Steps for Creating Your Business Plan The web is a powerful tool for companies of all types, and as it has changed, so have the types of companies who prosper. Secrets and Strategies , are transactional, content, promotional and relational. Regardless the type of online business you are running, here are the recommended steps in putting together your business plan read more about writing a great business plan.
Set Up a Review Schedule Be Open to Change You should never complete any business planning without a review schedule, but it has become increasingly important to do it earlier and more often. What matters is the planning for the future, not just the formal plan. Define Your Business Objectives and Personality From a very basic level, you need to identify what your goals are as a business. What are you selling, where does it fit within the market, and what is its price in comparison?
How do you envision your site being successful, because the definition of success will differ for each entrepreneur and business type? Complete Your Financial And Management Summary You need to outline what kind of experience your management team has and also any financing that you already have lined up. Consider your management summary to be a resume of the qualifications and work history for the people involved in your startup. While sales, revenue, and established users will be catchy in a business plan, you also want to describe how much capital you already have and will need, what the cost of operation will be, and what type of accounting you plan on utilizing.
There are immediate ways to measure your business success that are very practical and very inexpensive, which makes them considerably easier to obtain. The best way to measure success is by taking note of how you are performing with people you already have a relationship with. That gives you a great idea of how effective your business actually is performing.
The goal is to maximize the value of your company before converting it to cash, and to minimize the amount of time consumed. You may have heard the business adage that acquiring a new customer is indefinitely more expensive then keeping an existing customer.
Think about how you can drive incremental revenue. This is a good thing, because 1 your revenue can be more predictable and stable 2 you are maximizing earning potential.
Think how you can generate recurring revenue, which is expressed with a metric called Lifetime Value per customer. Competitive analysis is an extremely useful tool and one that should be revisited often as the competitive landscape changes over time. Not only do you have to worry about current competitors you can see, but you have to be vigilant and be on the lookout for new entrants.
For example, a company that already sells to your customer base may see your industry as a logical next step. Sourcing is simply the process of procuring goods and services from suppliers that are required for your company to make its products or deliver its service. Some things to consider when choosing and managing your suppliers:.
This is an obvious one — the lower the price, the higher your profit margins will be. The longer you have to pay your suppliers, the more working capital you have on hand. You must consider how reliable your suppliers are and what would happen to your ability to operate if they cannot deliver. As your business expands, will your suppliers be able to meet your needs? There are several popular fulfillment options:. If you are going to be selling physical products and expect to hold inventory, then you should pay very close attention to how you forecast the amount of inventory you need to meet your projected sales.
Too little inventory and you may not be able to meet demand. Too much inventory and you tie up all of your cash on excess inventory. Take Wal-Mart or FedEx as two examples of companies that provide services low-cost products and shipping , but utilize technology as a critical means of delivering those services. Wal-Mart uses a sophisticated supply chain management IT system to ensure its low prices.
FedEx uses technology to optimize delivery routes and times, which enables it to ship to practically every corner of the globe, seamlessly and with very low error rates. Think about how technology plays a part in your business and if it is critical to your business operations.
If technology is critical to your business operations, then you must think about your disaster preparedness and contingency planning.
Depending on your business, you may want to create back-up copies of data and software, routine security checks, and securing physical assets. What would happen if you lost access to the technology? Think about alternatives that you could utilize. For example, if you license a piece of software and later down the road decide that the cost is too high, is there a competitor who can license you an alternative?
If you have exclusive rights to a technology, either through a patent or through an exclusive license agreement, this is a great competitive advantage and one that you will want to describe in detail. There are two types of intellectual property that may be applicable to a business: These include inventions patents , trademarks and industrial designs trade secrets, trade dress.
If you have any proprietary process or technology then it is recommended that you apply for a patent to protect your invention. You should apply for a trademark for your company name and logo as well. These include literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs. Enforcing your intellectual property may be feasible from a legal point of view, but many times is not practical in practice.
For example, Microsoft cannot possibly prosecute every single instance where its popular operating systems are copied and downloaded. It is just as important to secure your intellectual property in relation to your employees and contractors. Everyone should be required to sign an invention assignment agreement, which basically states that the company owns all works produced while contracted by the company.
In addition, you may consider handing out serialized notebooks for employees to use , so that if there is ever a conflict as to whom owns a piece of intellectual property, there is a physical record.
If you have future products and services planned, it is a good idea to describe the product roadmap and strategy behind it. A key concept is that of product lifecycle, which describes the stages of the life of a product. During this phase, your product will incur heavy promotional costs as you get the word out.
You may discount the price of the product to encourage new customers. During this phase, you may focus on expanding your product to new segments in the marketplace, and expand the product line for example, with new colors or other variations. During this phase, you are enjoying the fruits of your labor.
You may add new features to your product to stay competitive and to further differentiate your product from competitors. Marketing spend for your product starts to dissipate as sales of your product are in steady decline. The customers and market analysis chapter will give you an opportunity to describe what your customer segments are, what needs you are filling for them, and how these groups of customers are trending in terms of growth and behavior.
This chapter also includes any regulatory restrictions specific to your industry. In the market overview section you are going to calculate the total market referred to as Total Addressable Market for your products, and then the segment of that market your business can capture.
Total addressable market can be thought of in several distinct levels. Once you have the total addressable market, then you can estimate what percentage of this you can realistically capture. This, of course, is much harder to predict with accuracy. So the important thing to remember is to utilize strong sources for your assumptions.
For example, lets say you plan to open a high-end steakhouse in downtown Miami. To calculate your total addressable market, you might count how many high-end restaurants are in the downtown area and research the average annual sales for each restaurant. Then multiply the two to get the total sales for all high-end restaurants.
This would be your total addressable market. Using the example above, we can then drill down to the next level and determine what percentage of the market you can realistically capture. Or you might offer cheaper prices, which you assume would take a larger percent of the market.
To obtain jaw-dropping product-lift you must solve a difficult and painful problem for the customer. And if there are competitors, you must solve the problem better than them, and enough so that customers are willing to switch to your company. Describe what problem your product is solving.
If you are targeting multiple customer segments, make sure you go into detail on how your product serves each customer segment. We as consumers are inherently lazy. For example, there is virtually no cost to switch from Coke to Pepsi. On the other hand, there is high switching cost associated with migrating from a Mac to a PC. Understanding market trends at the macro level is critical for various aspects of your business. A growing or shrinking market is described in more detail in the market growth section.
Below are some of the other factors that will affect market trends:. The overall economy has a disproportionate effect on some businesses. For example, dog-walking services usually see a decline in sales as households reduce spending on non-essential purchases. Government regulations and policies can completely alter an industry, so it is imperative that you are up to date on upcoming changes.
For example, the Jobs Act of allowed for the first time non-accredited investors to participate in private placement of securities. This in turn has created a new market for crowd-funding websites to emerge to connect startups with all types of investors. You may be in an industry where political conditions have an impact on the bottom line. For example, if you count the Dept. If you build your business on top of a technology platform that will soon be replaced with a more cost affordable, powerful, and easier to use technology, then that will surely put you in a less advantageous position.
Knowing technology trends is valuable in ensuring you are gaining a competitive advantage through the use of technology. Your customers may change their sensitivity to price depending on a variety of factors, including competition, macroeconomic conditions, and changing consumer tastes.
Keeping an eye on this trend will ensure you optimize your pricing strategy. Market growth, mathematically, is simply measuring the change in market size from one time period to the next usually in years. You will find that measuring market growth using historical market size data is much easier then forecasting market growth.
Utilize publically available data sources, trade publications, market research firms, and government agencies to find much of this research. Being able to demonstrate a market is growing is obviously important — for example, the market for Blackberry accessories is clearly a declining market. Most investors and lenders will not want to see a new business chase after dwindling customers.
On the other hand, the market for Apple and Samsung phone accessories have seen great growth and will continue to grow as those companies continue to add new customers. For example, Ford and Nissan are both in the automotive industry. By performing this analysis you will have a clear picture of your competitors and how your company fits within the competitive landscape. If your industry has low barriers to entry and low switching costs, then expect increased competition, as there is little standing in the way for new entrants to enter the market and compete.
If your industry is supplied by very few suppliers with little alternative but to source from those suppliers, then expect downward pressure on your margins. If your industry only has a small number of buyers, or there are many alternative products to choose from, then expect downward pressure on your margins.
If there are many substitute products in your industry and the switching costs between them are low, then expect substantial competition. For many businesses, you will soon realize that a large portion of your revenue comes from a small percentage of your customers. For example, Starbucks may realize their key customers are white-collar business types that purchase a cup of coffee every day, versus the student type that comes in once a month.
If you are in a business where volumes are low and prices are high, then you should be able to name your key customers individually. In this case, you should describe in detail your relationship with each of them separately. Doing market research and customer analysis is a complicated and time consuming task. Time to move on to the next chapter! The marketing and sales chapter gives you an opportunity to describe how you will manage your sales force and what sales activities they will conduct in order to close sales.
It will be easier to write this section after you complete the subsequent sections as the overview section summarizes key findings from the other section. Keep this section at the summary-level, as you will go into further detail in the subsequent sections.
Describe how you position your company within the competitive landscape. Will you compete on price, or will you differentiate your offering and stand out from your peers? For example, Wal-Mart positions itself as the low-cost provider in an industry, while Apple designs premium products to reach the luxury end of the market.
There are three primary ways to achieve this:. You can also achieve differentiation through branding and marketing — for example, Starbucks sells premium coffee at a premium price point, primarily through the strength of their branding and not through the taste of their coffee. If you are going shooting for the low cost provider strategy, then you will want to price yourself accordingly. Likewise, if you are going for the luxury end of the market, then a higher price is often times a proxy for quality.
How price sensitive are your customers? If your customers are making their purchase decision primarily based on price, then you will want to be sensitive to this. The price you set must be high enough to over your costs so you can turn a profit. There are, of course, exceptions. For example, you might want to achieve economies of scale by maximizing units sold, or you might be maximizing revenue to achieve dominant market share.
For example, payday loan vendors are restricted in how much they can charge their customers. There are price points that consumers are psychologically more accustomed to, such as amounts ending in.
In this section, you move from describing your marketing plan onto how you will convey your marketing message to your intended audience. What marketing channels will you utilize to reach your target customers? Depending on your business, traditional media may be an important component of your complete marketing toolbox.
These would include television, radio, billboards, flyers, etc. There are a myriad of options available. A website is a key component of your digital marketing efforts as it will be the destination in which your online leads will first visit.
Word of mouth marketing is by far the most profitable and powerful marketing channel available to any business. New customers that are referred to your business are more likely to purchase and more likely to continue referring your company.
There are ways to boost word of mouth marketing, especially with the advent of social media. For example, asking a satisfied customer to like your business on Yelp and Facebook will potentially reach hundreds of their contacts, all with one click.
Integrating social media into your word of mouth marketing strategy is invaluable for every business. Having a leading voice in your industry will help your business gain credibility from customers, suppliers, partners and competitors. How will your products be available? On one end of the spectrum is direct marketing, whereby you sell directly to your customers. Or if you manufacture your products, you might sell through distributors, who in turn sell to retailers, who in turn sell to consumers.
Product is stocked in mass-market distribution channels. Examples include soft drinks, magazines, etc. Product is specialized and sold through specialized channels. Product is only sold through an exclusive channel. Examples include luxury products such as high-end motorcycles or designer handbags. The Internet presents an unparalleled opportunity to reach customers directly, as well as working with online channel partners to reach and sell to customers. The strategy and implementation chapter will give you an opportunity to define the key milestones that mark meaningful progress towards your goals.
It also includes sections that further elaborate on your competitors. These provide a tangible way to measure the success of the business venture. Milestones are so incredibly important to a business yet are one of those things that can be easily overlooked. Why are milestones so important? Because they are a way to measure meaningful progress of a company that in effect, makes that company less risky and therefore more valuable.
It becomes more apparent that the venture will succeed. Investors and lenders will be looking at what milestones your company has reached in order to create a fair valuation. Competitive edge can be bucketed into four primary areas: This is a straightforward competitive edge that is very difficult to deliver. Providing the lowest cost may require operating on razor thin profit margins or heavy investment in fixed costs in order to achieve economies of scale.
Do you provide superior time to market or customer service? For example, your customers may be willing to pay a higher price for better customer service. Forging strategic alliances is a commonplace occurrence in business.
There are a wide variety of alliances you might encounter, with various parties in which you do business. Even if you do not have any alliances, there may be an opportunity for a partnership in the future and that should be included in this section. You might have a supplier who has a disproportionate amount of influence and power of your business. Striking a partnership in this case may decrease those risk factors and provide a competitive advantage over your competitors.
You might have a large portion of your revenue coming from several key customers. Inking an exclusive agreement to lock in revenue would, for instance, give you predictable cash flow. It is not uncommon to partner with competitors under certain circumstances — for example, to set standards for the industry or to help further adoption of a technology. Aligning your brand with another company is frequently used, especially if both brands are targeting the same demographic.
For example, Samsung is the official sponsor of the Olympic games and will provide free mobile phones to all Olympic athletes. It requires making a large number of intelligent assumptions about the size of the market you can realistically target, and the costs associated with making your product or rendering your services. Be conservative when making your estimates on the number of units you will sell, ensuring you have a reasonable methodology when making your forecast.
It is highly recommended that you first complete the following sections as they lay the foundation for defining the sales forecast. Your sales forecast should sync with your Sales and Marketing plan.
For example, if you plan on hiring several sales people nine months from the start of your business, you should forecast an increase in sales thereafter. Otherwise known as cost of goods sold COGS. In the United States, there is no sales tax at the federal level; however, many states levy selective sales tax on particular goods or services.
Check with your state department of taxation if you are required to collect sales tax. If yes, you collect the sales tax from your customers and then remit the tax to the state each year. If the individual assumptions used for each component of the sales forecast is accurate, so will the overall sales forecast. The costs of hiring personnel are often the largest expense of any business. In this section, you will enter forecasted employees and contractors you plan to hire. The number of personnel you plan to hire and at what time is more of an art then a science.
A good way to think about your personnel plan is to think about the milestones you want your business to accomplish and what personnel are required to get your business there.
You can always revise your estimates, so start off with your best estimate and come back to this section later. Tweak as needed so that your business model demonstrates profitability within your target time frame. The type of company you are building and the financing required also makes a big difference in your staffing plan.
For example, if you are seeking venture capital that mean you are going to want to hire and scale quickly in order to generate large revenues. Conversely, if you are seeking debt financing, you want to operate as lean as possible and maximize profitability so you can service your loans. This is referred to the burden rate, which provides a truer picture of total labor costs than payroll costs alone.
Burden rate only affects employees and not contractors. Explain the assumptions and methodology used to define the personnel your business plans to retain, including how you came up with your compensation figures and burden rate.
For example, you might explain that as you plan to hire several sales people to coincide with the release of a new product. Enter expenses you plan on incurring for your business. Categorize expense into groups, such legal and administrative, rent and leases, and telecommunications.
Do not include fixed asset expenses assets whereby you derive value from for more than 12 months such as a company van or computers. You will enter these in the next step. Enter long-term asset expenses here. Long-term assets are comprised of two types: Fixed assets are tangible assets that provide value for more than 12 months, such as a company van or computers.
Fixed assets are depreciated over its useful lifetime. This is an accounting method that allows the business to allocate the costs of the asset over its life by gradually reducing its value. Intangible assets are long-term assets that are not physical in nature. Intangible assets are amortized over its useful life. Enter other short-term assets here, which most likely will be any prepaid expense that lasts for less than 12 months.
Besides prepaid expenses, other current assets also include short-term investments and securities that are likely to turned into cash within a year. A prepaid expense can be described as such: This type of expense is better described as a prepaid expense, since the use of the office is spread out over a month period of time and can be considered an asset on the Balance Sheet that is expensed over time.
Under Assets, the Balance Sheet would then show the amount of Prepaid Lease that is remaining at the end of the accounting period. Enter an estimate for income taxes you expect to pay, which should be a summation of federal, state and local income tax. Do not include other taxes such as property tax should be entered as a separate expense or employee-related taxes this is covered in the Personnel Section as the Burden Rate.
Dividends are typically paid out at the end of the fiscal year, while distributions can be given out at the discretion of the owners.
Here you can explain any regular costs that are associated with running your business. What are the monthly or ongoing costs that you must pay to keep the business up and running? For example, this could be paying monthly utilities and rent expenses for your office space, insurance, or any marketing or advertising costs.
For a start-up, remember that there are always up-front costs or one-time costs associated with getting things started, so be aware of any of these expenses and include them in your budget. Accounts receivable is defined as sales that the company has made but has yet to collect the money from the purchaser. Most companies operate by allowing some portion of their sales to be on credit.
These types of sales are usually made to frequent or special customers who are invoiced periodically, and allow them to avoid the hassle of physically making payments as each transaction occurs. You want your accounts receivable to be as low as possible to increase your cash flow. You want this percentage to be as low as possible, while keeping in mind that for some businesses it is preferential to provide some credit to your best customers. Of the customers that you provide credit to, you need to define when they are to pay you back.
The faster, the better your cash flow will look like. It is typical to provide net, which is 30 days. Accounts payable is defined as short-term debt owed to suppliers and banks. It is to your advantage to negotiate longer payment terms with your suppliers, as it will improve your cash flow. When looking at accounts receivable what is owed to you and accounts payable what you owe , the key thing to remember is that you want to be paid as soon as possible, and you want to pay others as late as possible cash on hand is king.
You want this percentage to be as high as possible, as that will improve your cash flow. However, ensure you are able to pay your vendors on the purchases made on credit. Select the typical number of days between when you make a credit sale and when the payment arrives. Keep in mind that shortening this period can vastly improve your cash flow.
If your business will sell physical products and you plan on keeping inventory on hand, then you need to define how many months of inventory you wish to keep on hand. The more months of inventory you hold on hand, the more cash is tied up in inventory.
This will affect your cash flow. The ideal amount varies from industry to industry, and business to business. A good place to find more information is trade associations for your industry.
Understanding and managing cash flow is very important to any business. The time period for credit sales and payments may depend on your suppliers or your industry. Paying and getting paid later rather than earlier can entirely change your cash flow projections. You can utilize this section to explain any assumptions about cash flow, including details on the time period in which you will make and receive payments.
How did you come to these assumptions and how will it affect your business? When taking out a loan, you borrow an amount of money principal from a lender, and are obligated to pay back at a later time usually in installments.
You will typically pay interest on the loan. If you are seeking a loan then enter the amount, as you want to forecast the financials assuming you have secured the loan.
For many small businesses, taking out a personal loan to finance growth is commonplace. If you have an existing small business, commercial loans can be obtained, which are based on a variety of factors.
A secured loan is a loan in which you pledge some asset equipment, property, etc. Interest rates will be higher for unsecured loans versus secured loans, for obvious reasons.
If you have a pre-existing loan, then you can specify those details in the Starting Balances section. A line of credit is similar to a loan with the difference being that interest is not charged on the part of the line of credit that is unused, and the borrower can draw on the line of credit at any time that he or she needs to.
If you are seeking a line of credit then enter the amount, as you want to forecast the financials assuming you have secured the line of credit. Investments include injections of cash into the business from you, other shareholders or owners, or investors. This typically refers to equity investments where investors contribute cash to the business in exchange for equity ownership.
In this section, you can describe how your business will be funded. For existing businesses only. If you are an existing business, you can enter past financial data here. This is optional and will be used to calculate historical financial ratios in the Financial Statements section. Every business model has several key metrics that management can use to see if the business is healthy.
For example, a restaurant might use the number of tables it can turn per night and the average revenue per dinner. Think about what levers make the most impact to your business. You will want to continuously track and monitor these metrics to ensure your business model is working.
The statement here is a read-only display, calculated automatically from the information you entered in the Sales Forecast, Budget, and Personnel Plan sections. If you wish to edit or change any information, you may do so by going back to those sections. The statement here will update automatically. The balance sheet here is a read-only display. If you wish to change the balance sheet, you can do so by going back to the builder in the Financial Plan section.
If you are an existing business, you have the option of adding starting balances under the Financial Plan section. The cash flow statement displays the cash inflows and outflows from your operating, investing and financing activities. Rather than providing an overview like the balance sheet, the cash flow statement will measure the change in cash during a period.
In other words, how much money did you start and end up with? The statement here is a read-only display. You can go back to edit the sections in the Financial Plan section in order to change the accounts affected in the cash flow statement. Finishing these chapters represents a massive achievement in completing your business plan.
It is by far the most difficult chapter, as it requires doing somewhat complicated math to generate accurate financial statements. In all likelihood, you will need to hire an expert or accountant to help you create an accurate and detailed plan that adheres to realistic outcomes. Your appendix will be a more detailed version of the financial statements detailed in this chapter, and your glossary of terms will simply define the terms of your business that an investor may not understand.
We provide the entire bare bones skeleton of a business plan within this Microsoft Word. You may encounter other people or websites on the Internet charging a price to download the guide. Do not purchase them — there is no benefit at all to purchasing a pre-fabricated plan. Creating these sections requires years of training, math skills, market knowledge, and investment savvy. Making your data attractive and easy to comprehend is no easy task.
Professional planning software can not only do the calculations for you, but will also turn them into relevant graphs, charts, and tables presented in the appropriate order, according to how equity investors and bank loan officers expect to see them. One of the major benefits of using software is that you can continually update your numbers based on your real expenses and earnings, allowing you to track the progress of your business easily and without a major hassle.
Create your free Business Plan now Make an investment-worthy business plan easily with our free template. Free Business Plan Template Download Are you an entrepreneur looking to download a free business plan? Click here to download a blank business plan template Click here to download a plan with sample text Related Business Documents: The executive summary provides investors with a general layout of your company. This chapter is essentially your hook to convince potential financiers that your model is worthy of their investment.
In this chapter, the goal is to outline the legal and operational structure of your company, financing requirements, the history behind the company, mission statement and the management team. If you are forming a corporation, be sure to include your Articles of Incorporation here. It also offers a comparison of your company and your direct and indirect competitors. Customers and Market Analysis: The customers and market analysis page indicates your target customer segments, what needs you are filling for them , and the latest trends among these consumers in terms of growth and behavior.
This chapter will give you an opportunity to set the key milestones that help establish a timeline of progress towards your goals. Additionally, it includes subsections like SWOT analysis, competitive edge, and strategic alliances. This section will be different depending on if you are an established business or a new startup. Existing Company Even in a standard plan, the executive summary for an existing business has no set template, although there are several suggested guidelines that you can find around the web.
We suggest the following basic template — feel free to add or subtract sections according to your own needs: Summary Summary Describe the purpose of the plan e.
This statement should be concise and to the point. Management Team Management Team Summarize the members of the management team, including highlights of their expertise and experience. Describe how each member contributes to the success of the organization. Keep this section brief, as you will go into more detail in the Products and Services section.
Products and Services Products and Services Describe the products and services you are providing and who the competitors are within the industry. Customers Customers Describe whom your customer groups are and whom your key customers are , as well as how you will market to them. Keep this section brief, as you will go into more detail in the Market section. Marketing and Sales Marketing and Sales Describe briefly how you will market your product or service. If you are a new company, describe when you expect to turn a profit.
If you are an existing company, highlight past financial performance. Company Overview There are many variations and approaches on how to lay out the various components of a business plan. Partnerships A partnership, according to the IRS: Corporations A corporation is a separate legal entity owned by shareholders.
S-Corporations You can elect a special tax status with the IRS to have your corporation not be taxed at the corporate level instead, it would be taxed as a pass-through entity. If you have not yet incorporated Describe the type of company you plan to open, along with the registered name you plan to use.
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Whatever type of retail store you're starting, a good business plan is essential. Get ideas from this assortment of sample business plans for clothing stores, online stores, e-businesses, gift shops, eBay, art galleries, and other retail businesses.
Business plan template software lets you automatically write a business plan online. Try our day free trial, no credit card required. Business Forms & Templates Get instant access to hundreds of business forms, templates, and contracts online today. Find documents for almost every kind of business such as purchase orders, partnership agreements, loan agreements, applications, and bill of sale.
This sample business plan is intended to provide you with a template that can be used as a reference for when you’re hard at work on your plan. The company is a completely fictional organic denim and apparel company, however, we made sure the industry research was . Business Plan for an Online Business: Deciding What Business to Build "Don't think of the formal business plan until you actually need it," notes Tim Berry, president and founder of Palo Alto Software, the maker of Business Plan Pro software, who blogs at toplabour.cf and is the author of Plan-As-You-Go Business Plans.