If you’ve recently started your own business or are thinking about starting one, it’s important to write a business plan. This document defines your business purpose plus critical operational details, like your founding and management team and financial projections. It also lays out the market research you’ve done into your niche, demonstrating the gap your business intends to fill — an important argument for why your business stands to succeed.
It’s not only the content of your business plan that matters, however. Presentation is also critical. A well-organized plan will feature clean-cut margins and clear images, for example. Even the font makes a difference: A casual font like Comic Sans doesn’t give a professional first impression compared to more straightforward options like Times New Roman. If your business plan looks unprofessional, your audience may not take it seriously. They may not read it at all.
Why is this so important? Your business plan will be needed in various professional contexts. For example, if you want to take out a business loan from a bank, they may request a business plan. Similarly, if you petition venture capitalists for funding or extend an invitation to potential business partners to join your company, they’ll want to see this document.
If your business plan gives an unprofessional first impression, it doesn’t matter how compelling the content is. This guide explains how to write and present a winning business plan that will get noticed — in a good way.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a written document that describes in detail what a business’s objectives are and how it plans to achieve those objectives. It lays out a written road map for the firm from a marketing, financial, and operational standpoint. This document is usually drafted upon a business’s establishment and is especially important for startups, serving as a valuable piece of guidance.
Why do I need to write a business plan?
Whether you’re planning to open a small restaurant, establishing a house-painting business, or starting a social media consultancy, you should create a business plan. This is a blueprint for business success that you can refer to in the future. In addition to providing internal guidance, your business plan will also be useful externally.
You may need a business plan to:
- Apply for business loans, for example, via private lenders or through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
- Pitch your business idea to potential board members or investors.
- Rent a commercial space for your business operations.
What should a business plan include?
The SBA provides a comprehensive overview of what a business plan should include. Their recommendations can serve as a handy business plan template. Here’s what they recommend including:
This is basically a snapshot of your business. It should include your mission statement (here’s how to write one) and a description of your new products or services. You should also define the company’s ownership and leadership team, provide details regarding any current employees, and specify where the company operates. Finally, include financial details and any plans for growth.
This is your chance to show why your company is destined for success. Identify the problem your business will solve (for example, what gap in the marketplace your products or services will fill). Include demographics data for the potential customers, businesses, or organizations that your business will serve. Also, highlight your competitive advantage. What makes your company more likely to succeed than others with the same mission? For example, maybe you have experts on your team.
Your market analysis further testifies to your business’s chances of success. You have to research what other businesses in the field are doing, identifying their strengths and weaknesses. This allows you to pinpoint trends and themes, giving you an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. With this information, you can ensure your business gets it right.
Business and Management Structure
Confirm whether you’ve established your business as a legal entity like a limited liability company (LLC). Then, identify the ownership and leadership or management teams. Include an organizational chart to clarify who is in charge of what. You may want to provide the resumes of key team members, attesting to their unique skills and experience.
Startup Service or Product Details
Describe the product or service you provide, explaining its unique assets and how it benefits the target market. If you have plans for protecting your intellectual property through trademarks, copyrights, or patents, include these. If you’re doing research and development (R&D) to further improve or extend your service or product offering, explain that.
Marketing and Sales Plan
Even if you have a world-class product, it won’t sell itself. Include a sales and marketing strategy for how you intend to reach, convert, and retain your target customer. You should also describe the steps that will lead to a sale. In this step, you are essentially designing your sales funnel, a critical part of successful business planning.
You may be presenting your business plan as part of a funding request. Once you have the above details laid out, you can address funding requirements depending on your business needs. You should explain how much money you need for the next five years and clearly define what you will use that money for. Specify whether you want equity or debt and what terms you’d like applied to the funding.
To convince someone to provide you with business funding, you need to prove your business’s profitability. Nobody wants to invest in a losing business. If you’ve started operations, include financial statements like balance sheets, profit and loss balances, income statements, and cash flow statements.
Whether your business is established or just starting, you should include a five-year financial plan covering details like forecasted income and expenditure. The first year should be more specific, broken down into quarterly or monthly projections. Use professional-looking charts, graphs, and tables as needed.
How do you write a business plan?
Now that you know what’s supposed to go into a business plan, you may still wonder how to write your business plan — and what to do with this document once it’s drafted. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
1. Conduct research
You’ll have to adapt your core business plan to different audiences and objectives. Do your research to determine a relevant audience for your business plan based on your needs. For example, say you want to secure funding from an angel investor. Great idea. Where are you going to find that angel?
You have to research potential investors and what industries they’re interested in. You might search venture capital directories or check out events geared toward entrepreneurs, which frequently feature investors on their panels. You can also check out the websites of new businesses in your field, which may list investors in their management or ownership teams.
2. Include all your business details
Once you have an idea of who you’re targeting, you may have to tweak your business plan accordingly. Adapt the key points listed above as needed. For example, say you’re approaching an expert in your field who you’d like to invite to join your leadership team. You just want their expertise (not their money). The funding section would have to be adapted to make this clear.
Go through the points above, ensuring at every stage that the information and phrasing are relevant and appropriate to your designated audience:
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Market analysis
- Business and management structure
- Service or product offering details
- Marketing and sales strategy
- Funding request
- Financial projections
3. Find and contact your audience
With your business plan tailored to your target audience, you now have to find a way to get this important document in front of them. The internet is a great tool for finding contact information. You can also ask people you know for referrals. Network as much as possible. Once you get the contact information you need, send an introductory email or letter.
Are you not sure what to write? Refer to the RAP (Reason for writing, Action requested, Polite and professional closing) model for business request letters:
- Give your reason for writing. Explain why they might be a good fit for your business or why your business plan might be of interest to them. Basically, why did you choose to approach them specifically and not somebody else?
- Identify the action requested. The aim of this letter is that you want them to take the time to view your business plan. That’s all. This isn’t the point to demand funding. Ideally, they will take the time to meet so that you can present the business plan in person.
- Provide a professional and polite closing. Make sure to include your contact details so that they know how to reach you if they’re interested.
How do you present a business plan to an audience?
If you’re successful in the steps above, you’ll be able to secure a meeting with your target audience to host your business plan presentation. This may be done in person or via a video conference. Read on to learn how you can prepare for this important presentation.
Adjust your plan to fit your audience
Review your business plan, ensuring it’s properly tailored to the audience (e.g., a lender versus investor versus commercial landlord). This is also a chance to review your business plan again. You should know this document, including relevant facts and figures, inside and out so that you can easily and quickly respond to questions.
Use credible and correct information
As you review your business plan, ensure that all the information provided is credible and error-free. It should also be up to date. For example, if you drafted your business plan six months ago and haven’t updated it since, you may have new quarterly figures to include.
Keep your plan simple
When presenting your plan, keep it as simple as possible. This ensures a streamlined and straightforward presentation. Consult resources like the SBA and SCORE to ensure you strike the right balance between simplicity versus providing sufficiently detailed information. A table of contents at the front makes it easy for everyone to find key points and follow your presentation.
Ensure your plan is engaging
Before your presentation, reflect on your business’s competitive advantages. You should be able to clearly and concisely identify these points. Ideally, you can outline your unique value proposition on a single PowerPoint slide. You want to successfully engage your audience, emphasizing the benefits they’ll receive when collaborating with you.
Prepare for objections
Be prepared for critiques, objections, and concerns to be raised during your presentation. Don’t stress. This is normal. If your audience doesn’t have any questions or objections, they likely aren’t interested — so take objections as a positive sign! Prepare to address everything from “stronger” competitors on the market to common negative assumptions about your industry.
To prepare for this part of the presentation, have friends play the devil’s advocate. Ask them to come up with questions and critiques of your business concept and plan. This will give you a list of the tough questions you can expect. You can then come up with answers to these questions in advance, allowing you to go into your business plan meeting fully prepared.
Start preparing your business plan and begin practicing
This guide gives you the information and resources you need to write and present your business plan. With these preparatory steps done, there’s only one thing left to do: practice, practice, practice. The more you practice presenting your business plan, the better you’ll get at it. You can then go into your business pitch meetings with greater confidence.
Do you want more tips on how to start and run your business? ZenBusiness can help. We provide small business owners with the resources they need to found successful companies. Learn more about how to start a business.