Prepare a business plan

1 Overview
2 The benefits of a business plan
3 Business plan template
4 What a business plan should include
5 Presenting your business plan
6 The executive summary
7 Your vision
8 Marketing and sales
9 Financial forecasts

1. Overview

A business plan is a written document that describes a business. It covers objectives, strategies, sales, marketing and financial forecasts. A business plan has many functions, from securing external funding, to measuring success within your business.

This guide will show you how to prepare a high-quality plan using a number of easy-to-follow steps.

Download a business plan template

2. The benefits of a business plan

Creating and managing a realistic business plan can help you secure finance and funding and measure success.

Potential investors, including banks, may invest in your idea, work with you or lend you money as a result of the strength of your plan. Grant providers, potential partners and anyone interested in buying your business will also likely want to see your business plan.

Even if you just use it in-house, it can:

  • help you spot potential pitfalls before they happen
  • structure the financial side of your business efficiently
  • focus your efforts on developing your business
  • work as a measure of your success

A business plan is a living document that will help you monitor your performance. It will need updating and changing as your business grows. Whether you use it in-house or for external finance, it should still take an objective and honest look at your business. Failing to do this could mean that you and others have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved and when.

3. Business plan template

Use this template to create a business plan that outlines your executive summary, your vision, your marketing strategy, how you plan to run your business and how to plan to finance your business.

Download a business plan template

4. What a business plan should include

Your business plan should include:

  • how you are going to develop your business
  • when you are going to do it
  • who's going to play a part
  • how you will manage the finances

It's important to be clear about these areas in your business plan if you're looking for finance, funding or investment. The process of building your plan will also focus your mind on how your new business will need to operate to give it the best chance of success.

Your plan should also include:

  • An executive summary - an overview of the business you want to start. It's vital. Many lenders and investors make judgments about your business based on this section of the plan alone.
  • A short description of the business opportunity - who you are, what you plan to sell or offer, why and to whom.
  • Your marketing and sales strategy - why you think people will buy what you want to sell and how you plan to sell to them.
  • Your management team and personnel - your credentials and the people you plan to recruit to work with you.
  • Your operations - your premises, production facilities, your management information systems and IT.
  • Financial forecasts - this section translates everything you have said in the previous sections into numbers.

Download a business plan template

5. Presenting your business plan

To make sure your business plan has maximum impact, there are a number of points to consider.

Keep the plan short - it's more likely to be read if it's a manageable length. Think about the presentation and keep it professional - even if you only intend to use the plan in-house. Remember, a well-presented plan will reinforce the positive impression you want to create of your business.

Make sure your plan is realistic. Once you have prepared your plan, use it. If you update it regularly, it will help you keep track of your business' development.

Tips for presenting your plan:

  • Include a cover or binding and a contents page with page and section numbering.
  • Start with the executive summary.
  • Ensure it's legible - make sure the type is ten point or above.
  • You may want to email it, so ensure you use email-friendly formatting.
  • Even if it's for internal use only, write the plan as if it's intended for an external audience.
  • Edit the plan carefully - get at least two people to read it and check that it makes sense.
  • Show the plan to expert advisers - such as your accountant - and ask for feedback.
  • Avoid jargon and put detailed information - such as market research data or balance sheets - in an appendix at the back.
  • You may have detailed plans for specific areas of your business, such as a sales plan or a staff training plan, but it is best not to include these, though it is good practice to mention that they exist.

While it's sensible to seek advice from external advisers, it's not a good idea to get them to write the plan for you. Investors and lenders need to have confidence that you personally understand your business plan and are committed to the vision for the business.

Download a business plan template

6. The executive summary

The executive summary is often the most important part of your business plan. Found at the front of the document, it is the first - and might be the only - part to be read. Your plan might be placed into a 'worth considering' or 'discard' pile by lenders or investors based on this section alone.

The executive summary is a synopsis of the key points of your entire plan. It should include highlights from each section of the rest of the document.

Its purpose is to explain the basics of your business in a way that both informs and interests the reader. If, after reading the executive summary, an investor or manager understands what the business is about and is keen to know more, it has done its job.

It should be concise - no longer than two pages at most - and interesting. You should write this section of your plan after you have completed the rest.

The executive summary is not:

  • A brief description of the business and its products. It's a synopsis of the entire plan.
  • An extended table of contents. This makes for very dull reading. You should ensure it shows the highlights of the plan, rather than restating the details the plan contains.
  • Hype. While the executive summary should excite the reader enough to read the entire plan, an experienced investor or business person will recognise hype and this will undermine the plan's credibility.

Download a business plan template

7. Your vision

You must be able to clearly describe what your business does and set out your vision for your business. This includes who you are, what you do, what you have to offer and the market you want to address.

Start with an overview of your business:

  • when you started or intend to start trading and the progress and investment you have made
  • the type of business and the sector it is in
  • any relevant history - for example, if you acquired the business, who owned it originally and what they achieved with it
  • the current legal structure
  • your vision for the future

Then describe your products or services as simply as possible, defining:

  • what makes it different
  • benefits it offers
  • why customers would buy it from you instead of your competitors
  • how you plan to develop your products or services
  • whether you hold any patents, trade marks or design registration
  • the key features and success factors of your industry or sector

Remember that the person reading the plan may not understand your business and its products, services or processes as well as you do, so try to avoid jargon. It's a good idea to get someone who isn't involved in the business - a friend or family member perhaps - to read this section of your plan and make sure they can understand it.

8. Marketing and sales

You should describe the specific activities you intend to use to promote and sell your products and services. Often, it's the weak link in business plans so it's worth spending time on it to make sure it's realistic and achievable.

A strong sales and marketing section means you have a clear idea of how you will get your products and services to market.

Your plan will need to provide answers to these questions:

  • How do you plan to position your product or service in the market place?
  • Who are your customers? Include details of customers who have shown an interest in your product or service and explain how you plan to go about attracting new customers.
  • What is your pricing policy? How much will you charge for different customer segments, quantities, etc?
  • How will you promote your product or service? Identify your sales process methods, eg direct marketing, advertising, PR, email, e-sales, social marketing.
  • How will you reach your customers? What channels will you use? Which partners will be needed in your distribution channels?
  • How will you do your selling? Do you have a sales plan? Have you considered which sales method will be the most effective and most appropriate for your market, such as selling by phone, over the internet, face-to-face or through retail outlets? Are your proposed sales methods consistent with your marketing plan? And do you have the right skills to secure the sales you need?

9. Financial forecasts

You will need to provide a set of financial projections which translate what you have said about your business into numbers.

Look carefully at:

  • how much capital you need if you are seeking external funding
  • the security you can offer lenders
  • how you plan to repay any borrowings
  • sources of revenue and income

You may also want to include your personal finances as part of the plan.

Financial planning

Your forecasts should run for the next three (or even five) years and their level of sophistication should reflect the sophistication of your business. However, the first 12 months' forecasts should have the most detail associated with them.

Your forecasts should include

Sales forecast - the amount of money you expect to raise from sales.

Cashflow statements - your cash balance and monthly cashflow patterns for at least the first 12 to 18 months. The aim is to show that your business will have enough working capital to survive. Make sure you have considered the key factors such as the timing of sales and salaries.

Read Cashflow management guidance.

Profit and loss forecast - a statement of the trading position of the business. Show the level of profit you expect to make and the costs of providing goods and services and your overheads.

Your forecasts should cover a range of scenarios. New businesses often forecast over-optimistic sales and most external readers will take this into account. It is sensible to include subsidiary forecasts based on sales being significantly slower than you are actually predicting. One for sales starting three months later than expected, and another forecasting a 20 per cent lower level of sales.

Risk analysis

It is good practice to show that you have reviewed the risks your business could be faced with. Show that you have looked at contingencies and insurance to cover these. Risks can include:

  • competitor action
  • commercial issues - sales, prices, deliveries
  • operations - IT, technology or production failure
  • staff - skills, availability and costs
  • acts of God - fire or flood

Contact your local Business Gateway office.

Your local office will be able to answer your questions on this or any other business subject. 

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