Business Planning 101
Every business needs to plan to be successful. It’s easy for a small business to skimp on planning, thinking that since they are small a more formal plan is unnecessary. This can’t be further from the truth. Formalizing how you are going to run your business will keep you focused and lead to a more successful business in the long-run.
This page will describe the essential parts of a business plan and guide you to resources available online to help with business planning.
What Is a Business Plan?
Think of a business plan as a resume for your business. It typically has:
- Information on how the business is organized and will be managed.
- A description of your product or services.
- Financial information, including projected balance sheet, income statement and a cash flow analysis.
- Market data, especially an analysis of the market segment and your sales and marketing plans.
A good plan helps you make superior business decisions and is crucial to obtain financing.
Writing a Business Plan
While a business plan should be considered a work-in-progress, it should be written down and formalized. Plans take many forms, but in general contain these areas:
- Executive Summary: Provides a concise overview of the entire plan. Not everyone wants to read the entire plan, and this gives a good introductory summary.
- Market Analysis: A description and outlook of your industry, target market and market test results if available, lead times for your product or service, and an evaluation of your competition.
- Company Description: A high-level look at how your business fits together. It should include the nature of your business as well as the factors you believe will make your business a success.
- Organization and Management: Describes the company’s organizational structure and details about the ownership. It delineates who does what in your business and what their responsibilities entail.
- Marketing and Sales Management: This discusses the business Marketing Strategy (market penetration, business growth, distribution channels and customer communication) and business Sales Strategy (your sales force and sales activities).
- Service or Product Line: Gives a detailed description of your product or service and any copyright and patent information relevant to your product. It includes any research and development activities you have done or will do on your product.
- Funding Request: Includes your current and future funding needs and how you will use these funds. It should also list any plans that will affect funding needs in the future.
- Financials: Provides historical financial data (income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for your business) and prospective financial data (pro forma income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements). Typically capital expenditure budgets for any major business investments you plan would be included too.
- Appendix: A good place for any additional information that is needed, depending on the target reader. It may include a credit history, product pictures, letters of reference, legal documents and a list of your attorney and accountant.
See the resource section below for more details and tools to help with your business plan.
There are many resources available to help with a developing a business plan. One of the best is the Small Business Administration. They have District and Regional Offices around the country as well as many affiliated Small Business Development Centers that can provide local help and resources.
REAP- The Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project is a full-service microenterprise development program and operates on a statewide rural basis in Nebraska. REAP provides small business loans, training, networking, technical assistance and counseling.
AEO (Association for Enterprise Opportunity) - AEO is the national leadership organization and the voice of microenterprise development. Click here to find Micro Enterprise Programs in your state.
FIELD’s Microenterprise Program Directory, which also lists microenterprise programs by state.
GROW Nebraska- A Nebraska membership nonprofit focused on creating sustainable economic development by supporting Nebraska entrepreneurs and small businesses through promotion, market access and education. They are emphasizing successful web-based marketing and also have stores featuring Nebraska-made products and services.
Below are some sources to help with planning and writing a Business Plan.
SBA Resources for Business Plans – lots of information to help you get started.
University of Washington - Internet resources for business plans.
About.com Small Business Information - tools and resources to write a business plan.
Bplans.com – sample business plans and tools to help write one.
morebusiness.com – sample business plans.
Microsoft Small Business Center - how to write a business plan.
Navarro College Small Business Development Center - business plan resources.
SCORE - business plan resources
Palo Alto Software – free business plans and fee based tools.
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