Business Plans

There are lots of different ways to lay out a business plan. The sample outline below is just one of many outlines. After the outline, we'll flesh out each of the elements listed to give you an idea of what is entailed in creating an effective business plan.

Elements of a Business Plan: Outline

  1. Cover sheet
  2. Executive summary
  3. Table of contents
    1. The Business
      1. Description of business, customer value proposition and competitive advantages, if any
      2. Market Opportunity
      3. Competition
      4. Marketing
      5. Management Team
    2. Financial Data/Revenue Model
      1. Balance sheet
      2. Breakeven analysis
      3. Pro-forma income projections (profit & loss statements)
        • Three-year summary
        • Detail by month, first year
        • Detail by quarters, second and third years
        • Assumptions upon which projections were based
      4. Pro-forma cash flow
        • Follow guidelines for letter C.
    3. Supporting Documents/Appendices: tax returns; personal financial statements of principals; copies of relevant legal documents, etc.

Cover Sheet, Executive Summary and Table of Contents

The first page of the business plan is a cover sheet that includes the name, address and telephone number of the business and the names of all principals. The cover sheet can be also be combined with the executive summary, with the information that would appear on the cover sheet being place instead at the top of the executive summary.

The second page of the business plan is a one-page executive summary that summarizes each of the main elements of the business plan. In straightforward prose you should answer the following questions:

The first paragraph of the executive summary should be a compelling description of company's mission--one that grab's readers' attention and encourages them to read further.

The table of contents follows the executive summary and lists the major headings and subheadings of the business plan. A word about length: The business plan should not exceed 25-30 pages if at all possible!



    In this section, provide a detailed description of the business. Include your products, market and services as well as a thorough description of what makes your business unique. The description of the business should have two main sections: the first section describes the business, while the second section describes the product or service you will be offering.

    The description of the business should clearly identify the business's goals and objectives (its "mission"). When describing the business, generally you should also explain:

    The legal form of the business: proprietorship, partnership, corporation.

    1. Business type: merchandizing, manufacturing or service.
    2. What the product or service is.
    3. Why the business will be profitable. What are the growth opportunities?

    Include a description of what makes the business unique and how or why its unique aspects will appeal to consumers. Emphasize any special features that you feel will appeal to customers and explain how and why these features are appealing.

    Next give a detailed description of the product/service. Try to describe the benefits of goods or services from your customers' perspective. More specifically, describe:

    1. What you are selling.
    2. How your product or service will benefit the customer.
    3. What is different about the product or service your business is offering.

    In this section of the business, you demonstrate to potential investors that you have done your "homework" and know the industry you are seeking to enter. An analysis of the market opportunity includes a discussion of industry characteristics and trends, projected growth, customer behavior, complementary products/services, barriers of entry, and so on. You should talk about how similar products/services have done in the market, how you're fulfilling an obvious need, and exactly whom you expect to purchase your products/services.


    It is important to know your competitors. Questions like these can help you:

    1. Who are your five nearest direct competitors?
    2. Who are your indirect competitors?
    3. How are their businesses: steady? increasing? decreasing?
    4. What have you learned from their operations? from their advertising?
    5. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
    6. How does their product or service differ from yours?

    Start a file on each of your competitors. Take note of their advertising and promotional materials and their pricing strategy techniques. Review these files periodically, determining when and how often they advertise, sponsor promotions and offer sales. Study the copy used in the advertising and promotional materials, and their sales strategy. Using this technique can help you to understand your competitors better and how they operate their businesses.


    Marketing plays a vital role in successful business ventures. How well you market you business, along with a few other considerations, will ultimately determine your degree of success or failure. The key element of a successful marketing plan is to know your customers--their likes, dislikes, expectations. By identifying these factors, you can develop a marketing strategy that will allow you to arouse and fulfill their needs.

    Identify your customers by their age, sex, income/educational level and residence. At first, target only those customers who are more likely to purchase your product or service. As your customer base expands, you may need to consider modifying the marketing plan to include other customers.

    Develop a marketing plan for your business by answering these questions. Your marketing plan should be included in your business plan and contain answers to the questions outlined below.

    1. Who are your customers? Define your target market(s).
    2. Are your markets growing? steady? declining?
    3. Is your market share growing? steady? declining?
    4. Are your markets large enough to expand?
    5. How will you attract, hold, increase your market share?
    6. What pricing strategy have you devised?

    How you advertise and promote your goods and services may make or break your business. Having a good product or service and not advertising and promoting it is like not having a business at all. Many business owners operate under the mistaken concept that the business will promote itself, and channel money that should be used for advertising and promotions to other areas of the business. Advertising and promotions, however, are the lifeline of a business and should be treated as such.

    Devise a plan that uses advertising and networking as a means to promote your business. Develop short, descriptive copy (text material) that clearly identifies your goods or services, its location and price. Use catchy phrases to arouse the interest of your readers, listeners or viewers. Remember the more care and attention you devote to your marketing program, the more successful your business will be.

    Your pricing strategy is another marketing technique you can use to improve your overall competitiveness. Get a feel for the pricing strategy your competitors are using. That way you can determine if your prices are in line with competitors in your market area and if they are in line with industry averages.

    The key to success is to have a well-planned strategy, to establish your policies and to constantly monitor prices and operating costs to ensure profits.

    Appendix 1 includes a questionnaire that can be used to help you create a marketing plan.


    Managing a business requires dedication, persistence, the ability to make decisions and the ability to manage both employees and finances. Employees and staff play an important role in the total operation of a business. Consequently, it's imperative that you know what skills you possess and those you lack since you will have to hire personnel to supply the skills that you lack.

    The management section of the business plan should answer questions such as:

    • How does your background/business experience help you in this business?
    • Who will be on the management team?
    • What are their duties?
    • What are your current personnel needs?
    • What are your plans for hiring and training personnel?


Sound financial management is one of the best ways for your business to remain profitable and solvent. How well you manage the finances of your business is the cornerstone of every successful business venture. Each year thousands of potentially successful businesses fail because of poor financial management.

To effectively manage your company's finances, plan a sound, realistic budget by determining the actual amount of money needed to open the business (start-up costs) and the amount needed to keep it open (operating costs). The first step to building a sound financial plan is to devise a start-up budget. The start-up budget will usually include such one-time-only costs as major equipment, utility deposits, down payments, etc.

An operating budget is prepared when you are actually ready to open for business. The operating budget will reflect your priorities in terms of how you spend your money, the expenses you will incur and how you will meet those expenses (income). Your operating budget also should include money to cover the first three to six months of operation.

The financial section of your business plan should include any loan applications you've filed, a capital equipment and supply list, balance sheet, breakeven analysis, pro-forma income projections (profit and loss statement) and pro-forma cash flow. The income statement and cash flow projections should include a three-year summary, detail by month for the first year, and detail by quarter for the second and third years.

Other questions that you will need to consider are:

Your plan should include an explanation of all projections. Unless you are thoroughly familiar with financial statements, get help in preparing your cash flow and income statements and your balance sheet. Your aim is not to become a financial wizard, but to understand the financial tools well enough to gain their benefits. Your accountant or financial advisor can help you accomplish this goal.

Sample balance sheets, income projections (profit and loss statements) and cash flow statements are included in Appendix 2, Financial Data.