Architects create blueprints. Doctors follow treatment plans. Coaches develop playbooks. Everything runs more smoothly when a plan is in place. This is especially true for entrepreneurs trying to start, manage or grow their businesses.
A strong business plan will help keep you and your employees on track and motivated by creating a strategy for today and a vision for the future. Plus, a good plan is a must if you want to attract investors and obtain financing that will help you turn that vision into a reality.
Now that you know why this type of plan is so important, it’s time to learn how to craft a winning business plan — step by step.
1. Executive summary
This is the first part of the business plan that prospective investors will review, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the first one you write. In fact, many business owners prefer to save this piece of writing for last as it pulls topline information from all of the other sections and acts as a summary for what their audience is about to read.
An executive summary is typically one to two pages in length and should include:
- Mission statement
- Problem the business solves
- A brief overview of products and/or services
- Target audience
- Ownership structure
- High-level financials
- Future plans
While the executive summary is only one part of a complete business plan, don’t be surprised if it’s the only part that prospects read — at first anyway. That’s why it’s so important to grab their attention and keep them wanting more. If readers are intrigued with the executive summary, they may read on, request more detailed information or even schedule a presentation.
2. Company description
Think of this second section as the who, what, when, where and why of your business. Here you should include details such as:
- Company name
- Names of owners
- Business address
- Number of employees
- Type of ownership
- Description of goods and services
- Company history
- Company strengths (and even its weaknesses with a plan for how to rise above them)
- Brief overview of products and/or services
Be sure to talk about why you started your business in the first place. Don’t think of it as merely filling in a form, but imagine what you would say if someone asked about your business. Show the same enthusiasm and passion in your writing as you would in person. It will get the reader excited about it as well.
3. Market analysis
Understanding your own business is very important, but sometimes it’s not enough. For your business to claim your position in the market, you must also have a firm understanding of your industry, your competition and your target audience. This section goes into depth about all of these things. The best market analysis sections include detailed data from research to support each claim. If you can show how your business is fulfilling an unmet need or meeting a demand in the market in a way that other businesses are not, it will go a long way with partners and investors.
4. Products or services
No one knows your products or services better than you. This is the section where you get to brag about them in depth. Clearly describe your products or services, including their:
- Value — What problem do your products or services solve for your customers? What makes them different?
- Price point — Detail the cost of your product or service and what customers get for it (size, quantity, quality) as well as how the price compares with that of your competitors
- Distribution — Talk about how your customers get your products or services once they purchase them. In store? Same-day delivery? By mail? Virtually?
5. Sales and marketing strategy
The best products and services in the world mean nothing if no one knows about them. That’s why having a marketing strategy that outlines how you plan to market your products and services is vital to the success of your business — and your business plan. A good marketing strategy takes into account the four P’s of marketing:
- Product — Clearly state how your product fulfills a need in the market. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can borrow from the information in the product section.
- Price — The price of your product or service is driven by many things, including customer demand, supply chain availability and competitor pricing. In addition to detailing the prices of your products or services, provide information about how you arrived at those prices and any wholesale or bundling discounts or seasonal pricing.
- Promotion — How will you create awareness around your products or services? Traditional advertising? Social campaigns? In-store promotions? In this section, talk about your marketing budget and how and where you will spend it.
- Place — Where is the product manufactured, stored and shipped from? How does it get from point A to point B? How long does it take to move between these points?
In addition to a marketing strategy, you’ll want to include your sales strategy in this section. This piece not only is an important element for your business plan but will serve as a blueprint for your sales staff moving forward.
6. Organizational and management structure
So far, we’ve talked about the high-level structure of your business. Now it’s time to dive into the day-to-day operations. This section should include:
- Type of business structure — Is your business an LLC, sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation?
- Ownership breakdown — If other people own a share of your business, provide a list of these individuals and their percentage of ownership. If yours is a minority- or women-owned business, you may also want to include that here.
- Leadership — List the members of your leadership team or anyone who is in a managerial or decision-making role. It’s also a good idea to include bios for the individual members of the team.
7. Financial analysis
Regardless of whether you are looking for investors or financing, it’s important to include an analysis of your current financials (profits and losses) as well as future projections. If your business is new and you don’t have a history of financials, be honest and clear about your projections. One way to do this is to research comparable businesses in your area. Here are some things to include:
- Profit-and-loss statement — Providing a summary of your revenues, costs and expenses
- Balance sheet — Showing your assets, liabilities and equity
- Cash flow statement — Showing inflows and outflows
- Sales and revenue projections — Include projects for up to five years
Bringing it all together
Writing a strong business plan can take time and careful consideration. This business plan checklist is intended as a guide to help ensure you have all the sections you need. If you have any questions about your financials or just want to bounce some ideas off someone, reach out to a Chase business banker.
For informational/educational purposes only: The views expressed in this article may differ from those of other employees and departments of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Views and strategies described may not be appropriate for everyone and are not intended as specific advice/recommendation for any individual. Information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but JPMorgan Chase & Co. or its affiliates and/or subsidiaries do not warrant its completeness or accuracy. You should carefully consider your needs and objectives before making any decisions and consult the appropriate professional(s). Outlooks and past performance are not guarantees of future results.
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