your business plan

Business plans aren’t just for startup entrepreneurs: They can also be invaluable for growing companies.

By Rieva Lesonsky

Writing a business plan might sound like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, whether you’re a startup or an experienced business owner, there are more ways to get help writing your business plan than ever before, from software that guides you through the process to in-person advice and assistance from business experts.

If your original business plan has been gathering dust in a drawer for years, take it out and review it. If it doesn’t reflect your current business, it’s time for an update. Are you planning to expand your business? Revising your business plan to reflect your new goals will provide a road map for success.

Here’s what you need to know to really write a business plan.

Keep it simple. We’re living in a time of tweets and soundbites — no one wants to wade through a long, wordy business plan (and you don’t want to write one, either). Why not start with a one-page business plan and expand on it?

Begin your business plan by jotting down notes and ideas for each of the key sections a business plan should include:

  1. Executive Summary – This introductory page sums up the entire business plan (that’s why it’s normally written last). Think of it as an “elevator pitch” for your business idea.
  2. Business description — What is your product/service? Who is your target market? What is your business model (that is, how will you make a profit)?
  3. Market/industry analysis — What problems does your product or service solve for customers? Who are your competitors and how does your business compare to theirs? How big is the market and what share of it can you reasonably hope to obtain?
  4. Operations/Management team — Describe the structure of your business and how it will operate. This is the nuts-and-bolts stuff—what type of building or facility, equipment or machinery, staff, etc. will you need to make it work? Also describe your management team, including your background and that of any key employees or partners in the business.
  5. Marketing/Sales plan — How will you use advertising and marketing to create demand for your product or service? How will it product or service be sold? What distribution channels will you use?
  6. Financial plan —Even if you aren’t seeking financing from investors or lenders, working out a startup budget, projecting sales and expenses, and creating financial statements helps ensure that you’re using your startup capital wisely and being realistic about your business’s financial outlook. If you do need financing, this section should also explain exactly how much money you need, specifically what the money will be used for, and what the business results will be.
  7. Appendix – Here’s where you include backup documentation, such as purchase orders, lease agreements, or any information that doesn’t fit in the other sections.

You don’t have to start from scratch when writing your business plan. Here are three useful resources:

  • BPlans.com has hundreds of free, sample business plans you can learn from, as well as business plan software, tips and resources.
  • LivePlan is a step-by-step tool that helps businesses at any stage create a one-page summary, a full business plan and more.
  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a free business plan tool you can use to build your business plan.
  • Business.com has a downloadable checklist you can use when gathering all the information you need to write a business plan.

Even if you write the business plan on your own, it’s a good idea to have somebody else look it over — ideally, someone who is experienced in business plan writing or reviews a lot of business plans in the course of their work (like a banker). He or she can advise you on how to make your plan stronger and more appealing to lenders, investors and other financing sources.

Another way to grow your business: Apply for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. This intensive education program gives growth-oriented entrepreneurs the tools they need to create jobs and economic opportunity. Learn more about how the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program works.

For Southern California Entrepreneurs Only

If you’re in the Southern California area, there are two exciting opportunities to grow your business coming up:

The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program is currently accepting applications for cohorts (groups of participants) for 2019 programs at Long Beach City College and Los Angeles City College.

  • The deadline to apply for the Los Angeles City College cohort is November 15, 2018, and the program begins on March 15, 2019.
  • The deadline to apply for the Long Beach City College cohort is December 19, 2018, and the program begins on April 5, 2019.
  • Apply here or call 562-938-5054.

Free Business Plan Workshop

Learn more about business planning at two Long Beach City College workshops:

Want expert help starting or growing your business, but not ready for 10,000 Small Businesses? Whatever stage your business is in, The LA SBDC can help. Get confidential advice from business experts at no cost or attend affordable workshops on starting and running a business.  Visit the LA SBDC website (www.smallbizla.org/locations ) to find an advising center near you or call 866-588-SBDC.

Business plan stock photo by Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock