Table of Contents:
- Free Business Plan Template
- How to Write a Business Plan [Step by Step Guide]
- Business Plan Samples
- Simple Business Plan Template: Pros and Cons
1. Free Business Plan Template
Are you an entrepreneur looking to download a free business plan? If so, you have come to the right place. Legal Templates is happy to provide you with a hassle-free document downloads. Click the links below to download (1) a blank document, and (2) a document that is filled in for you to reference.
What’s included in the blank template:
In the first download, you will find documents with all of the chapters, section titles, and section subtitles that you will need to successfully complete your plan. Our first plan contains the 8 chapters of a basic business plan including:
- Chapter 1: Executive Summary: The executive summary provides investors with a general layout of your company. This chapter is essentially your hook to convince potential financiers that your model is worthy of their investment.
- Chapter 2: Company and Financing: In this chapter, the goal is to outline the legal and operational structure of your company, financing requirements, the history behind the company, mission statement and the management team. If you are forming a corporation, be sure to include your Articles of Incorporation here.
- Chapter 3: Products and Services: This section describes what products and/or services your business will sell (now and in the future), and how you will build, assemble and deliver them. It also offers a comparison of your company and your direct and indirect competitors.
- Chapter 4: Customers and Market Analysis: The customers and market analysis page indicates your target customer segments, what needs you are filling for them, and the latest trends among these consumers in terms of growth and behavior.
- Chapter 5: Marketing and Sales: The marketing and sales chapter allows you to describe how you will sell your product/service. Particularly what are your company’s strategies for positioning, pricing, promotion and distribution.
- Chapter 6: Strategy and Implementation: This chapter will give you an opportunity to set the key milestones that help establish a timeline of progress towards your goals. Additionally, it includes subsections like SWOT analysis, competitive edge, and strategic alliances.
- Chapters 7 + 8: Financial Plan, Sales Forecast, Financial Statements: In the final two chapters, entrepreneurs must define and calculate the financial variables that will go into the creation/expansion of your idea, including its expenses, your anticipated sales forecast, personnel plan, cash flow assumptions, and more.
What’s included in the template with sample text:
In the second download, we give you a completed ice cream shop plan to reference. Each section gives an example of what you should write. Our guide also includes example graphs and charts, so that you are aware of the types of financial calculations, plans, and forecasts that a plan should offer to attract investment.
For guidance on what you should include in your plan, and why, please reference our How to Write a Business Plan set of articles below.
Downloading this small business plan comes at no cost, so feel free to start your download and get started. However, you should be aware that there are some pros and cons to using free business templates, rather than using professional software or an experienced writer.
2. How to Write a Business Plan [Step by Step Guide]
Writing a business plan is a prerequisite to your company’s success. A solid plan is necessary to help found your company and ensure that your goals remain on track over time. Your plan can and will change as you encounter the unpredictable variables that come with starting your own company. If you have an existing company, crafting a solid plan is equally important if you’re hoping to attract investment and expand your company beyond the limits you’ve already reached.
Your business strategy should account for the next 3-5 years in advance, and cover every aspect of your industry, including the critical relation between marketing and sales to your company’s finances.
Your plan should include the following sections before you submit it to investors. Click the chapter title to read a how-to guide for that chapter:
“How to Write a Business Plan” Table of Contents:
How to Write the Executive Summary
The executive summary contains all of the essential information about what makes your business strong and worthy of investment. It covers the major highlights of the rest of your plan’s chapters.
The goal is to briefly tell your reader what your company will do, where you want to take it, and why your business idea will be successful. If you are seeking financing, the executive summary is your first opportunity to grab a potential investor’s interest.
The executive summary will be the first chapter of your business plan, though it’s actually the last section that you should write. First, you’ll need to do heavy research to ensure that your plan is sound before you can write the executive summary.
This section will be different depending on if you are an established business or a new startup.
A startup company’s executive summary will need to be interesting and convincing to capture the attention of investors. Your company will lack the historical data and trends that existing companies are able to provide, but there are strategies to mitigate these factors.
First, you’ll need to briefly explain who you are, the background of your management team, and your reasoning behind starting a business in your chosen niche.
Secondly, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve done quality research that supports how you’ve conceptualized your business. Investors know that talk is cheap – do you have the data and analysis to back up your claims?
Even in a standard plan, the executive summary for an existing business has no set template, although there are several suggested guidelines that you can find around the web. We suggest the following basic template – feel free to add or subtract sections according to your own needs:
Executive Summary Sections:
- Management Team
- Products and Services
- Marketing and Sales
- Financial Forecast
- Financing Requirements (optional)
Describe the purpose of the plan (e.g.; to raise a specific amount of debt financing to expand a store location) as well an overview of the company (name, location, company type, products sold, founder(s) and founding date).
Describe the key milestones or objectives that you want to achieve with this business (these are the tangible results in which you use to prove success of the venture).
This statement should be concise and to the point.
2. Management Team
Summarize the members of the management team, including highlights of their expertise and experience.
Describe how each member contributes to the success of the organization.
Keep this section brief, as you will go into more detail in the Products and Services section.
3. Products and Services
Products and Services
Describe the products and services you are providing and who the competitors are within the industry.
Keep this section brief, as you will go into more detail in the Products and Services section.
Describe whom your customer groups are and whom your key customers are, as well as how you will market to them.
Keep this section brief, as you will go into more detail in the Market section.
5. Marketing and Sales
Describe briefly how you will market your product or service.
Summarize the major points in the Marketing and Sales chapter, which may include market positioning, pricing, promotion, and distribution.
6. Financial Forecast
Summarize the most important points from the Financial Plan section here. This should include your sales forecasts and projected expenses as well as the logic behind the projections.
If you are a new company, describe when you expect to turn a profit.
If you are an existing company, highlight past financial performance.
7. Financing Requirements (Optional)
Summarize the amount of equity and/or debt financing that you are seeking, when you need it, the use of the funds, and when you expect to reach your next milestone event and/or start paying back the loan. Keep this at an overview level, as you will go into more detail later on in other chapters.
Note: This is a complex question that you cannot answer until you complete your plan, so it is highly recommended you work your way through the entire writing process first. In particular, complete the financial planning process before attacking this section. Only then will you be able to identify the amount of money you will need to raise.
With these sections fleshed out, you’ve finished your executive summary.
How to Write the Company and Financing Chapter
The company and finance section of your plan is important, because introducing the management team is critical for both start-ups and established companies alike. Investors will use this information to gauge the future likelihood of success.
Company and Financing Sections
- Company Overview
- Management Team
- Required Funds (optional)
- Exit Strategy (optional)
- Mission Statement (optional)
- Company History (optional)
- Location and Facilities (optional)
1. Company Overview
There are many variations and approaches on how to lay out the various components of a business plan. Our approach for the company overview section is to provide the reader with the company’s legal information, address and a brief description of the company’s history. Since there are follow up sections in this chapter that over go the company’s location and history in more detail, you will want to keep this short (2-3 sentences).
A BRIEF PRIMER ON COMPANY TYPES
The optimal company type is best determined by a credible Attorney. The primer below is meant only to explain the broad differences between the most common company types.
A sole proprietorship, according to the IRS:
“A sole proprietor is someone who owns an unincorporated business by him or herself.”
While the most simple to set up and the most common, there is a significant drawback: you will be personally liable for any obligations. So for example, if you sell someone a cupcake and they sue you because they found a hair in it, and you lose in court, the creditors can legally go after your personal possessions – such as the roof over your head.
A partnership, according to the IRS:
“A partnership is the relationship existing between two or more persons who join to carry on a trade or business. Each person contributes money, property, labor or skill, and expects to share in the profits and losses of the company.”
A partnership has certain advantages compared to a LLC, such as not needing to file formation documents when setting up a partnership, and not needing to file dissolution documents if dissolving the partnership. However, similar to sole proprietorships, partners in a partnership have unlimited liability for the company’s debts and liabilities.
Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs)
LLPs are different from traditional partnerships in that there are two classes of partners: (1) General partners that have full management and control but also full personal liability and (2) Limited partners that have no personal liability beyond their investment in the partnership interest. Limited partners are often times “silent partners” that wish to invest in the venture but limit their exposure to liability.
A corporation is a separate legal entity owned by shareholders. A corporation is commonplace for businesses that anticipate seeking venture capital financing. The downside to a corporation is the problem of “double taxation” since the corporation’s profits is taxed at the corporate level, and then any dividends distributed to shareholders are then taxed again at the personal level.
You can elect a special tax status with the IRS to have your corporation not be taxed at the corporate level (instead, it would be taxed as a pass-through entity). Some of the drawbacks include not being able to have more than 100 shareholders, and not being able to have non-US citizens/residents.
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
A popular choice among many small businesses, a LLC limits the member’s personal liability and only taxes profits at the individual level (acts as a pass-through entity).
If you have not yet incorporated
Describe the type of company you plan to open, along with the registered name you plan to use.
Explain your rationale – for example, if you are starting a company where you plan on seeking venture capital financing, then you will want to start a C-Corporation as majority of VCs will insist on this legal structure.
If you have a home office/no dedicated business address
Include your current office setup and your future office plans once your company expands, if applicable.
2. Management Team
For start-ups, and especially those seeking financing, the Management Team section is especially critical. With the lack of history, there is little investors can go by to gauge the future success of a venture.
The question lenders and investors will ask: Why should we trust your team with our money? You must demonstrate your team’s ability to execute on the stated goals. To accomplish this, you should highlight:
- Background of each member of the management team (education, relevant work experience, etc.)
- Roles and responsibilities within the company.
Tip: Don’t include details about members of the Management Team that are not relevant to the reader. Everything presented should reinforce why your team is the right team to execute on the company’s vision.
Note: For established businesses
If you have an established business the information you want to present is the same. Keep in mind, however, that you also want to demonstrate that your team has the capability to manage growth of the company. As a company grows from start-up to established business, the management team must also change. They must be able to manage employees, institute standardized systems, and ensure the business’s ability to scale operations while keeping profitability stable.
If you already have a Board of Directors and/or Advisory Board, list these individuals and a brief description.
What is a Board of Directors?
In a publically trading company the Board of Directors is elected by the shareholders and is the highest authority in the management of the company. For our purposes (context of a private company that is most likely a startup or small but growing business), a Board of Directors is comprised of investor(s), founder(s), CEO and independent board member(s) who have substantial business and industry experience.
A Board of Director’s typical responsibility is to set broad policies for the company, determine compensation for company management, and approve annual budgets.
What is an Advisory Board?
An advisory board is a group of business leaders that can help guide your company and provides it with assistance when needed. Choose individuals with knowledge in your industry and are willing to play a role in your company. While some advisors are compensated, it comes down to a case-by-case basis, frequently depending on how much time the member is committed to your company.
Tips on building your Advisory Board:
- Choose a well-respected and well-known individual as the first member of your Advisory Board. This will help you to recruit other members of the Board.
- Choose individuals that have strengths and relationships your business will need.
- As your business evolves, so will the members of your Advisory Board. Feel free to shake up the line up over time.
3. Required Funds
In this section you will tell the reader how much money you need to raise, what you are going to use it for, and how you got to the requested amount.
Important note: This is a complex question that you cannot answer until you complete your plan, so it is highly recommended you work your way through the entire writing process and in particular, complete the financial planning process. Only then will you be able to identify the amount of money you will need to raise
There are two primary financing options: equity and debt.
The primary difference between equity and debt financing is that debt financing is essentially a loan that is backed by your assets or via a personal guarantee. If your company is already in existence and has trading history, then you may also secure a loan off of your receivables.
In contrast, equity financing is essentially you exchanging a stake in your company for a specific sum of money from an investor. Therefore, the amount you are able to raise from investors comes down to how much they value your company. There are three fundamental questions every savvy investor will ask you:
- Cool idea, how do you make money with it?
- How much money do you need, and why and when?
- What do you think your company is worth?
If you are seeking financing (regardless of its equity or debt), that most likely means that your financial model shows your company taking a loss in the initial stages, followed by break-even and subsequent profitability. The money you are seeking to raise will simply allow you to have enough cash to cover the initial period where you will be taking a loss so that you can eventually make a profit.
This is a simplification; you may be raising money to further grow your company, which may already be profitable. Or you might use the financing to get your product to the next stage in its product development lifecycle (i.e.; milestone event). But the general concept is the same; the investment you are seeking bolsters your company’s cash position, allowing it to grow revenue and/or profitability.
Cool idea, how do you make money with it? / How much money do you need, and why and when?
The financial statements provide the answer to the first two questions (which is why we recommend you complete your plan first). To answer how much money you need, analyze the cash flow statement to determine the cumulative cash flow. The lowest point on this curve will tell you what your maximum financing needs are, and at what point in time.
What do you think your company is worth?
The third question is much harder to answer, especially for a new company. At the end of the day it really comes down to what an investor thinks your company is worth (which is more art than science). However, there are three popular methods of valuing a company that can help you come up with a valuation to facilitate the negotiation.
Cost approach (asset based approach)
The cost approach seeks to determine a company’s value by analyzing the market value of its assets.
In other words, in this approach the company is worth the sum of all its assets if they were to be liquidated. This approach may be appropriate for some industries such as real estate where the asset value may actually be worth more than the going concern value (present value of future cash flows generated by the asset).
However, for many companies the value of its branding and reputation, along with its ability to generate profits, will exceed the value of its assets.
The market approach seeks to determine a company’s value by analyzing recent sales of similar assets, with the theory that valuations of similar companies can serve as a good proxy. This is a common approach in the real estate industry.
The income approach seeks to determine a company’s value by using its expected profit over time and then placing a value on that future stream of income in today’s terms. Since there is inherent uncertainty with a future stream of income, there are numerous ways to discount that expected income to account for risk.
Completing the equation
Now you have all the pieces to complete the equation. You have the amount of money you need by looking at cumulative cash flow. You also have an idea of how much money your company will be worth.
Equation to determine how much equity you should offer:
Equity to offer = Company Valuation / Money needed
If raising debt, you are not exchanging equity for cash. Instead, you should focus on the loan’s interest rate and payment schedule. Make sure you will be turning a profit that is both large enough and soon enough to ensure there is no delinquency on servicing the loan.
Putting it all together
For equity financing, answer the following:
- Investment amount needed
- When you need it
- How much time it will buy you / When you expect to turn a profit or get to the next milestone event
- % of equity offered and at what company valuation (you may wish to keep exact figures vague in order to further negotiate)
- Exit strategy
For debt financing, answer the following:
- Loan amount needed
- When you need it
- When you will be able to pay back the loan
- The amount and frequency of loan payments
Breakdown of funds:
In addition to the information above, you should also summarize how you plan to use the funds. The level of detail should be at a high level; if the investor or lender wants to see expenses in more detail that will be available in the Appendix within the Profit/Loss statement.
Example of a Breakdown of Funds:
Construction of new kitchen:
- Kitchen remodeling, March 1, 2014, $25,000
- Kitchen hardware, April 1, 2014, $50,000
- Total Loan Amount: $75,000
What about a Line of Credit?
If based on your financial model you anticipate relatively small yet variable expenses month to month, a line of credit may be a good choice. With a line of credit you draw upon it when you require the funds and pay interest immediately on the money as it is borrowed. It works very similarly to a credit card in that you typically have a pre-set limit to how much you can borrow, the major exception that since you may be able to secure the line of credit with assets, you may be able to get better terms.
4. Exit Strategy
In the Quick Start Guide we briefly went over the different strategies available and how thinking about your company’s eventual exit will help shape your business model. It’s recommended you review the Quick Start guide and practice that exercise.
Depending on your company, there are various exit strategies available, including:
- Selling your business
- Passing it down through the family
- Taking the company public (IPO)
If you are seeking equity financing, then your investors will pay close attention to this section. Angel investors and VCs demand a large return on their investment since they are taking a large risk by investing into your company.
Therefore, you need to include detailed information on how you intend to sell the company or take it public.
Demonstrating a large market opportunity
If investors are going to take a big risk, they demand a big return. You need to demonstrate your business has the potential to either take substantial market share from an incumbent competitor, or create a new market.
Being in a hot industry
Investors like to be in hot, growing industries such as biotechnology, mobile e-commerce and healthcare. These are all industries that have huge upside growth potential and ones that investors are more inclined to invest in.
Solving a larger company’s problem
If your exit strategy is to sell your company to a larger company, then identify how your company’s product solves that larger company’s stated problems and/or goals.
For example, Apple’s mapping software is playing catch-up to Google Maps. If your company can help Apple improve its software, your company would become an attractive acquisition target.
5. Mission Statement
The mission statement reflects the core purpose and vision of the company. It’s a statement your employees and customers can get behind.
Some tips on writing a well-crafted mission statement:
- Keep it short. 1-2 sentences max.
- Don’t use “fluff” words. Make the statement mean something.
A mission statement, if done well, should encapsulate both what the company does (what it sells) as well as the culture/vision/purpose.
Examples of Fortune 500 firms that really get it right:
A. BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB COMPANY (PHARMACEUTICALS)
Mission Statement: “To discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.”
Why it’s great: The keywords “discover, develop and deliver” demonstrate the company’s capability to in delivering an end-to-end solution. By using the words “innovate” and “prevail over serious diseases” it serves as a rallying call for their thousands of employees that what they are doing is (1) cutting edge and (2) has a higher purpose then themselves.
B. CVS CORPORATION
Mission statement: “We will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for customers to use.”
Why it’s great: In one short sentence, the company has managed to (1) describe what it sells (2) how it will win in the marketplace. It is a pharmacy retailer and it will solely focus on making itself easier for the customer to use (that could mean so many things, such as innovating online to fulfill prescriptions to improved customer service within their stores).
Example of poorly written mission statements
A. FORTUNE 500 FOOD AND BEVERAGE COMPANY
Mission statement: “The Company’s primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.”
Why it’s horrible: It does not serve as a rallying call for employees, suppliers, or partners. Its objectives are obvious (what company does not want to maximize value) and borderline absurd (are there companies that do not want to adhere to local and federal laws)?
Lastly, it does not mention what the company actually does.
B. FORTUNE 500 VEHICLE PARTS SUPPLIER
Mission Statement: “We are committed to attracting, developing, and keeping a diverse work force that reflects the nature of our global business.”
Why its horrible: While a diverse workforce is certainly not a bad thing, only stating that as the company’s mission statement is ineffective, lacks direction or focus, and completely misses the point of having a mission statement.
6. Company History
This is predominately for businesses that have previous trading history, but can also be used by new companies that want to highlight relevant history on how the company came to existence, work completed to date, milestones achieved, etc.
Some information you may want to include:
- Start date
- First location
- First product/service
- Significant milestones/events
Reminder: keep in mind that there is no set rule as to the level of detail you want to include. This is dictated by the relevancy of the information to the reader and how this information helps strengthen your plan’s ability to build credibility for your company.
Every company is made of milestones
Milestones for a business are achievements that demonstrate the business is on the right track. They are best when quantifiable and measureable. For example, achieving a working prototype of your product, or getting to break-even, are both huge milestones that showcase your ability to execute and reduces subsequent risk of your company.
Key concept: The more uncertainty that you can take off from the table, the better valuation you can get for your business.
7. Location and Facilities
For businesses that have a retail or manufacturing component, this is an important section of your plan.
Information you may want to include:
- Size (e.g.; in sq. ft.)
- Other notable facts, such as equipment at the facility
For retail operations
Location is important for a large number of retail businesses, whether you are a restaurant or purveyor of consumer products. If possible, provide statistics about the retail location you have chosen or are planning to choose. Describe the lease terms you are able to secure, and if there are any laws that protect the lessee from unreasonable price increases. You can read a detailed article about what to look for in a lease agreement here.
Provide detailed information on the manufacturing facilities. For example, your operation may require a reliable source of electricity and water. Describe how the facility provides the business with these resources. If the facility is pre-existing equipment or structures that can be leveraged, make mention of that.
Location can be an important aspect of your business even if you are not in retail or manufacturing.
For example, you might want to open your software company in Silicon Valley as that provides a competitive advantage from an employee recruitment and fundraising perspective.
If you operate out of a home office
Describe your future expansion plans, including expected date of expansion.
Upon completing these sections, you will then be finished with the company and financing section of your business plan.
Writing the Products and Services Chapter
The products and services chapter of your business plan should be written clearly and descriptively, to help give investors a comprehensive understanding of the bread and butter of your business. Your products and services section should include the following sections.
Products and Services Chapter Sections
- Products and Services
- Sourcing and Fulfillment (optional)
- Technology (optional)
- Intellectual Property (optional)
- Future Products and Services (optional)
1. Products and Services
Your products and services are the lifeblood of your business – it’s what your customers need, and if you get this right, everything else will follow. Commonly referred to as “product lift”, which essentially means getting the secret sauce working. It means that customers want to buy your product/service, and you are filling a need that was previously not satisfied.
Thinking in terms of benefits vs. features
What is the consumer really buying? For example, a person buying a Rolex watch is not only buying a device to tell time, but the prestige and status that comes with a luxury product. Think about what end benefit your product/service delivers.
Features are also important
Of course, the functional aspects of your product/service are also important.
Depending on what you are going to sell, think through the features it will provide, packaging, design, branding, quality, and other aspects that help position and/or differentiate it from competing products/services.
Upsell and cross selling
You may have heard the business adage that acquiring a new customer is indefinitely more expensive then keeping an existing customer. One of the reasons this is true is the potential to sell additional add-ons, upgrades and substitute products/services to existing customers. Think about how you can drive incremental revenue.
Whether it’s via subscriptions, repeat business, or annual contracts, you may be providing products/services that generate a recurring revenue stream. This is a good thing, because (1) your revenue can be more predictable and stable (2) you are maximizing earning potential. Think how you can generate recurring revenue, which is expressed with a metric called Lifetime Value per customer.
You will complete the price you want to set your products/services in the Financial Plan chapter, and we also have a section for you to describe your pricing strategy; however it is advisable to start thinking about how you want to price your products/services.
Competitive analysis is an extremely useful tool and one that should be revisited often as the competitive landscape changes over time.
It starts with competitive analysis
- Background (location, history, ownership)
- Financials (revenue, profitability)
- Products (product line, services, patents, licenses)
- Marketing (channels used and budget, pricing, alliances/affiliates)
- Personnel (headcount, notable executives, compensation, job openings)
- Market share
- Strengths, Weaknesses
Tips on how to perform competitive analysis
The Internet makes this much easier then in days past. Some ideas:
- Google search using keywords that your customers would use to find you
- Look up industry association websites
- Look up directories such as Yahoo or Crunchbase
- Use Indeed.com to find your competitor’s job openings
- Competitor’s websites
- Find your competitor’s management team members on LinkedIn
Consider new entrants
Not only do you have to worry about current competitors you can see, but you have to be vigilant and be on the lookout for new entrants. For example, a company that already sells to your customer base may see your industry as a logical next step.
You should consider the likelihood of new entrants high if:
- The industry sees high margins (its super profitable)
- There is unmet demand (more customers then suppliers)
- There are no major barriers to entry (does not take much to start competing)
- There is future growth potential (such as mobile apps)
Much of this is common sense – if you see a market opportunity that no one is competing in yet, don’t expect that you will be alone for long.
3. Sourcing and Fulfillment
Sourcing is simply the process of procuring goods and services from suppliers that are required for your company to make its products or deliver its service. Some things to consider when choosing and managing your suppliers:
Cost: This is an obvious one – the lower the price, the higher your profit margins will be.
Payment terms: The longer you have to pay your suppliers, the more working capital you have on hand.
Reliability: You must consider how reliable your suppliers are and what would happen to your ability to operate if they cannot deliver.
Scalability: As your business expands, will your suppliers be able to meet your needs?
Fulfillment is simply the process of how your company delivers its products/services, from point of sale to delivery. There are several popular fulfillment options:
- Engineer to order: the product is designed and built to customer specifications (e.g.; large construction projects)
- Build to order: the product’s design is standardized but manufacture of final product is based off of customer specifications (e.g.; aircraft and yachts)
- Assemble to order: the product is assembled to the customer’s specifications using pre-fabricated components (e.g.; Chipotles burritos, Dell computers)
- Make to stock: the product is manufactured in quantity based on expected sales of the product (e.g.; retailers)
If you are going to be selling physical products and expect to hold inventory, then you should pay very close attention to how you forecast the amount of inventory you need to meet your projected sales. Too little inventory and you may not be able to meet demand. Too much inventory and you tie up all of your cash on excess inventory. Some key points:
- Have accurate sales forecasts. Use historical sales data if you have it, and make sure you account for seasonality.
- Have accurate inventory tracking. Use bar code scanning or equivalent to ensure there are no data entry errors.
- Utilize inventory management software. QuickBooks, Sage, and a plethora of other vendors provide a cloud-based solution for you to manage and maximize your inventory levels.
Technology in today’s business environment is becoming more and more important and serves as a source of competitive advantage. Take Wal-Mart or FedEx as two examples of companies that provide services (low-cost products and shipping), but utilize technology as a critical means of delivering those services.
Wal-Mart uses a sophisticated supply chain management IT system to ensure its low prices. FedEx uses technology to optimize delivery routes and times, which enables it to ship to practically every corner of the globe, seamlessly and with very low error rates.
Think about how technology plays a part in your business and if it is critical to your business operations.
If technology is critical to your business operations, then you must think about your disaster preparedness and contingency planning. Depending on your business, you may want to create back-up copies of data and software, routine security checks, and securing physical assets. What would happen if you lost access to the technology? Think about alternatives that you could utilize.
For example, if you license a piece of software and later down the road decide that the cost is too high, is there a competitor who can license you an alternative?
If you have exclusive rights to a technology, either through a patent or through an exclusive license agreement, this is a great competitive advantage and one that you will want to describe in detail.
5. Intellectual Property
There are two types of intellectual property that may be applicable to a business: industrial property (such as patents and trademarks), and copyright (such as novels and movies). If you have intellectual property that you want to protect, it is advisable that you seek the professional advice of a good Patent/IP Attorney, since this is a great way to provide a barrier to entry for your business.
Intellectual property type 1: Industry property
These include inventions (patents), trademarks and industrial designs (trade secrets, trade dress). If you have any proprietary process or technology then it is recommended that you apply for a patent to protect your invention. You should apply for a trademark for your company name and logo as well.
Intellectual property type 2: copyright
These include literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs.
When enforcement is difficult
In 2011, counterfeit copyrighted and trademarked goods were a $600 billion dollar industry worldwide. Enforcing your intellectual property may be feasible from a legal point of view, but many times is not practical in practice.
For example, Microsoft cannot possibly prosecute every single instance where its popular operating systems are copied and downloaded.
IP and your employees and contractors
It is just as important to secure your intellectual property in relation to your employees and contractors. Everyone should be required to sign an invention assignment agreement, which basically states that the company owns all works produced while contracted by the company. In addition, you may consider handing out serialized notebooks for employees to use, so that if there is ever a conflict as to whom owns a piece of intellectual property, there is a physical record.
6. Future Products and Services
If you have future products and services planned, it is a good idea to describe the product roadmap and strategy behind it. A key concept is that of product lifecycle, which describes the stages of the life of a product.
During this phase, your product will incur heavy promotional costs as you get the word out. You may discount the price of the product to encourage new customers.
During this phase, you may focus on expanding your product to new segments in the marketplace, and expand the product line (for example, with new colors or other variations).
During this phase, you are enjoying the fruits of your labor. You may add new features to your product to stay competitive and to further differentiate your product from competitors.
Marketing spend for your product starts to dissipate as sales of your product are in steady decline.
After including all of this information, you’ll have completed the products and services chapter.
Writing the Customers and Market Analysis Chapter
The customers and market analysis chapter will give you an opportunity to describe what your customer segments are, what needs you are filling for them, and how these groups of customers are trending in terms of growth and behavior. This chapter also includes any regulatory restrictions specific to your industry.
Customers and Market Analysis Sections
- Market Overview
- Market Needs
- Market Trends (optional)
- Market Growth (optional)
- Industry Analysis (optional)
- Key Customers (optional)
1. Market Overview
In the market overview section you are going to calculate the total market (referred to as Total Addressable Market) for your products, and then the segment of that market your business can capture.
Total addressable market can be thought of in several distinct levels. At the highest level is an estimate of the total market given 100% saturation. Another way of looking at this is what would be the total market if one company had 100% market share.
Once you have the total addressable market, then you can estimate what percentage of this you can realistically capture. This, of course, is much harder to predict with accuracy. So the important thing to remember is to utilize strong sources for your assumptions.
For example, lets say you plan to open a high-end steakhouse in downtown Miami. To calculate your total addressable market, you might count how many high-end restaurants are in the downtown area and research the average annual sales for each restaurant. Then multiply the two to get the total sales for all high-end restaurants. This would be your total addressable market.
Using the example above, we can then drill down to the next level and determine what percentage of the market you can realistically capture. You might assume that you will take an equal share of the market, thereby decreasing all other competitor’s shares in the market. Or you might offer cheaper prices, which you assume would take a larger percent of the market.
Whatever your assumption, make sure it is well documented and logical.
2. Market Needs
To obtain jaw-dropping product-lift you must solve a difficult and painful problem for the customer.
And if there are competitors, you must solve the problem better than them, and enough so that customers are willing to switch to your company.
Describe what problem your product is solving. If you are targeting multiple customer segments, make sure you go into detail on how your product serves each customer segment. Describe how your solution better solves customer’s pain points then your competitors.
Note about switching costs
We as consumers are inherently lazy. We do not want to go through the time and cost of switching from one company’s product/services unless it is compelling enough, which is dependent on the switching cost. For example, there is virtually no cost to switch from Coke to Pepsi.
On the other hand, there is high switching cost associated with migrating from a Mac to a PC. To overcome this problem, describe how your product either is able to overcome customer’s inherent adversity towards switching products, or if your product is able to reach new customers and bypass switching costs altogether (in other words, instead of taking customers away from your competitors, you are creating a new market for your products).
3. Market Trends (Optional)
Understanding market trends at the macro level is critical for various aspects of your business. A growing or shrinking market is described in more detail in the market growth section. Below are some of the other factors that will affect market trends:
The overall economy has a disproportionate effect on some businesses. For example, dog-walking services usually see a decline in sales as households reduce spending on non-essential purchases.
Regulatory and legal conditions
Government regulations and policies can completely alter an industry, so it is imperative that you are up to date on upcoming changes. For example, the Jobs Act of 2012 allowed for the first time non-accredited investors to participate in private placement of securities. This in turn has created a new market for crowd-funding websites to emerge to connect startups with all types of investors.
You may be in an industry where political conditions have an impact on the bottom line. For example, if you count the Dept. of Defense as one of your clients, then the across-the-board budget cuts (i.e.; Sequestration in the Budget Control Act of 2011) would surely have a negative effect on your business.
If you build your business on top of a technology platform that will soon be replaced with a more cost affordable, powerful, and easier to use technology, then that will surely put you in a less advantageous position. Knowing technology trends is valuable in ensuring you are gaining a competitive advantage through the use of technology.
Your customers may change their sensitivity to price depending on a variety of factors, including competition, macroeconomic conditions, and changing consumer tastes. Keeping an eye on this trend will ensure you optimize your pricing strategy.
4. Market Growth (Optional)
Market growth, mathematically, is simply measuring the change in market size from one time period to the next (usually in years). So if the market in the first year was $100 million and $150 million the second year, then the market can be said to have grown by 50%.
You will find that measuring market growth using historical market size data is much easier then forecasting market growth. Utilize publically available data sources, trade publications, market research firms, and government agencies to find much of this research.
Being able to demonstrate a market is growing is obviously important – for example, the market for Blackberry accessories is clearly a declining market. Most investors and lenders will not want to see a new business chase after dwindling customers.
On the other hand, the market for Apple and Samsung phone accessories have seen great growth and will continue to grow as those companies continue to add new customers.
5. Industry Analysis (Optional)
Your industry is defined as the group of companies that are related to you in terms of what you sell/how you derive your revenue. For example, Ford and Nissan are both in the automotive industry. Ford and Nissan’s market (i.e.; customers) would be the end consumers who buy their cars.
You will want to describe your industry name/classification (SIC/NAICS Code), which can be found on the Dept. of Labor website. Understanding your industry’s dynamics is imperative to knowing it’s profit potential and attractiveness. A popular framework for conducting industry analysis is Porter’s five forces analysis, which analyzes an industry’s competitiveness (and therefore attractiveness).
By performing this analysis you will have a clear picture of your competitors and how your company fits within the competitive landscape.
Threat of New Entrants
If your industry has low barriers to entry and low switching costs, then expect increased competition, as there is little standing in the way for new entrants to enter the market and compete.
Bargaining Power of Suppliers
If your industry is supplied by very few suppliers with little alternative but to source from those suppliers, then expect downward pressure on your margins.
Bargaining Power of Buyers
If your industry only has a small number of buyers, or there are many alternative products to choose from, then expect downward pressure on your margins.
Availability of Substitutes
If there are many substitute products in your industry and the switching costs between them are low, then expect substantial competition.
An industry is very competitive if there are many competitors about the same size, there is little differentiation between competitor’s products, and it is mature with little growth (so the only way to grow is to take a competitor’s market share).
Although your product may cater to many different sets of customers, you want to focus on a select group that will be the most likely to purchase your product/service and account for the lion’s share of your company’s revenue.
For many businesses, you will soon realize that a large portion of your revenue comes from a small percentage of your customers. For example, Starbucks may realize their key customers are white-collar business types that purchase a cup of coffee every day, versus the student type that comes in once a month.
When you can name your key customers
If you are in a business where volumes are low and prices are high, then you should be able to name your key customers individually. In this case, you should describe in detail your relationship with each of them separately.
If you’ve filled out this chapter, congratulations. Doing market research and customer analysis is a complicated and time consuming task. Time to move on to the next chapter!
Writing the Marketing and Sales Chapter
The marketing and sales chapter gives you an opportunity to describe how you will manage your sales force and what sales activities they will conduct in order to close sales.
Marketing and Sales Sections
In this section, summarize your marketing plan, being sure to include:
- Positioning: Are you going to be the lowest cost provider or provide a differentiated product?
- Pricing: How will you price your products/services?
- Promotion: How will your market your products/services?
- Distribution: Where will your product/services be available?
Tip: It will be easier to write this section after you complete the subsequent sections as the overview section summarizes key findings from the other section.
Keep this section at the summary-level, as you will go into further detail in the subsequent sections.
Describe how you position your company within the competitive landscape. Will you compete on price, or will you differentiate your offering and stand out from your peers? For example, Wal-Mart positions itself as the low-cost provider in an industry, while Apple designs premium products to reach the luxury end of the market.
Cost Leadership Strategy
Provide your product/service at the cheapest price point in the marketplace. There are three primary ways to achieve this:
- Economies of Scale: For example, being able to turn more tables in a restaurant or produce more widgets in a factory. The more you are able to produce from your asset, the cheaper it becomes. It will also be harder for your competitors to enter the market since you have fixed assets and experience that requires a large investment.
- Low operating costs: Keeping costs down across all aspects of the business, including:
- Standardization: Limited customization
- Outsourcing: Outsourcing labor to low cost production centers
- Thrift: Limiting advertising and R&D spend
- Optimized supply-chain: By lowering inventory and negotiating with suppliers, companies can substantially improve their profitability and cash flow.
Making your product/service unique by targeting a specific segment of the market is a compelling strategy, especially if:
- Your customers are not price sensitive
- The market is competitive
- Your are targeting a specific niche
- You can provide a product/service that is not easily copied
You can also achieve differentiation through branding and marketing – for example, Starbucks sells premium coffee at a premium price point, primarily through the strength of their branding and not through the taste of their coffee.
Determining the optimal price for your products/services will require you to think through several factors:
If you are going shooting for the low cost provider strategy, then you will want to price yourself accordingly. Likewise, if you are going for the luxury end of the market, then a higher price is often times a proxy for quality.
Price elasticity/Demand Curve
How price sensitive are your customers? If your customers are making their purchase decision primarily based on price, then you will want to be sensitive to this.
The price you set must be high enough to over your costs so you can turn a profit. There are, of course, exceptions. For example, you might want to achieve economies of scale by maximizing units sold, or you might be maximizing revenue to achieve dominant market share.
There may be regulatory/legal constraints on how much you can charge. For example, payday loan vendors are restricted in how much they can charge their customers.
Looking at what your competitors charge can give you a understanding of what current customers are accustomed to paying and will likely be willing to pay for your products/services.
Popular price points
There are price points that consumers are psychologically more accustomed to, such as amounts ending in .99 or .95.
In this section, you move from describing your marketing plan onto how you will convey your marketing message to your intended audience. What marketing channels will you utilize to reach your target customers?
Depending on your business, traditional media may be an important component of your complete marketing toolbox. These would include television, radio, billboards, flyers, etc.
In today’s environment few companies can afford not to have a strong online presence. There are a myriad of options available. Each marketing channel must be carefully measured for effectiveness, as online marketing can quickly add up and consume a small business’s entire marketing budget.
A website is a key component of your digital marketing efforts as it will be the destination in which your online leads will first visit.
Some online marketing options include:
- Search engines (i.e.; Google, Bing)
- Directories (Yelp, Angies List)
- Daily deals (Groupon)
- Email marketing
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter)
Word of mouth marketing
Word of mouth marketing is by far the most profitable and powerful marketing channel available to any business. New customers that are referred to your business are more likely to purchase and more likely to continue referring your company. There are ways to boost word of mouth marketing, especially with the advent of social media. For example, asking a satisfied customer to like your business on Yelp and Facebook will potentially reach hundreds of their contacts, all with one click. Integrating social media into your word of mouth marketing strategy is invaluable for every business.
Blogging/Becoming a subject matter expert
Having a leading voice in your industry will help your business gain credibility from customers, suppliers, partners and competitors. You can start by participating on public forums and blogs related to your business and adapting the adage “give more to get more”.
How will your products be available? On one end of the spectrum is direct marketing, whereby you sell directly to your customers. Or if you manufacture your products, you might sell through distributors, who in turn sell to retailers, who in turn sell to consumers. Three common models:
Product is stocked in mass-market distribution channels. Examples include soft drinks, magazines, etc.
Product is specialized and sold through specialized channels. Examples include nautical computers and tooling/machinery.
Product is only sold through an exclusive channel. Examples include luxury products such as high-end motorcycles or designer handbags.
Note about the Internet
The Internet presents an unparalleled opportunity to reach customers directly, as well as working with online channel partners to reach and sell to customers.
Writing the Strategy and Implementation Chapter
The strategy and implementation chapter will give you an opportunity to define the key milestones that mark meaningful progress towards your goals. It also includes sections that further elaborate on your competitors.
Strategy and Implementation Sections
- SWOT Analysis (optional)
- Competitive Edge (optional)
- Strategic Alliances (optional)
Milestones are the key events that demonstrate progress is being made, such as completing the company’s first prototype or breaking even. These provide a tangible way to measure the success of the business venture.
Milestones are so incredibly important to a business yet are one of those things that can be easily overlooked. Why are milestones so important? Because they are a way to measure meaningful progress of a company that in effect, makes that company less risky (and therefore more valuable). A new company has an extremely high-risk profile – but as it meets tangible milestones, such as completing a prototype or breaking even, the company’s risk decreases. It becomes more apparent that the venture will succeed.
Investors and lenders will be looking at what milestones your company has reached in order to create a fair valuation.
Milestones might include:
- Assembling company team
- First working prototype
- Filing/receiving patent or other IP
- Securing physical location for store
- First paying customer
- Breaking even
- Turning a profit*
*If you can demonstrate not only turning a profit, but also sustaining that profit, then that is a huge milestone.
2. SWOT Analysis
SWOT Analysis is a useful technique for understanding your company’s strengths and weaknesses, while identifying both the opportunities open to your business and the threats it faces.
Strengths and Weaknesses refer to internal factors in your company, such as:
- Employees and staff
- Physical assets such as equipment and facilities
- Financial assets
Opportunities and Threats refer to external factors facing your company, such as:
- Market trends
- Regulatory and legal
- Macroeconomic conditions
3. Competitive Edge
Competitive edge can be bucketed into four primary areas: cost, differentiation, innovation and operational effectiveness.
Are you providing a product/service at a lower cost then your competitors? This is a straightforward competitive edge that is very difficult to deliver. Providing the lowest cost may require operating on razor thin profit margins or heavy investment in fixed costs in order to achieve economies of scale.
Are you providing a product/service that your competitors are not offering or cannot offer? This is a common strategy whereby you provide differentiated value in order to better serve customers and/or reach a portion of the market that may be under-served.
Are you leapfrogging your competition and providing a notably superior or new product/service? Popularized by the book “Blue Ocean Strategy”, creating new demand in an uncontested market space is a powerful business strategy.
Do you provide superior time to market or customer service? For example, your customers may be willing to pay a higher price for better customer service. Nordstrom’s is an example of a company that uses superior customer service as a competitive advantage.
3. Strategic Alliances
Forging strategic alliances is a commonplace occurrence in business. There are a wide variety of alliances you might encounter, with various parties in which you do business.
Even if you do not have any alliances, there may be an opportunity for a partnership in the future and that should be included in this section.
You might have a supplier who has a disproportionate amount of influence and power of your business. Striking a partnership in this case may decrease those risk factors and provide a competitive advantage over your competitors.
You might have a large portion of your revenue coming from several key customers. Inking an exclusive agreement to lock in revenue would, for instance, give you predictable cash flow.
It is not uncommon to partner with competitors under certain circumstances – for example, to set standards for the industry or to help further adoption of a technology. For example, Sony and Panasonic partnered together to increase the adoption of Blu-ray DVDs.
Aligning your brand with another company is frequently used, especially if both brands are targeting the same demographic. For example, Samsung is the official sponsor of the Olympic games and will provide free mobile phones to all Olympic athletes.
Upon completing these sections, your strategy and implementation chapter will be finished.
Writing the Financial Plan, Statements, and Sales Forecast Chapters
Writing the financial plan, financial statements, and sales forecast will be the most difficult part of your entire plan. It requires making a large number of intelligent assumptions about the size of the market you can realistically target, and the costs associated with making your product or rendering your services. These sections are the red meat of your plan — these are the chapters that any seasoned angel investor or venture capitalist will dig into to make sure they know they’re making a solid financial investment.
Chapter 7: Financial Plan and Sales Forecast Sections
- Sales Forecast
- Personnel Plan
- Cash Flow Assumptions
- Loans and Investments
- Starting Balances
- Historical Financials
- Key Metrics for Success
1. Sales Forecast
Products and Services
Define the price in which you will sell your products and services, the cost it will take to produce or sell the product/service, and the number of units you will sell. Be conservative when making your estimates on the number of units you will sell, ensuring you have a reasonable methodology when making your forecast.
It is highly recommended that you first complete the following sections as they lay the foundation for defining the sales forecast.
- Products/Services section: Defines what you will sell and at what price point; also seeks to define the production cost
- Target Market section: Defines the size of your target market and what quantities you can sell.
Tip: Your sales forecast should sync with your Sales and Marketing plan. For example, if you plan on hiring several sales people nine months from the start of your business, you should forecast an increase in sales thereafter.
This is the price you will sell your products/services.
- Fixed price: Suitable for most sales forecast modeling
- Price changes over time: The price of your product/service may increase/decrease in price over time for several reasons:
- Keep up with inflation
- Keep up with increased cost of raw materials or components
- Seasonal product – discount to offload excess inventory
- Promote new product – discount upfront to encourage sales, then increase later
This is the direct cost of producing your product/service (at the unit level). Otherwise known as cost of goods sold (COGS).
- Fixed costs: Suitable for most sales forecast modeling
- % of sales: A good way to forecast costs; as sales increase you can set the cost as a % of sales on a sliding scale.
- Costs vary each month: The cost of your product/service may increase/decrease in price over time for several reasons:
- Economy of scale: the more units you produce, the cheaper it becomes to produce them
- Bargaining power: the more units you buy from your supplies, the cheaper they become
- Seasonality: cost of raw materials may fluctuate based on time of year
Set units sold
This is the expected number of units you will sell.
- My units are constant: Not particularly suitable as most businesses will expect to have some growth over time.
- Units sold changes over time: The quantity sold of your product/service may increase over time for several reasons:
- Growing market share
- Finding new markets
Sales tax requirements vary by country and by products/services sold. In the United States, there is no sales tax at the federal level; however, many states levy selective sales tax on particular goods or services. Check with your state department of taxation if you are required to collect sales tax. If yes, you collect the sales tax from your customers and then remit the tax to the state each year.
Sales Forecast Methodology
If the individual assumptions used for each component of the sales forecast is accurate, so will the overall sales forecast. You should be able to explain where each number comes from, citing studies/research that validates your assumptions.
2. Personnel Plan
The costs of hiring personnel are often the largest expense of any business. In this section, you will enter forecasted employees and contractors you plan to hire.
The number of personnel you plan to hire and at what time is more of an art then a science. Too much staff too soon and you’ll burn through your working capital. Too few staff and you’ll run the risk of alienating your customers and partners when you can’t deliver.
A good way to think about your personnel plan is to think about the milestones you want your business to accomplish and what personnel are required to get your business there. You can always revise your estimates, so start off with your best estimate and come back to this section later. Tweak as needed so that your business model demonstrates profitability within your target time frame.
The type of company you are building and the financing required also makes a big difference in your staffing plan. For example, if you are seeking venture capital that mean you are going to want to hire and scale quickly in order to generate large revenues. Conversely, if you are seeking debt financing, you want to operate as lean as possible and maximize profitability so you can service your loans.
- Fixed amount: Suitable for most situations.
- Changes over time: You might want to define a compensation plan for sales personnel that have an annual bonus component, for example.
Type of hire:
- Employee: If choosing employee you will have to consider certain employee taxes and other considerations.
- Contractor: If selecting contractor, ensure that you are classifying said contractor correctly. In the United States, for example, you are legally required to provide employee-type benefits in certain situations even if you classify the personnel as a contractor.
Defining Burden Rate
If hiring employees, you will be responsible for additional costs such as (but not limited to) payroll taxes, worker’s compensation and health insurance, paid time off, training and travel expenses, vacation and sick leave, pension contributions and other benefits. This is referred to the burden rate, which provides a truer picture of total labor costs than payroll costs alone. Burden rate only affects employees and not contractors. If unsure what to enter, 15% is a fair estimate.
Explain Your Thinking
Explain the assumptions and methodology used to define the personnel your business plans to retain, including how you came up with your compensation figures and burden rate. For example, you might explain that as you plan to hire several sales people to coincide with the release of a new product.
Enter expenses you plan on incurring for your business. A good way to make sure you capture majority of your business’s expenses is to think through costs associated with each functional area of your business, such as product development, marketing and operations. Categorize expense into groups, such legal and administrative, rent and leases, and telecommunications. Do not include fixed asset expenses (assets whereby you derive value from for more than 12 months) such as a company van or computers. You will enter these in the next step.
- Advertising Expense
- Amortization Expense
- Auto Expense
- Bad Debt Expense
- Bank Charges
- Cash Over and Short
- Commission Expense
- Depreciation Expense
- Employee Benefit Program
- Freight Expense
- Gifts Expense
- Insurance – General
- Interest Expense
- Professional Fees
- License Expense
- Maintenance Expense
- Meals and Entertainment
- Office Expense
- Payroll Taxes
- Repairs Expense
- Salaries Expense
- Supplies Expense
- Taxes – FIT Expense
- Utilities Expense
- Gain/Loss on Sale of Assets
Enter long-term asset expenses here. Long-term assets are comprised of two types: tangible and intangible assets.
Tangible assets (fixed assets)
Fixed assets are tangible assets that provide value for more than 12 months, such as a company van or computers. Fixed assets are depreciated over its useful lifetime. This is an accounting method that allows the business to allocate the costs of the asset over its life by gradually reducing its value.
Common fixed assets:
- Land and Buildings
- Motor vehicles
- Office equipment
- Fixtures and fittings
- Plant and machinery
Intangible assets are long-term assets that are not physical in nature. Intangible assets are amortized over its useful life.
These might include:
- Intellectual property (items such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, business methodologies)
- Brand recognition
Other Current Assets
Enter other short-term assets here, which most likely will be any prepaid expense that lasts for less than 12 months. Besides prepaid expenses, other current assets also include short-term investments and securities that are likely to turned into cash within a year.
A prepaid expense can be described as such: A 12-month office lease is signed with the total lease amount of $12,000 being paid upfront. Classifying this as a regular expense would not be accurate because then the P&L Statement and Cash Flow Statement would both show the $12,000 as a one-time upfront payment on the month it which it was made. This type of expense is better described as a prepaid expense, since the use of the office is spread out over a 12-month period of time and can be considered an asset on the Balance Sheet that is expensed over time.
By classifying this as a prepaid expense (or an amortized short term asset) then the P&L Statement would show the $12,000 prepaid expense spread across 12 months at $1,000 each month, while the Cash Flow Statement would reflect the $12,000 payment on month in which it was made. Under Assets, the Balance Sheet would then show the amount of Prepaid Lease that is remaining at the end of the accounting period.
Income Tax Rate
Enter an estimate for income taxes you expect to pay, which should be a summation of federal, state and local income tax. Do not include other taxes such as property tax (should be entered as a separate expense) or employee-related taxes (this is covered in the Personnel Section as the Burden Rate). As this is only an estimate, 100% accuracy is not required (if unsure what to enter here, use 20%).
Dividends and Distributions
Dividends and distributions (for corporations and LLCs/partnerships, respectively) are payments to the company’s shareholders/owners, taken from the company’s profit.
Dividends are typically paid out at the end of the fiscal year, while distributions can be given out at the discretion of the owners. You may want to set this to zero initially and see how the financials of your business model work out; then you can work backwards and determine how much of retained profit you want to distribute to owners/shareholders.
About the Budget
Here you can explain any regular costs that are associated with running your business. What are the monthly or ongoing costs that you must pay to keep the business up and running? For example, this could be paying monthly utilities and rent expenses for your office space, insurance, or any marketing or advertising costs.
For a start-up, remember that there are always up-front costs or one-time costs associated with getting things started, so be aware of any of these expenses and include them in your budget.
4. Cash Flow Assumptions
Accounts receivable is defined as sales that the company has made but has yet to collect the money from the purchaser. Most companies operate by allowing some portion of their sales to be on credit. These types of sales are usually made to frequent or special customers who are invoiced periodically, and allow them to avoid the hassle of physically making payments as each transaction occurs. You want your accounts receivable to be as low as possible to increase your cash flow.
Defining what percentage of your sales will be on credit
You want this percentage to be as low as possible, while keeping in mind that for some businesses it is preferential to provide some credit to your best customers.
Defining how long it will take to collect payment
Of the customers that you provide credit to, you need to define when they are to pay you back. The faster, the better your cash flow will look like. It is typical to provide net-30, which is 30 days.
Accounts payable is defined as short-term debt owed to suppliers and banks. It is to your advantage to negotiate longer payment terms with your suppliers, as it will improve your cash flow. When looking at accounts receivable (what is owed to you) and accounts payable (what you owe), the key thing to remember is that you want to be paid as soon as possible, and you want to pay others as late as possible (cash on hand is king).
Defining what percentage of your purchases will be on credit
You want this percentage to be as high as possible, as that will improve your cash flow. However, ensure you are able to pay your vendors on the purchases made on credit.
Defining how long it will take to collect incoming payments.
How many days will it take, on average, to collect incoming payments?
Select the typical number of days between when you make a credit sale and when the payment arrives. Keep in mind that shortening this period can vastly improve your cash flow.
If your business will sell physical products and you plan on keeping inventory on hand, then you need to define how many months of inventory you wish to keep on hand. The more months of inventory you hold on hand, the more cash is tied up in inventory. This will affect your cash flow.
How much inventory should you carry?
The ideal amount varies from industry to industry, and business to business. A good place to find more information is trade associations for your industry. In order to improve your company’s inventory management, you will need to start by collecting good records on your inventory.
Using inventory turnover rate as an indicator
Inventory Turnover Rate = Costs of Goods Sold (COGS) / average cost of inventory on hand
A low inventory turnover rate means that you may have too much inventory on hand.
About Cash Flow Assumptions
Understanding and managing cash flow is very important to any business. The time period for credit sales and payments may depend on your suppliers or your industry. Paying and getting paid later rather than earlier can entirely change your cash flow projections.
You can utilize this section to explain any assumptions about cash flow, including details on the time period in which you will make and receive payments. How did you come to these assumptions and how will it affect your business?
5. Loans and Investments
When taking out a loan, you borrow an amount of money (principal) from a lender, and are obligated to pay back at a later time (usually in installments). You will typically pay interest on the loan. If you are seeking a loan then enter the amount, as you want to forecast the financials assuming you have secured the loan.
Personal vs Commercial Loans
For many small businesses, taking out a personal loan to finance growth is commonplace. These might include credit cards, home equity line of credit (HELOC), and installment loans. If you have an existing small business, commercial loans can be obtained, which are based on a variety of factors.
Secured vs Unsecured Loans
A secured loan is a loan in which you pledge some asset (equipment, property, etc.) as collateral. Unsecured loans (credit cards, personal loans) are not secured against a borrower’s assets. Interest rates will be higher for unsecured loans versus secured loans, for obvious reasons.
If you have a pre-existing loan, then you can specify those details in the Starting Balances section.
Line of Credit
A line of credit is similar to a loan with the difference being that interest is not charged on the part of the line of credit that is unused, and the borrower can draw on the line of credit at any time that he or she needs to. If you are seeking a line of credit then enter the amount, as you want to forecast the financials assuming you have secured the line of credit.
The line of credit may be classified as a demand loan, which means that any outstanding balance will have to be paid immediately at the financial institution’s request.
Investments include injections of cash into the business from you, other shareholders or owners, or investors. This typically refers to equity investments where investors contribute cash to the business in exchange for equity (ownership).
About Loans and Investments
In this section, you can describe how your business will be funded. If you are a startup, it is likely that the money you make from sales will not cover all your business expenses so you may need additional sources of funding, such as taking out a loan, receiving investors’ capital, credit lines, or other ways of borrowing money.
What type of funding will you acquire? At what point in your plan are you expecting these funds?
6. Starting Balances
For existing businesses only. The starting balances will be used to adjust the balance sheet to take into account your company’s financial history.
- Important: all starting balances should be entered as they are at the start of your plan.
Enter starting balances for assets:
- Accounts Receivable
- Other current assets
- Long term assets
- Accumulated depreciation
Enter starting balances for liabilities:
- Accounts Payable
- Sales Tax Payable
Capital and Earnings
Enter starting balance for Capital and Earnings:
- Paid in Capital
Enter your Recent Sales:
- One month before start date
- Two months before start date
- Three months before start date
- Four months before start date
- Five months before start date
- Six months before start date
7. Historical Financials
If you are an existing business, you can enter past financial data here. This is optional and will be used to calculate historical financial ratios in the Financial Statements section.
For each year of your company history, include:
- $ Sales
- $ Gross profit
- $ Income from operations
- $ Net profit
- $ Current assets
- $ Current liabilities
- $ Inventory
- $ Total assets
- $ Total liabilities
- $ Total owner equity
8. Key Metrics for Success
Every business model has several key metrics that management can use to see if the business is healthy. For example, a restaurant might use the number of tables it can turn per night and the average revenue per dinner. Think about what levers make the most impact to your business. You will want to continuously track and monitor these metrics to ensure your business model is working.
Chapter 8: Financial Statements Sections
- Profit and Loss Statements
- Balance Sheet
- Cash Flow Statement
- Financial Ratios
1. Profit and Loss Statement
The Profit & Loss (i.e.; income statement) shows your revenue, expenses, and profit. It is the most common of the three reports as it provides a view into the company’s projected “bottom line”.
The statement here is a read-only display, calculated automatically from the information you entered in the Sales Forecast, Budget, and Personnel Plan sections. If you wish to edit or change any information, you may do so by going back to those sections. The statement here will update automatically.
2. Balance Sheet
The balance sheet gives a snapshot of your company’s financial position at a given point in time, usually the last day of a fiscal period. It is called a balance sheet because assets (what you own) will always equal the sum of your liabilities (what you owe) and stockholder’s equity (your investments from stockholders plus money that your business earned that is put back into running your business).
The balance sheet here is a read-only display. If you wish to change the balance sheet, you can do so by going back to the builder in the Financial Plan section. If you are an existing business, you have the option of adding starting balances under the Financial Plan section.
3. Cash Flow Statement
The cash flow statement displays the cash inflows and outflows from your operating, investing and financing activities. Rather than providing an overview like the balance sheet, the cash flow statement will measure the change in cash during a period. In other words, how much money did you start and end up with?
The statement here is a read-only display. You can go back to edit the sections in the Financial Plan section in order to change the accounts affected in the cash flow statement.
4. Financial Ratios
- The Financial Ratios section gives a general overview of the health of your business. The report here is a read-only display. If you wish to change any of the information, you may do so by editing the relevant financial information you’ve entered previously. The ratios here will update automatically.
- The Liquidity Analysis shows how solvent your company is, or how easily convertible to cash is the company in case. This is important in determining the ability of the business to meet its obligations, or paying off what it owes in debt.
- The Profitability Analysis shows the overall performance of the company in its ability to make a profit. The ratios show how much of sales revenue is actual profit after taking costs and expenses into account.
- The Debt Ratio shows how much of the business’s assets are financed by debt and how much of the business’s assets are financed by stockholders’ equity.
- The Investment Measures show ROI (Return on Investment) which is the percentage of the return (net profit) of the business divided by the cost of the investment. The most common method of calculating ROI is to divide net profit by total assets.
Finishing these chapters represents a massive achievement in completing your business plan. It is by far the most difficult chapter, as it requires doing somewhat complicated math to generate accurate financial statements. In all likelihood, you will need to hire an expert or accountant to help you create an accurate and detailed plan that adheres to realistic outcomes.
To finish it off, you’ll need to write an appendix and a glossary of terms. Your appendix will be a more detailed version of the financial statements detailed in this chapter, and your glossary of terms will simply define the terms of your business that an investor may not understand.
Upon including those chapters, your plan will be complete.
3. Business Plan Samples
Feeling inspired to start a business, but don’t know how to write a plan? We have a business plan sample database that you can look through to learn the different chapters and sections necessary to attract equity investments and loans.
Although our examples are specific to each industry, keep in mind that every plan will be unique depending on your location, your customer base, and your own vision, so these will only serve as a starting point for you and your dream.
Click the images to view our full business examples.
4. Simple Business Plan Template: Pros and Cons
3 Pros – Why you should use a business plan template
1. Write with confidence — you won’t be forgetting any important information
Using this free template can help you write your own plan, without the hassle of figuring out how to order your chapters, or the worry of feeling like you might be missing a section. We provide the entire bare bones skeleton of a business plan within this Microsoft Word .doc download. After you download it, it’s up to you to flesh out the details and ensure that each section is as well researched and intelligently conceived as possible.
2. Step-by-step writing guide and writing samples included
Our plans come with a complete how-to guide with examples from our professional business plan samples to help steer you through your writing.
3. Completely free – no hidden costs, just download and start writing
This plan is completely free. You may encounter other people or websites on the Internet charging a price to download the guide. Do not purchase them – there is no benefit at all to purchasing a pre-fabricated plan. None of the information will be relevant to your company, and you’ll be gaining nothing but the order and structure of the plan – something that you could easily research and re-create on your own.
Sound good? Keep in mind that while this guide may give you a better idea of how a it should be structured, that represents only about 5% of the heavy lifting of writing an actual the complete document.
Don’t forget that every plan needs well structured elevator pitch.
3 Cons – Why you shouldn’t use a business plan template
1. You’ll have to do complicated business planning math and calculations yourself — or pay an expensive rate for someone else to do them
You’re going to have to do the financial calculations, plans, and forecasts that a plan should offer to attract investment — all by yourself. Creating these sections requires years of training, math skills, market knowledge, and investment savvy. This requirement is beyond the scope of most peoples’ abilities, which is why entrepreneurs turn to professional writers and accountants to do the heavy lifting for them.
Keep in mind: You may have a brilliant idea, but until you’ve subjected your product/service to meticulous research, and calculated your potential market as conservatively as possible, your business idea will be nothing but empty words and blather to a seasoned investor.
2. You’ll need to manually create visual graphs and charts to make the calculations easily understandable
You’ll need to take the numbers you calculated and create attractive graphs, charts, and tables for your plan. Making your data attractive and easy to comprehend is no easy task. Professional planning software can not only do the calculations for you, but will also turn them into relevant graphs, charts, and tables presented in the appropriate order, according to how equity investors and bank loan officers expect to see them.
3. A basic template won’t allow you to track your business’ progress
You won’t be able to keep your company’s information up to date easily. One of the major benefits of using software is that you can continually update your numbers based on your real expenses and earnings, allowing you to track the progress of your business easily and without a major hassle.
Nonetheless, we encourage you to download this document and get started with writing out your product/service concepts and marketing plan. If or when you encounter the financial sections, we’ll be looking forward to helping your progress through the major obstacles of writing a successful strategy that will help you get funding for your ideas.