others like it?”
Sometimes referred to as an “objective statement,” this section of your business plan should clearly outline your company’s goals—over both the short and long term. If you’re making an appeal to investors, this is also your chance to include some persuasive writing and describe to them how their investments are critical to helping you meet these goals.
Market and Opportunity Analysis
This section requires keen research skills: Bring in all of your knowledge of the market your business is working in to show investors and potential partners where the opportunity lies. Show that you have an understanding of the market’s past, present, and future—and understand the unique risks that businesses in this space face. Additionally, you will want to show what typical types of customers in this market are like with information on key demographics and customer behaviors that your business will market itself to.
Moving past the broad view of the overall market, your business plan should include an analysis of the business models or examples of your closest competitors in the space. Showing how these other organizations operate, how they’ve fared over their histories, and how they market themselves to customers can help you make the case for how your business will do these things both differently and successfully.
The execution plan section should provide a window into how your business will operate behind the scenes: How will you and your employees be organized? Who will handle what tasks? Why are they the right people to do so? Answer these questions by providing thorough details on who will be doing the work and how they will be structured while getting it done.
Every business needs to have a plan on how they position and promote their offerings, as well as attract and retain customers. With this section of your business plan, explain to potential stakeholders and financiers what your initial marketing strategy is and how it will change and scale over time.
Financial Analysis and Projections
Especially for business owners seeking additional financing and investment, the financial portion of your business plan is critical in showing how your business has generated and managed income, plus deliver insight into how it will continue doing so.
This section should include a breakdown of your organization’s sales, expenses, and profits. If you’re applying for a loan or seeking investment, include an overview of what your company’s financials would look like over the next period of years if you were to receive that financial backing. In addition, you should outline a clear plan for how and when you will pay back these creditors.
Crafting a Business Plan That Succeeds
While the particulars of every business plan will be different, there are some aspects that should be common to all business plans:
- Be Concise: The writing in a business plan needs to be persuasive for its intended audience, but it needs to do so efficiently. Use clear and concise writing that communicates your ideas and plans effectively.
- Use Data for Support: Even if your writing is persuasive, it won’t be as effective as it can be without relevant data and hard numbers that back up your insights.
- Get Rid of Errors: In most cases, your audience is only going to read your business plan once. Make sure you present a tidy image of your business through your business plan writing by catching and fixing all of your typos and grammatical errors. Use a digital writing assistant like Microsoft Editor to help spot these mistakes, along with any slips in the formal tone that a business plan requires.
- Keep It Real: Avoid exaggeration, whether it’s in your sales projections, market opportunity, or elsewhere.
Creating a successful business plan requires pulling together a lot of disparate information, which takes a diverse set of skills to pull off. Whether you’re new to new businesses or this is just your latest and greatest project, this can always be a tall order.
Make it easier on yourself by using all of the tools you have at your disposal to help. In addition to the guidelines above, explore a wide range of business plan templates available from Microsoft 365, including everything from complete business plans to individual components like revenue forecasts.