Sample Business Plan OutlineDownload a business plan template (MS Word docx)
This business plan is being used as a course handout by Professor David M. Savino of Ohio Northern University's College of Business Administration, for his Fall 2012 course Behavioral Management 2331 - Business Planning.
Most business plans include some or all of the following sections:
- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Description of the Company
- Description of the Market/Market Research and Analysis/Marketing Plan
- Operating Plan
- Financial Information/Historical Financial Data/Assumptions/Five-year Projections/Use of Proceeds
- Description of Risks/Risk Analysis
- Benchmarks and Milestones
You should include this on even a short business plan so nobody has to hunt for specific information.
This section should be relatively short (no more than 2-3 pages) and provide an overview of the entire business plan. To be effective, it should highlight management, describe the product or service and how it is sold, explain the need for the product or service and highlight critical benchmarks. If the business plan is a financing proposal, it should also ask for the appropriate amount of money and present clear reasons for the request. It should not present detailed information (resumes, mission statement, etc. can be included in the Appendix), but should make the viewer interested in reading the complete business plan.
Cover basic information, such as the business type (sole proprietorship, S-corp., etc.), years in operation, location, number of employees, etc. It should include the overall company strategy and key successes and describe the company's future objectives and goals and how they will be met.
This section should include a short description of each top manager's skills and experience and may list certain supporting staff (such as the company's accounting firm or specific consultants who provide mission-critical services or will be key in implementing a proposed business change). If appropriate, it may also include an organization chart and employment policies. It should also address the question of whether or not the company's goals and objectives will require additional management or staff; estimated costs for that should be addressed in the financial projections and/or an appendix.
Clearly describe the product or service (try to avoid industry-specific terms which the audience may not understand). Include any factors which differentiate the product or service from similar ones sold by competitors (e.g. it is faster or less expensive). You may want to include catalogs, photographs, sell sheets, etc. or product reviews, and customer endorsements or testimonials. If you have a lot of material, include only a few and put the rest in an appendix.
Specifically identify the primary and secondary market. Include potential additional revenue sources (e.g. affiliate programs, banner ads, marketing partnerships with related companies, etc.). This should be an overview; detailed information regarding these items may be included in an appendix.
Market Research and Analysis
Whether you use formal or informal research and analysis, you need to demonstrate that there is a need for your product. You might also include supporting data in an appendix.
This should include more than your advertising budget. A comprehensive marketing plan addresses many issues, including public relations, associate programs, co-marketing with complimentary businesses, pricing and packaging strategy, distribution, sales incentives, and industry trends. Provide an overview here, with the complete plan as an attachment or appendix.
Be specific in identifying your competition and their target market. Describe similar products or services and show why yours has an advantage or how it will be differentiated. If you plan on creating a demand for your product by offering 24-7 customer service or free delivery and the competition doesn't, talk about it in this section of the business plan.
How will the business operate? What is the general process used to take goods from raw materials to finished product? For providing services? How will quality and customer service be measured and maintained?
This section should describe the company's capital equipment requirements, investment needs, etc.
Historical Financial Data
(This only applies if you are working with or buying an existing business.) Include income statements, cash flow analysis and balance sheets. If the historical data does not demonstrate good management or the numbers are 'bad', provide an analysis of what caused the problems and what changes you are making to correct them.
Describe the assumptions which were used in creating future projections. For instance, what industry trends did you use, what assumptions are you making about your target market, etc. You might include supporting information (trade magazine articles, surveys, etc.) in an appendix.
Estimate company growth over a five-year period. If applicable, compare to industry growth.
Use of Proceeds
Describe how profits will be utilized. What percentage is expected to be reinvested into the company? Will these investments involve equipment purchases, relocation, staff training, etc.? What percentage is expected to be taken out of the company as profit? If this is a financing proposal, what percentage will go back to investors or into loan repayment?
Describe risks which could affect projections, and show that management has the capability to address them. Demonstrate that you have thought out possible scenarios and how you would respond to them. Have you planned on enough capitalization to survive a slow period? Would you be able to replace key staff? Think up worst-case scenarios and make sure you would be able to address them.
Describe how the company plans to execute the business plan over time. Use charts or timelines to detail specific goals or steps the company will take to meet objectives.
This section should include supporting information, such as management resumes, industry-related articles or detailed breakdowns of information summarized in the body of the plan. Reference this information in the appropriate sections of the business plan.