How to write a business plan

Business planning, Startup Advice

Writing a business plan is an important step for entrepreneurs seeking to frame their overarching purpose and goals. However, timing is important and businesses that formulate a plan from the very beginning may actually be doing more harm than good.

Francis J Greene, University of Edinburgh Business School chair in entrepreneurship, and Christian Hopp, RWTH Aachen University chair in technology entrepreneurship in the TIME Research Area, write at the Harvard Business Review that their research “shows that writing a plan first is a really bad idea”.

“It is much better to wait, not to devote too much time to writing the plan, and, crucially, to synchronise the plan with other key startup activities,” Greene and Hopp write.

The Elements of a Strong Business Plan

Aside from outlining your goals, a strong sales business plan template is fleshed out by a few other pivotal elements:

  • A thought-out marketing strategy accompanied by a thorough description of your target market. Know who you are selling to, and how you are going to sell to them.   Gabriel Weinberg, founder, and CEO of the multi-billion dollar internet privacy company, DuckDuckGo, outlines the 19 marketing channels you can use to build traction, and how to determine which strategies to focus on at any one time in his book, Traction.
  • A breakdown of your sales strategy and the tactics you will use to execute it. How will you initiate the sales conversation with prospective clients, or define your sales story?  Jon Ferrara is a big fan of building team members’ personal brands and networks to scale sales.  
  • An ambitious (yet attainable) timeline. What do you want to achieve this week? This quarter? Next year? Break your timeline out in a way that makes sense for your business model.
  • A high-level competitor analysis. Become familiar with the competitive landscape and garner knowledge from studying key players within your industry. Learn their strengths and weaknesses (as well as your own) to help solidify your own sales plan.
  • Develop a projected month-to-month sales forecast to get you through at least one year (preferably two or three). For brand new businesses with no historical data to shape a forecast from, look at established products or services from a competitor to get a grip on potential sales.  

Business Plan Structure

The best sales business plan examples tend to follow the same structure across the board. When drafting your plan, it’s important to get granular; small details can add up.

Here is the general outline for best practices in drafting your business plan for sales sample, as well as the questions you will be addressing:

  • Objectives – What are you doing?
  • Customer Focus – Who are you selling to?
  • Strategies and Tactics – How are you going to talk to them, and through what medium?
  • Tools and Systems- How will you stay organized and optimize your internal processes?
  • Metrics – What KPIs will you be measuring?
  • Team – Who will you be calling on to help you achieve your goals?
  • Budget – How much are you capable of investing in certain aspects of your company?

With these specific bases covered within your sales business plan, your new endeavor will be off to a sturdy, well-focused start. 

Sales Business Plan Example: Nimble

In order to illustrate an effective strategy in a sea of business plan for sales examples, we would like to share the sales business plan that set Nimble on the road to success.

During the years of 2008-2010, the future of social media and its role in marketing wasn’t entirely clear.

The industry had yet to work out the kinks and gaps between social networks, enterprise systems, and personal productivity tools such as inboxes and calendars.

The introduction of CRMs created a single system of contact records and communications history, but most were too cumbersome to use. Jon saw the opportunity to turn the CRM industry on its head with a revolutionary product.

He created Nimble with the intention of providing a single, socially enriched system of record that helps businesses and salespeople cultivate relationships at scale. In order to achieve his goal, a solid sales business plan was a must. Here is a snapshot of the winning sales business plan that helped shape Nimble into the industry leader it is today:

  • Objectives– To provide a single, socially enriched system of record that helps businesses and small business teams cultivate relationships at scale.
  • Customer Focus– Small business teams working primarily in small businesses of up to 30 people.
  • Strategies and Tactics– Nimble’s primary sales strategy is Guerilla PR and building relationships with social influencers, industry analysts, press and channel partners in and around the areas of Nimble’s brand promise.  
  • With channel partners, in particular, we focus on empowering and incentivizing partners to resell Nimble as part of a solution-focused cloud migration.
  • Tools and Systems
    • We use Nimble for outbound prospecting; templated, trackable 1:1 messaging, delivered at scale; and for sales funnel management. Nimble is integrated with Outlook 365, G Suite, and 366 degrees marketing for easy access and a light-weight, end-to-end sales and marketing solution.
    • Intercom is our go-to system customer support.
    • We use Power BI for reporting on business metrics

With this outline in mind, Nimble has become a key player in a well-funded and heavily saturated market.

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The business world can be treacherous and uncertain. Oftentimes, even the best ideas can fall flat without a solid framework to map out the path to success. In order to avoid having your newly established business tank in a highly competitive market during its first year, develop a solid business sales plan right off the bat.

As discussed, a business plan for sales sheds light on your new business’ strengths and weaknesses, gives direction to your marketing strategy and pinpoints your target market, outlines your short-term and long-term goals, identifies potential roadblocks that may come up along the way, and digs into the small details of planning a professional endeavor that tends to creep up on people.

Set yourself up for success and give yourself as much of an advantage as possible by mapping out where you want to go and how to get there right from the start.

If you’re looking for a customer relationship management CRM system to help you build your new business try Nimble’s 14-day free trial.

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The business plan template

A well-researched and well-thought-out business plan template should consist of the following elements. In addition to these sections, a business plan should have a cover, title page, and table of contents. Plus, the information and length of your business plan will differ depending on whether your business is a startup or an established company.

1. Executive summary

When writing up a business plan, the executive summary should provide a high-level look of the key points of the document. Think of it as a concise and quick summary of your business idea. It should capture the reader’s attention while convincing banks, venture capitalists, or angel investors to invest much-needed capital in your business. This section will also serve as your business story. It should cover basic topics, including these:

  • Location
  • Legal structure
  • Business model
  • Owners and staff
  • Products and services
  • Competitive advantages
  • Financial projections
  • Financial requirements
  • Target market

2. Market analysis

A market analysis, oftentimes called a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, may sound daunting and meticulous, but it doesn’t have to be. As a key part of your written business plan, the market analysis section provides investors with a detailed overview of your industry, including the strengths and weaknesses your business has within the market. Your market analysis should dive deep into the following parts.

Industry outlookMake sure to add detailed statistics, including trends, growth rates, and the size of the industry. This will show potential investors that the target market is large enough to build a sustainable business.

Target demographicAfter assessing the size and trends of your market, add information on your core target demographic, including gender, age, income level, and interests.

Competitive analysisThis part of the market analysis is dedicated to analyzing your current and potential competition. By documenting the strengths and weaknesses of your startup business and your competitors, your investors will determine whether or not your business will survive and flourish. While you don’t have to go undercover to assess and analyze your competitors, it’s important to develop a basic profile of your competition and their marketing strategies.

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3. Operating plan

The expected day-to-day operations are the physical demands of your company. This ranges from office space, retail space, inventory, warehouse operations, equipment, labor, and more. If you’re a freelancer who works from home, this section will be short and sweet. On the other hand, larger companies should describe the physical location of their business, mortgage or rent costs, staffing information, overhead costs, and even the plan for comparing internet providers to find the one that will keep the business online.

4. Organization and management

This is your chance to boast about your organization and its members. Investors like to know how competent and experienced your team is. So highlight the members of your management team by showcasing their expertise and qualifications.

5. Sales strategies

This is where you outline how your business will raise money and become profitable. You also need to describe how you’ll attract customers, what your sales team looks like, what the average price is per sale, and what the estimated sales are. Keep in mind there’s more than one way to approach a sales strategy. However, it should evolve over time to fit your company’s unique needs.

6. Marketing plan

In the marketing strategy, it’s important to include in detail how you will gain and retain customers, whether it’s through social media, traditional advertising, or word of mouth. Take, for example, a food truck. To effectively let people know where it will be, the owner or another staff member could post the truck’s weekly schedule on Facebook and Twitter. A comprehensive marketing plan helps investors see the full picture of how your business will succeed.

7. Funding request

This section is where you’ll ask for the money you need to get up and running. Try to be as realistic and precise as possible. Specify if you’d like equity or debt and how you’ll use your funds. In addition, outline the specific terms and length of time your funding request will cover.

8. Financial plan

In a nutshell, the financial plan will contain all of the financial statements, including the startup costs, income statement, cash flow analysis, and balance sheet. A short analysis of these three statements should also be included. And be sure to outline the specifics of the legal structure of your small business so your investors are aware of how you’ll file taxes for your small business.

9. Appendix

The appendix should provide supporting documents in a well-organized fashion. These documents can range from credit histories and bank statements to legal documents and patents.

6 tips for writing the best business plan

In addition to following our business plan template, here are some tips for writing the best business plan:

  • Write from the audience’s perspective
  • Do your research
  • Understand the potential customers and competition
  • Maintain an attention to detail
  • Focus on the opportunity
  • Hire professional help or invest in a business plan software

Reasons people skip business planning

If it’s so helpful, why don’t more people choose to have one? Here are some of the common challenges:

  • Time: if you’ve thought through your business, it shouldn’t take long to create your business plan plan. Keep it short and simple and choose a format that works for you.
  • Uncertainty: it’s true that you can’t know what will happen until you start a business but a plan can help you spot potential pitfalls and helps you to understand the finances behind your idea. Read our advice on ways to get more accurate figures in your business plan.
  • Lack of agility: some people think business planning stops businesses evolving, but a good business plan should be current and adapt as you test and learn. It needs to be part of the business, not left in a drawer.

The best format for your business plan

Many people assume that a business plan will be a hefty document containing lots of facts and figures, but it doesn’t have to be. The key thing is to choose a format that will work for you and your business. That would be:

  • One you’ll use: something that can become part of your day-to-day business rather than something you’ll never refer to. Have your business plan on the wall as a manifesto or mind map, make a presentation or create a visual guide – whatever works for you.
  • One that makes it simple to express your views: if you’re a writer, you may be happy with a document, a designer might like a more visual medium. Your business plan should excite and inspire, so pick a format that lets you do that.
  • One that’s shareable: a business plan will be seen by lots of people, from your bank manager and accountant to prospective investors or employees, so pick a format that makes it easy to share.
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Using a business plan will help you to focus - use a format that works for youUsing a business plan will help you to focus – use a format that works for you

What to include in your business plan

What should a business plan include? Every plan is likely to be different but there are some common pieces of information that are often included:

  • An overview of the business – what does it do and what makes it different?
  • Goals – what does the business want to achieve? This should set some SMART objectives that will quickly show if the business is succeeding.
  • Your audience and the market – who will your business supply and how will it reach them? How big is the market and who are your key competitors?
  • Products and pricing – what will you be selling and how will your prices be set? How does this compare with your competitors?
  • Who is involved – many investors say they invest as much in the people as they do in the business. Share some information about people’s roles, experience and passions.
  • Financials – provide details about sales, costs, break-even points and where investment will come from. If you’re looking for people to invest, you should include information about likely returns. If you’re looking for ways to finance your business, crowdfunding, alternative finance and government funding are a good place to start.

Some business plans will include other sections, like a SWOT analysis or a full marketing plan. You might find these useful for your business, so feel free to include them too if you wish.

How to use it

Many business owners invest time in producing a business plan and then never look at it again. While it’s valuable to get your ideas clarified and to test your thinking before you launch your business, it’s even better if it’s embedded into your day-to-day business too.

As Jennifer says: “Business planning is a continuous process – from the initial start up any business to stage two of developing and growth of existing sales and developing new income streams.

“As established businesses mature and diversify, business planning continues to play a fundamental role in ensuring that the company’s long-term strategies are being met.”

Here are some ways your business plan can work for you:

  • Take the sales, cash flow and expense predictions and measure them against your actual figures. This helps you spot whether you’re on track and if things need to be revised.
  • Revisit your goals every month to see how you’re progressing.
  • Keep updating it to include customer input and quotes. Real feedback is essential for keeping a business on track.
  • Revisit it once a year to see if changes to the market, technology or competition has had an impact. Businesses need to continue to evolve to survive in the longer term.

Where to get help with your business plan

Sometimes you’ll need additional information to pull together your plan. You could:

  • Speak to your accountant. They don’t just help you with financials or accounting software, they can also offer advice about planning your business.
  • Talk to your bank. Many have small business experts who can help.
  • Use business planning templates. Our free easy-to-follow Word template will help to make the process easier.

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